“I had thought that the reason I postponed from day to day forsaking worldly hope to follow you was only because there did not seem any certain goal to which to direct my course. But now the day had come when I stood naked in my own sight and when my own conscience accused me: why is my voice not heard?”
In reflecting upon St. Augustine’s Confessions, it becomes obvious that without the hounding grace of God, Augustine’s pathway might have become yet another life of quiet desperation. But instead, a channel of awareness is given him in order that he might respond both freely and fully to God’s grace. In recounting the day upon which he opened the passage to Romans and read: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence,” (Rom 13:13, 12, pp.98) he also cites his conversation with his friend Alypius, who would extend the meaning of the Apostle for Augustine and make it complete: “Him that is weak in the faith, receive.” (Rom 14:1, 12, pp.98) Indeed, on that day, Augustine collected his final, ultimate prize: relationship with Truth himself. On that day, Augustine fell in love with eternity.
In recounting his mother, St. Monica, Augustine described her life as gift, kind, patient, servant, present, and faithful. On her deathbed, these motherly qualities flowed like a river, enveloping Augustine yet deeper into the mysteries of his life. Recall her words:
“Son, as for me, I no longer take delight in anything in this life. What I am doing here now, and why I am here I do not know, now that I have nothing else to hope for in this world. There was only one reason why I wanted to remain a little longer in this life, that I should see you as a Catholic Christian before I died. This God has granted me superabundantly, for I see you as His servant to the contempt of all worldly happiness. What am I doing here?” (10, pp.115-116)
For Monica saw in her son a greatness that no other person could, with the exception of his Creator. And with the divine channels open and eternal wisdom flowing from his saintly mother’s lips, Augustine was left with many questions.
“How, then, Lord, do I seek you? For when I seek you, my God, I am seeking the happy life: ‘I shall seek you that my soul may live’” (Is 4:3) (19, pp.139)
And through contemplation, Augustine would arrive at an even deeper reason for seeking truth in the proper way.
“But why does truth give birth to hatred and why does your man speaking the truth become an enemy to them since the happy life is loved and is nothing but joy arising from the truth? It is because truth is so loved that those who love something else would like to believe that what they love is the truth, and because they do not like to be deceived, they object to being shown that in fact they are deceived. And so- for the sake of whatever it is they love instead of truth, they hate truth.” (23, pp.142) “So men go outside themselves to pursue things of their own making, and inside themselves they are forsaking Him who made them and are destroying what He made in them.” (34, pp.152)
Throughout history, scholars and theologians have characterized Augustine’s life by many spiritual themes: sin/virtue, self-knowledge, body/sexuality, and of course, spiritual journey. But while peering into his life, we rightly ask ourselves just how his journey potentially provides insight into our own spiritual maturation. In Augustine, we should see that in Christ, nothing is impossible; that whatever sin present in our lives may be overcome in order that we may be transformed. Indeed, for those who have sinned or experienced hardship in their lives (especially this writer), a profound gift is often received as a result of the suffering. For Augustine, this gift seemed to be a continued awareness of his senses (re: sensual pleasure, wealth, etc.), which he was required to manage throughout his life. In his role as bishop and servant, he would convey these to the community of Christ, thereby providing true leadership and example. As for you and me, do we see our sufferings as a manifestation of God’s love for us? Do we see these human realities as having spiritual usefulness? Do our sufferings provide us with a unique context in which to encounter and love others with a message of consolation and hope for the future?
Finally, we might ask whether Augustine has the potential to provide significant seed to men and women living in a postmodern, hedonistic, self-saturated culture when he states:
“Also within us is another evil belonging to the same kind of temptation. This is the vanity of those who are pleased with themselves, however much they may not please others, or may displease them, or may not care whether they displease them or not. But those who are pleased with themselves certainly do not please you. In this it is not so much a case of taking pleasure in things that are not good as though they were good. The mistake is to take pleasure in good things coming from you as they came from oneself; or, even when they are acknowledged as coming from you, in assuming that one deserves to have them, or even when it is admitted that they come from your grace, in not rejoicing with their fellowmen, but grudging your grace to others.” (39, pp.158-159)
Through her faith and trust in God, St. Monica’s prayerful persistence was rewarded by her son’s spectacular conversion and storied spiritual journey. By that journey, we too are given the courage to persist and persevere; knowing that in the end, we are but God’s freely made handiwork seeking simply to live up to our vocation as Catholic Christians.