Today is the Feast of St. Augustine, a very prominent figure in the history of the Church. Father Steve reflects on St. Augustine's own history, his conversion, and the lesson that his witness continues to teach us, the restless seekers of the present day.
“And what is this God? I asked the earth and it answered: 'I am not God; and all the things in the earth made the same confession.' I asked the sea and the deeps and creeping things, and they answered: 'We are not your God, seek higher.' I asked the winds that blow, and the whole air with all that is in it and the wind answered: 'I am not God.' I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars and they answered: 'Neither are we God whom you seek.' So I asked all those things that entice the senses: 'Tell me then of this Mysterious One that I search for.' And all cried out to me in one great voice: 'God made us and God made you…'”
“So I set about to find God and found that I could not find him until I embraced the mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus, who is all over all these things, who was calling me and saying: 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…'”
These marvelous words belong to St. Augustine, whose witness the Church celebrates today.
St. Augustine is one of the most renowned and influential saints of the Church, though his early life did not foreshadow such an identity and mission. He lived much of his young life in resistance to God’s will and purposes. Preoccupied with his body, he sought satisfaction in sex. Preoccupied with power, he sought to ingratiate himself with the mighty. Preoccupied with status, he sought self-promotion. Preoccupied with wealth, he tried to sell himself to a career.
And none of these things, for all their allure and all their promises, brought him satisfaction.
As a result, Augustine embraced the prevailing esoteric and arcane “spiritualities” of his day. He followed strange gods in an attempt to shake his alarming sense of dissatisfaction.
This left him emptier and even more diminished.
But a reckoning came that changed Augustine forever.
“I found myself weeping in the bitter sorrow of my heary. And suddenly I heard a voice from a nearby house, a child’s voice, boy or girl I do not know: but it was sort of a sing song that repeated over and over again. 'Take and read, take and read.' Wiping away my tears I took this as a divine command and opened the scriptures and in silence read the passage on which my eyes first fell: 'Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in debauchery and impurity, not in contention and envy, but put on the Lord Jesus…'”
So this is what Augustine did- he discarded the skin of his old self and put on the Lord Jesus. And what God did with Augustine was remarkable. He became a leader in the Faith, as a teacher, priest and bishop. His writings have directed the mind and soul of the Church for centuries. His influence is with us still- in how we pray, how we worship, and in what we believe.
At the heart of the Gospel is the call to conversion in Christ. There is no moment in our life when this call does not beckon toward us. There is no time in our life we are exempt from the summons. Conversion is the substance of the work of the spiritual life. Conversion in Christ is our privileged spiritual way.
Like Augustine, so many of us fall into the illusion that something other than God can satisfy us or give our lives purpose and meaning. Like the young Augustine, we are captivated by self-deception that directs us away from the one who is absolutely necessary: Christ. In response to all the futility of our refusals, the wisdom of St. Augustine rings true: “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.