"Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord"
Today, August 28, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), bishop, confessor, Doctor of the Church, and one of the Four Great Fathers of the Latin Church. He is at times referred to as the Doctor of Grace. One of the most influential thinkers and writers of the Church, Augustine’s legacy in written works numbers at over 100 books, and 5,000,000 words! Within those words, the philosophy and virtues of our faith are revealed, inspiring us to a closer relationship with the Lord. The conversion of Saint Augustine, following years of sinful living, reminds us that we, too, are called to daily conversion… and that it is never too late to fully turn to the Lord!
“Too late have I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you! And behold, you were within, and I abroad, and there I searched for you; I was deformed, plunging amid those fair forms, which you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. Things held me far from you—things which, if they were not in you, were not at all. You called, and shouted, and burst my deafness. You flashed and shone, and scattered my blindness. You breathed odors and I drew in breath—and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for your peace”
For selected quotations of Saint Augustine of Hippo, click here.
Saint Monica (whose feast we celebrated yesterday) and a pagan father, Patricius, a city official. Though Augustine received thorough education in the Christian faith, and a solid Christian upbringing at the hands of his saintly mother, he led a dissolute life as a youth and young man. (His account may be found in the first nine Books of the “Confessions,” his most famous work chronicling his spiritual development and conversion.)
“The conflict between flesh and spirit in him was resolved by the heresy of Manichaeism because it enabled him to pursue a voluptuous life without ever being held accountable for it. He could say that the evil principle within him was so strong, so deep, and intense that the good principle could not operate.”
Augustine’s mother, Monica, was deeply bereft by his departure from the Christian faith, and prayed incessantly for his conversion and salvation. After nearly ten years as a Manichean, Augustine (now teaching in Milan) happened upon Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and began regularly attending his homilies. Through the moving preaching of Saint Ambrose, and the continued prayers of Saint Monica, Augustine came to believe in the truth of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation. However, he was not ready to change his life and turn from his worldly lusts, praying (as he recounts), “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
"Manes is an impostor. The Almighty calls me. Christ is the only way and Paul is my guide.”
"What are we doing? Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!"
Full of sorrow and regret, Augustine fled to the garden, eager to be alone, warring within himself. He cried out to God, "How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?"
"Take up and read!" Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of Saint Paul, and read the first passage his gaze fell on: the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (13:13):
"Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh."
In that one moment, the carnal passions, which had for sixteen years he had believed to be invincible, were annihilated. Augustine described the events in the Confessions:
“I was greatly disturbed in spirit, angry at myself with a turbulent indignation because I had not entered thy will and covenant, O my God, while all my bones cried out to me to enter, extolling it to the skies. The way therein is not by ships or chariots or feet--indeed it was not as far as I had come from the house to the place where we were seated. For to go along that road and indeed to reach the goal is nothing else but the will to go. But it must be a strong and single will, not staggering and swaying about this way and that--a changeable, twisting, fluctuating will, wrestling with itself while one part falls as another rises.
I was ... weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which--coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it." Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. ...
So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book [Paul's letter to the Romans] when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof."[Romans 13:13] I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”
“Lord, before whose eyes the abyss of man’s conscience lies naked, what thing within me could be hidden from you, even if I would not confess it to you? I would be hiding you from myself, not myself from you. But now, since my groans bear witness that I am a thing displeasing to myself, you shine forth, and you are pleasing to me, and you are loved and longed for, so that I may feel shame for myself, and renounce myself, and choose you, and please neither you nor myself except because of you.
Therefore, before you, O Lord, am I manifest, whatever I may be. With what profit I may confess to you, I have already said. When I am evil, to confess to you is naught else but to be displeased with myself; when I am upright of life, naught else is it to confess to you but to attribute this in no wise to myself. For you bless the just man, O Lord, but first you justify him as one who has been ungodly. Hence my confession is made in silence before you, my God, and yet not in silence. As to sound, it is silent, but it cries aloud with love. Nor do I say any good thing to men except what you have first heard from me; nor do you hear any such thing from me but what you have first spoken to me.”
Despite it never being Augustine’s intention to become a priest, he was ordained by the local bishop as he was praying in church. Living in Tagaste, the city of his birth, he founded a monastery according to the Augustinian Rule, and preached against heresy with great impact. At the young age of forty-two, he was appointed bishop of Hippo, a position he served for thirty-four years.
Saint Augustine died at the age of seventy-five. His contribution to and influence on Catholic doctrine and thought-- and on Christian belief and piety-- is incalculable. Survived by his written works—among them the Confessions and City of God—Augustine continues to challenge, captivate, and inspire us nearly sixteen hundred years after his death.
"Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom." And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee. Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether first to know thee or call upon thee. But who can invoke thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may invoke thee as another than thou art. It may be that we should invoke thee in order that we may come to know thee. But "how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?" Now, "they shall praise the Lord who seek him," for "those who seek shall find him," and, finding him, shall praise him. I will seek thee, O Lord, and call upon thee. I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher.
Lord, renew in your Church the spirit you gave Saint Augustine.
Filled with this spirit, may we thirst for you alone as the fountain of wisdom and seek you as the source of eternal love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Writings of Saint Augustine:
Grace Comes Before Works
A Prayer for Those in Tribulation
His Death is Our Hope
Late Have I Loved You
Lord, You Know Me
One Mediator between God and Man: The Man Jesus Christ
On the Lord's Prayer
The City of the Lord is the Church
On the Blessed Virgin Mary and Evangelization
Year 2: Day 240 of 365
Prayer Intentions: True daily conversion; For those who have converted in faith, or are considering joining the Church.
Requested Intentions: Successful examination results (D); Safety of family, strength, courage, wisdom (C); For the souls of a departed father and brother, finding of a suitable marriage partner (R); Successful pilgrimage, deepening of prayer life (R); Restoration of health (J); Restoration of health (S); Freedom from pride (A); For children and marriage (M); For the birth of a healthy baby (Y); For personal family intentions, for the sick, poor, hungry, and homeless (G); Financial security and peace (J); Grace, peace, and obedience to the will of God in a marriage (H); Successful and blessed marriage for sin, freedom from anxiety for husband, spiritual contentedness for family (N); Employment and health for a husband (B); Recovery and health of a mother (J); For a family to grow closer to the Church, salvation for all children (D); Successful employment (L); Successful employment (S); Renewal of faith life (A); Support for an intended marriage, health for friend and aunt (J); Mental health assistance for son (G); Freedom from illness (S); Successful employment (C); Financial assistance and employment (B); For a family’s intentions (T); Successful examination results (B); Healing of a friend with cancer, for all those who help others (B); Healing and love (L); Grace and healing (V); Healing of a heart, consecration of a marriage (M); Health of a family, intentions of apostolate (H); For repentance (J); For a family in trouble (R); Healing, successful relationships for son, financial success (J); Success of a company (L); For a religious society (J); Healing of a husband, strength as a faithful caregiver (D); Healing of a son (T).