Cloistered Dominican Nuns Corpus Christi Monastery

A Saint for [Today’s] Sinners

2015.08.28 Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica
There once lived a young man named Augustine who had the riches and pleasures of the world in the palm of his hand.  As he grew, his parents ensured he received a good education and he became a highly successful in his field, in one of the most exciting cities of his time.  He enjoyed parties and women.  Even by today’s standards, he would seem to have everything he needed or wanted to live a happy, pleasurable life.  And yet…

Augustine struggled with an emptiness.  In the quiet moments, something gnawed at him.  It wasn’t enough.  There must be something more.  One day, in the garden, he heard children next door, playing and singing.  He saw a Bible someone had left lying on a bench and picked it up.  He began to read and was pierced to the heart.  Was this the answer to the aching in his soul?  And yet…

Augustine read and studied, struggling to believe in God and in truth.  Then, as he came to believe in God and Christian doctrine, he prayed, “Lord, give me continence, but not yet!”  He was so attached to his life, and in particular his active sex life.  He had kept more than one mistress up to this point, and even had a son with one of them.  Yet he knew that to be a Christian, God would expect him to practice chastity.

The plain truth is that I thought I should be impossibly miserable if I had to forego the embraces of a woman: and I did not think of [God’s] mercy as a healing medicine for that weakness, because I had never tried it.  I thought that continency was a matter of our own strength, and I knew that I had not the strength…

Finally, one day, the pieces came together for him and he did give his life to God.  He entered the Church under the direction of St. Ambrose.  His mother, Monica, had been praying for his conversion for 15 years, with tears and fasting.  Though these two people influenced him, he acknowledges it was ultimately the grace of God that won him over.

See who I was in myself and by myself.  I have destroyed myself, but He who made me remade me.

Augustine weighed whether he should marry or remain single.  Eventually, he was ordained a priest and then bishop of Hippo.  He studied, preached, wrote, and taught prolifically.  He gave his past to God in all humility, as detailed in his autobiography, Confessions.  This timeless work remains relevant to people today, especially in our culture, where we are steeped in so many temptations.  For those who struggle with sin, especially the sins of pride and lust, St. Augustine provides hope through his testimony, for he acknowledges he continued to struggle with the effects of his past sins and gives us the solution for being truly free.

There still live in my memory the images of those things, of which I have already spoken much, which my long habit had fixed there…  You, O Lord, will more and more increase Your gifts in me, that my soul may follow me to You, utterly freed…  For it is no great matter for the Almighty, who is able to do all things more abundantly that we can ask or understand…winning the chaste mind even in sleep, even while I am in the prime of life.

St. Augustine gave his future to God by directing every thought, word, and action to His glory.  Yet, at the end of his life, it would seem he lost everything.  His son had died.  The center of the old civilized world, Rome, was sacked, and heretics and pagans attacked Christians and Christianity.  In his last days, he watched the city of Hippo, once a thriving and beautiful metropolis, be attacked and burned by Vandals, the city reduced to rubble and waste.  And yet…

St. Augustine remained firm in his faith and in the grace of God; he wrote prayers, sermons, and papers addressing all these issues, influencing men of his time, and beyond.  He serves as a bridge between the old world and culture of Rome and Christianity and the new one that was emerging from the rubble left by the Vandals, pagans and heretics.  St. Augustine is now considered one of the greatest saints in the Church and his life remains a testament to the power of God’s grace, respected by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  Indeed, he is considered by the Church as the “Doctor of Grace” – St. Augustine’s life and works teach us about God’s unmerited favor He chooses to give us.

By the prayers of St. Augustine, may we always remember that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.  Let us offer a prayer St. Augustine wrote:

O God, it is You alone I love,
You alone I follow,
You alone I seek,
You alone I am ready to serve.

Heal and open my ears
that I may hear your voice.
Heal and open my eyes
that I may see your will.

Tell me where to look
that I may see You,
and I will place my hope
in doing your will.

Amen.

Saint Augustine, Doctor of Grace, pray for us!

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