St. Augustine of Hippo
The life of St.Augustine is one that I feel so many of us can relate to. His story of conversion is mind blowing and inspiring. This was a man who grew up being raised by a Catholic mother and a pagan father, that had been given catechesis, who hung out with men of prayer, who denied the sacraments, and fell into a life of sin. His life was full of ups and downs and struggles within his spiritual life and his relationship with God. And yet, he came back to God, and rose up from a life of sin to a life that was spent seeking holiness in the Lord.
The life of a student is one that I know many of us have struggled with. Information came at us a mile a minute. We were either enlightened, or thrown completely off the rails with this new knowledge, and began to question our lives and our reality. St. Augustine had great success in school, and his father was very proud of it. His father had wanted to send him to Carthage in order for him to gain an education in forensics. St. Augustine, however, didn’t end up going, as it would have required a lot of money and it would take a lot of time to make the amount needed. Instead he hung around Carthage, idling about in a city that was half pagan at the time. He hung out with a rough crowd in the city. He fell victim to so much sin within the city; drinking, pride, adultery are just examples. He even had a child out of wedlock.
His relationship with God had been struggling for some time. Even when he was younger and in a state of illness, his mother, St. Monica, tried to have him baptised. He agreed, but once he was feeling more well, he denied the sacrament. He prayed, but not out of love. Eventually, he began to place all his trust in philosophy, abandoning Christian faith completely.
This philosophy without faith is what I feel so many people choose to accept. Even St. Augustine struggled with this, through. Catholic Encyclopedia describes his experience in this way: “Augustine himself tells us that he was enticed by the promises of a free philosophy unbridled by faith; by the boasts of the Manichæans, who claimed to have discovered contradictions in Holy Writ; and, above all, by the hope of finding in their doctrine a scientific explanation of nature and its most mysterious phenomena.” Much like so many is our society today, science and philosophy had taken place of faith. Knowledge is what was thought to save you, not faith.
Years passed and he became a teacher of rhetoric. He was still a seeker of knowledge, and eventually this lead to his falling away from the teachings of the Manichæan cult. He met with Faustus of Mileve, a Manichæan bishop, and when he saw all the gaps in the bishop’s answers, he was left unsatisfied. He had been a follower of those doctrines for almost a decade, but he now realized that they were false. So now what?
St. Augustine travelled to Italy, which seemed to be calling him, likely due to the presence of many great philosophers. There, he met St. Ambrose. Augustine started his own school of rhetoric, which didn’t work out so well. He did, however, attend the preaching of St. Ambrose. For a few years, he still continued to struggle with philosophy. First the philosophy of the academics with its pessimistic scepticism; then neo-platonic philosophy, which he seemed to enjoy. Despite all this philosophical study, he still had little moral direction, and lived a very materialistic life.
I feel we can see his true feelings in his writings in Confessions: “I was in misery, and misery is the state of every soul overcome by friendship with mortal things and lacerated when they are lost. Then the soul becomes aware of the misery which is its actual condition even before it loses them.” He had truly been in pain before his conversion. It wasn’t until he finally read through scripture, inspired by the great St. Ambrose, that he found truth. He was enlightened by them, and renounced his former lifestyle. Soon after, he fell ill, and sought to go with his Mother to Verecundus, to further study the true philosophy, which was found only in Christianity.
He furthered his studies, and in the meantime wrote many books and other writings about the faith. He talked with others that had fallen in love with the faith and associated himself with other teachers, too. In addition to these things, he wrote and discussed about the flaws of other philosophies and pointed out the games within them, such as with issues on the origin of evil, morality, grace, and love.
He received baptism by St. Ambrose in 387. He devoted his life to preaching and selling goods and giving money to the poor. He then left his Roman estate and devoted his life to poverty, prayer, and study in Africa. His eventual entry into the priesthood was reluctant. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, “Augustine did not think of entering the priesthood, and, through fear of the episcopacy, he even fled from cities in which an election was necessary. One day, having been summoned to Hippo by a friend whose soul’s salvation was at stake, he was praying in a church when the people suddenly gathered about him, cheered him, and begged Valerius, the bishop, to raise him to the priesthood. In spite of his tears Augustine was obliged to yield to their entreaties, and was ordained in 391.”
It just goes to show that when God has a plan, He has a plan. St. Augustine couldn’t run from his vocation, and when he did, well, his vocation ran to him! Later, he became bishop of Hippo after the death of Valerius.
I have to mention St Monica. His loving mother spent years praying for his conversion. She wept for him, prayed for him, and sacrificed for him. The feeling she must have had to watch her son fall into sin and refuse to come to Jesus, where she called him, must have been agony. At the end of her life, after his conversion, St. Augustine wrote about the pain he felt after her death. St. Monica never gave up on praying for her son to come to Christ.
There is so much we can learn from St.Augustine and his life. He was one of those saints that fell deep into sin, turned away from God to seek knowledge, but at the end of that road, found nothing but contradictions, flaws, and emptiness. In an attempt to find truth, he found nothing. He sought salvation, but found the earthly. It was only when he came back to Jesus he found a fulfilment to every question he had.
I would like to conclude with a Prayer by St. Augustine.
PRAYER OF TRUST IN GOD’S HEAVENLY PROMISE
My God, let me know and love you, so that I may find my happiness in you. Since I cannot fully achieve this on earth, help me to improve daily until I may do so to the full Enable me to know you ever more on earth, so that I may know you perfectly in heaven. Enable me to love you ever more on earth, so that I may love you perfectly in heave. In that way my joy may be great on earth, and perfect with you in heaven. O God of truth, grant me the happiness of heaven so that my joy may be full in accord with your promise. In the meantime let my mind dwell on that happiness, my tongue speak of it, my heart pine for it, my mouth pronounce it, my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my entire being desire it until I enter through death in the joy of my Lord forever. Amen.
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