Monday, August 28, 2017

Augustine Speaks to God, and Writes a Book for All of Us

Today we remember the great Saint Augustine, the man who found Jesus and in following Him chose to abandon his profession as a rhetorician, and his aspirations to "make beautiful and compelling presentations using words."

Then, in one of history's great ironies, Augustine told the story of how he found Christ, and in so doing he crafted one of the most beautiful and compelling presentations using words that has ever been written.

He addresses his words to God, and yet, in writing this singular work of literature—his Confessions—he teaches human beings from every place and time about the hearts they possess, full of yearning, deceived by sin, and longing for salvation, healing, and peace:
"You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You....Who shall bring me to rest in You? Who will send You into my heart so to overwhelm it that my sins shall be blotted out and I may embrace You, my only good?.... Behold, the ears of my heart are before You, O Lord; open them and say to my soul, 'I am your salvation'. I will hasten after that voice, and I will lay hold upon You. Hide not Your face from me. Let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed" (Confessions, Book I).
Throughout his account and up to its decisive moment, he crafts an unparalleled poetic expression of human desire, failure, and struggle, and above all the joy of encountering God through Jesus Christ. These words are classic, and it doesn't seem that we can ever ponder them too much:
"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You called, You shouted, and You broke through my deafness. You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness. You breathed Your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace" (Confessions, Book X).
It may seem crude for a secondary source to try to recount the conversion of Saint Augustine, and yet people have been doing it anyway for well over a thousand years. Though they cannot replace or reproduce anything like the original, they have their own modest reasons for attempting to take the measure of some aspect(s) of this towering man.

I have participated in the ongoing effort to write about Augustine in what was just the second article of my regular column in MAGNIFICAT, "Great Conversion Stories" (the column has now been running nearly four years with more to come). My article on Augustine appeared way back in the January 2014 issue of this beautiful monthly journal of prayer, meditation, readings, and art (you can subscribe by clicking HERE).

Since I get new readers all the time, I thought I would share again this (poor quality but legible) reproduction of the column: