Restless Heart

Upon my conversion to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, one of the first saints I wanted to learn about was St. Augustine.  Why?  Well, quite simply, he’s my birthday saint. 

Augustine and his mother, Monica

Since then, I’ve been greatly encouraged and edified by this Doctor of the Church.  His life is one to which many of us, including myself, can relate.  His mother, Monica, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, was a strong woman of faith.  As a youth, he accepted her guidance and was almost baptized.  But, as he grew, other, more worldly pursuits got in the way.  Fame and wealth, parties and women were the things he pursued.  But this left him empty.  So, he embraced heresies for a time.  This too left him unsatisfied. 

He reached a point in his life when he knew he needed God, but even then, as he cried out to be saved, part of him held back and said, “But, not yet.”  At 32 years of age, St. Augustine began studying the Scriptures and surrendered completely to God.  Eventually, he became so reputed for his holiness, he agreed to be ordained to the priesthood and after time, bishop.  His writings, teachings, and defense of the Catholic faith are well known, and highly regarded among Catholics, Protestants, and even some secular scholars.  If you have not read his autobiography, Confessions, I encourage you to read it.  He is quite candid about his sins and failings, and his conversion.  And from it, we have beautiful passages to God, like this one:

Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we men, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

Grant me to know and understand, Lord, which comes first. To call upon you or to praise you? To know you or to call upon you? Must we know you before we can call upon you? Anyone who invokes what is still unknown may be making a mistake. Or should you be invoked first, so that we may then come to know you? But how can people call upon someone in whom they do not yet believe? And how can they believe without a preacher?

But scripture tells us that those who seek the Lord will praise him, for as they seek they find him, and on finding him they will praise him. Let me seek you then, Lord, even while I am calling upon you, and call upon you even as I believe in you; for to us you have indeed been preached. My faith calls upon you, Lord, this faith which is your gift to me, which you have breathed into me through the humanity of your Son and the ministry of your preacher.

How shall I call upon my God, my God and my Lord, when by the very act of calling upon him I would be calling him into myself? Is there any place within me into which my God might come? How should the God who made heaven and earth come into me? Is there any room in me for you, Lord, my God? Even heaven and earth, which you have made and in which you have made me – can even they contain you? Since nothing that exists would exist without you, does it follow that whatever exists does in some way contain you?

But if this is so, how can I, who am one of these existing things, ask you to come into me, when I would not exist at all unless you were already in me? Not yet am I in hell, after all but even if I were, you would be there too; for if I descend into the underworld, you are there. No, my God, I would not exist, I would not be at all, if you were not in me. Or should I say, rather, that I should not exist if I were not in you, from whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things? Yes, Lord, that is the truth, that is indeed the truth. To what place can I invite you, then, since I am in you? Or where could you come from, in order to come into me? To what place outside heaven and earth could I travel, so that my God could come to me there, the God who said, I fill heaven and earth?

Who will grant it to me to find peace in you? Who will grant me this grace, that you should come into my heart and inebriate it, enabling me to forget the evils that beset me and embrace you, my only good? What are you to me? Have mercy on me, so that I may tell. What indeed am I to you, that you should command me to love you, and grow angry with me if I do not, and threaten me with enormous woes? Is not the failure to love you woe enough in itself?

Alas for me! Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let me run towards this voice and seize hold of you. Do not hide your face from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed.

And this one:

St. Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness, I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.  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.

Ignatius Press has recently published a critical edition with an excellent translation.  There is also a film coming this fall about his life, “Restless Heart“.

As a bishop, St. Augustine wrote a rule of life for all his priests living with him, which prescribed they live a common life, at the same time, recognizing the nature of being ordained priests serving the people, allowed a great deal of flexibility for their priestly ministries.  It is now referred to as the Rule of St. Augustine.  Fast forward almost 800 years to St. Dominic’s time.  In starting his new order of nuns and friars, he adopted the Rule of St. Dominic as the rule of the Dominican Order.  Consequently, Dominicans fondly consider St. Augustine as a “grandfather”.

“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”

 St. Augustine, pray for us.

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