During a scripture study session a friend of mine casually mentioned St. Augustine: “Is there really a St. Augustine? I mean, isn’t that just a made-up name for an old town in Florida?’
Good grief, as Charlie Brown used to say. Doesn’t anyone know of saints anymore? Those heroes and heroines from our Christian heritage are important. They show us how to live the life that Our Lord hoped would take root in our world.
St. Augustine avoided baptism until he was in his early thirties. He famously said: “Lord give me chastity –but, not yet.” He lived with a woman for ten years without marrying her. His only child, Adeodatus, was illegitimate. He just couldn’t find it in his heart to be a disciple of Jesus Christ like his mother.
After losing his teaching job in Rome and coming down with what might have been asthma or chronic bronchitis, he was depressed and grieving for his life when he picked up a scroll of scripture and read the words: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisi0n for he flesh.” In that moment, God’s grace entered his heart like a flash of lightening. He was soon baptized and embraced the life that Jesus came to bring to the world.
Augustine eventually became a bishop in his homeland of North Africa. He challenged his priests to live more transparently as true disciples of Jesus. He gathered them together and had them live a common life. For this reason, St. Augustine is called the Father of Western Monasticism.
Yes, St. Augustine was a real person and a real saint. But, hold on! There’s more!
He is, also, one of the great theologians of the Church. Listen to him speak of why Christians should rejoice in the midst of suffering:
“But how can we rejoice in the Lord if he is far from us? Pray God that he be not far. If he is, that is your doing. Love and he will draw near; love, and he will dwell within you. Are you puzzled to know how it is that he will be with you if you love? God is love.
‘What do you mean by love?’, you will ask me. It is that which enables us to be loving. What do we love? A good that words cannot describe, a good that is forever giving….Delight in Him from whom you have received everything that delights you.”
Ronald Rolheiser, a contemporary theologian, says that to have a thankful heart is a first principle of spirituality. If we are genuinely grateful for what we have, we will experience a delight that leads us to love. St. Augustine and all the saints testify by their lives that love is the presence of God. How could we forget something so basic as Augustine’s teaching on love?
So, yes, there really is a St. Augustine who teaches us that wherever there is gratitude, whenever there is hope, then, we can experience the love of the God for whom our restless hearts yearn.