Today the Church celebrates the life, legacy and heavenly intercession of Saint Augustine.
Saint Augustine is one of the Church’s greatest teachers, a master of theology and spirituality. He surrendered his prodigious intellectual gifts to Christ, who elevated and transformed them into instruments that would not only benefit the Church, but civilization. Though composed centuries ago, the spiritual treatises, cultural commentaries, scriptural exegesis and theological essays of St. Augustine remain fresh and new.
Born in the year 354 AD, Augustine was the son of a religiously indifferent father and a pious Christian mother. His path to the Lord was filled with obstacles, the most significant of which was his own pride. The story of Augustine’s struggle to know God and accept Christ as his Savior and Friend is told by Augustine himself in one of the greatest autobiographies ever written- an autobiography known as the Confessions.
The story of Augustine’s Confessions is that of a man for whom faith did not come easily and through careful consideration of Augustine’s testimony was can gain empathy for those who hold ideas that are contrary to God’s revelation in Christ, defiantly resist Christ, sadly leave him, or seem to have no faith at all. Despite all this in Augustine’s own life, he eventually came to accept Christ and share a relationship with him in the Church.
Augustine’s struggle and troubled path to Christ reminds us that faith is foremost, not just an act of the will, but a wondrous and deeply mysterious gift. God in Christ will fulfill his promise to draw all things, all people, into relationship with him, but how this is accomplished is unique for each person and the way in which faith “happens” cannot be forced, but must happen in accord with Christ’s will and purposes.
Faith, like a seed that is planted, cannot be compelled to grow by brute force. No plant would survive if out of concern to expedite growth, a person aggressively pulled on the stem of the plant to make it grow. So it is with the gift of faith.
Our own role in how the gift of faith is to nurture, to trust and to help, offering assistance in accord with our own charisms and gifts and leading the seeker to those who have the charisms and gifts that are needed, but that we might lack ourselves.
St. Augustine eloquently proclaimed “You O Lord have made us for yourself and out hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This restlessness of the heart is the condition of all of us, and it is God’s way of prompting us of the reality of his existence and of his interest in us.
That so many seem so restless in their faith should not be understood as merely an unwillingness to ever believe. If we learn anything from St. Augustine’s circuitous journey to Christ, it is that the Lord can very effectively use our resistance as the very means of drawing us into communion with his life and his love.