St. Augustine is a saint for our times even though he lived between the years of 354 to 430. Before his conversion he lived a life not too different than many of us today. He is an inspiration to those who feel caught up in sin but want to live a good Christian life.
Although raised by his mother St. Monica to be a Catholic, as a young man Augustine decided to follow another religion called Mancheism. He lived a hedonistic lifestyle and was friends with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits. To gain their acceptance he also sought sexual experiences and made up stories about sexual encounters. Because he was addicted to the pleasures of the flesh, his prayer at that time was, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
Around age 19, Augustine started an affair with a young woman which lasted over 15 years. He was very attached to her, and they had a son together, but he said he was more a “slave to lust” than desiring marriage. She was also not of the same social class. He sent his lover away to prepare to marry a young heiress in two years when she reached 12 years old (which was the youngest age at that time to be given in marriage), but because he couldn’t control himself he took a concubine in the meantime. It was during this time that Augustine had a conversion experience.
At the age of 31, Augustine was drawn toward God, but he felt inclined to sin, and he didn’t think he could live a pure life. He heard of the conversion of two men who had read the Life of St. Antony of the Desert who were not as learned as he was, and he felt ashamed and cowardly.
In his book Confessions he tells how he was in a garden weeping under a tree, feeling sorry for his sins, and cried out to God, “How long, how long, ‘to-morrow, and tomorrow?’ Why not now? Why not… this hour an end to my uncleanness?”
All of a sudden he heard a childlike voice chanting, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” He understood this to be a command from God to open the Bible and read the chapter he saw.
He opened up his Bible randomly to Romans chapter 13:13-14 which said, “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
On reading these words he was filled with God’s grace and decided to repent and to begin to live a Christian life. He was later baptized, became a priest and was asked to be a bishop. His life of holiness led to his being recognized as a great saint. As a very learned man, his many writings on the Catholic faith earned him the title of Doctor of the Church, and he is considered one of the Early Church Fathers.
In his book Confessions, he tells his life story including his conversion account. (This book is available for download at no charge at http://www.catholicspiritualdirection.org/catholicclassics.html.) In this book he also talks about many theological and philosophical topics. Here is one of his famous prayers from that book.
Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.
St. Augustine’s Prayer to the Holy Spirit:
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.
St. Augustine, pray for us!
This article by Kathryn Marcellino, OCDS, is from the monthly Catholic Spiritual Direction Newsletter. To sign up for free email delivery click here.
(Painting is the Conversion of St. Augustine by Fra Angelico)