For many people, it is difficult to find parallels between their own lives and those saints who lived centuries ago. Yet there are some whose appeal is so universal precisely because we can relate to them on different levels. One of these saints is Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor of the Church, whose memory is celebrated by the Church on August 28th.
Augustine’s life is fairly well known by many Catholics and non-Catholics. He was an extremely intelligent young man who wanted to understand the world around him. He became a Manichean and then went to study rhetoric in Rome against his mother’s wishes. Eventually, he converted back to Catholicism in Milan and was baptized. He then became one of the greatest bishops the world has ever seen and fought against numerous heresies including Donatism, Pelagianism, Manichaeism. He was also one of the most prolific authors in Church history and composed numerous sermons that have come down to us.
St. Augustine’s importance to our present day situation is not as unlikely as it might seem. Today, we are faced with many of the same problems that he had to deal with. For example, there are still Catholic young people who leave the Church and go elsewhere to seek God. Yet there are also numerous heresies that are alive in our world and that seek to trap people. While these heresies are not necessarily spouted from the pulpits of our churches, they do exist and many of them are so damaging that people don’t realize it.
St. Augustine is also relevant to us because he shows us how easy it is to fall off the beaten path. This is particularly true for people who are gifted with intelligence and truly desire to seek the Lord. For them, the seeking can turn into its own end. Indeed, there are countless people who switch from one religion to another because they have not found what they are looking. Yet they will find the Church at some point and God will open their eyes to the truths of His Church. We must pray for their conversion.
Of course, St. Augustine’s own conversion was not a one day only affair. It was something which happened over many years and step by step. The climactic scene, of course, was when he heard a voice telling him to go and read the Bible. Yet the process had begun years before and would continue until the day of his death.
This is also true for us because conversion is not a one day thing on the road to Damascus. Rather, it is something that we work on our entire lives. I remember once giving an interview to a local Catholic magazine in which I was asked to tell the story of how I converted to Catholicism. In that article, I said that my conversion did not come about merely because of one or two miraculous events. Rather, it is something that I am still working on today and it is something that I will work on my entire life and so it is for all of us.
On this feast day of St. Augustine, let us ask Our Lord for the gift of true conversion both for ourselves and for others.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Augustine, pray for us!