By Susan Ciancio
Behind nearly every great son is a great mother. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of St. Monica. Today, we celebrate the feast of her son, Augustine. St. Monica prayed for many years for her wayward son, even following him to Italy when he tried to evade her.
As we know, God always hears our prayers. Yet He answers them in His time.
It took years for Augustine to change his ways and follow Christ, but he eventually renounced his sinful life. He became a priest, then later a bishop, and finally one of the most famous Catholic theologians of all time. He spread a culture of life by helping the poor, denouncing heresies, and teaching the faith.
Augustine thought he could never live a pure life and be a “good” Christian, so his early attempts at it were feeble. We know that this pained him deeply, and he lamented over this inability. Catholic Online tells us that Augustine was troubled by the story of two men who were so moved by the teachings of St. Antony that they immediately converted. It troubled Augustine because he was ashamed—ashamed because he had not yet had that same experience. Purportedly he flung himself on the ground and cried out to God, “How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?” At that moment, he heard a child sing “Take up and read.” So Augustine opened a book containing the letters of St. Paul and read the first thing his eyes fell upon. In that letter, St. Paul said to imitate Jesus and put away all impurities. That was just the inspiration Augustine needed, and from that moment on, he changed his life.
Do we need a wake-up call too?
We’re a lot like St. Augustine of the early days sometimes, aren’t we? It’s hard to always do the right thing. We falter. We sin. We despair. We pick ourselves up and try again. But then something happens, and we lose faith in ourselves. Sometimes we even lose faith in God. We act more as agents of the culture of death than as agents of a culture of life.
God’s hand in St. Augustine’s life tells us many important things. But most importantly, it teaches us about God’s infinite mercy. God is not a petulant child who is hurt so much by sin that He stamps his foot and walks away from us. He does not hold grudges when we hurt Him. He does not punish us by making bad things happen here on Earth. Yes, we deeply wound God by our sins. Yes, someday we will have to atone for them. But God will never leave us. He is here with us always, even when we think we don’t want Him. He is our one constant, and He tells us this repeatedly. No matter what happens in life, no matter what we go through, He is always there. Whether we scorn Him, push Him away, or forget about Him, He remains. Not only is He simply there, but He is there with open arms to welcome us back.
Imagine a terrible day—a day when you feel lonely, isolated, angry, or unworthy of love. Imagine feeling this way and walking into an empty house where no one is there to comfort you. Would you sit down and cry tears of sadness or frustration?
Now imagine that same awful day, but instead of walking into a cold, dark house where no one is home to greet you, you walk into the open arms of someone who loves you. You may still cry tears of sadness and frustration, but those tears will give way to relief, to warmth, and eventually to happiness.
Now imagine God’s welcoming embrace. His infinite love and mercy are so much greater than any love we have ever experienced here on Earth. Isn’t this something we should all strive for?
What do I do?
St. Augustine once cried out to God, “Too late I have loved you.” Let us pray—today and every day—that those are words we never have to utter. If you have fallen away, pick yourself up. If you are doing less than you should, do more. Spreading the culture of life does not happen if all you do is go to Mass on Sundays. Spreading the culture of life is something you must do every day. Teach your children the faith. Pray as a family. Volunteer as a family. Do good works for your neighbors, for your coworkers, and for people you don’t like. Stand up for the marginalized—those with disabilities, the forgotten elderly, and preborn babies. Let the light of Christ shine through you and in all you do. If you keep that light bottled up, and release it only between 10am and 11am on Sunday mornings, you are not truly living as Christ asks you to live.
Our world today desperately needs the light of Christ, and using that light to foster a culture of life must start with each one of us. No one is unimportant. And everyone has a role to play. You can effect change. Like Augustine, you simply have to make the decision to let go of your sinful ways and be more like Christ.
Let this beautiful example of St. Augustine inspire you to start making changes in your life. Happy Feast of St. Augustine!