Friday, August 28, 2009

St Augustine and His Conversion

Dear St Augustine, that stupor mundi, convert and confessor, bishop and doctor of the Church down all the ages!

It glads my heart to see his feast again.

He who so clearly saw that the history of mankind is the tale of two cities, the City of Man and the City of God, himself beheld the ruin of transient things, lying on his bed of pain praying the Penitential Psalms, and came to pass over from this miserable world to the Father on this very day, the 28th of August, 430, while his episcopal see was besieged by the cruel Arian Vandals, who were ravishing once-fair North Africa, putting priests and virgins to the sword.

It is said that soon after an Imperial messenger arrived in doomed Hippo, bearing a purple scroll all written with gold characters, summoning him to the Council of Ephesus, where the Fathers assembled would soon condemn Nestorius and declare Holy Mary to be Mother of God - but this Light of the West had already departed for the pure light of Truth above.

May he pray for me, that I be converted entirely to the Lord; may he pray for all nations, that they all turn and be saved. As the Saint so beautifully and truly put it,

Fecisti nos ad te, Domine, et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.

(Thou hast made us for Thyself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it rest in Thee.)


Famously, St Augustine's conversion in the summer of 386 (which, like St Paul's, had a feast all its own in calendars of congregations - such as the Dominicans - adhering to his Rule, on the 15th of May - see an online Breviarium S.O.P., page 337ff) was proximately triggered by his opening the Scriptures, upon hearing mysterious voices chanting Tolle, lege; his eye fell upon Romans xiii, 13f:

Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: but put on the Lord Jesus Christ: and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.

Thus was answered his well-known imperfect prayer during his time of wandering with divided heart - "Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet." Thus were superabundantly rewarded all his stumbling steps toward the light. Thus were answered the endless prayers and tears of St Monica, his mother, to whose piteous intercession, under God, is attributed the grace of his conversion!

Handing on the scroll to St Alypius, his friend, who was thereupon converted by reading the next verse (Romans xiv, 1 - "Now him that is weak in faith, take unto you: not in disputes about thoughts"), Augustine experienced no more doubts or dismay, and was baptized by St Ambrose at the Easter Vigil at Milan, on the 24th of April 387. Pious fancy has these two later canonized saints and Doctors extemporizing the Te Deum at the moment of St Augustine's reëmergence from the font: well may we sing Te Deum and Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam, on such a great feast!

Here is the old Dominican collect for the feast of St Augustine's conversion:

Deus, qui ineffabili providentia beatum Augustinum ab errorum tenebris ad lucem evangelicæ veritatis adduxisti: da nobis, quæsumus, ut, qui ejus [hodie] Conversionem colimus, ejusdem ad te precibus, actus nostros in melius reformemus. Per...

(God, Who didst bring blessed Augustine by Thine unspeakable Providence from the darkness of error to the light of Gospel truth: give unto us, we beseech, that we who observe his Conversion [to-day], at the prayers of the same to Thee, may reform our actions for the better. Through...)

This would be a very suitable daily prayer. St Philip Neri used to declare upon recovering from any illness that he really purposed to begin to reform his life, considering that all his efforts thus far were nugatory - and this was the set resolve of a saint! Much the more so ought worldlings pray at least for grace to at last slough off sin and walk manfully in the way of Christ.

The Conversion of St Paul, the Conversion of St Augustine, and, may one add the Conversion of soon-to-be-Blessed John Henry Newman (9th October 1845, when he was received into the Church by Bl Dominic Barberi, C.P.*) - these, together with the anniversary of one's own embrace of the Faith, should be days kept with solemnity and ever remembered.

[* This holy priest once converted two anti-Catholic youths on the spot, when they observed that the stones they threw at him in their bigoted violence he picked up and kissed!]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And may St Monica intercede for parents whose children are set up for a lifetime spent in a morass of ingnorance, confusion and contempt for the Faith by what has been allowed to pass for Catholic education.