St. Augustine and Conversion
Fr. Ed Benioff - Added on Thursday, July 24, 2014

St. Augustine was one of the most influential men ever to walk the planet. As the old Roman world was falling apart, he laid the foundations for a new society. He invented new literary genres. He wrote with authority about politics, morals, music, history, Scripture, logic, marriage, education, prayer, and how to care for a dead body. He was a pioneer of scientific method. He served in the court of an emperor. He excelled as a bishop, a judge, a teacher, and an author.


Most of us will never approach Augustine’s level of intellect or achievement.


But we’re all like him in one way. We need conversion. We need to turn our lives around.


Augustine was born and raised in North Africa in the mid-fourth century. His mother, Monica, was a Christian. His father, Patrick, was a pagan who set a bad moral example for his son.


Young Augustine very early set himself apart from other students from his small town. He was clearly destined for bigger things; and so he won scholarships to spend his teen and college years at prestigious schools. Even in the big city, he found that he was always the smartest person in the room. And he was quite proud of that.


Though his mother had raised him to be a Catholic, he found Catholic morality to be incompatible with the life he wanted to live on his big-city college campus. He stopped practicing the faith. He moved in with his girlfriend. And they conceived a child out of wedlock.


This was a severe trial for his mother, Monica. At first she tried arguing with him, but that got nowhere. He was brilliant, and she could barely read. She tried to discipline him by denying him family privileges, but that just seemed to push him further away.


So she made a firm decision to pursue a spiritual path. She sought expert spiritual direction, and she got good advice. She grew more disciplined and constant in her prayer. And she strove to be a kindly, helpful presence for Augustine’s mistress and son. Monica began to concentrate on her own conversion first of all.


Augustine wasn’t to be a quick fix.  As his career soared higher and higher, he grew more and more proud and distant from God. He dabbled in occult Eastern religions, though even then he didn’t commit himself. Augustine was all about Augustine.


When his career took him overseas, to bigger jobs and bigger cities, his mother accompanied him — at first in her prayer, but eventually with her presence. When the young man began to see the emptiness of the life he was living, he began to see the wisdom of his mother’s faith. After seventeen years away from church, at last — in his thirties — he came home to the sacraments.


Augustine then went on to become the Church’s most influential theologian — ever. No one outside the Holy Bible is more frequently quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


His hardheaded resistance to the Catholic faith had been a trial for his mother. But her many years of prayer eventually won not only his conversion, but also the conversion of her husband, and Augustine’s mistress, and Augustine’s son … and how many thousands of others we’ll never know!


The story repeats itself still today. Children from faithful homes wander from the faith, and it’s a heartache for their parents. The story of Augustine and Monica should give us all hope. These seeming tragedies can have unimaginably happy endings in the plan of our wise and loving God. We need to pray as Monica prayed, and to work on our own conversion more than on anyone else’s!


Who knows? From the ranks of today’s rebellious youth, God may be raising up a new Augustine, to lay the foundations of a new culture. He is always ready to raise up saints from the ranks of proud and hardened sinners.


Make a list today of the people in your life who seem far from God. Renew your commitment to pray for them daily. Keep the list somewhere you’ll see it often.


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