Written by Jacqueline Lucca, a Catholic author, artist, and teacher at www.adventuresinexcellence.com
In his early life, Saint Augustine was known for struggling with purity and self-control. He was clever, arrogant, and lustful as a teenager and young adult. He left his initial home of Algeria to study and teach, always hungering for the truth while clinging to his weaknesses.
In the year 386, young Augustine heard about Saint Anthony of the desert. The desert father lived a life of penance and prayer—a very different life than what Augustine was used to living. Saint Augustine felt his heart on fire, for he too wished to give up all for God, but his addictions were impossible for him to overcome on his own. He wept.
St. Augustine was a brilliant student and speaker. He was proud and stubborn, and only found the truth after St. Monica, his mother, had been praying for him for years. But even when presented with the beautiful truth of the faith, even when convinced of the existence of a loving God, and even when certain that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Saint Anthony, Augustine struggled with chastity, continuing to live with a woman in an impure relationship. Many people quote him: “Make me holy, but not yet.” He found it impossible to live the pure life he was striving for on his own.
It was then that he heard the famous words, spoken by a child: “Take up and read.” And so he opened a book of St. Paul and read.
Let us live honorably as in daylight; not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh. Who will free me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This was St. Augustine’s answer. God calls us to greatness—a beauty that we cannot achieve on our own, but a beauty that God gives us through grace.
Saint Augustine’s Confessions
After this conversion event, Saint Augustine poured his heart and soul into his new life of purity and truth. It was not always easy, but he found deep peace and fulfillment. He wanted nothing more than to settle down in a quiet monastery and enter deeply into contemplative prayer and rest.
However, God had other plans for Augustine. During a visit to Milan, a bishop began speaking to him and subsequently made him a priest on the spot. Augustine was then asked to remain as bishop where he shepherded an unruly group of people, dealt with politics, and argued against many heresies.
As is common in heated politics, people tried to discredit Augustine with tales of his past. Instead of hiding his sins in shame, he shared openly about his previous life of dissatisfaction and lust, and he spoke of God’s wonderful mercy, writing his Confessions at the age of forty-three.
In this masterpiece of writing, Augustine shared about his continual search and longing for God. Addressing God directly, he wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” And Augustine wrote that beautiful statement from personal experience. He had tried to be honored for his intelligence. He had tried a life of lust. He had tried a variety of heretical religions that didn’t make him feel so guilty for his lifestyle. But nothing worked. He spilled his life story onto the pages, not as a moment of triumph for himself, but as a cry of longing, joy, and praise for all God had done in his life.
To this day, people continue to read Augustine’s Confessions, which was written over 1,600 years ago. In it, he is raw and real and speaks intimately about things close to his heart. Perhaps, had he been happily resting in a quiet countryside monastery, we would not have received this beautiful autobiography that so many people can relate to. Perhaps we would have gotten a very different type of saint. Instead, St. Augustine became the Bishop of Hippo and wrote his Confessions, which to this day continues to impact restless hearts and bring peace to people around the world.
Saint Augustine’s Example
Often, when I look at the lives of brilliant, powerful saints, it is easy to focus on their highlight reels. It is easy for me to wish I had St. Augustine’s genius of rhetoric or the beautiful moment of his conversion. But Saint Augustine gives us a unique gift—the gift of his heart captured in writing, which details how long his journey was. Sainthood is not something one can achieve like the level of a video game; it is a gift that is given if and when we open our arms wide enough to receive it.
As he grappled with his conversion, Saint Augustine wanted to be like the famous Saint Anthony of the desert and live with discipline and purity, but he felt it was impossible without God. And he was right—only God was able to fulfill the desires of his heart.
Like Saint Augustine, God calls us to greatness. He puts desires on our hearts that are impossible without His grace. And if respond like Saint Augustine, giving our faith and fidelity to God, we too will receive an abundance of fulfillment, purpose, and love to carry us on toward our eternal home.