Lessons I Have Learned from Saint Augustine

In his first catechesis out of a series of three on the saint, given at Paul VI Audience Hall on Wednesday 9 January 2008, one of the most eminent Augustinian scholars ever, Pope Benedict XVI, described Saint Augustine with the following words:

Man of passion and faith, of the highest intelligence and tireless in his pastoral care, a great Saint and Doctor of the Church is often known, at least by hearsay, even by those who ignore Christianity or who are not familiar with it, because he left a very deep mark on the cultural life of the West and on the whole world. Because of his special importance St Augustine’s influence was widespread. 

 For me Saint Augustine is a great life teacher, whose inspirations are so valid and concrete. He was a man who had his feet well placed on the ground whilst his spirit was well secured in Christ’s hands. Regarding saints and sinners Augustine said: There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.

For Augustine Christ’s words give eternal life. For this reason he could entrust himself only to Him. Augustine confessed:

I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden. 

God, the highest good, gave us the gift of forgiveness which brings repentance, not procrastination which is futile. Hence, he said: God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.

Love God is more than seeking – it is, most of all, allowing oneself be found by Him. Augustine emphasized this point when he said: To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement. Augustine was capable of highlighting human’s cooperation with God’s gratuitous grace. He said: Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.

According to this great man of God, humility is the key for true transforming holiness. He said: It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels. At the same time Augustine knew enough to assert that what is good and evil are such, irrespective of what others might say or think. He said: Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.

Notwithstanding the social position a person might enjoy in life, goodness is tantamount to freedom while wickedness is slavery. Augustine concluded: Thus, a good man, though a slave, is free; but a wicked man, though a king, is a slave. For he serves, not one man alone, but what is worse, as many masters as he has vices. Augustine placed a great emphasis on fidelity in doing small things. He wisely advises us: You aspire to great things? Begin with the little ones.

Saint Augustine was a great realist. He made the important point that not every member of the Church is a potential saint; they may be far from it. In keeping with his generally lowly view of fallen mankind, Augustine strongly believes that sin is everywhere, including within the Church’s ranks. By the same token, there are those outside the Church who display marked signs of holiness. They are among the “sheep,” as it were. Hence, he was able to conclude: There are wolves within, and there are sheep without.

Living one’s life deeply focused on material things uncovers the interior death of the soul which already lives within in it when it gave itself to materialism. Augustine said: I was unhappy and so is every soul unhappy which is tied to its love for mortal things; when it loses them, it is torn in pieces, and it is then that it comes to realize the unhappiness which was there even before it lost them. Therefore, only in God do we find our real freedom. He said: Our heart is restless until it rests in you.

Augustine makes aware of the brutality of resentment when he tells us: Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. For him real beauty resides in the soul. He says: Beauty grows in you to the extent that love grows, because charity itself is the soul’s beauty. This beauty is translated into charitable actions. Augustine tells us: What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

The evil man is the victim of his own bad actions. Augustine points out: Thus, a good man, though a slave, is free; but a wicked man, though a king, is a slave. For he serves, not one man alone, but what is worse, as many masters as he has vices. That is why the Bible is so important because it shows us where we come from, our Heavenly home. He said: The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home. Finally, faith reaps its eternal reward. Augustine encourages us in our faith journey when he tells us: Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.

These inspiring thoughts lead me to conclude that Saint Augustine teaches me what true life is and how am I to live it.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.