Pope Benedict XVI: Augustine as a model of conversion
St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
It is very hard to read the Confessions of St. Augustine and not feel an intimate connection with him and feel for him. Any Christian who has any doubts about how to establish a personal relationship with God has to read the Confessions. It is an easy read and there is really no formal background needed to start reading this book. Augustine’s journey towards its encounter with God is deeply moving, and although he is one of the greatest theologians of all time, he was able to convey beautifully how this personal encounter with our Creator takes place through personal conversion.
If you ask me or Michael who is our favorite saint, we would have to say Augustine is high up on the list—if not on the top! I knew Augustine from the Confessions before I met Michael, but then he showed me the man beyond the Confessions and his influence in Christian theology. Truly, a brilliant mind and an awe-inspiring saint, worthy of the title Doctor of the Church, was the center of Pope Benedict’s homily in Pavia, where the saint’s tomb is found.
Pope Benedict XVI said that because Jesus is risen and alive today, it is necessary to follow him along the road of conversion. He uses St. Augustine as an example of this necessary conversion:
St. Augustine’s First Conversion
“The first fundamental conversion was the interior road to Christianity, toward the ‘yes’ of faith and baptism… [He] was always tormented by the question of truth. He wanted to find truth… He always believed — sometimes rather vaguely, sometimes more clearly — that God exists and takes care of us,” the Pontiff said. “But to truly know this God and Jesus Christ and come to say ‘yes’ to him with all the consequences this entails — this was the great interior struggle of his youth… Only in the faith of the Church did he find the second essential truth: The Word was made flesh. And in this way he touches us and we touch him.”
St. Augustine’s Second Conversion
“The beautiful dream of the contemplative life disappeared, Augustine’s life fundamentally changed. Now he had to live with Christ for all… He had to translate his knowledge and sublime thoughts into the thought and language of the simple folk of his city… The great philosophical work of a lifetime, which he had dreamed of, remained unwritten. In its place we were given the gift of something more precious: the Gospel translated into the language of daily life… This was the second conversion that this man, struggling and suffering, had to undergo,” the Pope added. “He must always be there for everyone; always with Christ he must give his own life so that others might find Christ, the true Life.”
St. Augustine’s Third Conversion
St. Augustine’s third conversion took place when he discovered that “only one is truly perfect and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized only in one person: in Jesus Christ himself… On the other hand, the whole Church — all of us, including the apostles — must pray every day: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, St.
Augustine wrote… Augustine saw the final step of humility — not only the humility of inserting his great thought into the faith of the Church, not only the humility of translating his great knowledge into the simplicity of proclamation, but also the humility of recognizing that the merciful goodness of a God who forgives was necessary for him and the whole pilgrim Church.
“And we make ourselves resemble Christ, the perfect one, to the greatest extent possible, when we become merciful persons like him… In this hour let us thank God for the great light that radiates from the wisdom and humility of St. Augustine and let us pray to the Lord that he give all of us the necessary conversion each day and thus lead us to the true life.”