On the Journey: Childhood

Augustine’s Confessions I.7-12

“You are the one and only mold in which all things are cast and the perfect form which shapes all things and everything takes its place according to your law.” -Confessions I. 7

One of the most profound experiences that one can have, in my opinion, is holding a newborn child in their arms. The beauty and innocence in the eyes of an infant can reach a person to the very soul, putting him or her in touch with the God who created us all, who at one time formed us in the womb so that we might be held by our own fathers and mothers.

The parent of a toddler running around the house may not be so keen on seeing that innocence, and the parent of a teenager may outright deny it!

We are all born in this wonderful state, but then again, we are also human. We are not born perfect, and we will grow to make mistakes, fall, both proverbially and actually, and by God’s grace, we will get up again.

I remember when I was a young child, probably middle elementary school and I was out playing with some friends. I did not want to come home, only because I wanted to play longer, and ignored the calls of my mother. (And when I say calls, I mean verbally, from the front porch. Well, whistles actually. Cell phones weren’t so common then. Man, I feel old all of a sudden…)

This obviously didn’t end well.

From Wikimedia Commons - Unlimited License

From Wikimedia Commons – Unlimited License

She kept calling, and I kept ignoring, and finally it came time that I had to leave my friend’s house so he could eat dinner. I proceeded out his front door, said goodbye, and waited. And hid behind a rather large bush. And waited some more. I mean, I knew I was in for it, so why not, right? I saw my mom ride by on her bicycle, looking frantically for me. I’m not sure how long it had been; it seemed like hours, but it was probably only 15 or 20 minutes. Eventually, I knew I had to make my presence known, and so I stepped out so she could see me.

That was the first time I experienced what it was like to be grounded.

Lord knows it wouldn’t be the last, and that I have probably given my mother and father a fright or two or ten since then!

But my point is this: even at that young age, we struggle with the right thing to do, what choices we make, and this is where we find Augustine in this week’s reading. He recounts what he must have been like as an infant (whiny) and what he was like during his early school years (a brat who didn’t want to concentrate on school work):

“I was disobedient, not because  I had chosen something better than they [my parents] proposed to me, but simply from the love of games…My eyes shone more and more [with curiosity]…[and I] wanted to see the shows and sport which grown-ups enjoyed.” –Confessions I.10

The Carpenter's Shop, by Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Somehow, I don’t think our Lord ever got in trouble… Painting entitled “The Carpenter’s Shop”, by Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Augustine sought to follow his own desires, seeking what he considered the “wealth of this age” (I.9). But even at this point in life, even though he  had a lot of growing up to do, and many more mistakes to make, he still had an inclination of the presence of God, taught  to him by his mother Monica.  At one point, he even pleads with his mom, appealing to her own devotion, “Give me the baptism of Christ your son, who is my God and my master” (I.11).

I wish I was as eloquent as Augustine at that age!

There is a two fold lesson that we can learn from our own lives and from Augustine in all of this. First, we must grow up. Second, we must remain children. Scripture even supports this: in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ tells his followers, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18.2-4). In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he speaks of “put[ting] away childish things” (1 Cor. 13.11).

Of course there is no contradiction here. In one sense, we must strive to return to the humility of childhood, seeing ourselves how God sees us, trying to better ourselves, get aways from the distractions of the “wealth of this world.” We must seek refuge in Him as the Father that He is, accepting the mercy of His Son, allowing the Spirit to penetrate our hearts. At the same time, this movement of child-like faith and humility will cause us to grow up, to see the world how it truly is, to see the emptiness of worldly wealth and to see how His truth and beauty permeates all things. We discover that we can either allow ourselves to be swept away by that beauty, or turn our backs on it as we would a cold wind.

The Father has cast us in His image; let’s rediscover the mold from which He made us as little children.

For reflection:

How can you become more like a child to grow closer to God?

What things do you need to put away in order to grow closer to God?

Up in two weeks: Confessions I.13-15. Normally I try to post weekly, but I am taking this short hiatus to focus on enjoying vacation and studying for finals. There will be other posts on the blog before then, I am sure, but the next one in this series will be on Dec. 9.

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

On the Journey: Restless Hearts

Confessions I.1

You have made us for Yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

About twelve years ago, I was driving around one rainy evening, not following any particular route. The music was playing loud (I don’t remember what), and I was ruminating over recent events in my life. I had just been hired at a new job working with at-risk youth, and was doing well in school, which had not always been the case. But something was missing. I was restless.

West Virginia Winding Country Road - ForestWalker.com. Licensed under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0

West Virginia Winding Country Road – ForestWalker.com. CC BY-SA 3.0

My grandmother had recently passed away and I had attended her funeral Mass with the rest of my family. I was not Catholic yet, but I recognized something in that moment – even though we were grieving her loss, there was also a sense of expectation and joy. She had lived a faithful life and was loved by her family and her community. A pillar of the town she lived in, she was known for her generosity and, especially to us grandkids, her love and good humor. At her funeral Mass, even though our family grieved, I also vividly remembered words of hope spoken by the priest, hope that she would join the Father, a hope that was available to all of us, a hope that invited our hearts to rest in Him. It was at this time in my life that I had started to wonder, “Is there more? Why am I restless? What am I seeking?”

Here among St. Augustine’s first words in the Confessions, he seeks to find how this hope works, how a person comes to faith in the Lord. Does he pray and discover the Lord, or does the Lord make Himself known to the person, drawing the individual to prayer? In the end, Augustine exclaims, “It is my faith that calls to you Lord, the faith which you gave me.” We will not find rest until we reach out to Him, but He invites us, draws us into that same rest which we seek. In other words, we have to respond, but He always starts the conversation.

The important question today, for all of us, is thus: where do we seek our rest? Where is our hope? To be quite frank, my friends, our hope and rest comes from only one place, one Person: our Lord. For some, those may be hard words to hear. For others, they may make perfect sense. At one point in my life, I thought they were sheer lunacy. The more I have studied, prayed, and searched in my life, however, I have found that this is the only answer: our hearts will only find rest when they rest in the Father, guided by the Spirit, redeemed through the Son.

We can all get distracted, seeking rest in things of this world. Some of these things are even very good too! Some of them, well, are not so good. Do we seek rest in all the wrong places? And if we do, how do we find the way back?

I believe this is the walk we will take with our first companion on the journey, St. Augustine: to discover how to still our restless hearts. No person, no thing, no matter how good, will satisfy this ultimate longing that resides in the depths of the human heart. Only until our hearts rest in His heart will they be at peace. May we all seek Him with open hearts, may we find the One who waits for us, who has been waiting for us all along…

Pax.

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and rest. -Mark 6.31

For reflection:

1. Where do you seek rest?

2. Is your heart still restless?

Part of an ongoing series, Companions on the Journey

Up next: Confessions Book I, Sections 2-4

Companions On the Journey: Introduction

In the annals of history, there are many spiritual masters who can guide us in the Christian life, and we need the guidance! After all, being a Christian is not easy! We must remember, however, that there have been countless travelers before us, some who have followed similar paths, and others who have followed vastly different paths, but all with experiences that can benefit our spiritual growth.

We are not on this journey alone.

Keeping this in mind, I have decided to start a new series called called “Companions On the Journey.” Praise God, we have many saints to look to for guidance in the Christian life, so from time to time, I will pick a new saint to read and follow as I seek to grow in Christ in my own life. From these readings, I hope to develop reflections for posting here on the blog. It may work, or it may not, but let’s try it out and see how we do. Expect these particular posts to come out once or twice a week. They may deal solely with the text, make connections with other authors I have recently read, or even external happenings around here and back home. The nice thing about the nature of this sort of project is that I can work on it at my own pace and then post-date the entries for later publishing, which should make things a bit easier.

Portrait of St. Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Which brings me to Saint Augustine, our first companion in the journey. As a convert myself, I have always felt a deep connection to his writing, especially his Confessions, so this is where we will start. I will personally be going through the entire Confessions, but I may choose to omit certain reflections from the blog for various and sundry reasons. For these reflections, I will be utilizing R. S. Pine-Coffins’s translation of the Confessions, available in the Penguin Classics series (ISBN 978-0-14-044114-7). If you would like to pick up a copy yourself, I suggest calling Easter’s Books and Gifts (full disclosure: one of their former employees is my Godmother). As far as how long it will take to get through Augustine’s Confessions I am not sure, but I figure we will be journeying with him for a while. Even though I will be reading the entire book, that doesn’t mean that everything in the book will be reflected upon on the blog (we would be here for a very long time). To that end, I will note at the end of each reflection which chapter(s) the next post will focus upon.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment, get in touch via Facebook, or fill out the contact form in the “About” section. The first post based on St. Augustine’s Confessions will go live on Saturday morning, beginning with Book I, Chapter 1.

Until then, pax.


 

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.