Hope for Late Bloomers

28 August 2007 Memorial of St. Augustine

Having made the homily for the day, I decided to make another for St. Augustine (354-430 AD). In my past reflections, I have mentioned Augustine along with Sts. Mary Magdalene and Ignatius of Loyola. They were the saints I gave as examples of the greatest sinners turned the greatest saints. But there was more to Augustine. It was easier for me to identify with him.

I have with me a journal of my spiritual life. Augustine has his “Confessions,” a very honest account of his spiritual journey. In his Confessions is the following:

“Too late have I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you! And behold, you were within, and I abroad, and there I searched for you; I was deformed, plunging amid those fair forms, which you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. Things held me far from you—things which, if they were not in you, were not at all. You called, and shouted, and burst my deafness. You flashed and shone, and scattered my blindness. You breathed odors and I drew in breath—and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

Augustine admitted that he was a late bloomer. His love of God was ‘late’. He had a dark history, a past away from God when he ‘plunged amid those fair forms’. In his younger years, he lived a hedonistic lifestyle. In Carthage, he had a relationships with a young woman for 15 years. During this period, he had a son named Adeodatus. Although raised as a Catholic, Augustine left the Church to follow the Manichaean religion, much to the despair of his mother, St. Monica. Moreover, he was an intellectual whose academic pursuits included Latin literature, philosophy inspired by Cicero’s dialogue, Hortensius, and rhetoric. At age 30, Augustine won the most visible academic chair in the Latin world. Such post gave ready access to political career.

Many of us are like Augustine who described it as the time when God was with us, but we were not with God. When we were younger, we were busy with our minute quests, as the Pharisees who focused on the details of the law. We were busy pursuing our academic careers, or running after our dreams. We were tracking events and chasing our crushes. Augustine said that we “go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and [we] pass by [our]selves without wondering.”

Late do we actually come to love God. Only after all these pursuits and this restless running, when we find ourselves tired and empty, searching our identities and our place in the sun, do we finally stop, look and wonder. The God we were looking for, we find in our hearts, closer to us than we to ourselves.

In our childhood, we may have parents like St. Monica to teach us and insist on faith. There are times when we get to inherit wrong notions of God like the God who punishes and the God who controls our lives. We get to know God from what people say He is. Only after God’s calling, shouting, flashing, and scattering our blindness through the pains of life like death and failure, or loneliness and separation, or being stripped of everything we have in personal and family tragedies, or positively being inspired by a mentor like St. Anselm to Augustine, do we begin to listen. We begin to look for a genuine relationship with God and thereby finding our very self. We find our peace.

But there is one thing that strikes me with Augustine. One of my students wrote me, “Isn’t it late when a person, after spending a wayward life, returns to God only at his deathbed?” Augustine would say, “It isn’t too late.”

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