Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On St. Augustine

Things take the time they take. Don't
     worry.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
     before he became St. Augustine?

I begin with this poem from Mary Oliver seeing as we celebrated the Memorial of St. Augustine on Monday. On Sunday I happened to open up and begin reading an incredible book, Jesus the Teacher Within, by Laurence Freeman, OSB. The book (not coincidentally, I'm sure) centers around the question Jesus asked in Sunday's Gospel: "Who do you say that I am?" The premise is that we must continually ask ourselves that question of God, Jesus, and ourselves as to grow in true Self-knowledge. I am enjoying it very much so far, and when I came to a few lines about Augustine, I figured it would be timely to share them with you.

"St Augustine was fascinated by the question of self-knowledge, aware no doubt of how hard he had worked to gain it himself:

'A person must first be restored to himself, that making of himself as it were a stepping stone, he may rise thence to God.'

In his Confessions St Augustine was the first Western writer to define the sense of personal identity as intimately interior, self-conversing, seeking and anxious. He initiated the autobiographical narrative style that we take for granted as the way we think and talk about ourselves. Describing his search for himself as a search for God was not a mere literary device. His self-concern was given meaning because it pointed towards an ultimate self-transcendence. By self-analysis and writing he advanced towards self-knowledge in the telling (and invention) of his story and by the sharing of his hidden personality. This seems all quite familiar to us today, in the culture of the television chat show, as a means of understanding who we are. Yet there is a difference in motivation. However self-centered his autobiographical self-awareness might appear at times, it was led by a consuming passion to know God. This was the God he said was closer to him than he was to himself and who knew him better than he could know himself. He could therefore pray that he would come to know himself so that he could know God. It was a sublime kind of egotism waiting for an ecstatic release from the ego."

Let us walk in the holy presence.