Today is the day of Saint Augustine of Hippo’s Baptism at the hands of the Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Augustinian Orders and Congregations across the world celebrate today the great event of Augustine’s conversion.
We mentioned last year the voice, “Tolle, lege” (take up and read) that he heard in the garden. Picking up the Epistles of Saint Paul, he found the following passage from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (Rom 13:13-14), which had a deep impact on his soul:
Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.
Our Holy Father Augustine praises God in his Confessions for the great grace of this conversion:
For Thou didst so convert me unto Thyself, that I sought neither a wife, nor any other of this world’s hopes. (Conf.viii)
Saint Monica, the patronness of all parents who worry and pray for their lapsed children, was overjoyed. She would die soon after, and while on her deathbed she declared:
Son, for myself, I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. What I want here further, and why I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are satisfied. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly, so that I see you despising all earthly felicity, made His servant—what then do I here any longer? (Conf. ix)
The Holy Father Pope Benedict had this to say about St Augustine’s conversion during his visit to Pavia in April 2007:
In his book, Confessions, Augustine touchingly described the development of his conversion which achieved its goal with Baptism, administered to him by Bishop Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan. […] A careful examination of the course of St Augustine’s life enables one to perceive that his conversion was not an event of a single moment but, precisely, a journey. And one can see that this journey did not end at the baptismal font.
Just as prior to his baptism Augustine’s life was a journey of conversion, after it too, although differently, his life continued to be a journey of conversion – until his last illness, when he had the penitential Psalms hung on the walls so that he might have them always before his eyes, and when he excluded himself from receiving the Eucharist in order to go back once again over the path of his repentance and receive salvation from Christ’s hands as a gift of God’s mercy.
Thus, we can rightly speak of Augustine’s “conversions”, which actually consisted of one important conversion in his quest for the Face of Christ and then in the journeying on with him.
Today is also the fifth anniversary of the inaguration of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. May Saint Augustine, so beloved of our dear Holy Father, intercede for our Sovereign Pontiff now, “for the conversion of sinners and the liberty and exaltation of our holy Mother the Church.”
Ad multos annos, Sanctissime Pater!