What I Learned From A 1656-Year-Old Dead Man: Part 3

Augustine of Hippo

“God of goodness, what causes man to be more delighted by the salvation of a soul who isdespaired of but is then liberated from great danger than if there has alwaysbeen hope or if the danger has only been minor?  You also, merciful Father, rejoice more over one penitentthan over ninety-nine just persons who need no penitence.”
I like to thinkthat Jesus saved me from a life of mediocrity.  I wasn’t really one of those people who had the mosthorrific story of drug abuse, gang history or impregnating all the girls in thehigh school prom royalty.  Some ofthe most awful outward actions I took were punching a fellow grade-schooler inthe nose for a kickball and arrogantly yelling down those with opposingpolitical views in a high school classroom (I realize now that I didn’t evenunderstand many implications for such political views on either side.  Whole other blog post material.  Maybe someday.  Maybe not.).  Because I grew up in a conservative Christian sub-culturalcontext, I became well aware of how bad outward sins look, and consequentlylearned how to hide or ignore a great many inward sins, which seem to do worldsmore of harm in the long run.  Isurely enjoy hearing of radical, 180-degree changes of heart and life directionwhen individuals obscenely far from God finally come to repentance and chooseto follow Jesus.  These stories areworthy of much celebration because they are a snapshot of the Gospel.  But I think the less recognizable andless drastic transformations should be celebrated, too.  All this to say, I don’t want to makemuch of a transformed life just because it was big and dramatic andflashy.  I don’t want to make muchof a transformed life because someone already seemingly pretty good just addeda spiritual twist to his morality. I want to make much of a transformed life because, no matter where itwas before, its existence is now saved to the abundant life that Jesus promisesthose who will faithfully journey with him.  Now that’s enough reason to celebrate.
“The new will,which was beginning to be within me a will to serve you freely and to enjoyyou, God, the only sure source of pleasure, was not yet strong enough toconquer my older will, which had the strength of old habit.  So my two wills, one old, the othernew, one carnal, the other spiritual, were in conflict with one another, andtheir discord robbed my soul of all concentration…But I was an unhappy youngman, wretched as at the beginning of my adolescence when I prayed you forchastity and said: Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.  I was afraid you might hear my prayerquickly, and that you might too rapidly heal me of the disease of lust which Ipreferred to satisfy rather than suppress.”
“…But notyet.”  That speaks volumes.  We too often revel in our foolishness andheartbreaking attitude toward God, warring within ourselves like Paul thechurch-planter said, doing what we don’t want to do, but still do, because ourold self wants to do it, even while our new self is fighting against it.  Repentance isn’t just admittingfailure; it’s admitting failure, turning around, and walking back toward Jesus.
“During those daysI found an insatiable and amazing delight in considering the profundity of yourpurpose for the salvation of the human race.  How I wept during your hymns and songs!  I was deeply moved by the music of thesweet chants of your Church.  Thesounds flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart.  This caused the feelings of devotion tooverflow.  Tears ran, and it wasgood for me to have that experience…I recognize the great utility of music inworship.  Thus I fluctuate betweenthe danger of pleasure and the experience of the beneficent effect, and I ammore led to put forward the opinion (not as an irrevocable view) that in thecustom of singing in Church is to be approved so that through the delights ofthe ear the weaker mind may rise up towards the devotion of worship.”
Sometimes I’msorely disappointed with music I hear in church gatherings or music made byChristian artists.  But not always.  Some music made by Christians and someof that music performed in church gatherings is incredibly brilliant, in lyricand dynamic and originality and variation and melody.  Probably a product of the combination of certain emotivechord structures and the crossroads of a particular moment and frame of mind,it seems no coincidence that music is such an embraced staple of churchgatherings and common daily leisure. Lots of poets and people much more educated and eloquent than I havewritten endless praise of music, in that it seems to be some sort ofother-worldly language that speaks deep into our souls.  And occasionally, perhaps if we aremore attuned to what message is spoken though it, “Truth,” as Augustine said,“could be distilled into [our] heart[s].”
“When father andother and nurses are not there, you are present.  You have created us, you call us, you use human authoritiesset over us to do something for the health of our souls.  How did you cure her?  How did you restore her health?  You brought from another soul a harshand sharp rebuke, like a surgeon’s knife, from your secret stores, and with onelow you cut away the rottenness.”
I like that Goduses people to call out unhealthy spiritual habits or attitudes in eachother.  Uncomfortable and unnervingand awkward?  Without a doubt.  But entirely necessary andvaluable.  Priceless, even, becausesin, like cancer, spreads and infects and robs of life, when Jesus hasconquered death and calls us to a life of healthy, community-saturated, yetintensely personal faith.
“Yet, Lord, youknow that on that day when we had this conversation, and this world with allits delights became worthless to us as we talked on, my mother said, My son, asfor myself, I now find no pleasure in this life.  What I have still to do here and why I am here, I do notknow.  My hope in this world isalready fulfilled.  The one reasonwhy I wanted to stay longer in this life was my desire to see you a CatholicChristian before I die.  My God hasgranted this in a way more than I had hoped.  For I see you despising this world’s success to become hisservant.  What have I to do here?”
Leaving a godlylegacy.  A story that will beremembered because it was recognized as capable of eternal implications.  Find your mission, your role in thegrand narrative, and live out your character to the best possible extent.
“So little is thehuman mind capable of grasping divine things.”
More tofollow.  Just a bit more…


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