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  • Writer's pictureOmar Gutierrez

The Restless Heart

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

To my mind, if ever there were a saint for the modern youth, it’s today’s saint: St. Augustine.

Born in 354 in North Africa, his mother, St. Monica, was a devout Christian and his father was… well… not. The couple had two children, both boys, and Augustine was the pride of the family. Good looking and not just smart but clever, young Augustine was sent to school and studied the finer things. But he wasn’t one of those kids with visions of our Lord from childhood. He was rather the opposite.

St. Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne [detail]

Once, while in school, he and his buddies crept onto a neighbor’s property where there was a gigantic pear tree. They climbed the tree and proceeded to shake it violently, knocking down all these pears. They weren’t hungry. They were just boys with nothing better to do and who wanted to destroy something beautiful. They ended up gathering up some of the pears and threw them to the pigs, laughing all the time. And when he wrote about this incident later in life, Augustine said that he did it because he knew it was wrong, because it gave him a sense of independence, of freedom, a “deluded sense” of power.

This boy turned into a young man with much the same sense of power and self-importance, except that he was now a master rhetorician, an expert in making arguments not for the sake of the truth but for the highest bidder. He slept around. Moved in with a lover. They had a kid. He spent a good deal of time drinking with his buddies. All the while, his dear mother prayed and wept and prayed some more.

Then Augustine met a wise man named Ambrose. This fellow was just as smart and just as clever as Augustine, but he was a Christian, which baffled Augustine at first. Ambrose was the bishop of Milan, one of the great cities in the Empire. For the first time in his life, Augustine began to take Christianity seriously.

Now, he tried a few times to convert. Once, he prayed, “Give me chastity, but not quite yet.” But a couple of his Christian curious friends read about the life of St. Anthony of the Desert. The stories about him inspired his friends. Augustine could see that they were converted. Why couldn’t he be faithful to his convictions, he thought? He rushed out into the back garden of this home he and his friends were visiting. His heart beat in his chest. Why was he so weak? Why couldn't he be as resolute as Anthony? Why couldn't he give up his sins whice he hated so much? “How long?” he prayed to God, “Why not now? Why not put an end to my filthy way of living now?”

"Veritas" means Truth

What a weird thing to sing, he thought. That’s not a kid’s game. And it couldn't have been, not in a culture where most people were illiterate. So he took it as a sign and picked up a copy of the letters of St. Paul which his friend had. He opened it up and read the following passage, “let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” (Rm. 13:13-14)

God had made the invitation to his heart, and from that moment forward he changed his life around. He left the woman he was living with. He received baptism from Ambrose. He started to study the Scriptures. He apologized to his mother. He founded an order of brothers and priests. His son joined him. He eventually became a bishop, and truly one of the most influential writers, theologians, and thinkers not just in Christianity but in all of Western thinking. His Confessions is considered one of the great works of Western literature.

In short, St. Augustine learned that the trappings of this world only bear so much potential for happiness. True happiness lies in a relation with Jesus, which is why he so famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you [Lord].” This is why he’s sometimes portrayed holding a heart. He died at the age of seventy-six, on this day in 430. May we all rest in the heart of Jesus today and forever. St. Augustine, pray for us.

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