Life’s lessons are most often clearer in hindsight. Toward that end, St. Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians today with almost a litany of thanks. He thanks God for all of the members of the Church who have responded to his tireless preaching of the Gospel. For Paul, thankfulness was the only response possible to God’s grace, and he sees it at work everywhere.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Augustine. Augustine was a man who thought he had everything figured out at a young age. He was prideful, caught up in the world’s pleasures and focused solely on what could be learned from his own reasoning. He had no room for the religion of his mother, St. Monica, whose feast we celebrated yesterday. But through her tireless prayers, Augustine began to come to know the God she worshipped, and began to respond to grace. He was baptized at 33 years of age, became a priest at 36, and a bishop at 41. Grace can work fast in a person’s life.
St. Augustine’s Confessions are among the best works on the spiritual life. In that work, he reflects, among other things, on his conversion, and how he felt called to repentance, but did not want to give up the world’s pleasures just yet. But throughout the work, he praises God for God’s work in his life. One of the best-known sections speaks of how the beauty of God was near, yet seemed beyond him:
Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.
St. Paul and St. Augustine were always grateful for the grace they saw at work in the world. Today, may we all be mindful and grateful for those gifts in our lives.