St. Augustine of Hippo is now known as one of the greatest saints of all time. Not only was he a very holy bishop with a gift for oratory, but he was also a prolific writer, penning works like Confessions and The City of God, which are widely considered to be classics of Western literary history. However, if you have done any research into St. Augustine, you know that he lived very sinfully in his youth. He subscribed to pagan philosophies like Neoplatonism and Manichaeism, and despite his mother’s fervent pleas for repentance, he continued to live with a woman out of wedlock, eventually fathering a child with her.
So, how did one of the greatest saints of all time, a Church Father, convert to the One True Faith from a life mired in sin?
The answer: the Word of God.
In Confessions, St. Augustine explains that his conversion to Catholicism was not instant. Though he had a strong desire to become a Catholic after befriending St. Ambrose, he struggled to practice some of the Church’s teachings – especially that of chastity. He wrote that he asked God “to make him chaste, but not yet.”
One day, Augustine’s frustration came to a head. He pleaded with God to fully convert his heart. He wanted to become a Catholic and fully embrace the Church’s teachings, but he felt it impossible to detach himself from sins of the flesh. Augustine retreated to a garden for deep contemplation of his soul. He writes in Confessions that he heard a child’s voice implore him to “pick up and read” the copy of Sacred Scripture he had brought into the garden with him. Immediately, Augustine opened the book to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 13:13-14, which states that one must “make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” It was after reading those words that Augustine knew it was time to change his life.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “Augustine’s conversion was not sudden nor fully accomplished at the beginning, but which can be defined rather as a true and proper journey that remains a model for each one of us.” We are all called to conversion of heart, and for most us it is not easy. However, what we can learn from St. Augustine’s story is that the Word of God speaks directly to our restless hearts and offers us a road map to bring us home to Him.