Saint Augustine taught that we were made with a desire for God, and yet, that desire is often blinded and misdirected. Oftentimes, this teaching is used to explain sin: when we sin, we are seeking God in the wrong places. For example, the misdirected desire for happiness that only God can give may express itself in power struggles, causing from personal quarrels to wars among nations. An Augustinian analysis would find the root of conflict and division as misdirected and disordered love.
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When we live in the awareness we were made for God and we are mere pilgrims on this earth, can begin to having a right relationship to the limited resources on this earth. Even in the spiritual plane, and not just in relation to creation, the humility of recognizing ourselves as made for God is not far from also seeing even the desire to be good, as itself a gift from God.
If humility is the foundation, the values that perhaps most capture Augustinian Spirituality are Truth, Love, and Unity. The Truth, whom Saint Augustine sought all his life and who found him. The Love of God that inflamed Saint Augustine’s heart and which he shared with others. The Unity he sought to preserve in the Church which was battered by schisms and heresies, as well as the unity he lived with the men in his monastery seeking to be, as the rule says “of one mind and one heart intent upon God.”
The intention to live in one mind and heart upon God begins within ourselves, unifying our minds and hearts by having Jesus as our center and our Lord. It is an ongoing process of continual conversion for all of us who have been baptized. In baptism the Love of God through the death and resurrection of Christ becomes part of our lives, and yet each person’s experience of the love of God in Christ is unique. Each person’s journey of conversion is also unique, and we do not see the work of God occurring in the heart of others.
During the first half of Augustine’s episcopacy, he wrote and preached against the division of his time known as Donatism, which emphasized external moral purity as the mark of the true Church. They could trace which ministers had not been contaminated by “traitors” who handed to the Roman persecutors the sacred vessels and texts during the persecutions. Augustine countered that the time for separation was at the end time, when God would separate the just from the unjust. Before then however, the Church exists as a morally mixed body, so that God’s grace could bring the unjust to repentance and conversion.
Just as God is patient and merciful with us to allow us to repent and change our ways, so we are called to extend mercy and patience to each other. Perhaps also a commitment to seeking truth, kindness, and civility could be ways for us to engage with each other more intentionally in order to find common ground with others in a very divided society and Church. Although we may come from different perspectives from others, we may be united by a common love for truth if we humbly, civilly, and patiently listen to each other, and together search for Truth.
Pope Francis has invited the Church to engage in just such a process, and the word for it is synodality, which literally means walking together. The International Commission of the Order of Saint Augustine for the Synod issued a document on June 30th of this year where they emphasized listening occurs at three levels: listening to oneself, listening to one’s community, and listening to the Church. Listening to oneself occurs through interiority; listening to one’s community ought to be done in the context of prayer, thus hearing how God is acting in the lives of others; and listening to the Church means including the marginalized in society, as well as laity and clerics walking together in mission and shared responsibility.