St Augustine

Bishop of Hippo, Doctor of the Church (entered heaven in 430)

Dear Aggie,

You have already begun putting together your résumé?  Are you in a rush to be done with your senior year? I guess that’s OK, though since you need to do senior year in order to graduate (which is your immediate goal), I imagine God has at least one or two things he’s hoping to teach you in the next nine months; don’t miss out on those lessons by fixating overzealously on the tenth month.  In fact, your eagerness to get out into the “glamorous and slick world of big business”, as you put it in your note, may deserve a warning. Is it possible that you have forgotten the reason you went to college? It wasn’t so that you could have more stuff, be able to buy more toys and go on more exotic vacations; it was so that you could be more, so that you could become a more mature human being, with a refined, open, and disciplined mind, with a capacity to converse with others about pressing issues and non-pressing issues, with a sensitivity for what is good and true and beautiful, so that wherever your career (or vocation) takes you, you can better spread abroad the “sweet aroma of Christ”.  I think you should read a good biography of today’s saint this year, just to inoculate your soul against the seductions of the world.

Augustine was an expert in all such seductions.  He loved the fashionable heresies and trendy philosophical systems, because they let him continue his habits of lascivious indulgence (he always had a mistress).  By the grace of God, his brilliant mind dismantled all those false ideologies rather quickly, and he could not long resist the call of truth (his mother’s prayers and tears probably helped speed things up).  When he was 31, he embraced the Catholic faith. Soon his extraordinary intellectual and spiritual gifts became apparent, and for the next forty years he poured his passionate love out on the Church through his preaching, his writing, and his dedicated pastoring.  He defined an epoch, and helped lay the theological and philosophical groundwork for Western Christendom. But he was able to do all that only because he directed his zeal for life (which had previously degenerated into a zeal for pleasure) towards discovering and serving God.  That set his soul free, coupling its natural qualities with supernatural grace – a potent combination that led to one of the Holy Spirit’s greatest works of art.

On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t read a biography; maybe you should just read his two greatest books, The Confessions and The City of God – two among an entire library, miraculously preserved when the Visigoths stormed his city and razed it, as he lay dying on the edge of a new era of Western civilization, an era for which he had laid the foundations.  They will certainly help you to learn his lessons, without having to make his mistakes.

In any case, if you keep in mind this year the following words of this gigantic Doctor of the Church, I can guarantee that if you do have any regrets later on, they won’t be that you wasted your youth and vigor pursuing the tinsel and lights of worldly ambition: “The honors of this world, what are they but puff, and emptiness and peril of falling?”

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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