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Bishop of Hippo, Doctor of the Church (entered heaven in 430)
So orientation week is over and classes have begun. Are you sober? Don’t be shocked; I know how orientation weeks go, and I know you. And that’s why I’m writing. You do not have an evil heart, my young nephew, but you do have a great love for pleasure, a special sensitivity to the beautiful things of the world. That is a gift from God (you would have made a great Epicurean poet). But, like every gift, you can use it well or you can abuse it. If you let it run away with you, it will lead you into sin, which tastes good in your mouth, but produces spiritual indigestion (not to mention how it offends the good God who made you). If you harness it to the truths of your faith, however, it will lead you, slowly but surely, to the most sublime heights of prayer and spiritual insight. Trust me when I tell you that there are no other alternatives, and that the first alternative is bad.
St Augustine was the same way. 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 out his passionate love on the Church through his preaching, his writing, and his dedicated pastoring. He defined an epoch, and laid 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.
You will need his inspiration and intercession as you launch into your college career. Temptations abound (as you already know), and you are not strong enough to resist them on your own. Above all, I would advise you always to call a sin a sin – never let the pleasure of evil convince you that something wrong is right. Many people, when they look back on the excesses of their youth, smile and laugh; Augustine, who knew the heart of God more intimately than most, looked back on the excesses of his youth and wept. I pray that you will not have any such excesses to look back upon – that you will always be able to look forward.