In his general audience, held Wednesday morning in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope concluded his series of catecheses on the figure of St. Augustine. Before the audience, the Holy Father went to the Vatican Basilica to greet pilgrims who had been unable to find a place in the hall.
St. Augustine "is one of the great converts of Christian history" said Benedict XVI. Reading the "Confessions", he went on, "it is easy to see that Augustine's conversion was neither sudden nor fully achieved right from the start. Rather it may be defined as a … journey, and remains as a model for each one of us".
"St. Augustine was, ever since the beginning, an impassioned searcher after the truth. … and the first stage of his journey of conversion … consisted precisely in his gradual approach to Christianity". He received a Christian education from his mother Monica and, despite having lived a wild youth, "always felt a profound attraction to Christ".
The saint's "passion for mankind and for truth … made him seek God, great and inaccessible". But "Faith in Christ, led him to understand that the apparently distant God is not in fact distant. He has come close to us, making Himself one of us. In this context, faith in Christ was the culmination of Augustine's long search along the path of truth. … This path must be followed with courage and, at the same time, with humility, while remaining open to the permanent purification of which each one of us has need".
St. Augustine, the Pope recalled, "was reluctantly ordained a priest in Hippo and assigned to the service of the faithful", in which role "he continued to live with Christ, but while serving everyone. He found this very difficult at the start, but he understood that only by living for others, and not just for his own private contemplation, could he truly live with Christ and for Christ. Renouncing a life of pure meditation he learned, often with difficulty, to place the fruits of his intellect at the service of others, to communicate his faith to the common people, … and thus to live for them in that city which he had made his own. … This was his second conversion".
The Pope then went on to identify another stage in Augustine's journey "which we could call his third conversion and which brought him daily to ask forgiveness of God. … We have a perennial need to be washed by Christ, … to be renewed by Him". We need "the humility to recognise that we are all sinners, constantly journeying until God definitively gives us His hand and introduces us to eternal life". With such humility Augustine lived and died.
"Having converted to Christ Who is truth and love", the Pope continued, "Augustine followed Him throughout his life and stands as a model for all human beings who seek after God. … Today too, as in his time, humankind needs to know this fundamental reality and, above all, to put it into practice: God is love and meeting Him is the only answer to the disquiet of our hearts".
Benedict XVI concluded his catechesis with a prayer that "every day we may be able to follow the example of this great convert, meeting in every moment of our lives, as he did, the Lord Jesus, the One Who saves us, purifies us and gives us true joy, true life".