St. Augustine’s Quest for Truth

Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly catechesis.

In light of St. Augustine’s feast day on Aug. 28, Pope Benedict XVI offered some reflections on the saint during his general audience at Castel Gandolfo on Aug. 25. St. Augustine, he noted, found in Christ the fullness of that truth which brings authentic freedom and joy after an intense search for the truth amidst much confusion.

The Holy Father urged believers to view St. Augustine and the other saints as “fellow travelers” on the journey of faith and to see what they can learn from the lives of these people who now enjoy the reward of eternal life.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the life of each one of us, there are people who are very dear to us, people to whom we feel especially close. Some are already in God’s arms, while others continue to share our journey through life. They are our parents, relatives and teachers — the people for whom we did good deeds or the people who did good deeds for us. They are the people we know we can count on.

However, it is important also to have “fellow travelers” on our journey through the Christian life — such as a spiritual director, a confessor, and those with whom we can share our faith experience — but I am also thinking of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. Everyone should have a special friendship with some saint, some saint to whom they feel close in prayer and intercession, but also a saint whose example they can emulate.

So I invite you to get to know the saints better — beginning with the saints after whom you are named — by reading about their lives and studying their writings. You can be sure that they will be good guides in learning how to love the Lord even more and be of valuable assistance in growing as a human being and as a Christian.

As you know, I have a special relationship with certain saints, including St. Joseph and St. Benedict, whose names I bear, as well as some others, such as St. Augustine, whom I had the gift of getting to know more closely, so to speak, through study and prayer and who has become a worthy “fellow traveler” in my life and in my ministry. I would like to highlight once more an important aspect of his life as a human being and as a Christian, which is relevant in today’s world where, paradoxically, relativism seems to be the “truth” that guides our thoughts, choices and behavior.

St. Augustine never lived life in a superficial way. A thirst, an ongoing and uneasy search for truth, was a basic characteristic of his life — not one of the “pseudo-truths” that are incapable of imparting a lasting peace to the heart, but rather a search for that Truth that gives meaning to existence and that is a “resting place” where the heart finds peace and joy.

As we are well aware, his journey through life was not easy. He thought he could find truth in prestige, in his career, in the things he possessed and in those voices that promised him instant gratification. He made mistakes, he experienced sorrow, he encountered failure, but he never gave up. He was never satisfied with something that would only give him a glimmer of light. Looking into the depths of his soul, he realized, as he writes in his Confessions, that the Truth he was looking for — the God he sought through all his efforts — was always by his side and had never abandoned him, but was waiting to be able to enter into his life in a definitive way (see III, 6, 11; X, 27, 38).

As I pointed out when commenting on a recent film on his life, St. Augustine came to understand in his restless search that it was not he who found Truth, but Truth itself, who is God, pursued him and found him (see L’Osservatore Romano, Sept. 4, 2009, p. 8).

Romano Guardini, in his commentary on a passage from the third chapter of the Confessions, pointed out that St. Augustine realized that God is “glory that brings us to our knees, the refreshing drink that quenches our thirst, the treasure that makes us happy; [he had] the peace-giving certainty of someone who had finally understood, but also the bliss of a love that knows that ‘this is all I need’” (Pensatori religiosi, Brescia, 2001, p. 177).

In the ninth book of his Confessions, St. Augustine relates a conversation he had with his mother, St. Monica, whose feast day we celebrate on Friday. It is a very beautiful scene. He and his mother are at an inn in Ostia, and from the window they can see the sky and the sea. Transcending the sky and the sea for a moment, they touch the heart of God in the silence of his creation.

This scene conveys a fundamental idea in the journey towards Truth: Creatures have to be silent if they are to enter into the silence where God can speak. This is also true for today. Oftentimes there is a kind of fear of silence, of reflection, of thinking about one’s own actions, of the deep meaning of one’s life. People prefer to live only for the present, hoping that these fleeting moments will bring enduring happiness. They prefer to live superficially, and without thinking, because it seems easier. There is a fear of seeking Truth or perhaps there is a fear that Truth will find us, take hold of us and change our lives, as happened to St. Augustine.

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to say to everyone — including those who are in a time of difficulty in their faith journey, those who do not participate much in the life of the Church, or those who live “as though God does not exist” — not to be afraid of the truth and to never interrupt their journey towards the truth, to never cease their search with the inner eye of the heart for the deep truth within themselves and the things around them. God will not fail to give us his light so that we can see and his warmth so that we can feel in our hearts that he loves us and that he wants to be loved.

May the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Augustine and St. Monica accompany us on this journey.

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