A typical well to do middle-class family lives in a prosperous country. They are an intact family with a mother, father and three children. The father holds a prestigious position in the local town. The mother is a devout Christian. They have access to every material need they desire. All seems well.
However, the husband abuses his wife. She was forced to marry him and he does not share her faith in Christ. He constantly berates her and commits adultery. Her oldest son also does not share his mother’s faith. He gets caught in the swirl of the sick culture surrounding this family. This culture consists of atheists and pagans that forcibly try to influence Christians to against the Church.
Soon the son begins to disobey his parents and his teachers. His father ships him out to another city for schooling but his new studies do not start for another year. Since his father is subsidizing the errant boy’s lifestyle, the son does not have to work. This leads him to indulge in laziness, in the theft of food (not because he is hungry but because it is not permitted) and he has a child out of wedlock. He also participates in pagan religious ceremonies.
This young man thinks that he is entitled to indulge his every whim and vice and should not suffer any consequences. All the while his poor mother follows him through the years to try to persuade him to accept Christ.
This sounds like a typical family in early 21st century America, right? Wrong. It was a family in the 4th century AD, specifically the family of Saint Augustine and his mother, Saint Monica.
American families have the same problems that Saint Augustine’s family had over two millennia ago. A culture that was not supportive of “family values”, un-Christlike behavior in public officials and a society that actively tempts children away from the guidance of their parents.
These types of problems are not unique to this day in age and were not unique at any time in human history. We feel they are unique because it is new to us. In the past 50 years, the American family has seen a great upheaval. A great spike in divorces, out of wedlock births, more people than ever in American society not participating in religious activities or declaring their antipathy to God. We also see high rates of suicide and drug abuse. These are the symptoms of a sick society rejecting God.
But we do not have to go far beyond the 20th century to see what happens to a culture when it rejects God and destroys the family. The rise of Nazism, Communism, and Socialism are the products of cultures that deviate from Christ.
But we are humans and everything that occurs to us at the moment seems to be the first time. This is truly a great flaw of the species.
We know that Saint Augustine turned his life around and became a leading intellectual in the early Christian church. His story and his mother’s offer an inspiring story for families today.
And it truly makes the bible quote from Ecclesiastes 1:9 prescient:
“What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!”
“Nothing is new under the sun!” There really is not anything new under the sun. Human nature and their problems do not change and the solutions have not changed either.
Reading “The Confessions of Saint Augustine” reminds us that problems humans endure are the same through the ages. The book also shows us some possible solutions to those problems. What are those solutions that we can glean from “The Confessions of Saint Augustine”?
Have Faith: Saints Monica’s faith is inspiring. She endures the horrible feeling of losing a son to a world of sin and a husband that is abusive. But her faith keeps her spirits alive and in the end, she perseveres. Saint Augustine finds his faith and it produces a great scholar of the Catholic Church.
Have a Community: The community of the Catholic Church helped both Saints Augustine and Monica through their troubles. Without the community of the Church, both of them would have broken down and been hopeless.
Have Patience: We see Saint Monica’s great patience through the years help her son turn from a life of sin and become a great man. Additionally, her patience with her husband wins him over to the light of Christ.
Though reading Saint Augustine’s “Confessions” is not the panacea for the problems we face in our current culture in America, it is a little reminder that a small family in North Africa experienced the same challenges we face today.
Yes, this family did find God’s love and embraced him, but the surrounding society was on the brink of collapse. Let us remember that in the year that Saint Augustine died (430 AD) the barbarians were laying siege to his town of Hippo. But that did not deter their love for God. So let us take their example and not be deterred by the chaos swirling around us today.