Saint Augustine of Hippo is one of the most well known saints and possibly the most prolific spiritual writer in the history of Christianity. The funny thing is, he almost chose a very different path.
After St. Augustine’s conversion to Christianity, he felt drawn to the contemplative life. He wanted to follow the example of the Desert Fathers before him and become a monk by separating himself from the world. During one Sunday liturgy, this dream was shattered. The bishop of Hippo called Augustine out of the assembly and convinced him to be ordained a priest.
How did Augustine look back on this shattered dream?
First, let us recognize that living the life of a monk is a great vocation. No one would question the holy calling of a monk. The contemplative, monastic life is an exemplary life and one that should be held with the highest esteem. It just wasn’t Augustine’s vocation.
What was really pulling Augustine towards the wrong vocation?
Fear. The Resistance.
Reflecting on these events, Augustine wrote in his Confessions:
“Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died’ (cf. 2 Cor 5:15).” (Confessions, 43, 70)
In his encyclical, Spe Salivi, Pope Benedict XVI uses this story to make a point–a point I hope to reiterate here about all of our vocations.
“Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn to his being for others.” (Spe Salvi, 28)
Living your true vocation is terrifying. Yep, terrifying. Using your gifts to serve others in their deepest need is terrifying. It means you have to put yourself out there. You have to be vulnerable. You have to believe that you have the ability to truly help others in their great need. You have to be confident in yourself enough to be a servant-leader. Being for others rather than ourselves causes us to be deathly afraid.
As I write this, I don’t think I fully understand what it means for me and my life. But I do know this:
The Resistance will pull you down. It will show you an easier, more comfortable way. It will scare the hell out of you otherwise.
“The Gospel terrifies me,” Augustine wrote.
It should terrify all of us.
Will we have the courage to accept the call?
Spiritual Exercise: What Terrifies You?
How do we get in touch with this terror of the Gospel?
Augustine wanted to choose a path of holiness that didn’t put him on a pedestal. He woudn’t have to preach and write and serve as the priests and bishops did. It was a comfortable life.
- Take a blank sheet of paper and divide it into two halves by drawing a line down the middle.
- Label the left side “comfort zone.” Label the right side “terrifying.”
- On the left side list all of the things that you want to do that have no risk and require no responsibility.
- On the right side list all of the things that you want to do that could lead to failure and require others to rely on us.
Jared — I’m a couple weeks late to this party, but just wanted to say this post resonated strongly with me. Especially this quote: “Using your gifts to serve others in their deepest need is terrifying. It means you have to put yourself out there. You have to be vulnerable.” That’s a big lesson I’ve learned from writing publicly about an anxiety disorder I struggled with nearly 15 years ago. Even though it was a long time ago, it feels like yesterday to me, and putting it out there in writing still makes my stomach turn a little. But, then I think, what was the point of going through it if I just keep the whole experience to myself?