“Too late have I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new!” Yesterday was the Memorial of St Augustine, one of Christianity’s most celebrated theologians, who had quite a way with words (who could forget “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet”!). His Confessions is considered the first autobiography, and the honesty with which he writes about his sordid youth and spiritual growth is quite moving.
Just over a year ago I rhapsodized about Ted Kennedy, and how rare it was in modern politics to find someone who was able to reinvent himself and improve while in the public eye. Because I can be such a silly, foolish person, I take great comfort in the examples of people who accomplish great things despite being real dopes sometimes.
Augustine is really my kind of saint. Give me someone messy over somebody neat anyday. Don’t get me wrong, I hold the precocious little saints like Dominic Savio in high regard, but I’m not sure I would have wanted to be friends with him. So many people want saints to be neat and tidy – born with some sort of magic that allows them to be heroic. Does that let us off the hook a bit, if we were born without the magic?
I was greatly disturbed in spirit, angry at myself with a turbulent indignation because I had not entered thy will and covenant, O my God, while all my bones cried out to me to enter, extolling it to the skies. The way therein is not by ships or chariots or feet–indeed it was not as far as I had come from the house to the place where we were seated. For to go along that road and indeed to reach the goal is nothing else but the will to go. But it must be a strong and single will, not staggering and swaying about this way and that–a changeable, twisting, fluctuating will, wrestling with itself while one part falls as another rises. (Confessions, Book VIII.8.19)
You don’t live with a mouth like mine for as long as I have without learning how to apologize. For sure, sometimes my apologies are just words, crafted to get me out of something. But the upside of frequent apologizing is that it causes me to really evaluate my thoughts, words, and actions, and occasionally to do what true conversion requires: to change.
On separate occasions over the last two weeks people described me as “athletic” and “happy all the time”. I was really touched by those observations, because they are both things that I had to work so hard for. (I feel the same way when people say that my top notes are easy – not always so!) More than a magic blessing or earth-shattering conversion, I think that most of our change is as simple as deciding who we want to be, and working on it. I wanted to be athletic because I saw all my friends having fun at races, I wanted to be happy because I knew that negativity was a drain on the people around me. (I wanted to have an easy top because I wanted to get hired). Every time I get on stage I try to improve one thing from a previous performance – making those baby steps is all we can do. I wish I didn’t need so much improvement, but like Augustine (and Ignatius, and both Francises, and Dorothy Day, and…) I’m imperfect. Luckily, like them, I too am graced.