I’ve been reading The Restless Flame by Louis de Wohl, a novel about St. Augustine of Hippo. WOW! It could well be the story of my own journey. I strongly recommend it to anyone. Yes, it’s a novel, but it’s historically very accurate. De Whol sticks very closely to the real life story of Augustine. The best part of the book is that he captures Augustine’s search for meaning. This is the part that for me is autobiographical. The events in my life may have been different, but the struggle and the questions were the same.
We are all familiar with Augustine’s later work as a priest, bishop and theologian. He tells us quite a bit about his journey toward conversion in Confessions. But Wohl gives a voice to Augustine’s anguished search for meaning and ultimately for God. You can hear it.
Why is a Franciscan of Life pushing this book? I’m not exactly pushing a novel as much as I am pushing a reality. For many of us, Augustine’s journey is not a foreign experience. Many of us have struggled trying to find what we believed to be evasive truth. We go from one thing to another in life, always believing that we will find happiness and the fulfillment of every desire. This can be a maddening search. We jump from relationship to relationship, from job to job, from one city to another, from parish to parish and often from one religious tradition to the next. Each one promises to be the landing pad for which we search. This was also Augustine’s journey.
What is equally compelling about this work is that it presents to us an Augustine who is very human and a good man at the deepest level of his being. We tend to look on Augustine’s life before he became a Christian as one of dissipation and promiscuity. It’s too easy to condemn a man whom one does not understand. It’s too easy to sit on the chair of moral judgment and look down upon a person without knowing the struggles and deep anguish of the human soul. It’s also too easy to condemn a man’s journey, because we can’t see Grace gradually reeling him in, like a fish who struggles to get off the hook and back into the water; but God’s love is more powerful than the fish. At the end of the day, the fish will relax and yield to Christ the Eternal Fisherman.
The story of Augustine’s conversion is a story of hope for those of us who have not yet arrived, for those of us who struggle with sin, questions, failures, human weakness, and moments of darkness dispersed among the moments of light. Augustine’s story should be a source of hope for those of us whose hearts are restless and who will not rest until they rest in God. Augustine’s story is about the power of God’s love and a man’s refusal to give up his search for Truth.
Love will never give up on us while we live. His grace will fight to conquer our hearts and minds, our bodies and souls. If we lose it’s because we have given up the search for Truth. We have settled for less than perfect love. God’s love for us and our determination to find absolute and living Truth is all we need to arrive at union with the Divine. Love and the search for Truth is painful. But, when the time is right, we will reach the summit of the mount and our lives will be transfigured by Him who is Truth itself.
St Augustine and St Monica, pray for us.