The life of St Augustine can be seen as a mirror of radical conversion.
He accepted Christ and wholeheartedly accepted the words of St Paul: Put on the Lord Jesus, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires. (Romans 13:14) Augustine’s conversion in the garden at Milan, as reported by him in his Confessions, was a turning point in his life. From being a person of worldly ambitions and voices, he changed to being righteous and a seeker of truth.
Miguel Keller O.S.A., a scholar of Augustine, writes of Augustine’s process of conversion as containing four categories:
(1) It was an intellectual conversion, a change in perspectives that directed his mind towards the appreciation of Truth, who is God.
(2) It was also a moral conversion. It involved a charge of heart. Augustine felt God’s love, and this convinced him of God’s compassion towards humanity, and God’s offer to people of life to the fullest.
(3) It was an ecclesial conversion, or a concern and love towards the Church. Acts of sincere service flow from a communal discovery of God, a God Who is in a loving union with the Christian community.
(4) It was an ongoing conversion. It calls for a daily renewal that attests to every person’s needs for God’s grace, mercy and love. It speaks of human dependence on God’s strength.
In all of this, Augustine is not far from the human and psychological conditions generally experienced today. His experience of journey can be used as an archetype of a personal journey today in quest for conversion and change. Like Augustine of old, persons seek for meaning and peace in God, and desire to “rest in Him.” They experience the tumult of the soul that is far from God, and feel the roaring of the heart attracted to earthly temptations.
The need for conversion is a universal call because, as Augustine saw it, all persons are weak without the acceptance of God’s mercy, yet all are called to a holiness of life. Augustine’s restlessness (spiritual unease) prodded him to search for the light that illumines the human mind and heart, and to look for that comforting presence of God’s providence. It prodded him to seek the beauty that inspires and feeds the soul, “God, oh beauty ever ancient and ever new.” In his Confessions and elsewhere, Augustine’s language reflected his ardent desire for conversion, and so to posses God in all of God’s wonder and majesty.
On the occasion of his pilgrimage to the tomb of St Augustine at Pavia in northern Italy on 22 April 2007, Pope Benedict XVI preached upon the example given by St Augustine in the road to conversion. Benedict illustrated Augustine's path to conversion, recalling the "three conversions" that the saint experienced, which "in fact were a single great conversion in seeking the face of Christ and then walking together with him."
His first conversion
"The first fundamental conversion was the interior road to Christianity, toward the 'yes' of faith and baptism," he explained. According to most historians, Augustine's baptism took place on Easter in 387. Augustine "was always tormented by the question of truth. He wanted to find truth," the Holy Father explained. "He always believed -- sometimes rather vaguely, sometimes more clearly -- that God exists and takes care of us," the Pontiff said. "But to truly know this God and Jesus Christ and come to say 'yes' to him with all the consequences this entails -- this was the great interior struggle of his youth.
"He tells us that, by means of Platonic philosophy, he accepted and recognized that 'in the beginning was the Word,' the Logos, creative reason. But philosophy did not show him any road to reach this Word; this Logos remained distant and intangible. “Only in the faith of the Church did he find the second essential truth: The Word was made flesh. And in this way he touches us and we touch him."
Augustine's "second conversion" took place after his baptism in Hippo, in Africa; he founded a small monastery and by popular demand was ordained a priest by force, the Pope explained.
Benedict XVI continued: "The beautiful dream of the contemplative life disappeared, Augustine's life fundamentally changed. Now he had to live with Christ for all. He had to translate his knowledge and sublime thoughts into the thought and language of the simple folk of his city. The great philosophical work of a lifetime, which he had dreamed of, remained unwritten. In its place we were given the gift of something more precious: the Gospel translated into the language of daily life."
"This was the second conversion that this man, struggling and suffering, had to undergo," the Pope added. "He must always be there for everyone; always with Christ he must give his own life so that others might find Christ, the true Life."
St Augustine's third conversion took place when he discovered that "only one is truly perfect and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized only in one person: in Jesus Christ himself," the Holy Father said. He added: "On the other hand, the whole Church -- all of us, including the apostles -- must pray every day: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, Saint Augustine wrote.
"Augustine saw the final step of humility -- not only the humility of inserting his great thought into the faith of the Church, not only the humility of translating his great knowledge into the simplicity of proclamation, but also the humility of recognizing that the merciful goodness of a God who forgives was necessary for him and the whole pilgrim Church.
"And we make ourselves resemble Christ, the perfect one, to the greatest extent possible, when we become merciful persons like him." Benedict XVI concluded with this exhortation: "In this hour let us thank God for the great light that radiates from the wisdom and humility of St Augustine and let us pray to the Lord that he give all of us the necessary conversion each day and thus lead us to the true life." AN2305