“It’s Never Too Late!” with Saint Augustine

As a priest, I often deal with situations and people who are struggling with an addiction, problem, situation, or person. These matters are hard at times because they affect the people sitting in front of me in a very personal way. Even though we all know that it is healthy to seek help, it is very hard for one to find the proper way to accept the truth, learn from the situation, forgive others, or to embrace God‘s will for each and every one of us. It is not easy because it requires us to oftentimes embrace the tensions, things, or people that are personally or intimately affecting us. Many times, the greatest act of acceptance has to come from our very own self. While some have a shorter journey to reach an in-depth, personal, and intimate faith, many of us struggle throughout our lives to find a sense of belonging, believing, and trusting in the love of God for us. It is, therefore, to first and foremost know that we are not alone. Some saints struggled for a long time to find their faith! Some personally resisted the truth and divine invitation for a while before their heartfelt conversions. One of those is the great St. Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor of the Church and great theologian! His own story, recorded in his own autobiography named Confessions, is a classical piece of our human struggle to seek the truth, find ourselves, to understand our mission and purpose in life, and to fall in love with God.

I would like to invite you to read his autobiography yourself. You can easily find it on the internet on many public domain ebook sites since it is an essential and integral part of our Western history of thoughts and understanding of humanity (or using the link provided). It is a wonderful story of one trying to understand himself, finding happiness and self-acceptance in many places, experimenting with many ideologies, thoughts, and ways of life before coming to understand that what he has been searching for his life has always been with him. His journey from trying to search the “what” and “how” of life and its truths led him to the personal “who” of truth, which is God Himself.

The prodigal believer felt a deep sense of belonging and love in knowing God who has always been there from the beginning, even when he was trying to ignore Him and trying to find other lesser, immediate, and appealing goods to satisfy his eagerness and attraction to worldly pleasures, goods, and ideologies. It took him a good while to finally recognize that the journey of running away from the Truth led him back to the only One who loves him into being; and in loving God, he found his “why” for life, the purpose and mission of who he is called to be in response to this immense love.

Many of us often end up in similar roads like the saint, where we think we need to know, understand, and be in control of everything before we can trust something higher or beyond ourselves. We often want to be clear of everything and anything that we proposed before we can give ourselves to God. We often use the excuses of needing to have everything makes sense and knowing everything beforehand before we can make the commitment. Yet, this is not how a relationship works! Faith is not just a simple set of doctrines to be studied, reviewed, and intellectually ascended to, it is a personal and loving relationship where we grow, mature, and get to know the One who loved us into being and continues to love us every day. We think we will be at peace when we are in control, know what is going on, and have our lives in order, but we will always remain restless and continually searching for something new to fill the void until we learn to rest in the love of God. There is a deep, intimate, and unfillable spot deep within us that only the One who created us can fill. That spot can only be filled with the infinite love of the Creator, not some finite beings, created things, or temporary goods. The saint who struggled to find the truth for the large part of his early life later attested to this deep, personal, and intimate yearning for the Infinite: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

In the world motivated by consumerism and its objective sense of worthiness, success, and achievement that often leads us to become objectified and manipulated as instruments and means to be traded, exchanged, and be used. The consumeristic and objectified world often makes us lose heart and trust in other people, hence making us hold ourselves back from giving ourselves to others. We are often scared of getting hurt, and the relevant self-centered individualism feeds into that fear, which leads us to distrust people around us, become defensive, worried, locked in, and focused on our own selves. Yet, the saint reminds us that, “God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us to love!” Therefore, we should not be afraid to love for each and every one of us are made to love and love so passionately. Just as God has formed us out of love, with love, and for love, we should not be afraid to love as He does. If He has instilled within us the life and light of His divine love, only in His love can we find meaning and purpose, the intimate and deep understanding of who we are and who we are called to be in service. Love is our both our identity and mission, both in a very unique and personal, intimately and communally bound. Each and every one of us are uniquely made by God in His image and likeness; therefore, each one of us carries within us the ability to radiate, participate, and share that love in our very unique (and even imperfect) ways. To be loved by God and to love as He does give us true fulfillment and contentment, peace as well as purpose in the midst of many ups and downs of life’s trials. It is never too late to learn to love!

Simply put, it is never too late to seek God, to learn and discover who we are, what we are made for, how we find solace and consolation in the midst of many different things, and why life is worth living. It is never too late to seek Him, to return to His love, and to rest in the midst of many changing things that pull us all over. Conversion is never a “too late” thing. The only saddest thing in life is to live one going through the motions, unreflected, undiscerned, unsought, and self-centered! The saddest life is one unlived to its fullness in the truth. I have seen many people who are content with what society feeds them and how to be recognized according to materialistic riches and worldly successes but never spend enough time to reach deep from within to know who they are in the eyes of God. I have seen many people who are so preoccupied and worried about not having enough freedom, money, power, prestige, or the likes, always comparing themselves with others. A life that is only worried about what one does not have or what one wanted to have but never had is a life narrowly visioned and fill with pettiness. A life that is occupied and worrying about what one should be doing to push the limit and to make sure that one does not miss out on anything is a life that chases after “more” without knowing what is really satisfactory and gives peace.

There are two lovely expressions in Spanish that calm the nerve when one is faced with uncertainties. The first one is the word, “Tranquilo!” I love hearing the expression used when someone is nervous or anxious, asking another person questions after questions, cannot sit still, or filled with many things. That one-word answer reminds the person to be at peace and to seek the much-needed tranquility. The second one is a common expression and phrase when one is asked how are things going in his or her life. “Estoy contento!” is such a great expression, in my honest opinion! While one could say that he or she is happy, this or that, to say that one is content speaks much volume. Especially in a day and age where we often define happiness with euphoric sentiments and emotions, contentment is a very important reminder that we do not have to be euphorically high and fulfilled to be happy and at peace with ourselves and with our lives. Think about it! The greatest discovery in life, especially for us as the people of faith, is not having everything and being able to do everything. True peace comes when we are at peace and content with what we have, blessings, challenges, and all.

Therefore, do not be afraid to seek what is higher than what we think we want or deserve in the now. Do not be afraid to give ourselves in love to the One who created us out of love and for love! Let us not be afraid to hold back, worrying about what we are missing out or what we do not have, or how others are having it better than us and that we are pitiful. The greatest joy has always been found on the journey, to walk humbly, honestly, genuinely, and faithfully in love, especially in the love that God has for us. It is never too late to return, to begin, to fall in love, to seek, and to find Him in our lives. He is always there waiting and is only a prayer away. If we would take that one moment to be vulnerable, genuine, transparent, and to really love, we will discover that to really love God and our neighbors are who we are and what we are called to be. Truly, love is both our mission and identity so let us not be afraid to love as He loves. I would like to simply end this reflection with one of my favorite quotes of the wise saint: “To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”