Friday, August 28, 2015

Cast Yourself Upon God, and Have No Fear

Today is the feast day of St. Augustine! He happens to be one of my favorite saints. I had to read his Confessions my freshman year of high school, and while I can't say I loved it while I was working through it that time, I revisited it the next summer and found it a gem of spiritual reading.
My favorite scene in the book (which is the story of Augustine's search for God) is that of his conversion. At this point, he knows Catholicism is the truth and believes it is the key to true happiness; however, he also knows that embracing this truth and turning back to God means leaving behind all his sinful habits. And this sacrifice seems to big for him. He can't imagine living without the evils that have become so sweet in his eyes. In anguish, he runs out into a secluded garden to fight out this struggle on his own. During this grappling between sin and grace, he has an extremely interesting vision.

He sees the virtue of Continence standing and beckoning to him - smiling, encouraging, spreading her arms wide to welcome him. Clustered around her are all the people who have belonged to her through the ages - all the people who valued the virtue of purity and sinlessness. Then Continence invites him to come to her and join these faithful souls. She says:

“Can you not do what these men and these women do? Do you think they find the strength to do it in themselves and not in the Lord their God? It was the Lord their God who gave me to them. Why do you try to stand in your own strength and fail? Cast yourself upon God and have no fear. He will not shrink away and let you fall. Cast yourself upon him without fear, for he will welcome you and cure you of your ills.

I don't know what I would do without those lines. They are some of the most comforting, beautiful, and at the same time challenging words I have ever heard. So often the struggle against sin feels like such a momentous battle, something I could never hope to survive on my own.

And the truth is, it is a momentous struggle. The truth is that it's hard. The truth is that I couldn't do it on my own.  

This passage reminds me that I don't have to do it on my own. That isn't what God asks of us. You see, He knows how weak we are. He knows it's impossible to ask us little children to stand up against the army of temptation and hold our own against it. The World and the Flesh are two formidable generals fighting under the standard of the Devil; they fight with the battle-axe of greed, the mace of lust, and the venom-pointed arrows of sinful ambition. When all these evils rush against us at once, shouting their hideous war-cries, we lone souls can simply stand there with our knees knocking. Maybe we can whack our little swords a few times before we fall to their crushing power, but in the end we will fall. So God doesn't ask us to do that. As our loving Father, our sacrificial Redeemer, our glorious General, he doesn't ask us to fight this entire army by ourselves. He asks us to do something much simpler: to simply cling to Him, to trust in His power, to cast ourselves upon him without fear. That takes courage; it isn't as easy as it sounds, for it means both realizing our own littleness and staring the enemy in the face. But in the end it is our only hope.

Cast yourself upon God and have no fear. He will not shrink away and let you fall. Cast yourself upon Him without fear, for he will welcome you and cure you of your ills.

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