Sunday, July 16, 2017
On St Augustine's "Confessiones" Book II and Modern Life
In Book II of "Confessiones," St. Augustine remembers his teenage years and the sins committed therein. He had taken a break from his studies in his sixteenth year due to his family's financial situation and fell into sins that seem common to all young men throughout human history. His lamentations about this period included attempting to discern why he had enjoyed sinning for the sake of sinning, as he could not justify an act of transgression he committed in any other way.
The first of the sins that St. Augustine discusses in Book II is that of his youthful lust and his willingness to give in to it. His mother, who had been a Christian for a number of years, attempted to warn him about the consequences of lust, but his father, who was but a catechumen at the time, encouraged him to engage in the behavior and saw it as his son becoming a man. This is mirrored in today's age in the Church teaching of the consequences of unrestrained lust and secular culture reveling in all manner of sexual deviancy. The youth of today are inundated with messages suggesting that giving in to lust not only feels good but also brings the rewards of self-confidence and the respect of one's peers. No mention is made in the media's message of the myriad of physical and psychological consequences for engaging in sexual activity outside of the marriage bed, and parents seem to be fine with this, especially since most people with adolescent children today were themselves inundated with the same message of immorality bringing societal reward instead of personal ruin. The Church, on the other hand, is still teaching the same message it has since the beginning, which is that sexual sin will bring ruin upon your psyche, body, and soul. As it was in St. Augustine's lifetime though, the advice of the Church is readily ignored by adolescents of today. So the world sees rising teen pregnancy rates, STD transmission, depression, divorce (which can be tied to the marriage act being reduced from an act of love and faith in your partner to a merely physical release), and other myriad detriments.
St. Augustine's lamentation and regret continues with a story about a theft he committed with friends. They stole some pears from an orchard near their vineyard without need, for they already had more and better. "To shake and rob this [pear tree] some of us wanton young fellows went, late one night (having, according to our disgraceful habit, prolonged our games in the streets until then), and carried away great loads, not to eat ourselves, but to fling to the very swine, having only eaten some of them; and to do this pleased us all the more because it was not permitted" (St. Augustine, "Confessions" II.4.9). They committed theft not for ill gain or to sate hunger, but simply for the sake of sin. This pleasure in sin for its own sake is nothing foreign to the modern age. Modernity seems to encourage everyone to partake in sinful activities for no reason other than to revel in the pleasure of the sin. The media makes tales of degeneracy and decadence into seemingly positive things. People are told repeatedly that they can do as they please, as long as nobody else is harmed. The destructiveness of reveling in sin for sin's sake is never mentioned. Tales of hollow lives and dead souls are swept under the rug, and the populace is presented with images of smiling people conducting themselves in all manner of immoral ways.
There is hope for those who would turn from youthful decadence and hollow existence. If people would turn from their lives and to the Lord, they might experience the kind of joy and love of life that St. Augustine acquired after his conversion and dedication of his life to the Lord. Throughout his "Confessions", St. Augustine praises the Lord and attributes everything of worth to Him. St. Augustine also saw, looking back, that the Lord had used even the misery of his youth to impart valuable lessons about how to live life and achieve fulfillment. If people would just open their hearts to the Lord, they would find that, through the regret of hindsight, their lives would improve and have newfound meaning and fullness.