Augustine on the Power of Christian Brotherhood
The Confessions of St. Augustine (Week 10 of 15)
In today’s reading, we get a taste of Augustine’s philosophical bent. I didn’t dig out my husband’s philosophy book from a few years back when he was working on his undergrad degree, but I’ll bet the excerpts in it were from this section.
I used to like this sort of thing. It’s deep thinking. It takes mind muscle.
But, to be honest, I found myself struggling along for quite a bit. My interest in philosophy is still there, but it’s buried under the practical needs of my daily life. Rescanning through this section, though, I realized that the theory I couldn’t apply at first did actually make sense, at least in one section:
This is a mark of a Christian brother’s mind, not an outsider’s—not that of ‘the sons of aliens whose mouth speaks vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of iniquity’ (Ps. 143:7 f.). A brotherly person rejoices on my account when he approves me, but when he disapproves, he grieves on my behalf. Whether he approves or disapproves, he is loving me. To such people I will reveal myself. They will take heart from my good traits, and sigh with sadness at my bad ones. My good points are instilled by you and your gifts. My bad points are my faults and your judgements on them. Let them take heart from the one and regret the other. Let both praise and tears ascend in your sight from brotherly hearts, your censers.
Augustine, Confessions, Book X, iv (5)
In last 15 or so years, I’ve had the opportunity to grow in ways I couldn’t have envisioned, ways that I didn’t know I needed. When I became Catholic, there was barely room in the church building for both my ego and me to be there at the same time.
In that time, I also became a wife and a mother. The crucible of faith and vocation has challenged me, and it’s made me appreciate what Augustine so astutely notes here about forgiveness, though he doesn’t call it that.
Those who love me see my talents and cheer with me over the wins in my life, whether they’re monumental or comical. They don’t hold it against me that I’ve succeeded, they don’t compete with me to get one up, and they don’t try to take the spotlight away.
What’s more, those who love me, love me though I bray loudly and often, giving every donkey I’ve met a run for their money. They know exactly the kind of jerk I am, and they usually see me and my “special features” from a mile away. And yet, they still kiss me, hug me, and invite me back over. They forgive me for being me. But they also love me for being me.
Augustine notes that “when he disapproves, he grieves on my behalf.” I know that there have been many times I’ve upset people by doing, saying, or being the wrong thing. And the people who have most inspired me to change have been those who have this gentle approach: they don’t yell at me, or scream, or fire me (though I surely deserve all three!). Instead, they go to God on my behalf. They pray for me.
They love me.
It’s a grace and a gift to have so many people like this in my life. Forgiveness is something I’ve never been good at, probably due to some cocktail of nature and nurture. To see it practiced by those people who gain nothing from it forces me to humbly ask for the same ability toward others.
Many of these people aren’t my blood relatives or family. Some of them are just people who are stuck with me…at work, at church, at volunteer events. Augustine calls it “the mark of a Christian brother’s mind,” and it makes me smile.
Working in nonprofits isn’t always easy, whether you’re being paid in dollars or in love. Sometimes you’re stretched in ways that, quite frankly, are unfair. Other times people are just unreasonable. And then there are the times when you have to make the impossible happen.
It’s so easy to lose sight of the why and the who. For me, those things are kept in perspective by the open arms and the patience people have for me. It makes me a better person because then I pay it forward (or I should).
Would that we would all have this mark of Christian brotherhood. Lord, help us!
Book X: Chapters 23-43
1. How are you a Christian brother (or sister) to those in your life? What actions can you take in the coming week to show your love for others in your life?
2. When you read Augustine’s writing about memory, what struck you?
Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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