How unhappy I was, and how conscious you made me of my misery, on that day when I was preparing to deliver a panegyric on the emperor!  In the course of it I would tell numerous lies and for my mendacity would win the good opinion of people who knew it to be untrue.  The anxiety of the occasion was making my heart palpitate and perspire with the destructive fever of the worry, when I passed through a Milan street and noticed a destitute beggar.

Already drunk, I think, he was joking and laughing.  I groaned and spoke with the friends accompanying me about the many sufferings that result from our follies.  In all our strivings such as those efforts that were then worrying me, the goads of ambition impelled me to drag the burden of my unhappiness with me, and in dragging it to make it even worse; yet we had no goal other than to reach a carefree cheerfulness.  That beggar was already there before us, and perhaps we would never achieve it.  For what he had gained with a few coins, obtained by begging, that is the cheerfulness of temporal felicity, I was going about to reach by painfully twisted and roundabout ways.

IMG_3136.JPG – Version 2

Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey (2008).

True joy he had not.  But my quest to fulfill my ambitions was much falser.  There was no question that he was happy and I racked with anxiety.  He had no worries; I was frenetic, and if anyone had asked me if I would prefer to be merry or to be racked with fear, I would have answered ‘to be merry’.  Yet if he asked whether I would prefer to be a beggar like that man or the kind of person I then was, I would have chosen to be myself, a bundle of anxieties and fears.  What an absurd choice!  Surely it could not be the right one.  For I ought not to have put myself above him on the ground of being better educated, a matter from which I was deriving no pleasure.  My education enabled me to seek to please men, not to impart to them any instruction, but merely to purvey pleasure …That night the beggar was going to sleep off his intoxication.  I slept and rose with mine, and was to sleep and get up again with it for many days.  Of course there is a difference in the source of a person’s pleasure.  I know it.  And the joy of a believing hope is incomparably greater than vanity.  But at that time there was also this gulf between us: he was far happier, not merely because he was soaked in cheerfulness while I was eviscerated with anxieties, but also because he had acquired wine by wishing good luck to passers-by, whereas I sought an arrogant success by telling lies.1

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Saint Augustine, Confessions (Oxford World’s Classics: 2008), pgs. 97-8.

1 Comment

  1. Maria Casey says:

    It is said that there are no coincidences in life. Of late — perhaps, in part, because I found my old, worn, dog eared prayer book from my growing years — I’ve been turned more to the spiritual side(s) of life. (Do old people suddenly “get religion” to ensure they get into “heaven?” Just wondering…) I suspect all of us — at least those given to some measure of introspection — are perpetually in search of serenity and contentment, peace and joy. What I need to remember is that prayer is asking the question and meditation is listening for the answer…and that means sitting in silence patiently. It is in finding and following one’s true calling and following that path that one can, perhaps, begin to experience some measure of peace. Wherever I am is where I’m supposed to be at any given time whether I like it or not; indeed, it’s the rough spots that spur the greatest spiritual and character growth. God never closes a door without opening a window. But it’s hell in the hallway. 😉 Nice selection. Keep reading. Love ya! PS A random thought popped into my head as I was reading this: a Father Martin quote about the egotism of some people: “the arrogance of the guy in the gutter looking down on the person on the sidewalk”…and how many times I’ve been guilty of that. I need to remember that I’m just the same as the next guy in the sense that we all have a spark of the Divine in us, and are –therefore — all God’s children. enuff from me.

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