St. Augustine and His Mother Remind Us of More Important Things
I’ve been on a boat for the last week, on the semi-annual National Review cruise. It’s a vacation mixed with political, cultural and religious analysis (we had a panel on the Vatican, among many other things). On the political front, more than a few of us appreciated being able to mark the end of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign for the presidential nomination — the New York Democrat spent her time promoting extreme expansive abortion positions and insisting that people who hold opposing views “are not acceptable.” Intentionally or no, she represented the kind of thinking that makes way for tyranny. If you’re worried about that on the right, keep an eye for it on the left, too.
Being on a boat discussing these things, you can’t help but look way beyond politics. The scenery alone impresses that upon you. Toward the end of the week, we were leaving Nova Scotia surrounded by fog. The foghorn blasted every single minute for a while that evening, and if you looked high up in the sky for a moment, there was light still fighting to break through as sunset was upon us. It was hard to not see it as some kind of metaphor.
Looking out into the fog, I couldn’t help hearing the words of St. Augustine, whose feast day was only a couple of days before, writing in his Confessions about his last conversation with his mother. Augustine writes: “We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth … what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man.’ We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.”
What beautiful things to be talking about! Augustine says that “in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us.”
St. Monica, St. Augustine’s mother, would soon come down with a fever, and after a few days passed, she died. Her conversation with her son reminds us about the truly important things in life, and of life’s unpredictability. The coming election isn’t everything. You and I might not even live to Election Day 2020.
More Important Conversations
The most important conversations we had on the cruise weren’t about Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or any of the rest of the Democrats hoping to challenge Trump. They weren’t about the state or future of conservatism. They were about neighbors fostering children. They were prayer requests for an adult child who is angry, lost or struggling. They were the kind of conversations that come after a panel discussion points to things beyond the news cycle, or after a visit to light a candle at a church while in port. They are the thoughts that occur when you leave your phone in your room and look off into the distance, realizing that the greatest power is in the greatest love — the love of God, who manages more than we ever could even with the most ingenious of strategic plans.
Sen. Gillibrand is one of so many who was baptized Catholic, but doesn’t practice in her adult life. People, even on this cruise, tell me about instances that led them away from church. It almost always involved someone — or more than someone — not acting like a Christian. Maybe it involved feeling outcast when they were trying to find their way and make the faith their own.
What a blessing it would be to try to put the phone away, to try to get a little silence and perspective. In his Confessions, Augustine wrote about God: “You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.” There’s light trying to break through constantly. Don’t let the passing news of the day, no matter how important it is, block that light from view or drown it out.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at email@example.com.