Friday, August 27, 2010

Who Says Saints Don't Struggle Too?

As I grow older my body keeps shifting more and more southward! Like so many others of my age, my doctor has to push me to maintain an appropriately healthy weight, particularly to avoid diabetes. But, oh what a struggle, when you happen to be someone who enjoys well-prepared and well-presented cuisine!

That's probably one of the reasons why I've so admired Augustine of Hippo (354-430) for so many years: because he exemplifies a true flesh-and-blood holy man who knew the same sort of real struggles with which we deal in our lives. I never tire of reading his Confessions, which, along with being a heartfelt prayer to God, is much like a conversation with a friend.

Augustine has this to say on the problems of food and drink:
"...We rebuild each day's decay within the body by eating and drinking, until that time when 'you shall destroy both food and the stomach,' when you shall kill my hunger by a wondrous satiety, and 'clothe this corruptible with an incorruption' that will last forever. But now this need is sweet to me, and against such sweetness I fight, lest I be captured by it, and I wage daily warfare by fastings, more frequently 'bringing my body into subjection,' and my pains are driven out by pleasure...

But while I pass from the discomfort of hunger to repletion and content, a snare of concupiscence is laid for me in that very process. For the passage itself is pleasurable, and there is no other way whereby we can make that passage which our need forces us to make. Since good health is the reason for eating and drinking, a dangerous pleasure makes herself my companion. Frequently she strives to go on ahead, so that for her sake I may do what I either say I do or wish to do for reasons of health. Nor is there one standard for both of them: for what is enough for health is too little for pleasure. Often it becomes a matter of doubt whether it is the care needed by the body that seeks help or a deceitful desire for pleasure that demands service. The unhappy soul finds cheer in this uncertainty, and in it prepares an excuse and a self-defense. It rejoices that what suffices to maintain health is not evident, so that under pretense of health it may disguise a pursuit of pleasure. Each day I strive to resist such temptations, and I call upon Your right hand for help. To You do I refer all my doubts, because as yet I have no settled counsel upon this problem...

Set in the midst of such temptations, I struggle each day against concupiscence in eating and drinking. It is not something that I can resolve to cut off once and for all and touch no more, as I could concubinage. The bridle put upon the throat must be held with both moderate looseness and moderate firmness. Who is it, Lord, who is not carried a little beyond the limits of his need? ...Not such a one am I, 'for I am a sinful man.' Yet I too magnify Your name, and He who has overcome the world intercedes with You for my sins, numbering me among the weak members of His body. For 'your eyes have seen my imperfect being, and in your book shall all be written.'"

And here, we thought all that St. Augustine did was sit around and write theology all day!

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