St Augustine and Serendipity

“He’ll ask more of you than that!    Here… it’s ink.  Remember to use it all.”

Bishop Ambrose to Saint Augustine as he hands him a bottle of ink (from Restless Heart)

 

Serendipity… 1,500 years ago a troubled young Roman lawyer and orator named Aurelius Augustine had an epiphany and conversion experience and became  one of the most read and influential theologian  and philosopher of Western Civilization.  Last November, I lost a brother and became inspired to write a blog on science, faith and philosophy and posted a review of a dramatic movie on St Augustine, Restless Heart.  Meanwhile, this past year, one of my West Point classmates was experiencing his own remarkable faith journey. Last month, all those threads came together.

Jeff Methvin found this blog, read the Restless Heart review, watched the movie and was inspired to share his own thoughts on how Saint Augustine touched his life. I am pleased to introduce Jeff Methvin’s Restless Heart review as my first guest blogger.

Good literature and philosophy never gets old and there is always a new angle or fresh viewpoint to ponder.   You may recall that I wrote my own review of Restless Heart here:

St Augustine and the Decline of Civilization

However, when Jeff submitted his review I was pleased to read an enlightening write up with ideas and observations that I hadn’t considered before.   Thanks Jeff!

One more point, in addition to a guest blogger, I have a guest artist, my daughter Lydia who will be starting art school in Boston this fall.

The elderly St. Augustine by Lydia Bolton
The elderly St. Augustine by Lydia Bolton

Jeff Methvin’s review of Restless Heart

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine

 

Restless Heart was a gift, given freely, with only one condition – to tell others what I thought about it.  I have never written a movie review, although I have rendered my opinion on countless movies around the water cooler to co-workers on Monday mornings.  Undaunted by this challenge, I reckoned from my past “experience” it would be easy to watch a movie and render an opinion.  I’ve surely spent less time on other, more important, matters and passed judgment just as well.  So I sat down to watch Restless Heart, but instead of passively watching a movie, I experienced it.  The movie was more than a mere movie, much greater than the sum of its production value, directing, editing, costume designing, and acting, all of which were well done.  Be forewarned.  My review will not do the movie justice.  Since I lack the technical expertise to accurately judge how good or bad a director was, or an actor acted, I will instead discuss how the movie affected me.

Restless Heart is foremost the story of a man and his mother.  This bonds the movie to all viewers, as every man or woman has a mother, be she good or bad, as judged by her sons and daughters, or others. So it was with Augustine and Monica, and so it was with my own mother and me.  Good things I know of my own mother, I saw in Monica.  And for others less fortunate than I, Monica Guerritore, in the role of Monica, stands as a wonderful role model.

The greatest compliment I can give to Guerritore is simply that she was Monica, a Christian woman, devoted to her faith in Jesus Christ, to her pagan husband, and to her wandering, narcissistic, son.  She suffered many “arrows and slings of outrageous fortune” with prayer, peace, and faith in the saving Grace of our Lord.  However, even while she calmly endured a cheating husband and Augustine’s scorn, she never lost hope that both would find their own way to Christ.  Her hope was evident at the deathbed of her husband, in her countenance when she first saw Augustine watching Bishop Ambrose preach, and culminated in her ecstasy at Augustine’s baptism.  Monica’s joy in relating her prophetic dream that Augustine would eventually be with her in her Faith, and not she in his Manichaean wandering, was palpable.  I saw my mother’s faith and hope in Monica, a faith unshaken by her son’s sinful ways, and a hope he would find his own way to Jesus Christ.

However, Monica was not passive in her prayers.  She did not hide and whisper her prayers for Augustine and her husband to become Christians; she did not turn the other cheeks at each insult.  Monica challenged Augustine on all his sins, including his disrespect for her and her faith.  Monica was not only a loving and prayerful mother, but also a strong mother, a mother seeking to raise her son with character.  I have read Augustine was one of the first Christians to write about the equality of women as being created in God’s image, not Man’s image.  There is no doubt the strength of his mother, and the ultimate respect he had for her, were essential to him coming to this profound realization.

Augustine was portrayed by several different actors, all of whom did a very good job portraying him as a boisterous, self-absorbed youth, an over-confident, yet troubled, young man, and a secure, peaceful future Saint.  In Augustine’s childhood, I saw my own, unconcerned with anything other than what the now could bring me, and what I could take through my own will, and not with any help from God.  I saw my own conceited self creating problems for my parents through my own sinful ways.  As a youth, Augustine saw no need for God, and neither did I.  Like Augustine, as a young man I struggled with the same temptations as he.  However, Augustine tried to reason away his sins and find peace in the teachings of Mani, and in the logic of the great philosophers.  Like Augustine, I sought absolution in my career, and peace in my hobbies.  Augustine did not believe peace could be found in Jesus Christ, and neither did I.

Augustine’s conversion is gradual, taking almost half his life to occur.  It is the product of his own intellect searching for Truth, the mentoring of Ambrose, and his Mother’s prayers and parenting.  His conversion is symbolized in the movie as the panels of a Church mosaic come together, slowly, to complete a beautiful image.  In this manner, the movie showed me how we can all become beautiful and complete through Faith in Jesus Christ.

Augustine as an old man is finally at peace.  He has found his truth and lived most of his life preaching it and living it.  Ever the good shepherd, when given the chance to leave Hippo and escape the besieging Vandals, he refuses to leave his flock.  Augustine knows Truth lies in Jesus, in serving others and God, and therein he finds peace.  It is in the final stage of his life that Augustine shows all of us the path to Truth, although not easy, can be discovered if we only allow ourselves to listen to our own restless hearts.

Bishop Ambrose plays an important role in Augustine’s development.  He is a perfect role model.  When Ambrose first appears, he interrupts the Roman Emperor’s court to demand Rome repay the debt owed to an indebted, imprisoned soldier.  Ambrose’s selfless desire to help an old soldier who had given most of his life to the service of Rome is timely, as our soldiers now, active and veterans, struggle with long, numerous, tours in far away lands, far away from loved ones, and the current suicide epidemic ravaging our defenders.  Perhaps the movie foretells the saving Grace of our Lord as the answer to such an epidemic?  Ambrose defends his faith against pagans and heretics, while suggesting Augustine allow the Truth he seeks to find him.  This culminates in Ambrose revelation that the Truth Augustine seeks is not an abstract thing, or idea, but is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The movie changed me.  I could not help but examine my own life and own journey of Faith in the light of Augustine’s.  I draw inspiration for my own prayers for the health and safety of my children from Monica.  I will watch it again, and again, and again.  I recommend this movie.

End

Post Script: My next post is slated for the 1st of May and I will address the discovery of irrational numbers. I promise that it will be more fun than it sounds!

It’s my hope that Jeff will be only the first of many guest bloggers. Got something to share on science, faith and philosophy and would like to try a hand as a guest blogger?  Let me know.

As I read the Great Books series I received for my 50th birthday I am amazed on how by reading books we can actually hear the thoughts of great men women from hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. Even more amazing, those long dead thinkers and writers are still influencing people today through their works.  Stunning if you think about it.  Perhaps it’s time to pick up that good book on philosophy, science or history that you have been putting off…

More on Britannica’s Great Books series:

Steve Allen and the Great Minds of History

After two great reviews of Restless Heart are you interested in seeing it for yourself? Let me know.

See you in a few weeks!

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