As we read today’s passage from Confessions, we realize that Augustine was not baptized as a child. That seems startling to us, especially since He believed in God and Christ’s dying to save us from our sins. In the fourth century, however, the people were more afraid of sinning after baptism than they were of dying without it and so, it was common practice to postpone baptism until immediately before death.
Augustine laments the decision to postpone his baptism, recognizing that baptism would have cleansed him and, perhaps, kept him from suffering the many temptations that plagued him in his youth. It is clear that Augustine deeply regretted the sinful life he lead in the years before his conversion. I think, however, that this speaks again of what I wrote previously – God takes even our worst moments in life and uses them for the advancement of His glory.
Did God want Augustine to sin? Did God purposely cause Augustine to sin in order to use him as an example? No, but God did know that Augustine was going to fall into sin. Augustine had free will and willingly made the choice to sin throughout his youth. God does not interfere with our choices to sin, but He allows it to happen and then brings good out of it. In the case of Augustine, when he finally converted and repented of his sin, God gave him the grace and ability to bring others to repentance not in spite of his sin, but because of it. Here we are today, almost 2000 years later, learning how to be a good follower of Christ, because this man defied his elders and lived a life of rampant sin. Imagine what could have happened if he had never strayed, never led that wild life of sin and promiscuity. Augustine may have lived in obscurity and died quietly in his bed of old age, never to be thought of again beyond his immediate family!
In our own lives, we are going to make mistakes; we have probably already made quite a few! But if we look with the eyes of faith, and ask God to show us, we should be able to see many examples of places we are now and good things that have happened to us, because of sinful decisions from our past. Maybe it is knowledge or wisdom that we gained, maybe it is a chance encounter that ended up having lasting effects, maybe it is something that became a milestone moment that affected the entire course of our lives. Whatever it is, we have to be thankful for those occasions of sin, those moments of temptation. We are what we are today, not in spite of those times, but because of them and to change them, could change our entire life.
As a boy, then, I had heard of eternal life promised us through the humility of the Lord our God stooping to our pride. Even from the womb of my mother, who greatly hoped in you, I was signed with the mark of His cross and seasoned with His salt. You saw, Lord, how at one time while yet a boy I was suddenly seized with pains in the stomach and was near death. You saw, my God, for You were my Keeper, with what eagerness of mind and with what faith I besought the baptism of Your Christ, my God and Lord, from the piety of my own mother and of Your Church, the mother of us all. At this time, my mother was very anxious, since she labored more lovingly in travail from my salvation than in my natural birth. She would have provided for my cleansing initiation by Your health-giving sacraments, confessing You, Lord Jesus for the remission of sins, if I had not suddenly recovered. And so, as if I must needs be further polluted if I should live, my cleansing was deferred because the defilements of sin would bring greater and more perilous guilt after that washing. I already believed at that time, with my mother and the whole household except my father. Yet he did not overcome the power of my mother’s piety in me so as to prevent my believing in Christ. The fact that he did not yet believe did not make me think that I should not. For it was her earnest concern that You, my God, should be my Father rather than he. In this You enabled her to overcome her husband to whom, though the better of the two, she yielded obedience because in this she obeyed Your commandment as well.
I beseech You, my God, for I would like to know if it is Your will, for what purpose was my baptism then deferred? Was it for my good that the reins were loosed on me, as it were, for me to sin? Or were they not slackened at all? If not, why does it still echo in my ears on all sides, “Let him alone, let him do as he will, for he is not yet baptized”? But as to bodily health, no one says, “Let him be wounded even more seriously, for he is not yet healed.” How much better then, would it have been for me to have been healed at once and then, by my friends’ diligence and my own, my soul’s recovered health had then been kept safe in Your keeping who gave it! Better truly. But how many great waves of temptation seemed to hang over me after my childhood! My mother foresaw these and preferred to expose the unformed [unrengenerate] clay to them rather than to the very image itself after it was made.