“Hide not Thy Face from me. Let me die, lest I die, if only I may see Thy Face.” ~ St. Augustine in Confessions (1.5.5)
What is the soul’s deepest longing? The answer to that question is another question: what do you seek? Do you seek truth, love, or joy? Peace? Endless fulfillment? Beauty? The desire for all these things are good, but our weak human nature usually seeks them in all the wrong places, when there is only one place where all may be found, that is, in God. The real search begins when we begin to seek God’s Face.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine told of his search in his youth for love, joy, beauty, et cetera… but “looking in all the wrong places” he turned to sexual immorality, living with a woman for thirteen years — which only left his restless heart deeply unsatisfied. He then sought to quench his desires intellectually, which led to strange religions and philosophies. But when he heard St. Ambrose speak in Milan, and thanks also to the persevering prayers of his mother, St. Monica, God’s grace moved his heart to recognize what was true and beautiful. But he still found it difficult to give up his sinful life.
One day in a garden, still struggling with his passions, St. Augustine heard the voice of a child repeating, “take and read, take and read.” He looked around but no one was there, but there was a Bible laying open beside him. Picking it up, he read the words from Romans 13:13-14 “…not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
St. Augustine was at a turning point. “What” he sought became “Whom” — Jesus Christ. By seeking the Face of God in His Word, he began his transformation in Christ, eventually becoming a Bishop and Doctor of the Church. His life of prayer, praise, and contemplation of the Blessed Trinity led to the fulfillment of the longing of his heart, which is the longing of every heart — to see the Face of God and find there all truth, beauty, goodness, love, joy, peace, and endless fulfillment in HIM.
Prayer of St. Augustine
“My Lord and my God, my only hope, hear my prayer so that I may not give in to discouragement and cease to seek you. May I desire always to see your face. Give me strength for the search. You who caused me to find you and gave the hope of a more perfect knowledge of you. I place before you my steadfastness, that you may preserve it, and my weakness, that you may heal it. I place before you my knowledge, and my ignorance. If you open the door to me, welcome the one who enters. If you have closed the gate, open it to the one who calls. Make me always remember you, understand you, and love you. Increase those gifts in me until I am completely changed.
When we come up into your presence, these many things we talk about now without understanding them will cease, and you alone will remain everything in everyone, and then we will sing as one an eternal hymn of praise and we too will become one with you.”