Wednesday, November 19, 2003

got to obey the bishop anyway, but it's so much easier to do when I respect and love him.

from St. Augustine's Confessions [book VI, chapter 2]

There was an occasion when my mother had brought, as was her custom in Africa, cakes and bread and wine to some of the chapels built in memory of the saints and was forbidden to do this by the doorkeeper. When she found that it was the bishop who had forbidden this practice, she accepted his ban so devoutly and so willingly that I myself was amazed to see how much more readily now she would condemn her own practice of the past than dispute the bishop's prohibition.

For her soul was not a victim to the craving for wine, and no liking for wine stimulated her into a hatred for the truth --- a thing which happens to many people of both sexes who are just as disgusted by a hymn of sobriety as drunkards are if their wine is mixed with water. But when my mother brought her basket with the usual sorts of food, which were first to be tasted by her and then given away, she never took more than one small cup well watered down to suit her sober taste, and this was just for the sake of courtesy. And if there were many memorial chapels which she thought ought to be honored in this way, she still carried this same cup around with her to be used at each place; in the end it would be not only nearly all water, but also lukewarm, and she would share this out in small sips with those around her; for she came then to look for piety, not for pleasure.

But when she found that that famous preacher and that great example of piety had forbidden the practice even to those who used it soberly --- so that drunkards should not be given an occasion for excess and also because this kind of anniversary funeral feast is very much like the superstitious ceremony of the pagans --- she most willingly gave up her old habit. Instead of a basket filled with the fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the chapels of the Martyrs a breast full of something much purer, her prayers. So she was able to give what she could spare to the poor, and so the communion of the Lord's body might be celebrated in those places where, in imitation of His passion, the martyrs had lost their lives and won their crowns.

And yet it seems to me, my Lord God --- and on this matter my heart lies open in your sight --- that in abandoning this old custom of hers my mother might possibly not have given way so easily if the prohibition had come from someone else whom she did not love as she loved Ambrose. For she loved him very greatly on account of my salvation, and he loved her for her religious way of life; for she was always doing good works, was fervent in spirit, and constantly at church. So that when he saw me he often used to burst forth in her praises, congratulating me on having such a mother, though he was unaware of what sort of son she had in me ---one who was in doubt on all these matters and who thought that there was no possibility of finding the way of life.


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