234 • Part II. The Sacraments: The Faith Celebrated
sinful ways and attraction to Christ and the Gospel. One day in the year
386, he went crying into the garden of the house where he was staying
with friends. He was weeping because of his inability to make a decision
for conversion. But then he heard the voice of a child from a neighboring
house singing the refrain, “Take it and read, take it and read.” He picked
up the Letters of St. Paul and read the first passage his eyes fell upon: “not
in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in
rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provi-
sion for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:13-14). Augustine recognized the
grace of God in this reading and embraced conversion.
He was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387 and returned to North Africa in
388. In 391, while visiting the town of Hippo, he was urged by the Christian
population to become a priest; he accepted, though reluctantly. In 395
he became bishop of Hippo. As a Christian, priest, and bishop, he wrote
numerous books to explain and defend Christian doctrine. His homilies
and sermons were written down, and they witness to the depth and power
of his preaching. He died in 430.
Augustine knew the damaging effects of sin. In
he admits his own sinfulness even as a boy: “Many and many a time I
lied to my tutor, my masters, and my parents, because I wanted to play
games or watch some futile show or was impatient to imitate what I saw
on the stage.” But he also experienced the greater power of grace, of
God’s enabling us to overcome sin and accept the Gospel of his Son. St.
Augustine knew God’s mercy in the forgiveness of sins gained for us by
Jesus Christ. Today Catholics encounter this same mercy and forgiveness
in the Sacrament of Penance.
THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS
The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and
our bodies . . . has willed that his Church continue,
in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing
—CCC, no. 1421