As I step reluctantly across the threshold of middle age, I can easily spot the times that Augustine has held up his writings to me as a mirror in which I could find inspiration, encouragement, and ideas to share with others. Like many, my first encounter with the bishop of Hippo came during a college-time reading of the Confessions. His autobiographical prayer gave me language to assess my own pursuit of God’s love, and his reflections on time and memory became the great object of my fascination, inspiring my study of philosophy as an undergrad. I now routinely sift his sermons when I need material for a homily or a column, and I often come to the annoying conclusion that he has already said brilliantly what I stumbled upon in a halting brainstorm and confused prose. My admiration for his integrated life as a bishop, professor, and teacher has only increased as I share his insights with my students. The most recent example of this came as I prepared for a new course called “Principles of Catholic Biblical Interpretation.” Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana is an obligatory text for such a course, and a paragraph near the beginning of the work struck me as the tone-setting word for my work as a priest and professor:

This is a great and arduous burden, one difficult to sustain and also, I fear, a rash one to undertake; or so it would be if I were trusting in my own resources. But since in fact my hope of completing the work is based on God, from whom I already have much relevant material through meditation, I have no need to worry that He will fail to supply the remainder when I begin to share what has been given to me. For all the things which do not give out when given away are not properly possessed when they are possessed but not given away [italics mine]. [R.P.H. Green translation, Oxford U. Press, 1999]

The last sentence accords nicely with his frequent refrain that you cannot give what you do not have – he always has love in mind, but knowledge and wisdom are equally applicable. To my mind, one of the privileges of teaching and preaching is the simple opportunity to bring students and souls to the fountain of Augustine’s writings, and to rejoice in seeing them find a fellow lover of God, and even a friend, for the journey of life.