I never really understood the purpose behind keeping a diary. As a teenager, the last thing I wanted to do was more work, though I am sure I had five minutes to spare here and there. I missed out–mapping out my growth and the changes I have undergone. The struggles I have faced are nowhere near some of the things others have experienced, because everyone is essentially different. The thing is, I enjoy writing and should have doodled out my innermost feelings Saint Augustine may have called “confessions.” When I was thirteen, I had no idea what the real world consisted of. In fact, now that I am a sophomore in college, I only know the gist of it. Here I am, going through this interesting stage some may label as “coming of age,” where my character has already been developed, but I continue to grow. Enjoying my last two months of being a teenager, I begin mapping out my life through this self-reflection.
Saint Augustine, who is he? Was he born a saint, or did he have to “work” for it? Was he different from me, or was he just like me? Augustine was a human being. Growing up, he experienced times of uncertainty where the difference between right and wrong may had been clear, but were still difficult to choose between one or the other. I call this stage of my “coming of age” shared inquiry–the search for who Saint Augustine really was.
Throughout Saint Augustine’s Confessions, it is clear that he lived a life some may not consider “saint-like.” He explores his emotions by raising topics he himself may not have the answers to. Saint Augustine says, “Only, when he himself suffers, it is called misery, when he feels compassion for others, it is called mercy” (Saint Augustine 36). This leads to the investigation of who I am, and who I want to become. I have chosen to allow times of suffering to translate into moments of misery. Saddened by a back injury heading into my cross country season this year, I decided not to let this setback defeat my purpose of being on the team. With each additional hour of training that I put in, I learned to find the successful results that were hidden behind pain and sweat. Tempted to remove my Saint Christopher necklace, blessed by the Bishop to protect me during competitions, I decided to keep it on. I turned to my faith, because that was one of the last things I was hanging onto. I was not sure that I would be able to do it–to be ready to race successfully. With every race, good or bad, I took the challenge and continued to push myself knowing that there would always be room for improvement. I learned to put the team’s needs before my own, because without them, I would not be successful. Therefore contrary to what Saint Augustine once said, when my team suffers, I call that misery. When I feel compassion for them, I call that sincerity (Saint Augustine 36).
So again, who is Saint Augustine? He is a man who understood that “No one is doing right if he is acting against his will, even when what he is doing is good” (Saint Augustine 14). Like him, I did not understand this until I discovered the relationship between suffering and misery. Maybe I initially struggled in seminar to clearly define this man who was not born a saint, but through his sincere actions, became one. I struggled to organize the “confessions” that Saint Augustine presented and invite the class into the investigation that I was running while I read. I was studying who Saint Augustine was, but lacked the opinions of others. I closed off my investigation to my own thoughts and opinions and as a result created a somewhat biased definition of who this saint really was–recently I have worked on listening to the ideas of others, and continue to do so. My greatest struggle of shared inquiry was discovering who I truly am and what kind of a leader I want to become amongst my peers.
This next part briefly covers some of the moments when I learned to strengthen my critical thinking skills rather than allowing the task of having to think critically overwhelm me. Dante’s Purgatorio made me reflect on my own religious beliefs as my seminar class explored the purpose of purgatory. Staring at the cover page of Dante’s Purgatorio, I spent some time panicking unsure of how I would initially “attack” the great Dante and his complex syntax. I then understood that in order to understand him, I had to dissect his writing piece by piece–and that I learned to enjoy.
Dante says, “Even as sheep move, first one, then two, then three, out of the fold–the others also stand, eyes and muzzles lowered, timidly; and what the first sheep does, the others do, and if it halts, they huddle close behind, simple and quiet and not knowing why…” (Alighieri 25). How does one get into heaven? Rather, why might one go to hell? Since it is said that God forgives all sins, it becomes nearly unlikely for one to be directed to a place other than heaven.
As Saint Augustine discuses the challenges he faced as an adolescent, Dante repeatedly touches upon the act of sinning. Growing up, I first handedly saw the impact that peer pressure had on kids my age. Even today, it is very common for people to be influenced by the actions of others. Whether severe or not, it is essential for the “sinner” to repent in order to receive forgiveness. In class, we analyzed the text and discussed how although God forgives all sins, purgatory gives the wrongdoers time to think about their actions and reevaluate their lives as children of God (Alighieri). Acknowledging that one has done wrong is not a gateway into heaven, but it is one step closer.
I am not sure what Saint Augustine did in order to become a saint, or what the turning point in his life must have been. For me, when I read the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew, I was reconnected with God. Throughout the years, I seemed to distance myself from the study of my religion. Since I had previously read many of these famous parables in high school, reading them again–even after several years–felt like a breeze. I found the parables easy to understand and was able to share my interpretation of the gospels with the class. In this case, my written and oral communication were the beginnings of great conversations in class.
Avoiding to go church and practice my religion, I began to lose myself and the character that had been shaped by the beliefs of many Catholics. I found myself when I did not even know I was beginning to disappear. In the gospel, a man’s son realizes the true value of life, and the father then says “‘…this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found'” (Luke 111-112). When I was struggling the most this year, I learned to pick myself up with the help of my classmates in seminar. Attempting to help those who have never read the bible understand the meaning of the gospels, I was learning as well. This was my strong point–communicating with others while I too searched for meanings. By helping others in class and reminding myself of the messages of God, I reestablished my relationship with my religion.
How much have I changed over the course of one semester? I look the same, but feel a lot better. I remember sitting in my seminar class as a freshman, intimated to share my true opinions or even change the topic in a casual discussion. During the discussion of “Melvin in the Sixth Grade,” I had so much to say, but little found its way out. I grew up in Oakland, aware of the diversity that filled the streets, and the racism that followed much of it. I was able to connect with many other readings last year as well, but was shy to speak up in seminar. This semester, seminar is one of my favorite classes because I feel the freedom to speak my mind. I have grown as a person, and am comfortable with who I am becoming.
Saint Augustine is just like me; my brother; my friend; my neighbor. He is a man who received forgiveness for his sins, and like Dante, might say: “Deliver also those who do not as yet pray, that they may call upon you and you may set them free” (Alighieri 13). He is a man who may have been lost, but was found (Luke 111-112).