Oh Lord, how did I fail?
What should I have done? What sin did I commit that has caused the son of my flesh to flee from You? The day he was born, he was blessed and consecrated to You; why then has he rejected the faith of his mother? Oh Lord God of heaven, what is it that I should have done? What words should I have spoken that would have brought him to repentance? What is it that You would have me do now?
He was my precious son the moment he was born. I prayed over him. I held him and cared for him as he grew into a boy. You know, Lord, that my deepest desire is and was that he should know You and submit himself to You. You have promised that You will grant to those who delight themselves in You the deepest desire of their hearts. Oh Lord, have I not delighted in You? Are You not the center of my life? Why have You not granted me my son’s salvation? Why do You allow him to continue fleeing from You? Have I been too concerned with the world’s thoughts of him? If my pride is what keeps him from You, then I ask that You remove it far from me and deliver him. Humble me, Lord, under Your mighty hand that Your power might be displayed through me and bring him to repentance.
When he was a boy and he grew ill, terror seized my heart. I thought that I would lose him. For that one moment, though, he sought You. I would have been content, God, if You had saved him then. If he had obeyed You and been baptized, I could have faced whatever end—even my precious son’s death. I had faith, Lord! I believed that the sickness was an instrument that You would use to draw him close to You. Even this faith, though, was tainted with my desire for him to be a great man in the world’s eyes. Instead, he remained in sin and in peril for his soul, and my own heart was torn to pieces. What purpose did that sickness serve? It did not lead to repentance. Why did You allow him to heap sin upon sin? Would it not have been better to save him then and let him die? I know You do all things well, but Lord, I don’t understand.
Perhaps I should have instilled Your Word in him. The teachers of his youth were not Your servants; they did not teach him Your precepts. They taught him the art of speaking, of persuasion and eloquence. They fed my pride in him—they made my son a man the world would admire. Was I wrong in this? What more should I have done? Should I have surrounded him with men of faith? My husband, his father, was young in his faith; he did not yet know how to lead our home as Your servant. I prayed over my son Augustine, Lord. He knew my heart was breaking. Yet he continued to reject You, Your church, and my hopes. My heart was broken, however, not my pride.
At last came the day that he first desired a woman. I was terrified, Lord. This terror was not solely for his soul; I must confess, Lord, that I feared for his worldly prospects as well. I did not yet desire his salvation with my whole heart. In addition, I desired for him to be considered a great man, not only to You, but also to sinful men. I allowed my pride to cloud my judgement; for this, Lord, forgive me. If I had gotten him a wife, perhaps he would have come to you. Instead, I let him run wild. The lusts and passions of the world seduced him, and I did nothing.
His father wished to send him to Carthage. I dreaded to send him so far from me, for how could he be saved if he no longer heard Your words? And how could he hear Your words if I was not speaking them to him? Oh Lord, for this pride in myself and lack of faith, forgive me. He went to Carthage, and I wept bitter tears. My son was far from You and far from me, and I could no longer see Your mighty hand working in his life to bring him to repentance. I allowed my fear to take hold of me. Forgive me for despairing, Lord.
While he was away, his father died. I was a widow, alone, and my son was in Carthage. He allowed himself to be seduced by those heretics, the Manichees, and I believed that he had gone beyond even Your reach. I was abandoned and hopeless. I gave up, Lord. Forgive me for my lack of faith and for my inability to believe You. I know You do all things well; bereft of my husband and with my son lost to heresy, I could have given up completely. I could have lost my life. However, through Your great grace, You sent me a vision of hope for my son; I saw that he would not flee from You forever. I thank you for Your reassurance in spite of my lack of trust.
Not content with sending me promises in a vision, You sent me an encourager. A venerable bishop whom I had consulted gave me support, though he refused to speak to my son. He told me of his own experience with the damnable sect and persuaded me that through my prayer and Augustine’s learning my son would eventually abandon the falsehoods of the Manichees. I continued to press him; my fear overwhelmed me. Finally, he told me, “Go away from me; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” I heard the words as if spoken by You, and I was content.
Augustine returned from Rome with a concubine, a son, and a limitless pride. Though I was sorrowful for the pride and the concubine, my grandson was a joy to me beyond measure. My son made his living as a teacher of rhetoric, with his concubine and his son, Adeodatus. Though Augustine had settled down and was faithful to his concubine, it broke my heart that he still chose the pleasures of this world and the heresy of the Manichees over You. I now have two objects of prayer: my son and my grandson. I pray, Lord, that You bring them to Yourself soon.
He is still running. I pray that You stay with them in Rome, and that he will reconcile himself to me and to You. Though I desperately tried to keep him here, I have faith that You work all things for good, even the deception he practiced upon me. He may have intended it for evil, to lie and escape from me, but You are Lord even over those who deny you time and time again. I pray that You teach him Your precepts and bring him to men who honor You, who will fascinate his intellect and his spirit. I pray Your blessing over my son and his family, no matter how far they go or how long he runs. I pray that You forgive me for my sins of pride and fear. Finally, Lord, I pray that You will make me Your humble servant and an instrument of Your will, in spite of what pain and tears it may cause me.
In Your name, the Name of the Holy, Wise, and Infinite God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,