Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Augustine and the Beggar, Nacho Libre and Glory

St Augustine tells the story of passing by an inebriated beggar on his way to deliver a speech. As, he passed the drunk, he noted that this beggar was making jokes, in great spirits, possessing a joy, albeit temporary, that he himself did not possess. Augustine recollects his feeling of being "dragged along by his unhappiness," in pursuit of glory, recognition before men as a great orator. The beggar was full of temporary joy and Augustine with persistent worry. Augustine was concerned about the outcome of his speech. Would it rouse the applause, the awe of men?

He pondered the estate of the beggar. He was torn. Partially envious of the beggar, of his joy, and on the other hand, assured that he had the more noble vocation and higher learning. Augustine wanted to be both himself and the beggar, joyful and praised. The beggar found his joy in wine, Augustine in glory. In his reflection, Augustine concluded that they were both bereft of true joy and true glory.

He opens this narrative with the following line: "I looked with longing at honors, wealth, and marriage, and you laughed at me. Perhaps wealth is no great longing for us, but what of honors and marriage? What of people who like our sermons, people who read our articles, people who are amazed at our insights? Ahh, and marriage, what a haven, a place of untold acceptance, banishing loneliness forever and inviting unwavering intimacy of every kind? These things do not offer true glory or true joy, but call us beyond themselves to deeper joy, and perfect glory.

All men seek glory--praise, acceptance, recognition, worth. I was struck by this fact when watching the very funny Nacho Libre. Nacho (Ignacio), a cook in a Mexican monastery, sets his sights on becoming a Lucha Libre wrestler, a famed wrestler. Wrestling by night and cooking by day, Nacho's dual lifestyles are in conflict. Wrestling is not permitted by the church priests. Nevertheless, he pursues the glory of "winning" and hearing the crowds shout his name. Nacho is seeking glory, fame, worth, acceptance. It is the heartbeat of every human.

The only path to true glory and acceptance is through Jesus and in God the Father. Those who set their sights on a life of faith-filled following after Christ will be met with the glorious words: "Well done, my good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:23). Our praise is from God (1 Cor 4.5). The pursuit of glory was placed in the heart of men, a glory that can only be conferred by the infinitely glorious one, an acceptance and praise that flows from the king of Glory and to whom our glory bows.

True glory, true joy can only be found in the gospel of the glorious God. All other glories and joys must bow before Him, well crafted, well delivered sermons, godly marriages, and great wealth. Augustine recalls his deliverance from petty glory and fleeting desires: "Amidst such desires I suffered most bitter troubles, but your mercy was so much greater according as you let nothing prove sweet to me that was apart from yourself. Behold my heart, O Lord, for it is your will that I recall all this to memory and confess it to you! Now let my soul cleave to you, for you have freed it from so fast a snare of death...so that it might leave all things and be converted to you, who are above all things, and without whom they would be nothing." (Confession, VI.6.9)