“In his Confessions, St. Augustine describes how, as his conversion approaches, God had begun to scatter sparks on his life from the lives of others. Only the wind of the Spirit can fan these sparks into flame, but Augustine recounts several examples which helped move him to that critical moment when the Lord changed his heart.
Most dramatically and immediately before his conversion, Augustine heard the story of two friends of his friend Ponticianus. While walking outside the city, they wandered into a monastery where they read the Life of St. Anthony. Moved by his example, the two friends decided to leave everything and begin a life in pursuit of sanctity. Augustine was inspired but also distressed upon hearing this story. Although he was held back from the faith by his sinful attachments to worldly goods, he longed to throw all things aside like the two friends and give himself to Jesus.
Notice how widely this fire has spread before its spark landed in Augustine’s heart! The fire began in the heart of St. Anthony. When he heard the Gospel proclaimed where Jesus counsels the rich young man to leave everything and follow him, he responded by entering the Egyptian desert as one of the founders of monasticism. Upon reading about St. Anthony’s response, the two young men were set ablaze. Now, Ponticianus conducts a spark from the fire of their lives to Augustine. Through this spark, Augustine’s heart will burst into flame as the kindling long prepared by God is ignited through the wind of the Holy Spirit.
And notice too that the original fire was not started with the intention of spreading a blaze. St. Anthony’s decision to leave everything and seek intimacy with God in the desert was not motivated by the thought that he would inspire others. Nor was the decision of the young men to enter the monastery done for that reason: they simply followed the call of God in their own lives.
So what can we learn from all of this?
First, in this life we may never know the ways in which the workings of grace in our lives may become an instrumental source of grace for others. Likewise, we may never know the many people whom God has used to touch our hearts. The people who directly impact our lives of faith are only the burning trees nearest to us. Beyond them is a forest of people who helped to set them aflame.
Furthermore, we can also learn from this the importance of looking to examples in the life of faith. Reading about how God has worked in the lives of others can help to stoke the fires in our own hearts and can also help enkindle the hearts of those with whom we share the faith. As Augustine’s life bears witness, God loves to use the examples of his work in the lives of believers as an instrument to move others.
Finally, we must remember that, although we may never know the many people who helped to conduct the fire of faith to us or the many who may receive it from us, we know that the original source is the furnace of God’s love. Ultimately, only he can communicate the fire of his love even when he uses us as his human instruments. And although we may scatter the sparks of his love far and wide, it is ultimately only the grace of his Holy Spirit which can fan those sparks into glorious flame. We ask Him then to fill our hearts with His own longing to set the world ablaze.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom