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It seems fitting to start off 2014 by wishing everyone reading this a Happy 2014. It is, as the American Constitution recognises, part of being human that we pursue happiness; it also seems to be part of it that we never quite possess it. It was to this fact that St Augustine was pointing when, in his Confessions he wrote:  “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” Augustine knew what he was talking about.

As a young man, Augustine had sought happiness where young men often look for it – in sex, in the exercise of his intellectual brilliance, and in fashionable religions; he would have been very much at home in our own time; nothing that we pursue in search of happiness would have surprised him. But he came to know that God loved him, and he responded to that love – and it changed his life.

Many of the questions facing Christians now faced Augustine. The Donatists in his native North Africa preached a Christianity which laid stress on observing the strictest of standards, insisting that those who had lapsed from the faith under the recent persecutions could not be allowed back in easily – if at all. But Augustine recognised that this missed the point of God’s love:

All who do not love God are strangers and antichrists. They might come to the churches, but they cannot be numbered among the children of God. That fountain of life does not belong to them.

People could eat and drink (albeit unworthily) of the Body and Blood of Christ, and they could be perfect in their observance of all the sacraments – but if they lacked love, then none of it mattered. Augustine was not a sentimentalist, he knew that sometimes love meant correcting error, whilst wickedness lay in not doing so and encouraging someone to do something which was bad for them:

human actions can only be understood by their root in love. All kinds of actions might appear good without proceeding from the root of love. Remember, thorns also have flowers: some actions seem truly savage, but are done for the sake of discipline motivated by love. Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.

Love, he said, ‘should be fervent to correct’.

After so long seeking esoteric wisdom and exotic pleasures, Augustine came to find true happiness in God’s love. It did not mean that his life was made easier – we so often mistake ease for happiness – neither did it mean that all went well for him. But it did mean that his restless heart was restless no more. So, in wishing us all a happy 2014, I would like to hope that we will all come to know more of the love of God, and to find some rest in this restless world for our hearts.