In the sermons on the martyrs which Augustine preached at the very end of his life, we are left in no doubt as to what the donum perseverantiae, the gift of perseverence unto death, meant to him. They are extraordinary as evocations of the strength of the love of life, and of the intimate grip of the human flesh from which the soul is torn so unwillingly:
They really loved this life; yet they weighed it up. They thought of how much they should love the things eternal if they were capable of such deep love for things that pass away.. . . [Augustine's] account of the miracles at the shrine of Saint Stephen, in the last book of the City of God, were far from being a capitulation to the "silly stories" current among the "common herd." For Augustine they were surreal rather than "silly." They betray the effort by which Augustine, a man formed in the most austerely immaterialistic current of Neo-Platonic thought available to an educated man of his age, had come to think the unthinkable concept of a future integration of flesh and spirit. The recorded miracles of healing at the shrines show God's power and his abiding concern for the flesh. . . . Miracles that had once struck Augustine, the contemplative, as of little significance, as so many lights dimmed by the sun of God's harmonious order, now take on a warmth and a glow of their own, as Augustine pays more heed to the instinctive fears of yearnings of the once-neglected body:
I know you want to keep on living. You do not want to die. And you want to pass from this life to another in such a way that you will not rise again as a dead man, but fully alive and transformed. This is what you desire. This is the deepest human feeling; mysteriously, the soul itself wishes and instinctively desires it.-Peter Brown (The Cult of the Saints)
The Psalms thus become a voice for the dying in which all are engaged, partly because the world is a place of death and is passing away, partly because God gives new life, but only in the pain of death. It is because God is at work even in the pain of such death that the Psalmist dares enter God's presence with these realities. They have to do with God.
- Walter Brueggemann (Praying the Psalms)