When I was in the second grade, I stole a chicken from a nearby home that had a few in their fenced in back yard. For some reason it never occurred to me to ask what I was going to do with a chicken, where I would keep a chicken, and how on earth I could ever explain this to my parents. Still, I took it.
In some eyes this is a small detail in the life of a kid, a pre-adolescent prank. But through time and many other experiences of falling “short of the glory of God,” this one transgression outstrips them all – just like St. Augustine’s theft of pears as a teenager. Here is how he recants it in The Confessions:
We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart–which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself.
“Having no inducement to evil but the evil itself.” Such was my sin. The actual act of evil somehow seemed to be its own reward. And ever since then this key element in all my straying has been the note my heart struck.
My dad marched me back to the place of the crime, demanded I apologize, and then me home to meet my “reward.” No protest from me. I deserved exactly what was meted out.