Today is the memorial of St. Monica, the extraordinarily faith-filled mother of St. Augustine.
In the year 321, Monica was born in Algeria into a family that was devoutly Christian. As a child she was baptized a Christian and was raised to be a dutiful wife. She was given in marriage to a bad tempered, adulterous pagan official, by the name of Patricius.
In examining the life of Saint Monica one is struck by the extent of the abuse she and other women endured throughout their marriage. Under the laws of the time Monica’s husband could physically and emotionally abuse his wife. Compounding the problem was the fact that Patricius’ mother also lived with them and she, like her son, ridiculed his young wife. Monica had three children with this man and, of course the most famous was her oldest, the man that history now knows as Saint Augustine.
But it is important to reflect for a moment on how she dealt with all the stresses of her life: family relations that mistreated her, children that ignored her model of conduct and faith, a culture that looked the other way when her husband abused her. The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could easily have made her a miserable woman, a sour daughter-in-law, and a depressed parent, yet she didn’t become any of these; instead, she became a saint. A saint that is known for two major personal qualities: her love of Jesus Christ and her prayerful persistence in bringing her physical family into the family of God. This beautiful painting, by artist John Nava, (http://johnnava.com) eloquently captures her spirituality and desire for prayer and union with Christ.
Monica was upset to learn that Augustine had accepted the Manichean heresy and was also living an immoral life. Manichaeism stated, among other things, that there is no all knowing good power, so there is neither lord nor savior. She was so angered by his beliefs that she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house and became enraged when he explained to her that his belief trumped her faith in Jesus Christ. She threw him out of the house, but later pursued him and attempted to reason with him.
Monica took comfort in the fact that she had a dream that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that moment she vowed to continually pray and fast for her son and to remain close to him so that she would have the opportunity to discuss her faith with him. The histories tell us that she in fact stayed much closer than Augustine wanted.
One night Augustine told Monica that he was going to the docks to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he himself set sail for Rome. Monica was stunned when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she booked passage on the next boat. When she arrived in Rome, she learned that he had left to travel to the city of Milan in northern Italy where he hoped to obtain a teaching post. Monica pursued him to Milan, and it is in Milan that both mother and son came under the influence of the great saint Ambrose who was bishop of Milan.
Bishop Ambrose became Monica’s spiritual director, and ultimately, she accepted Ambrose’s advice. He advised her that what she was doing was correct – that prayer and fasting would have its affect on the situation. He commended her persistence and directed her to keep the faith, and in humility, accept her circumstances. Monica did exactly that, and in Milan, became a leader of devout women, some of whom were also being abused by their husbands.
Ultimately, Saint Monica won the day; her abusive husband, mother in law, and her youngest son and daughter were all baptized into the faith. Augustine, too, eventually saw the logic of his mother’s faith, became a catechumen, and took religious instruction from Ambrose. In the year 387, Bishop Ambrose baptized Augustine into the Catholic faith in Milan’s cathedral.
Saint Monica was an exemplary mother; a woman who perseveringly pursued her wayward family not with threats but with prayerful cries to heaven. Let us pray that she intercedes for all mothers in our day so that they may learn to guide their children to God. Let us also pray that she teaches mothers, through her example of prayer and fasting, to remain close to their children, even prodigal sons and daughters, who have sadly gone astray.
St. Monica, pray for us.
Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Painting of St. Monica is copyrighted by John Nava. All Rights Reserved.