I personally hold the two most powerful and awesome forces in the universe are: 1) God, and 2) a mother’s love.
I often, from experience, have to question my ordering of these two dramatic forces. Something happens when a woman, even modern day women, have children.
I don’t know if it’s chemical or nature or what, but something so subtle, yet so powerful emerges. If you haven’t witnessed as an adult, as a husband, it is difficult to explain.
Please don’t even try and tell me men and women are the same. I’ll try not to laugh in your face. I have benefited from it as a child, as a youth, as an adult, as a father, tremendously. I fear it. I respect it, wholly/holy? I stay out of it’s way. I watch my tongue. I obey its commands. I cooperate with it, and hopefully, grace. I do as I am told. “I came to serve, and not to be served.” -Mt 20:28/Mk 10:45, I repeat to myself when my marital and parental obligations become, rarely, inconvenient. If the Son of the Living God can do this, I certainly, and all of us, can.
Given these two forces, Augustine and his father, Patricius, were finished from the beginning. So much for male dominance, as if even one would wish for such a thing. Women make, have always made, my world infinitely better. Thank you. My practical advice to Augustine & Patricius, and to all men? Surrender, quickly, and get on with it.
The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Our knowledge of Monica comes almost entirely from the writings of her much-loved son, the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. His relationship with his mother was a close one, especially during Monica’s last years. In Book IX of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”, he gives us many details of her life, and expresses his gratitude for her devotion in moving terms. She was born of a well-off Christian family in Tagaste in Nortern Africa, also known as the Numidian city of Thagaste, on whose ruins modern Souk Ahras, along the Mediterranean in the modern day northeastern corner of Algeria, exist. Souk is an Arabic word meaning “marketplace”. I have visited souks in the Middle East. Much fun.
We are given one episode of her childhood which suggests a possible origin for her firmness of will. She was sometimes sent down to the cellar to draw wine for the family, and fell into the habit of taking secret sips. She developed such a passion for wine that before long she was drinking great draughts of it whenever opportunity offered. One day a family slave who had been spying on the little girl denounced her as a wine-bibber, and Monica, covered with shame, gave up the habit. Soon afterwards she was baptized, and thenceforth seems to have led a life of irreproachable virtue. She is patroness of alcoholics, among other causes.
Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism.
Monica and Patricius had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine, is the most famous. Navigius, who seems to have been an exemplary son, Augustine, and Perpetua, a daughter, who became a religious. Augustine, the more brilliant of the sons, was sent to Carthage, so that he might develop his talents and become a man of culture. He took to learning naturally but he also spent time in youthful carousing. This caused his mother great anguish, and when he returned to Tagaste, she disapproved so strongly both of his loose living and of his espousal of the popular heresy of Manichaeism that she refused at first to allow him to live at home. She relented only after having seen a vision. One day as she was weeping over his behavior, a figure appeared and asked her the cause of her grief. She answered, and a voice issued from the mysterious figure, telling her to dry her tears; then she heard the words, “Your son is with you.” Monica related this story to Augustine, and he replied that they might easily be together if she gave up her faith, for that was the main obstacle keeping them apart. Quickly she retorted, “He did not say I was with you: he said that you were with me.” Augustine was impressed by the quick answer and never forgot it. Although his conversion was not to take place for nine long years, Monica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf. She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” Monica persisted in importuning him, and the bishop uttered the words which have often been quoted: “Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.”
When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric, and bring along his mistress and their son, Adeodatus. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.
In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her. Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.
She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end.
“The day was now approaching when my mother Monica would depart from this life; you know that day, Lord, though we did not. She and I happened to be standing by ourselves at a window that overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house. At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, “forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead..” We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth – for you are the Truth – what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man.” We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life. That was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said, “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be His servant. So what am I doing here?” I do not really remember how I answered her. Shortly, within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side, but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?” We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us, and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” Thereupon she said to both of us, “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.” – from the Confessions of Saint Augustine
Today, with Internet searches, e-mail shopping and instant credit, we have little patience for things that take time. Likewise, we want instant answers to our prayers. Monica is a model of patience. Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her hot-tempered husband, her cantankerous mother-in-law and her brilliant but wayward son, Augustine.
When Monica moved from North Africa to Milan, she found religious practices new to her and also that some of her former customs, such as a Saturday fast, were not common there. She asked St. Ambrose which customs she should follow. His classic reply was: “When I am here, I do not fast on Saturday, but I fast when I am in Rome; do the same and always follow the custom and discipline of the Church as it is observed in the particular locality in which you find yourself.”
“Nothing is far from God.” – Saint Monica
Exemplary Mother of the great Augustine,
you perseveringly pursued your wayward son
not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven.
Intercede for all mothers
in our day so that they may learn
to draw their children to God.
Teach them how to remain close
to their children,
even the prodigal sons and daughters
who have sadly gone astray. Amen.
Dear St. Monica,
troubled wife and mother,
many sorrows pierced your heart during your lifetime.
Yet, you never despaired or lost faith.
With confidence, persistence, and profound faith,
you prayed daily for the conversion
of your beloved husband, Patricius,
and your beloved son, Augustine;
your prayers were answered.
Grant me that same fortitude, patience,
and trust in the Lord.
Intercede for me, dear St. Monica,
that God may favorably hear my plea for
(Mention your intention here.)
and grant me the grace to accept His Will in all things,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.