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For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Monica, Mother and Widow, 332-387
Jesus spoke to his disciples of persistence in prayer (Lk 11:5-10). This saint’s life demonstrated the effectiveness of following that advice. She provides a model for parents whose children have drifted away from their family values and their Church.
Monica was born in Tagaste, North Africa and raised a Christian by her parents. A part of her upbringing by a strict family retainer was to abstain from drinking anything between meals. When she was old enough to marry, her parents arranged a marriage with Patricius, a pagan who was also from Tagaste. Patricius was described as a man with good qualities, but having a raging temper and inclined to dissoluteness. This was only the first of the crosses which Monica had to bear however. Her mother-in-law, a quarrelsome woman, lived with them, as well. Though the early years of her marriage were a trial, Monica persisted in prayer for her husband and mother-in-law; eventually, they were converted to Christianity.
Monica and Patricius had three children, the oldest of whom became St. Augustine. Augustine showed much promise from his earliest days and his parents gave him the best education possible. But while he became a catechumen at an early age, Augustine drifted away from Christianity during his school years. About two years after the death of her husband, Monica was crushed to learn that he had taken up a life of immorality, and was caught up in the Manichaen heresy.
When Augustine returned to Tagaste to teach, she at first refused to let him into her house. But a vision caused her to relent when a voice told her to dry her tears, “Your son is with you.” Monica had wit as well. When told of her vision, her son responded that they could well be together if she would give up her faith. Her astute response was “He did not say that I was with you; he said that you were with me.” Augustine later wrote that he regarded this as a watershed moment in his life though it was still several years before his conversion.
Monica continued to pray and fast for her son’s spiritual health. She sought help from her priests and bishop whom she hoped could convince Augustine of his error. They recognized that such argument would have no effect on him in his state of mind. Her bishop sent her away gently with the words, “Go now, I beg of you; it is not possible that a son of so many tears should perish.”
Augustine’s time was not yet at hand, however. He decided to move to Rome to teach when he was twenty-nine, and Monica decided to follow him there. But by the time Monica reached Rome, her son had already moved on to Milan. In that city, Augustine fell under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose. When Monica finally arrived in Milan, he could announce to her that he no longer believed in the Manichaen heresy. Though this delighted Monica, he reminded her that he was not yet a Christian. She responded with patience that he would be before she died.
Monica also fell under the strong influence of St. Ambrose. When the bishop was in the midst of confronting the Arian Catholics, he was added to her prayers. Monica deferred to Ambrose’s judgment on most matters, something that Augustine suspected would never happen with another bishop. When she found the rules on fasting in Milan and Rome different and confusing, Ambrose gave her the advice which has been shortened to “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Monica’s prayers for Augustine were finally answered when he was baptized by St. Ambrose at the Easter Vigil in 387. Augustine, who earlier had been living with a mistress and had fathered a son, declared that, henceforth, he would live a celibate life. Together with his mother and son, Augustine made plans to return to North Africa. Monica, though apparently in good health, knew that she would not return to her home. She spoke of her death and told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight; all my hopes for this world have been fulfilled. All I wished to live for was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of heaven. God has granted me more than this.” A few days later, Monica became ill and shortly after that, died.
St. Monica is the patron of mothers and for those seeking perseverance in prayer. A memorial honors this saint on August 27.
Monica's message today: Monica provides a stunning example of the power of prayer. While it took several years before all of her prayers were answered, she died a happy woman, knowing that God had granted her wishes. We too can trust that God hears and answers all of our prayers, even though the response may not come exactly when we would like it to come or in exactly the way we would like.