August 26, 2016

Memorial of Saint Monica

Death of Saint Monica,
Death of Saint Monica, scene from Life of Saint Augustine,
Ottaviano Nelli, 1420-1425.

August 27th, is the Memorial of Saint Monica, (333-387) the mother of Saint Augustine. Augustine’s life of sin and embrace of worldly pleasures is well known. In turning her son’s heart to God, Monica’s fervent prayers won for the Church a revered scholar and saint. She exemplifies those women in ancient Christianity whose quiet witness was powerfully efficacious. Despite suffering abuse, addiction and discouragement, Monica never lost hope or her faith in God.

She was born in Tagaste, a town in Northern Africa, (present day Algeria) the oldest of three children to Christian parents. She was given in marriage to a pagan Roman official named Patricius. They had three children, sons Augustine and Navigius and a daughter Perpetua. Her husband and mother-in-law treated Monica with disdain. Monica answered their maltreatment with charity. Her prayers and kindness opened Patricius’ eyes to the error of his ways. He was baptized into the Church in 370, one year before his death.

All of Monica’s children would enter religious life. Before doing so, Augustine, most famously, had a child out of wedlock and studied Manicheanism, a religion diametrically opposed to Christianity. When her husband died, Monica sent the 17-year-old Augustine to Carthage for schooling. There, he became a Manichean. Upon returning home, Augustine disclosed his new found beliefs to his mother, who threw him out of the house. According to tradition, Monica received a vision urging her to make amends with her wayward son. A short time later, she consulted an unknown bishop concerning her anguished attempts to evangelize Augustine. The prelate told her, "It is impossible that a son of so many tears should be lost." Monica shed more tears for Augustine’s spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son. She prayed for his conversion for 17 years, fasted, and made Holy Communion her only daily sustenance.

After completing his studies, Augustine founded a school in Carthage for the teaching of Manicheism. Soon, he realized that the Manicheans were more skilled in attacking Christianity than in arguing the truth of their precepts. Seeing the folly of Manicheism, Augustine traveled to Rome to teach rhetoric. Determined to join him, Monica set out for Rome. Meanwhile, Saint Symmachus offered Augustine a chair in rhetoric in Milan. When Monica arrived in Rome, Augustine had already departed.

In Milan, Augustine visited the future saint, Bishop Ambrose. It was Ambrose who would instruct Augustine in the truths of the Faith. When Monica came to Milan she too visited the Bishop. The two together would overcome Augustine’s objections to Christianity. Upon his conversion, Augustine attributed his change of heart to his mother. He was baptized by Ambrose on Holy Saturday, 387.

Monica died a few months after Augustine's baptism. Before her death, she had a profound mystical insight which she shared with Augustine: "Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here."

St. Monica’s remains rest in the Basilica of Sant'Agostino, Rome. Through prayer and persistence, she gave Augustine to the Church, thereby earning a place of distinction in the history of God's kingdom on earth. She is the patron of abuse victims, addicts, wayward children and difficult marriages. O God, who consoles the sorrowful and who mercifully accepted the motherly tears of Saint Monica for the conversion of her son Augustine, grant us, through the intercession of them both, that we may bitterly regret our sins and find the grace of your pardon.

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