August 26, 2017

St. Monica, Holy Matron and Mother of St. Augustine

Saint Monica

(In 2017, this feast is superseded by the Sunday liturgy.)

August 27th, is the memorial of Saint Monica. She is an example of those holy matrons of the ancient Church who proved very influential in their own quiet way. Through prayer and tears she gave the great Saint Augustine to the Church, and thereby won for herself a place of honor in the history of God's kingdom on earth.

The Confessions of St. Augustine provide certain biographical details. Born of Christian parents about the year 331 at Tagaste in Africa, Monica was reared under the strict supervision of an elderly nurse who had likewise reared her father. In the course of time she was given in marriage to a pagan named Patricius. Besides other faults, he possessed a very irascible nature; it was in this school of suffering that Monica learned patience. It was her custom to wait until his anger had cooled; only then did she give a kindly remonstrance. Evil-minded servants had prejudiced her mother-in-law against her, but Monica persevered.

Her marriage was blessed with three children: Navigius, Perpetua, who later became a nun, and Augustine, her problem child. [Eventually, all of Monica's children would enter religious life.] According to the custom of the day, baptism was not administered to infants soon after birth. It was as an adolescent that Augustine became a catechumen, but possibly through a premonition of his future sinful life, Monica postponed his baptism after he grew severely ill.

When Augustine was nineteen years old, his father Patricius died. Despite Patricius’ maltreatment of Monica mastered the situation by kindness and sympathy. Her prayers and kindness opened Patricius’ eyes to the error of his ways. In 370, one year before his death, he was baptized into the Church.

The youthful Augustine caused his mother untold worry by indulging in every type of sin and dissipation. As a last resort after all her tears and entreaties had proved fruitless, she forbade him entrance to her home; but after a vision she received him back again. In her sorrow a certain bishop consoled her: "Don't worry, it is impossible that a son of so many tears should be lost."

When Augustine was planning his journey to Rome, Monica wished to accompany him. He outwitted her, however, and had already embarked when she arrived at the docks. Later she followed him to Milan, ever growing in her attachment to God. St. Ambrose held her in high esteem, and congratulated Augustine on having such a mother. At Milan, she prepared the way for her son's conversion. Finally, the moment came when her tears of sorrow changed to tears of joy. Augustine was baptized. And her lifework was completed. She died in her fifty-sixth year, [a few months after Augustine's baptism] as she was returning to Africa. The description of her death is one of the most beautiful passages in her son's famous Confessions.

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." Having secured the conversion of her beloved family, Monica longingly awaited her joyous entrance into eternal Beatitude at peace.

Saint Monica’s remains rest in the Basilica of Sant'Agostino, Rome. She is the patron saint of abuse victims, addicts, wayward children and difficult marriages. O God, who consoles the sorrowful and who mercifully accepted the motherly tears of St. Monica for the conversion of her son Augustine, grant us, through the intercession of them both, that we may regret our sins and find the grace of your pardon. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who reigns with you. Amen.

Adapted and expanded from The Church's Year of Grace, Fr. Pius Parsch.

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