Today is the feast day of St. Monica (332-387).
For those of faith traditions that do not celebrate feast days, do not fear, we are not worshiping saints on these days. Feast days of the saints commemorate the lives of brothers and sisters in Christ who loved Jesus and led lives of Godly example for others to follow. A saint’s feast day sometimes falls on their birthday, so you can look at it like we’re celebrating this family member’s birthday, or on the anniversary of their death in which case we’re celebrating their union with God in heaven. Ultimatley we’re celebrating the gift they are to the family of God and the lives they lived for Jesus.
St. Monica was the mother of St. Augustine (a well known theologian of the Christian faith in the early church). I’d never heard of Monica prior to becoming Catholic but since learning of her she’s become one of my heroes. What we know of her comes primarily from the writings of Augustine himself. She was from a devout Catholic family. As a young woman she was given in marriage to a pagan who would not allow her to baptize their children. What is often admired about Monica was her great faith and perseverance in prayer for her family, especially her unbelieving husband (who became a believer in Christ on his deathbed) and her “partying and carousing” son, Augustine. Yep, good ole’ St. Augustine was a prodigal son, so to speak.
Monica prayed for 20 years for her son to leave behind his worldly ways and become a follower of Christ. For a period of time she even forbade him to live with her because of his lifestyle and his belief in the popular Manichaeism heresy of the times; he was known for his illicit affairs and had a mistress who mothered his child. Sounds like she had to put some tough love into action with Augustine. In the meantime, she fasted and prayed continually and wept many tears for her son, all the while dealing with an unbelieving husband who, as the story goes, had a violent temper (Monica suffered a great amount of abuse in her marriage).
Twenty years… It would have been easy to give up hope. I can only imagine how heartbroken she must have been with her son’s worldly ways. How torn she must have been to have a grandchild that she might not have seen very often because of her tough love for her son. How frustrated she must have been to see him using his God-given intelligence to espouse beliefs that were contrary to the truth of the Christian faith. In spite of it all, she persisted in prayer for her son. I have to say that I’ve been praying for some people in my life for a lot less time and sometimes I lack perseverance and faithfulness or I feel like giving up because it seems to me they are never going to turn to Christ as their one and only source of life.
Monica persevered and God answered her prayers in ways she never dreamed. At 29 Augustine moved to Rome. As the story goes, he “outwitted” his mother (hmmm, another word for fooled or deceived) and left for Rome at a time when he knew she wouldn’t be able to follow him. Gee, he sounds like a real loveable and likeable son so far. Monica however, never gave up. She too went to Rome and then to Milan where Augustine was living. While in Milan both Augustine and Monica developed a relationship with Bishop Ambrose, a true leader for Christ. I imagine Monica was thrilled and felt like her son’s relationship with Bishop Ambrose was an answer to her prayers. Makes me think about praying even now for the people my girls will befriend in the future and the influence these people will have over them.
Eventually Augustine gave up following the heresy of Manichaeism, gave up the illicit relationship with his mistress and became a believer of the Christian faith. He then chose to be celibate and devoted his life to the service of God and the Church. I’m thinking Monica was beside herself at this point; on the one hand thanking God and on the other thinking, “why’d it have to take so long Lord?’ Augustine would later go on to use his considerable intelligence and teaching skills for the faith and become a celebrated saint of the Church.
When I read about Monica, I’m inspired to pray a little harder and a little longer for those I love. One of my prayers has been that the Lord will make me a holy vessel of his love and grace to my husband and children. And, that he’ll make my family a holy family so that we are more like Jesus and we can be a light and testimony of God’s love and power to those around us. This prayer has not come without sacrifice. St. Monica knew what sacrificing and suffering for her family meant. She’s an example of a Godly wife and mother who faithfully prayed for and loved her family. And she was blessed to see the fruit of her faithfulness.
I want to be like that kind of praying mom.