St Monica is the patroness of mothers and it’s easy to understand why. Her persistent prayer and godly example helped to draw her son Augustine away from a life of self indulgence to a life of faith. Not only is she a wonderful example of a Christian mother but also she shows us all how to persevere in prayer for those whom we care about, family and friends.
The readings on the Thursday when we remembered her were Psalm 127, Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-end, Mark 3:31-end.
Today we remember St Monica who was the mother of St Augustine of Hippo. Most of what we know about her is from the writings of St Augustine.
She was born in 331 at Tagaste which was in North Africa. Her parents were devout Christians and she was brought up in the faith. We are told that she was a very well behaved child in general but there is one incident that suggests she was capable of mischief.
She used to go into the wine cellar and take sips of wine in secret. Augustine seems to think she was in danger of becoming an alcoholic at that time. However, a maid caught her drinking on one occasion and accused Monica of being a drunkard. This accusation seems to have shocked Monica into changing her behaviour from that time. Perhaps as a result of this incident, recovering alcoholics pray to Monica.
While still young, Monica was given in marriage to Patricius who was a Roman official and a pagan. He was significantly older than Monica and was reputed to have a bad temper though he was known to be generous. Perhaps he had inherited his bad temper as his mother was also grumpy. Monica had to cope with living with her mother in law.
The marriage was not a happy one but Monica managed to make it work through her patient character. Her friends were surprised that living with such a volatile man did not result in her being beaten on occasion. She told them that the way she avoided this and maintained domestic peace was by remembering the matrimonial contract they had agreed between them, and by keeping quiet when her husband was in a bad mood. Augustine states that those of her friends who followed her advice improved their marriages and were better treated by their husbands.
Patricius showed respect to Monica but did not approve of her charity and Christian ways. He was often unfaithful to Monica but he was a good father and did his best to provide a good education for their children. They had three children – Navigius who was a very well behaved son, Augustine, and Perpetua who became a mother superior in a convent.
Monica prayed for the conversion of her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Eventually they were won over. Patricius died a year after becoming a Christian, when Augustine was 17. Augustine was very intelligent and studied in Carthage. During this time he lived an immoral life. By the time he was 19 he was engaged to a girl and she bore him a son.
Monica longed for Augustine to become a Christian and this was her main concern for 18 years. He decided to embrace a heretical position and this caused Monica to drive him away from her home. She cried because she was so worried about her son, and as she was crying a figure appeared to her and told her ‘Your son is with you’. Monica went to see a bishop who assured her that ‘The child of many tears shall never perish’. Monica then relented and allowed him back in her home.
It seems that Augustine was not an easy son to have around being strong-willed and stubborn. He often tried to deceive his mother. At the age of 29 when he headed to Rome, he tricked his mother into waiting in an inn while he sailed away. Monica appears to have been very persistent and followed him to Rome. She found that he had left for Milan so continued on to find him there. In Milan she met St Ambrose who became her spiritual director. It seems that it was a combination of Monica’s prayers and Ambrose’s teaching which finally led to Augustine becoming a Christian in 386.
Augustine and some friends gathered in a community in Cassiciacum where Monica acted as a house mother. On one occasion she came into the room while the group was discussing how to have a happy life. The group had decided that in order to be happy a person would need to have all the things that they wanted. Monica had her own idea: “If he wishes to possess good things, his is happy; if he desires evil things, no matter if he possesses them, he is wretched.” Augustine told his mother that she was a great philosopher, worthy of being compared to Cicero.
Augustine and his friends were baptised by Ambrose at Easter in 387 and Augustine decided to devote his life to God. He and Monica decided to return to Africa shortly after his baptism. They waited at Ostia near Rome for a ship to carry them. As they sat together looking at the garden Monica told him: “Son there is nothing in this world now affords me delight. The one reason I had been wishing to linger in this life a little longer was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I die.’’ A few days later Monica developed a fever and died at the age of 55.
Monica was buried in Ostia rather than in her native Africa. Her friends told Augustine that she would not mind as she had said that God would remember where she was buried and raise her up. One thing she had said to Augustine and Navigius was: “Lay this body anywhere, and take no trouble over it. One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.”
Monica is a great example to us all of persistence in prayer and trust in God. She is also a great example of how to be a good wife, very much like the one described in the passage from Proverbs. We can be sure that she was doing what God wanted her to do in praying for her wayward son to become a Christian. As a result she became the patroness of mothers.
Often it is not easy to pray for those who are family or friends. They might be resistant to our different values, as Patricius was. They may seem content to live their lives their own way as Augustine was. It may take many years of prayer to bring about change but the joy when our prayers are answered is worth all the effort.
Like Monica, I too prayed for 18 years, not for my son but for my husband, and was blessed by his becoming a Christian. I still have two children to pray into the kingdom so I guess I had better not give up praying yet!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor