Anchor of Hope
I was introduced to Saint Monica a few years ago. When I discovered she had spent many years in prayer for the conversion of her pagan husband and her son Augustine, I knew I had to find out more about this third century saint. Since I have been praying for my family’s conversion for several years, Saint Monica has given me hope to persevere in prayer for my loved ones.
Saint Monica was born about the year 331 in Tagaste, North Africa of a Christian family who raised her in the faith. Her marriage to Patricius, a pagan Roman official, was not a happy one, but it was peaceful and stable mainly due to Monica’s patience and prudence. Monica and Patricius were blessed with three children. Augustine was the eldest, Navigius was the second son, and then came a daughter named Perpetua.
Patricius was very annoyed with his wife’s charitable giving and her habits of prayer, but despite his temper he always treated her with genuine reverence.
Monica was greatly saddened because her husband would not allow her to have their children baptized. However, when Augustine fell seriously ill, she begged her husband to allow him to be baptized so Patricius relented. But when Augustine recovered before the baptism, Patricius withdrew his consent. I can’t imagine her anguish and heartache at not being allowed to raise her children in the faith she loved so much. However she continued to persevere in her faith.
Monica also persevered in her marriage, enduring her husband’s violent outbursts with the utmost patience. The other wives and mothers of her native town admired her patience and respected her deeply. By her words and example, Monica showed them how to love their husbands. Despite the difficulties of her marriage, Monica continued to pray for her husband’s conversion.
Monica’s faith was finally rewarded. One year before his death, Patricius accepted his wife’s Christian faith. This answered prayer came when Augustine was 17 years old. You might expect that his father’s conversion would have impressed Augustine, but it seemed to have the opposite effect: Augustine continued his pagan ways and fell into grave sin. Monica continued to pray constantly, begging God’s mercy for her son.
While Augustine continued his lifestyle of loose living and worldly ambitions, Monica wrestled with God for the soul of her son. Her life’s mission was to see her son and her husband safely in Heaven. While she was a woman of deep prayer and action, Augustine saw his mother as overbearing, controlling and fixated on getting him to convert. How many Catholic mothers today would also be willing to do anything necessary to pass on the faith they love so much to their children? How many times, I wonder, did Monica tearfully surrender her son to God and beg for his mercy?
A Tedious Journey
At one point, Monica decided to follow her wayward son to Milan, although she was too poor to make the journey. Ready to make any sacrifice needed to turn her son away from his sinful life, Monica pursued him like a hound dog, selling some of her treasured possessions to raise the money needed for the tedious trip by ship to Milan. It was during this journey that Monica met Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan who would eventually win Augustine to the faith. After six months of instructions, Augustine was baptized by Saint Ambrose in Milan’s Church of Saint John the Baptist. Monica must have been overjoyed and praised God for His mercy upon her son.
Prior to Saint Augustine’s conversion, Monica had sought the counsel of an unnamed bishop concerning her obstinate son. The bishop consoled her by saying: “The child of those tears shall never perish.” Monica died three years after Augustine’s conversion. Her mission here on earth was complete. God had called her to pray and offer up her suffering for the conversion of her son and her husband. In the year 387 AD, when she was 56, God called Monica to her heavenly reward. Augustine was 33 years old when his mother died, but I am sure that she continued to pray for her son from Heaven and saw him become the Bishop of Hippo and eventually declared a Doctor of the Church.
Arise and Shine
In Saint Augustine’s autobiography, “Confessions,” he writes with deep devotion and reverence for his mother. When she died, he grieved deeply and wrote, “She was already confident with regard to my wretched condition, that while she constantly wept over me in Your sight as over a dead man, it was over one, who though dead, could still be raised to life again. She offered me to You upon the bier of her meditation, begging You to say to this widow’s son, ‘Young man, arise ‘ that he might live again and begin to speak, so that You could restore him to his mother.”
Monica once told Augustine she was confident that she would see him a faithful Christian before she departed this life. Let us all seek such confident faith. Let us remember that the call to motherhood or fatherhood is a call to give birth to Saints, a call to transform and make Saints. The real purpose of being parents on earth is to increase the number of Saints in Heaven!
Lord Jesus, you were moved by the prayers and tears of Saint Monica which led to the conversion of her son into Saint Augustine. Touch our hearts and convert us from fear to love, from sickness to health and from conflict to peace of mind. May our lives draw others to love you. Amen.