Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The tears of St Monica

There are not many "realistic" representations of St Monica
This one is by John Nava (Go HERE for information)

So many people have to struggle against the odds, and not just in terms of projects attempted unsuccessfully or goals that prove to be illusive. Hardest of all is to cope with being surrounded by really difficult people - and in particular - living in the midst of a network of dysfunctional relationships.

Today in the Church's calendar is St Monica’s day. We know a little bit about Monica and the challenges she faced. How easy it would have been for her to have allowed her circumstances to turn her into a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent. In fact, she didn’t let herself become any of those things. She was a woman of great godliness, and that made her strong as well as loving.   

Monica had difficulties right from the start. Though she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa (in modern day Algeria). It is true that Patricius had some redeeming qualities. But he had a fierce temper and was extremely promiscuous. Monica also had to put up with a bad tempered mother-in-law who lived permanently in her home. Patricius criticised Monica constantly for her charity and Christian faith, although at another level it is clear that he respected her. 

In the end, through Monica’s prayers and the life she led, her husband became a Christian, and - even more remarkably - so did her mother-in-law. Patricius died in 371, one year after his baptism.

Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. Augustine, the eldest, is the famous one. At the time Patricius died, Augustine was 17 and studying rhetoric in Carthage. Monica was anguished to discover that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy and was living an immoral life. To start with, she wouldn’t let him eat or sleep in her house. But one night she had a vision in which she was assured that Augustine would return to the faith. She remained close to her son from that point on, praying for him with tears and fasting. (In fact, she was often closer than Augustine really wanted!)

In 383, when he was 29, Augustine - brilliant but still wayward - decided to teach rhetoric in Rome. Monica insisted on going. Clearly, Augustine wasn’t keen on this idea. So, one night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to farewell a friend. But instead, he got on a boat for Rome. The heartbroken Monica made up her mind to follow him. By the time she arrived in Rome, Augustine had left for Milan! In spite of the most difficult travelling conditions, Monica pursued him.

It was in Milan that Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. Monica accepted Ambrose’s advice in all things and demonstrated considerable humility in doing so. She became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.

Monica’s tearful prayers for Augustine persisted during the years he was learning the Faith. At Easter, 387, Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Monica then became ill and suffered severely for nine days before her death. She shared with Augustine a profound experience of God. According to Augustine, who recorded it in his “Confessions”, Monica said, “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.”

She also said to Augustine and his brother Nagivius, “The only thing I ask of you both is that you make remembrance of me at the altar of the Lord wherever you are.”

St. Monica died at age 56, in the year 387. She has become the patron saint of all mothers who weep over their wayward children.

God, our heavenly Father,
you heard the supplication of your servant Monica 
when she cried to you in anguish and sorrow; 
teach us in all our asking
so to ask in your name
that our sorrow may be turned into joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 


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