Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Tears of S. Monica


S. Monica, by John Nava (2003) (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 is S. Monica’s day. We know a little bit about Monica and the challenges she faced. We also know how easy would it have been for her to react negatively to her circumstances, to become an unloving wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing mother. In fact, though she struggled, she didn’t become any of those things. She was a woman of great godliness, and that made her strong as well as loving.   

Monica’s difficulties began when she was young. Though she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a non-Christian, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa (in modern day Algeria). Patricius certainly had some redeeming qualities, but he was well-known for his fierce temper. He was also highly promiscuous. To make matters worse, Monica also had to manage a very bad tempered mother-in-law who lived permanently in her home. Patricius criticised Monica constantly for her charity and Christian faith - often considered ‘weaknesses’ in their culture - although it is also evident that he also had a deep respect for her. 

In the end, through Monica’s prayers and the goodness and loving holiness of her life, Patricius actually became a Christian, and - even more remarkably - so did Monica’s difficult mother-in-law. Patricius died in 371, one year after his baptism.


At least three of Monica’s children survived infancy. Augustine, the eldest, is the famous one. At the time Patricius died, Augustine was 17 and studying rhetoric in Carthage. Monica was devastated when she found that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy and was also living an openly immoral life. Thinking she was doing the right thing, at first she wouldn’t let Augustine eat or sleep in her house. But one night she had a vision in which she was assured that Augustine would embrace the Faith she had tried to share with him in his childhood. She remained very close to Augustine from that point on, praying for him with tears and fasting. (She was probably a lot closer than Augustine was comfortable with!)

In 383, when he was 29, Augustine - absolutely brilliant but still wayward - decided to teach rhetoric in Rome. Monica insisted on going. That’s not what Augustine had in mind! So, one night he told his mother that he was going to the docks to farewell a friend. But instead, he got onto a boat bound for Rome. The heartbroken Monica made up her mind to follow him. By the time she arrived in Rome, Augustine had decided to go to Milan. He had already left! In spite of the most difficult travelling conditions, Monica pursued him.


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

Monica’s tearful prayers for Augustine persisted. He, in turn, gradually opened his mind and heart to the Gospel, and really was learning the Faith. Deeply impacted by the worship, singing and praying of the Church in Milan, and having humbled himself to receive the Gospel and the Catholic Faith from the godly Ambrose, Augustine finally surrendered to the love of God. He and several of his friends were baptised by Ambrose at the Easter Mass in 387 AD. 


In that same year, Augustine and his brother Nagivius set out on their return to north Africa. Monica was travelling with them. They broke their journey at Ostia, near Rome, where the Tiber runs into the sea. There Monica 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 this special time in his ‘Confessions’, Monica said, 

‘. . . Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here.’  

Augustine continues: 

‘At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. We had gone there after a long and wearisome journey to get away from the noisy crowd, and to rest and prepare for our sea voyage. I believe that you, Lord, caused all this to happen in your own mysterious ways. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead. We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth - for you are the Truth - what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man. We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.

‘ . . . within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?”



‘We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” 

‘Thereupon she said to both of us: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.’

S. Monica died at the age of 56. She is regarded as the patron saint of all mothers who weep over their wayward children. We thank the Lord for her, and for the work of his grace through her in the conversion of her son Augustine, who is still regarded as one of the Church’s greatest teachers.

O God,
who console the sorrowful
and who mercifully accepted
the motherly tears of Saint Monica
for the conversion of her son Augustine,
grant us, through the intercession of them both,
that we may bitterly regret our sins 
and find the grace of your pardon.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


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