I am convinced that sometimes, the saints choose us. St. Monica is another proof to me that this is true. She was the patron of the mother whose home we recently purchased. The house was dedicated to St. Monica and when we moved in an icon of her was on our wall. She is now in the center of my kitchen icon corner and regularly invoked for prayer and help. My oldest daughter showed the most interest in her when we moved in. She loved that we had another patron saint and laughed at how the saints follow us around and show up when we least expect them. When my daughter began her new literature lessons, she was delighted to read about St. Monica in St. Augustine’s “Confessions.” I would hear details about St. Monica after school lessons and I was interested but still not overly intrigued.
Then my husband and I were helping with a marriage retreat and it was suggested to us that we learn about St. Monica so that we could share her as an example of a married saint. To my surprise, the priest who suggested this told me how much he loved St. Monica because of how real she was. She was the stereotypical obsessive, overbearing mother who drove her son crazy chasing after him until he would convert, driving her bishop crazy with all her tears. Yet there she is: the mother of a saint and a saint herself. This description of her finally did make me intrigued. Because, honestly, over-pious descriptions of saints bug me something awful! By robbing saints of their humanity we rob them of their virtue, and then they cannot be real examples to us and lead us closer to God as they should.
When most people think of St. Monica, several things probably come to mind: Her determination in prayer, her amazing dedication as a mother. Of course we can’t help but think of St. Augustine and maybe even St. Ambrose. Some may also recall her as the patient, long-suffering wife of an adulterous pagan with a mean-spirited mother-in-law (also a pagan). Some of us may smile and think of our own mothers, grandmothers, or other women in our lives—those amazing prayer warriors that will not rest until they see their loved ones right with God!
Although I am a mom and wife, I have never had a devotion to St. Monica until recently. She has become very important to me and though all the virtues people know her for are invaluable, they are not what I have personally found to be most valuable about her and not what she has helped me with.
St. Monica is like the persistent widow in the gospels:
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
Just like the widow in this parable, St. Monica persisted in her requests. Her prayers eventually converted her husband and mother-in-law and ultimately her wayward, Manichean son – St. Augustine.
When St. Augustine accepted the Manichean heresy (the erroneous belief that the body is evil) St. Monica was so upset, she threw him out of her home. Then, she was given a vision. In this vision she was grieving and bowed down with sorrow. When asked what the cause of her sorrow and daily weeping was, she answered that it was the doom of her son’s soul that she was lamenting. She was told to rest content and that her son was with her (Confessions, Book III, 9.14).
After this vision she believed her son would become a Christian so she welcomed Augustine back into her home. What I find most interesting is that her prayers, fasting and tears did not let up a bit after God granted her this vision. She relentlessly pursued Augustine spiritually and physically for years while longing for his conversion. She frequently requested that her bishop help her to convert her son. The bishop must have been feeling worn out, just like the judge in the gospel parable. He told her to be patient and said, “Don’t worry; it is impossible that a son of so many tears should be lost.”
I started talking to St. Monica; asking for prayer and thinking about her life. I walked by her icon numerous times a day and glanced her way wondering what was I supposed to learn from her? I began reflecting on the things my daughter had told me about her. She shared with me how much she had come to love St. Monica and was happy our new home was dedicated to her, and then she added, “but she sure was a crazy mom! Poor St. Augustine had to lie to his mom just so he could sneak away and leave home to move to Rome!” Apparently, St. Monica feared he would never convert if he moved away from her. Ironically, it was after this long journey away from home that he met St. Ambrose and was finally baptized nine long years after his mother had her vision. St. Monica, even after being lied to and tricked, did catch up to her son in Rome and was able to see her son baptized at last! Answers started to come.
I was starting to understand what I was supposed to learn from St. Monica. I fret and worry sometimes, and I pray about everything but when prayers are not answered the way I think is best, I become concerned. We were going through some hard times and this had me wondering if we were living and doing God’s will like we had prayed to do. Because life wasn’t the picture I had painted in my mind, I thought something must be wrong. Especially because the things in life I hoped for were good, holy things. So what was the problem?
St. Monica to the rescue! I had one of those ‘Oh, now I get it!’ moments.
St. Monica is looked on as an example of what determined prayer can do and she is a great example of that. But when praying and reflecting on her life, I have actually seen myself. The side of me that tries to force God’s hand in a situation, the same self that worries, and obsesses over things that I want fixed and made right, right this minute!
St. Monica has taught me that even though what I desire is good and holy that doesn’t mean my life will become what I envision or that God will answer my prayers in the way I think is best or in my time frame. She has taught me to accept God’s answers, to rest and be at peace and trust that my prayers are being heard. That I don’t have to fix everything myself. God has assured me in so many ways that He is with me and taking care of all of us. And yes, I do need to keep praying, but I also need to leave things in His hands.
I am sure St. Monica didn’t expect it to take so many years and so many miles before St. Augustine would finally become a baptized Christian. As we all know, he did. In God’s way and in God’s time, not Monica’s.