Today is the feast of Saint Monica followed by the feast of Saint Augustine, her son, tomorrow. Her life is a tremendous example of perseverance, faith, and hope. She was born in Tagaste in 331 A.D., which is known today as Souk Ahras, Algeria and is believed to be of Berber origin. At a very young age she entered into an arranged marriage to Patricius who was a Roman pagan and official in Tagaste. Monica lived with Patricius and his mother in their home. He was known to have a violent temper and to engage in self-indulgent behavior, as did his mother. It was deeply difficult for Monica to live out her Catholic faith because her husband was greatly aggravated by her prayers, deeds, and alms. Monica persisted regardless of these difficulties in her home.
Monica and Patricius had three children who survived passed infancy and they were Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. She was unable to baptize them at the time and was very distressed when Augustine became severely ill at one point. Her husband agreed to allow the Baptism because of the illness, but then Augustine recovered, and he would no longer allow it. Monica’s concern would not subside for long because Augustine grew up to become a man who lived a misspent youth. He became a Manichean at Carthage and his mother told him to leave her table for sharing such heresy with her.
Saint Monica was greatly devoted to fervent prayer and spiritual sacrifices for the conversion of her husband, mother-in-law, and Augustine. She often sought guidance from holy bishops. One of those holy men told her: “The child of those tears shall never perish.” The love she had for her son would never go to waste. It was then that she followed Augustine to Rome and then Milan. While there she met Saint Ambrose who would eventually help lead Saint Augustine to the truth of the Faith. Saint Augustine mentions the dedication of his mother in his famous work, Confessions:
In place of a basket filled with fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the oratories of the martyrs a heart full of purer petitions, and to give all that she could to the poor—so that the communion of the Lord’s body might be rightly celebrated in those places where, after the example of his passion, the martyrs had been sacrificed and crowned.
Saint Augustine, Patricius, and his mother all came to the faith. Monica’s husband converted a year before his death. After spending six months together at Rus Cassiciacum (Cassago Brianza), Augustine was baptized into the Church at St. John the Baptist in Milan. They then sought to return to Africa and Monica died a short while later in 387 A.D. She was buried at Ostia, but now rests at the Augustinian Basilica of Sant’ Agostino in Rome. A fragment from her epitaph has survived and states:
Here the most virtuous mother of a young man set her ashes, a second light to your merits, Augustine. As a priest, serving the heavenly laws of peace, you taught the people entrusted to you with your character. A glory greater than the praise of your accomplishments crowns you both—Mother of the Virtues, more fortunate because of her offspring.
There is a great deal that can be learned from Saint Monica’s example. She is the patroness of wives and abuse victims and it is clear that she is a powerful intercessor, especially in conversions. Since there is so much to learn from her, we will examine four lessons we can glean from her life. These lessons are: that Christ is the center of all things, perseverance, hope, and sacrifice.
Christ is the very center of all things.
Saint Monica was keenly aware that Jesus Christ is the center of all things and He must be the center of our lives. No person would take on the arduous task of seeking the conversion of their loved ones without this knowledge. She wanted them to share in the great love of Jesus Christ, but she also feared for the souls of her loved ones. Since her life was Christ focused, she lived knowing that everything depends on Him and that included her family, even if they did not know it, yet. Saint Monica teaches us proper priorities for our lives and that includes prayer, alms, and sacrifice for others. She is a reminder to all of us that we should be seeking the Kingdom of God and bringing others to Christ by our prayers and our example. Christ must be the center of everything we do each day.
There is little doubt that Saint Monica was completely dedicated to the conversion of her loved ones. How many mothers are willing to follow their sons solely to seek their conversion to the Faith? She lived with a husband who barely tolerated her faith and who would give into his violent temper frequently. Instead of falling into despair, she focused on his conversion. In those moments of his anger, she sought the power of Christ. When Augustine chose the wayward path, she did not give up. Instead she followed him throughout his life until he converted to the Faith. Imagine what a loss the Church and the world if Saint Augustine had not converted! Saint Monica teaches us how to persevere with the heart of a loving mother.
Many of us have family members or people we know who have either fallen off the path, or who do not know they need Christ. Saint Monica is a wonderful example for us to look to in those moments of pain and frustration. She is a reminder to us to persevere until the end. Seek her intercession in those moments when giving up seems like the better option. Her intercession is also powerful in our daily lives, especially for those of us who serve our families as wives and mothers.
Perseverance is impossible without hope. We will not continue on a path if we do not believe that the outcome we seek is possible. Saint Monica had great hope. There is a reason hope is one of the theological virtues. It is an essential part of the journey to holiness and crucial in our daily lives. There is a constant battle within us to abandon hope. When someone we love does something devastating to us we have to choose between hope and despair. Hope reminds us that the story is not over yet, and that Christ is ultimately victorious. Saint Monica knew this well. It was hope that sustained her when Augustine or her husband did harmful things in their lives. We must always have hope and Saint Monica is an example we need to look to in moments we feel hopeless.
Sacrifice is an integral part of the Christian life. At Baptism, we enter into the common priesthood, not to be confused with the ministerial priesthood, of Christ. This common priesthood is our call to offer spiritual sacrifices in our daily lives. Saint Monica constantly offered spiritual and corporal sacrifice in her daily life. She understood that her sacrifices would bear fruit and she dedicated those sacrifices to the conversion of Augustine, her husband, and her mother-in-law. She understood that part of the journey to holiness entails sacrifice and that is a lesson all of us must come to embrace and put into practice. Our sacrifices can be as simple as responding quickly to our children when they need something or offering up our exhaustion when we are woken up in the middle of the night by a sick or scared child. It can be doing something for our spouse before they ask us to. When done in a spirit of sacrifice, the simplest aspects of our day can be offered up for the glory of God. If you have a child or loved one who has fallen away from the Faith or who needs conversion, offer up your daily tasks in sacrifice for their conversion. Saint Monica knew how to dedicate her entire life to Christ and in doing so was able to offer up everything for the people she loved.
Saint Monica is a wonderful saint for wives, mothers, and those people who are praying for the conversion of loved ones or the whole world. I am blessed to be the guardian of a holy relic of Saint Monica. I rely on her as a powerful intercessor for people I love. Do not get discouraged when things do not turn out the way you want them to. God works in His time. We must persevere in hope that the people we love will come to Christ and that God will give us to the tools we need to lead our families to Heaven. This is especially true for all of those mothers out there who are praying and sacrificing for their children. Saint Monica, ora pro nobis.
Exemplary Mother of the great Augustine, you perseveringly pursued your wayward son not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven. Intercede for all mothers in our day so that they may learn to draw their children to God. Teach them how to remain close to their children, even the prodigal sons and daughters who have sadly gone astray. Amen.