Twenty Lessons We Can Learn From St. Monica’s Unrelenting Love

Church documents and teachings have strongly insisted upon the indispensable necessity of the family, the strong, stable, permanent family. The church calls the family “The Domestic Church”. Saint John Paul II has asserted that the family is the basic cell of society and the way the family goes is the way the society goes.

World History has proved a hard but stark truth: the unravelling and the demise and the destruction of the family results in society’s unravelling as a whole.

All of us carry within our hearts wounds from society, but also from our own families. We are all wounded because of Original Sin, personal sins and family structural sins. If wounds are not addressed and brought to sources of healing, then the wounds become gaping and these wounds spread out like tentacles to wound others.

This being said, there was an extraordinary woman who experienced enormous family problems, gaping wounds, excruciating pains and sufferings. However, she did not throw in the towel or give up. Rather, she sought the healing source and saved her family, instrumental in the total conversion and sanctification, especially of one of her family members.

The name of this person is Saint Monica and her son, who was converted by God’s grace, mediated through her prayers, tears, patience and sacrifices, the great Saint Augustine.

The Life and Example of Saint Monica

The life and example of St Monica can truly spur us on, especially as Mothers, to never give up, but to fight the good fight and run the race to receive the merited prize that God has in store for us.  

The following are some details of the life of Saint Monica for our reflection, meditation, prayer, imitation, and so that we choose her as our very special patron saint in these troubling times, especially for the family.

1. Time Frame

Saint Monica was born 332 AD and died 387—55 years to prepare for her heavenly reward. She was born in a Roman Africa town of Thagaste. She was living at the time of two other Western Fathers of the Church—Saint Ambrose of Milan and the great Bible Scholar, St. Jerome.

2. Strict Formation

Her parents relied upon a very demanding woman to raise Monica. One rule of discipline was to avoid drinking between meals. Unfortunately, Monica, on the sly, would slip into the wine cellar and sip some of the wine. This went on and Monica eventually would drink more and more. 

At one point, Monica severely rebuked a servant and this servant responded by calling Monica a drunk! Instead of exploding and laying into the servant, Monica accepted this rebuke and gave up drinking altogether. We see, even from a young age, the humility of Monica, in her willingness to accept fraternal correction and to change, to be converted!

3. An Unhappy Marriage

Monica desired to spend time in prayer and reflection, but her parents wanted her to marry and they chose Patrick. The man was a hard-worker, but had serious moral flaws. Patrick often drank too much; he was a womanizer; he had a very violent temper. Monica patiently put up with his glaring flaws and prayed for him.

4. How To Win the Battle

When Monica saw her husband in a bad mood, she would maintain silence and pray for him. A great lesson for us on how to deal with people when they are in a bad mood. It takes two to fight and if she would not fight, then it would soon end!

5. Conversion

Before his death, because of the prayers of St. Monica, her husband Patrick was converted, baptized, and seemed to have died having made his peace with God. Monica also lived with a bitter and gossipy mother-in-law. In time, she was also converted. This is the power of prayer, penance, and patience!

6. A Rebellious Son

Of their three children, one son caused Monica countless sufferings. His name was Augustine. Patrick died when Augustine was 17. Patrick cared little about the moral and spiritual formation of Augustine. Rather, what mattered to the father was school, physical prowess, and fame. Therefore, as a teen and a young man, Augustine was proud, vain, and especially lustful. His passions were never controlled, so they controlled him and he became a slave to his sexual passions.

7. Sickness and a Failed Promise

In his youth, Augustine contracted a serious illness that led him to death’s door. He made a promise to God that if he were healed that he would become a Catholic. He was indeed healed but reneged on his promise to be baptized and embrace the Christian faith.

8. Augustine’s Religious Sect

In the mean-time Augustine succumbed to following a Religious Sect, called the Manicheans. He was attached to this sect for several years. This caused his Mother Monica even greater consternation and suffering.

9. Monica’s Consoling Dream

A resplendent figure appeared to Monica, reassuring her that Augustine would return to her. This dream consoled her and gave her great hope Augustine would one day become a follower of Christ. 

Later on,a saintly Bishop made this consoling comment: “It is impossible to lose a son after shedding so many tears.”

10. Tricked by Her Son, but Persevering

When Augustine was 29, he traveled to Rome to exercise his profession of Rhetoric—the art of public speaking. Monica desired more than anything else the conversion of her son. Augustine told her to go into a nearby Church to pray; he boarded the ship and left her praying. She took another ship and followed him to Italy. 

Despite the many contradictions and setbacks, Monica never gave up. Biblically, she is compared to the insistent widow, who was rebuffed by the Judge, persisted until he gave her justice. (Lk. 18:1-8) What an example for Mothers struggling with family problems and the final victory!

11. Saint Ambrose: An Influence on Monica and Augustine

God often uses secondary causes to carry out His plan. The secondary cause often are people, and saintly people on the path. Such is the case with Saint Ambrose in the lives of Saint Monica and Saint Augustine. Saint Ambrose left a profound mark on both Monica and Augustine, but in two different ways.  

Augustine was drawn by the words of truth that flowed from the heart of this great Doctor of the Church. But also, Ambrose was truly the Father-figure that Augustine needed urgently. The firm character, generous self-giving, the courage in facing conflicts, and the overflowing love and mercy that exuded from Ambrose moved Augustine closer and closer to God.  

With Monica, it was attentive listening to her problems and broken heart. As well as Ambrose’s good advice instilled in Monica’s heart: confidence that one day her rebellious son would leave his sinful lifestyle and abandon himself to God. He reassured Monica with these consoling words: “It is impossible to lose a son after shedding so many tears.”

12. Take & Read: The Key Conversion Moment

Monica had been praying, weeping, offering sacrifices and her sufferings for many years. Augustine was 31 and the key moment arrived. Augustine was in the Garden and heard the voice that sounded like that of a child, which invited him: “Take and read.” He picked up Sacred Scripture and read from the Letter to the Romans: 

“Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13-13-14).   

Finally, after long years of struggle, Augustine willfully determined to renounce and abandon his slavery to his sexual passions. Earlier he would pray: “Lord, give me chastity: but not yet!” Now was the time to give up the works of the flesh, to abandon the darkness and to walk in the light.

13. A New Life in Christ

Augustine told Monica and Ambrose of his decision and then was baptized, putting on the new man Jesus Christ and shedding the old skins of the flesh. The joy of Saint Monica had no limits! 

Finally, to see her rebellious son renouncing his sinful lifestyle and his firm decision to follow Jesus was the fruit of long prayers, copious tears, intense sacrifices, and frequent consultations.

14. Now I Can Die in Peace

Filled with joy and ready to return home to Africa, Monica had seen her dreams realized. Her husband Patrick was converted and baptized before he died. Her Mother-in-law also was converted. But most important: her rebellious son, enslaved by his passions until he was 31 years of age, had been converted and given over to Christ. Now Monica was ready to leave this world and go to her eternal reward.

15. Conversation at Ostia

After Augustine’s conversion, he and Monica were deeply engrossed in a profound conversation about what it would be like in Heaven. Filled with joy and consolation, both shared their thoughts on their eternal Heavenly Home.  

Saint Paul reminds us of the joys of Heaven: “Eye has not seen; ear has not heard nor has it entered the mind of man the joys that God has prepared for those who love Him.” How important it is for all to meditate often on Heaven and the joys of Heaven and the steps we should take to attain Heaven!

16. Monica’s Death

Within about five days of their conversation, Monica fell sick with a high fever. Then she lost consciousness. When she came to, she seemed to have lost a sense of where she was. Both her sons were present, aware that their Mother Monica was about to die. Augustine was holding back his tears. He really loved his mother. How important it is for us to be close to our loved ones when they are dying, if God gives us the opportunity.

17. Her Greatest Desire at the Moment of Death

Monica’s son told her he would provide for transporting her body back to Africa to be buried. Filled with sadness and anguish over this earthly desire of her son, Monica rebuked him for this silly talk. Monica’s great desire, after she died, was that she would be remembered in prayers. That she would be remembered at Mass. 

How important it is to pray for the living and their conversion, but also to pray for the dead.

18. Her Suffering Became More Intense

As Monica spoke, her sufferings increased as she approached the critical moment of her departure from this life to the next. Indeed, suffering has infinite value when it is accepted and united to the cross of Jesus.

19. The Death of Monica & Augustine’s Future

Saint Monica dies in sanctity. Augustine would eventually become a priest and then Bishop. Then as a Bishop he became a true pastor of souls. He fought bravely against the many heresies of the day: Manicheism, Arianism, Donatism. He became one of the most prolific and profound writers in the History of Catholicism and the world at large. He is Father and Doctor of the Church, given the title. “Doctor of grace.”

20. Saint Monica’s Lessons Are Many. Let Us Pray and Meditate Upon Them:

+ Humility.

Her willingness to accept fraternal correction as a child (to give up her drinking) and to change her life. We are all called to be corrected many times and to undergo daily conversion.

+ Marriage.

She married a bad man,Patricius (Patrick), and suffered unspeakable pains. Let us help our young people to be very careful in their choice of a future spouse. This is the most important decision in their life, on a human level!

+ How To Treat Angry People.

When relatives or friends are emotionally distraught and angry, better not to rebuke them, try to change them or yell at them. This is like throwing a rock at a hornet’s nest. Better solution: silence, prayer, and patience!

+ Contradictions and Setbacks—Persevere!

When things did not go her way, Monica did not give up.  Quite the contrary!  Like the Parable of the insistent widow, Monica persevered in prayer and confidence in God.

+ Unlocking God’s Heart for Conversions: Prayer, Penance, Patience, Perseverance, and Poise.

Saint Monica availed herself of the following keys to unlock God’s heart and to attain conversion. She prayed constantly; she practiced penance and fasting; she exercised the patience of Job; she did not give up, but persevered. In all of this, she never lost her dignity, but maintained great poise and nobility of character.

These are the Five-P’s that we must wield for conversions of our family members!

+ Family Conversion.

The whole family was converted because of God’s grace and the holiness of one person in the family—Saint Monica. Families today can still be converted by the holiness of one person.

+ Spiritual Direction and Consultation.

Monica did not keep her problems to herself and allow her desolation to bottle up within her. Rather, she shared her problem with her spiritual director—the great Bishop Saint Ambrose. For us to have some spiritual person with whom we can vent, share and express our anguish!

+ Her Love for Her Son.

Of primary importance was Monica’s love for God, but also her love for her son Augustine. Saint Thomas defines love as such: “Willing the good of the other.” The greatest good: the salvation of our soul!

+ The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.

Shortly before Monica dies, she contemplates and speaks about Heaven with Augustine, overlooking Ostia. Upon dying she worries little about her place of burial but that she be remembered after she died, in prayers and especially in Holy Mass. She dies and takes flight to Heaven. 

May we often meditate upon the Last Things!

+ Monica’s Lesson for Mothers.

Today more than ever Mothers can easily identify with Saint Monica, assaulted by so many problems!  Unbelieving husbands, or husbands with vices or multiple vices, rebellious sons and daughters, gossipy in-laws—may we look to the example of Saint Monica and utilize the Five P program for conversion: prayer, penance, patience, perseverance, and poise.

Final Prayer

God of mercy, comfort of those in sorrow, the tears of Saint Monica moved you to convert her son Saint Augustine to the faith of Christ. By their prayers, help us to turn from our sins and to find your loving kindness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

image: Statue of Saint Monica in Palisades Park in Los Angeles by Tommy Alven / Shutterstock.com

By

Father Ed Broom is an Oblate of the Virgin Mary and the author of Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary and From Humdrum to Holy. He blogs regularly at Fr. Broom's Blog.

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