By: Fr. Ed Broom, OMV
Never has the world given so much easy access to information. With a click or two you can obtain almost any information your heart so desires: from the number of people living in the Antarctic to the different variations of alligators as well as crocodiles. Indeed, the rapid access to any form of information makes the head spin.
At the same time, never has the world experienced so much confusion, tension, disorder and dysfunction. Three generations back most families would be considered stable, relatively happy and if we can use the term. “Functional, Functional-families”. Separations and divorces were really an exception to the rule.
Recent Church documents and teachings have strongly insisted upon the indispensable necessity of the family, the strong family, stable family, permanent family. The family has been termed “The Domestic Church”, the basic cell and building block of society. Pope Saint Pope 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 the unravelling of the society as a whole.
Children without the love, support, teaching authority, presence and permanence of Mom and Dad, grow up with fears, insecurities, as well as gaping emotional wounds.
All of us carry within our hearts wounds from society, but also from our own families. We are all wounded due to 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 is 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 rather to fight the good fight and run the good race so as 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 and died 387—55 years to prepare for her heavenly reward. She was born in a Roman colony of Tagaste, North Africa. 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 of the rules 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. So, on one occasion Monica severely rebuked one of the servants 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. Therefore, 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. 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: He 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
Many of Monica’s women-friends ended up with cuts and bruises because they would fight with their husbands when their husbands were in a bad mood. Patrick never lifted a finger against Monica. Why? When she 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 the fight would soon come to an end!
Before his death, due to the prayers of Monica 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! The power of prayer, penance, and patience!
6. REBELLIOUS SON
Of their three children—two boys and a girl—one of the sons caused Monica countless sufferings. His name was Augustine. Patrick died when Augustine was 17. The father, Patrick, cared very little about the moral and spiritual formation of Augustine. Rather, what mattered for the father were good grades in 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 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. RELIGIOUS SECT
In the mean-time Augustine succumbed to following a Religious Sect, called the Manicheans. He was attached to this ant-Christian 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 that Augustine would one day become a follower of Christ. Later on, the famous saintly Bishop, Saint Ambrose 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 decided to travel 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. Even despite the many contradictions and setbacks Monica never gave up. Biblically, she can be 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: 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 in the lives of Saint Monica and Saint Augustine. That person was Saint Ambrose. Man of God, preacher, teacher, writer, intellectual, 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 never had but 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 respect to Monica, it was the attentive listening to her problems and broken heart as well as his good advice instilled in her Motherly 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. THE KEY-CONVERSION MOMENT
Monica had been praying, weeping, offering sacrifices and her sufferings for many years. (Augustine was already 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. NEW -LIFE IN CHRIST
Augustine told his Mother Monica of his decision as well as the saintly Bishop Ambrose 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 gossipy and bitter 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 his Mother Monica were deeply engrossed in a profound conversation on 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, how much he really did love 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
Her other son told her that 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 remembers in prayers. That she would be remembered at the Mass. How important 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 AND FUTURE AUGUSTINE
Saint Monica dies in the odor of 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. His greatest classic is his own Autobiography, Confessions. 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 HUSBANDS AND 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; this will only insight them to greater anger. Better solution: silence, prayer and patience!
+ CONTRADICTIONS AND SETBACKS—PERSEVERE! When things did not go her way, Monica did not give up and throw the towel in. Quite the contrary! Like the Parable of the insistent widow, Monica persevered in prayer and confidence in God.
+ THE SECRET TO UNLOCKING GOD’S HEART AND CONVERSIONS: “THE FIVE P’S—PRAYER, PENANCE, PATIENCE, PERSEVERANCE, 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. Not only was Augustine converted, but also her husband Patricius, and her mother-in-law. In a word, the whole family was converted due to God’s grace and the holiness of one person in the family—Saint Monica. Families today can still be converted by holiness of life on individuals!
+ 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. He important it is. For us to have some spiritual person with whom we can vent, share and express our anguish!
+ HER LOVE FOR HER SON AUGUSTINE. 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 remember, 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 TODAY 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, 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.