Saint Monica: Model Christian Wife and Mother

Today, 27 August, the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Monica. As a model Christian wife and mother, the Church has proclaimed her Patroness of married women. St. Monica, over the centuries, has assisted in conversions in thousands of families of mothers and wives who entrusted themselves to her.

Newsroom (27/08/2021 15:03, Gaudium Press)) S.t Monica was born into a Christian family in Tagaste, Africa, in the year 332. From the time she married Patricius, at the age of 20, she had one great concern: to lead her whole family to holiness.

She endured her husband’s bad humour, violent temper, and even treachery, by responding with gentleness and modesty, and thus succeeded in persuading him to convert to Catholicism. He died a year after receiving the purifying waters of Holy Baptism.

Whimsical and dissolute life

The greatest concern of her life was her firstborn son, Augustine. The two younger sons had already become Catholics and were following the path of virtue. Augustine, however, though extraordinarily intelligent, was rebellious and capricious, and not concerned with the practice of goodness.

His father had sent him to Carthage to study philosophy, literature, and oratory. There, his interest lay only in getting good grades, shining at social gatherings, and excelling in physical exercise.

Augustine was 17 years old when his father died, and bad news soon began to reach Monica’s ears about his behavior. The young man had given himself over to gambling, the dissolute life, and, worst of all, had become a member of the Manichean sect.

The afflicted mother redoubled her prayers and vigilance for this young son who did not show the slightest sign of repentance; his conversion was many years away.

One night she had a dream that gave her great encouragement. She saw herself in a wood, weeping for the spiritual loss of her son when a bright and shining personage approached her and said: “Your son will come back to you“.

This dream, reinforcing in her mind the comforting words of her bishop, gave her great encouragement in her unrelenting struggle for the conversion of her son.

Already a doctor at the age of 29, Augustine decided to move to Rome – the land of his dreams – to teach. He had a son, Adeodatus, whose mother had no intention of marrying Augustine.

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Saint Monica was willing to accompany him to Rome, desirous of helping him to rid himself of the increasing moral disorders which were delaying his conversion.

When they arrived at the port, he tricked her, leaving her behind. As his mother was praying in the Church of Saint Cyprian, he told her that he was going to visit a friend, and then embarked without her.

Later, St. Augustine stated in his “Confessions” (V-8), “I departed secretly that night while she remained praying and shedding tears for me.”

Inner struggle

St. Monica was not so easily defeated. Sometime later, she also embarked for Rome, in search of her son. She did not find him there, for he had gone to Milan. When she arrived in Milan, she was happy to hear Augustine say that he had left the Manichean heresy. However, he had not yet embraced Catholicism.

This holy woman, with redoubled confidence, was certain that this would happen before his death. Full of gratitude, she went to seek the advice and help of St. Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, whose sermons her son had heard and of whom she had become a great admirer.

Soon afterward, Augustine sent Adeodatus’ mother back to Africa, for he had then the intention to marry a Roman girl.

The future Doctor of the Church was engaged in a strong interior struggle to fully accept the Catholic religion. He analyzed his life, facing all of his miseries head-on.

He groaned under the weight of his sins, wept, and asked himself:

“For how long, for how long will I be crying out: Tomorrow, tomorrow? Why not now? Why can the end of my sins not come now, this very hour?”(“Confessions” VIII-12).

Suddenly, he began to hear the voice of a child coming from a nearby house, saying repeatedly: “Take and read; take and read”. He thought he was hearing a child’s game, though he had never heard this song before.

Intrigued, he remembered that Saint Anthony had been converted by reading a random passage from the Gospel that had served as a warning from Heaven. With haste, he took the book of the Epistles of St. Paul, determined to read the first chapter he came to. He opened it at random and read:

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“Walk not in gluttony and drunkenness, nor in dishonesty and dissoluteness, nor in strife and contention; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and seek not the satisfaction of the flesh with its appetites.” (Rom. 13:13).

Conversion and Baptism

He did not even want to read any further. Those words penetrated his heart like a light that dispelled all the darkness of doubt. It was the month of August in the year 386.

Counting on the valuable help of St. Ambrose, and moving Heaven with her tears and prayers, St Monica had the good fortune to see her son converted at last.

The heroic efforts of this mother were crowned – she who never gave up and followed the footsteps of her rebellious son everywhere until she witnessed the grace of God win his soul.

St. Augustine himself recounts in the “Confessions” (VIII-12) his mother’s reaction when he told her of the decisive conversion:

“She rejoices. we told her how it happened. She exults and triumphs, blessing you, Lord, ‘Who are able to do all things more abundantly than we could ask or imagine. She blessed You because she saw that, in me, You had granted her much more than she asked with sad and pitiful groans.”

Determined to remain celibate from then on, St. Augustine made a spiritual retreat during the harvest holidays at Cassicus. He prepared for Baptism, together with his son, Adeodatus, and some catechumen friends.

St. Monica accompanied him, participating in the spiritual and philosophical conversations with extraordinary penetration and an uncommon knowledge of Sacred Scripture.

On the Feast of Easter in 387, back in Milan, St. Augustine and his friends were baptized by St. Ambrose, to the joy and delight of St. Monica.

The Ecstasy of Ostia

Having decided to return to Africa, Augustine traveled with his mother to the port of Ostia, where they were to embark.

Mother and son being alone, they conversed at a window overlooking the inner garden of the house where they were staying, exchanging the highest thoughts: searching for the Truth, the eternal life of the Saints – which no human eye has seen, nor human ear heard, nor ever penetrated the heart of man. In this intensely supernatural conversation, both entered into ecstasy.

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At the end of this conversation, St. Monica said the following words, which St. Augustine eternalized in his “Confessions” (IX-11) :

“My son, as for me, there is no longer anything that gives me pleasure in this life. I do not know what I am doing here, nor why I am still here, now that the hopes of this world have vanished. There was only one reason why I wished to prolong my life a little longer: to see you Catholic before I died. God has granted me this grace superabundantly, for I see that you already despise earthly happiness in order to serve the Lord. What, then, am I doing here?”

It was the farewell to this world of that incredible mother. Five days later, she developed a fever that would lead to her death. Completely detached from everything and happy to see her entire family within the Church she loved so much, St. Monica expressed her last wish to her children in this way:

“Bury this body anywhere and do not worry about it. I only ask you to remember me before the Altar of the Lord, wherever you may be.” (Confessions; IX-11)

After nine days, she departed for eternity at the age of 55. St. Augustine held back his tears during the funeral but could not control them afterward. He wept copiously for the one who had wept for him all her life.

We are left with a model of a mother who knew how to be close to her son at every moment, never ceasing to pray to God for him. On her sufferings and her tears depended the salvation of the great Doctor of the Church. He left for future centuries the following words of gratitude, and gratitude to his beloved mother:

“By the flesh she conceived me for temporal life, and by the heart she caused me to be born for the eternal.” (“Confessions”; IX-8).

Text taken, with adaptations, from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel, n.20, August 2003

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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