AUGUST 27, 2010- FEAST OF SAINT MONICA: SIRACH 26:1-4,13-16; LUKE 7:11-17

 

In the course of his reflections on his conversion Saint Augustine, recalling the role in his spiritual life of his mother Monica, whose feast we celebrate at this Eucharist, addressed our Lord in words that refer to today’s Gospel text: “she bore me in the arms of her prayer that you (Lord) might say to the son of the widow “YOUNG MAN I BID YOU RISE UP.”  For Monica had become a widow some time prior to his baptism.  Due to her humble, patient and faith-filled way of dealing with her difficult husband he became a Catholic and received baptism before his death. Even so Augustine has very little to say about his father, who was given to fits of strong anger. Yet he does recount how his parents did not hesitate to sacrifice that he might receive a good education in Carthage. His father as well as Monica early recognized their son’s superior intelligence.

 

It is because of Augustine, her extraordinary son, so gifted in mind and spirit, so human in his relations, that Monica is remembered today. Augustine realized how much he owed to her. He said as much quite explicitly: “I can find no words to express how intensely she loves me: with far more anxious solicitude did she give birth to me in the spirit than ever she had in the flesh.” (Confessions V.16) She would have been soon forgotten, no doubt, had he not written of her with such honest and loving artful narrative, like so many other holy women of faith, selflessly devoted to their family, encouraging their husbands and children in faithful living. We know of her only through the words of the son who was deeply attached to her, united more closely with her in the last years of her life by bonds of faith as well as by natural affection. He did not fail, however, to inform his readers that she, like so many mothers, could be insistently possessive of his presence. In order to escape her as he was about to leave Africa for Italy, he could find no better devise than a lie. As he sailed off, still unconverted from his unregenerate ways, leaving her behind, he comments “she wept and wailed, and these cries of pain revealed what there was left of Eve in her, as in anguish she sought the son whom in anguish she had brought to birth.” (V.15) Still she did not lose hope. He adds: “when she had finished blaming my deception and cruelty, she resumed he entreaties for me and returned to her accustomed haunts while I went to Rome.” With hindsight he points out that this temporary separation was, in fact, a hidden answer to her prayer, for it resulted in the events that ended in his conversion and baptism in Milan. She was to join him there and be present as he prepared for the sacrament.  

 

With his customary insight into the workings of the human heart, he observed that his grief at her death was all the more acutely felt because of the fact that, living together in the familiar setting of daily life, especially in the extended period prior to her death, they bonded with stronger ties. He came to realize how much he owed to her indomitable faith, her persevering prayer, and her love. Living the ordinary life of a married woman, she was sanctified by fidelity to her husband and her son, neither of whom, for very different reasons, were easy to deal with. Her husband was a passionate man, given to outburst of violent anger; her son, while affectionate was also sensual, and rebellious to authority’s restrictions. Monica, however, by her intelligence and prudence, as well as by her ardent faith and persevering, trusting prayer was able to influence both men in decisive, life-changing ways. She left her mark, not only on her family and associates, but on succeeding generations, though she never wrote nor engaged in public activities or office. Through her constancy and perseverance in the face of difficulties and opposition, by what she gave to her son, she made a major contribution to the Church’s life and growth. Still today, we profit from Augustine’s teachings and witness, both of which owed so much to his mother’s holy, prayerful, hidden life. May she intercede for us today and for all our families as we offer this Eucharist in her memory and thank our Lord for all he gives us at her prayer and that of her Augustine, the son of her faith and of her love. &                


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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