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St. Monica…a woman refined by prayer

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The Roman Catholic Church has canonized thousands of individuals who we now refer to as Saints.  Who are your favorite Saints and why?  My favorites Saints are…St. Faustina, St. Paul, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi, St. John the Cross, St. Pio, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Monica, and St. Augustine.  I was initially intrigued by how they lived their lives and excited to learn what exactly did each Saint contributed to our Faith. I began to explore and study the lives of the Saints this past year.  It has been a wonderful journey so far.

Today’s blog entry is not about Faustina or Paul but a very special woman named Monica.  St. Monica was the mother of St. Augustine and St. Augustine was the Saint my elementary school was named after!  I recently received a book for my birthday from my best friend about The Life of St. Monica…Model of Christian Mother’s by F.A. Forbes. I was so inspired by St. Monica that I wanted to share with you what I learned. So what does it mean to be a Saint? Sainthood simply is reclaiming our original identity that is: created in God’s image.  Did you know that you too have the capacity to retrace your steps back to that identity?  In fact, God’s Word states that we are all called to Sainthood.  Sainthood takes faith, it takes persistence, it requires dying to ‘self’, it requires a desire to do His will, and it takes perseverance in the midst of trials. It also takes a well founded hope in our belief that God is love and our belief that as an act of Divine Love for all humankind God sent His only begotten Son Our Lord Jesus Christ as a living sacrifice so that we might be reconciled with Our Heavenly Father, our sins forgiven and that we might have life and have it to the fullest.  St. Monica demonstrated by the way she lived her life that allowing Christ to live in her was the only way to live.  Her faith was unconquering and she was persistent in her prayer life.  Of course she had her doubts, she was human but she never allowed her doubts to stay around long.  She never gave up hope in God. She persisted in prayer and persevered; and because of her perseverance and her gentle ways she allowed God to work through her to turn the hardest of hearts toward Jesus.

I can relate to both the joys and challenges of motherhood that Monica faced. Through their young eyes children perceive the world and all of it’s ways…the good and unfortunately the bad. The world can offer many mix messages which can  lead to deception and misdirect the young quickly into darkness,  shading what is true and right. It is a mother’s fear to lose a child to the [world]…relying on heresy. As a Mother of five myself, I have a big job to practice daily what I try to teach my children. I fail daily but I never quit trying or praying.  This is why St. Monica’s life speaks to me so dearly.  I admire her most for her ‘unconquerable’ faith. She lived it! Through her tears Monica would pray often “Thou in me, O Lord.” Monica believed in love and held strong believes about love and marriage. She dreamed “of a strong arm on which she could lean. She dreamed of a heart and soul that would be at one with her in all that was most dear, of two lives spent together in God’s love and service” (Forbes, page 11). Faced with a huge dilemma, her family handed her over to marry a man walking without God. It wasn’t long before she learned that she would have to be strong for both; “to strive and to suffer to bring her husband’s soul out of darkness into the light of truth.” (Forbes, page 11). She had no choice but to lay her ideals held deep within her heart at the feet of Jesus’s Cross. Her faith gave her the understanding that Jesus let no sacrifice, however, small, go unrewarded. She was beginning to learn what it truly meant to trust Him. I know from my life that trust does not come easy…and putting our trust in The Lord seems straight forward yet incredibly difficult to actually do. Why is this? For St. Monica she lived her life…praying without ceasing and [being] the soul God planned for her to be. She was a very pious woman. Monica knew the power of Christ. She spent hours praying in the church, serving her family with unselfish love, and extending love by washing and dressing the sores of slaves. She responded to her husband neither with fear nor anger. She had a clear understanding of the Proverbs 29:11 which states “Fools give vent to all their anger; but the wise, biding their time, control it.” (Pro 29:11 NAB). This verse encourages one to keep oneself under control and not give full vent to people and situations that anger one. She approached him often about his ways and anger but only spoke to him when she was calm and he was calm…allowing a moment to be heard. He once raised his hand to her but did not dare strike her, “something–he did not know what–withheld him.” (Forbes, page 13). What do you think stopped him? I think it was the fact that he knew God lived in her soul and he could not strike God. She was sweet and patient and had an unbelievable ability to forgive him and forget all. Wow! Is this even possible? She was an amazing woman. I admire her in all ways. She suffered yes…in silence. Yet she knew what she had to do as a woman of faith and mother of three raising her children to know Jesus; married to a man who rebuked Jesus and all His mysterious and glorious ways. Monica has taught me many important things. She embraced her life/cross/God’s plan with humility, faith, love and trust. She lived by the faith that says, Lord, with you all things are possible. I find myself repeating this verse throughout my day especially when I am faced with a [difficult] person.  I would like to talk for a minute about what exactly is meant by ‘God’s plan’ for her. Was it God’s plan that she marry a violent man who lived without God? Or to be with a mother-in-law who hated her and mistreated her? Absolutely NOT! God wishes for love and harmony and for what’s best for us. However, things happen in life, thorough our own choices and by other’s making decisions that affect us. What I think is that Monica lived a pure and lovely life despite others. So she was living God’s plan for her and for us…which is to remain lovely and kind and just no matter what. It’s about emptying our ‘self’ and making a choice to look more like Him for the love of God.

We all have circumstances and unique ways were perceive the world that blind us, creating a restless and unhappy heart. St. Monica has taught me that we each have the choice…the choice to learn to overcome ourselves for the love of God. We all are made in God’s image and thus origins of a faithful and loving heart; an attraction for all that is great and noble. One of the things that helped St. Monica endure her situation/circumstances was God’s grace. Grace is one of those mysteries of God that when you experience grace you are in such a place of peace and acceptance that you realize that the only way that you are getting through your trial is because of God…this is His grace. The effects Grace has on our lives is both mysterious and miraculous. It sustains, purifies, and strengthen us beyond our own capacities. An example of this was the unkind and harsh treatment toward St. Monica by her mother-in-law. St. Monica set the example to never fight fire with the same unkind fire but instead with her never-failing charity and sweetness served her with gentle respect. The day came when Monica’s mother-in-law became ill…she begged only for Monica to attend to her. She even questioned what she would do without Monica at her side…she had realized upon her illness how much she had leaned on Monica and how much Monica’s ways had positive showed her great love. It wasn’t long and Monica’s mother-in-law turned to Monica and told her she had treated her wrongly and asked for her forgiveness. Monica had revealed her faith by her life, her daily actions. Through watching Monica, her mother-in-law accepted Christ and became a Christian before she died. Wow…what a testimony of the mysterious forces of grace! And this grace was working on her husband Patricius as well. Patricius had evil habits and his ‘lower nature’ cried out for pleasure.” (Forbes, page 16). Patricius felt is was easier to be at his worst than to change. Basically “he was not strong enough to break the chain which held him.” (Forbes, Page 16). After seeing what happened to his mother, he told Monica that he had been thinking deeply lately and was beginning to see things in a new light. Patricius began to see the ‘Her God’ meaning Monica’s God was the True God and he wanted to know how to love and serve that God of hers. I do not know about you but this is huge…a miracle…a blessing. The value of Monica’s life and how she lived it positively impacted the souls of those around her…in a very profound, lasting and eternal way. Monica always believed that God is good, He had heard her prayers all along and had accepted her sacrifice. Monica knew scripture and believed in it as truth…as [Her] God “will withhold no good things from them what ask Him.” Patricius accepted Christ while kneeling next to Monica…At last she said we are “one soul, in faith. Her heart overflowed with joy and thankfulness. (Forbes, Page 36). Her life…her focus…her mission and purpose was to lead another soul to Christ. ‘To win another soul to Christ’ as she put it. She lived by Jesus’ words as she ministered to others: “As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me.”

St. Monica never stopped praying for her son Augustine. She knew it was not his nature to find true contentment in things of this world. Augustine would spend his days renouncing the Christian faith and persecuting his mother’s believes and Christ-like qualities. Her faith was strong; strong enough to know that there was no hope anywhere but with God. Her son Augustine looked everywhere through man. In Christ she trusted; in Him alone who had promised that He would never fail those who put their trust in Him. Another important lesson’s that St. Monica has taught me, one that has added such value to my spiritual maturity, was how she never preached at people…but instead ‘every word she said had a strange power of drawing souls to God, of making them wish to be better.” (Forbes, page 48). People trusted her and she “possessed the kind of virtue that won respect without demanding it.” (Aquilina and Sullivan, page 22).

St. Monica believed in her son but never focused on his ability to obtain knowledge. Rather, she chose to focus on his soul and did not get caught up in his gift for intellectual achievements. In fact, she saw heresy as her son’s greatest problem. For she believed that noble minds [like his] should use the knowledge to point others to God. Don’t you just love this woman? Mother’s were give special gifts.  St. Monica knew that deep within her son admired himself because of his great knowledge yet was always still so restless. St. Augustine known for his saying, “Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Monica knew this and never stopped crying out to God for help .  She trusted God and by His grace, in God’s good time, her son would come to know the truth. Her mind would tell her ‘don’t bother, he is a lost cause,  she chose to listen to her heart.  This is an act of trust on her part. The truth about Jesus Christ and all the seeds she planted in his childhood would come to bloom; creating new life for her son. As Augustine continued holding to his ways; he even told his mother “that she was the one who was going to convert to his side.” (Aquilina and Sullivan, page 27). Augustine eventually grew weary, even of pleasure and everything and “most of all of Carthage.” (Forbes, Page 63). Occasionally, Augustine would be reminded of his mother and her strong prayer life. Her seeds she had planted were beginning to grow; thoughts of her words began to capture his attention. He began to believe that he owed his life to his mother’s prayers. He decided “while in Rome to go talk to the Catholics to find out what they really taught.” (Forbes, Page 69). He met with Bishop Ambrose…who spent hours explaining the teachings of the Church to him. “Had he found the Truth at last?” (Forbes, page 72). St. Monica was determined to visit her son in Rome and met with Bishop Ambrose (St. Ambrose). Immediately these two noble natures recognized each other. Monica came with Augustine to the sermons and sat side by side in the church just as they did in his childhood days. Each day, Augustine was [seeing] more; “Everything was growing clearer to him every day”. (Forbes, Page 73). Augustine accepted that the Catholic Church was the true Church of Christ but “he could not face the thought of Baptism.” (Forbes, page 76). Why would he still be avoiding the Sacrament of Baptism? The answer seems obvious to me…he would have to give up so much. While his anxiety increased, he continued to visit every sermon he could attend. He, remembering his mother’s faith, “began to feel the [need] of prayer.” (Forbes, page 76). This was a huge turning point for Augustine. He had found the eternal truth but he lacked the courage to give up—his ways. We can all relate to him…how we hold on to something [choosing to sin] which prevents us from experiencing God’s grace and His abundance mercy. Both forces are real and battle within him…good and evil battle for him. As many times for us, he reached [rock bottom] he wept as if his heart was breaking, in anguish, he cried out to God for help. (Forbes, Page 79). At that moment God heard him…light and strength and a deep conviction flowed into Augustine’s soul. (Forbes, page 79).  Augustine knew his very next step was to go to his mother Monica and share with her his conversion. “In the night between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday,” while at Mass Augustine “knelt at the altar to receive the Lord. Monica was beside him; her tears and prayers had been answered. She and her son were one again in heart and soul.” (Forbes, Page 89).

For those of you who have a wayward child…keep praying. Make it your purpose. St. Monica had only one true purpose…like Faustina…to turn hearts toward Jesus… especially to see her son a Christian and a Catholic before she died. God answers prayers…Trust Him! Augustine was God’s miracle through the persistent prayer of his mother St. Monica. The miraculous conversion of St. Augustine is proof of how his mother’s faith and persistent prayer life eventually opened up Augustine’s heart; cutting through many layers of pride, lust and worldly ambitions. He was baptized in 387; it was through receiving the Sacrament of Baptism that he acknowledges his belief that God’s grace is indispensable to human freedom. From his baptism on forward, Augustine’s only desire became salvation and the search for truth in Jesus Christ. He is, perhaps, the most widely known Father of the Church from all times. He wrote extensively. Today St. Augustine is known for such writings as City of God and Confessions. Monica lived with Augustine, his brother, friends and his son Adeodatus while he prepared for baptism. She mothered them and engaged many conversations with Augustine.  Augustine recorded these dialogues in a document he called The Happy Life and On Order. Monica died of a fever at the age of 56. He knew his mother’s love did not end at her death and that she could intercede for her children before the Almighty. He relied on her prayers even after her death. He felt like her prayers would be even more powerful than they were in life. (Aquilina and Sullivan, page 37). Her feast day is August 4th, the eve of his conversion; however, in the twentieth century, her feast was changed to August 27…the vigil of St. Augustine’s feast day, which is August 28th. The Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers was founded in France in the mid-1800’s under the patronage of St. Monica. In 1881, St. Augustine Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania organized the first Confraternity of Christian Mothers Organization in the United States. I am always excited to share the beautiful things I have learn about the value of [ONE] person’s life…today it I bring you the life of St. Monica. Never give up…trust Him…persist in prayer…prayer changes everything___for you, your children and maybe even the whole world.
St. Monica and St. Augustine…pray for us.