Dr. Jeannette Pinto –
Most mothers today are troubled, worried and overwhelmed by the faith of their children, they pray feverishly that their children will walk in the ways of the Lord. Technology is good, but has its negative side. The internet has various addictive games, pornography, bad relationships and other unhealthy influences. It leads children to disobedience, rebellion, obscenity, greed, confusion, helplessness, anxiety and depression. Young people do not realize that they are slowly entering into the deeper darkness of an ungodly life. Under these circumstances, can a mother hope that her son will become a saint? A glimpse into the life of Saint Monica and her son Augustine is a source of inspiration and hope for all.
During the early centuries of the Church, most female saints were virgins, martyrs, or both. In medieval or modern times, most were nuns or founders of religious orders. There are few holy brides among whom Saint Monica stands out because she is also the mother of Saint Augustine who is her son.
Monica, (c 331-387) is believed to have been born in Tagaste, modern Algeria, North Africa, and raised in a Catholic family. She was married early in life to a man called Patricius, a Roman pagan who held an official position in Tagaste. She converted him at least superficially. Patricius had a violent temper and was a person of loose habits that was also difficult to deal with. Monica was happy to do her alms act and prayer regularly. This annoyed Patricius, but he held her in respect.
Monica had three children who survived infancy, two sons – Augustine and Navigus, and a daughter Perpetua of Hippo. Not much is known about two of his siblings. Unable to baptize them, she wept a great deal, and when Augustine fell ill, in her distress she asked Patricius to allow Augustine to be baptized. He initially agreed, but then withdrew his consent when he recovered. Monica was constantly concerned about Augustine who unfortunately followed in his father’s footsteps. Although she was relieved at her son’s recovery, she became anxious as he spent his renewed life being lazy and wayward.
Monica and her husband wanted their gifted son, Augustine, to get the best education possible, so they sent him to school. At 17, while studying rhetoric in Carthage, Patricius died, leaving Monica a widow at forty. There Augustine fell into grave and lasting moral and theological errors which formed the central drama of Monica’s life. Augustine becomes Manichean in Carthage. A Manichaean is a follower of a religious dualism originating in Persia in the 3rd century AD. Monica did not share his point of view and had nothing to do with this religious belief. She was very pained and kept away from him.
Deep down though, Monica was very worried and always there for Augustine. She wouldn’t take her eyes off him. When he was preparing to leave the port of Carthage for Italy, she surprised him by her intention of traveling with him. He secretly cheated on her and escaped without her knowledge. But she persevered, persisted in her efforts, and she found her whereabouts. Later, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan and finding him there settled down with him and his friends. Augustine wrote: “She loved having me with her, like mothers do, but much more than most mothers.”
Now Monica had a definite agenda and her top priority was to save her son and “to bring him home”. Yes, take him home – the church. She wanted to change her heart for eternity. She cried, she prayed, she fasted. Nothing seemed to work for fifteen years, as all along his son strayed from the Catholic path seemingly without remorse.
Truly, in His time, God listens to our misfortunes, especially a mother’s prayers never go unanswered. In Milan, Monica befriends the great Saint Ambrose, then Bishop of Milan. He played a key role in Augustine’s conversion. His pleas and prayers paid off and Augustine gave up his sinful life. Monica and her son spent six peaceful months in Rus Cassiciacum (now Cassago Brianza). Subsequently, he was baptized by Ambrose in the Church of St. John the Baptist in Milan. Soon Augustine decided to return to his homeland in North Africa as a Christian leader. Great was Monica’s joy that her son had finally entered the Church.
Her life’s mission now accomplished, Saint Monica died in her late 50s in the Roman port of Ostia, while waiting to board the ship to cross to Africa. In her final hours, Augustine asked if he should transport her body to Tagaste to be buried next to her husband. She said she was happy to be buried where she died, because “nothing is far from god.” His remains are now in the Basilica of Saint Augustine in central Rome. Saint Monica is commemorated and honored in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches although the feast days are different; for her exceptional Christian virtues in particular, the suffering caused by her husband’s adultery and her unceasing prayer life devoted to the reformation of her son. Legend has it that Monica slept crying every night for her son Augustin.
After Monica’s death, Augustine was in mourning. He was inspired to write extensively about his godly deeds and his life with her in his 13 books titled: The Confessions. Although the autobiographical narrative constitutes the first 9 books, it is incidental to the main focus of the work, which has been classified by scholars as an intellectual masterpiece. His most famous line in his book is: “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you. He became a renowned theologian, a prolific writer and an able preacher. He is officially recognized as one of the first four Doctors of the Church. Indeed, both mother and son are well-known saints in the Church today.
Dr Jeanette is the former Principal of Sophia College, Member of Human Life Committee and Parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Chembur – Mumbai