Saint Monica, by Father Hugh Francis Blunt

(333387)

“The child of such prayers will never be lost.” In these words is summed up the life-story of Saint Monica. When she came, a broken-hearted mother, almost despairing of her son Augustine, who was careless of her tears as he continued his life of iniquity, and begged a certain bishop to take pity on her desolation and pray for him for whom her own prayers seemed powerless, her heart received the consolation of what was in reality a prophecy of the power of mother-love to conquer even the plots of hell. The words, too, sum up the story of all true mother-love, of the mother-love that pursues relentlessly its children, that looks not merely for their worldly prosperity and fame – who so prosperous and famous as the young Augustine when his mother wept over him and considered him the most unfortunate of beings? – but knows that all these things are valueless so long as the soul is an enemy of God and in danger of eternal suffering. So, through all the history of Christianity since then, Monica ever shines forth as the great patroness of grieving mothers, a consolation, an incentive to them to continue their prayers for erring loved ones even when all seems hopeless. There would be more Augustines in heaven if there were more Monicas. Augustine became a saint, even through the vilest degradation, because his mother was a saint.

We know but little of the early days of Monica. She was born at Tagaste, in the northern part of Africa, in the year 333. Those were the early days of the Church, which had not been long out of the Catacombs, out of the furnace of persecution. We know nothing of her parents, only that they were Christians, pious, and careful to bring up their children religiously. The family was, no doubt, fairly well to do and kept servants. It was to an old servant in this Christian home that Monica attributed her good training in mortification. The old servant had long been in the family. Augustine tells us in his Confessions that she had been servant to his grandfather, and had carried himself when he was a child. So long had she been in the family, a very part of it, that Monica’s parents had the utmost confidence in her, and respected her for her age and her excellent character. To her was confided the care of the daughters, and well did she perform the task. She did not pamper her charges. She felt that she had the care of their souls as well as their bodies, and Monica told Augustine how she trained them even in their young days to mortification. She never would let them take a drink of water except at their meals.

We can fancy that good old soul as she gave her reason to the little girls, parched with thirst. “You drink water now,” she said, “because you have not wine in your power; but when you are married and are made mistresses of cellars and cupboards, you will scorn water, but the custom of drinking will last.” It is but a sample of the restraint the old servant exercised. How little she knew that in her wise simplicity she was laying in the little Monica’s heart the foundations of sanctity!

Yet, as Monica herself told the story, the little girl did not always follow the advice of the old governess. ‘When she was sent by her parents to draw wine out of the hogshead, she used to sip a little of it, until gradually in the exuberance of youth she got so that she could drink off “her little cup, brimful almost, of wine.” She was but a little girl at the time; and one day when she had a dispute with one of the servants, the latter taunted her with what she had done, and called her a wine-bibber. It was enough for Monica; she saw her fault and never again committed it. Saint Augustine gives us only a glimpse of these childhood days of his mother. But so human is that glimpse that one wishes he had given more details of the life in what he calls “a Christian home.”

The society of northern Africa in those days was a peculiar mixture. The Church was growing strong, but there were still many remnants of idolatry. Christians lived side by side with pagans, did business with them, and mingled with them socially. There was even intermarriage, and so it is not surprising to find that when Monica reached marriageable age she was betrothed to a pagan. His name was Patricius. Evidently he was a man of good family, and in the eyes of the world a man of honor. But the young wife was not over-happy with him. Being a pagan, without religion, he had little sense of morality. He was, indeed, no better than his times, and Monica knew that he was often unfaithful to her. Yet she never complained, never reproached him for his infidelity, even though the knowledge of it must have been a bitterness to the young wife that so loved him. She simply prayed for him, and begged God to make him a Christian, knowing that when he became a Christian he would also become chaste.

But besides being unfaithful, Patricius was also a man of high temper – “fervid as in his affections, so in anger,” says Augustine. But there never was any cause for him to quarrel with Monica. “She had learned,” says Augustine, “not to resist an angry husband – not in deed only, but not even in word.” When he would flare up about something, she would keep her temper, and it was only when he was cool again that she would answer him and explain. Even the neighbors remarked that while their husbands, who were so much more mild-tempered than Patricius, beat them, Monica was never beaten, and never had any domestic difference with her husband, even for a day. They asked Monica how she so managed affairs, and she told them that she kept a civil tongue in her head, and did not argue with her husband; and she advised them to do the same. “Those wives who observed it,” says Augustine, “found the good and returned thanks; those who observed it not, found no relief and suffered.”

In a word, Monica regarded her husband as her lord and master, and when other women complained of the infidelities of their husbands, she would answer them, half joke, whole earnest, that from the time they •were married they should consider themselves servants, and so remembering their condition, should not ‘ set themselves up against their lords. Even in those days Monica, in patiently bearing the disgrace which her husband by his loose life heaped upon her, and in suffering his anger, showed that she was of that strong womanhood of which saints are made. Even if Augustine had never lived, Monica would still be worthy of perpetual remembrance as an example of the ideal wife, calm and prayerful in the midst of difficulties that tried her soul.

Besides the trials she had to endure from her husband, she also suffered at the hands of his mother. Through the ill-will of the servants, who perhaps sought to gain favor with the older woman by carrying stories to her, Monica was disliked by her mother-in-law. But in this, too, even while she knew that she was treated unjustly, she never complained, but was ever meek and respectful to the woman who showed so great a dislike for her.

Monica’s gentle disposition finally won over the heart of her mother-in-law. The old lady found that the servants were mischief-makers, and immediately she went to her son and told him all, asking him to punish the meddlers. Patricius, with his usual anger, soon set matters right by using the whip on the servants, and his mother clinched the matter by telling them that they would get the same treatment the next time they sought to please her by telling stories about Monica. After that the two women were all kindness and sweetness to each other.

Monica must have been a woman of wonderfully gentle disposition. Not only was she a peacemaker, at home, but also among her neighbors. She had the’ great gift – as her son calls it – of never carrying* stories. Whenever she heard one neighbor say bitter things about another, she did not hurry off to bring the news and so increase the enmity, but she hid the disagreeable things and repeated only what would help to a reconciliation.

It is these little touches that make the life of Saint Monica so interesting, and at the same time show her genuine holiness. It was not that she was a cold individual. We know how she must have felt when she knew that her husband was unfaithful. In her heart she must have mourned over it. Yet she did not give him up. She set out to win him back by her gentleness, by her love, and above all by her prayer. It was a long struggle, and many a woman would have given it up as hopeless. But not so Monica. Year after year she continued her life of patience, and it was only towards the end of his life that her husband was finally won back. She had prayed for his conversion from paganism, and at last he expressed the wish to become a Christian. He was baptized, and from that time to his death, which took place within a year, he gave up the sins which had disgraced his life and was a model Christian. Monica had won, and one can imagine that even the death of her beloved husband lost some of its sting as she realized that she had brought him back to God. If Patricius saved his soul, who can doubt that it was through the prayers of his good wife? What an example to many wives who complain and cry about the defection of their husbands, yet never seek to win them back by prayer and by the holiness of their own lives!

For Monica was above all a practical Christian. Kind in word, she was also kind in deed. Like all saints, she had a special affection for the poor, and always sought opportunities to come to their aid. Every morning she assisted at Mass, and made other visits to the church and to the tombs of the martyrs who had died for the faith but a few years before. In, a word, she lived chiefly for God, and, living for God, imitating the examples of the saints, it is no wonder that her prayers had such power in the conversion of her husband, and later on in that which has made her the model for grieving mothers – the conversion of her son Augustine.

The chief interest of Monica’s life is in her relationship with the great Saint Augustine. When one thinks of what he accomplished for the Church, of his great sanctity, and then contrasts that with what he was, a very cesspool of iniquity, one realizes a little the work which his mother accomplished in making Augustine the saint out of Augustine the sinner.

If Augustine went wrong, it was not from lack of care on the part of his mother to bring him up right. One who was so particular about her own life could not but be so in regard to her children. Her whole desire was to serve God, and, intelligent woman that she was, she knew that she could not serve God well unless she looked after the spiritual interests of her children, for whose souls she was responsible to God.

But the curse in Monica’s home, after all, was her marriage to a man that had no religion. Even though he was in time converted, his bad example, his irreligion, his immorality, no doubt had their influence upon Augustine. Like father, like son.

Augustine was sixteen, almost a man, when his father became a Christian. If Augustine himself had been a Christian, he would have had the strength to keep his soul clean. But he was not. Monica herself wished to have him baptized in his infancy, but her husband opposed it Once, when the boy was ill, he granted the permission, but as soon as he recovered the permission was withdrawn, and so the baptism was again deferred. In those days Patricius did not know any better. Perhaps he fancied that Augustine would advance more rapidly in the world if he remained a pagan. For it is evident that the father had great ambitions for his son. He wanted him to be a learned man, because it was an age in which learning was highly regarded. Monica, too, wanted to see the boy excel in learning, though on her part she desired this chiefly in order that he might one day use his talents for the glory of God. In those days, as she sought to instill piety into him, no doubt she often had the desire to see him one day consecrated to the priesthood. She little knew the thorny road that was to lead him to the altar.

Monica began well with Augustine. She was a thoroughly Christian mother. She saw that he received a good Christian education, and had him enrolled among the catechumens. As we have said, it was not her fault that he was not baptized. Any one who knows the character of Monica knows that she must have saturated the soul of her boy with religion. As Augustine himself says in his Confessions, “From my tenderest infancy, I had in a manner sucked with my mother’s milk that name of my Saviour, Thy Son; I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine Name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, did not altogether carry me away.” Not altogether; but very far – so far that only the continual tears and prayers of a saintly mother could bring him back.

Augustine paid the price for deferring his baptism, which he was eager enough to receive when he was ill, but which he disregarded in the fullness of his strength. It was a deplorable custom of the times, that of deferring baptism for fear of falling into sin after it. And the youth, deprived of this grace, went the way of his father.

Patricius was proud of his son’s great talent. But the opportunities of Tagaste, where they lived, were limited, and so he longed to have him go to the great city of Carthage in order to become a lawyer. But Patricius, while comfortable, was not rich. He did not have the money at hand necessary to educate Augustine at Carthage, and while he was busy getting it together the boy spent his sixteenth year at home with nothing to do. As Augustine said, “Who did not extol my father, for that beyond the ability of his means he would furnish his son with all necessaries for a journey for his studies’ sake? For many far abler citizens did no such thing for their children. But yet this same father had no concern how I grew towards Thee, or how chaste I were; so that I were but copious in speech, however barren I were to Thy culture, O God, who art the only true and good Lord of Thy field, my heart.”

So through this idleness, and in spite of the warnings of his good mother, he fell into impurity. He even boasted of it when his companions bragged of their iniquity, and he made himself out even worse than he was so that he might be considered their superior in vice. He tells us that he used to steal just for the pleasure of stealing and because it was wrong. He knew how wicked he was;-perhaps the sight of his holy mother reproached him for doing things which he would blush to have her know. He even prayed to be delivered from the temptations, but, as he tells us himself, without a sincere wish to be heard.

So we find him ready to go to Carthage to begin his studies, a youth already corrupt. But it was only the beginning of his wickedness. At home there was some little restraint in the presence of his mother; at Carthage, away from home, there was none.

There was a great deal of wickedness in Carthage. It was a city half pagan, and consequently a licentious city. The theatres were bad, and the students with whom Augustine mingled were for the greater part without any moral restraint. They made the young Augustine as wicked as themselves. He was by his talent the leader of the school, and he wanted to be leader in everything else – even vice. He formed an immoral liaison with a woman in Carthage, who bore him a son. One can imagine the grief of Monica, who, had done so much and prayed so hard for her son, now to learn of his guilt. But it was she alone that wept. She bore her grief in solitude. Her husband had died the year before, and had died in the faith, tier loneliness now made it all the harder for her to know that this son, to whom she and her husband had looked to be their consolation, was now but a youth for whom she had to blush. It was all the worse because Augustine was not ashamed. He had no notion of breaking off the sinful life; he continued it for fifteen years – fifteen years of sorrow for the mother, who prayed all that time that he might not die in his sins.

But Monica was obliged to see her son fall lower Still. Long ago he had lost his virtue – lost it even as a boy. Now he lost whatever faith he had.

Augustine everywhere received applause for his remarkable talent – so much so that he grew conceited in his learning. The faith which he had learned from his mother now came to be questioned. His mind felt superior to it. He was an easy victim, therefore, for the chief heretics of the day, the Manicheans, with their promise of a free philosophy unbridled by faith. It was an easy doctrine, as it endeavored to remove moral responsibility since it denied liberty. It was something to justify Augustine’s wicked life, and he grasped at it. He went at the new religion as he went at everything else, with great earnestness. He read all its books and adopted all its opinions, becoming a Manichean through and through, and even was apparently so sincere in it that he made converts to it.

Sometime after this loss of faith he returned to his native city of Tagaste to teach rhetoric there. He was brazen in his heresy. His talents, his manner, captivated his pupils, and some of them followed him into the new religion.

Monica’s heart was broken. To think that a child of hers could turn his back on the faith which she regarded as her dearest possession! It was worse than death. And in her unflinching loyalty to the faith she beheld her son as an enemy of the Church, a heretic, and therefore as one dead. He was, indeed, spiritually dead – dead to God, hence dead to her. She loved him as a mother must love her children, but she would not allow sentiment to interfere with what she considered her duty as a Christian and as a mother; for it was, no doubt, the desire to bring Augustine to his senses that made Monica turn her back on him. She put him out of the house, and would not even let him eat at the same table with her. It must have torn her heart to do this, but the thing that counted most for her was the welfare of his soul. As Augustine writes: “And Thou sentest Thy hand from above, and drewest my soul out of that profound darkness, my mother, Thy faithful one, weeping to Thee for me, more than mothers weep the bodily deaths of their children. For she, by that faith and spirit which she had from Thee, discerned the death wherein I lay, and Thou heardest her, O Lord; Thou heardest her, and despisedst not the tears when, streaming down, they watered the ground under her eyes in every place where she prayed. Yea, Thou heardest her.”

Monica had a dream in which she saw herself standing on a wooden rule, and a shining youth coming towards her, cheerful and smiling upon her, herself overwhelmed with grief. He inquired why she wept daily, and she answered that she was bewailing the perdition of her son. The youth told her to be contented and to look and see that where she was, there also was Augustine. She looked and saw Augustine Standing at her side.

When she told this dream to Augustine, he told her it meant that one day she would follow him into Manicheanism, but Monica answered quickly that she had been told, not that she would be where Augustine was, but that Augustine would be where she was. But still Augustine remained in his error and his vice. For almost nine years he continued in the false religion – “all of which time,” he says, “that chaste, godly, and sober widow (such as Thou lovest), now more cheered with hope, yet no while relaxing in her weeping and mourning, ceased not at all hours of her devotions to bewail my case unto Thee.”

What a wonderful example of perseverance in prayer! All these years of daily weeping and prayer – yet how many a mother gives up the fight if her first prayer is not answered! There would be more conversions of sons if more mothers prayed like Monica. So unceasing, so earnest were her prayers, that they made a deep impression on those who beheld her struggle for the soul of her son. One day she came to a certain bishop, and begged him to have a talk with Augustine and seek to convince him of his errors. But the bishop, knowing the condition of Augustine’s mind at the time, refused. He knew that Augustine would not listen to argument, “being puffed up with the novelty of that heresy.” “Let him alone awhile,” said he; “only pray God for him; he will of himself, by reading, find what that error is, and how great its impiety.”

But this answer did not satisfy the broken-hearted mother. All the more she urged him to see Augustine, and have a talk with him. And the good bishop, a little displeased at her importunity, said to her: “Go thy ways, and God bless thee, for it is not possible that the son of these tears shall perish.” It was a prophecy, but more than all it was an encouragement to Monica to continue to pray.

Soon after this, Monica had a fresh heart-ache in seeing Augustine leave home again. She had taken the advice of the bishop and let her son come to live with her, where she would have some hold on him. But now he was breaking the bonds again. A better opportunity was offered him to teach at Carthage, and thither he went to seek greater fame – “here proud, there superstitious, everywhere vain.” Vanity was a besetting sin with him. Surely he had not learned it from his humble mother. And everything contributed to increase that vanity. He was learned, he had a great audience before which to display his ability. He entered the poetry contest, carried off the great prize, and was publicly honored for it. He was, in a word, intoxicated with the praise of the world. What chance had his poor mother to win him away from what was the breath of his life?

But her prayers even then were beginning to have effect. His mind now was fully developed. He was thinking for himself. He saw the foolishness of the heresy into which he had fallen; he saw that it was a depraved philosophy, that it encouraged immorality in spite of all its fine pretense; and he saw, too, that the Manicheans could not hold their own against the arguments of the Catholics. They did not even know anything about the things the knowledge of which they had promised him, namely, the natural sciences in which he was so interested. He lost faith in Manicheanism, yet he did not have the courage to return to the Catholic faith.

Dissatisfied with things at Carthage, Augustine determined to go to Rome. He had always longed to go there. So when he was twenty-nine years of age he made up his mind to make the voyage, confident that at Rome he would do better work as a teacher. But as soon as Monica heard of his intention, she bitterly opposed his going, fearing that it might lead to other dangers and so delay his conversion. She did not waste any time lamenting. She followed him to the sea. She was determined to keep him from sailing, and if he insisted on that, she was bound she would sail with him. And so she held to him by force.

Augustine was displeased at this. He would go, and he did not want her with him. So he made believe to her that he was not sailing just then, that he had a friend whom he could not leave till he had a fair wind to sail. “And I lied to my mother,” he writes, “and such a mother, and escaped.”

But Monica must have had her suspicions. She refused to return home without him, but was at last persuaded by him to spend the night in a near-by chapel dedicated to Saint Cyprian. That night he quietly departed, even while she was asking God not to let him depart. What was her surprise in the morning to find that Augustine had lied to her, and was now far away on the sea! She came out of the chapel. The vessel was gone, and there on the sands she stood wringing her hands and bemoaning the son that was gone; “for,” as Augustine says, “she loved my being with her, as mothers do, but much more than they.” The deception almost broke her heart. She little knew that her prayers were being answered in the departure of Augustine for Italy. But in spite of her grief she was not discouraged; for, as Augustine writes, “And yet, after accusing my treachery and hardheartedness, she betook herself again to intercede to Thee for me, went to her wonted place, and I to Rome.”

No sooner was he arrived at Rome than he fell dangerously ill with a fever. He tells us later on that he knew that had he died then he would have gone to hell for all his sins; for during the illness he had no desire even to be baptized. But he recovered, and attributed that recovery to the prayers of his mother, who while she was praying did not guess the terrible sickness he was suffering. “Couldst Thou,” he asks, “despise and reject from Thy aid the tears of such a one, wherewith she begged of Thee not gold or silver, nor any mutable or passing good, but the salvation of her son’s soul? Thou, by whose gift she was such? Never, Lord.”

As soon as he was sufficiently recovered, he opened a school at Rome, but he did not conduct it long; for some of the scholars left without paying their tuition, and this so revolted him that he was glad to get away from the city. Some people of Milan had written to the Prefect of Rome, asking him to send them a professor of rhetoric, and Augustine applied for and received the appointment. Among the first persons he met at Milan was the famous Bishop Ambrose, now the immortal Saint Ambrose, whom he had heard preach. The great Ambrose was kind to him, and this was the way to the heart of Augustine. The confidence of Augustine, on the other hand, won its way to the heart of Ambrose, and he took advantage of the friendship to seek to convince Augustine of the errors of the sect to which he belonged. But while Augustine was soon convinced that he had been in error, he would not accept the Catholic faith. He tried everything rather than that, perhaps because he had the consciousness that if he became a Catholic he would have to renounce his sinful pleasures, for he was still a prey to impurity. He sought peace in several systems of philosophy, but to no avail. The true remedy was at his hand, but he did not have the courage to take it.

Meanwhile Monica, as soon as she heard that Augustine was at Milan, followed him thither, after a stormy voyage, in which she had comforted the sailors and encouraged them, assuring them of a safe arrival. She did not sulk over Augustine’s running away from her. She would follow him to the end, eager for his soul’s salvation.

The grace was beginning to work. She saw the influence which Ambrose was having upon him, and she redoubled her prayers that it might be effective. Finally she had the satisfaction of seeing Augustine separate from the woman that had enslaved him for so many years. This woman left Augustine of her own accord, and retired to a life of penance; but her place was soon filled by another mistress. Augustine had convinced himself that it was impossible to be pure. Monica, knowing in her heart how his passions were keeping him from being converted to the faith, arranged a marriage for him, but the girl was too young, and so Augustine did not marry her. He continued in sin, though all the time he had a fear of death and judgment.

When the schools closed that year, Augustine, with some of his friends, retired to a country house in order to carry on their studies. Monica accompanied them. She was always the good angel. She took part in their conversations, and many a time lifted their hearts to God by the wisdom she had learned in prayer.

Augustine during these days was worried in soul. He longed to embrace the truth, but his passions held him back. One day, as he wept over his iniquities and the slavery that held him, he heard a child in a neighboring house singing as if playing some game, “Take up and read, take up and read.” Fie was in the garden at the time and had been reading the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans. He opened it again at random, and his eyes fell on these words: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh.” (Romans 13:13,14)

He read no further. The light had come. Monica’s prayers were heard. Then he and his friend Alypius went into the house to Monica. They told her the story, and Monica leaped with very joy and thanked God. Her sorrow had been turned into joy. Augustine resigned his professorship, and in the year 387, at Easter, he was baptized by Saint Ambrose in Milan.

After this Augustine and his friends decided to retire into the solitude of Africa. But he remained at Milan, finishing certain books he had begun to write, until the fall, when they began their journey. After much travel they arrived at Ostia, and there it was that Monica died, while they were resting preparatory to the new voyage. It is Augustine that tells us the story of her end. One day the mother and the son were alone, sitting at a window overlooking the garden. They were talking of the things of God, wondering what the life of the saints in heaven might be. They were both almost in ecstasy. At length she said: “Son, for mine own part, I have no further delight in anything in this life. What I do here any longer, and to what end I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are accomplished. One thing there was for which I desired to linger for a while in this life – that I might see thee a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath done this for me more abundantly, that I should now see thee, withal, despising earthly happiness, become his servant. What do I here?”

Augustine could not remember what answer he had made her. Five days later she became sick of a fever. One day she fell into a swoon. All hastened to gather about her. She recovered, and looking at Augustine and her other son, Navigius, she asked, “Where was I?” And then she said: “Here shall you bury your mother.”

Augustine said nothing, but Navigius spoke, telling her he hoped she would die in her native land. But she checked him, giving him another look. “Behold what he says,” she remarked to Augustine; and then she said to them both: “Lay this body anywhere; let not the care for that anyway disquiet you; this only I request, that you would remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.” And then she was still.

Augustine, however, wondered, for he had known how anxious she had always been to be buried beside her husband. Later he had heard from one of his friends, who had asked her if she were not afraid to leave her body so far away from her native city, that she had replied: “Nothing is far to God; nor is it to be feared lest at the end of the world He should not recognize whence He were to raise me up.”

And so on the ninth day of her illness, in her fifty- sixth year, she passed to God.

“I closed her eyes,” said Augustine, “and there flowed withal a mighty sorrow into my heart, which was overflowing into tears; mine eyes at the same time, by the violent command of my mind, drank up their fountain wholly dry; and woe was me in such a strife! But when she breathed her last, the boy Adeodatus [his son] burst out into a loud lament; then, checked by us all, held his peace. In like manner, also, a childish feeling in me, which was, through my heart’s youthful voice, finding its vent in weeping, was checked and silenced. For we thought it not fitting to solemnize that funeral with tearful lament and groanings; for thereby do they for the most part express grief for the departed, as though unhappy, or altogether dead. Of this we were assured on good grounds, the testimony of her good conversation and her faith unfeigned.

“What, then, was it,” he continues, “which did grievously pain me within, but a fresh wound wrought through the sudden wrench of that most sweet and dear custom of living together? I joyed, indeed, in her testimony, when, in that her last sickness, mingling her endearments with my acts of duty, she called me ‘dutiful,’ and mentioned, with great affection of love, that she never had heard any harsh or reproachful sound uttered by my mouth against her. But yet, O God, who madest us, what comparison is there betwixt that honor that I paid to her, and her slavery for me? Being, then, forsaken of so great comfort in her, my soul was wounded, and that life rent asunder, as it were, which of hers and mine together had been made but one.”

The friends then joined in singing a psalm. And while good neighbors prepared the body for burial, Augustine talked with his friends and neighbors upon “something fitting the time.” It was hard work keeping back the tears; and he tells us that those who listened to him thought that he had no sense of sorrow. But his whole soul within shook with grief.

The saintly woman was carried to burial. But neither at the Mass nor at the grave was there weeping. It did not seem to be a time for tears. Augustine struggled with his grief, and tried to shake it off. And then, he says, “by little and little I recovered my former thoughts of Thy handmaid, her holy conversation towards Thee, her holy tenderness and observance towards us, whereof I was suddenly deprived; and I was minded to weep in Thy sight, for her and for myself, in her behalf and in my own. And I gave way to the tears which I before restrained, to overflow as much as they desired; reposing my heart upon them; and it found rest in them, for it was in Thy ears, not in those of man, who would have scornfully interpreted my weeping. And now, Lord, in writing I confess it unto Thee. Read it who will, and interpret it how he will; and if he find sin therein, that I wept my mother for a small portion of an hour (the mother who for the time was dead to mine eyes, who had for many years wept for me that I might live in Thine eyes), let him not deride me; but rather, if he be one of large charity, let him weep himself for my sins unto Thee, the Father of all the brethren of Thy Christ.”

But now, after he had written that, Augustine tells us that he poured forth a different kind of tears – tears for her soul. Holy as he knew her to be, he would not say that she did not need prayers. He beseeches God for the sins of his mother. And then he concludes: “May she rest, then, in peace with the husband before and after whom she had never any; whom she obeyed, with patience bringing forth fruit to Thee, that she might win him also unto Thee.” He begs then that all who read his Confessions shall remember at the altar Monica and her husband, “that so my mother’s last request of me may through my Confessions more than through my prayers be, through the prayers of many, more abundantly fulfilled to her.”

Saint Monica does not need our prayers. During all these centuries she has enjoyed the vision of God. Rather do we pray to her, while we marvel at her wonderful holiness. She had trials enough to daunt even a fervid soul. But God allowed all these trials, both from her husband and her son, those she loved the most, as if He had the purpose through her example of encouraging other wives and other mothers. What more helpless case than that of Augustine – a man without morals, without faith? Who would dare to prophesy that this worldling would become a great bishop, a great doctor of the Church, a great saint? Who? Nobody but Monica. With her mother-love sanctified by penance and prayer, she braved everything, knowing that faith can move mountains. She is one of the most human characters in history, the tender mother who knew that the greatest glory she could obtain for her son was that of being converted to God. Never will the world forget her, for she has shown to what heights true motherhood can reach.

– text taken from the book Great Wives and Mothers by Father Hugh Francis Blunt, 1917