SAINT MONICA (322-387), holy woman – Patron saint of difficult marriages, victims of unfaithfulness and abuse, disappointing children, mothers, widows and wives
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Monica, whose holy example and fervent intercession led to one of the most dramatic conversions in Church history.
Monica was born into a Catholic family in the year 322 in the North African city of Tagaste, located in present-day Algeria. She was raised by a maidservant who taught her the virtues of obedience and temperance. While still relatively young, she married Patricius, a Roman civil servant and pagan with a bad temper, who also had a contemptible disdain for his wife’s religion.
Monica dealt patiently with his distressing behavior, which included infidelity to their marriage vows. But she experienced a greater grief when he would not allow their three children – Augustine, Navigius, and a daughter Perpetua – to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. When Augustine, the oldest of the children, became sick and was in danger of death, Patricius gave consent for his Baptism, but withdrew it when Augustine recovered.
Monica’s long-suffering patience and prayers eventually helped Patricius to see the error of his ways, and he was baptized into the Church one year before his death in 371. Her oldest son, however, soon embraced a way of life that brought her further grief, as he fathered a child out of wedlock in 372. One year later, he began to practice the occult religion of Manichaeism.
In her distress and grief, Monica begged God for Augustine’s conversion. But this would not take place for another nine years. In the meantime, Monica sought the advice of local clergy, wondering what they might do to persuade her son away from the Manichean heresy. One bishop, who had once belonged to the heretical sect himself, assured Monica that it was “…impossible that the son of such tears should perish.”
These tears and prayers of Monica intensified when Augustine, at the age of twenty-nine, abandoned his mother without warning as she spent the night praying in a chapel. Without saying goodbye, Augustine boarded a ship bound for Rome. Yet, even this painful event would serve God’s greater purpose, as Augustine left to become a teacher in the place where he was destined to become a Catholic.
Under the influence of Bishop Ambrose of Milan (who was later canonized a saint after his death), Augustine renounced the teaching of the Manichees around 384. Monica followed her son to Milan, and drew encouragement from her son’s growing interest in the saintly bishop’s preaching. After three years of struggle against his own desires and confusions, Augustine surrendered his will to God’s grace and was baptized in 387.
Shortly before her death, Monica shared a profound mystical experience of God with Augustine, who chronicled the event in his autobiography, Confessions. Finally, she told him: “Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here. The only thing I ask of you both”, she told Augustine and his brother Navigius, “is that you make remembrance of me at the Altar of the Lord wherever you are.”
Monica died at the age of fifty-six in the year 387 in Ostia, Italy. A church was later built in Rome, the Basilica di Sant’Agostino, in honor of Saint Augustine and the remains of Saint Monica were eventually interred in a chapel to the left of the High Altar.
In modern times, she has become the inspiration for the Saint Monica Sodality, which encourages prayer and penance among Catholics whose children have left the faith.
We commemorate her feastday on August 27.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Monica)
“God of Mercy, Comfort of those in sorrow, the tears of Saint Monica moved You to convert her son Saint Augustine to the faith of Christ. By their prayers, help us to turn from our sins and to find Your loving forgiveness.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”