04 May Saint Monica, Widow
Today is the feast day of Saint Monica. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, the great teacher of sacred wisdom, was a native of Africa. She was doubly a mother to the Saint; for, she not only gave him earthly life, but also spiritual life, by regenerating him for Heaven. Her parents, who were Christians and in comfortable circumstances, brought her up in modesty and virtue. She was devoted to pious exercises from early childhood. Having heard from her mother how pleasing in the sight of God it is to overcome sleep at night, and spend the time in prayer, she forthwith began to rise during the night and pray. Nor was she less devoted to the poor. She often deprived herself of food in order to supply the wants of the indigent. She never evinced any pleasure in vainly adorning her person, but always attired herself according to her station in life. In all her words as well as actions, she endeavored to be decorous and retiring. When grown up, it was her desire to live in virginal purity, but was obedient to her parents who wished her to marry. As a wife her conduct was so exemplary that she might be held up as a model for all married people. Patricius, her husband, tormented his pious wife in a thousand different ways, as he was of a violent temper, immoral, and addicted to many vices. Monica always treated him with love and gentleness, never reproaching him for his vices. She never contradicted him when, giving way to passion, he burst out into manifold curses: but waited until his anger had passed away, and then represented his faults to him with Christian calmness. Praying to God unceasingly for his conversion, she gradually changed him so completely, that he at last led a very edifying life. The women who lived in her neighborhood, and who were acquainted with the passionate temper of Patricius, often wondered that he never struck or otherwise brutally treated her, as their husbands did to them. But Monica told them the reason of it, and taught them to be submissive to their husbands, to meet them with love and gentleness, and above all things, never to contradict them when they were angry, but to bear their faults in patience and silence. But just as anxious as Monica was to live in love and peace with her husband, so was she determined not to permit strife and contention among her household, still less other vices. She had three children, two sons and one daughter, and her greatest care was to give them a Christian education. Augustine, her first born, however, was not obedient, especially after the death of his father, but led a wild, licentious life, regarding neither the admonitions, supplications, nor menaces of his pious mother, until at last, he fell into the heresy of the Manichees.
Meanwhile Monica regulated her widowhood entirely after the precepts which St. Paul gives in his first Epistle to his disciple Timothy. She was liberal towards the poor, assisted daily at Holy Mass, listened eagerly to the word of God, spent no time in idle gossiping, or in walking about; but read devotional books, prayed and worked. She would hear nothing of worldly pleasures, and still less of fine garments or other vanities. She loved solitude and lived a retired and peaceful life, her only trouble being the vicious conduct of her son. Shedding many tears, she prayed almost day and night to God for his conversion, and requested others, both of the Clergy and the laity, to pray for the same object. As she one day asked a bishop for his prayers, he said to her: “Go in peace, a son for whom his mother sheds so many tears cannot perish.” These words gave her some comfort, but she derived still more consolation from a vision in which God distinctly announced to her the conversion of her son.
In the meantime, Augustine was desirous to leave Carthage, where he had studied rhetoric, and go to Rome. Monica endeavored to prevent his going; but Augustine secretly departed while she was at church. Scarcely, however, had he arrived in Rome, when he became dangerously ill: and he ascribed it to his mother's prayers that he did not die in his sins and go to eternal destruction. As soon as Monica was informed where her son was, she determined to go to him so as to be able to watch over him. When she, after a most dangerous sea-voyage, arrived at Milan, she found him there, as he had been called from Rome to teach rhetoric. It was then that she perceived with joy that there was a change in him, through his conversations with St. Ambrose, who, at that period, was Bishop of Milan. Monica entreated the bishop not to relax in his interest for her son, until he should be entirely converted.
At length, God in his mercy complied with the holy widow's desire. Augustine renounced the Manichean heresy and was baptized in his 3Oth year by St. Ambrose. It may be said with truth that this conversion was the fruit of the prayers and tears of Saint Monica. The consolation that she received from her son's conversion, may be more easily imagined than described. Soon after this event, she determined to return with her son to Africa, but having reached Ostia, where they were obliged to wait for an opportunity to continue their voyage, a slight fever overtook her. At first it was not supposed dangerous, and Augustine himself relates how edifying a conversation he had held with his holy mother on the glories of heaven. She ended it with the following words: “My son, as far as I am concerned, I expect nothing further from this world. I had only one wish, which was to see you a Catholic before I died. God has granted me more than I asked; because I see that you not only serve Him, but that you despise all earthly happiness. What, therefore, remains for me to do upon earth?” Meanwhile, her malady increased so rapidly, that nine days later, St. Monica, who so long had sighed for heaven, gave her soul, adorned with so many virtues, into the hands of her Creator, in her fifty-sixth year. What she requested before her death of her two sons who were present, St. Augustine relates as follows: “Lay my body,” said she: “where you like, and allow no thought of it to trouble you. Only one thing I request of you: remember me before the Altar of the Most High wherever you may be.” St. Augustine describes also how they placed the body of his holy mother by her open grave, and there offered the sacrifice of our Redemption, the Holy Mass, for the dead before they interred her. A clear evidence that, at that remote period, they also believed in purgatory, and prayed for the dead as we Catholics still do in our days. (2)
St. Monica was buried at Ostia, and at first seems to have been almost forgotten, though her body was removed during the sixth century to a hidden crypt in the church of St. Aureus. About the thirteenth century, however, the cult of St. Monica began to spread and a feast in her honour was kept on 4 May. In 1430 Martin V ordered the relics to be brought to Rome. Many miracles occurred on the way, and the cultus of St. Monica was definitely established. Later the Archbishop of Rouen, Cardinal d'Estouteville, built a church at Rome in honour of St. Augustine and deposited the relics of St. Monica in a chapel to the left of the high altar. The Office of St. Monica however does not seem to have found a place in the Roman Breviary before the sixteenth century.
In 1850 there was established at Notre Dame de Sion at Paris an Association of Christian mothers under the patronage of St. Monica; its object was mutual prayer for sons and husbands who had gone astray. This Association was in 1856 raised to the rank of an archconfraternity and spread rapidly over all the Catholic world, branches being established in Dublin, London, Liverpool, Sydney, and Buenos Aires. Eugenius IV had established a similar Confraternity long before. (3)
Image: The angel appears to Saint Monica , artist:Pietro Maggi, . Painting in Saint Augustine chapel, in the right hand transept of san Marco church in Milan (Italy). (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff