Friday, August 27, 2010

S. Monica Ora Pro Nobis

Today is the feast day for St. Monica, loving mother of St. Augustine who struggled and suffered in his search for truth. As he recalled in his Confessions,

I was in a ferment of wickedness. I deserted You and allowed myself to be carried away by the sweep of the tide. . . . But in my mother’s heart you had already begun to build Your temple and laid the foundations of Your holy dwelling . . . How presumptuous it was of me to say that You were silent, my God, when it was I who drifted farther and farther away from You! Can it be true that You said nothing to me at that time? Surely the words which rang in my ears, spoken by Your faithful servant, my mother, could have come from none but You? Yet none of them sank into my heart to make me do as You said. . . . It all seemed womanish advice to me and I should have blushed to accept it. Yet the words were Yours, though I did not know it. I thought that You were silent and that she was speaking, but all the while, You were speaking to me through her, and when I disregarded her, your handmaid, I was disregarding You, though I was both her son and Your servant. (Book II, ch. 2-3)

The conversion of Augustine (who went on to become perhaps the greatest of the doctors of the Church) occurred only after many years of prayer on his behalf by Monica.

You sent down Your help from above and rescued my soul from the depths of this darkness because of my mother, Your faithful servant, wept to You for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son. For in her faith and in the spirit which she had from You she looked on me as dead. You heard her and did not despise the tears which streamed down and watered the earth in every place where she bowed her head in prayer. You heard her, for how else can I explain the dream which which You consoled her? . . . She dreamed that she was standing on a wooden rule, and coming towards her in a halo of splendor she saw a young man who smiled at her in joy, although she herself was sad and quite consumed with grief. He asked her the reason for her sorrow and her daily tears, not because he did not know, but because he had something to tell her, for this is what happens in visions. When she replied that her tears were for the soul I had lost, he told her to take heart for, if she looked carefully, she would see that where she was, there also was I. And when she looked, she saw me standing beside her on the same rule.

Where could this dream have come from, unless it was that You listened to the prayer of her heart? . . . In the flesh she brought me to birth in this world: in her heart she brought me to birth in Your eternal light. (Book III, ch. 11; Book IX, ch. 8)

The pious Monica did not confine her prayers to those for her son. Rather, it was her custom to go and pray at the various tombs of the saints and martyrs on their memorial days. And so it was that soon after her prayers for her son's conversion came to fruition, and only a few days after they had a conversation reflecting on the nature of eternal life, that the Lord called her to Himself.

I closed her eyes, and a great wave of sorrow surged into my heart. It would have overflowed in tears if I had not made a strong effort of will and stemmed the flow, so that the tears dried in my eyes. What a terrible struggle it was to hold them back! . . . For we did not think it right to mark my mother's death with weeping and moaning, because such lamentations are the usual accompaniament of death when it is thought of as a state of misery or total extinction. But she had not died in misery nor had she wholly died. Of this we were certain, both because we knew what a holy life she had led and also because our faith was real and we had sure reasons not to doubt it. (Book IX, ch. 12)

But, even though during her life Monica was widely regarded as a "living saint," still Augustine did not presume upon God's mercies. And this is an important lesson for us all today, in this age when we go to funerals and find people assuming that the deceased is automatically in heaven.

Now that my soul has recovered from that wound, in which perhaps I was guilty of too much worldly affection, tears of another sort stream from my eyes. They are tears which I offer to You, my God, for Your handmaid. They flow from a spirit which trembles at the thought of the dangers which await every soul that has died with Adam. For although she was alive in Christ even before her soul was parted from the body, and her faith and the good life she led resounded to the glory of Your name, yet I cannot presume to say that from the time she was reborn in baptism no word contrary to Your commandments ever fell from her lips. . . . and however praiseworthy a man's life may be, it will go hard with him if You lay aside Your mercy when You come to examine it. But You do not search out our faults ruthlessly, and because of this we hope and believe that one day we shall find a place with You. . . .

And so, my Glory and my Life, God of my heart, I will lay aside for a while all the good deeds which my mother did. For them I thank You, but now I pray to you for her sins. Hear me through Your Son, who hung on the cross and now sits at your right hand and pleads for us, for He is the true medicine of our wounds. I know that my mother always acted with mercy and that she forgave others with all her heart when they trespassed against her. Forgive her too, O Lord, if ever she trespassed against You in all the long years of her life after baptism. Forgive her, I beseech You; do not call her to account. Let Your mercy give Your judgment an honorable welcome, for Your words are true and You have promised mercy to the merciful. If they are merciful, it is by Your gift; and You will show pity on those whom You pity; You will show mercy where You are merciful.

I believe that You have already done what I ask of You, but, Lord, accept these vows of mine. . . . By the strong ties of faith Your handmaid had bound her soul to this sacrament of our redemption. Let no one tear her away from Your protection. Let not the devil, who is lion and serpent in one, bar her way by force or by guile. For she will not answer that she has no debt to pay, for fear that her cunning accuser should prove her wrong and win her for himself. Her reply will be that her debt has been paid by Christ, to whom none can repay the price which He paid for us, though the debt was not His to pay. . . .

O my Lord, my God, inspire Your servants my brothers -- they are Your sons and my masters, whom I serve with heart and voice and pen -- inspire those of them who read this book to remember Monica, Your servant, at Your altar and with her Patricius, her husband, who died before her, by whose bodies You brought me into this life, though how it was I do not know. (Book IX, ch. 13)

So, let us remember St. Monica and emulate her holy life. Let us pray steadfastly for others, as we ask her now to pray for us.

Tomb of St. Monica
Basilica of Sant'Agostino, Rome


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