Today we are celebrating the feast day of one of the great women saints, St. Monica, who is also the mother of St. Augustine. I've had occasion to think about St. Monica a lot over the last year, largely because in the Renovacion, we get a lot of requests for prayers from parents with children who are rebellious and difficult. It has occured to me that St. Monica is the perfect saint to intercede for these troubled families.
Artist Janet McKenzie painted St. Monica as a strong African mother and Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, the first African-American woman to be ordained in the United Presbyterian Church and professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, in reflecting on this painting, talks about how much St. Monica reminds her of all the strong African American women who have prayed and worked tirelessly to save the bodies and souls of their children and their race ("The Inspiration of St. Monica" in Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: the Art of Janet McKenzie, Orbis, 2009). But one could equally think of the strong Latina mothers who have tried to keep their children in school, in church, and out of the pandillas.
St. Monica was born in 333 in Tagaste in North Africa. She married Patricius, who was not Christian and was frequently unfaithful and abusive towards her but later converted to Christianity under her influence and was baptized. The couple had three children: Augustine, Navigius and Perpetua.
From St. Augustine’s writings, we learn that, though he eventually became one of the great saints and doctors of the Catholic Church, he led a dissolute life as a young man, which greatly troubled St. Monica. She prayed for her son’s conversion but his behavior worsened steadily. He joined the Manicheans, a heretical sect, and remained with them for nine years, during which St. Monica refused to have anything to do with him. Her prayers for him, however, did not cease and she was comforted by a dream which reassured her that her son would return to the faith. "Your son is with you," she heard. She told St. Augustine about this dream. He responded that they could easily be together if she gave up her faith. St. Monica retorted, "He didn’t say that I was with you. He said that you were with me!"
In 383, St. Augustine went to Italy with his female companion of many years and their son. St. Monica tried to accompany them but St. Augustine eluded her at Carthage. When she eventually arrived in Rome, he had already left for Milan where she followed him and was befriended by the bishop of the city, St. Ambrose. There, under the bishop’s guidance, St. Monica’s spiritual life and her charitable acts grew. St. Ambrose also influenced St. Augustine. Inspired by the bishop and increasingly impressed by his mother, St. Augustine gave up Manicheism and separated from his partner. He retired to a county house with his mother, his son and several friends. There he converted to Christianity and, on Easter Eve in 387, St. Augustine was baptized in Milan by St. Ambrose. St. Augustine later said to God about St. Monica, his mother: "She saw that You had granted her much more than she had asked for in her tears, prayers, plaints and lamenting." That same year, St. Augustine decided to return to Africa and St. Monica left with him, but she passed away during the journey, dying at Ostia in Italy.
Today, the Association of Christian Mothers “Saint Monica”, founded in Spain in 1987 but active in around 10 countries with over 12,000 mothers, continues St. Monica's work of interceding for wayward children. The mothers pray for both their own children and those of other mothers who have abandoned the faith. Like St. Monica and all of our valiant mothers, they will never give up on our young people.
Prayer to St. Monica
Dear St. Monica,
troubled wife and mother,
many sorrows pierced your heart during your lifetime.
Yet, you never despaired or lost faith.
With confidence, persistence, and profound faith,
you prayed daily for the conversion
of your beloved husband, Patricius,
and your beloved son, Augustine;
your prayers were answered.
Grant me that same fortitude, patience,
and trust in the Lord.
Intercede for me, dear St. Monica,
that God may favorably hear my plea for
[Mention name(s) here]
and grant me the grace to accept His Will in all things,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Oración a Santa Mónica
A ti recurro por ayuda e instrucciones, Santa Mónica, maravillosa ejemplo de firme oración por los niños. En tus amorosos brazos yo deposito mi hijo(a) [mencionar aquí los nombres], para que por medio de tu poderosa intercesión puedan alcanzar una genuina conversión a Cristo Nuestro Señor. A ti también apelo, madre de las madres, para que pidas a nuestro Señor me conceda el mismo espíritu de oración incesante que a ti te concedió. Todo esto te lo pido por medio del mismo Cristo Nuestro Señor. Amén.