Saints and Theology of the Heart - St. Monica

Mother of Saint Augustine, Widow
Patroness of married women and model of Christian mothers

Saint Monica
Feast: August 27

Monica means: "dedicated to prayer and the spiritual life".

She was born in Tagaste (Africa) in 331 to a Christian family.  At a very young age, she was given in marriage to a man named Patricio, with whom she had several children, among them Saint Augustine, whose conversion cost her many tears and prayers.  She was a model for mothers; she nourished her faith with prayer and beatified if with her virtues.  She died in Ostia in 387.

The Church venerates Saint Monica, wife and widow.  Her only son was Saint Augustine, Doctor of the Church.  Her example and prayers for her son were decisive.  Saint Augustine writes of her in his Confessions, “She engendered me with her flesh so that I may come to the light of time and with her heart, that I may be born to the light of eternity.”  For his part, Saint Augustine is the main source about the life of Saint Monica, especially in his Confessions, book IX.

Monica was born in northern Africa, probably in Tagaste, some 62 miles (100 kilometers) from Carthage, in 332 AD.
Her parents were Christians, and they entrusted the education of their daughter to a very strict instructress.  She was not permitted to drink water between meals in order to teach her to control her desires.  Monica, in one instance, did not follow this training and, when she was sent to bring wine from the market she drank some in secret.  A certain day a slave, who had seen her drink, had an argument with her and called her a drunk.  The young girl felt very ashamed, and she never gave into this temptation again.  From the day of her Baptism, which took place a little after this incident, she lived an exemplary life in every sense.

When she became of the age to contract marriage, her parents arranged her marriage with one of the townspeople of Tagaste, named Patricio. He was a pagan, not lacking in good qualities, but was of a violent temperament and led a life of dissolution.  Monica forgave him many things and endured him with the patience of a strong and good character.  For his part, Patricio, although be criticized the piety of his wife and her liberality with the poor, he respected her and, not even in the worst outbreaks of cholera, raised a finger to stop her. 
Monica explained her wisdom about life at home. “When my husband is in a bad mood, I strengthen myself to be in a good mood.  When he yells, I am quiet.  Two people are needed to fight, and if I do not accept the fight, then… we do not fight.”  This formula has been celebrated throughout the world and has helped thousands of women to maintain peace at home.

Monica would recommend to other married women that they forgive the conduct of their husbands, that they take care to control their tongue, because it is the cause of the greater part of the problems at home.  Monica, for her part, by her example and prayers, achieved his conversion to Christianity, not only of her husband, but also of her mother-in-law, a woman of difficult character whose constant presence in home of her son had made Monica’s life even more difficult.  Patricio died a peaceful and holy death in 371, the year following his Baptism. 

She had three surviving children; Augustine, Navigius, and a daughter whose name we do not know (some hold her name to have been Perpetua).  Augustine was extraordinarily intelligent, and so they decided to give him the best education possible.  But his capricious, egoistic, and indolent character of the youth made his mother suffer a great deal.  Augustine had been a catechumen in his adolescence and, during an illness that had nearly killed him, he was about to receive Baptism.  But upon recovering his health rapidly, he decided to complete his good plans.  When his father died, Augustine was 17 and was studying rhetoric in Carthage.  Two years later, Monica had the enormous pain of finding out that her son was living a dissolute life and had embraced the Manichean heresy.  When Augustine returned to Tagaste, Monica closed the doors of her house, for some time, in order not to hear the blasphemies of the youth.  But a consoling vision she had led her to treat her son less severely.  She dreamed, in effect, that she was in a forest, crying over the fall of Augustine, when a resplendent person drew near to her and asked her the cause of her pain.  After listening to her, he told her to dry her tears and added, “Your son is with you.”  Monica turned her eyes toward the place that he was pointing and saw Augustine at her side.  When Monica told Augustine the dream, the young man responded with resourcefulness that Monica had only to renounce her Christian faith in order to be with him.  But the Saint responded, “I was not told that I was with you, but that you were with me.”

This clever response made a great impression on Augustine, who would later consider it a sign from heaven.  The scene we have just narrated took place toward the end of 337, that is to say, almost 9 years before the conversion of Augustine.  In all this time, Monica did not stop praying and crying for her son, fasting and keeping vigils, pleading the members of the clergy to speak with him, for even they assured her that doing these things was useless, given the disposition of Augustine.  A bishop, who had been a Manichean, responded wisely to the requests of Monica, “Your son is actually obstinate in his error, but the hour of God will come.”  Since Monica continued insisting, the bishop pronounced the famous words, “Be tranquil; it is impossible to lose a son with so many tears.”  The response of the bishop and the memory of the vision were the only consolation for Monica, as Augustine did not show the least sign of repentance.    

When he was 29, the Young man decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric.  Although Monica opposed his plan, for she feared that this would not lead to, but rather slow the conversion of her son, she was disposed to accompany him if it was necessary. She went with him to the port from which he was to set out.  But Augustine, who was determined to leave alone, undertook on a vile strategy.  Pretending that he was only visit a friend, he left his mother praying in the Church of Saint Cyprian and set sail without her.  Later, he wrote in the Confessions, “I dared to deceive her, precisely when she was crying and praying for me.”  Very afflicted by the conduct of her son, Monica did not let this stop her from embarking for Rome, but upon her arrival in that city, she found that Augustine had already left for Milan.  In Milan Augustine met the great bishop Saint Ambrose.  When Monica arrived in Milan, she had the unspeakable consolation of hearing from the mouth of her son that he had renounced Manichaeism, although he had still not embraced Christianity. The holy woman, full of trust, thought that he would do so, without a doubt, before her death

In Saint Ambrose, for whom she felt an immense gratitude, Monica found a true father.  Faithfully following his advice, she abandoned some practices that she had been accustomed to follow, such as taking wine, beans and bread to the tombs of the martyrs.  She began to do this in Milan as she had done it before in Africa, but when she learned that Ambrose had prohibited it because it gave room for some excesses and was a reminder of pagan practices, she renounced the custom.  In Tagaste Monica used to observe a fast every Saturday, as was the custom in Africa and in Rome.  Seeing that the practice in Milan was different, she asked Augustine to ask Saint Ambrose what she ought to do.  The response of the Saint has been incorporated into canon law. “When I am here I do not fast on Saturdays; however, I fast on Saturdays when I am in Rome.  Do the same and always be attentive to the custom of the Church in the place where you are staying.”  For his part, Saint Ambrose held Monica in great esteem and never tired of praising her before her son.  In Milan as in Tagaste, Monica was counted among the most devout Christians.  When the queen mother, Justina, began to persecute Saint Ambrose, Monica was one of those who made long vigils for peace for the bishop and showed herself ready to die for him.
Finally, in August of 386, the long-awaited moment arrived in which Augustine announced his complete conversion to Catholicism.  Beginning some time before, Monica had tried to arrange a convenient marriage, but Augustine declared that he was thinking of being celibate for the rest of his life.  During vacation during the harvest time, he went with his mother and some of his friends to one of their summer houses that was called Verecundo, in Casiciaco.  The saint has left us some of the spiritual and philosophical conversations from the time of his preparation for Baptism in his “Confessions”.

Monica also took part in these conversations, in which demonstrate her extraordinary penetration, good judgment, and uncommon knowledge of Sacred Scripture.  On Easter of 387, Saint Ambrose baptized Saint Augustine and several of his friends.  The group decided to leave for Africa and with this goal the catechumens traveled to Ostia, to await a ship. But they stayed there, for Monica’s life was coming to an end, although only she knew it.  A little before her last illness, she had said to Augustine, “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure.  I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hope in this world.  I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died.  God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, fo I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be his servant.”

In Ostia the last conversations between mother and son occurred, from which we can deduce the great nobility of soul of this incomparable woman, of uncommon intelligence that could exchange such elevated thoughts with Augustine.  “He writes in chapter nine of the Confessions, “She and I happened to be standing by ourselves that overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house in Ostia…So the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead.  We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth – for you are the Truth- what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man.”

The last thing she asked her son was not to forget to pray for the eternal rest of her soul.  

Monica had wanted to be buried with her husband.  Therefore, on a day when she was speaking with enthusiasm of the happiness of her approaching death, someone asked her if it would sadden her to think that she would be buried so far from her homeland.  The saint replied, “There is no place that is far for God, surely I have no fear that God will not find my body so in order to resurrect it.”  Five days later, she fell gravely ill.  After nine days of suffering, she was received into her celestial home, at the age of 55, in 387.  Augustine closed her eyes and contained his tears, along with those of his son, Adeodatus, because it was considered an offense to cry for one who had died in such a holy manner.  But, when he was left alone and able to reflect on the affection of his mother, he cried bitterly.  The saint wrote, “If someone criticized me for having cried less than an hour for the mother who cried so many years to obtain my consecration to You, Lord, do not permit them to laugh at me; and if he is a man of charity, have him help me to cry for my sins in Your presence.”

In the Confession, Augustine asks his readers to pray for Monica and Patricio.  But in reality, it is the faithful who have entrusted themselves, through many centuries, to the prayers of Monica, Patroness of married women and Christian mothers.

It is believed that the relics of the Saint are located in the Church of Saint Augustine in Rome.  

Butler, Vidas de los Santos.
Sálesman, Eliecer, Vidas de Santos  # 3

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