“Women received their dead raised to life again” (Hebrews 11:35)
“Nothing is far from God” (St Monica).
Monica, the mother of St Augustine belongs to that eternal throng of praying mothers, whose tears, as they cry out for the souls of their children, husbands and loved ones, flow like gentle streams before the throne of our God from generation to generation. The sum of Monica’s life was this – she prayed and her prayers were heard. So, she joins the many daughters of Sarah in that great hall of faith who were commended for persevering in prayer, travail and hope till they had ‘received their dead back to life’.
As a wife – her Berber Christian parents had given her in marriage to a Roman pagan – Monica’s heart was broken by the adulteries of her husband, Patricius. Her piety and gentleness, however, persuaded her mother-in-law to become a Christian. Although her prayers and deeds of charity annoyed her husband, he respected her, and before his death, came to believe in Christ. She was known to be a peacemaker among her neighbours, devoting her time to healing discords and settling disputes.
She sought to bring her children up in the true faith; but Augustine grew up to be a wayward son, who pierced her Christian soul with many thorns. She grieved as this gifted young man wasted his talents at the altar of pleasure. Worse, he converted to the strange cult of Manichaeism – this grieved her so much that she drove him out of their home, but was persuaded by a dream to reconcile with him. A bishop to whom she turned for comfort reassured her that “the child of those tears shall never perish.” Finally, her prayers watered by tears bore fruit when Augustine consecrated his life to Christ, and was baptised by the Bishop Ambrose. So, they spent a few peaceful years travelling together to preach the gospel, and rejoicing in their shared love for the Son of God, who had died to save sinners like themselves. Augustine recalled one of his last conversations with his mother-
‘Such things was I saying; and if not after this manner, and in these words, yet, Lord, You know, that in that day when we were talking thus, this world with all its delights grew contemptible to us, even while we spake. Then said my mother, “Son, for myself, I have no longer any pleasure in this life. What I want here further, and why I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are satisfied. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly, so that I see you despising all earthly felicity, made His servant, what do I here?”‘
So she departed this world with great joy to take hold of the crown which Christ had set apart for her. Augustine recorded his thoughts about his mother during those last moments in ‘The Confessions’-
“And You sent Your hand from above, and drew my soul out of that profound darkness, when my mother, Your faithful one, wept to You on my behalf more than mothers are wont to weep the bodily death of their children. For she saw that I was dead by that faith and spirit which she had from You, and You heard her, O Lord. You heard her, and despised not her tears, when, pouring down, they watered the earth under her eyes in every place where she prayed; yea, You heard her.”
“For Your hands, O my God, in the hidden design of Your Providence, did not desert my soul; and out of the blood of my mother’s heart, through the tears that she poured out by day and by night, was a sacrifice offered unto You for me; and by marvellous ways did Thou deal with me.”
“Soon after to us both (St Augustine and his brother) she says, “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.”! And when she had given forth this opinion in such words as she could, she was silent, being in pain with her increasing sickness.”
She had previously expressed a deep longing to die in her own country; but, in those closing moments, being far from her own home and people had no power to disturb her mind. She realised then, as never before, that “Nothing is far from God”; so she was at peace.
“May she therefore rest in peace with her husband, before or after whom she married none; whom she obeyed, with patience bringing forth fruit unto You, that she might gain him also for You. And inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire Your servants my brethren, Your sons my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that so many of them as shall read these confessions may at Your altar remember Monica, Your handmaid, together with Patricius, her sometime husband, by whose flesh You introduced me into this life, in what manner I know not”.
Father, we thank You for praying mothers like Monica who call out to You, day and night. May their cry always rise like incense before Your throne, and may their prayers be answered beyond all expectations. In Jesus’ name.