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A WOMAN WHO NEVER GAVE UP

Father Francis's picture
Saint Monica

Family life can be very difficult at times. Many married women know the anguish of having an unfaithful husband, an interfering mother-in-law or a wayward child. All these problems were experienced by Monica but she took on the challenge.

Born to Christian parents around the 322 in North Africa, she was found a husband, a man of some social standing but, unfortunately, he was both promiscuous and a pagan. To make matters worse, his ill-tempered and difficult mother came to live with them.

Monica coped with these domestic trials with great patience and gentleness. She was well-known in her neighbourhood as a peacemaker. She was generous to the poor, and she never missed daily Mass: undoubtedly it was her example of Christian living which eventually brought about the conversion of her husband, and her mother-in-law.

Monica had two sons and a daughter. At the time of his father's death the eldest, Augustine, was 17 years old and studying rhetoric in Carthage and exploring new ideas. He began to live an immoral life and became involved in a heretical religious cult. His mother reacted with horror but one night had a consoling dream which promised her that Augustine would one day come back to the Catholic faith. From then on, she did everything in her power to make sure that he did. She was an extremely determined woman, and as well as offering continuous prayers for her son she stayed close to him, even when he made it plain that he did not want her to interfere in his life.

When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric, and Monica was determined to go with him. One night he told her that he was going to see a friend off from the docks, but he secretly set sail for Rome without her. Monica was hurt by his deception, but she was not to be shaken off so easily and she immediately followed him to Rome. Arriving in Rome, she learned that he had left for Milan so, undaunted by the prospect of a difficult journey, she pursued him there.

Eventually Augustine met Bishop Ambrose in Milan and began a course of instruction which was to last several years. Monica never ceased praying for him. Ambrose became her spiritual director and she continued her devout life. At Easter 387 Ambrose baptised Augustine and several of his friends. The group prepared to return to North Africa but Monica was taken ill. The mother and son shared some precious moments as Augustine later recalled in his 'Confessions': she said to Augustine, "Son, nothing in this life gives me pleasure any longer. I've achieved my dearest wish, to see you baptised as a Catholic, so there's nothing left for me to do."

To her younger son Monica said, “This only I ask of you, that you should remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be." She died a few days later, at the age of 65.

Most of what we know about Monica is contained in Augustine's writings. He owed so much to his devoted mother, who never for a moment gave up her prayers and efforts on his behalf. The story of Monica should give hope and encouragement to many parents today, who see their teenage children drifting away from the church or mixing with bad company. Their prayers might succeed when everything else has failed. Sometimes a son or daughter is overwhelmed with regret at the death of a loving parent but Saint Monica shows us how we can continue to show our love for them by remembering them in our prayers every day and having Masses said for them on their birthdays and anniversaries.