St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, was born in North Africa in 333 AD. She was raised a Christian but her parents arranged her marriage to a non-Christian. It was not a happy marriage for many years, but eventually both her husband and her mother-in-law became Christians as well.
Monica had three children, two boys and a girl. The oldest, Augustine, is the best known. He tells the tale in his Confessions of his nearly 20 year journey to faith. Monica struggled with his lack of faith, his lifestyle that included a mistress and child, his time as a supporter of Manichaeism and his travels. At one point she even drove him away from home, but invited him back after receiving a vision that reassured her that he would eventually turn out all right.
Monica followed Augustine from North Africa to Rome and Milan. When eventually he became a Christian, she believed that her prayers had been answered and she died not long afterward.
The story of St. Monica is one I find intriguing. As a mother I can understand her desire to share her faith with her children. I know my children, like hers, must find their own way to faith, building on what we their family and community have shared with them as children, but somehow making it their own. I’m not sure the idea of pursuing them across oceans to keep trying to bring them to faith is a good idea, at least not today. When all was said and done, it was St. Ambrose who reached Augustine and led him to faith.
It seems to me that as 21st Century Christians, we can take part of her example – that of praying unceasingly for our children. Then it’s important to remember that we are part of a much larger community, and trust the Holy Spirit to send the right person or circumstances to help them grow to an adult faith of their own.
When one time someone asked my father-in-law what the most difficult age in raising children was, in his experience, he replied, “Thirty-eight!” At that point they are grown up and making their own decisions. His input was not always requested or welcomed, and he didn’t always understand the world in which they lived and worked.
I’ve always thought he had a point. Mine aren’t that old yet, so I can’t say whether I agree with his opinion about the age, but I know that being a parent doesn’t end at age 18 or even 21. We continue to care deeply about our children and the choices they make. We remember the mistakes we made. We dream of what they can be and the wonderful things they can do if they choose. But we can’t live their lives for them. We can’t make their decisions for them. All we can do is pray with great hope for them and “be there” when they come for support, advice and loving care.
Although St. Monica is not generally presented as patroness of parents in general, I think she should be. All parents can benefit from her example of unceasing prayer. And we can hope and pray that, as in the case of Augustine, other members of the community will reach out to our children and help them as well as they grow to adult faith and participation in the mission of spreading the Good News.Read More