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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

St. Monica…The Secret of Motherhood

“…You were within me but I was outside myself…You were with me, and I was not with you…You have called, you have cried and you have pierced my deafness.  You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly and you have dispelled my blindness.” – St Augustine

Amidst all the secular commercialization of Mothers’ Day and the more popular association of this blessed day with the Blessed Virgin Mother, I will simply reflect on the simple life journey of St Monica this time.

Perhaps, this familiar Saint also reminding me of my late relative nun, who embraced the Franciscan Spirituality in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi to follow Christ more closely and intimately for the rest of her life; 61 years of obedient service.  She had also served as the Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of St Francis of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, Malaysia; even had the blessed opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II in Rome.

Saint Monica was born, in 322, of Christian parents in North Africa.  Her parents selected a husband for her.  At seventeen, she married Patricius, a forty-year-old pagan Roman official, known for his dissolute habits, unfaithfulness and violent temper.

It was not a happy marriage and Monica turned more and more to her religion for strength and patience to bear his abuse, his criticism and his anger.  His only ‘virtue’ was that he did not beat her.  (She pointed out to other complaining wives that often, their sharp tongues were more to blame for the beatings they got than their spouses’ ill tempers.)

To add insult to injury, her cantankerous mother-in-law, who taunted her and told lies about her, lived with them.  But Monica ignored the indignities they heaped on her, and practiced good works instead, giving to the poor and helping the sick while, still caring for her family. Monica and Patricius had three children – Augustine (brilliantly clever but was a source of constant worry for Monica), Navigus, the second and a daughter, Perpetua.

Simply through her patience and prayer, she was able to convert Patricius and his mother.  She was widowed and for many years, prayed for the conversion of Augustine, who from the time he went to study in Carthage when he was seventeen lived a wayward life, abandoned the Christian faith and embraced Manichaeism, dabbled in other philosophies and had a mistress with whom he lived for fifteen years and despite never marrying, bore him a son.

Monica discovered the way of life of Augustine and was simply heartbroken.  She began her prayers for his conversion, her tears, vigils and fast which would last seventeen years.

She followed him to Rome, prayed constantly for him to turn to God, and then to Milan where he embraced Christianity and was baptized on Easter of the year 386 at the age of thirty-three by St Ambrose. (Her son became so strongly drawn to the faith that he was eventually canonized as St Augustine.) She lived with him in a community life of prayer and meditation.

She died in Italy, on the way back to Africa.  Augustine closed her eyes, restrained his grief in public, but wept unabashedly in private “for a mother who for many years had wept for me, that I might live, O Lord, in thee…”

St Monica is the patroness of married women and regarded as a model for Christian mothers; especially of all parents whose young are off today on a scary adventurous roller coaster journey through life.

I trust that many parents today, especially mothers, can relate to this; facing similar challenges and problems.

However despairing Monica must have felt, she never ever gave up.  She realized that she could not do everything on her own and was not afraid to ask others for help, even when it embarrassed her.  As we recall how St Monica persevered, I also remember how my auntie nun would pray for me throughout my life especially during my exams, ‘formed’ me through her letters and spiritual books; never fail to offer a simple Eucharistic Mass for me on my birthday.  Now, with her ‘higher’ connections, I pray that she will continue to do the same for my remaining journey.

The story of St Monica, reaffirms for us today that, with God, all things are possible!  In the remaining week leading to the Mothers’ Day weekend, embraced by the joyful Easter season, we remember our mother, our spouse, the gift of motherhood to humanity, as we pray…

O Lord, who taught Monica to persevere for the good of her family, help me to be a better parent to my children.  Help me to have patience with them when they misbehave and give me the strength to guide them gently to the right path.  Permit me always to forgive their misdeeds and keep me from speaking harshly or punishing unwisely.  Please help me to be a beacon of goodness for them as they grow to adulthood and to be a good example to them in all that I say and do.  Amen.

“Bury my body anywhere; it does not matter.  Do not let that disturb you.  This only I ask - that you remember me at the altar of God wherever you may be.”
- St. Monica to her sons as she lay dying far from home