St. Monica, whose feast day we commemorated Aug. 27, is a powerful patroness for moms. Like many moms hope, her enduring legacy comes from the child she raised, and most of what we know about this extraordinary saint comes from a book by her son St. Augustine: Confessions.
St. Monica had a turbulent life. Her son lived a wicked and sinful life. Her pagan husband was abusive, and her devotion to Our Lord annoyed him. It is no surprise that among her many patronages, she is an intercessor for victims of abuse, victims of adultery and married women, especially those with difficult marriages and disappointing children.
As mothers, we are called to bring our children to Christ even when it is difficult. Even — and perhaps especially — when they are lost. St. Monica is a powerful intercessor in these cases, too.
Though he eventually became a bishop, a great saint, and even a Doctor of the Church, Augustine, in his Confessions, admits he lived a life ruled by disordered passions. “Let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error — not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.” (Book 2, Chapter 4, p. 25)
Yet, his passion eventually called him to seek the things above and brought him to God.
Back before the pandemic, Colleen Hutt spoke at St. Monica Parish to a group of moms about the formidable mother of St. Augustine and what we can learn from her. Years later, the talk stuck with me, so I reached out to Hutt for her thoughts on how we can look to St. Monica when we mourn children and other relatives who have gone astray.
“When I look at how Augustine lived his life — ruled by (disordered) passion in the beginning but also (by) this passion (that) inspired and fueled his curiosity not to be satisfied with anything of the world, anything finite,” Hutt said. “Augustine had the stir in him to seek the infinite in all things, and that is why nothing in the world — in and of itself — satisfied him. Monica knew the personality of her children. There was a time when Augustine was deep in living his immoral life that she refused to let him eat or sleep at her home. She held boundaries but also kept loving, fasting and praying. She never said, ‘That’s it. There’s nothing more I can do for you. Go live your own life.’ No, she kept throwing herself in supplication at the mercy of the Lord, begging for intercession even though she bore these things in her own heart with few friends to really bear the load with her.”
St. Monica was not perfect in her earthly life. She drank too much at times, and she had to reform herself before she could hope to reform her son. She strove for holiness, and although she wasn’t “perfect,” she had this desire to keep trying and pursue her son.
Hutt adds, “She knew Augustine was lost. She did not think, as is common today, ‘Well, he’s choosing his own way of life. Who am I to judge?’ No. She did make judgments — she knew the life he was leading would bring fatherless children into the world, was selfish, destructive and, most of all, would lead to his perpetual unhappiness because he would be far from Christ. Making judgments about how to live is necessary for human life. When we judge (condemn) someone for their actions as being unredeemable, we cross the line proper to us. Only God has that power.”
As we look at St. Monica’s example, it is essential to remember that no one is ever truly lost, and I asked Hutt what parents should remember when they hear St. Monica’s beautiful story.
“I think it is important for parents to remember they might not be the one to lead their children back to the faith,” Hutt said. “(They are) too close to the situation sometimes, (with) too many parent/child entanglements. We need to recognize faith is not ultimately something we can give to our children. It’s not like making dinner — faith is not something you prepare for your children, and in turn, they will ingest and (it) nourish(es) them. Faith is not a prescription. No, faith is a gift. It comes from God. It is more like a Montessori education — we can provide the environment and the structure, but the children have to do the work of engagement with what is before them. Our kids need to feel commissioned to take the encounter with the Lord seriously and not waste what has been provided to them.
“We can model. We can pray. We can lead and suggest and incarnate to the best we can the radiance of living a life centered in Christ. We need to be joyful in our sufferings and not think all is lost. Our children do not belong to us. They come from God and will return to him. But we can cry out to heaven that the right people will come into our children’s lives who will bring them to Jesus, and we can pray with the confidence of St. Monica that the Lord will hear our prayer. ”