St. Augustine (1) was an absolute pain in the derrière to St. Monica. (2) Consumed with selfishness and pride, he went through a large portion of his life satisfying his own needs, breaking his mother's heart into pieces.
Hard as she tried, Monica could not get through to her son. While still in his teens, he fathered a child, embraced a false religion, fed his ego as a philosopher who loved to hear himself talk, and even sneaked out in the middle of the night to travel to Italy, to avoid poor Monica's disapproval.
Anyone else out there got that T-shirt?
Sadly, there are few mothers today who do not have at least one St. Augustine in their lives. Satan's 100-year agreement (3) with God began reaping havoc with souls as soon as the handshake was over. And one of the devil's favorite targets was our children—the future of the Catholic faith.
Starting out slowly at the turn of the century (kind of like boiling frogs), Satan kicked the program into high gear with Vatican II, turning up the heat with heretical liturgies, graceless sacraments, and impurity abound.
While he fiddled, mothers everywhere shed their tears. Words became meaningless, parental respect all but disappeared, and prodigal sons and daughters walked away from their faith en masse.
Monica's story is one not unlike that of many mothers, today. Though St. Anne is considered the official patron saint of mothers, Monica is often referenced because of the trials she endured while St. Augustine was sewing his wild oats.
Monica's spirituality is an inspiration, but what is more encouraging to those in the trenches of motherhood is the fact that she was a human being, just like every other mom. Though a devout Christian, she had her days. A present-day rendition of her life, in fact, was more like a replay of Malcolm in the Middle (4) than Little House on the Prairie. (5)
Augustin reveals, in his Confessions (6) that his mother, in her early years before marriage, liked to hit the sauce from time to time.
But there stole for all this, (as thy handmaid told me her son,) there stole upon her a lickerish inclination toward wine. For when, as the manner was, she, being thought to be a sober maiden, was bidden by her parents sometimes to draw wine out of the hogshead, she holding the pot under the tap, would at the mouth of it, before she poured the wine into the flagon, wet her lips as it were with a little sip of it: for much would not her taste suffer her to take in. For she did not this out of any drunken desire, but upon such overflowing excesses as youth is subject unto, who boil over with gamesomeness: which in youthful spirits is wont to be kept under by the gravity of their elders.
And thus unto that daily little every day adding a little more, (for whoever contemneth small things, falls by little and little) fell she at last to get such a custom, that she would greedily take off her cups brimful almost of wine. (7)
Monica was cured of her habit, according to Augustine, when a maid gave her an uppercut to the jaw during a cat fight and called her a "wine-bibber." Instead of responding with indignation, Monica used her accusation to humbly admonish herself and go on the wagon.
Marriage was far from blissful for Monica. As soon as she reached a suitable age, she was betrothed to Patricius, a hot-tempered pagan who cheated on her. Monica approached the situation with a similar tactic taken by many women in abusive marriages.
For she so discreetly endured his wronging of her bed, that she never had any jealous quarrel with her husband for that matter. Because she still expected thy [God's] mercy upon him, that believing in thee, he might turn chaster.
And he was besides this, as of a passing good nature, also very hot and choleric: but she knew well enough that a husband in choler is not to be contradicted; not in deed only, but not so much as in word. (8)
In addition, after her marriage, she lived with a mother-in-law who was less than fond of her. Along with the servants, Petricius's mother gossiped and calumniated against Monica, making life for Monica intolerable.
Eventually, however, Patricius's mother got wind of her son's evil ways via the very same grapevine. Not too pleased about the scandal, she ordered Patricius to have the gossiping servants whipped, then warned them that there was more where that came from. Augustine writes that, "they lived ever after with a most memorable sweetness of mutual courtesies."
From the time that Augustine was a young boy, Monica faced repeated disappointment (referred to today as "talking to a brick wall syndrome"). It was not until he became severely ill one day, that he pleaded with her for baptism. Once healed and no longer in fear of death, he no longer felt the need and went merrily along his way.
Thou sawest, (O Lord, when being yet a boy, and one day taken with a pain in the stomach, I fell suddenly into a fit, very like to die. Thou sawest, O my God, (for thou wert my Keeper) with what earnestness of mind, and with what faith, I importuned the piety both of mine own mother, and of thy Church the mother of us all, for the Baptism of thy Christ, my Lord God.
Whereupon the mother of my flesh being much perplexed, (for that in a chaste heart, and faith in thee, she most lovingly even travailed in birth of my eternal salvation,) did hasten with great care to procure me to be initiated and washed with thy wholesome Sacraments, (I first confessing thee, O Lord Jesus, for the remission of sins) but that I presently recovered upon it.
Upon my recovery was my cleansing deferred: as if it were necessary that I should yet Le more defiled, if I lived longer: because, forsooth, the guilt contracted by the filth of sin, were both greater and more dangerous after Baptism, than before. (9)
Like all Traditional Catholic mothers today, as soon as Monica recognized that Augustine was growing into manhood, she spoke to him of the importance of chastity.
For she commanded me, and, as I well remember, with very much earnestness forewarned me, that I should not commit fornication; and especially that I should never defile any man's wife. These seemed to me no better than women's advices, which would be a shame for me to follow. But they were thine, [God's] indeed, and I knew it not: I thought thou hadst held thy peace, and that she only had spoken: she, by whom thou wert not silent unto me; and in her thyself wast contemned by me; even by me her son, the son of thy handmaid, and thy servant. (10)
Eerily similar to a mother's consternation today, Monica's advice went in one ear and out the other. He—like today—faced ridicule from his peers if he did not go along with the program. The result was a bouncing baby boy named Adeodatus.
A few short years later, in 373, Augustine's passion for rhetoric convinced him that he was a philosopher at heart and he embraced the Manichaeism (11) perspective of truth, rather than the naiveté of Christianity. Never one to do anything half way, he immersed himself completely in Manichaeistic ways.
I resolved thereupon to bend my studies towards the Holy Scriptures, that I might see what they were. But behold, I espy something in them not revealed to the proud, not discovered unto children, humble in style, sublime in operation, and wholly veiled over in mysteries; and I was not so fitted at that time, as to pierce into the sense, or stoop my neck to its coming.
For when I attentively read these Scriptures, I thought not then so of them, as I now speak; but they seemed to me far unworthy to be compared to the stateliness of the Ciceronian eloquence. For my swelling pride soared above the temper of their style, nor was my sharp wit able to pierce into their sense. And yet such are thy Scriptures as grew up together with thy little ones. But I much disdained to be held a little one; and big swollen with pride I took myself to be some great man. (12)
Augustine cared little for the shame that he heaped upon his mother. But Monica was a spiritual Mama Grisly. No matter how bleak the situation, she refused to let the devil have him. That is not to say that she always handled it gracefully. There were times, in fact, when she threatened to toss him to the curb.
At the age of 29, educated and disenchanted with Manichaeism, Augustine discovered a new frontier and decided to explore Italy. In order to avoid his mother's disdain, he sneaked out of the house during the night, leaving Monica to discover in the morning that he had gone. Like a true mom, she followed her son to Rome, and then to Milan.
It was in Milan that she met Ambrose, (13) the bishop of Milan, whom she beleaguered incessantly over her concern for Augustine. In an effort to console Monica, Ambrose told her, "It cannot be that the son of these tears should perish." He also advised her not to try to force Augustine's conversion, that the more she tried, the less likely it would happen.
Over time, Ambrose and Monica developed a deep friendship based on respect and mutual admiration.
But to thee, O Fountain of Mercies, poured she forth more frequent prayers and tears, that thou wouldst hasten thy help, and enlighten my darkness: and more eagerly than ever would she run unto the church, and hang upon the lips of Ambrose, as a fountain of water that springeth up into life everlasting.
For that man she loved as an angel of God, because she had heard that I had been brought by him in the mean time to that doubtful state of faith I was now in; and she felt sure that through this I was to pass from sickness unto health, some sharper conflict coming between, in another fit, as it were, which the physicians call the crisis.
. . . But for all this it seems to me, O Lord my God, and thus thinks my heart of it in thy sight: that my mother would not easily have given way to the breaking of her country-custom, had it been forbidden her by some other man, whom she had not loved so well as she did Ambrose; whom in regard of my salvation, she very entirely affected, and he her again, for her most religious conversation, whereby so full of good works, so fervent in the spirit, she frequented the church.
Yea, so well he affected her, that he would very often when he saw me, break forth into her praises; congratulating with me, in that I had such a mother: little knowing in the meantime what a son she had of me; who doubted of all these things, and least of all imagined the way to life could possibly be found out. (14)
At the age of 33, Augustine returned to Milan for a job opportunity and was introduced to Ambrose. The bishop made a deep impression on Augustine that ultimately began Augustine's journey back to God.
Well; unto Milan I came, to Bishop Ambrose, a man of the best fame all the world over, and thy devout servant; whose eloquent discourse did in those days plentifully dispense the fatness of thy wheat, the gladness of thy oil, and the sober overflowings of thy wine, unto the people.
To him was I led by thee, unknowing, that by him I might be brought to thee, knowing it. That man of God entertained me fatherly, and approved of the cause of my coming, as became a bishop. I thenceforth began to love him: not at first verily as a teacher of the truth, (which I utterly despaired to find in thy Church), but as a man of courteous usage to me. (15)
"Ambrose taught salvation most soundly," Augustine wrote. "But salvation is far enough from sinners, such as I was at that instant; and yet I drew by little and little nearer toward it; but how, I knew not." His journey was not a smooth one, however. For a time, he found comfort in knowing that though he had not yet found the truth, he was at least rescued from falsehood.
It is here in his Confessions that Augustine attributes his conversion to Monica and shows his appreciation for her fortitude and perseverance.
And thou stretchedst thine hand from on high, and drewest my soul out of that darksome deepness, when as my mother thy faithful one wept to thee for me, more bitterly than mothers use to do for the bodily deaths of their children. For she evidently saw that I was dead, by that faith and spirit which thou hadst given her, and thou heardest her, O Lord; thou heardest her, and despisedst not her tears, when flowing down they watered the very earth under her eyes in every place where she prayed; yea, thou heardest her. (16)
Augustine converted to Catholicism in 386. Ambrose baptized him in 387 and he became Bishop of Hippo in 395. His feast day is Aug. 28.
HANG IN THERE, MOM!
This story could not be more apropos if it had been intentionally written in these modern times. Not much has changed. Kids go astray; mothers shed their tears.
Ambrose's advice to Monica was profound. Those of us wearing the T-shirt are responsible for teaching our children the Truth, and then standing up to defend it. After that, the ball is in God's court.
The greatest news of all is that we have something that Monica was lacking. We have the most powerful weapon that ever has or ever will exist: the Rosary!
(6) St. Augustine's Confessions I, Trans. William Watts, Ed. T. E. PAGE, M.A., W. H. D. Rouse, LiTT.D., New York: McMillan, 1912, Print.
(7) Confessions, Book 9, Chapter 8
(8) Ibid., Book 9, Chapter 8
(9) Ibid., Book 1, Chapter 11
(10) Ibid., Book 2, Chapter 3
(12) Confessions, Book 3, Chapter 6
(14) Confessions, Book 7, Chapter 2
(15) Ibid., Book 5, Chapter 13
(16) Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 11