May 4 – St Monica, Widow
In the company of our Risen Lord there are two women, two mothers, of whom we have often had to speak during the last few weeks: they are Mary, mother of James the Less and Thaddeus, and Salome, mother of James the Greater and John the beloved disciple. They went, with Magdalene, to the Sepulcher on the Resurrection morning; they carried spices to anoint the Body of Jesus; they were spoken to by Angels; and as they returned to Jerusalem, our Lord appeared to them, greeted them, and allowed them to kiss his sacred feet. Since that Day, he has repaired their love by frequently appearing to them; and on the day of his Ascension from Mount Olivet, they will be there, together with our Blessed Lady and the Apostles, to receive his farewell blessing. Let us honor these faithful companions of Magdalene, these models of the love we should show to our Lord in his Resurrection; let us also venerate them as mothers who gave four Apostles to the Church.
But lo! on this fourth morning of beautiful May, there rises, near to Mary and Salome, another woman, another mother. She too is fervent in her love of Jesus. She too, gives to holy Church a treasure—the child of her tears, a Doctor, a Bishop, and one of the grandest Saints of the New Law. This woman, this mother, is Monica, twice mother of Augustine. This masterpiece of God’s grace was produced on the desert soil of Africa. Her virtues would have been unknown till the day of Judgment, had not the pen of the great Bishop of Hippo, prompted by the holy affection of his filial heart, revealed to us the merits of this woman, whose life was humility and love, and who now, immortalized in men’s esteem, is venerated as the model and patroness of Christian Mothers.
One of the great charms of the book of Confessions is Augustine’s fervent praise of Monica’s virtues and devotedness. With what affectionate gratitude he speaks, through his whole history, of the untiring constancy of this mother, who, seeing the errors of her son, “wept over him more than other mothers weep over the dead body of their children!” Our Lord—who, from time to time, consoles with a ray of hope the souls he tries—had shown to Monica, in a vision, the future meeting of the son and mother; she had even heard a holy Bishop assuring her that the child of so many tears could never be lost—still, the sad realities of the present weighed heavily on her heart; and both her maternal love and her Faith caused her to grieve over this son who kept away from her, yea, who kept away from her, because he was unfaithful to his God. The anguish of this devoted heart was an expiation, which could, at a future period, he applied to the guilty one; fervent and persevering prayer, joined with suffering, prepared Augustine’s second birth—and, as he himself says, “she went through more when she gave me my spiritual, than when she gave me my corporal, birth.”
At last, after long years of anxiety, the mother found, at Milan, this son of hers, who had so cruelly deceived her, when he fled from her roof to go and risk his fortune at Rome. She found him still doubting the truth of the Christian Religion, but tired of the errors that had misled him. Augustine was not aware of it, but he had really made an advance towards the true Faith. “She found me,” says he, “in extreme danger, for I despaired of ever finding the truth. But when I told her that I was no longer a Manichean, and yet not a Catholic Christian—the announcement did not take her by surprise. She leaped for joy at being made sure that one half of my misery was gone. As to the other, she wept over me, as dead, indeed, but to rise again; she turned to thee, O my God, and wept, and, in spirit, brought me and laid the bier before thee, that thou mightest say to the widow’s son: Young man! I say to thee, arise! Then would he come to life again, and begin to speak, and thou couldst give him back to his mother! … Seeing, then, that although I had not yet found the truth, I was delivered from error, she felt sure that thou wouldst give the other half of the whole thou hadst promised. She told me in a tone of the gentlest calm, but with her heart full of hope, that she was confident in Christ that, before leaving this world, she would see me a faithful Catholic.”
At Milan, Monica formed acquaintance with the great Saint Ambrose, who was the instrument chosen by God for the conversion of her son. “She,” says Augustine, “had a very great affection for Ambrose, because of what he had done for my soul; and he equally loved her, because of her extraordinary piety, which led her to the performance of good works, and to fervent assiduity in frequenting the Church. Hence, when he saw me, he would frequently break out in her praise, and congratulate me on having such a mother.” The hour of grace came at last. The light of Faith dawned upon Augustine, and he began to think of enrolling himself a member of the Christian Church; but the pleasures of the world, in which he had so long indulged, held him back from receiving the holy sacrament of Baptism. Monica’s prayers and tears won for him the grace to break this last tie. He yielded, and became a Christian.
But God would have this work of his divine mercy a perfect one. Augustine, once converted, was not satisfied with professing the true Faith; he aspired to the sublime virtue of continency. A soul, favored as his then was, would find no further pleasure in anything that this world could offer him. Monica, who was anxious to guard her son against the dangers of a relapse into sin, had been preparing an honorable marriage for him: but Augustine came to her one day, accompanied by his friend Alypius, and told her that he was resolved to aim at what was most perfect. Let us listen to the Saint’s account of this interview with his mother; it was immediately after he had been admonished by the voice from heaven: “We (Augustine and Alypius) go at once to my mother’s house. We tell her what had taken place; she is full of joy. We tell her all the particulars; she is overpowered with feelings of delight and exultation. She blessed thee, O my God, who canst do beyond what we ask or understand. She saw that thou hadst done more for me than she had asked of thee, with her many piteous and tearful sighs … Thou hadst changed her mourning into joy, even beyond her wishes, yea, into a joy far dearer and chaster than she could ever have had in seeing me a father of children.” A few days after this, and in the Church of Milan, a sublime spectacle was witnessed by Angels and man: Ambrose baptizing Augustine in Monica’s presence.
The saintly mother had fulfilled her mission: her son was regenerated to truth and virtue, and she had given to the Church the greatest of her Doctors. The evening of her long and tried life was approaching, and she was soon to find eternal rest in the God for whose love she had toiled and suffered so much. The son and mother were at Ostia, waiting for the vessel that was to take them back to Africa. “I and she were alone,” says Augustine, “and were standing near a window of our lodging, which commanded a view of the garden. We were having a most charming conversation. Forgetting the past and stretching forward to the things beyond, we were talking about the future life of the saints, which eye hath not seen, nor ear hard, nor hath it ascended into man’s heart … And while this talking about it and longing for it, our hearts seemed to bound forward and reach it. We sighed, and left the first-fruits of our spirit there, and returned to the sound of our own voice … Then my mother said to me: ‘My son!—as far as am I concerned, there is nothing now that can give me pleasure in this life. I know not what I can do, or why I should be here, now that I have nothing to hope for in this world. There was one thing, for which I desired to live somewhat longer, and it was to see thee a Catholic Christian before my death. My God has granted me this, and more; for I see that thou hast despised earthly pleasures and become a servant. What do I here?’”
She had not long to wait for the divine invitation. She breathed forth her pure soul a few days after this interview, leaving an indelible impression upon the heart of her son, to the Church a name most dear and honored, and to Christian mothers a perfect example of the purest and holiest maternal affection.
The life and virtues of St. Monica are thus briefly portrayed in today’s Liturgy.
|Monica, sancti Augustini dupliciter mater, quia eum et mundo, et cœlo peperit, marito mortuo, quam senectute confectum Jesu Christo conciliavit, castam, et operibus misericordiæ exercitam viduitatem agebat: in assiduis vero ad Deum orationibus pro filio, qui in Manichæorum sectam inciderat, lacrymas effundebat: quem etiam Mediolanum secuta est: ubi ipsum frequenter hortabatur, ut ad episcopum Ambrosium se conferret. Quod cum ille fecisset, ejus et publicis concionibus, et privatis colloquiis, catholicæ fidei veritatem edoctus, ab eodem baptizatus est.||Monica was doubly Augustine’s mother, inasmuch as she gave him both temporal and eternal life. Having lost her husband, whom she converted, in his old age, to Christ Jesus, she spent her widowhood in holy continency and works of mercy. Her prayers and tears were continually offered up to God for her son, who had fallen into the heresy of the Manicheans. She followed him to Milan, where she frequently exhorted him to visit Ambrose, the Bishop. He did so, and having learned the truth of the Catholic Faith, both by the public discourses of and by private conversations with Ambrose, he was baptized by him.|
|Mox in Africam redeuntes cum ad Ostia Tiberina constitissent, incidit in febrem. Quo in morbo cum eam quodam die anima defecisset, ut se collegit: Ubi, inquit, eram? Et adstantes intuens: Ponite hic matrem vestram: tantum vos rogo, ut ad altare Domini memineritis mei. Nono autem die beata mulier animam Deo reddidit. Ejus corpus ibi in ecclesia sanctæ Aureæ sepultum est: quod postea Martino Quinto summo Pontifice Romam translatum, in ecclesia sancti Augustini honorifice conditum est.||Having reached Ostia on their return home to Africa, Monica was taken ill of a fever. During her sickness, she one day lost her consciousness; and having returned to herself, she said: “Where was I?” Then looking at her children, she said: “Bury your mother here. All I ask of you, is that you remember me at the altar of the Lord.” The holy woman yielded up her soul to God on the ninth day. Her body was buried there, in the Church of Saint Aurea; but was afterwards translated to Rome, during the Pontificate of Martin the Fifth, and was buried with much honor in the Church of Saint Augustine.|
The Middle Ages have left us several Liturgical pieces composed in honor of St. Monica; but most of them are poor. The Sequence we select is not without merit; it has even been attributed to Adam of Saint-Victor.
|Augustini magni patris,
Atque suæ piæ matris
Laudes et præconia
Et optata celebrantes
|Let us sing the praises of the great Father Augustine, and of his holy mother. Let us devoutly celebrate the loved solemnity of this day.|
|Mater casta, fide gnara,
Vita clara, Christo chara,
Hæc beata Monica
De profano propagatum,
In fide catholica.
|The blessed Monica was a virtuous mother, well instructed in the faith, edifying in her conduct, and dear to Christ. Her son was born of a pagan father; but she gave him a second birth—she brought him to the Catholic Faith.|
|Felix imber lacrymarum,
Quo effulsit tam præclarum
Lumen in Ecclesia!
Multo fletu seminavit,
Germen ubi reportavit
Metens in lætitia.
|O happy shower of tears through which shone forth so bright a Light within the Church! Monica sowed in much weeping, but she reaped her fruit in joy.|
|Plus accepit quam petivit:
O quam miro tunc gestivit
Cernens natum fide ratum,
Sed et Christo jam sacratum
Toto mentis studio!
|She received more than she asked: Oh! how grand was the gladness that filled her soul, when she saw her son staunch in faith, yea and devoted, with his whole heart, to Christ!|
|Hæc egenis ministravit,
Et in eis Christum pavit,
Mater dicta pauperum;
Curam gerens infirmorum,
Lavit, stravit, et eorum
Tersit sordes vulnerum.
|She was called the Mother of the Poor, for she ministered to them in their necessities, and gave to Christ the food she gave to them. She took care of the sick, washed them, nursed them, and dressed their wounds.|
|O matrona gratiosa,
Quam transfigunt amorosa
His accensa sic ploravit,
Lacrymis quod irrigavit
|O saintly matron, whose soul was pierced with compassion for the dear Wounds of her Crucified Lord! She wept for love when she thought upon them, and her tears bedewed the spot on which she prayed.|
|Pane cœli saturata,
Stat a terris elevata
Mente rapta exsultavit:
“Ad cœli fastigia.”
|When she received the Bread of Heaven, she was raised from the ground, and, in her rapture, exclaimed with joy: “Let us fly to heaven above!”|
|Eia, mater et matrona,
Advocata et patrona
Sis pro tuis filiis,
Ut dum carne exuemur,
Nato tuo sociemur
|O mother and matron! be to us thy children an advocate and patroness. That so, when we quit the flesh, we may be united to Augustine, thy son, in the joys of paradise.|
O thou model of mothers! Christendom honors thee as one of the most perfect types of human nature regenerated by Christ. Previous to the Gospel, during those long ages when Woman was kept in a state of abjection, a mother’s influence on her children was feeble and insignificant; her duties were generally limited to looking after their bodily well-being; and if some mothers of those times have handed their names down to posterity, it is only because they taught their sons to covet and win the passing glory of this world. But we have no instance, in pagan times, of a mother training her son to virtue, following him from city to city that she might help him in the struggle with error and the passions, and encourage him to rise after a fall; we do not meet with one who devoted herself to continual prayer and tears, with a view to obtain her son’s return to truth and virtue. Christianity alone has revealed a Mother’s mission and power.
What forgetfulness of thyself, O Monica, in thine incessant endeavor to secure Augustine’s salvation! After God, it is for him thou livest; and to live for thy son in such a way as this, is it not living for God, who deigns to use thee as the instrument of his grace? What carest thou for Augustine’s glory and success in this world, when thou thinkest of the eternal dangers to which he is exposed, and of his being eternally separated from God and thee? There is no sacrifice or devotedness which thy maternal heart is not ready to make, in order to satisfy the Divine justice; it has its rights, and thou art too generous not to satisfy them. Thou waitest patiently, day and night, for God’s good time to come. The delay only makes thy prayer more earnest. Hoping against all hope, thou at length feelest, within thy heart, the humble but firm conviction that the object of all these tears can never be lost. Moved with mercy towards thee, as he was for the sorrowing mother of Naim, he speaks with that voice which nothing can withstand: “Young man! I say to thee, arise!” and he gives him to his mother; he gives thee the dear one whose death thou hadst so bitterly bewailed, but from whom thou couldst not tear thyself.
What a recompense of thy maternal love is this! God is not satisfied with restoring thee Augustine full of life; from the very depths of error and sin, this son of thine rises, and, at once, to the highest virtue. Thy prayers were that he might become a Catholic, and break certain ties which were both a disgrace and danger to him; when lo! one single stroke of grace has raised him to the sublime state of the Evangelical Counsels. Thy work is more than done, O happy mother! Speed thee to heaven; where, till thy Augustine joins thee, thou art to gaze on the saintly life and works of this son whose salvation is due to thee, and whose bright glory, even while he sojourns here below, sheds the sweetest halo over thy venerated name.
From the eternal home, where thou art now happy with this son of thine, who owes to thee his life both of earth and heaven—cast a loving look, O Monica, on the many Christ mothers who are now fulfilling on earth the hard but noble mission which was once thine. Their children are also dead with the death of sin; and they would restore them to true life by the power of their maternal love. After the Mother of Jesus, it is to thee that they turn, O Monica—thou whose prayers and tears were once so efficacious and so fruitful. Take their cause in hand; thy tender and devoted heart cannot fail to compassionate them in the anguish which was once thine own. Keep up their courage; teach them to hope. The conversion of these dear ones is to cost them many a sacrifice; get them the generosity and fortitude needed for their paying the price thus asked of them by God. Let them remember that the conversion of a soul is a greater miracle than the raising a dead man to life; and that Divine Justice demands a compensation, which they, the mothers of these children, must be ready to make. This spirit of sacrifice will destroy that hidden egotism, which is but too frequently mingled with what seems to be affection of the purest kind. Let them ask themselves if they would rejoice, as thou didst, O Monica, at finding that a vocation to the Religious Life were the result of the conversion they have so much at heart? If they are thus disinterested, let them not fear; their prayers and sufferings must be efficacious; sooner or later, the wished-for grace will descend upon the Prodigal, and he will return to God and his mother.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)