Friday, 26 October 2018 15:35

St. Monica and St. Augustine

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In the first year of seminary studies I had a professor named Don Jaime. That would be something like Professor James in English, but I'll just call him Don Jaime (pronounced Hi-may). 

Don Jaime had a tough reputation. He was an Augustinian priest and he gave us classes in Logic, Ancient Philosophy, and Modern Philosophy; three important subjects. If you arrived late for class the door was locked. He asked questions in class, and woe to you if you didn't have an answer. When he called you out to the blackboard to solve a mathematical problem during Logic classes, you sweated. 

I was 31 years of age at the time, but he put the fear of a headmaster into me. Thankfully, I was able to convince him that I didn't know much Spanish, so he more or less left me alone, but still, every morning was like a game of Russian Roulette. You never knew whose name he was going to call out. 

At the end of the year he said goodbye to us with these words: "Well, it will be as it always has been: you will speak badly of me, and I will speak well of you, and all of us will be telling lies." Those were his parting words before spinning on his heels and walking out the door. 

One day, while Don Jaime was teaching us about Saint Augustine, a seminarian raised his hand to ask a question: "Don Jaime, is Saint Monica a saint just because she was the mother of Saint Augustine? I mean, we know Saint Augustine was a great theologian, such an important figure in the history of the Church, but what the heck did Saint Monica ever do?" 

Don Jaime looked at him with visible astonishment, and then rapidly replied: "It would have been more intelligent if you had asked me is Saint Augustine a saint thanks only to Saint Monica, instead of the other way around. It is conceivable that we would have a Saint Monica without a Saint Augustine, but we certainly would not have a Saint Augustine if it weren't for Saint Monica.

With that inspired reply, Don Jaime didn't waste any more time on the matter. He returned immediately to his class plan and the business of forming his students in the wisdom of our faith. 

Don Jaime understood the power and importance of a mother's prayers. Saint Augustine did too. He always referred to himself as the child of his mother's tears. During the many years of Saint Monica's unrelenting prayer for her son's conversion, we know that she received the following words from a saintly bishop which greatly consoled and encouraged her: "Be at peace: it is not possible that the child of these tears perish." 

In a homily on the feast day of Saint Monica, Saint John Paul II said that mothers must give birth to their children twice, and that the labor pains of the second birth, the spiritual birthing of their children's souls, are usually more prolonged and more painful. So it was for Saint Monica and so it is for many mothers. 

After conversion, their children wonder to themselves how we could have been so hard-hearted and indifferent as our mothers sprinkled holy water on us as we made our way out the door as teenagers on a Friday or Saturday night, how we didn't even stop to think when they wept with worry that they might not be able to fulfill their maternal vocation to return us, their children, to God at the end of their lives, so that, together, we could rejoice forever in heaven. 

And yet, it was those moments of prayer accompanied by tears that eventually wrung from the heart of God the miracle of our conversion and return to the Father's house. On the feast day of Saint Monica, the Church offers us the reading from Luke 7:11-17 in which Jesus, moved to pity for a bereaved mother, says to her dead son in the coffin, "I am speaking to you, young man, arise!" That, more or less was what he said too to the young Augustine, thanks to the prayers of Monica: "I am speaking to you, young man, arise!" He said it to me, too, thanks to my mother's prayers, and to so many others like me. 

On a side note, when that seminarian who put the impertinent question to Don Jaime shortly afterwards became seriously ill, the professor who most often visited him in hospital and spent most time with him during his long recovery afterwards in the seminary, was Don Jaime. He accompanied the boy, encouraged him, guided him. Don Jaime was tough, but he knew how to be a mother too. 

When it comes to spiritual "birthing," we can all be mothers. Jesus said, "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50). Saint Monica is a model and a source of consolation and encouragement to all of us who wish, with our prayers and sufferings and tears, to give life to the souls of our children and young people. 

Fr Colm PowersFr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother. Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the FFA blog "Random Reflections".