Peace Amid Problems
Saint Monica was no problem character, which is just as well because most of her life was beset by problems made by other people. Her manner of coping has kept her high on the popularity poll of saints for 1600 years. The popular picture concentrates on the happy outcome of her efforts to win back her wayward son, Augustine. It is a true picture - but that period of joy occupied only the last few months of her life of 56 years.
Monica had marriage problems. It was a mixed marriage with her husband completely indifferent to all religion. He was unfaithful to her on many occasions, and she knew it. He was bad tempered, even violent. He was a poor provider financially, the children having to leave school prematurely because there was no money for fees. And for good measure, Monica had to cope with a mother-in-law, whose main trait was being angry with her. Monica tackled the situations with respect, patience and mildness.
She first won over her mother-in-law, who became her advocate in the home. Together they modified the shocking temper of the man of the house. Monica avoided scenes over her husband's unfaithfulness. She so combined tact and love that she became a widely sought counsellor by wives having similar problems.
Towards the end of his life, she won her husband to God and he became a Christian. But these were her lesser group of problems. The greatest were her eldest son, Augustine. When he was 16, "she earnestly urged me not to sin with women, above all not with any man's wife." He took no notice of her - then or for the next 17 years.
He became more and more enslaved with his passions, was notorious for his public conduct. The situation worsened when Augustine rejected the Christian Faith. For nine years he was the leader in the popular heresy of the day, the Manichees.
Monica was fighting for her son. She argued, advised and prayed. She was firm and uncompromising, and for a time she banished him from the home and refused to eat at the same table as him. She seemed to have lost when Augustine gave her the slip and left his native Africa for Rome without telling her. After a year or so, he was glad to welcome her to Italy to stay with him.
She quickly developed a two-pronged attack. She established contact between him and Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, probably the only Catholic mind capable of meeting Augustine on his own level. A realist on morals, Monica saw the time had come to apply to her son the Gospel precept of cutting off one's hand or foot to gain the Kingdom of God. She kept up the pressure until Augustine and his mistress somewhat grudgingly agreed that the latter return alone to Africa. It was not long before Augustine's conversion took place. He was 33.
The next few months were the one period of real joy in Monica's life. She kept house for Augustine and his friends as they pondered and prayed on their next move. It was decided to return to Africa and they journeyed to the port of Ostia to await a ship. One evening Monica told Augustine she no longer found joy in anything in this world. "One thing there was, for which I desired to remain still a little longer in this life, that I should see you a Catholic Christian before I died. This God granted me in super abundance."
Within a week she was seriously ill and knew death was near. Some lamented her dying in a strange country and not in her own land, where she could be buried beside her husband. Her reply is one of the most quoted quotes of Christian piety: "Lay this body wherever it may be. Let no care of it disturb you. This only I ask of you that you should remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be."
It seems a pity that the rest of her comment on the same occasion is not equally quoted: "Nothing is far from God, and I have no fear that he will not know at the end of the world from what place he is to raise me up."
Saint Monica's Feast Day - August 27.
Source: Fr. P. Hansen - Saints I like.