The Corner


Monica, Augustine, and How Blind Men Come to See

I know there is little tolerance for tweets about thoughts and prayers these days, particularly from politicians and bishops. But that may be because those of us who know the need for prayer are not always as faithful to that duty as we ought to be. (I sometimes think crisis moments are indictments in more ways than one.)

Today and tomorrow on the Church calendar are the memorials of the mother-and-son Monica and Augustine. Saint Monica was serious about prayer because it was her heart. And it wasn’t a matter of mere saccharine trust — it was tender and brutal work for her.

Here’s a little from a young Dominican student brother today about her fruitful tears:

Monica shed tears over genuine evil. These were not worldly tears of self-pity brooding over failures in her maternal character. Neither did Monica blame the harshness of the world for her son’s character. Monica’s were profitable tears, and she sought a remedy in prayer and through the bishop Ambrose. In her grief she sought to move Augustine to repentance.

Ambrose, in his spiritual prudence, knew the best course: his intervention at that time would be inopportune and an impediment to the prodigal Augustine’s future conversion. That her tears did not move the saintly bishop to action does not imply they were in vain. On the contrary, they became a powerful intercessory prayer God was most disposed to answer — and he did. He was disposed to answer not because he needed any convincing, but because it is good for us to seek aid from God and receive it.  In this case, Monica sought aid not only for herself, but for another.

Such was the prophecy of the bishop Ambrose. Because of Monica’s tearful prayers to God for her son, Augustine would not be lost. God is disposed to answer our prayers, especially when we seek virtue for ourselves or others. St. Dominic himself was known to weep while praying: “what will become of sinners!” God is so disposed because it is good for us to seek from him what is truly good for ourselves and others. By doing so we depend on God, the giver of every good thing.

For anyone wanting to contribute to the solution in the midst of this crisis in the Catholic Church, her son helps today. In The Liturgy of the Hours, there is an excerpt from Augustine’s Confessions about time spent with his mother at the end of her days. It’s a reminder that our day will come, and we don’t know when, and that it’s not really going to matter how many times we expressed our outrage at evil — which we, of course, must do, too — but how well we loved, bringing others to the light of eternity.

There is the need for truth and reform and justice. There is also the need for the examined life so that the soul knows if it’s serving God, even and especially in the midst of utter madness. It can be easy to be deceived.

Take a few minutes with Augustine:

The day was now approaching when my mother Monica would depart from this life; you knew that day, Lord, though we did not. She and I happened to be standing by ourselves at a window that overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house. At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. We had gone there after a long and wearisome journey to get away from the noisy crowd, and to rest and prepare for our sea voyage. I believe that you, Lord, caused all this to happen in your own mysterious ways. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead. We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth — for you are the Truth — what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man. We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.

That was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said: “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be his servant. So what am I doing here?”

I do not really remember how I answered her. Shortly, within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?”

We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” Thereupon she said to both of us: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.

That reading also serves as a great reminder to take time away. If you haven’t been able to do it this summer, maybe try to carve a little journey out this weekend, even if school and all has started.

I couldn’t help but think some of the rush to politicize everything about the Viganò letter yesterday came from the unholiest of Sabbath practices: being sucked in by a furious stream of headlines and commentary.

Also related to the passage: On Saturday night, I got to the point of remembering Pope John XXIII who would pray: “It’s your Church, Lord. I’m going to bed.” Every member of the Body of Christ has a role to play in the solution to the current Church crisis (and it has everything to do with holiness), and no person is the savior, because we already have one.


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