The Persevering Prayer of Monica

Monica is the patron saint of mothers – not least, those who pray for the conversion of their children, an integral part of the maternal vocation, as many a mother will admit. Even for those children who stay in the Faith, ‘conversio’n is an ongoing process, never-ending, in that universal call to holiness to which we are all called.

Monica was from Thagaste, in Northern Africa, a Roman colony, and seems to have been a Christian from her childhood. The story goes that as a little girl, when she was asked to pour her parents a glass of wine from their cellar, she would often help herself – until a servant caught and reprimanded the young bibbler. This struck her conscience, she repented and was baptized.

She fell in love with a pagan – alas, there seem always to have been too few good Catholic men – an ill-tempered pagan named Patricius, for whom she also prayed all her life. One of the purposes of the married state is also to help convert one’s spouse, and some need more converting than others. Patricius thought of becoming a Christian in the last year of his life, but seems to have died before he made the leap. It was a fractious match, her prayer life and almsgiving irking him (or more likely, his conscience), but they – or she – persevered unto death. Monica bore three children who survived infancy: Augustine; his brother, Navigius, and their sister, Perpetua of Hippo.

We will speak of Augustine tomorrow, the wayward son, wandering through the labyrinth of various philosophies, before finally realizing his mother had been right all along – the perseverance of her years of prayer, and her support in what was good in Augustine, while rejecting in him what was bad – she once drove him from her table – led to the conversion of one of the greatest minds of history, and the conversion of untold others by his writings and example. As Saint Ambrose said to Monica, when she was tempted to despair of her son, that ‘the child of such tears should never perish’.

After his conversion in late August, 386, they spent six peaceful months together, with Monica ready now for eternity. The gist of their final conversation is recounted in today’s Office. Son, with nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.

After an illness, Monica passed away peacefully in 387, and has been held in great veneration ever since. May she intercede for all mothers, and for all of us, that we may persevere unto the end, and help those around us do so also.