There isn’t a mom I know who can’t relate – at least a little! – to St. Monica, the devoted mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, whose love for her child overcame their clash of wills and values. In what is an age-old story, mother and son found themselves in conflict centred over his behaviour and, more specifically, Monica’s concern for Augustine’s spiritual life.
Granted, few of us are likely to experience the extraordinary tests Monica was presented by her oldest child, whose legendary wild youth and lack of faith is said to have made his mother weep nightly for years. To keep things in perspective, ponder the prayer Augustine includes in his Confessions, so frequently paraphrased as “make me pure Lord, but not yet,” and then ask yourself why Monica prayed so fervently for her child!
Then, too, Monica went to extreme lengths to safeguard her son’s spiritual wellbeing, following him all the way from Africa to Italy. Cynics might brand this a form of spiritual helicopter parenting, while admirers might liken it to a maternal imitation of the Hound of Heaven in its doggedness.
Those wont to criticize Monica overlook the reality that worry is part of the job description of motherhood. The motivations for Monica’s actions and prayers stem from concern for her son’s physical and spiritual wellbeing, and that should speak to all mothers, who, at the end of the day, only what is best for their children. For Monica, faith was life, an approach she wanted to share with her son. Given the depth of her faith, her concern for Augustine was not only understandable but also an inescapable necessity. As parents, our role is not only that of bill-payer and dinner-provider but also of spiritual mentor.
At 17, Augustine went to Carthage to study. There, he embraced a life of hedonism and abandoned his Christian upbringing, turning instead to Manichaeism, a form of dualism holding salvation to be available through knowledge.
Monica was hurt by this rejection and responded with tough love, banning her son from her table and her home. She never stopped praying for Augustine, however, and relentlessly asked priests to pray for him also, prompting one bishop to observe, “the child of those tears shall never perish.”
When Augustine broke a promise to his mother and slipped off to Rome without her, she followed. And when he tricked her again and headed to Milan on his own – she followed yet again. In Milan she witnessed St. Ambrose baptize her oldest son. She died a few months afterward, content that Augustine now understood what he later expressed in the Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”