The feast of St. Monica and St. Augustine provide opportunities for much reflection and consideration. As North African Christians, for example, it is remarkable that most depictions of them present them as white Europeans. Failing to depict them as African, literally “white-washes” them and robs them of their heritage. This impoverishes the entire Church with its rich and diverse history.
Yet, the story of Monica and Augustine is found in all cultures and transcends distinctions. It is the story of a Mom who did everything to teach the faith to her child but witness helplessly as her son continued to go wayward. The only tool left to her was prayer. As a parent myself, I live this pain and surrender my child to the work of God. I pray that his path brings him to a life of wholeness at minimum and holiness at most. Like St. Monica, after doing all I can, all I can do is pray. I need to trust, like St. Monica, that the same God who has watched over me my whole life is watching over him.
I know many praying Monicas. Abandoned by children. Eternally connected to, yet temporarily disconnected from, the child to whom they gave life. I have prayed with and comforted such Moms and Dads often. These “vigil” Moms and Dads sit at windows, wait on porches, and fill the rooms of senior living residences throughout the country.
One such “vigil” Mom in my life was my mother, Liz Skinner. I am the ninth of her ten children. I was a wee one when my older siblings were teenagers and young adults. I have deep comforting memories of Mom sitting at the window, elbow on the windowsill with one hand cupping her jaw. In her other hand were her rosary beads. As I played at her feet, my older siblings explored life beyond Mom’s direct view and influence. She prayed fervently for their safe return home. I often pulled myself up to the comfort of her lap and sat with her warmth and gentle caresses. She continued to pray for the ones who needed it and to do what she could for the little ones who needed her immediately. Her prayer for the older ones did not interfere with her need to live her life and perform her tasks for the rest of us. I imagine that St. Monica, though living in deep concern for her son, continued with a Christian life of love, service, and faith-based fulfillment.
From St. Monica, and all the Monicas I have ever known, I have learned that once we have done all we can for our children, we must prayerfully surrender the rest to God. God’s vigilance is eternal and wise. What dreams parents want for their children will come in God’s time as it did with St. Augustine. In the meantime, we continue to relinquish our “exploring” children to Divine Providence and grace. We pray for mercy for our own mistakes and continue God’s work in our world. Prayer and ongoing Christian action are inseparable.
Thank you, God, for watching over us and our children.
Oh, … and thanks, Mom!
Michael Way Skinner is a retired Coordinator of Religion, Family Life, and Equity with the York Catholic District School Board. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy (1st Class Honours) degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. He also completed the Program in Religion and Secondary Education (P.R.S.E.) with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Michael was a contributing author to World Religions: A Canadian Catholic Perspective, and co-authored There Must be a Pony in Here Somewhere with his wife, Christine Way Skinner. Michael is a public speaker and award-winning educator who is deeply committed to faith as a source for inclusion and justice.