The Life of St. Monica
"Nothing is far from God." - Saint Monica
Feast Day - August 27th
Patron of Wives and Abuse Victims
Monica, was the eldest of three children of Christian parents, and was raised in a strict disciplined home. According to one story, the children were never allowed to drink between meals because, "It is water you want now, but when you become mistresses of your own cellar, you will want wine not water and the habit will remain with you. Nevertheless, when as a young girl she was given the duty of drawing wine for the family, she ignored the rule and indulged in wine until the day an angry servant caught her drunk and called her a "winebibber." From that day she made a vow that she would never drink anything but water.
She married Patricius, a pagan who had a violent temper. Her mother-in-law, also a pagan, usually sided with Patricius and told lies to the servants about Monica, who met all their insults with silence. Although he felt some contempt for her devoutness and generosity to the poor, Patricius respected her. Over time her meekness, humility and prayers transformed Patricius, who became a catechumen, and her mother-in-law. The formerly formal relationship of the couple developed into a warm, spiritual devotion. He died a happy death soon after his baptism in 370 A.D.
The marriage produced three children that lived: Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Her eldest, Saint Augustine, was born in 354 A.D. He was inscribed as a catechumen in infancy, but was not baptized. He was gifted with a mother who spoke often of God's love and her faith.
When widowed about 371 A.D., at the age of 40, Monica vowed to belong wholly to God, renounced all worldly pleasures, and ministered to the poor and orphaned while still fulfilling her maternal duties, especially the conversion of her wayward son.
The family was relatively poor, but a rich citizen of Tagaste met Augustine's educational expenses at the university in Carthage. Monica hoped studying philosophy and science would bring back her wayward son to God, but she did not realize Carthage was a seething mass of iniquity.
In Carthage, Augustine joined the heretical Manichees and persuaded others to follow suit. The Manichean doctrine that bodily actions had no moral significance brought relief to Augustine's troubled soul. He returned to Tagaste for his vacation and Monica threw him out. When Monica heard that Augustine had become a Manichean and was living a dissolute life, she refused to allow him to live in her home.
Monica had a vision in which she seemed to be standing on a wooden beam. Monica was desperate despairing of Augustine's life, when a shining being asked her the reason for her lamentation. She answered and he told her to stop crying. Looking toward the spot he indicated, she saw Augustine standing on the beam next to her. She repeated the vision to her son, and he replied playfully that they might easily be together if Monica renounced her faith.
After completing his studies, Augustine opened a school of oratory in Carthage and instructed his disciples in the principles of Manicheism. In doing so, he discovered that the Manicheans were more adept in attacking Catholicism than in establishing the truth of their own theories.
Augustine tells us that Monica shed "more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son." Monica prayed for her son's conversion for 17 years. To add power to her prayers, she fasted, making Holy Communion her daily food. An unnamed bishop comforted her that her son was young and stubborn, but that God's time would come because "The son of so many tears cannot possibly be lost."
At the age of 29, Augustine finally tired of the frivolity of Carthage and moved to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to accompany him, but he tricked her and sailed alone. Soon after his arrival he became deathly ill. He recovered and opened his school. Monica followed him after selling her few remaining possessions. In the meantime, Saint Symmachus offered Augustine a chair in rhetoric in Milan, after he won a competition. When she arrived in Rome, he had already left, but she hurried on to Milan.
Upon arrival in Milan, Augustine had paid a courtesy visit to Bishop Saint Ambrose. Augustine came to love the bishop as a father and went every Sunday to hear Ambrose as he preached. At the age of 30, Augustine began to see the folly of Manicheism and its gross misrepresentation of the Church, but he still did not believe. When Monica arrived in Milan, her first visit was also to Ambrose and they understood one another at once. She became his faithful disciple and Ambrose's "heart warmed to Monica because of her truly pious way of life, her zeal in good works, and her faithfulness in worship. Often when he saw [Augustine] he would break out in praise of her, congratulating [the son] on having such a mother." And Augustine wryly notes: "He little knew what sort of a son she had."
Monica and Augustine began to attend Mass together and to discuss the bishop's sermons afterwards. Monica had deeply studied philosophy and theology so that she might be able to deal intelligently with Augustine. He began to realize how many things he believed that he could not prove, but accepted on the testimony of others. Saint Monica used every possible wile to bring her son into contact with the bishop.
At his conversion, Augustine went at once to Monica and told her what had happened. Her agony was ended! He attributed his conversion primarily to her. When his instruction was over, he was baptized by Ambrose on Holy Saturday, 387.
Monica's faith purchased for the Catholic Church its keenest philosopher, most comprehensive theologian, most persuasive apologist, and most far-seeing moralist, a wise administrator, a powerful preacher, and a penetrating mystic. Countless now live under the Augustinian rule.
Four years after their arrival in Milan, during a stop at Ostia en route back to Tagaste, Monica told her son: "What I am still to do, or why I still linger in this world, I do not know. There was one reason, one alone, for which I wish to tarry a little longer: that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I die. God has granted me this boon, and more, for I see you his servant, spurning all earthly happiness. What is left for me to do in this life?" Saint Monica died about two weeks later at the age of 56, Augustine was then 33.
Saint Monica's relics are enshrined at Saint Augustine's Church in Rome near the Piazza Navona; other relics are at Arrouaise (Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, S. Delany, White).
She is venerated at Ostia (near Rome), Italy, and in all Augustinian houses. She is the patron saint of married women, mothers and alcoholics.