Saturday, August 27, 2011

Loved Ones and Lost Souls: The story of St. Monica and St. Augustine

Feast day of St. Monica: August 27th
Feast day of St. Augustine: August 28th

In honor of these two great Saints and so as to give hope to those who are praying for the salvation of a friend, family member or acquaintance, "Loved ones and Lost Souls" is being reposted.

Through the saved, God very often searches for the lost. Loved ones of lost souls are the means by which the Good Shepherd finds his lost sheep.

This couldn't be truer for St. Monica who, in the fourth century, followed her son, Augustine Aurelius, all the way to Milan, Italy from her home in northern Africa. At the time, St. Augustine was pursuing a career in teaching rhetoric. He didn’t particularly like her tagging along, so he tried to find ways to lose her. However, she was determined to track her oldest son down so that he could be won over to Christ.

In his youth, St. Augustine was an intellectual who was given over to false beliefs about God and the world. He was also a worldly and sensual man; as such, he did not have any scruples about “shacking up” with his lover. Living the wild life, he presumed the Lord’s patience by praying, “God, make me chaste…but not yet.” As one might expect, a baby came from this out-of-wedlock union. The boy was given the name, Adeodatus. St. Augustine, being the wayward son that he was, would be the source of sorrow for his saintly mother.

Mother Theresa once told a friend of mine that for those souls who need to be saved from moral and spiritual darkness- such as prostitution and drug addiction -a price needs to be paid. Jesus said as much to the disciples wheb they failed to exorcise a man possessed with demons: "But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” St. Monica, in her mystical union with the Lord, needed to pay the price for her son Augustine. It can be said, she “carried about in her heart the dying of Jesus.” (cf. II Cor. 4:10) What was true for St.Monica is true for every Christian. And that is, "Christ's sufferings overflow to us."(I Cor 1:5) His Passion does not render our sacrifices null and void. On the contrary, Jesus suffered for sinners so that we could suffer for sinners. Augustine’s soul was purchased with his mother’s tears; and those tears were mingled with the blood of Christ.

St. Monica, however, was given some relief through a dream she had. It would seem that her prayers were heard. In the book, Confessions, St. Augustine relates the following about what would turn out to be a prophetic dream of his mother:

“She saw herself standing upon a certain wooden rule [a measuring rod which symbolized the rule of Faith], and coming towards her a young man, splendid, joyful and smiling upon her, although she grieved and was crushed with grief. When he asked her the reason for her sorrow and her daily tears- he asked, as is the custom, not for the sake of learning but for the sake of teaching –she replied that she lamented for my perdition. Then he bade her to rest secure and instructed her that she should attend and see that where she was, there was I also. And when she looked there she saw me standing on the same rule.”

Soon thereafter, St. Monica arrived in Milan only to join the company of a great bishop, St. Ambrose. She sought his counsel and how she might save her son from the erroneous sect called Manichaeism. In response, Bishop Ambrose said to her, “Only pray to the Lord on his behalf. He will find out by reading what the character of that error is and how great is its impiety.” She then implored the saintly bishop to talk to Augustine. But St. Ambrose refused. He said to St. Monica that her son needed to be willing to talk to him; that a conversation about the Faith should not be imposed or forced. Nevertheless, she persisted, with tears flowing, in asking the same favor over and over again. Finally, St. Ambrose grew annoyed and said, “Go away from me now! As you live, it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” (That’s right. Saints get annoyed too). In any case, instead of getting offended, St. Monica took it as a sign from heaven that her prayers and sacrifices would pay off.

Those words of the saintly bishop would redound in her heart. "It is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” The tears of St. Monica were the anointing applied to St. Augustine's soul before his sins were wiped clean from the waters of baptism. When a son or daughter strays from Christ, sometimes the tears of a mother make up for the lack of tears we ought to have for our own sins.

As for St. Monica, her perseverance paid off. To make a long story short, St. Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, entered the Catholic Church in the year 387 A.D. After being initiated into his new life with Christ, he became Bishop of Hippo in northern Africa. He would go on to lay the cornerstone of Western Civilization with his sanctity and theology. To be sure, St. Augustine is considered one of the most important Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Church. All this was made possible by a mother who did not give up.

On her deathbed, St. Monica glanced at her son and said, "Remember me at the altar." It just so happened that prayers for her soul in purgatory were unnecessary; for she did not go there. Instead, her intercession would be invoked by the Church in subsequent years.

On earth, St. Monica traveled many miles so that she could follow her son, St. Augustine, so that he might find eternal life. But in the year 430 A.D., St. Augustine followed his mother to heaven.

Throughout the centuries, these two great Saints became benefactors for those parents whose children had walked away from Christ and His Church. God counted the tears of St. Monica and they added up. What God did in the fourth century for St. Monica, He could do for twenty-first century parents who find themselves in similar circumstances.


Follow Up Commentary: Old stories do not help much if they have no relevance to today's circumstances. The story of St. Monica and St. Augustine provides a general lesson of perseverance and penance for those lost souls we care about.

I remember listening to Relevant Radio when a mother called in to express some of her concerns about her daughter. This particular mother said that her family prays the rosary everyday and attends Mass on a regular basis. However, she felt that she was losing her daughter over important moral issues like homosexuality. The woman went on to add that her daughter attended a public high school which itself was a challenge to her daughter's faith at times.

From high school to college, the social and intellectual temptations of young adults to abandon their faith only intensifies. In early 2010, a Pew Forum poll found that “nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 (18%) say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith.” Younger generations are found to be more liberal on social issues and less favorable to organized religion.

Upon finding out that their son or daughter no longer goes to church on Sunday's, parents indistinctly want to push their children back through the church doors and into Mass. What these parents deem to be the solution is very often the problem. Participating in the Divine Liturgy (or the Mass), presupposes an active relationship with Christ. Daily prayer, Scripture reading, table conversations and a Christian social life are the conditions on which Mass attendance makes sense and is worth getting up in the morning for. If Catholicism is not a 24/7 lifestyle- and instead is a once a week activity -I am afraid that young adults will grow indifferent to it.

For parents who are concerned over the faith of their children, I have this suggestion: Don't worry about Mass attendance of your son or daughter right away. Instead of pushing Sunday Mass attendance from the start, talk to them about Jesus, about prayer, about heaven and hell, about your own answered prayers and your personal experience with the Lord. Cultivate their personal relationship with Jesus. If this sounds too fundamentalistic, it is not; it has been a Catholic principle since the beginning. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist is built on the interior life lived during the week. Even the reception of Communion presupposes that the person is free from mortal sin.

As Jesus said, "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Before the altar, therefore, there are things that must be in order: Communication and reconciliation with God and with neighbor are paramount.

The encounter with Christ as an individual must come before encountering Christ at the altar, where the Church gathers.