Homily from Feast Day of St. Monica
Memorial of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine
Liturgy of the Eucharist, Crosier Community of Onamia
“In the flesh she brought me to birth in this world, in her heart she brought me to birth in Your eternal life” (Confessions). With these words, St. Augustine describes his mother, St. Monica, whose memorial we celebrate today. To be born in Gods eternal life is our aim. This Eucharist nourishes us on that journey. Let’s call upon God’s mercy and strength.
Reflection given by Fr. Pierre-Paul Walraet, osc
The saint the Church calls us to remember on Aug. 27, is to be commemorated in light of the saint we celebrate on Aug. 28. Today, St. Monica. Tomorrow, St. Augustine. Today, the mother. Tomorrow, the son. Today, a liturgical memorial. Tomorrow—for us Crosiers—a liturgical feast.
Most of us may think that tomorrow’s saint could only get to the point of sainthood thanks to the holy woman the Church commemorates today. To a certain extend this might be true. But, the fact that mother and son figure on the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church in two consecutive days, is not necessarily an indicator of an existing close relationship between Monica and Augustine, during their lifetime here on earth.
Up until the summer of 386 AD, the relationship between Monica and Augustine, was at least troubled. Augustine was kind of blind for the leads his mother was trying to provide for him. When Augustine joined Manichaeism, Monica—disappointed in her son—threw him out of the house, including his concubine and their son. Probably an understandable reaction of a pious Christian mother to a heretic son.
But, when Augustine planned to move from North Africa to Rome for professional reasons, he found his way to flee from the ongoing influence of his mother. “Go, you pray in St. Cyprian’s chapel for a safe journey, I will buy the tickets.” But he bought only one, for himself, took the boat and could escape from her…Later, Monica would be able to join her son in Milan.
When the bishop of Hippo, Augustine, writes his Confessions, he is much more appreciative about his mother whom he boldly describes as "female in gender, with the faith of a man, with the serenity of great age, the love of a mother, and the spirit of a Christian" (Confessions IX). Monica must have been smart. She was able to argue. She could offer striking insights. That became evident during the quite lengthy community retreat at Cassiciacum, shortly after the famous breakthrough in Augustine’s long conversion journey. Monica was not merely present “to work in the kitchen” or “do the laundry.” She was active in the philosophical discourses that Augustine recorded.
What happened shortly before Monica died, is beautifully represented in a painting that is now kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Augustine and Monica, son and mother, are
sitting next to each other. Monica holds Augustine’s left hand in her hands. Both are looking upwards. The painting refers to the Vision of Ostia; a vision of strength and glory (Psalm 149). This vision, at length narrated in Book IX of Confessions, culminated in one moment no longer than a heartbeat, in which both mother and son—and as an outcome of a process of inner transcending—could experience God’s peace for which in particular the heart of Augustine was burning. When life is carried by the love of God, and no longer burdened by the love of “lesser things” in preference to God such experience can happen.
Monica died in Ostia Antica, Italy, in 387 AD, and was buried there. Now her relics are kept in a chapel that is part of the St. Augustine Basilica in the center of Rome. It seems that Pope Francis has a strong devotion to St. Monica. The Maltese Augustinian Cardinal, Prosper Grech, once said in an interview that Pope Francis "often went to visit her tomb, to pause for a moment and to pray.” And the cardinal added, “As an Augustinian, I hope that Pope Francis will fall in love ever more also with St. Augustine, whom however he does not ignore.”
The “story” of today, continues tomorrow.
(St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica by Ary Scheffer; painting from 1846)