Celebrating Mothers: Saint Monica

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In one week, we celebrate Mother’s Day here in the U.S. and May 4th is the feast day of the patron saint of mothers, St. Monica who was the mother of the great fourth century theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo. She is honored and remembered for her outstanding Christian virtues, particularly the suffering against the adultery of her husband and a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her beloved son, who wrote extensively of her pious acts and life in his Confessions. Popular Christian legends recalls Monica to have wept every night for her son.

Born in 332, she lived at Tagaste in North Africa (now Souk Ahras, Algeria). She was married early in life to Patritius who held an official position in that city. He was a pagan and had a violent temper and appears to have had dissolute habits. Her problems were made worse by the presence of a hostile mother-in-law in the house and Monica used alcohol as an escape.

She eventually overcame her addiction. Due to her unhappy married life, there was a gulf between husband and wife. Her alms deeds and her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence. Monica was able to win over her husband and he converted to Christianity in 370. He died the following year. She then turned her efforts to the eldest of her three children, Augustine, who was at the time leading a life of debauchery and self-indulgence. Augustine tried to escape his mother’s efforts by fleeing to Italy in 383. But mom followed him first to Rome and then to Milan. It was at Milan, with the help of St. Ambrose, that Augustine converted to the Christian faith in 386 and was baptized the following year. It has been said that Monica then declared that all her hopes had now been fulfilled and that she had no more need of life on earth. Soon after on the journey home to North Africa, she died at Ostia in Italy.

About the 13th century, the cult of St. Monica began to spread and her feast day was set on May 4. Her relics are kept in a chapel to the left of the high altar in the Basilica of St. Augustine in Rome. The city of Santa Monica, California is named after her. A legend states that in the 18th century Father Juan Crespi named a local dripping spring Las Lagrimas de Santa Monica or “Saint Monica’s Tears” (now known as the Serra Springs) that was reminiscent of Monica’s tears that were shed over her son’s early impiety. There is a statue of this beloved saint in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park by sculptor Eugene Morahan which was completed in 1934.

St. Monica is a wonderful and inspiring example of motherhood. Monica was a patient wife and mother who dearly loved her son despite his sinful lifestyle. She prayed for her son’s conversion on a daily basis and of course celebrated when he finally came to faith. I believe all mothers can look to Monica and be inspired by her.

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