This week Catholics will honor the lives of St. Monica and her son, St. Augustine. Through trust and persistent prayer of his mother, St. Augustine converted and became one of the most influential thinkers of the Church.
August 27 marks the feast day of St. Monica. Born of Christian parents in Tagaste, North Africa in 333, Monica’s life can never be separated from that of her son, the great St. Augustine, convert, bishop, and doctor of the Church. What we know of her for the most part is the account that Augustine gives of her in his Confessions.
We are told but little of her childhood. She was married early in life to a man named Patritius who held an official position in Tagaste. He was a pagan, though like so many at that period, his religion was no more than a name; his temper was violent and his habits appeared to be immoral.
There was, of course, a gulf between husband and wife; her almsgiving and her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence. By Monica’s sweetness and patience, she began a successful apostolate amongst the wives and mothers of her native town; they knew that she suffered as they did, and her words and example had a proportionate effect.
The couple had three children, Augustine the eldest, Navigius the second, and a daughter, Perpetua. Monica had been unable to secure baptism for her children, and was greatly grieved when Augustine fell ill; in her distress she besought Patritius to allow him to be baptized; he agreed, but on the boy's recovery withdrew his consent.
All Monica's anxiety now centered on Augustine; he was wayward and, as he himself tells us, lazy. He was sent to Madaura to school and Monica seems to have literally wrestled with God for the soul of her son.
During this time, Monica did receive a great consolation as her husband converted to Christianity shortly before his death.
Augustine then went to study at Carthage. He had become a Manichean, news which caused Monica to kick him out of her house. She went tearfully to the bishop to ask him to help and he responded famously, "the child of those tears shall never perish."
One night, Augustine left for Rome and Monica followed him the whole way and met St. Ambrose who was able to see the conversion of her son and his baptism after 17 years of tears and prayer.
Monica died at Ostia, near Rome in 387.
One day following St. Monica’s feast, the Church honors St. Augustine. Augustine was born at the town of Tagaste (now Souk-Ahras, in modern day Algeria) on November 13, 354 and grew to become one the most significant and influential thinkers in the history of the Catholic Church. His teachings were the foundation of Christian doctrine for a millennium.
The story of his life, up until his conversion, is written in the autobiographical Confessions, the most intimate and well-known glimpse into an individual's soul ever written, as well as a fascinating philosophical, theological, mystical, poetic and literary work.
Augustine, though being brought up in early childhood as a Christian, lived a dissolute life of revelry and sin, and soon drifted away from the Church - thinking that he wasn't necessarily leaving Christ, of whose name he acknowledges "I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, did not altogether carry me away" (Confessions, I, iv).
He went to study in Carthage and became well-known in the city for his brilliant mind and rhetorical skills and sought a career as an orator or lawyer. But he also discovered and fell in love with philosophy at the age of 19, a love he pursued with great vehemence.
He was attracted to Manichaeanism at this time, after its devotees had promised him that they had scientific answers to the mystery of nature, could disprove the Scriptures, and could explain the problem of evil. Augustine became a follower for nine years, learning all there was to learn in it before rejecting it as incoherent and fraudulent.
He went to Rome and then Milan in 386 where he met Saint Ambrose, the bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose sermons inspired him to look for the truth he had always sought in the faith he had rejected. He received baptism and soon after, his mother, Saint Monica, died with the knowledge that all she had hoped for in this world had been fulfilled.
He returned to Africa, to his hometown of Tagaste, "having now cast off from himself the cares of the world, he lived for God with those who accompanied him, in fasting, prayers, and good works, meditating on the law of the Lord by day and by night."
On a visit to Hippo he was proclaimed priest and then bishop against his will. He later accepted it as the will of God and spent the rest of his life as the pastor of the North African town, from where he spent much time refuting the writings of heretics.
Augustine also wrote, The City of God, against the pagans who charged that the fall of the Roman empire, which was taking place at the hands of the Vandals.
On August 28, 430, as Hippo was under siege by the Vandals, Augustine died, at the age of 76. His legacy continues to deeply shape the face of the Church to this day.