Monica’s fourth-century world is remarkably similar to our own; she lived in a time when Christianity was just beginning and paganism still had a hold. She felt alone at times and was unsure about how to handle her wayward son, but her example in these difficulties offers a way forward to parents in similar situations.
“The love of Christ carried her through,” Salonen told CNA. “She took that love and poured it into others.”
St. Ambrose, who served as bishop of Milan from 374–397, told Monica to “speak less to your son about God, and more to God about your son” — advice Armstrong and Salonen took to heart.
“She had to learn the art of letting go — of her desire to control her son’s soul, and place her worries for him into God’s heart,” Salonen said. “We all seek the peace with which she ended her life, knowing her son had reclaimed Christ. But in the meantime, we can do what Monica did, deepening our faith, bringing others who are ready to Christ, and living in hope.”
Many parents think they are alone in this suffering, but it’s actually remarkably common.
Armstrong and Salonen host a private Facebook group called “Catholic Parents: What Would Monica Do?” where loved ones of fallen away Catholics share resources, triumphs, and sorrows. “We’d love to have [anyone] join us and pray with us as we walk through this journey together, with St. Monica and Our Lord ever near,” Salonen said.
Advice for parents
Armstrong and Salonen offer parents in similar situations the following advice:
Surrender yourselves and your children to God: The book includes many tools and examples to draw on so that parents need not feel helpless, such as Scripture, saint stories, ongoing stories from other parents, and many interviews addressing issues such as anger, forgiveness, our complicated culture and Church, worry, guilt, and more.
Allow yourself to grieve what you feel has been lost — your hopes and dreams for your child in terms of living a vibrant faith life — but don’t stay there: Through daily surrender, parents can place that sorrow in more capable hands, remembering their children are God’s first.
Be open to inner growth and transformation: “If we’re open to it, God will transform our hearts through this process of feeling rejected and help us see that it’s not us they’re rejecting, but him,” Salonen said.
Love your child deeply: While parents wait and pray for their child’s return, they can love them deeply. “Love must rule our actions in every way,” Salonen said.
Take an eternal perspective: There are ways of reframing that can help parents view things from the eternal perspective. “We need to not set deadlines for God,” Salonen said. “Let him do the great soul work that he did in St. Augustine, as Monica continued to pray and hope, focusing on enlivening the lives of others.”
Above all, Armstrong said, she hopes parents remember that children have free will and cannot be controlled, and it’s not going to help to beat yourself up about the past. “Go to confession and apologize to God and whoever you need to for your failings,” she encouraged parents. “Then move on and trust in God as you go deeper in your own faith.”
Salonen hopes readers know that the book isn’t just for parents and grandparents.
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“It’s really about carrying the cross of any kind of loss,” she said. “What do we do when our hearts are breaking, and we realize we have no control? We need to find a way to pick ourselves back up and begin to have hope again.”
Armed with help from God, the Blessed Mother, and many saints, parents and grandparents can step into difficult situations with grace and help make a pathway back for their loved ones.