Saturday, August 30, 2008

St. Monica and St. Augustine

I'm sure a few of you figured I'd just missed their feast days this past week. Not exactly. I've just had my hair on fire from work and home stuff and didn't get the chance to comment.

St. Monica, of course, was Augustine's mother. She seems to have cried a great deal throughout her life. First, she wept and prayed for the conversion of her pagan husband, Patricius. He was an ill-tempered guy and may have had a few other very bad personality traits as well. Keep in mind that pretty much everything we know about Monica and Patricius is from Augustine's Confessions, so it's tough to tell on the details sometimes. Anyways, God rewarded her efforts. Patricius was baptized about a year before he died.

This left her seventeen years or so to cry and pray over Augustine, who due to his father, had never been baptized and was now not only living as a Manichean heretic, but also shacking up with a girl and fathering an illegitimate child. Augustine was something of a smart aleck in all these travails and essentially walking proof that pride is the root of all sin. Being a know-it-all was his trademark.

Monica chased Augustine from North Africa to Rome to Milan, where she met the great St. Ambrose who had begun to have a profound effect on her wayward son. Ambrose's tutelage eventually helped open Augustine's soul to God's grace. Having a quasi-mystical experience in reading Holy Scripture didn't hurt either. It was Romans 13:13-14 that did the trick:

Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ: and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.
Monica would go on to her eternal reward shortly thereafter.

Augustine, of course, would become one of the greatest (possibly the greatest) of the Church Fathers. He would almost single-handedly break the backs of three particularly venomous heresies: his own former pals, the Manichees; the Donatists; and the one that has been resurrected with particular gusto in our own day, Pelagianism (basically the idea that we can make it to heaven on our own, sans grace).

His conversion, as told in his Confessions is probably the most moving spiritual account you will ever read. His mother's torment over Augustine's potential damnation remains a lesson to all modern folk who are complacent and perfectly Ok with their friends and loved ones currently trodding the wrong path. Asking them for help is a worthwhile venture should you find yourself in this situation. Regardless of the circumstances, getting to the Wedding Feast a bit late is irrelevant, as long as you do get there.

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within and I was without. I was looking for Thee out there, and I threw myself, deformed as I was, upon those well-formed things which Thou hast made. Thou wert with me, yet I was not with Thee. These things held me far from Thee, things which would not have existed had they not been in Thee. Thou didst call and cry out and burst in upon my deafness; Thou didst shine forth Thy fragrance, and I drew in my breath and now I pant for Thee; I have tasted, and now I hunger and thirst; Thou didst touch me, and I was inflamed with desire for Thy peace.

St. Monica and St. Augustine, pray for us.

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