"You are never far from God"
It is so easy for us to think that saints are people who are more unlike us than like us! After all, they are models of holiness, which not many of us would say about ourselves. In learning the stories of our saints, we often discover that they are a mix of ordinary and extraordinary, and sometimes we are quite surprised to learn that something about them that makes them more like us than unlike us. Today’s feast—that of Saint Monica-celebrates such a saint.
Monica has been special for me for two reasons. My mother wanted to name me Monica because I was born on her feast when it was in May in the “old calendar” of the Church. My father didn’t like the name, so that did not come to be. When I arrived in Rome to begin my doctoral studies, I discovered that Monica was buried in the church that became my parish church, so I sought her support and intercession often during the five years that I called San Agostino my parish.
Monica was not a Christian by birth. Raised in a well-to-do family in North Africa, she discovered as a child a taste for wine, and by the time she was a teen had become dependent on sipping wine in the cellar! As a young adult, she realized the problem and stopped drinking. She married Patricius, who was a man with a violent temper, and so lived in a home touched by violence. By this time, she had become a Christian and had discovered the strength that can be found in faith, and as she shared at the time of her death, that “nothing is far from God.” She and Patricius had three children and so for many years, she lived a quite ordinary life of trying to make her marriage work, raise her children and be of service to the community. Her faith became both her source of strength and a witness to the enduring power of love.
Her husband eventually converted and cited the steady love of Monica as a compelling case for the difference faith can make in a person’s life. But, as many of us know, it was her son Augustine who made Monica’s story an enduring one. It was Augustine who tried his mother’s faith—in a big way! Smart, with an opportunity to study at a great university, he spent more time at parties than in the library. Once, when she asked him how they could be closer, he suggested she give up the faith, as that was a big obstacle for him! Monica was confident that if she remained faithful to her lifestyle and faithful to praying for her son and trusted that God had a plan, her prayers would be answered.
Many of us know the rest of the story—Augustine not only converted but became one of the greatest of Christian thinkers. How beautiful that Monica lived long enough to see some of the fruits of her prayer and share the faith with her son.
Monica teaches us about the strength a close relationship with God brings—a strength that both allows us to remain true to ourselves in the face of pressure to change and never to give up on prayer—even if the odds look insurmountable! In her ability to face life’s struggles head on and not give in to despair, she reveals the life of a #marketplacemystic.