Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
21st Thursday in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Monica
The story of St Monica’s life is enshrined in the spiritual autobiography of her oldest son, in The Confessions of St Augustine. She was born in North Africa about 331, of Berber parents, a people who still survive today in the same areas of North Africa as a distinct ethnic group. Monica married a Latinized provincial official of Tagaste named Patricius, whom she won to the Christian faith before his death. In her earlier years she was not without worldly ambitions and tastes. But she grew in Christian maturity and spiritual insight through an ever-deepening life of prayer.
Her ambition for her gifted son was transformed into a passionate desire for his conversion to Christ. After he was baptized in Milan in 387, by St Ambrose the bishop, Augustine and his mother, together with a younger brother, planned to return home to Africa. While they were waiting for their ship at Ostia, the port of Rome, Monica got sick.
Augustine writes, “One day during her illness she had a fainting spell and lost consciousness for a short time. We hurried to her bedside, but she soon regained consciousness and looked up at my brother and me as we stood beside her. With a puzzled look, she asked ‘Where was I?’ Then, watching us closely as we stood there speechless with grief, she said, ‘You will bury your mother here’.”
Augustine’s brother expressed sorrow, for her sake, that she would die so far from her own country. She said to the two brothers, “It does not matter where you bury my body. Do not let that worry you. All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord”. To the question, whether she was not afraid at the thought of leaving her body in a foreign land, she replied, “Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world”.
Monica learned well the teaching of today’s first reading. She stood firm in the Lord and held fast to the traditions that she was taught, that Christ would raise her to life at the end of the world, and would have no trouble locating her when he did so. And by speaking as she did to her two sons at her deathbed, she has given everlasting encouragement to all of us also, strengthening us to be faithful and prudent servants, and giving us the hope that through God’s grace, we may be prepared, as Monica was, to welcome the Son of Man when he comes in glory.