Tuesday, August 29, 2006

St. Monica and St. Augustine

Sunday was the feast of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, and today the feast of St. Augustine. My affection for Monica is intertwined with the love and gratitude I feel for my own mother, who played a decidedly Monica-like role in my life. Not that my misspent youth was quite as colorful as Augustine’s, but neither was it seamlessly edifying. During the last year of law school, I stopped going to daily Mass. It was, as I recently told a friend, like getting off one’s meds. What followed was a lesson, learned the hard way, in the meaning and mystery of the Eucharist. A few years later, I came to my senses and returned to daily Mass.

As I say, Augustine’s profligate youth was perhaps more rambunctious than mime, but the parallel is there in any case. My father had been killed in World War II, which I was four months old. Augustine’s father had died prematurely as well. Whether those events are related or not, I cannot say, but I can say that my mother’s response to my waywardness was, like St. Monica’s, simply to pray. As I am the beneficiary of those prayers, I have long appreciated the power of prayer. Augustine wrote that his mother brought him to birth twice, and I feel the same way.

I hardly know any parents today who have not known at least some of the anxiety that Monica experienced. However faithful our children and grandchildren might be, the culture in which they must try to find their way is so filled with perils, distractions, and presuppositions antipathetic to Christian faith that concern about their steadfastness in the faith seems altogether appropriate.

So, as I do every year at this time, I think on my mother’s faithfulness and the prayers she prayed on my behalf. There’s a cynical joke: behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. It’s funny, and it contains a grain or two of truth of course. But with far less cynicism one could say that behind every person who has discovered the gift of faith is an exemplar of fidelity to whom he or she owes the greatest possible debt of gratitude.

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