I remember when I was younger, hearing the old adage, that ‘Behind every good man, there stands an even better woman‘…. Saint Monica of Hippo was one such woman.
Born in North Africa in the town of Tagaste, she was raised by Christian parents. Not much is written about her childhood, but we do know that as the result of an arranged marriage, she was wed at an early age to a pagan official named Patritius. Her husband was known to disregard his role as husband and provider for his wife and often carried on in inappropriate relations with other women. In addition to this he was a violent man who often had fits of anger towards Monica. Some claim that even though her husband was annoyed by her habits and generosity with others, that because of her devout and pious nature, he could not bring himself to carry out acts of physical violence against her, he never raised his hand against her….but he did yell at her and insult and her…offering nothing but anguish for the young wife. Her married life was a far cry from being a happy and joyous one…but Monica relied on God and stayed true to her Faith, and with sweetness and patience, set a good example to all those who knew her…eventually even her husband.…
The marriage bond brought forth three children who survived infancy, Augustine, Navigius and a daughter named Perpetua. And although she was happy raising her young children, her heart was grieved because Patritius would not allow her to have the children baptized. Once when Augustine was extremely ill, she pleaded so much, that Patritius had agreed to allow him to be baptized, but as soon as Augustine regained his health, he withdrew his permission. This event caused the mother to focus most of her energy and prayers on Augustine, who had already begun his downward spiral away from the Lord.
As Augustine grew, he soon followed the pagans ways of his father. He was lazy and arrogant, clinging to heresies. And even though he was a brilliant man, he refused to accept the True Faith of the Church and broke his mother’s heart. There are accounts that say that Monica wept for Augustine every night…pleading for his conversion. It was during this time, that Monica received a bit of consolation from the Lord…her husband Patritius was converted and became a Christian. Soon after he became gravely ill and died…but at least with his conversion, Monica’s soul was at peace. But Monica still had troubling days ahead of her, for shortly after his father’s death, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his studies…only to fall deeper into his life of sin.
When Augustine returned home to his mother, he brought with him heretical ideas. As he spouted these ideas from his mouth, Monica drove him out of her house. But after a vision, in which she was assured that Augustine would come to the Faith, she called him back into her home.
During these years her other children were living lives as Christians, and Monica focused all of her energy on Augustine. Always remaining in close contact with him….trying …praying for his conversion. When Augustine was going to Rome, he told his mother that he was just going to the dock to bid a friend farewell. When she found out what he had done, she was heartbroken , but found her way to Rome to be with her son again. She then followed him to Milan. It was here that the two met Saint Ambrose. His teachings influenced the two, Saint Augustine began to study the Faith and St. Ambrose became the spiritual director of Monica.
Under the spiritual guidance of Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine converted and became one of the most prolific writers in the history of the Catholic Church. Monica and her son were able to spend six months together after he was baptized. These were the happiest days of her life. She told Augustine that there was no more for her to do here on earth, and then in the year 387, Monica left this earthly life. Some of St. Augustine’s writings in his “Confessions” were inspired by his holy mother.
As faithful Catholics in a modern world, where we expect everything to be done here and now…when we expect everything ought to be done just so…we should look to Saint Monica and pray for help with our own lack of patience in the face of our own adversaries. When our families don’t convert…or our spouses may not live up to what we expect of them…let us remember this holy and pious women who spent her entire adult life praying fasting and suffering for the conversion of her family… often times fighting small battles with them so that they could find it in their heart to convert to the Lord. Though she was often heartbroken by those she loved, she always remained devoted and charitable with her actions and her words. Saint Monica pray for us. Amen.