St. Monica, Widow
St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, the great teacher of sacred wisdom, was a native of Africa. She was doubly a mother to the Saint; for, she not only gave him earthly life, but also spiritual life, by regenerating him for Heaven. Her parents, who were Christians and in comfortable circumstances, brought her up in modesty and virtue. She was devoted to pious exercises from early childhood. Having heard from her mother how pleasing in the sight of God it is to overcome sleep at night, and spend the time in prayer, she forthwith began to rise during the night and pray. Nor was she less devoted to the poor. She often deprived herself of food in order to supply the wants of the indigent. She never evinced any pleasure in vainly adorning her person, but always attired herself according to her station in life. In all her words as well as actions, she endeavored to be decorous and retiring. When grown up, it was her desire to live in virginal purity, but was obedient to her parents who wished her to marry. As a wife her conduct was so exemplary that she might be held up as a model for all married people. Patricius, her husband, tormented his pious wife in a thousand different ways, as he was of a violent temper, immoral, and addicted to many vices. Monica always treated him with love and gentleness, never reproaching him for his vices. She never contradicted him when, giving way to passion, he burst out into manifold curses: but waited until his anger had passed away, and then represented his faults to him with Christian calmness. Praying to God unceasingly for his conversion, she gradually changed him so completely, that he at last led a very edifying life. The women who lived in her neighborhood, and who were acquainted with the passionate temper of Patricius, often wondered that he never struck or otherwise brutally treated her, as their husbands did to them. But Monica told them the reason of it, and taught them to be submissive to their husbands, to meet them with love and gentleness, and above all things, never to contradict them when they were angry, but to bear their faults in patience and silence. But just as anxious as Monica was to live in love and peace with her husband, so was she determined not to permit strife and contention among her household, still less other vices. She had three children, two sons and one daughter, and her greatest care was to give them a Christian education. Augustine, her first born, however, was not obedient, especially after the death of his father, but led a wild, licentious life, regarding neither the admonitions, supplications, nor menaces of his pious mother, until at last, he fell into the heresy of the Manichees.
Meanwhile Monica regulated her widowhood entirely after the precepts which St. Paul gives in his first Epistle to his disciple Timothy. She was liberal towards the poor, assisted daily at Holy Mass, listened eagerly to the word of God, spent no time in idle gossiping, or in walking about; but read devotional books, prayed and worked. She would hear nothing of worldly pleasures, and still less of fine garments or other vanities. She loved solitude and lived a retired and peaceful life, her only trouble being the vicious conduct of her son. Shedding many tears, she prayed almost day and night to God for his conversion, and requested others, both of the Clergy and the laity, to pray for the same object. As she one day asked a bishop for his prayers, he said to her: “Go in peace, a son for whom his mother sheds so many tears cannot perish.” These words gave her some comfort, but she derived still more consolation from a vision in which God distinctly announced to her the conversion of her son.
In the meantime, Augustine was desirous to leave Carthage, where he had studied rhetoric, and go to Rome. Monica endeavored to prevent his going; but Augustine secretly departed while she was at church. Scarcely, however, had he arrived in Rome, when he became dangerously ill: and he ascribed it to his mother’s prayers that he did not die in his sins and go to eternal destruction. As soon as Monica was informed where her son was, she determined to go to him so as to be able to watch over him. When she, after a most dangerous sea-voyage, arrived at Milan, she found him there, as he had been called from Rome to teach rhetoric. It was then that she perceived with joy that there was a change in him, through his conversations with St. Ambrose, who, at that period, was Bishop of Milan. Monica entreated the bishop not to relax in his interest for her son, until he should be entirely converted.
At length, God in his mercy complied with the holy widow’s desire. Augustine renounced the Manichean heresy and was baptized in his 3Oth year by St. Ambrose. It may be said with truth that this conversion was the fruit of the prayers and tears of Saint Monica. The consolation that she received from her son’s conversion, may be more easily imagined than described. Soon after this event, she determined to return with her son to Africa, but having reached Ostia, where they were obliged to wait for an opportunity to continue their voyage, a slight fever overtook her. At first it was not supposed dangerous, and Augustine himself relates how edifying a conversation he had held with his holy mother on the glories of heaven. She ended it with the following words: “My son, as far as I am concerned, I expect nothing further from this world. I had only one wish, which was to see you a Catholic before I died. God has granted me more than I asked; because I see that you not only serve Him, but that you despise all earthly happiness. What, therefore, remains for me to do upon earth?” Meanwhile, her malady increased so rapidly, that nine days later, St. Monica, who so long had sighed for heaven, gave her soul, adorned with so many virtues, into the hands of her Creator, in her fifty-sixth year. What she requested before her death of her two sons who were present, St. Augustine relates as follows: “Lay my body,” said she: “where you like, and allow no thought of it to trouble you. Only one thing I request of you: remember me before the Altar of the Most High wherever you may be.” St. Augustine describes also how they placed the body of his holy mother by her open grave, and there offered the sacrifice of our Redemption, the Holy Mass, for the dead before they interred her. A clear evidence that, at that remote period, they also believed in purgatory, and prayed for the dead as we Catholics still do in our days.
The life of St. Monica may serve as a lesson and example to every one. As a virgin, she was modest and retiring, was devoted to prayer, was kind to the poor, took no pleasure in luxuries or elegant garments, married not without the knowledge and consent of her parents but more in obedience to them than because it was her own wish. These are all points which deserve to be especially considered and imitated by all unmarried persons. As wife, she showed almost wonderful reserve and patience. She suffered the wrong done to her in silence, but endeavored to reform her husband by kind persuasions and prayers. She evinced, however, the greatest solicitude to give her children a Christian education. Married people may learn from this how they ought to conduct themselves, especially if one has to suffer from the other. As widow, she passed her time in the exercise of those works I have mentioned above. She loved solitude, fled even from lawful pleasures, and avoided the slightest shadow of vanity in her attire and behavior. Oh! that all widows would consider this example well, and conform their lives to it. For, to live, after the death of the husband, the same life of vanity and dissipation, to dress just as luxuriously and proudly, to find the same delight in the pleasures of the world and seek them as frequently as in the past, to be just as indolent in the exercise of charitable deeds, to spend even more time in gossiping than in prayers or in hearing the word of God, to lead a life regulated only by a love of comfort and sensuality, perhaps, even to seek greater dangers–is not living as a widow who earnestly desires to gain her eternal salvation. St. Paul says: “If any widow have children or grandchildren; let her learn first to govern her own house, and to make a return of duty to her parents: for this is acceptable before God. But she that is a widow indeed and desolate, let her trust in God, and continue in supplications and prayers night and day. For she that lives in pleasures is dead while she is living.” (I. Timothy v.).
St. Monica had a vicious husband and a wicked son. She, however, converted both. But how and by what means? Not by strife and contention, not by abuse and injuries, not by swearing and cursing; but by patience, by tender exhortations, by constant prayers. Oh! that all women, all parents used such means when they have bad husbands or wicked children. These are not to be changed by curses and abuse. If a husband is angry, or intoxicated or otherwise unfit to listen to reason, the wife should be silent and yield, but await a suitable time to show him his faults and exhort him to better his conduct. Contradictions or curses only pour oil into the fire and increase the evil. As far as parents are concerned, they must know that they are never allowed to curse their children or to wish them evil, let the children be ever so godless and bad. The parents sin by cursing and often very heavily.
They cause many sins which their children, in the course of time commit by cursing in the same manner: for one sees every day that children learn cursing from their parents, and become themselves as accustomed to it as their parents are. And who is responsible to God for all the curses of the children but the parents, who have set them the example? I am aware of the many excuses which the parents give, and I will answer them at another time. Today, I say only this: To curse is never permitted. God forbids it. As often as parents curse their children, so often do they act in contradiction to the law of God: they sin and cause their children to sin. To curse is not a proper, neither is it an allowed means to educate children or make them better. St. Monica used quite different means and obtained what she desired. Where has there ever been a father or a mother who made a child pious by cursing? But even if it were possible to bring up a child well and make it pious by cursing, yet would it be sinful to do it with this intention. God has forbidden it: this must suffice. “Bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord,” writes St. Paul. (Eph. vi.). The correction of the Lord does not permit cursing, but on the contrary prohibits it.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.