Years ago I found a marvelous prayer book at a second-hand store. “Mother Love” proved to be a useful resource. Published by the Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers, it is still in print today. It leaves me a bit wistful to contemplate how this book made it to a second-hand shop. Lovingly inscribed by a mother to a daughter, I would wonder if the book’s purchaser had been a ‘St. Monica’ type – worried for her daughter’s spiritual well-being.
“St. Monica should have had such a resource,” I would think to myself, closing the book after begging the saint’s intercession for my children. But better than any book, faith was the resource the St. Monica had. Monica’s husband Patricius was not – to put it as sarcastically as possible – ‘a supportive husband.’ An adulterous, pagan husband with anger issues was the beginning of her troubles. He forbade baptism for their three children. Monica suffered and prayed. With hindsight it is a little too easy to smile when thinking in particular of her famous recalcitrant, reprobate, dissolute and plain ol’ lazy son. For we know him as St. Augustine, one of the Doctors of the Church. She simply knew him as her son for whom her heart ached. Though a bishop had proclaimed that “the child of those tears shall never perish,” one must marvel at the loving resolve that St. Monica had. The number of years that passed before Augustine converted to Christianity is not just an interesting Catholic statistic. For Monica, those years were lived one day at a faith filled time.
What came to mind when I had thought about St. Monica? Of course she shed many tears. But in the end her son was, after all that travail, a saint. Would she understand me? Would she understand the trauma of cleaning up after an imploded 8 Ball on a rainy vacation day? (that blue liquid is indelible!) Did she ever put her hand through a window, tapping to get her children’s attention? Did Augustine pilfer change when he heard the ice cream truck approaching? Did Monica have to nail the windows shut to keep a rebellious Perpetua from sneaking out during the night? Well, I think you understand the comparisons I make. Fortunately, the fruit of much prayer is the knowledge that motherhood is not a suffering competition. Not only not a suffering competition, also not a holiness competition. As I should not compare my number of tears to St. Monica’s – or any other mother’s – I should also not be comparing my children’s holiness to others. That is the sad path to frustration and likely more tears.
And St. Monica’s foremost gift to us, as a role model, is not the tears. It is faith, a faith well lived. Augustine’s mother could have cried a river over marital woes, motherly anxiety and plain disappointment. Anyone can cry when sufficiently provoked. Even the less lachrymose types, such as I. But what we hope to emulate is the sustained prayer, not necessarily the sustained tears.
One mother bites her tongue because her young child insists upon mismatched apparel for church as another mother bites her lip as her rebellious child sings along to cynical and hypnotic “Take Me to Church” with a convert’s fervor. One mother cries because her child makes her late for church, as another mother not far away cries because her child’s next trip to church will be a funeral.
A mother’s tears are a mother’s tears. The causes of the tears are not equal but those slings and arrows of the mother’s lot tear at us as they will. Motherhood is indeed a joyous privilege. But the love that binds us to our children will surely also bring anxieties and, of course, a fair share of tears. Yes, St. Monica understands. We can ask her intercession and, likewise, remember to rely on her most trusted resource, faith and prayer. Faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ and knowledge that prayer is the first and best tool at any mother’s disposal.