St. Monica was likely born in the year 331 AD and died in the year 387 AD. Her husband was a Roman of minor nobility named Patricius, and with Patricius, Monica had three children, one of whom was named Augustine. Augustine would become one of the premiere converts to the Catholic faith, and his works of theology and spirituality are among the greatest of the treasures of the Church.
But the path from Augustine to St. Augustine would not be clear and easy. Augustine spent much of his youth resisting Christ and the Church, and this resistance caused his mother, Monica, much in tears and in turmoil.
Monica petitioned the Lord for years that he might intervene in the life of her son. When this intervention finally did take place, and Augustine came to know Christ and accepted a life as a disciple in the Church, Monica was overjoyed, but would not live long enough to see the full flowering of Augustine’s faith.
Petitionary prayer is the most common kind of prayer offered by the faithful, and though common, it is perhaps the most mysterious.
The Lord knows our needs better than we do and nothing that we request of him comes as a surprise. Further, our petitionary prayer, no matter how eloquent or persistent, has no power to force God to act in accord with our desires. We ask God for many things in prayer, but the deepest purpose of our petitions is not to get what we want, but to discern what God wants. Augustine’s conversion to Christ happened, but it happened on the Lord’s terms, not Monica’s.
St. Monica trusted that God in Christ would not abandon her son to a directionless life of faithlessness and dissolution. She trusted that God’s purposes for her son’s life were greater than what his narrow perceptions could conceive. This act of trust, which is truly a manifestation of the theological virtue of hope, became the crucible through which Monica’s sanctity was accomplished.
God’s purposes were as much accomplished in Monica’s willingness to abide in hope that God ultimately loved her son, even though he resisted that love as his purposes were accomplished in Augustine’s conversion to Christ.
It was not Augustine’s conversion that made Monica a saint, but her willingness to surrender her will to Christ’s, and in this surrender, to abide in hope that Christ’s purposes for Augustine would one day be fulfilled. Monica lived to see that day, but even if she had not, her sanctification would have been accomplished.
Hope is one of the least remembered and least understood of the great theological virtues. This is sad in so many ways, as it is often because people are bereft of hope that they refuse to believe and refuse to love.
Hope is not merely optimism but an act of trust that God, who did not abandon Christ to the powers of sin and death and the devil, will also not abandon us. Hope dares to believe that God’s purposes will be fulfilled even if we cannot foresee how this will be possible or when such fulfillment will take place.
On this day that the Church remembers the witness of St. Monica, let us renew ourselves in the hope that is instilled in us by the promises of Christ the Lord.