Every time St. Monica and her life story comes across my life of ministry, I always recall of her motherly love and persistence in praying for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine. I see her struggles in many present-day Monica’s who are waiting and praying for the conversion of their loved ones as I get the chances to meet and listen to many people who share a similar fate like her. Their worries and tears for their loved ones, as well as the accompanied emotional and spiritual pains and sufferings, move even the hardest of hearts. I, myself, also personally sympathize and empathize with her story and many people’s stories as I have a list of people that I am praying for in particular. Nevertheless, I invite you to pray the Collect — Introductory Prayer — for her Memorial Mass with me, which beautifully sums many of our sentiments in a very loving way:
who console the sorrowful
and who mercifully accepted
the motherly tears of Saint Monica
for the conversion of her son Augustine,
grant us, through the intercession of them both,
that we may bitterly regret our sins and find the grace of your pardon.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
I believe the first lesson that we can learn from the saint is her persistent trust. She never gave up even though things were not developing in her own timing. She spent a lot of her life in prayers for her husband and children. Her husband took a good while before he converted, as well as her children (especially the spiritually-stubborn and hard-headed Augustine), yet the loving saint never gave up in prayer. It is so easy for us to give up right away when we do not get the result that we want. It is so easy for us to walk away from God when we are hurt or do not understand why He would grant something else instead of what we asked for. Too often, we come to prayer with an exact, immediate, or near-future demand instead of putting our trust in the Lord. We blame God when things do not go our way and try to find things to remediate and fix our problems instead of staying with God in and through the problem, trial, suffering, or obstacle. Do we truly believe that no matter what happened or will happen, He will never abandon us? Can we trust that He hears our prayers, understands our hearts, and cares for us more than we can comprehend or see for ourselves? Are we willing to stay faithful even though we do not get what we want? Those are hard questions to answer especially when things do not go our way. Yet, faith teaches us that our relationship with God is not dependent on what we can get out of Him, but on His faithful love for us. A real relationship is based on loving trust, not what we can quantifiably objectified or benefit ourselves. St. Monica did that when she persisted, stayed faithful, and continued to pray for her family and their spiritual well being for many years.
Second, I believe we can learn from her that we can continue to pray and love those who are lost. This is a hard challenge, especially when we do not feel like our prayers are answered or when the people who are lost had hurt us in the past. Perhaps of my strict Vietnamese culture, I had seen family members and those who call themselves Christians shunned away someone because he or she does not live up to their expectations or done something to “smear” or “dishonor” the family’s name. We have to remind this important understanding and principle: the Church always teaches that we do not — ever — hate the person for he or she is made in the image and likeness of God! We preach, call out, and hate the sins, wrongdoings, and evils that were done but we never hate, despite, and condemn the person to the point of keeping him or her outside of our prayers and stop praying for his or her own conversion and eternal salvation. I would like to encourage each and every one of us to never let our humanity and ego stop us from loving and praying for someone spiritually. Why? So that the Lord can work in his or her own life just as He does in our own’s!
Furthermore, we are called to love and never forget to bring the person to the Lord spiritually through prayer and through our own sacrificial offering at Mass, even if he or she might not be interested or far away from the faith at the moment. One of my spiritual directors once said in his homily on St. Monica that we can learn from her example to bring that special someone to Mass with us, as we unite and offer our own sacrifices, uniting them to the Holy Sacrifice of Christ, even when he or she is far away, lost, or do not care anything about the spiritual life of faith right now. It is a beautiful sacrifice and offering when we are able to offer the ones that we care about and love the most to the Lord when we come to Mass! Just as the Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself for us on the Cross and gave His Body and Blood in the Eucharist as the nourishment for our body and soul, we can unite our love and its pains, sufferings, and sorrows to the Lord as we firmly trust and put our hope in the infinite love of Christ. It is a radical, hope-filled, and faith-founded act of trust in divine providence, believing that He knows, understands, and cares for each and every one of us even more than we can understand ourselves. If we truly believe and trust in the ultimate sacrifice of the Mass, why not unite what is dearest to our heart to Christ’s own loving sacrifice for our salvation and redemption? It is always a beautiful gesture to see people offering a Mass intention for their loved ones or list their prayer needs in our parish’s prayerbook. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite activities to do as a priest is to check, unite and lift up prayer needs written in the book or when someone emailed me their petitions.
St. Monica teaches us through her life that we can and need to trust in God even though we might not see the results right away. St. Augustine wrote beautifully in his Confessions of her last moment, contributing her efficacious prayers and persistent trust in the Lord to his own conversion and love of God:
Forgetting what lay in the past, and stretching out to what was ahead, we enquired between ourselves, in the light of present truth, into what you are and what the eternal life of the saints would be like, for Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor human heart conceived it. And yet, with the mouth of our hearts wide open we panted thirstily for the celestial streams of your fountain, the fount of life which is with you.
This was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. Yet you know, O Lord, how on that very day, amid this talk of ours that seemed to make the world with all its charms grow cheap, she said, “For my part, my son, I no longer find pleasure in anything that this life holds. What I am doing here still, or why I am still here, I do not know, for worldly hope has withered away for me. One thing only there was for which I desired to linger in this life: to see you a Catholic Christian before I died. And my God has granted this to me more lavishly than I could have hoped, letting me see even you spurning earthly happiness to be his servant. What am I still doing here?”
Her life and faith remind us that nothing else is more important and worthwhile than our trust in the Lord and our prayers for the conversion and salvation of souls. While our society can entice us with many things, the saintly woman teaches us that the greatest gift we can give to our loved ones is that they come to know the truth and experience the personal and intimate love of God in their own lives. What greater gift can we give to our future generations if it is not the love of God? What could be more satisfying than to give what is eternally important and redemptive to the ones we care for the most? May we learn from the motherly and loving saint, who through her persistent prayers, moved the heart of God and of her son, St. Augustine, to conversion. May we learn to let go of what is destructive and deceptive in our lives as to grab on to the ultimate and everlasting love of God that satisfies and fills our true desires of the heart. May we also have the same love for the lost and trust in divine providence as her so that our love for the Lord motivates and moves us to live in our own lives His own loving compassion and infinite mercy for humanity.