Today, August 27, the church celebrates St. Monica, on the day before the feast of St. Augustine, her son. Augustine’s parents had different values when it came to raising their son. Those differences are described in Augustine’s Confessions.
Monica, his mother, was deeply committed to Christianity and was a woman of faith. When her son wandered from the values she held, Monica worried and patiently prayed that Augustine eventually would come to his senses. Monica was not pleased with her son, especially after he fell in love with a woman who lived with Augustine for a good number of years and bore him a son whom he named Adeodatus—meaning given by God. When Augustine deceived her about his plans to sail to Rome, Monica followed Augustine to Rome and then Milan, in order to help him see the evils of his ways. Eventually, in Milan, Augustine was deeply influenced by St. Ambrose and presented himself for Baptism along with his circle of philosopher friends.
Augustine’s father, Patricius, was a minor government official in the North African town of Tagaste. He had limited financial means, as Augustine tells his readers in his Confessions (Bk II, cap 3). Augustine tells how his early education was interrupted for a year, when he was sixteen years old, because his father lacked the funds needed to pay for travel and a first-rate tutor in Carthage. Augustine’s father rejoiced when Augustine was reaching puberty. He hoped Augustine would marry into money or at least gain the sort of political influence that he himself lacked. A year before he died, Patricius accepted Baptism, largely because of the influence of Monica.
Confessions (Bk 9, cap 10) contains a touching passage in which Augustine describes how he and his mother, Monica, reflected on their experiences of God. They talked first of creation. Augustine narrates that he and Monica both imagined all creatures of the world reminding them: “We did not make ourselves, we were made by God.” Then they spoke of God’s wisdom and of their insight into the Creator which came to them at that time. Augustine then narrates that his mother told him she had prayed to live long enough to see him baptized. Shortly after that time she passed away, before they could make their return to their hometown in north Africa. Augustine wrote of Monica’s last wish: “Always remember me at the altar of God.”
Every time I read Augustine’s Confessions (Bk IX, cap 10), I am more deeply impressed by the holiness of Monica than by that of her learned son.