Unseen Hand

Today the church honors a 4th Century saint who is, perhaps, a hidden hand in Christianity, pushing theology and philosophy forward in remarkable but overshadowed ways, St. Monica, the Mother of St. Augustine.

St. Monica was born around 322 in North Africa to Christian parents, and was in an interfaith marriage to Patricius, an ill-tempered government official who, in his old age, softened and is even purported to convert.

A caring mother, Monica bore three children, but her first born is the one history remembers. She raised him in the faith, prepared him for baptism, and though Augustine had a well-documented wild-streak, continually kept him in prayer.

In 383 Monica moved with Augustine to Rome as he came under the instruction of Bishop Ambrose. Like many parents, she tried to “hook him up with someone nice,” but Augustine wasn’t interested in marriage. Eventually he decided to be baptized and accept the Holy Orders and a vow of celibacy.

Monica rejoiced.

Shortly after her son’s baptism Monica fell sick, and on her deathbed she had beautifully mystic visions which she shared with Augustine. She died in 387.

With Augustine’s rise, Monica’s legend continued to grow, and she retains a devoted following as an example of persistent parenthood and prayer. She is often called the “Patron Saint of Mothers,” and some Christians annually recognize her on Mother’s Day.

I chaff a little that she is always connected to her son in religious memory, though as a parent myself, I hope my best contributions to the world sleep in the room just adjacent to mine. Augustine is such a big personality in the annals of faith; anyone connected to him is both elevated by his coat tails and simultaneously overshadowed, even the one who bore and raised him.

Still, Monica was more than “Augustine’s mother.” As her deathbed experience notes, she was a mystic in her own right, and is an example for how interfaith marriages can be a blessing to the world.

In these tumultuous days I was moved again by Monica’s story, especially as I remember hearing in the audio shared in the George Floyd case on how he called out to his mother. Mothers, and fathers too, so often feel helpless as their children fly off into the world, battered by forces that can both lift and destroy.

A part of me wants to say that Monica, along with all mothers, heard that cry and moved cosmically through the mothering voices calling for change as we were all baptized in the tears shed.

Another part of me prays for mystics to rise up again and change hearts, as it feels like we all are on a kind of deathbed in these days. Either a deathbed, or a birthing cot. Maybe both.

Finally, I guess, St. Monica reminds me that sometimes, as a parent, we don’t see our work bear fruit until the very end, and therefore live and love in perpetual hope.

-historical pieces noted from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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