I first encountered St. Monica when I read St. Augustine’s Confessions my freshman year in college. Sadly, I do not think I reflected on her as much as I should have, and only more recently have I thought about what an incredible and faithful woman she is. For although she is not present in much of the book, only showing up here and there, we cannot underestimate the critical role she played in St. Augustine’s life—a role that fueled Augustine’s road to the Catholic Church and his path to sainthood. Her prayers lie behind her son’s conversion.
For years, this woman prayed unceasingly for the salvation of her son, Augustine, now one of the most widely known and influential saints in the Church. St. Monica’s prayers brought Augustine from death to Life. Augustine writes in his Confessions:
And You sent Your hand from above, and raised my soul out of that depth of darkness, because my mother, Your faithful one, wept to You for me more bitterly than mothers weep for the bodily deaths of their children. For by the faith and the spirit which she had from You, she saw me as dead; and You heard her, Lord. You heard her and did not despise her tears when they flowed down and watered the earth against which she pressed her face wherever she prayed. You heard her. (III.xi.19)
What I find so inspiring about this saint is she never gave up praying. She prayed knowing that the effects of prayer are real, and that God offers His mercy and grace through our prayers. She knew deep in her heart that prayer makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others, and her life reflected the reality of prayer and of hope for salvation. Even a bishop told her, “as sure as you live, it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish” (III.xii.21).
It is all too easy for prayer to fall to the background of our lives amidst the business and noise of the world, but if we know what is at stake—the salvation of souls—and what is conveyed through prayer and sacrifice—grace—then how could we ever cease praying for the salvation of souls? And yet, I am guilty of this, time and time again, losing the sense of urgency I ought to have in the desire to see more saved by the grace of God. And this is why St. Monica is so pertinent to every one of our lives. If we ask, this champion of prayer will pray for us—for our own change of heart and for us to become steadfast in prayer—and for the conversion of those we so love.
For all her tears and her prayers, God gave St. Monica hope that she would see her son in the Church before she died. Augustine writes, “she bewailed me as one dead certainly, but certainly to be raised again by You, offering me in her mind as one stretched out dead, that You might say to the widow’s son: Young man, I say to thee, arise:and he should sit up and begin to speak and You should give him to his mother” (VI.i.1). Even as she was sure he would become Catholic, she never ceased praying. Augustine writes, “But to You, O Fount of mercy, she multiplied her prayers and her tears that You should hasten Your help and enlighten my darkness” (VI.i.1). She never stops praying. Even as she is given incredible hope and consolation that she will see him filled with the grace of God, she prays with great urgency that he would be brought into the Church so he would not be in bondage to false teachers any longer.
St. Monica lived for prayer, and she prayed knowing the life of her son depended on it. At the end of her life, after God granted her the desire of her heart to see her son faithful to the Church and growing in holiness, she no longer knows what is left for her to do on earth. She says to Augustine:
Son, for my own part I no longer find joy in anything in this world. What I am still to do here and why I am here I know not, now that I no longer hope for anything from this world. One thing there was, for which I desired to remain still a little longer in this life, that I should see you a Catholic Christian before I died. This God has granted me in superabundance, in that I now see you His servant to the contempt of all worldly happiness. What then am I doing here? (IX.x.26).
Her life’s mission was to pray. In no earthly thing did she find satisfaction. The request of her prayers was brought to fruition, and after that, all that was left for her was to see the face of Christ, to bask in the presence of God.
God saw Monica’s tears, He heard her prayers, and He granted her pleas with abundant grace. If only we all prayed like she did, how many more would be saved? But similarly, if we begin to pray and continue steadfast in our prayers, how many will be saved? It makes me think of what Our Lady of Fatima said in the fourth apparition: “Pray, pray much, and sacrifice for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to sacrifice and pray for them.” Her words are both convicting and motivating. Prayer makes a difference, and we must pray like it does, because it does make a difference. In God there is hope, and we pray because we hope.
St. Monica, pray for us!
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us and save us!