Church History Spiritual Formation The Problem of Suffering and Evil

The Power of Tearful Prayers: Remembering St. Monica on Mother’s Day

“There are many things which I do not set down in this book…But I will omit not a word that my mind can bring to birth concerning your servant, my mother. In the flesh she brought me to birth in this world: in her heart she brought me to birth in your eternal light.”

– Aurelius Augustine

Aurelius Augustine was a pagan and sinful young man: addicted to sex, ambitious and full of pride, an idolater of pagan gods and believer of false religions. His mother, however, was nothing of the sort. She was a faithful daughter of Jesus Christ, a loving mother of a disobedient son, and a prayer warrior unlike any other. In his autobiography, The Confessions (397 AD), this same Augustine, the once pagan man who, having been converted at the age of 33, would go on to impact the Christian church more than any other thinker in the first 1,000 years of its history, would dedicate his book to two people: the living God Jesus Christ, and his mother, Monica.

Of his mother Augustine writes:

But you [God] sent down your help from above and rescued my soul from the depths of this darkness because my mother, your faithful servant, wept to you for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son.

Confessions, Book III, Chap. 10

Night and day my mother poured out her tears to you and offered her heart-blood in sacrifice for me, and in the most wonderful way you guided me.

Confessions, Book V, Chap. 7

We cannot underestimate the power of either parent in the life of a child, and the importance of fathers in the lives of children has been well documented by psychologists and social scientists over the last several decades. Parents are fundamental to the psychological, emotional, and physical development and well-being of their children. This well-being often translates into all kinds of successes: successes in career, in education, and in social relations. However, even the best of parents, the most wise and most learned, the most virtuous, will fail from time to time. But, the wisest parents also know that when it comes to the faith of their children, they are ultimately not in control. Faith is not something that can be engineered through good parenting, faith is a gift from God.

As Augustine’s own testimony reveals, it was the concern of his mother over the status of his soul that mattered most to her. In fact, he tells us that at one point in his childhood when he took deathly ill due to a “disorder of the stomach” (a virus, perhaps?), it was not his physical health that grieved his beloved mother most, but the state of her son’s salvation that distressed her spirit:

My earthly mother was deeply anxious, because in the pure faith of her heart, she was in greater labour to ensure my eternal salvation than she had been at my birth. Had I not quickly recovered, she would have hastened to see that I was admitted to the sacraments of salvation and washed clean by acknowledging you, Lord Jesus, for the pardon of my sins.

Confessions, Book I, Chap. 11

In other words, while it remains the place of any good mother to make sure their children have well-balanced meals on the table, wear safety helmets while bike riding, look 5 times before crossing the street, and yes, maybe even ensure the use of hand sanitizer in times of global pandemics; the truly wise mother will take note of the concerns of this great mother and saint of the Church, Monica, whose distress over the state of her child’s soul was of far greater importance than the stomach virus that ravaged his body. For the true mark of love is not the safety of the child in this life, but his security in the life to come. And it was this reason, and this reason alone, that she turned her face to God in tearful prayer.

This Sunday we remember the faithful tears of all the mothers of the Church, and all those faithful mothers who have gone before them; mothers who have shed endless tears on behalf of their children, children young, and children grown, obedient daughters, and prodigal sons. But we think not only of motherly tears shed for mere bodily health, or for worldly successes, or even for temporal happiness. We commemorate instead the deeper tears of those mothers’ hearts that plead for the everlasting soul of their children. The tears that move the very heart of God, and that help to change the course of human history.

These are the tears of St. Monica, the mother of Aurelius Augustine, the pagan boy who gave his whole life over to Christ, who became the most influential voice of the Church in his time, whose works have inspired billions of people, and whose greatest book, The Confessions, was dedicated to his mom.

Happy Mother’s Day to all our mothers- You, Faithful Daughters of the King. You, Tearful Warriors of Christ!

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