THE LAMENT OF SAINT MONICA
Last year as the Pandemic hit the world, our caretaker heard tragic news about her son. He worked as a driver in a Middle Eastern country, and was on his way to collect his salary. When he reached his owner’s building, he found a few of his peers also gathered there waiting for their dues. Given the social distancing rules, this group of men gathered in public, immediately attracted the attention of local police patrol and were seized. Within a few hours, they were taken to prison, stripped off all their personal belongings and sentenced for deportation to their home-country. There was no further contact, only lament.
Each day, the anxiety, grief and panic of this mother were evident to me, as tears, despair and fear made for fitting companions. She was inconsolable. Nothing I said brought comfort. Nothing, not until she took her grief to the Lord in prayer.
The Language of Lament
Lament is not a word we hear very often but Lament makes up for most part of sacred scripture. In fact 1/3rd of the Psalms are expressions of lament and lamentation as worship was a significant element in the Judeo Christian world. That the pages of scripture as well as the Catholic heritage are inundated with stories that speak volumes on this language of tears is consoling and comforting.
Today as we celebrate the feast of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, Christianity’s most influential theologians, we are invited to ponder on the life and legacy and the language of lament from this great saint. Her long suffering and lifestyle of prayer make for invaluable life lessons. So little is known about this great saint and yet, without this mother, there would be no St. Augustine.
In a world where tears are perceived as a sign of weakness and where vulnerability is seen as something dangerous, St. Monica teaches us that the only way to radical faith is to take those to tears.
In a language known and best understood by the ‘Man of Sorrows, familiar with grief’, St. Monica’s life serves as an exemplary model for all who pursue sainthood this side of eternity. Her honesty and humility enables us to see that there are no losses with time spent in prayer, only eternal gains.
As youth mentor and mother to a young teenager, I am starkly aware of the challenges facing our young people. The addictive lifestyles, moral abandonment and anemic faith prevalent in our culture are reasons for worry. As a mother, I want to put it all together. I want to protect. I want my child to have an encounter with Christ and radically change the world. As noble as those thoughts are, I know that faith is a personal encounter and that her journey is as unique as mine is. I cannot protect at all times, but I can pray. I need to pray because I need the Savior as much as she does. In my own honest lament, I have found comfort knowing that I am not alone, that my worry is not in vain and that I have saints like St. Monica to accompany me on this journey of spiritual motherhood and so do you.
Today on her feast day, I want to look at three powerful components of our spiritual journey that moved this great saint to see her son’s conversion in her lifetime.
If persistence pushes us to continue, it is perseverance that keeps us steady. Perseverance allows us to keep going, refusing to give up, no matter what.
How many mothers and fathers today are willing to give up when they don’t see results in their children? How many of us compromise giving into the lifestyles of our young adults lest we don’t lose them forever? I have encountered so many helpless mothers who were willing to settle, rather than do the hard work of perseverance simply because they were afraid to wait and pray.
We will never discover the potential and power residing in our children if we are not willing to wage war for their souls.
We will never know how bright their light can be, how great their legacy will be if we refuse to persevere. Monica did not know either, but she was willing to press on and persevere. As Pope Benedict rightfully says, “Monica lived her mission as a wife and mother in an exemplary way.” Despite all her challenges, she shows us that love overcomes all evil.
Monica’s family background was anything but conducive for faith. Her husband was not just an atheist politician but also abusive, unfaithful and intolerant of Monica’s faith. What if Monica succumbed under pressure and gave up? It took St. Monica 17 years of prayer, fasting and sacrifice that ultimately led to Augustine’s conversion. So powerful was his conversion that he didn’t just induct into the Catholic faith, he became one of its greatest spiritual doctors the world ever inherited.
Perseverance is great, but Perseverance without hope is impossible. How can we press on in a dark tunnel if we do not believe that there is light ahead? Hope is an essential part of motherhood. There will be some battles we face that seem impossible to win because Satan twists the truth. Satan is real but so is Hope in Christ.
No matter how great the influence of our culture, the Christian Hope is greater still because it is rooted in a person who died for our sins and was raised on our behalf.
Because Jesus lived, there is Hope. Because Jesus lives, there is Hope for our children, no matter what.
St. Monica knew this well. She knew that the conversion of her son was not going to be her own merits, however noble. It was Hope that sustained her when Augustine and her husband did harmful things in their lives. It was Hope that enabled her to see beyond. It was Hope that motivated her to begin each day and it was Hope that ultimately triumphed over Augustine’s sin.
Sisters, our journeys are less about us than they are about influence and impact. Christianity is about change. The work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing conversion.
Sacrifice, suffering and lament, if anything, are meant to sanctify us, deepen faith and shape our character to transform the world.
St. Monica understood that her daily sacrifices were powerful gateways for God’s Grace. She understood that her suffering was not just about her son, or her husband, it was also refining her own faith. Though Monica suffered silently, she opened her home to many women who came to her looking for comfort and prayer. Monica’s suffering was an open gateway for sanctity. God was shaping her life, to become one of the greatest saints our Church would ever witness. In uniting her own pain with Christ’s suffering on the Cross, Monica was only moving towards her own sainthood.
So much of the pain we bear on behalf of our children is God’s tool for our sanctification. God desires to bring us to a place of complete surrender without which no sanctity is possible. Nothing but sanctity can change our children’s lives. Nothing but sanctity will influence the Church. Nothing but sanctity will change the world.
Promise of Prayerful Lament
Today, as we seek the intercession of St. Monica, patroness of wives, widows, mothers, wayward children, and victims of adultery and abuse, I encourage you to come and bare your heart before the Lord. He sees you like no other. He understands and loves your children more than you know.
As for my caretaker, after two long months, the voice of her son broke through the silence of holy lament. He was safe and back in his home country. Though her weeping had lasted the night, joy shone through in the morning, its rays drying up happy tears.
Her ecstatic joy reminded me of the promise St. Monica and we all look forward to – of a day that is coming where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more bitterness because sweetness will consume our soul as we live in the very Presence of the One who is Joy Himself. Standing face to face before Him, I can imagine the sighs St. Monica whispered, knowing that the years of lifted hands and sore knees were all worth it. I believe she continues to sigh in silent prayer, each time she sees Him, and each time we, mothers, seek her intercession.
As you walk with St. Monica today, I pray that you extend the same sighs of sweet surrender in prayer for a friend, a mother, a sister who may be struggling with their own language of lament.