Today we honor Monica, the patron saint of long-suffering mothers. Though baptized at birth, she was handed over in marriage to a cantankerous mother-in-law and to her son Patricus, who was a pagan with a hot temper and wandering ways. Monica bore him three children, with the oldest of them being the clever Augustine. She enrolled her son as a catechumen, and she had him half way towards being baptized, when his father Patricus, seeing the intellectual Augustine as a good investment, set him up as in the city of Carthage as a student in Rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasive speech. Before advertising came along as a major occupation, rhetoricians were employed as speech-writers by men pleading their cases before monarchs.
As part of setting up Augustine, Patricus bought a seventeen-year-old girl to tend to all his son’s needs. Augustine still had spiritual interests, but he became quite attached to his live-in servant girl. With his physical enthusiasms warring with his spiritual interests, he enrolled in the Manichaean Religion that honored separate creators of human bodies and souls.
Disgusted with her son’s duplicity, his mother Monica had nothing to do with him for a time; but taking her anguish to prayer, she came away feeling she should stay as close as she could to her straying son. At home, her goodness was rewarded with her seeing the baptism of both her husband and her mother-in-law.
Those two passed away when Augustine was twenty-nine, then, without telling her about it, he slipped away to write speeches for senators in Rome. Seeking him there, Monica learned that for better money he had gone on to Milan where the emperor had taken up permanent residence.
Following Augustine to Milan, Monica found great delight in the cathedral sermons of the bishop, who was St. Ambrose. That had her pleading with her son to listen to Ambrose for pointers in his line of persuasive speech. Succeeding at last, she was given the joy of seeing Augustine brought to the love of God by the wonderful words of Ambrose.
Augustine wrote of Monica’s dying after telling him, “Son, all my hopes in this world have now been fulfilled.”