From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
IN the company of our Risen Lord there are two women, two mothers, of whom we have often had to speak during the last few weeks: they are Mary, mother of James the Less and Thaddeus, and Salome, mother of 'James the Great and John the beloved disciple. They went with Magdalen to the Sepulchre on the Resurrection morning; they carried spices to anoint the Body of Jesus; Angels spoke to them; and, as they returned to Jerusalem, our Lord appeared to them, greeted them, and allowed them to kiss his sacred feet. Since that day, he has repaid their love by frequently appearing to them; and on the day of his Ascension from Mount Olivet, they will be there, together with our blessed Lady and the Apostles, to receive his farewell blessing. Let us honour these faithful companions of Magdalen, these models of the love we should show to our Lord in his Resurrection; let us also venerate them as mothers who gave four Apostles to the Church.
But lo! on this fourth morning of beautiful May, there rises, near to Mary and Salome, another woman, another mother. She, too, is fervent in her love of Jesus. She, too, gives to Holy Church a treasure—the child of her tears, a Doctor, a Bishop, and one of the grandest Saints of the New Law. This woman, this mother, is Monica, doubly mother of Augustine. This masterpiece of God's grace was produced on the desert soil of Africa. Her virtues would have been unknown till the day of judgement, had not the pen of the great bishop of Hippo, prompted by the holy affection of his filial heart, revealed to us the merits of this woman, whose life was humility and love, and who now, immortalized in men’s esteem, is venerated as the model and patroness of Christian mothers.
One of the great charms of the book of Confessions is Augustine’s fervent praise of Monica’s virtues and devotedness. With what affectionate gratitude he speaks, throughout his whole history, of the untiring constancy of this mother who, seeing the errors of her son, 1 wept over him more than other mothers weep over the dead body of their children.’ Our Lord, who from time to time consoles with a ray of hope the souls he tries, had shown to Monica in a vision the future meeting of the son and mother; she had even heard a holy bishop assure her that the child of so many tears could never be lost: still the sad realities of the present weighed heavily on her heart; and both her maternal love and her faith caused her to grieve over this son, who kept away from her, yea, who kept away from her because he was unfaithful to his God. The anguish of this devoted heart was an expiation which would at a future period be applied to the guilty one; fervent and persevering prayer, joined with suffering, prepared Augustine’s second birth; and, as he himself says, ‘she went through more when she gave me my spiritual than when she gave me my corporal birth.’
At last, after long years of anxiety, the mother found at Milan this son of hers who had so cruelly deceived her, when he fled from her roof to go and risk his fortune in Rome. She found him still doubting the truth of the Christian religion, but tired of the errors that had misled him. Augustine was not aware of it, but he had really made an advance towards the true faith. ‘She found me,’ says he, ‘in extreme danger, for I despaired of ever finding the truth. But when I told her that I was no longer a Manichean, and yet not a Catholic Christian, the announcement did not take her by surprise. She leaped for joy at being made sure that one half of my misery was gone. As to the other, she wept over me, as dead indeed, but to rise again; she turned to thee, O my God, and wept, and in spirit brought me and laid the bier before thee, that thou mightest say to the widow's son: Young man! I say to thee, arise! Then would he come to life again, and begin to speak, and thou couldst give him back to his mother! . . . Seeing then that although I had not yet found the truth, I was delivered from error, she felt sure that thou wouldst give the other half of the whole thou hadst promised. She told me in a tone of gentlest calm, but with her heart full of hope, that she was confident, in Christ, that before leaving this world, she would see me a faithful Catholic.’
At Milan, Monica formed acquaintance with the great St Ambrose, who was the instrument chosen by God for the conversion of her son. ‘She had a very great affection for Ambrose,' says Augustine, ' because of what he had done for my soul; and he too loved her, because of her extraordinary piety, which led her to the performance of good works, and to fervent assiduity in frequenting the Church. Hence, when he saw me, he would frequently break out in her praise, and congratulate me on having such a mother.’ The hour of grace came at last. The light of faith dawned upon Augustine, and he began to think of enrolling himself a member of the Christian Church; but the pleasures of the world, in which he had so long indulged, held him back from receiving the holy sacrament of baptism. Monica's prayers and tears won for him the grace to break this last tie. He yielded and became a Christian.
But God would have this work of his divine mercy a perfect one. Augustine, once converted, was not satisfied with professing the true faith; he aspired to the sublime virtue of continence. A soul favoured as his then was could find no further pleasure in anything that this world had to offer him. Monica, who was anxious to guard her son against the dangers of a relapse into sin, had been preparing an honourable marriage for him; but Augustine came to her one day, accompanied by his friend Alypius, and told her that he was resolved to aim at the most perfect life. Let us listen to the Saint's account of this interview with his mother; it was immediately after he had been admonished by the voice from heaven: ‘We (Augustine and Alypius) go at once to my mother's house. We tell her what has taken place; she is full of joy. We tell her all the particulars; she is overpowered with feelings of delight and exultation. She blessed thee, O my God, who canst do beyond what we ask or understand. She saw that thou hadst done more for me than she had asked of thee, with her many piteous and tearful sighs. . . . Thou hadst changed her mourning into joy even beyond her wishes, yea, into a joy far dearer and chaster than she could ever have had in seeing me a father of children.’ A few days after this, and in the Church of Milan, a sublime spectacle was witnessed by angels and men: Ambrose baptized Augustine in Monica's presence.
The saintly mother had fulfilled her mission: her son was regenerated to truth and virtue, and she had given to the Church the greatest of her Doctors. The evening of her long and laborious life was approaching and she was soon to find eternal rest in the God for whose love she had suffered so much. The son and mother were at Ostia, waiting for the vessel that was to take them back to Africa. ‘I and she were alone,’ says Augustine, ‘and were standing near a window of our lodging, which commanded a view of the garden. We were having a most charming conversation. Forgetting the past, and stretching forward to the things beyond, we were talking about the future life of the Saints, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it ascended into man's heart. . . . And whilst thus talking about it and longing for it, our hearts seemed to bound forward and reach it. We sighed, and left the first-fruits of our spirit there, and returned to the sound of our own voice. . . . Then my mother said to me: “ My son! as far as I am concerned, there is nothing now that can give me pleasure in this life. I know not what I can do, or why I should be here, now that I have nothing to hope for in this world. There was one thing for which I desired to live somewhat longer, and it was to see thee a Catholic Christian before my death. My God has granted me this and more, for I see that thou hast despised earthly pleasures and become his servant. What do I here?”’
She had not long to wait for the divine invitation. She breathed forth her pure soul a few days after this incident, leaving an indelible impression upon the heart of her son, a name most dear and honoured to the Church, and a perfect example of the purest and holiest maternal affection to Christian mothers.
The life and virtues of St Monica are thus briefly portrayed in to-day’s Liturgy:
Monica, sancti Augustini dupliciter mater, quia eum et mundo et cœlo peperit, marito mortuo, quem senectute confectum Jesu Christo conciliavit castam, et operibus misericordiæ exercitam viduitatem agebat: in assiduis vero ad Deum orationibus pro filio, qui in Manichæorum sectam inciderat lacrymas eff undebat: quem etiam Mediolanum secuta est: ubi ipsum frequenter hortabatur, ut ad episcopum Ambrosium se conferret. Quod cum ille fecisset, ejus et publicis concionibus et privatis colloquiis catholicæ fidei veritatem edoctus, ab eodem baptizatus est.
Mox in Africani redeuntes cum ad Ostia Tiberina constitissent, incidit in febrem. Quo in morbo cum eam quodam die anima defecisset, ut se collegit: Ubi, inquit, eram? Et adstantes intuens: Ponite hic matrem vestram: tantum vos rogo, ut ad altare Domini memineritis mei. Nono autem die beata mulier aninjam Deo reddidit. Ejus corpus ibi in ecclesia sanctæ Aureæ sepultum est: quod postea Martino Quinto summo Pontifice Romam translatum, in ecclesia sancti Augustini honorifice conditum est.
Monica was doubly Augustine’s mother, inasmuch as she gave him both temporal and eternal life. Having lost her husband, whom she converted in his old age to Christ Jesus, she spent her widowhood in holy continency and works of mercy. Her prayers and tears were continually offered up to God for her son, who had fallen into the heresy of the Manicheans. She followed him to Milan, where she frequently exhorted him to visit the bishop Ambrose. He did so, and having learned the truth of the Catholic faith, both by the public discourses and private conversations of Ambrose, he was baptized by him.
Having reached Ostia on their return home to Africa, Monica was taken ill of a fever. During her sickness, she one day lost her consciousness: and having returned to herself, she said: ‘Where was I?’ Then looking at her children, she said: ‘Bury your mother here. All I ask of you is that you remember me at the altar of the Lord.’ The holy woman yielded up her soul to God on the ninth day. Her body was buried there, in the Church of Saint Aurea; but was afterwards translated to Rome, during the pontificate of Martin the Fifth, and was buried with much honour in the Church of Saint Augustine.
The Middle Ages have left us several liturgical pieces composed in honour of St Monica; but most of them are poor. The sequence we select is not without merit; it has even been attributed to Adam of Saint-Victor.
Augustini magni patris,
Atque suæ piæ matris laudes et præconia
Et optata celebrantes hodie solemnia.
Mater casta, fide gnara,
Vita clara, Christo chara, hæc beata Monica
De profano propagatum,
Jam nunc parit suum natum in fide catholica.
Felix imber lacrymarum,
Quo effulsit tam præclarum lumen in Ecclesia!
Multo fletu seminavit,
Germen ubi reportavit metens in lætitia.
Plus accepit quam petivit:
O quam miro tunc gestivit Spiritus tripudio,
Cernens natum fide ratum,
Sed et Christo jam sacratum toto mentis studio!
Hæc egenis ministravit,
Et in eis Christum pavit, mater dicta pauperum;
Curam gerens infirmorum,
Lavit, stravit, et eorum tersit sordes vuinerum.
O matrona gratiosa,
Quam transfigunt amorosa crucifixi stigmata!
His accensa sic ploravit,
Lacrymis quod irrigavit pavimenti schemata.
Pane cœli saturata,
Stat a terris elevata cubiti distantia;
Mente rapta exsultavit:
‘Volitemus,’ exclamavit, ‘Ad cœli fastigia.’
Eia, mater et matrona,
Advocata et patrona sis pro tuis filiis,
Ut dum carne exuemur,
Nato tuo sociemur paradisi gaudiis.
Let us sing the praises of the great Father Augustine
and of his holy mother.
Let us devoutly celebrate
the beloved solemnity of this day.
The blessed Monica was a virtuous mother,
well instructed in the faith, edifying in her conduct, and dear to Christ.
Her son was born of a pagan father;
but she gave him a second birth—she brought him to the Catholic faith.
O happy shower of tears,
through which shone forth so bright a light within the Church!
Monica sowed in much weeping,
but she reaped her fruit in joy.
She received more than she asked:
Oh! how grand was the gladness that filled her soul,
when she saw her son staunch in faith,
yea, and devoted with his whole heart to Christ!
She was called the mother of the poor,
for she ministered to them in their necessities, and gave to Christ the food she gave to them.
She took care of the sick,
washed them, nursed them, and dressed their wounds.
O saintly matron, whose soul was pierced
with compassion for the dear Wounds of her crucified Lord!
She wept for love when she thought upon them,
and her tears bedewed the spot on which she prayed.
When she received the Bread of Heaven,
she was raised from the ground
and in her rapture exclaimed with joy:
‘Let us fly to heaven above!'
O mother and matron!
be to us thy children an advocate and patroness,
that so, when we quit the flesh, we may be united to Augustine,
thy son, in the joys of paradise.
O thou model of mothers! Christendom honours thee as one of the most perfect types of human nature regenerated by Christ. Previous to the Gospel, during those long ages when woman was kept in a state of abjection, a mother’s influence on her children was feeble and insignificant; her duties were generally limited to looking after their bodily well-being; and if some mothers of those times have handed their names down to posterity, it is only because they taught their sons to covet and win the passing glory of this world. But we have no instance in pagan times of a mother training her son to virtue, following him from city to city that she might help him in the struggle with error and the passions, and encourage him to rise after a fall; we do not meet with one who devoted herself to continual prayer and tears, with a view to obtain her son's return to truth and virtue. Christianity alone has revealed a mother's mission and power.
What forgetfulness of thyself, O Monica, in thine incessant endeavour to secure Augustine's salvation! After God, thou livest for him, and to live for thy son in such a way as this, is it not living for God, who deigns to use thee as the instrument of his grace? What carest thou for Augustine's glory and success in this world when thou thinkest of the eternal dangers and of the eternal separation from God and thee to which he is exposed. There is no sacrifice which thy maternal heart is not ready to make in order to satisfy the divine justice: it has its rights and thou art too generous not to satisfy them. Thou waitest patiently, day and night, for God's good time to come. The delay only makes thy prayer more earnest. Hoping against all hope, thou at length feelest within thy heart the humble but firm conviction that the object of all these tears can never be lost. Moved with mercy towards thee, as he was towards the sorrowing mother of Naim, he speaks with that voice which nothing can withstand: ‘Young man! I say to thee, arise!’ and he gives him to his mother,’ he gives thee the dear one whose death thou hadst so bitterly bewailed, but from whom thou couldst not tear thyself.
What a recompense of thy maternal love is this! God is not satisfied with restoring thee Augustine full of life; this son of thine rises at once from the very depths of error and sin to the highest virtue. Thou hadst prayed that he might become a Catholic and break certain ties which were both a disgrace and danger to him; when lo! one single stroke of grace has raised him to the sublime state of the Evangelical Counsels. Thy work is more than done, O happy mother! Speed thee to heaven; where till thy Augustine joins thee, thou art to gaze on the saintly life and works of this son, whose salvation is due to thee and whose glory, even while he sojourns here below, sheds a bright halo over thy venerated name.
From the eternal home where thou art now happy with this son who owes to thee his life both of earth and heaven, cast a loving look, O Monica, on the many Christian mothers who are now fulfilling on earth the hard but noble mission which was once thine. Their children are also dead with the death of sin; and they would restore them to true life by the power of their maternal love. After the Mother of Jesus, it is to thee that they turn, O Monica, whose prayers and tears were once so efficacious and so fruitful. Take their cause in hand; thy tender and‘devoted heart cannot fail to compassionate them in the anguish which was once thine own. Maintain their courage; teach them to hope. The conversion of these dear ones is to cost them many a sacrifice; procure them the generosity and fortitude to pay the price thus asked of them by God. Let them remember that the conversion of a soul is a greater miracle than raising a dead man to life; and that divine justice demands a compensation which they, the mothers of these children, must be ready to make. This spirit of sacrifice will destroy that hidden egotism which is but too frequently mingled with what seems to be affection of the purest kind. Let them ask themselves if they would rejoice as thou didst, O Monica, at finding that a vocation to the Religious life was the result of the conversion they have so much at heart. If they are thus disinterested, let them not fear; their prayers and sufferings must be efficacious; sooner or later, the wished-for grace will descend upon the prodigal, and he will return to God and to his mother.
 Confessionum, lib. iii, cap. xi.
 Ibid. lib. v, cap, ix.
 Confessionum, lib. vi, cap. i.
 Ibid. lib. vi, cap. ii.
 Confessionum, lib. viii, cap. xii.
 Confcssionum, lib. ix, cap. x.
 St Luke vii 14, 15.