This year, I resolved to take a walk with a saint. This idea came from a shared coffee-shop conversation with a dear friend. Each year I will befriend one saint, and we will journey together through the ins and outs of my year with my dear husband, eight children, two dogs, two cats, home schooling, writing and teaching. But whom would I choose for my first new friend? I thought St. Thérèse would be great, or maybe Mother Teresa. We adopted one of our daughters from the Missionaries of Charity, so surely that would make sense! I love to sing, so St. Cecilia and I have something in common. But none of these saints seemed quite like the right fit. The secret, a friend told me, was to pray and let the Spirit guide you.
As I prayed, I felt drawn to St. Monica. “Oh no,” I thought. I am the mother of five boys whose adventures keep me plenty busy. I know the struggle grows greater the older they get, as a couple are readying to leave soon. But over and over, God kept speaking to me about St. Augustine’s mother, from an old book to a saint medal gift from my husband; these “nudges” became pushes, and one night I just felt St. Monica “place” her cloak over my shoulders, and I resigned to walk with her. The word “resigned” sounds ungrateful, doesn’t it? But it is the truth, for I knew bits and pieces of St. Monica’s life, and I knew that walking with her would require me to walk a path of trial and tribulation. I knew increased courage and fortitude would stem from this journey, and yet I did not feel up to this task.
So this year, along this journey with St. Monica, I have immersed myself in her life, reading St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer by Mike Aquilina and Mark W. Sullivan; Restless Heart and a historical fiction account of St. Augustine’s youth, which then led me to St. Augustine’s Confessions, where St. Augustine speaks of his mother with such honor and love. I have written letters and “shared” conversations with St. Monica, both in long walks and on my knees in supplication. It has been quite a year, and I have been strengthened by my new friend.
St. Monica was a strong and devout woman of faith whose intimate relationship with Our Lord led her to raise her children as Christians alongside her pagan-and-often-unfaithful husband. (He later converted, due to Monica’s disciplined example.) St. Monica was known to be in the church twice a day for prayers. It’s interesting to me that as self-disciplined in prayer and as outspoken as St. Monica was regarding her Christian identity and relationship with Jesus, her son Augustine still struggled with great sin and doubt. His actions caused St. Monica great suffering and anguish, and yet she persevered. St. Augustine is quoted as saying, “My mother spoke of Christ to my father, by her feminine and childlike virtues, and, after having borne his violence without a murmur or complaint, gained him at the close of his life to Christ.” This was her mission; and once achieved, she continued on. This inspires me to live a life of example worthy of who I say I am and also to place my focus first upon my husband and then upon my children. St. Monica had her priorities in order — and reminds us to do so.
My children know the Lord, and yet the desire of my heart is for them to enter into a deeper, adult relationship with him. As parents, we can plant the seeds of faith, as Monica did so frequently, but our children must embrace the faith on their own in order for their spiritual relationship to be authentic and intimate. St. Monica shows us patience and perseverance. She was also an advocate for her son. Knowing him as only a mother can, she followed him, spoke truth to his heart, and reached out to others to speak louder when her voice seemed to be unheard. Her persistence led a bishop, St. Ambrose, to assure her that “it was not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” At this point, Monica felt great peace and knew that her son would know the Lord. At the age of 55, St. Monica died, having been blessed to see her son’s conversion before her death.
My year with my new friend is not finished yet. We have a couple more months to sojourn together. We will walk together as my oldest leaves for a challenging missionary year that will shape and form him and give so much to so many. We have walked through a pandemic and grown amid family prayer traditions and been strengthened in virtue. We have raised our voices in song and praised the Lord, from whom all blessings flow, reminding me of Monica, who loved the traditional chants of St. Ambrose.
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