Although we celebrate Mother’s Day each May, the Catholic Church’s calendar gives us the opportunity to celebrate a special day for mothers in late August, followed by one for sons, with the Aug. 27 feast day for Saint Monica followed the next day by a feast day for her son, Saint Augustine.
The story of this mother and this son has great relevance for today’s Catholic families. Saint Monica, born in 332 in North Africa, is regarded as a patron saint for mothers because she never lost hope in her wayward son, Augustine, who lived with a mistress for 15 years. Saint Monica urged her son to reform his life, and for many years she prayed and fasted for his conversion. Her example of devout faith and steadfast love, along with the encouragement of Saint Ambrose, helped convince Saint Augustine to turn away from his sinful life and to be baptized.
Before she died in 387, Monica told her son, “All my hopes in this world are now fulfilled. All I wished to live for was to see you a Catholic and a child of heaven.” Augustine became one of the Catholic Church’s greatest saints and is revered as a Doctor of the Church for his influential writings on the Holy Trinity, the Church, the sacraments, charity and God’s grace. Saint Monica’s example of faith and love also inspired her husband to be baptized.
A stained glass window at Saint Augustine Parish in Washington, D.C., which is regarded as the mother church for African-American Catholics in the nation’s capital, depicts Saint Monica, smiling and with gray hair, resting her hand on Saint Augustine’s shoulder. He smiles and tenderly holds his mother’s other hand. Beneath the portraits of the mother and son saints is a quotation from Saint Augustine, who served as the Bishop of Hippo in modern-day Algeria: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
More than 1,600 years later, we can learn from the example offered by this mother and son who became saints. Mothers who help their sons and daughters take their first steps can help guide them on a lifelong journey to heaven.
Pope Benedict XVI’s call for us to take up the work of the New Evangelization, to deepen our own faith and share it with others, can begin at home as we reach out to parents, spouses, children, brothers or sisters – or to friends, coworkers, and neighbors – and invite them to come home to the Catholic faith, especially if they have been away for awhile.
One of the spiritual works of mercy, “to admonish the sinner,” was particularly exemplified by Saint Monica, and we too can lovingly encourage a family member or friend to turn away from sin, and steadfastly pray for them, never losing hope, never withdrawing our love for them. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son shows the power of God’s mercy and love that is offered freely to all of us. It is up to us to choose to accept those gifts, to turn away from sin and to strive to live in accordance with the Gospel.
And sons and daughters can learn from the example of Saint Augustine. Don’t tune out your mother or father’s words when they are encouraging you to come home to your Catholic faith. The doors of your neighborhood church and the pathway to heaven are open for you, just as God’s arms are open to embrace you, as the father in the parable embraced the prodigal son. Just ask Saint Augustine and St. Monica.