St. Monica: One of the most beloved saints down through the ages. Why is this humble mother from North Africa so well known and loved? For many years, Monica prayed fervently for the conversion of her husband, Patricius, who was a pagan, and for that of her son, Augustine, who flirted with the Manichean heresy and lived a life of sexual immorality.
Augustine might have been a sinner, but he was also a great speaker, a “rhetorician”, who obtained employment in Milan, which was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. There, he made the acquaintance of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who was himself an eloquent speaker. It was in going to listen to Ambrose that Augustine started to hear the Word of God, and to open his heart to the grace that God was offering him, which brought him to conversion. But not without the prayers and tears of St. Monica! She had followed him from Africa to Milan, and she never gave up praying fervently for his conversion to God and the Catholic Faith.
Many of us can relate to St. Augustine: we have had our battles with sin; for many of us, it has been sins of the flesh, just like Augustine. But we, too, have our “Monicas,” those dear parents, grandparents, and others, who never have given up praying for us. Just as St. Augustine, in his Confessions, speaks of the great sacrifices and prayers of his dear mother, so we need to be very grateful for the prayers and spiritual sacrifices which have been offered up, sometimes for years or even decades, for our conversion. And if your special “Monica” is still alive, be sure to thank him or her for their prayers — and return the favor by praying for them, and by “paying it forward” (to quote the movie) by praying for others who have strayed from the straight and narrow way that leads to eternal life.
If you are ever in Rome, you might want to visit the tomb of St. Monica, and pray there, and maybe light a candle in gratitude for the Monica in your life. Here’s how to find it: If you are standing in the famous “Piazza Navona,” there are two streets that leave the Piazza to the north. Take the right hand street, and walk up one block. Across the next street, on the North-East corner, is the Church of “San Aogustino” (St. Augustine). Inside that church, go to the front, to the left hand altar at the front of the church — that altar is the tomb of St. Monica! And if you are there, say a prayer for me too!