Saint Monica, Mother of Saint Augustine

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Sirach 26:1-4, 13-16
Psalm 130: 1bcde, 2, 3
Luke 7: 11-17

Walking in the Light of His Face

Today we see Jesus on his way into the town of Naim, accompanied by His disciples. “And there went with Him His disciples, and a great multitude” (Lk 7:11). Those who follow Our Lord and walk with Him are an image of the Church, the body of those who walk “in the light of His face” (Ps 88:15).

Death and Life

“And when He came night to the gate of the city, behold a dead man was carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow: and a great multitude of the city was with her” (Lk 7:12). In the dead man the Church sees an image of Augustine before his conversion. In the widowed mother the Church sees an image of the holy mother Monica. In the crowd of mourners, the Church sees an image of those who experience sin and desire to be delivered from it: “those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Benedictus). Saint Luke depicts a striking scene: two crowds, arriving from opposite directions, meet. One is the community of death. The other is the community of life: an image of the Church.

Those Tears of Hers

“And when the Lord saw her, being moved with mercy towards her, he said to her, 'Weep not'" (Lk 7:13). Our Lord looked upon Saint Monica just as he looked upon the mother of the man being carried out for burial. Tears were the language of Saint Monica’s prayer. Saint Augustine himself says: “Thou didst listen to her, O Lord, and Thou didst not despise those tears of hers which moistened the earth wherever she prayed” (Benedictus Antiphon).

Dry Confessions

In Chapter 20 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict says: “Indeed we must grasp that it is not by using many words that we shall get our prayers answered, but by purity of heart and repentance with tears” (RB 20:3). I am always moved at the number of people, lay people especially, who make their confession with tears. If truly we hate our sins and regret them, it is normal that we should weep in going to confession.

It is easy to become indifferent to our sins, or coldly analytical. We may confess them insofar as we see them, but our confessions become a matter of routine. Our examinations of consciences rarely probe beneath the surface. We come to the sacrament with our pathetic little list of peccadillos. Having grown accustomed to our sins, they no longer fill us with horror. And so we begin to make dry confessions. The so-called dry confession is one of the signs of spiritual lukewarmness. “But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot," says the Lord, "I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth” (Ap 3:15).

Joy Comes with the Dawn

Touched by her tears, Jesus told the widow to stop weeping. He did not tell her to stop praying but to stop weeping. He wanted to change the language of her prayer from tears to cries of joy. The psalm says: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the dawn. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness” (Ps 29:5.11).

Spiritual Resurrection

“And He came near and touched the bier. And they that carried it stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to thee, arise” (Lk 7:14). This is a resurrection! In the resurrection of the young man of the Gospel, the Church sees the conversion of Augustine. Every conversion, every confession, is a resurrection! Daily repentance means daily resurrection! This is why the Fathers of the Church consider Psalm 50, the Miserere, a song of spiritual resurrection. This is why Holy Father Benedict put it at the beginning of Lauds each day. This is why it is framed with a cascade of Alleluias in the Sunday Office. The Christian repents unto resurrection. The Christian each day turns away from what is old to walk in newness of life. "Today, I begin anew!"

And He Began to Speak

“And he that was dead, sat up, and began to speak” (Lk 7:15). Saint Augustine too, after his conversion/resurrection began to speak in the midst of the Church, tirelessly preaching and teaching. The sound of his voice has come down to us even to this day as the voice of one brought back from the dead. “And He gave him to his mother” (Lk 7:15).

God Visits His People

“ And there came a fear on them all: and they glorified God, saying: 'A great prophet is risen up among us!’ and ‘God hath visited His people’” (Lk 7:16). The spiritual resurrection of Saint Augustine continues to fill the Church with awe. With Saint Monica we celebrate the conversion of Saint Augustine by praising God. Praise has the last word. Praise is what we shall do for all eternity. Praise is the heart and soul of the liturgy in which we remember and confess that in Christ, God has visited His people, and visits us still, day after day, in the Holy Mysteries.

The Sacrament of Penance

How does today’s Holy Gospel affect us? First, we are called to walk with Jesus in the community of the living, the Church. If, at one time or another, we find ourselves associated with the cortège of the dead, we must not lose sight of the fact that Our Lord calls to walk with Him in the community of those who share His divine life. Frequent confession with tears is indispensable. The Sacrament of Penance allows us to pass from the cortège of the dead to the community of the living.

The Prayer of Tears

Second, Jesus understands the prayer-language of our tears. All human life is marked, as we sing in the Salve Regina, by “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” The secret is to offer our tears and allow Our Lord to gather them up. There are tears of disappointment, tears of self-pity, tears of rage, tears of loss, and tears of compassion. When we shed these tears in the presence of Our Lord, they become an offering of prayer. Precious above all others are the tears of sorrow for sin. Saint Benedict's 57th Instrument of Good Works is: In our daily prayer to God to confess with tears and groans the wrong-doing in our past life (RB 4:57).

The Roman Missal contains a special votive Mass to ask for the Gift of Tears: an indication that the Church deems tears good for our souls. Perhaps we should celebrate that Mass more often as an antidote to hardheartedness and routine. Tears of compunction are incompatible with lukewarmness.

And Our Praise Will Never Fall Silent

Third, Christ desires that we should be converted and live. Resurrection is meant to be a daily experience in the Christian life. Every morning the Office of Lauds reminds us of this. The confession of sins and the confession of the praise of God are inseparable. The will of God is that we should be doxological souls: living utterances to the praise of his glory.

Praise is the sign that we may have not become hardened and inured to the Word of God. Praise is characteristic of the community of the living. Praise is the very life of the angels and of the blessed in heaven. Saint Augustine says: “In heaven, we shall see, we shall love, and we shall praise. Our vision will never fail, our love will never end, and our praise will never fall silent” (Sermon 254,6).

3 Comments

My good friend who is a nurse keeps a picture of St. Monica by her bedside to remind her to Never Give Up, no matter what, no matter how many rejections. NEVER GIVE UP like St. Monica (who had good reason!). (I hope this helps someone in some small way)

I wish I could cry during Confession.

Jeron, God accepts the wish for the tears. It is enough to want to weep. Not all weeping is of the wet and salty variety.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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