As we remember St. Monica today, I find myself thinking of her model of parenting. As with every saint, there are unique paths to holiness. That path might be through a great intellect, such as St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Bonaventure, or many other Doctors of the Church. The path might be through a great self-discipline, such as some of the early hermits. Perhaps the path is through tremendous prayer life or charity. I would suggest that parenting was the path for St. Monica.
St. Monica clearly did all that she could to lead her children to Christ, and she never stopped praying for the conversion of her most famous son, whose feast day we celebrate tomorrow, St. Augustine. The Office of Readings today provides an excerpt from St. Augustine’s Confessions where the great saint recalls a conversation with his mother days before she died. Their conversation reflected their conscious awareness of God’s presence – a presence St. Augustine refers to as one of the great titles of Christ – Truth.
Here is the first point for today’s parents, to create an atmosphere of faith within the home. Parents have a unique role and responsibility to raise their children in the faith, to lead their children to Christ. How many conversations does a parent have with a child through the course of a lifetime? How often does faith enter into those conversations? How often does the parent help the child to ask questions about God’s will in their life, and encourage their child to grow in knowledge of God through their knowledge of Scripture, through prayer, through the Church by regularly receiving the Sacraments?
A little further on in this conversation between these mother and son saints, we hear that they were speculating on what the life of the saints is like as they share the joy of eternal life. This is a close point to the first, but slightly different. Parents have a unique role to play in the life of their children in creating what I would call a ‘Catholic environment’ in the home. This can be done by making sure that the various liturgical seasons are recognized by family traditions in the home.
My mother had a particular gift for creating this Catholic culture, through music, food, decorations, prayer, active participation in our parish, and yes, conversation. All of my siblings have many fond memories of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and the many family traditions that were a part of each of these seasons, and the critical role they played of teaching and re-enforcing the faith in the home. Creating a Catholic culture in the home is a vital (and can by a lot of fun!) role of parenting.
St. Augustine goes on to share in this morning’s segment from the Confessions how such conversation and faith over time led both of these great saints to desire less and less worldly things, and further strengthened the desire and longing for the things of heaven. And this leads to the final point for consideration of parenting today.
One of St. Monica’s final requests to her sons was that after she died, she cared not where her body was laid to rest. Her only thought was that her sons remember her at the altar of the Lord. Parents today would do well to help their children grow in their belief and understanding that eternal life is the ultimate goal of every believer. Our life upon this earth is a ‘pilgrimage,’ a life of faith, a journey to the ultimate goal of heaven. Parents are responsible when they help their children understand that through sin we run the risk of losing this eternal life with God and the saints. Why else would this holy woman ask her sons to continue to pray for her after she has died? While in this life we certainly believe in and rely upon God’s mercy, but a faithfully mature Catholic never takes that mercy for granted, nor presumes the mercy of God while living in this world with little attention to God’s commandments.
As we all know, St. Monica and the power of her prayers are credited with the conversion of St. Augustine. Many parents today are concerned about children who no longer practice their faith. So, parents, never stop praying for your children. Know that Mary, the great ‘mother of the Church’ never ceases to pray for us. Also seek the intercession of St. Monica in your own prayer for your children. Never doubt the power of God to actively intervene for the good of those we love!
As the prayer of St. Monica led her son back to God and ultimately to discover his vocation as a priest and bishop, and even a great Doctor of the Church, so may the model of life and prayers of our parents today help their children discover God and His Truth in the person of Jesus Christ. As each of the children of the Church discover the presence and love of God in their lives, may they also come to know God’s will in their unique vocations, that God may continue to bless the Church with many more holy men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, priests and religious for the building up of God’s Kingdom and the renewal of His Church.