Patron saint of abuse victims, invoked for conversion of family members and loved ones, difficult marriages and disappointing children.
FEAST DAY 3rd MAY (Traditional calendar)
All mothers can relate to St Monica. Even if we don’t have a wayward son who says, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet”, (Confessions 8,7), we can understand her desperate concern for her son’s moral and spiritual well-being.
She was a Berber woman, a devout Catholic, born in 331 AD and married to a pagan man, Patricius, who was abusive and materialistic. When Augustine was a young child, he became ill to the point of near death and St Monica managed to persuade her husband to allow his baptism into the Catholic faith. Augustine, however, grew into a wayward young man, stealing and cheating and indulging in sexual hedonism. He journeyed to Carthage, studied law and rhetoric, and became consumed with an ambition to excel in oratory.
In his “Confessions” – an ode to God – he tells of his search for truth – his journey through a life beset with sin, in which his profound unhappiness drove him. In this journey, St Monica was with him:
She told me-and I well remember it – not to sin with women, above all with another man’s wife.
I remember her heartfelt concern when she said this.
To me, however, all this was old woman’s talk.
I would have been ashamed to heed it.
But indeed the words were Yours, And I did not know.
I imagined that You were silent.
And that it was she who spoke.
Yet You were speaking to me through her.
In ignoring her I was ignoring You,
I her son, the son of Your handmaid, I Your servant. (Book 2;3)
At this stage, as the result of a profound dissatisfaction with his life and the unhappiness with which he was beset, he became a Manichean, which was a heretical movement – a cult in which the physical material world was seen as evil, the creation of Satan, and the spiritual world good, the realm of God. Seventeen centuries before Scientology, video games and science fiction, the Manichean cult proclaimed that, as a result of the invasion of the realm of the Lord of Light by the minions of Archon, the Lord of Darkness, (Satan), mankind, and indeed, all material things, are facets of light trapped in the foul embrace of matter. For this reason, all matter was seen as evil.
Sexuality, as a manifestation of the physical and material world, was viewed as evil and corrupt and the consumption of foods seen as the product of sexual intercourse was prohibited to the “Perfecti,” (the “perfect” or the “elect”). As a result, the Manichean elect, (and later versions such as the Cathars and the Bogomils), were forbidden meat, (product of sexual intercourse), dairy foods, (fruit of the body and resulting from sexual intercourse), eggs, (same). Inexplicably, St Augustine did not seem to be attracted to spending his life with the 3rd century version of vegans, and eventually rejected the Manichean doctrine, although, admittedly on doctrinal rather than culinary grounds.
Manichean dietary rules required the faithful to eat as much of the substance of the Lord of Light as they could – for example by the consumption of figs, believed to contain a portion of the divine light entombed in material matter. Augustine found this characterisation of God as unworthy and absurd, ridiculing the consumption of figs as belching forth bits of God.
The Manichean view rejected the incarnation of Christ through the body of a woman, this being a sanctification and affirmation of our physical nature. In doing so, they implicitly rejected the concept of man as made in the image of God. Moreover, their belief in the deity manifested in matter invested the creature, (in this case, the fig), with aspects which rightly belong to the Creator.
Strangely, the disassociation of the physical self from the spiritual has manifested itself again in a modern version of Gnosticism, by which a physical “identity” is differentiated from physical reality and given legitimacy.
Augustine referred to his Manichean adventures in his Confessions, first by his reflection on the deception consequent upon seeking knowledge divorced from truth based in God:
“So I joined a group of men who, though calling themselves philosophers, were mainly slick talkers, very sensual and proud to the point of madness.
In their mouths were diabolical snares, Set to trap people with a messy bait, Comprised of the syllables of Your name, And the names of the Lord Jesus Christ, And of the Holy Spirit, The One who answers our cries and comforts us.” (Book 3,6)
“We see these things as the beasts and the birds see them.
But even if we imagine them, they are more real than the extravagant notions of people like these Manichees.
Such things have no reality at all, But on such fantasy food I was fed, And remained hungry.”
When Augustine turned to Manicheism, his mother threw him out of the house. She, however, never ceased in her prayers for her son:
“You stretched out your hand from on high and rescued my soul from this dark world, because my mother, who was devoted to You, wept to You for me. She wept more tears for the death of my soul than ever mothers weep for their child’s bodily death.
In the light of her faith and her spiritual wisdom she regarded me as dead.
And You heard her and did not disregard her tears, when they streamed from her eyes and watered the ground against which she pressed her face whenever she prayed. “(Book 3; 11).
St Monica’s funeral stone was discovered in 1945 in the church of Santa Aurea. It reads:
“Here the most virtuous mother of a young man set her ashes, a second light to your merits, Augustine. As a priest, serving the heavenly laws of peace, you taught the people entrusted with your character. A glory greater than the praise of your accomplishments crowns you both – Mother of the Virtues, more fortunate because of her offspring.”