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Monica: A Model of Prayer and Piety

How committed are you to interceding for lost souls? Do you pray regularly and fervently that God would invade the rebellious souls of lost men and women and overcome their resistance to the gospel? Continue reading . . .

How committed are you to interceding for lost souls? Do you pray regularly and fervently that God would invade the rebellious souls of lost men and women and overcome their resistance to the gospel? Do you ask him, perhaps even with tears, that he would shine the light of the knowledge of the glory of God as revealed in the face of Jesus into their unbelieving hearts and dispel the darkness of sin and idolatry (2 Cor. 4:6)?

Let’s get even more specific. If you have children who do not know Christ, do you continually intercede on their behalf? Has their rebellion driven you to despair? Have you simply quit, giving up all hope that God might yet bring them to saving faith? If you are tempted to, don’t. If you already have, renew again your prayers for them.

I can think of no one who was more devoted to praying for the salvation of a cold-hearted idolatrous child than Monica, the mother of the famous Saint Augustine. Monica consecrated her life to interceding for the salvation of her wayward and immoral son. She eventually sought out the help of a respected bishop, imploring him to meet with Augustine to address his spiritual plight. He declined. Here is how Augustine tells the story in his Confessions:

“She pleaded all the more insistently and with free-flowing tears that he would consent to see me and discuss matters with me. A little vexed, he answered, ‘Go away now; but hold on to this: it is inconceivable that he should perish, a son of tears like yours.’ In her conversations with me later she often recalled that she had taken these words to be an oracle from heaven” (The Confessions, translated by Maria Boulding [Vintage Books, 1997] 53).

He later would add his own word of affirmation to his mother’s belief that her son would eventually come to Christ:

“Could you, then, whose grace had made her what she was, disdain those tears and rebuff her plea for your aid, when what she tearfully begged from you was not gold or silver, not some insecure, ephemeral advantage, but the salvation of her son? No, Lord, that would have been unthinkable; rather you were present, you heard her, and you acted: it was done as you had predestined that it should be. Could you have deceived her in those visions and assurances you had given her, those I have already recorded and others not mentioned, to which she held fast in her faithful heart and which she regularly in prayer presented for your attention, as pledges bearing your own signature? Perish the thought! Though you forgive us all our debts, you deign by your promises to make yourself our debtor, for you merciful love abides forever” (88).

In the Confessions Augustine describes at great length his mother’s dream which she interpreted as God’s promise that he would eventually bring her son to saving faith. This was not an isolated experience for her, which led Augustine to say this concerning how she discerned the difference between God’s voice and her own desires:

“She claimed that by something akin to the sense of taste, a faculty she could not explain in words, she was able to distinguish between your revelations to her and the fantasies of her own dreaming soul” (117).

Augustine’s now-famous conversion experience was followed by Monica’s exuberant joy. Upon telling her of his new life in Christ,

“she was filled with triumphant delight and blessed you, who have power to do more than we ask or understand, for she saw that you had granted her much more in my regard than she had been wont to beg of you in her wretched, tearful groaning. Many years earlier you had shown her a vision of me standing on the rule of faith; and now indeed I stood there, no longer seeking a wife or entertaining any worldly hope, for you had converted me to yourself. In so doing you had also converted her grief into a joy far more abundant than she had desired, and much more tender and chaste than she could ever have looked to find in grandchildren from my flesh” (169).

With deep affection he referred to her as “that servant of yours who brought me forth from her flesh to birth into this temporal light, and from her heart to birth in light eternal” (183).

Monica’s prayers for her son were only one manifestation of her piety. She patiently endured multiple infidelities in her husband, whom she eventually led to Christ, as was also the case with her mother-in-law. According to Augustine, she would often serve “as peacemaker whenever she could if friction occurred between souls at variance” (186). Indeed, “she was the servant of your servants. Every one of them who knew her found ample reason to praise, honor and love you as he sensed your presence in her heart, attested by the fruits of her holy way of life” (187).

As the end of her earthly life approached she looked with anxious longing for heaven:

“For my part, my son, I find pleasure no longer in anything this life holds. What I am doing here still, or why I tarry, I do not know, for all worldly hope has withered away for me. One thing only there was for which I desired to linger awhile in this life: to see you a Catholic Christian before I died. And this my God has granted to me more lavishly than I could have hoped, letting me see you even spurning earthly happiness to be his servant. What now keeps me here?” (190).

Monica died at the age of 56. The fruit of her relentless prayer life lived on.

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