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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

August 21, 2008

Monica and Augustine: Mother and Son Saints

On August 27 and August 28, the feast days of two Catholic saints—mother and son—are celebrated back to back. It figures.

St. Monica could be called the "persistent mother." A North African woman living in the fourth century, Monica was married to Patricus, a pagan, through the arrangement of her family. Monica endured plenty of emotional abuse from her husband, but her greater challenge was her oldest son, Augustine.

When he was a child, Monica taught her son the Catholic catechism and how to pray. When Augustine grew seriously ill, he requested Baptism, but when he began to recover, Baptism was forgotten.

Later, as a student in Carthage, Augustine came to follow a heretical teaching, Manachaeism, that claimed that the body was evil while the soul alone was good. He also liked to party, and he lived with his girlfriend and their son. Monica was so disgusted with Augustine that she would not let him eat or sleep in her home.

Mother and son rarely spoke to each other. Still Monica continued to pray for Augustine after a bishop told her that it was better to talk to God about Augustine than to Augustine about God. The bishop also told her: "At present the heart of the young man is too stubborn, but God's time will come. It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish."

Augustine's time came some years later. In Milan, Augustine was inspored by the preaching of the Catholic bishop there, St. Ambrose. Soon after, Augustine became torn between living chastely and his past sinfulness. Augustine went out to an outer garden at the place where he was staying. He threw himself on the ground under a tree and cried out, "How long, O Lord?" Will you always be angry with me? Remember not my past sins."

Just then Augustine could hear the singing of a neighbor child on the other side of the wall. The child kept repeating the same verse over and over, "Tolle lege! Tolle lege!" which means "Take up and read!" He got up, went inside, and found the Bible opened to Romans 13 where he read: "Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh' (Rm 13:12-14).

Augustine was baptized by Ambrose on Easter Sunday in 387. Soon after, his mother died. She said shortly before her death, "I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here. All I wished to live for was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of heaven."

Augustine lived chastely from that time on. He was ordained and named bishop of Hippo. St. Augustine is one of the great scholars of the Church. He is a Doctor of the Church.

His mother has not been forgotten either. St. Monica is the patron saint of mothers and fathers and of all lost and wayward children. And the church recently moved St. Monica's feast day to August 27 so that it would be near her son's the following day.

Give each person a Bible. Ask them to randomly open to any page, as Augustine once did. Encourage a period of quiet meditation. Then go around the group asking each person to tell which words, verses, or longer passages spoke to them on the pages they opened to.

Ask the students to write a story about a person they know who, as St. Augustine once did, needs conversion to a Christian lifestyle. Tell the students to used fictitious names in their writing. When they are finished, collect all of the stories. Get permission to read some of the stories aloud.

Journal Question
If you asked your parents to tell the one dream they have for you, what do you think they would say?

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