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As I see it, reversion or conversion is a life-long process. It’s like walking on shores of a sandy beach looking into the beautiful blue ocean illuminated by the rising Son, S-O-N. You want to walk into the water but you’re afraid so instead, you sit and build grandiose castles in the sand. All is well and good until a gentle wave comes and melts it all away. This “melting away” happens when we face trials and carry our crosses. Their purpose is to reveal moments when we have turned our focus away from God and towards things that are temporary and fleeting. Trials reveal our attachments. Every time our worlds are shaken, we are called to turn our gaze to Truth Incarnate, Jesus our Lord.
These are the times we realize that what’s most important is the soothing ocean that gets its beauty and brilliance from…the Son. You see, sometimes we get so consumed building sand castles that we forget to love and appreciate the beauty and depth of the ocean…our Mother Church. Conversion is God calling you ever so gently into the fullness of Truth, into the deep waters, not to drown in despair and loneliness, but to walk on water as you steadfastly cast your gaze upon the Son of God.
Saint Monica, the patroness of conversion, alcoholics, married women, and mothers, reveals to us the recipe for true conversion. She is well noted by St. Ambrose for her piety, detachment, and determination. Her son Saint Augustine, doctor of the Church, names her as, not only the woman who bore him from her own flesh and blood, but also the mother of his spirit. Saint Monica watered the seed of love of Christ and the name of Jesus in Augustine with her own tears. In Saint Augustine’s Confessions, he said his mother mourned and cried for him more than some women cried over their child’s dead bodies.
Some of us may not know the lives of Saint Monica and Saint Augustine but I’ll gladly give you a brief overview.
Saint Monica lived between the years 330 and 387 in Tagaste, her hometown in North Africa. Tagaste is present-day Algeria. She was from a Christian home but her parents arranged her marriage to a local magistrate from Tagaste, a pagan Roman named Patricius. She had 3 children – Augustine was the eldest, followed by Nagivius and Perpetua.
She confided in Augustine that when she was young she fell into the path that would lead her to alcoholism. She would go down to the cellar to get wine for her father and started taking little tastes, then a few drinks, then after a while big swallows of wine. One day, a servant commented to her about how this little habit she was entertaining was wrong and not suitable for one such as she. Instead of becoming rebellious and defensive, Monica allowed herself to be corrected and decided to act in contrition and leave that worldly habit. I could imagine Saint Monica told Augustine this story for a reason. Many of us parents often tell these kinds of stories for one reason alone – to give our children the hope of true conversion. My sisters-in-Christ, Saint Monica had good reason to tell this story – her beloved Augustine had a dying soul as he fell into worldly living and the Manichaean heresy. Her heart wasn’t torn by her other two children, Nagivius and Perpetua. They eventually entered the religious life. But it was her beloved oldest son, her first born, who tore her heart to shreds.
As if the pain of her beloved Augustine wasn’t enough, her married life was also fraught with conflict with her husband and mother-in-law. Monica was alone amongst enemies with her husband having a long-time mistress and her mother-in-law, having turned the servants against her, made her life miserable. Does anyone know what that’s like? I could imagine that in those times, a woman leaving her husband was not an option. One couldn’t just dispense divorce papers like people do now – sadly, we see people call for divorce the moment the honeymoon period is over. “It doesn’t feel good anymore so let’s tear this family apart and pursue the next thrill. Besides, the kids will bounce back, they’re so resilient.” No, whether the situation is worthy of an annulment or not, divorce causes hurt that can scar and last a lifetime, especially to children involved.
If leaving a marriage was impossible for Monica, where could she have taken refuge? I could think of one place. She could have taken refuge in the one addiction Satan planted in her youth – alcoholism. But to this saint’s credit, she did no such thing. Instead, she steadfastly stayed the course in growing in faith, hope, and love, through relentless piety, detachment and determination.
In summary, it was Saint Monica’s weaving of piety, detachment and determination, throughout her life that brought about great fruits beginning with the conversion of her beloved mother-in-law and the entire household. A year before her husband Patricius’ death, he joined his mother and also converted.
But to her dismay, her beloved Augustine was yet to be converted. How could it be that such a devout and faithful mother had a son so spiritually lost? Early in his childhood it was obvious that Augustine was a special boy. He had a profound intellect and the gift of being a great orator in his time. An “orator” is another word for public speaker. And even through his troubled youth he had a deep love for the name of Jesus – a seed of faith that his mother planted and watered with her own tears. Yet, he had a son out of wedlock and embraced the heresy of Manichaeanism.
How many of you are mothers? Good Catholic mothers have a unique fear that an agnostic, atheistic, or protestant mother does NOT have. It is the fear that our children will fall away from the ONE true Church established by God himself. As mothers, we want the best for our children and we know in our hearts that this is it. There are many ways that lead to God, but our Catholic faith is the surest and safest way to the fullness of Truth, Love, and eternal Happiness. Isn’t that what we want for our children? The greatest gift we can give to our children is God himself in the Holy Eucharist and we KNOW, there is no other way for our children to be ONE with the creator of the universe week after week than through the Catholic faith.
Before she died, Saint Monica witnessed the conversion of her beloved Augustine as he became a Catholic Christian. She had already arranged a marriage for him thinking he may not be able to handle celibacy but to her surprise, Augustine abandoned worldly pleasures to pursue the religious life.
Monica’s heart was full as she lay dying in her final days. But God rewarded her even more abundantly after death. Augustine went on to become a bishop and doctor of the Church. Maybe Monica’s prayers were even more powerful as she peeked over the walls of heaven to see the fruit of her worldly labor for Augustine.
Saint Monica laid a path and the foundation that fosters true conversion. This saint is not only for mothers, wives, and alcoholics, but she is also for you if you are in need of conversion. Ask her to pray for you. If you don’t have a husband or children but have a friend, sister, brother, niece, nephew, mother, father in need of conversion – pray for her intercession. Whether you have children or not, you can always be the mother of someone’s spirit, as Monica was to Augustine, and go through spiritual and emotional labor pains for their conversion. I suggest you spiritually adopt some one in need of a spiritual mother.
Saint Monica’s life is marked by 3 overarching qualities…piety, detachment and determination.
St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan in the 4th century, was instrumental in helping Augustine convert. St. Monica had a great affection for him because of this and he also had a great affection for her. Ambrose would break-out in praise of Monica at times he’d run into Augustine noting her extraordinary piety. She went to Mass twice a day, morning and evening, offered sacrifices, prayed without ceasing, and helped anyone who needed it.
In the CCC #1831 says that piety is one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit and comes in the form of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.
Pope St. Gregory taught that, “Through fear of the Lord, we rise to piety.” The basic definition is “to give filial worship to God precisely as our Father and to relate with all people as children of the same Father.” Piety allows us to see rightly, who we are in relation to God and creation. We have a child-like willingness to make sacrifices in order to please God and fulfill our obligations to each other as brothers and sisters of Christ.
Practicing piety should foster humility when we realize our littleness in relation to the great, almighty God. We are able to see with great clarity, the frivolousness of worldly pleasures, honors, and materials. Piety coupled with humility and fortitude pushes us through pain and adversity.
The CCC #1808 says that, Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Pope Francis teaches that “Piety, therefore, is synonymous of authentic religious spirit, filial confidence in God, of the capacity to pray to Him with love and simplicity which is proper of persons who are humble of heart. The gift of piety makes us grow in our relation and communion with God and leads us to live as His children; at the same time it helps us to pour this love also on others and to recognize them as brothers.”
Let us ask – what more can we do to practice extraordinary piety focused, not to be seen by others as good and religious, but to glorify God and better serve him and those in need – the sick, the lonely, and all those far from God?
Extraordinary Determination to Persevere
There is no doubt that St. Monica’s determination to persevere and embrace her suffering led her to the conversion of those who seemed hopeless. Her mother-in-law and the household, her husband, and ultimately, her son. She was willing and able to endure emotional suffering, verbal abuse, infidelity, and rejection. This allowed her to dive deeper and deeper into the recesses of her heart to find relief in the interior castle with God. It’s a tragedy how, as time goes on, finding ways to numb our pain and suffering has become easier than ever. At the moment of discomfort we’ll go eat a sweet treat, work a little longer, play music or a movie, or just pick-up our cell phones to get on social media to distract ourselves. If this generation doesn’t assimilate the art of graceful and grace-filled, redemptive suffering into their lives, it’s in danger of never happening. The determination to persevere is best taught through example.
CCC#1637 says that, In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: “For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband.”138 It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this “consecration” should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith. Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.
Let us reflect: Do I embrace suffering or do I try to avoid it with little comforts or distractions throughout the day? Instead of persevering, do I give up too easily and take the easy way out?
The CCC#2544 tells us that, Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them “renounce all that [they have]” for his sake and that of the Gospel. Shortly before his passion he gave them the example of the poor widow of Jerusalem who, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on. The precept of detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.
Saint Ambrose helped Monica amid her every growing piety, to detach from things of this world – particularly from her wanting conversion for Augustine. The more she tried to push and push and push him to change, the less likely it would happen. She was too attached.
What is an attachment?
In order to understand detachment, it would be good to understand what an attachment is. According Fr. Ripperger, an attachment is when the faculties, such as the appetite, emotions, intellect, and will, are so focused on a thing that moving away from it causes pain. We’re fixed on certain ideas, objects, foods, even people and ourselves.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that faith initiates the purification of the Will because we learn that God is the center of the universe rather than ourselves or other creatures and things.
What is detachment?
Detachment is a process where we recognize the things that we can’t move away from and begin to look away towards God. So how can we tell that we’re not attached to something? We can tell if we’re detached when it makes no difference to us whether or not that created thing is in our lives or not. For example, if I love buffalo wings dipped in ranch dressing and all of a sudden I have one last wing to eat and there’s no more dressing, I’m attached if I get upset about it. Being detached would mean it wouldn’t make any difference to me whether or not we had dressing or wings or anything else. We can also have an attachment to our ways of thinking or take pride in our own intellect and knowledge. If someone tries to present a different idea and we’re resistant to it or get angry because someone doesn’t agree with our ideas, then I have an attachment to my intellect. If I were detached to my intellect, I would remain calm and not get irate about someone wanting to do things differently than me. It’s also possible to be attached to spiritual objects. Let’s say I have a blessed statue of our Lady and my kid accidentally knocks it over and breaks it, my anger is a great indicator of how much I was attached to this created thing. If I were detached, I’d have the grace necessary to be charitable towards my child instead of going into a rage over the broken statue.
One of easiest ways to detect a detachment to something is to observe if you have and emotion that comes with the presentation or thought of the thing. It could be pleasure, anger, sorrow, or bitterness.
St. John of the Cross says that we must aim to have perfect detachment from created things in order to be perfectly attached to God and go to Heaven. In heaven, souls have perfect detachment, where as in hell, we have constant attachments… no exceptions, no middle ground.
Therefore, it’s great to practice mortification. Mortification is a way of being proactive and dying to self, particularly with taming the physical senses and appetites. There varying degrees of mortification but it’s a process of replacing the pleasure you get from the created thing you are attached to with pain. Therefore, mortification is, in a sense the antidote to what you are attached to. It’s replacing the pleasure we’re seeking with pain. Unfortunately, many people today do all they can to avoid pain and discomfort.
Now think of something in your home you really love. Let’s say it’s a more expensive than other things in your home and you worked long hours to be able to buy that thing. Let’s pretend someone you love accidentally broke it, threw it away, or misplaced it. Well of course you’d just look at him or her and say, “oh don’t worry about it, it’s ok!” Or would you probably fly into a rage and let that person have it? I don’t know about you, but I know I would have a hard time getting over it. You see, a problem with attachments is that it clouds our intellect and triggers us to behave disproportionately angry or sad. The broken or lost thing is not worth destroying a relationship or belittling someone, but our attachments don’t allow us to make right decisions.
Attachments of the Will are broken by simply turning away from the thing you want to do. It’s difficult in the beginning but as you turn away from the thing, and focus on God, the pain of not having it dissipates until you have perfect detachment from it.
Another way to break from attachments is, of course, prayer. When we pray we turn our focus to God. The more we pray, the greater our focus. But it’s important to pray with intention of connecting with our Creator, not for our own selfish pursuits. For example, we may have a routine to pray at a certain hour of the day. If something comes up with your family and it breaks your routine, do you strike in anger because your plans were ruined? Or you know you’re time is limited and you race through the Rosary with not even a single gaze upon the Lord in your heart? Did you say it for the sake of checking it off your to-do list? If so, then the prayer was empty and you might as well have been doing something else.
We must detach ourselves from all created things including our identities, what we think about ourselves, our homes and other things, and even our children and our loved ones.
St. Ambrose’s message to Saint Monica about detaching herself from Augustine was not just for her but for all of us.
It is through the determination to persevere in detaching from created things that we can find true charity and purify our intentions. We have all felt pain at the site of watching our loved ones fall into sin…especially our children. Until we reach a greater degree of detachment, will be able to realize the correct order of praise. By relating to God in this way we are able to practice true charity.
Does detaching from family and loved ones means we’ll turn cold or indifferent?
The answer is no. As a matter of fact, this greater union with God as your priority in life will bring about graces. You will be more loving than ever before because the Lord is taking residence in your heart. You will also be more compassionate, understanding, patient, and kind. You will grow in piety and reverence for God.
And these are the great lessons that St. Monica taught us. The secret to leading our children, spouses, and others to true conversion begins with us.
What a blessing that St. Augustine took up the art of journaling his conversion story. The translators noted that his book Confessions, was not an autobiography. It’s his testimony of how God transformed his heart through the love and tears if his beloved mother Monica and the great Ambrose.
I’m going to read a short excerpt from Confessions:
Then my mother said: “Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness. What more am I to do here?”
I do not well remember what reply I made to her about this. However, it was scarcely five days later–certainly not much more–that she was prostrated by fever. While she was sick, she fainted one day and was for a short time quite unconscious. We hurried to her, and when she soon regained her senses, she looked at me and my brother as we stood by her, and said, in inquiry, “Where was I?” Then looking intently at us, dumb in our grief, she said, “Here in this place shall you bury your mother.” I was silent and held back my tears; but my brother said something, wishing her the happier lot of dying in her own country and not abroad. When she heard this, she fixed him with her eye and an anxious countenance, because he savored of such earthly concerns, and then gazing at me she said, “See how he speaks.” Soon after, she said to us both: “Lay this body anywhere, and do not let the care of it be a trouble to you at all. Only this I ask: that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you are.” And when she had expressed her wish in such words as she could, she fell silent, in heavy pain with her increasing sickness.
These were the last words of a dying woman who had done all she could to attain detachment from created things and perfect attachment to God. She had not a care for earthly pleasures, she did not wail in sadness for not having more time with her newly converted son, and she grieved that her sons would be concerned over the earthly cares of her body.
With this, I challenge you to take stock of the things that cause you pain and ask God for the grace of detachment. I also urge you to listen to our Lady of Fatima and pray the Rosary with your family daily. We want to be proactive in strengthening your family prayer life and safeguarding your children from the forces of evil by praying the Rosary as a family. This will deepen your spiritual life and help you and your children love God with all your hearts, minds, and souls. Like someone said, “A house is no home unless it contains food for the soul as well as for the body.”
Let’s pray together… Glory be…
You’ll find the transcript to this episode on TheCatholicServant.com/Saint-Monica-lessons and please share it with someone who may need today’s message. And, please continue to send me your prayer requests to Alexandra@TheCatholicServant.com so we can lift you up in prayer during our next family Rosary.
May you have a blessed and prayerful week.