St. Augustine’s youth was a trial for his mother. St. Monica made sure her son received a Christian education, and she set a good example. Though she probably couldn’t read, she attended her parish’s funerals, just so that she could hear the Gospel proclaimed.
All the best training, however, cannot ensure a child’s fidelity. Her son spent his teen years causing trouble — stealing pears, just for the thrill of rebellion.
In his late teens, Augustine moved from his small hometown to the big city. Though he excelled in his collegiate studies, he behaved badly. He took a mistress and got her pregnant. He stopped going to church and expressed contempt for the Scriptures. They seemed primitive compared to the trendy philosophy he was studying at school. Still worse, he began to dabble in heresy.
Monica was heartbroken. Though Augustine’s prestige soared, she found no delight in it. His pride only made matters worse.
Monica complained to God with tears. She spent long hours haunting chapels. And she kept this up for 17 years!
For Augustine, the turning point came with his journey from North Africa to Italy in A.D. 384. He was appointed to the most prestigious position in his field: the chair in rhetoric at the emperor’s court. Monica, by then a widow, decided to accompany him.
In Milan Augustine was attracted by the reputation of the Church’s bishop, St. Ambrose. Ambrose was a man of formidable skills. He had served as regional governor before he was brought to Church office.
But Augustine was surprised by what he found in the bishop: “Every Sunday I listened as he preached the word of truth to the people, and I grew increasingly certain that it was possible to unravel the tangle woven by those who had deceived me and others with their cunning lies.”
Augustine discovered that he had judged the Scriptures unfairly. He soon came to profess that “the Scriptures were delivered to mankind by the Spirit of the one true God who can tell no lie.”
At first attracted by the humility of Ambrose, Augustine was converted by the profound humility of God, who cloaked his divine word in homely attire — all in order to draw “so great a throng in the embrace of its holy humility.”
God answered Monica’s prayers in a way that was best not only for her son and herself, but for all humanity. Augustine went on to become a bishop who reconciled entire congregations of heretics to the Catholic faith. He could not have done this if he had not had firsthand experience of heresy.
Nor could he have taught the Church to appreciate the Scriptures so deeply if he had not once held them in contempt.
God does not will that any of us should sin. Yet his will is accomplished in spite of our sins.
St. Augustine disturbed years of his mother’s life; but God put those years to good use, and we’re all the beneficiaries.
We celebrate the feasts of both Monica and Augustine this month.