March 05, 2014

Monica: A Mother's Prayer

Stephen Nichols
Monica: A Mother's Prayer


On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, we're going to consider a mother. Now this is not just any mother, and her son is not just any son.  Her son is Augustine, and her name is Monica.

We know the story of Augustine as it comes to us in his book, The Confessions. The Confessions is in one sense an autobiography. It tells us the story of Augustine and the "hound of heaven" (that's God) who's tracking down Augustine and bringing him to Himself. But this book also has some other characters in it, and one of those characters is his mother, Monica. If God is the hound of heaven, then maybe Monica is the earthly counterpart to that. She's the hound on earth who tracks down Augustine.

Now in The Confessions, Augustine moves around a lot. I think he does that on purpose. It's actually what his life was, moving around a lot. But, there's also a theological meaning to that. He's illustrating that wandering that we all do. It goes back to the garden. We were kicked out of our home and we went East of Eden, and we just kept going East, and East, and East. And so, this is Augustine wandering around. But his mother always manages to track him down. In fact, at one point I think Augustine even leaves in the middle of the night! No forwarding address, nothing. But somehow Monica manages to track him down.

She made it her mission on earth to be the one who would just constantly pray for Augustine. To be the one, again from a human perspective, that God would use in bringing Augustine to Himself. In fact, at one point in The Confessions, Monica says, "There was only one reason, and one reason alone why I wished to remain a little longer in this life, and it was to see you," she says to her son Augustine, "to see you become a Christian." Well, this mother lived to see those prayers answered. Augustine did become a Christian there in Milan. And Augustine and his mother decided they would travel back to their home to North Africa.

Now to do this they needed to go to the town of Ostia. Today we call it Ostia Antica, but in that day it was just simply called Ostia. This was a port city about 16 miles or so away from Rome; and because of that location, was a very busy port city and functioned as sort of the significant port for the Mediterranean Sea region. And so, it was from Ostia that Augustine and his mother would board a boat and make their way back to North Africa. But Augustine would not be traveling with Monica.

There is a scene in The Confessions...and I just want to read this to you. Augustine is remembering one of his last conversations that he had with his mother there in Ostia.

Not long before the day in which she was to leave this life, You knew which day it was to be O, Lord. Though we did not. My mother and I were alone, leaning from a window which overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house where we were staying at Ostia. We were waiting there after our long and tiring journey away from the crowd to refresh ourselves before our sea voyage. I believe that what I am going to tell happened through the secret working of your providence.

For we were talking alone together and our conversation was sweet, and serene, and joyful. We had forgotten what we had left behind and were intent on what laid before us. We were wondering what the eternal life of the saints would be like, that life which eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor human heart has conceived. But we laid the lips of our hearts to the heavenly stream that flows from Your fountain. The source of all life which is in You. So that as far as it was in our power to do so we might be sprinkled with its waters, and in some sense reach an understanding of this great mystery. Our conversation led us to the conclusion that no bodily pleasure, however great it might be, and whatever earthly light might shed luster upon it was worthy of our comparison, or even of mention, beside the happiness of the life of the saints.

It was not long after this conversation that Monica left this life, and joined the everlasting rest and happiness of the saints.