The past two days mark the feasts of two great saints of the Church, a mother and a son, whose lives give testimony to a sure-fired method of evangelizing those we love.
St. Monica (August 27) is the mother of St. Augustine (August 28), though Augustine was no saint when Monica began her earnest intercession. At that time he was a pagan and a member of the heretical Manichean sect. He was known to be a carouser who lived with a woman to whom he had fathered a child. A brilliant mind, he was “devoted” to his views and his lifestyle, and had no intention of converting to the Catholic faith.
St. Monica was distraught about her son’s dissolute ways and decided to do something about it. She prayed. And in the end, her prayers won the soul of her son.
What was it that made St. Monica’s prayers so effective? I think five strategies are primarily responsible. Perhaps you can implement them as you seek to evangelize those you love.
First, St. Monica prayed. And then she prayed. And then she prayed. In other words, St. Monica exhibited constancy and perseverance in her prayer — two virtues absolutely necessary for effective intercession. In addition, St. Monica fortified and strengthened her prayer through fasting. Remember Jesus’ words to the disciples, “But this kind can come out only through prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). Monica did more as well. She sought the prayers of others. In fact, the priests in her town used to try to hide from her so relentless was she in pursuing them for their intercession!
Second, Monica, though eager for her son’s conversion, exercised patience through endurance. Sometimes we cave in when our prayers seem to go unanswered. This is precisely the time to hold on and maintain patient trust in God. Our prayers are always heard by God, and He always responds — but not necessarily according to our timetable. St. James gives good advice when he instructs, “Be patient, therefore my brothers, for the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer awaits the precious yield of the soil. He looks forward to it patiently while the soil receives the winter and the spring rains. You, too, must be patient. Steady your hearts, because the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:7-8). Our patience and our prayer till the soil of our loved one’s heart so that the seed of truth can be planted and produce a rich interior harvest.
Third, St. Monica drew comfort and consolation from others. Good spiritual friends are indispensible when we are facing a suffering of the heart. St. Monica shared her travail with her spiritual director and with others who could give her guidance and help as she embraced the sorrow her son caused her. And they provided her with strength. One spiritual friend shared these words with her. They gave her great consolation: “The child of many tears shall never perish.”
Fourth, St. Monica asked God to send someone else to evangelize Augustine. St. Monica prayerfully beseeched God to send to Augustine someone who could “reach” him. In this, she showed her humility — she was quite willing to plant the seed, water it with her prayers, and let someone else reap the harvest. God answered St. Monica’s prayer and brought St. Ambrose into Augustine’s life. Ambrose was a brilliant man, the Bishop of Milan, and he spoke Augustine’s “language.” It was St. Ambrose who baptized St. Augustine on Easter Day in the Church of St. John the Baptist.
Fifth, St. Monica witnessed the faith to Augustine through her daily life. St. Monica did not have an easy time of it. Though a Christian, her parents arranged for her to marry a pagan man who was abusive and violent toward her. In addition, her mother-in-law, who lived with the couple, treated Monica with disrespect and abuse. Through it all, however, Monica persevered in her faith with charity of heart. When Augustine followed in his father’s philandering footsteps, she continued to love him and never gave up hope for his conversion. She followed him to Rome and then to Milan in pursuit of his soul. Augustine’s salvation became the quest of her life. Shortly after his baptism, Monica said to her son, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” Soon after, she died.
Is there an Augustine in your life? Perhaps St. Monica and her son, St. Augustine show us the way to effective evangelization.
Note: Not only did St. Monica win the soul of her son for the Lord, but she won her husband’s soul and her mother’s-in-law soul for Him as well! She is a true heroine of the Church and a dynamic woman of grace. St. Monica, pray for us. And St. Augustine, too!