St. Monica (331–387) was the long-suffering mother of St. Augustine (354–380). In her youth, she was in danger of becoming a “wine bibber,” but a stinging rebuke from a maid who found her secretly sipping wine in the wine cellar caused her to stop.
Because of this, she is the unofficial patron saint of alcoholics. However, she is known mainly as the patron saint of mothers and married women, and earned that title through decades of praying for the conversion of the hardened hearts of her family members.
The entire family struggled with the chaos of addiction, just like families of today. Monica was a devout Catholic who was given in marriage by her parents to her pagan husband, Patricius. He was difficult and often violent, and also unfaithful. Her mother-in-law, with whom they lived, was a demanding woman who never missed a chance to find fault with Monica. With both of them and three growing children, Monica had her hands full, and no doubt spent many a night on her knees in prayer.
It was through these hard years that Monica grew in patience and perseverance. She clung to God and her faith for solace and strength and prayed for the souls of her husband and mother-in-law. It took twenty years, but both were converted, in part because Monica allowed God to use her as an instrument of peace and gentleness in the home. The greatest challenge for Monica, however, was her son, Augustine.
He was her youngest child and the most brilliant of the three, but he was also lazy and rebellious. Even though Monica had raised Augustine as a Christian, he pursued an active social life that included drinking and a series of affairs and “fast living” that ultimately produced an out-of- wedlock child.
Augustine’s keen intellect, coupled with his lack of morals, enabled him to be taken in by the heresy of the day, Manichaeism. It was a philosophy that billed itself as “beyond Christianity” for the smart and sophisticated. In reaction, Monica cut off contact with Augustine, but through a dream she resumed the relationship and followed Augustine to Africa, where she continued to pray for his conversion.
While there, Augustine met and heard St. Ambrose teach and speak. His influence proved genuine, trustworthy, and irresistible, and led to Augustine’s conversion at the age of thirty-one. Eventually, Augustine became a priest and bishop of Hippo. His life and writings led to his being canonized and named a Doctor of the Church.
Monica’s prayerful perseverance had paid off. Believing that her life’s mission was complete with the conversion of her son, she died very shortly after Augustine was baptized.
“Dear Jesus, help me to follow the example of St. Monica, who persevered in prayer on behalf of her family and loved ones. When I grow weary and discouraged, lift me up and renew my strength and commitment to pray unceasingly. Blessed Mother, penetrate my heart with your grace, and sustain me with the same hope that sustained you. Amen.”
Excerpted from Anne Costas latest book, Praying for Those with Addictions (The Word Among Us Press, 2016). Available at wau.org/books