I am mother to six intelligent strong-willed individuals. On this day, August 27, I rejoice in the example of St. Monica, whose feast day it is, and take the opportunity to reflect on Will and Motherhood.
For a mother, one part of the job is to exert her will on her babies and make them do as she says. She must learn when to exert that will, and when to relax and allow the children to be free. As they grow she must teach them her will so that they can learn to do it without her around. Eventually, the plan is, they will learn how to do what is right without her and choose to do it on their own, thus becoming useful adults.
The trick is to realize that even though this process of guidance is a very, very important part of her job as mother, in the end she must step back and allow her children to choose on their own even when she sees them making mistakes or choosing wrongly. Also, she cannot choose many things for them. Who will their friends be, what will be their profession or who will be their marriage partner — all of these will certainly be influenced by home life, but in the end, children choose their own path.
The Blessed Mother is a wonderful guide through life, but sometimes an imperfect mother can feel dissatisfied with Mary as a model since Mary’s son was perfect but one’s own is far from that.
Today, August 27, is the feast day of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, and she has long been a model for me of how to persevere in raising a son. Her son was extremely intelligent and extremely willful. They were very close when he was young, but as he grew and moved away from her spiritually and physically, she continued to watch over him with motherly love. She didn’t nag. She allowed Augustine to make his own mistakes while letting him know what she thought.
St. Monica was a Christian married to a pagan Roman in North Africa. Augustine was the eldest of their three children. Her husband was not an easy man to live with, and none of her children were allowed to be baptized, although before he died her husband himself became a Christian. Augustine requested baptism once as a boy when he nearly died of an illness, but upon recovering, he decided not to go through with it. This distressed Monica exceedingly, and she followed Augustine when he left home as a young man seeking to make his fortune.
I am sure that the spectacle of his mother earnestly praying for his soul annoyed Augustine at times in his sin, but the sense from his Confessions is gratitude at her fortitude and perseverance. There is a story that Monica received encouragement from a holy bishop that her tears and trials would have a positive result and her son would become a Christian.
My eldest son chose Augustine for his patron saint when I told him about this strong-willed, intelligent man who was such a trial to his mother. My own patron saint is St. Martin de Porres, but I value extremely the example of St. Monica.
She knew what she willed for her children. She knew what would be good for her children. She knew enough to educate her children in the ways of the Lord even though she could not baptize them (Augustine spoke of how he always reverenced the name of Jesus from his childhood), and she also knew that ultimately her children were their own people and would make their own decisions and she needed to allow that.
College classes for two of my children start today. The oldest, whose Confirmation name is Augustine, will be leaving home again on Wednesday. As my babies go out into the world, making their own choices with their own triumphs and mistakes, I know St. Monica is with me as I seek like her to school my will to the Lord’s and allow my babies to fly free.