Monica said, “There was indeed one thing for which I wished to stay a while in this life, and that was to see you a Catholic Christian.”
… And when we were at Ostia on the Tiber, my mother died.
(St. Augustine, Confessions, Book IX)
After pursuing her son, Augustine, from Africa to Italy and seeing him convert to Christianity in 386, it was almost as though Monica’s purpose in life had been fulfilled. Hardly a year later, she took ill in Ostia (a seaport outside of Rome)and died there, never returning to her home in Africa. Her remains were eventually laid to rest in the church of San Agostino here in Rome, and it is to this church – run, naturally, by the Augustinian fathers – that our Lenten pilgrimage takes us today.
As I watched many of our pilgrims cluster around Monica’s tomb to pray after Mass, I couldn’t help but admire her story and reflect how much her intercession is needed today. I would guess that many of the pilgrims were praying for someone they knew, some “Augustine-in-waiting”: a family member who had drifted away from, or even outright rejected, Christ and his Church.
Monica: A model of Persistent Prayer
Monica watched her son’s spiritual wanderings in sadness and in frustration, but never in despair. She prayed constantly for his return to the faith – and of course, she was not shy in letting him know about it! So often did her prayers for Augustine end in weeping that her bishop once assured her, “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” And indeed, Augustine’s conversion to Christianity would give the Church not only a devout believer, but one of the most brilliant theologians that Christianity has ever known. Before Monica’s tomb, I offered a prayer for our families – yours and mine – and for all those spiritual wanderers whom God, this Lent, is lovingly seeking out in ways they do not yet know.
Among the 200-odd pilgrims at today’s station church was Mary Breed from Mclean, Virginia, visiting Rome for a few days with her husband Jerry. I caught her just outside St. Monica’s chapel. Mary heard about the station church devotions from a friend who had lived in Rome, and leaped at the chance to hear Mass in English rather than in Italian! She was very moved by the number of pilgrims and especially seminarians who were present at today’s Mass – “We are praying for you seminarians all the time,” she encouraged me. By coincidence (or providence?) Mary has a deep personal devotion to St. Monica and was grateful to be able to ask her, “in person” as it were, to intercede for family and friends, as well as for some girls Mary knows who share Monica’s name.
Post by Seminarian, Aaron Qureshi (pictured in photo)
Photos by Fr. Justin Huber