Saint Monica for Today

The power of a mother’s love.
by Sabrina Ferrisi | Source: National Catholic Register
ST. MONICA: The Power of a Mother’s Love

by Giovanni Falbo

Pauline Books & Media, 2007

142 pages, $14.95

To order:

If you thought that problems in marriage and child-rearing were something peculiar to the 21st century, think again.

St. Monica: the Power of a Mother’s Love, a beautifully written biography by Father Giovanni Falbo, shows us that these problems existed even in the fourth century. Her life is a case study of someone who was able to overcome extreme difficulties through the transformative power of prayer, love and perseverance.

Monica’s parents, though deeply Catholic, arranged for her to marry a pagan known as Patricius. Patricius turned out to be an adulterer given to outbursts of anger. Because married women were considered property, Monica had no choice but to withstand his bad character.

She dealt with Patricius’ difficult personality through charity and heroic forbearance. When his behavior became intolerable, she would cease to speak to him, yet show him love through her actions. Monica refused to be a doormat. If Patricius committed an injustice, she would wait for the right moment and speak to him about it.

Monica’s prayers and integrity won out in the end. She lived to see Patricius convert before his death. Yet it was her son who would cause her the strongest grief.

Monica and Patricius realized early that Augustine, their first-born, was brilliant. They sent him to a boarding school in Carthage when he was a teenager because of the superior education. Patricius did so because he was ambitious for Augustine to appear better than anyone else. Monica intuited that Augustine’s greatness would spring forth from his knowledge.

While he was in Carthage, Augustine gave free rein to his passions, met a woman and fathered a son. To make matters worse, he also joined the heretical Manichean sect.

“A terrible period followed,” Father Falbo writes. “Monica found no peace and would have died of a broken heart if God had not comforted her as only God knows how to do. One night, Monica had a hard time falling asleep, but as soon as she dozed off, God showed her in a dream the wonders he had prepared for the future.”

This biography, masterfully translated from the Italian, is gripping and fast-paced. It does not simplify the story. And with few exceptions — as in the descriptions of the remains of St. Monica — it does not get too bogged down in unnecessary details.

Father Falbo does a magnificent job of telling us St. Monica’s life story without ignoring St. Augustine. Yet he keeps the focus on Monica. When appropriate, he quotes from the great works of Augustine to talk about how God used Monica to bring her son back into the Church.

The final chapter wraps up the book by discussing Monica’s relevance for families today.

“Monica is still a witness for our time, not because she had a perfect family but because she did not run away from her responsibilities,” Father Falbo writes. “She did not shut herself up in the ivory tower of her faith and religiosity, dismissing the practical concerns of her life. Neither did she lose or compromise her Christian identity, even though she threw herself entirely into the ambiguous situations of her family.”

For Catholic families who try to nurture Godly marriages and children — and who face apparent failure — this is an inspiring and relevant story.

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi writes from Larchmont, New York.

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