The Practicality of Saints

How the idea of venerating saints is a thoroughly modern and practical idea as illustrated by Monica and Augustine
by Kathryn M. Cunniingham | Source:

                 Of all the traditions in the Catholic Church, the tradition of venerating and admiring saints is perhaps one of the best loved practices for the faithful.  This ancient tradition dates back to the early first century when worshipers experienced and told of miracles that occurred at the graves of martyrs that they had witnessed with “their own two eyes”.  At that time in history these occurrences proved to be an expression of faith that gave courage and affirmation in times which were very dangerous and literally life threatening.  The idea that “those who had gone before us” could manifest the residue of holiness after death was both encouraging and sustaining for people who were desperately trying to keep the faith. 

         John Paul II was criticized for canonizing and beatifying more saints during his pontificate than all the popes before him combined, 563 to be exact.   But, could it be that he understood the practicality of saints in a way that previous pontiffs did not?  When we read or hear about a saint, we focus on their holiness or great deeds or willingness to sacrifice. There is another dimension to sainthood, however, that we ought to consider.  As John Paul II understood, saints are ordinary people who managed to do extraordinary things.  The truth is that most saints started out as no different than you or I and managed to live their faith in a way that went beyond the norm.  The majority of saints canonized by John Paul II were not from a distant past but people who lived in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  They were from all walks and cultures, people just trying to make it in the modern world.  These real life heroes and heroines had no super powers and are real people who can be admired and emulated, giving us great courage and hope for ourselves.  

         Though people of the fourth century, both St. Monica (August 27) and St. Augustine (August 28) were no different.  That’s the practicality as well as the universality of saints.  What modern Mom does not have the wish that her son  grow up as an upright, moral man who leaves the world a better place?  Monica was no different and had these same desires for her son Augustine.  Her story is strikingly similar to that of so many modern moms experiencing the pressure of today’s society which entices children to every variety of behaviors except those that are moral.

          In North-Africa, around 343, Monica was given in marriage at the earliest age possible (probably 12 - 15).  She had been born and raised in a Christian family.  Her husband, Patricius however, was a pagan and by Augustine’s own account, a man filled with anger and rage.  They had three children together and early in the marriage, he died, leaving her a single mom.  By all reports, shortly before his death, Patricius became a converted and changed man due to his wife’s influence.  In addition, his Mother, who intensely disliked Monica, came to be one of her biggest advocates.

         After her husband’s death, Monica focused all her efforts on her children, especially Augustine.  It seems that despite his Mom’s example, Augustine was undeniably enticed to “the good life” in the cosmopolitan cities of Carthage, Rome and Milan .  He "partied hearty",  took a concubine at age 17, had an out of wedlock son and followed with vigor the anti-Catholic heresy of Manichaeism (Gnostic type philosophy which declared the body evil, the soul good and in constant war.)  His view of the world, at that time, is most clearly exemplified by this quote: “Lord, Make me chaste, but not yet.”  As most moms, Monica could not be dissuaded from the vision of her son as a good and holy man.  Unbelievably enough, Monica prayed for and literally pursued her wayward son for thirty-three years.  In her quest, she traveled to where-ever he was located and eventually was able to enlist the help of St. Ambrose in her desire to secure the  salvation of her boy. 

         The prayers of a Mother are said to have a special efficacy.  Augustine himself said this about his Mom’s fervent intercession for him: “…it was not possible that the son of such tears should perish”.  Augustine was baptized at Easter 387 by Ambrose and then ordained in 391.  He became Bishop of Hippo (modern Algeria) in 396 and continued working for the nascent church for thirty-four more years.   But that’s not all. Augustine is considered by the Church to be one of the most influential theologians of all time.  His writings include stunning works like City of God , Confessions and A Life Pleasing to God: The Spirituality of the Rules of St. Basil.  He is one of only thirty-three Doctors of the Church which means that his teaching and understanding of doctrine is so comprehensive that it is universal and applicable to all people in all times.  This is an amazing outcome for a wayward boy.

         What if Monica had quit at year thirty-two?  The story of Monica and Augustine is a triumph for the Church.  But more than that, it is a story for you and me.  Are you a Mom who needs encouragement?  Are you a son or daughter who is tired of listening to your Mom’s worries about you?  Look at Monica and Augustine, maybe you have more to accomplish than you ever imagined. Maybe your Mom is right? St. Monica (332-387 C.E.) is remembered on August 27.  St. Augustine (354-426 C.E) is remembered on August 28.

Copyright© 2008 by Kathryn M. Cunningham, all rights reserved. 









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