August 27, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

St. Monica, St. Augustine honored for their holiness

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“O God, who consoled the sorrowful and who mercifully accepted the motherly tears of Saint Monica for the conversion of her son Augustine, grant us, through the intercession of them both, that we may bitterly regret our sins and find the grace of your pardon” (Collect for the feast of St. Monica).

The publication date for this column is Friday, Aug. 27, the feast of St. Monica. Tomorrow we will celebrate the feast of St. Augustine, Monica’s son and one of the greatest theologians in Christian history. Both are honored for their holiness, their closeness to Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#27), holiness is the desire for God that is written in the human heart. We human beings are meant to search for God, to find him and to become united with him—both here on Earth and in our heavenly home.

Holiness is the quality of our union with God, the indication of our closeness to him. Holy women and men are close to God. That’s why we call them “saints,” which comes from the Latin word sanctus or holy.

All of us are called to holiness, to closeness to God, but unfortunately most of us find ourselves further away from God than we would like to be. That’s why Christ gives us the sacraments—especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance—to help us in our daily struggles on the way to holiness. We are all called to be close to God, but for many of us the journey is a long and difficult one.

St. Monica is honored because of her persistent prayer for her son Augustine. For more than 15 years, she prayed that her son would find his way to Christ. And while parents can never successfully determine or control their children’s choices in life, Monica’s “motherly tears” were instrumental in opening her son’s mind and heart to the miracle of God’s grace.

The story of Augustine’s conversion is widely known. He was desperately searching for the truth, and, in the process, tried many different philosophies and ways of life. He struggled with chastity and fathered a child without being married. His actions caused his mother deep sorrow because he was so clearly lost, but his eventual conversion caused Monica much joy.

Saints Monica and Augustine are models of Christian holiness. The Second Vatican Council taught that every baptized follower of Jesus Christ is called to be holy. As we read in “Lumen Gentium,” chapter 5, on “The Universal Call to Holiness”:

“The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of his disciples of every condition. He himself stands as the author and consummator of this holiness of life: ‘Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect’ [Mt 5: 48]. Indeed, he sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that he might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them” (#40).

We should not be thrown off by the call to be “perfect.” The story of St. Augustine shows clearly that moral perfection is the desired outcome of living the Christian life. It is not a prerequisite. As the saying goes, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”

We are all invited, and challenged, to grow in holiness. This requires the patience and persistence of St. Monica. It also demands that we open our minds and hearts to God’s will for us, as

St. Augustine did. As we search for God, we must be willing to accept the fact that we will make mistakes, but we also need to resolve to learn from those mistakes.

Holiness doesn’t come easily to us who are ordinary human beings. We are inclined by original sin to be selfish and sinful. But God’s grace is plentiful and his mercy is abundant. All we have to do is repent, let go of our need to be in control, and let God transform us by the power of his love.

Let’s pray for the grace to be like Monica and Augustine, whose desire for holiness not only changed their lives but also has inspired millions of people over the centuries. Let’s join with the whole Church as we pray in the words of the Collect for the feast of St. Augustine:

“Renew in your Church, we pray, O Lord, the spirit with which you endowed your Bishop Saint Augustine that, filled with the same spirit, we may thirst for you, the sole fount of true wisdom, and seek you, the author of heavenly love.” †

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