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Everyone was screaming. My oldest son was exhausted and cranky after a long day of kindergarten and wanted cookies instead of fruit for a snack. My toddler was furious that I would not let him continue to dump his milk on the couch. The baby was screaming after being awakened from his nap by his older brothers’ cacophonies of outrage. Tears came to my eyes, and I did not know what to do.
Children are a blessing, and yet they can also be a challenge. As a young mom of three little boys, I found myself overwhelmed. Often I just didn’t know how to best handle a difficult situation. Frequently I found myself in despair as I struggled to deal with the normal challenges that go along with parenting young busy boys. To make matters even more stressful, my husband and I lived far from our families and my husband was frequently deployed with the Navy.
Surrounded by screaming children, I took a deep breath and announced that we were taking a walk around the block. Before long, my children were calm, and peace was restored. I mindlessly grabbed the mail upon our return home. Once everyone was settled, I flipped through the stack. Inside one envelope – and I have no idea where it had come from – were a few information cards about various saints. Since my children were quiet for the moment, I began to read.
And that is how I met St. Monica.
Monica was born in North Africa in 322. A devout Christian, she was married to a pagan official named Patricius. She bore him three children, but Patricius would not allow her to have any of them baptized. Monica maintained a docility to her husband despite this heart-wrenching refusal.
Monica treated everyone well — whether it was her vicious mother-in-law, her philandering husband, or the slaves who told lies to get her into trouble. Over time, her kindness won over even the hardest heart. Her mother-in-law became a Christian shortly before her death, and by then she and Monica had become the best of friends. Patricius, her husband, converted as his death approached as well. And after a few years, nowhere could one find more devoted servants than those in Monica’s household.
Meanwhile, Augustine, one of her sons, began stray from all that his mother had taught him of the Christian faith. His heart was enamored by worldly temptations, and Augustine chose a dissolute life over one of virtue. There were women, a cult, and a child born out of wedlock. Monica was devastated by her son’s wild living, but she never gave up on him.
This courageous mother followed her son to Rome, and later to Milan. She prayed for him, wept over him, and encouraged his conversion — for 17 years. Famously, a bishop reassured her that “A child of those tears will never perish.”
In Milan, St. Augustine’s heart was finally converted by the grace of God. The future Doctor of the Church, as well as his son, were baptized by St. Ambrose in Milan, to the great joy of both Ambrose and Monica. Both had worked tirelessly for years trying to convert Augustine’s heart.
St. Monica never gave up. She may have been discouraged by her son’s choices, but she kept going, courageously following him wherever he went. She urged him toward the Lord Jesus and tirelessly prayed for his soul.
When I finished reading about St. Monica’s life, I had a newfound hope. It felt as though Our Lord had seen my tears and sent St. Monica to help me, to pray for me, and to encourage me. I realized that I just had to keep going. While I would not and do not do everything perfectly as a parent, I could never give up.
Since that day so many years ago, God has blessed us with six more children. Those overwhelming challenges of parenting little ones have given way to the challenges that come with parenting older children. And yet the path remains the same. Giving up is not an option. I can never stop praying for my children and when one of them begins to drift from the faith of his youth, I must speak up and gently call him back. It may take years for him to listen, but I must never give up.
After that day, I realized I was not the only one who had headstrong children. I was not the only one who struggled to know how to help them, or what to do next. St. Monica has walked this road before us. I am so thankful that she found me that day 14 years ago. She has been my friend ever since. St. Monica, ora pro nobis.