August 25, 2019: Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
Saints encourage. Saints bring Christ alive when we need Him most. One memorable moment of saintly encouragement occurred just a few months after I was ordained. I was walking through the Church one afternoon, when I came upon a woman sitting in a pew who was beside herself with grief. I approached her and asked if I could help. Inviting me to sit beside her, she poured out her burdens. Through sobs and tears, she related how she married quite young when she first came to the United States. Although her husband was a reliable provider and supported their three children through college, now that she was middle age, he was fairly openly and unabashedly unfaithful to her. The shame of this rejection was compounded by the fact that his family was indifferent to his infidelity and considered such liaisons as a normative cultural reality. But even more than this, she was deeply grieved that her three baptized children no longer practiced their Catholic faith. Every time she talked about going to Church or anything about God, she was dismissed as being a fanatic. Her heartbreaking story concluded with the sentiment that God had abandoned her and that she was a failure as both a wife and mother.
In such moments, one wishes for the perfect piece of perspicacity or a wonderful word of wisdom that would “fix” the situation. Yet, we know this is an unrealistic expectation. As we sat together, I began simply to ask questions that opened up a conversation about her faith and the reality that God does not leave us in our sufferings but is present to us in unexpected ways. I let her know that she was not alone. For example, I shared with her the story of St. Monica, who is the patron saint of wives and mothers in such distress. Although St. Monica lived in Northern Africa 1700 years ago, and she faced relatable, contemporary struggles and burdens. Her marriage was arranged for her quite young. Her pagan husband, Patricius, was a man of means and influence and yet he had a violent temper and was dissolute in his manner of life. He refused to have his children baptized, which pained St. Monica, particularly with regard to her firstborn son, Augustine. Augustine took after his father in being successful in his career. In fact, he was one of the greatest minds and orators of his age. But Augustine’s personal life was wastrel. Wine, woman and wanton wastefulness characterized his behavior and St. Monica lamented that she had failed him as a mother. In her distress, she struggled with alcohol, and with thoughts of despair. And yet she persevered in prayer. She prayed for her husband and children for nearly twenty years. She offered her struggles to God as a sacrifice of love in imitation of Christ. She followed Augustine in his travels and importuned his friends and priests to help bring him to the faith. Famously, when she tearfully solicited help from St. Ambrose, who had impressed Augustine with his learning and preaching, the Milanese Bishop responded: “the child of those tears shall never perish.” Eventually, St. Monica’s perseverance and persistence bore fruit. In his last earthly moments, Patricius was baptized. Augustine underwent a profound and lasting conversion and went on to be one of the greatest saints and doctors of the church as the Bishop of Hippo. St. Monica was not alone in her trials. She trusted in God and her dogged determination to never give up on her family led them to the joys of their eternal reward.
This year we will be celebrating a “Triduum” for the feast of St. Monica beginning this Sunday and culminating on her feast Tuesday, August 27. Fr. Vincent Kelber, OP who is our director of the Shrine of St. Jude will be leading and preaching this during three-day novena. I invite you to come to the novena Masses and participate in this powerful moment of prayer to St. Monica. As the patron saint of difficult marriages, spouses of infidelity, wayward family members and alcoholics, St. Monica encourages us in our spiritual journey. We are not alone in our struggles, especially in the context of family life. St. Monica encourages. She shows us how Christ is alive in our sorrows and tears to bring blessings to those we love.