In my last post, https://dansalyers.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/women-teachers-in-church-history-part-1-perpetua-and-felicity/, I looked at an account of two powerfully faithful women from North Africa. This post examines another such woman: Saint Monica. One of the most striking accounts of her faith is presented to us in Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Throughout the work, Augustine recounts how Monica, his mother, continuously prayed for him to be delivered from falsehood to the truth of Christianity (Confessions, 6.1). Augustine portrays her as a true prayer warrior: “She poured out her tears and her prayers all the more fervently, begging you to speed your help and give me light in my darkness. She hurried all the more eagerly to church, where she listened with rapt attention” (6.1).
Monica’s prayer for Augustine continued to not be answered as he simply moved away from Manichaeism, not all the way toward Christianity. One thing that jumps out to me is that although Augustine had left the Manichees and was attending Ambrose’s church in Milan, Monica did not yet consider her prayer answered. We see quite the opposite in fact, in the quote above that she prayed “all the more fervently.” It’s clear that Monica sees God moving in her son’s life and finds hope and renewed dedication to her prayer life.
Now, if you haven’t read Confesssions, Monica is a major figure in Augustine’s faith. He remembers her prayer life throughout his own journey to faith, even though it took several years for him to eventually become a Christian. Augustine recounts how Monica reacted to news of his conversion. “For she saw how you had granted her far more than she used to ask in her tearful prayers… you turned her sadness into rejoicing, into joy far fuller than her dearest wish.” (8.12).
Monica’s repeated prayers for Augustine are rewarded after years and years of his defiance and forays into a life of sin. She models for Christians today how to be faithful in prayer, trust God for full and good rewards, and how to be persistent in the life of the person for whom she prays. She follows Augustine to Milan, after all. In praying for someone, it’s easy to simply jot down that prayer request from them and pray it each day so that it becomes routinized, without following up with the person and his or her needs. I think Monica models how to be involved in the life of the person/ persons for whom you are praying.
While I think Monica’s example is important for Christians today, I have also heard her example used in a negative way. I have unfortunately been in churches that greatly restrict women’s roles in the community and essentially give them the example of Monica as a consolation prize. The dialogue goes something like, “You can’t have an active leadership role in our church, but you should remember how Monica was content to pray for her son, and look how he turned out! You have a great responsibility to pray for your kids!” Although I agree that both a FATHER and a mother should pray for their children daily, I think often women are seen as the only ones who are responsible for praying for their children. I do have to say, however, that I have directly benefited from the prayers of some very faithful women in my life: my mother and my grandmothers.
I think Monica’s example of a prayer warrior can speak to both men and women today. Be diligent and faithful in your prayer life. Pray regularly, passionately, and with hope. Suffer in your prayers as she did. Be a part of the lives of those you pray for as much as possible. Above all, trust in God -especially when you don’t see your prayers answered. After all, Monica didn’t see an answer to her prayer for over ten years.