MaryBeth Eberhard has spent this year learning from and praying with St. Monica, and shares the grace that has come from this journey.
This year, I resolved to take a walk with a saint. This idea came from a shared coffee-shop conversation with a dear friend. Each year I will befriend one saint and we will journey together through the ins and outs of my year with my dear husband, eight children, two dogs, two cats, homeschooling, writing, and teaching. But whom should I choose for my first new friend? I thought St Thérèse would be great, or maybe Mother Teresa. We adopted one of our daughters from the Missionaries of Charity so surely that would make sense! I love to sing so St. Cecilia and I had something in common. These all felt like trying on a costume that wasn’t the right fit. The secret, a friend told me, was to pray into this and let the Spirit guide you.
As I prayed, I felt drawn to St. Monica. Oh no, I thought. I am the mother of five boys whose adventures keep me plenty busy. I know the struggle grows greater the older they get and a couple are ready to be leaving soon. But over and over God kept speaking, from an old book to a saint medal gift from my husband, nudges became pushes and one night I just felt St. Monica place her cloak over my shoulders and I resigned to walk with her. The word resigned sounds ungrateful, doesn’t it? But it is the truth, for I knew bits and pieces of St. Monica’s life and I knew that walking with her would require me to walk a path of trial and tribulation. I knew increased courage and fortitude would stem from this journey, yet I did not feel up to this task.
Along this journey with St. Monica, I have immersed myself in her life, reading St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer by Mike Aquilina and Mark Sullivan, and Restless Heart, a historical fiction account of St Augustine’s youth which then led me to St Augustine’s Confessions where St Augustine speaks of his mother with such honor and love. I have written letters and shared conversations with St. Monica, both in long walks and on my knees in supplication. It has been a year and I have been strengthened by my new friend.
St. Monica was a strong and devout woman of faith whose intimate relationship with our Lord led her to raise her children as Christians alongside her pagan and often unfaithful husband. (He later converted due to Monica’s disciplined example.) So too were her children raised in a Christian household. St. Monica was known to be in the church twice a day for prayers. It’s interesting to me that as self-disciplined in prayer and as outspoken as St. Monica was regarding her Christian identity and relationship with Jesus, her son Augustine still struggled with great sin and doubt. His actions caused Saint Monica great suffering and anguish and yet she persevered. St. Augustine is quoted as saying,
“My mother spoke of Christ to my father, by her feminine and childlike virtues, and, after having borne his violence without a murmur or complaint, gained him at the close of his life to Christ.”
This was her mission and once achieved she continued on. This inspires me to live a life of example worthy of who I say I am and also to place my focus first upon my husband and then upon my children. Saint Monica had her priorities in order.
My children know the Lord and yet the desire of my heart is for them to enter into a relationship with him. That is the transition from youth to adult in my mind. As a parent we can plant the seeds of faith as Monica did so frequently, but our children must embrace the faith on their own in order for their relationship to be authentic and intimate. St. Monica shows us patience and perseverance.
St. Monica was also an advocate for her son. Knowing him as only a mother can, she followed him, spoke truth to his heart, reached out to others to speak louder when her voice seemed to be unheard. Her persistence lead to a bishop, St. Ambrose, to assure her that “it was not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” At this point, Monica felt great peace and knew that her son would know the Lord. At the age of 55, St. Monica died. She was blessed to see her son’s conversion before she died.
My year with my new friend is not finished yet. We have a couple more months to sojourn together. We will walk together as my daughter leaves for her first year of college, trusting in God’s protection and all the seeds planted. We continue to walk through a pandemic and grow family prayer traditions and virtue. We raise our voices in song and praise the Lord from whom all blessings flow as Monica used to love the traditional chants from St. Ambrose.
This practice of walking with a saint for a year is a highly recommended spiritual exercise. St. Monica chose me, and her faith in me has urged me onward through many a challenging moment. I pray that we all take the time to know these friends, the saints, as the depth of their faith cannot go unnoticed and truly lifts up the human heart.
St. Monica’s feast day is August 27. She is the patron saint of married women, difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of adultery or unfaithfulness, victims of (verbal) abuse, and conversion of relatives.
Copyright 2021 MaryBeth Eberhard
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About the Author
MaryBeth Eberhard spends most of her time laughing as she and her husband parent and school their eight children. She has both a biological son and an adopted daughter who have a rare neuromuscular condition called arthrogryposis and writes frequently about the life experiences of a large family and special needs. Read more of her work at MaryBethEberhard.com.