Monica and Augustine: Glimpsing into the Unity and Vastness of Marriage and Family
By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 25, 2015 | In The Liturgical Year
As we reach the end of August, two of my favorite late August feast days are of Saints Monica and Augustine. Last year I discussed the familial example these mother and son pair provide. This year I have been dwelling further on their example of marriage and family, particularly living out marriage within the context of the Mystical Body of Christ. Part of the reason I am thinking of marriage because my parents' wedding anniversary is August 28, the feast of St. Augustine, with St. Monica's feast day celebrated the day before on August 27. St. Monica was married to a pagan with a fiery temper. She met all his negativity and anger with patience and love and deep faith, moving him to the point of a deathbed conversion. Monica also deeply loved her son, Augustine, who lived a dissolute life. She prayed for him unceasingly to come to Christ, shedding many tears until his late conversion which propelled him to a his own deep faith and love for Christ. Monica is a patron of wives and mothers, but also troubled marriages and disappointing children. St. Augustine is the product of the perseverance for the difficult marriage and hope for those parents with disappointing children. If Augustine with his life can become a saint and doctor of the Church, anyone can be a saint!
The same week we celebrate Monica and Augustine, Sunday’s Epistle (Year B, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time) was the (sometimes controversial) passage from Ephesians 5:25-32, in which St. Paul compares the love between a man and woman as the same as the love of Christ for His bride the Church, which connects the theme of Christian marriage with the feasts of the week.
Yesterday my family celebrated my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary with Mass, renewal of vows, and dinner with family (almost all of their seven children and 31 grandchildren), three priests, my aunt and close friends of the family. The main celebrant, a dear friend of the family, recalled his own parents' fiftieth anniversary and how he was struck by how he wouldn’t be able to celebrate the Mass nor he or the rest of the family would exist except for the fact that his parents committed to love each other and lived out those vows all those years.
The same observation applied to all my family in that chapel (and those 14 that could not come) -- all thirty of us, ranging from age 52 down to newborn infants would not be here if it weren't for my parents' living their commitment to the Sacrament of Matrimony made fifty years ago. My sisters, brothers and I wouldn’t exist; there would be no spouses, and there would not be a single grandchild. This gift of life given by my parents has been a physical reality: we are living proof of their love.
We also have been blessed by their own faith which they have shared as a tiny seed to each of their children. This seed has grown; all their children and grandchildren value their gift of the Catholic Faith. (Apparently that is becoming a rarity.) My father reminded us last night how he and my mother stressed by word and by their own example the first obligation between spouses is to help each other to get to heaven. At different times of their marriage this was a difficult task to uphold, and he admitted that it is still a work in progress. St. Monica is definitely a saintly example to turn to during those difficult times. But this first and foremost lesson and example of what it means to live out the Sacrament of Matrimony is one that each of my siblings has embraced for his/her own marriage.
Returning to Sunday’s passage from Ephesians, St. Paul emphasizes the image of husband and wife as a reflection of the Church as the Mystical Body. Whether referred to as the Vine and the Branches, Communion of Saints, Mystical Body or some other name, we are all connected through Christ and our baptism. What we see in my parents, my siblings, the nieces and nephews is continued and repeated by other families and previous and successive generations. The family is a reflection of the tiniest cell or unit of the Church, but it is many families that make up so much of the Body of Church. This interconnectedness is also why we have patron saints. Saints are part of the same Mystical Body, experiencing the same trials and tribulations in their own lives. They can ask for intercession and help us on our journey.
We see on a small scale the trials and joys of everyday life fulfilling out the vows of matrimony, and this same relationship is echoed on a larger scale with Christ’s relationship with His Bride, the Church. It is a great lesson to realize that that marriage between a man and woman is not just something personal and only matters to their lives; true matrimony, true love and sacrifice in following those wedding vows produce many ripples that reach the whole Church, past, present and future.
I’m sure fifty years ago my parents weren’t gazing into each other’s eyes thinking about the unity and vastness of this marriage covenant, but as the years have continued, God has slowly revealed this mystery. As I am one of the recipients of their gift of life, love, and faith, I am thankful for their commitment and also have a chance to have a glimpse of the mystery.
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Posted by: Bernadette -
Aug. 26, 2015 3:16 PM ET USA
I have often wondered what became of St. Augustine's common law wife and child? Did he simply abandon them? Who cared for them when he joined the Church and became a priest and then bishop of Hippo? He did have a moral responsibility for them, did he not? St. Monica had died and no doubt his father was likewise dead. Did he have brothers and sisters who could care for them? Did he leave them enough income, property....in order to care for themselves? Do we know anything about this?