May 4, 2011

Feast of Monnica - Homily

Today we celebrate the Feast of Monnica who died in the Roman Port of Ostia in 387. If the Episcopal Church assigned patron saints, Monnica would be the patron saint of faithful mothers. Maybe that's why we didn't change her feast day from being near Mother's Day to the end of August like the Romans did after Vatican Two.
Monnica was born about 332 in modern day Algeria, and grew up as the riotous daughter of two devoutly Christian parents. One of her biographies says that “as a girl, she was fond of wine.” Not as a young woman nor even as a teen, but as a girl, she was fond of wine.” She only gave up the sauce after a young slave girl made fun of her and Monnica vowed never to drink again. She married a pagan name Patricus who followed the example of his mother as an angry adulterer.
Monnica prayed for her husband, his mother, and their children. She prayed and prayed and prayed that they would come to know the gift of grace offered by God in his son Jesus. Once, when their eldest son, Augustine was desperately ill, Monnica convinced Patricus to allow him to be baptized, but before a priest could be found, Augustine was healed, and Patricus withdrew his permission.
Monnica continued to pray and live the life of a faithful disciples. As Augustine grew, it became apparent that he was a gifted young man, and Monnica attempted to help him marry into a fine family, but when those attempts failed and as Monnica grew in her faith, her sole ideal became the conversion of her husband, mother-in-law, and sons. Her patience and faithfulness paid off as both Patricus and his mother-in-law were baptized before their deaths. Augustine, however, continued to resist as he was fond of both wine and women. After studying at Carthage, Augustine so upset his mother with his philosophies that she ran him off from the dinner table. After a vision told her that should would not die until her son was converted, Monnica followed Augustine to Rome and then to Milan where she happened upon the famous bishop, Ambrose of Milan, who disciples both Monnica and the less than enthused, Augustine, who was finally baptized at the Great Vigil of Easter in 387.
Monnica, a younger son, and Augustine prepared to return to North Africa after the baptism, but while waiting for the ship at Ostia, she took ill and died. That rebellious elder son, Augustine, would later tell her story in his autobiography, The Confessions and was consecrated as Bishop of Hippo in 395 and is also remembered with his own feast on August 28th (the day after his mother's feast on the post-1969 Roman calendar).
Monnica's story reads like the story of many of us. She made mistakes. She sought after prideful things. She like wine a little too much. Her children had their struggles. And in the midst of it all, she remained faithful. She prayed. She sought out the will of God. She served. She mostly did the best she could with the hand she was dealt and the mercy of God. How many of us do the same thing, day in and day out?
Often, the folks who get remembered on the calendar are so extraordinary that they are hard to relate to, but Monnica is the working man's or woman's saint. We remember her faith and her faithfulness. We remember her patience and her faults. We rejoice that God's mercy is unfailing, even in the midst of our messiness. Amen.

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