Monica was a young Christian girl of 20 when she married Patricius, a Roman official in Tagaste, Carthage in the 4th century. She had three children from this marriage, the eldest being Aurelius Augustine on whom all her attention was focused. Her husband led a dissolute life which caused her much suffering. Unfortunately, so did Augustine, a brilliant mind but a wayward heart.
During his studies in Carthage, Augustine had become captivated by the teachings of Mani, a prophet from Iran, who divided the world into light and darkness, good and evil, and held that one was not morally accountable for wrongdoing.
Augustine also studied to become a professional orator and hoped that a position in Rome, the capital of the empire, would fulfil his ambitions. As was the custom then, he also acquired a mistress and sired a son with her.
Throughout all this, Monica watched helplessly. She pleaded and prayed that her son would find his salvation in Jesus, and accept baptism in his name. But it would be many years before this took place. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, who finally brought about Augustine’s conversion, consoled her: “patience, woman, patience. It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.”
Ambrose finally baptized Augustine in 387 when he was 33 years old.
As her health grew weaker, Augustine asked his mother whether she might not prefer to leave Italy for her homeland, Carthage, to spend her last days in peace.
“My son,” said Monica, “all my life I’ve had only one desire, and that was to see you become a Christian. But God has given me even more than I could hope for. For he has taught you to despise all that the world can offer and to follow him. As for me, once I am gone, bury my body where you will. All that I ask is that you remember me always at the altar of God.” She died in Augustine’s arms, aged 56.
In his Confessions, Augustine has this beautiful passage in her memory:
“Never can I describe what her love was for me. By her glance as well as her words, she raised our hearts to You. If I am your child, oh my God, it is because you gave me such a mother!”