Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. In my 24 years as a priest, having listened to many parents, what concerns them most of all is the welfare of their children. They are proud and fulfilled when they are doing well and sad and troubled when they are not. For many Catholic parents who love and practise their faith, a great source of sadness is when their children reject the faith they tried so hard to hand on to them. Many feel a failure and blame themselves. So where can they find hope?
The recent feast days of Saints Monica and her son Augustine on 27th and 28th August is a source of hope for parents whose children have walked away from the Church. Monica was married to a pagan and therefore did not enjoy the support of her husband in trying to raise her young son in the Christian faith. Despite her best efforts, the restless and wayward Augustine rejected it as a young man. He took a mistress, fathered a child and dappled in new religious sects where he sought truth and happiness. Despite his rejection of Christianity, his mother Monica never gave up on him, never stopped loving him and praying for him. Through tears and sighs to heaven, she continuously interceded for her wayward son. At one time, Monica was visiting Milan and turned to the local bishop Ambrose, asking him to speak with her son Augustine to persuade him to change his ways. In Augustine’s own words:
“My mother asked him in his kindness to have some discussion with me, to refute my errors, to unteach me what was evil and teach me what was good”. After a long conversation, Ambrose consoled Monica with these famous words: “Go your way, as sure as you live, it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish”. According to Augustine, “in the conversations we [he and his mother] had afterwards, she often said that she had accepted this answer as if it sounded from heaven” (Confessions 3, 12, 21).
Some time later, Augustine was in Milan himself and as he entered the Cathedral there, he happened to arrive at the time when Ambrose was preaching and teaching God’s word. He describes his experience this way:
“To him [Ambrose] was I unknowing led by Thee [God], that by him I might knowingly be led to Thee…And I listened diligently to him preaching to the people…And while I opened my heart to admit how eloquently he spoke…I was slain spiritually….I determined therefore so long to be a Catechumen in the Catholic Church, to which I had been commended by my parents, till something certain should dawn upon me, whither I might steer my course”.
From that moment on, Augustine’s life changed as he remembered the faith of his childhood that seemed incredible to him as a young man but now echoed within him as being true and beautiful. How wonderful was God’s providence at work when he caused Ambrose to be the link between the prayerful mother and her prodigal son. In his life afterwards as a Christian, Augustine went on to become a priest and a bishop and would become one of the greatest minds and teachers of the faith as a doctor of the Church.
So, what is the lesson from this story that had a happy ending? Who would Augustine credit for his conversion? The love and prayers of his mother. Prayer really changes things and all prayer offered to God is heard, especially prayer offered through tears that moisten the eyes of those who offer them. Tears are like blood; they come from a broken heart. They are also water: they produce new life.
To all parents who worry about their children who longer practise the faith, let the words of St Ambrose to St Monica be their hope and inspire them never to give up hope: “It is impossible that the child of these tears should perish”.