“In our liturgical kalendar tomorrow, 28 August, we shall commemorate St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, who died in 430AD, and had today not been Sunday we should be remembering St Monica, his mother, who died in 387AD.
St Augustine, not to be confused with the later saint of the same name who was sent by Pope Gregory to reconvert England, became one of the most significant and influential theologians of the Western Church, in his own time, through the medieval and reformation eras, and into the present day. Many of his writings are extant and widely read, particularly his City of God and his spiritual biography, his Confessions. Scholars dispute his theology still, but I want to focus briefly on his journey to faith and his sense of ongoing conversion.
Monica, his mother, was Christian, his father pagan. His parents’ relationship was strained: Monica wanted to have her children baptized, but her husband refused. Nonetheless she taught Augustine the tenets of the Christian faith and its values. Most importantly she never ceased to pray for his conversion. How hard she needed to pray! Augustine outlines in his Confessions both his exploring of pagan and heretical philosophies, and his hedonistic and profligate lifestyle. Eventually at the age of 31, influenced by the example and prayers of his mother and by his conversations with another great Teacher of the Faith, St Ambrose of Milan, Augustine was baptized. His writings reveal that as he developed and matured in his Christian faith he was always aware of his need for continuing conversion to walk more faithfully in the way of Christ.
Monica encourages us, I think, to persist in prayer for our families and loved ones, that by grace they may come to see in and through us, and sometimes despite us, a glimpse of the love of God in and for them. And Augustine reminds us that none of us is perfect yet, that there is still much work for grace to perform within us to mould us more and more into the likeness of Christ. “For Thyself Thou hast made us, and restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease. Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.” [St Augustine, Confessions]