O Lord, you will ordain peace for us,
for indeed, all that we have done, you have done for us.
In Rome’s beautiful Basilica di Sant’Agostino is the tomb, not of its namesake, St. Augustine, but of his mother, St. Monica. Monica’s role in the conversion of her son is well-known: he finally turned away from his misguided dualistic beliefs and was baptized, after his mother had spent years praying for him in groaning and tears, weeping for him before God “more than mothers weep when lamenting their dead children” (Confessions III.xi.19). Indeed, it seems that the main reason we remember St. Monica is for her perseverance in prayer, which seems to have gained the reward of Augustine’s conversion.
But Monica did not, strictly speaking, convert her son. She did not persuade him by pointing out the logical impossibility of his Manichaean views, nor did she offer him brilliant arguments in defense of the Church. Even those who do come to faith by intellectual avenues are not at the end of the day converted by their teachers. This is because true conversion is not merely a matter of the mind but of the heart as well, and only God can convert hearts.
Her prayers, however, were clearly not for nothing. In intercessory prayer we see beautifully illustrated the truth that in all of our good works for others, God is at work in us. Isaiah’s claim that all we have done, God has done for us, may at first seem to be simply a denial of our freedom to act in any given circumstance: if God is the one doing everything that we do, do we actually do anything? But Monica’s prayer shows us that yes, we do. All of our actions are impossible without God, but we do really act, and our actions have real consequences—St. Monica really did pray for her son, and his conversion was wrought by God in answer to her prayers.
This should give us great confidence in our prayers for others, especially when the odds seem insurmountable. These sorts of difficult cases are difficult precisely because we are faced with our own utter inability to solve the problem or right the wrong. But God hears our prayers and answers them, so let us pray yet more fervently! For even though he knows what we need before we ask it of him (Mt 6:8), he nevertheless desires that we participate in his plan to bring it about. By praying, we may receive those things that God has providentially decreed to be given in response to our prayers (cf. Summa Theologiae, II-II, 83, 2).
Aside from the tomb of St. Monica, in this great Basilica of St. Augustine is also the statue of the Madonna del Parto, Our Lady of Childbirth. Tradition has it that numerous miracles have been worked for women with hopelessly difficult pregnancies who have prayed for Mary’s intercession before this statue—a book full of hand-written prayers of thanksgiving and pictures of their healthy babies gives testimony to the power of Our Lady’s prayer. It is no great wonder that so near the tomb of this intercessor and mother, the intercession of our Blessed Mother is honored—and not just any intercession, but her prayers in particular for the lives of children who may otherwise be lost.
St. Monica is for us a reminder to pray with courage and perseverance; she is a sign that God does not cease to work in us and through us; and she is an image of our own Blessed Mother, who is herself praying constantly for her children.
Image: Madonna del Parto, Basilica of St. Augustine, Rome