The Feast Day of St. Monica – The Homily
The idea of a patron saint is as old as the Church and, as is the case with so many aspects of Catholicism, it comes to us from the Romans. In ancient Rome, a patron was a man or woman of wealth, status and influence. Just as a teacher will spend extra time with a promising student or a corporate mentor will guide up-and-coming junior executives, a patron served as a benefactor and advocate for a lucky handful of deserving clients.
If a client was sick, the patron found him a good doctor. If a client had a run-in with the law, the patron sorted things out with the authorities. If a client fell into debt, the patron paid his bills.
In 370, after only one year away at school, the 16-year-old Augustine was in despair. His parents, Patricius and Monica, had managed to scrape together enough money for their son’s first year of schooling, but now it was apparent that the cost of keeping him in the academy at Madaura was beyond their means.
For help, Augustine’s father, Patricius, turned to his patron, Romanianus, the wealthiest and most important man in the district. After hearing Patricius’ need, Romanianus offered to subsidize Augustine’s entire education—and not at some backwater like Madaura but at the university at Carthage, the Harvard of Roman Africa.
This episode from the life of St. Augustine is typical of the patron-client relationships that existed throughout the Roman world. It is also the earthly model of the relationship we have with patron saints. There’s something called a principle of affinity at work here. We look at a saint and we see something in the saint’s life that reminds us of our own situation. Catholics know from personal experience how powerful the prayers of the saints can be before the throne of God.
Today, with Internet searches, e-mail shopping, text messages, tweets and instant credit, we have little patience for things that take time. Likewise, we want instant answers to our prayers.
The main obstacle to prayer for most of us in the digital age is not one of time, but rather one of priority. The great fear of those who neglect prayer is that they will have to sacrifice something else in the process — something more important, something more practical. The great question is what will be sacrificed, when there are so many important things to get done? What takes priority? Is it email, voicemail, responding to a post on Facebook or the ring of our cell phone?
If our priorities are idleness, vanity, and the escapism of indulging in the constant noise of today’s digital world, then our prayer lives will be subject to those priorities.
But if the priority of a life of prayer were to be elevated only a little, just high enough to be wedged in below work and family – and above entertainment, many of us would find a great increase in the amount of time we dedicate to it, and would reap a surprising amount of spiritual fruit because of our dedication to it.
It is important for us to understand that the rewards of our own silence are clarity and peace. But these do not come without perseverance in prayer. Clarity and peace are offered to those who fight – sometimes in violent spiritual warfare – for the patience to sit still and listen to God in his whispers, rather than be seduced by the myriad of competing digital voices in all their ever-insistent fire and thunder.
And as much as we may hate to hear it, that kind of silence takes practice – often years of practice.
An in this regard, St. Monica can become our patroness of persevering in prayer. Monica is a model of patience. Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her hot-tempered husband, her cantankerous mother-in-law and her brilliant but wayward son, Augustine. In the end, of course, Monica’s prayers were answered. Augustine took instruction from the great St. Ambrose and was baptized by him on the night of the Easter Vigil, April 24-25, 387.
Thus, we can turn to our parish patron, and ask her special fervor for the perseverance to discard the routine engagement of new gadgetry that merely keeps us technologically and socially afloat, and to enter into a rhythm that sustains and balances us instead.
Audio version of the homily is here: