Blog Template Theology of the Body: Saint Monica

Monday, April 12, 2010

Saint Monica

St. Monica is one of those maternal and spousal saints who taught her child to pray really well; she then prayed for her child faithfully throughout his variegated life of bumping into Love, and ultimately she was graced by joining him in a legendary vision of the glory of God.

She was a faithful wife in an unhappy marriage, but she was able to exercise a veritable apostolate amongst the wives and mothers of her hometown. She also pursued her wayward son Augustine from city to city until he was baptized by Ambrose, and found his rest in "Him who was higher than his higest and more inward than his inmost self." (Augustine, Confessions III)

St. Monica is the patron saint of married women and of wayward children lost to addictions, but she is also an excellent exemplar of what contemporary Catholic theologians call the dual aspect of the Church; like her Lord, who is both human and divine, the Church shares in these two realities simultaneously, being at once both the Mother who intercedes for her children and the wayward children who require that intercession. She is both mystical, visible and involiable whole, and a myriad of sinful members within her.

St. Monica is often depicted as one who wept for the sins of her child; and I think that this depiction is apt for the tumult in which Catholics find themselves, in light of the recent media reports of sex abuses and the allegation of negligence in the Church's hierarchy. Surely we will weep for those who have sinned, for those who have failed in their pastoral responsibilities, for those whose faith will falter because of the errors of others, and for ourselves, who will be implicated by their reputations. And just as surely we should weep for those in the media who ought to be careful of the truth, but who instead sell their vocations for messes of scandalous pottages based on rumors.

The point to recall is that just as St. Monica persevered in her maternal intercession for her child, just as the ontological bond between them was unaltered by Augustine's flirtations with sexual sins and heresies, so the Church remains who she is towards us all- the spotless bride of the Lamb who cares for her sinful members. Henri de Lubac puts it beautifully in The Splendor of the Church:

"Whether in the eyes of God or of man, it is not righteousness which is the test of membership of the Mystical Body, that is, the Church. Infidels of good faith and good will, even Christian dissidents... are only ordered to her by a certain unconscious desire and aspiration, and cannot be called her members in the full sense of the word. Sinners, on the contrary, continue to be truly part of her, provided they have not denied her; indeed, as we well know, they are a vast majority. Although they do not live according to the Gospel they do still believe the Gospel, though the Church, and although this bond is not enough to constitute the Church it is enough, even when stretched to its utmost, to keep them her members- though they may be infirm, arid, putrid, or even dead members. The Church extends to them a patient toleration. Even the best of her children are themselves never any more than in the way of sanctification... thus it is that the Church which we are must say daily, as with one voice and without exception, "and forgive us our trespasses... every day she must call upon the power and the pity of Christ, for each day in this world is day of purification for her and each day she must wash her robe in the blood of the Lamb." Splendor, 115-116."

St. Monica, pray for us.