You probably know the pattern. A smart and gifted boy leaves home for school. He makes new friends. They spend most of their time partying, chasing girls, and embracing new philosophies. The son becomes drawn to a trendy religious cult. Eventually, he moves in with his girlfriend and they have a child, without being married. The boy’s mother can only sit by in despair, heartbroken over his choices and helpless. The only thing she can do is pray.
That is the story of many Catholics today—and maybe your story. Parents think that they are alone in facing these sorts of troubles, but this pattern is not a new one. It stretches back for centuries, and in the above case, even more than a millennium. It is the fourth-century story of Saint Monica and her young wayward son, Augustine. It is worth remembering how she led her son back to the Faith.
Monica was raised as a Christian, but like many people today, she married someone from a different faith. In her case, the man, Patricius, was an atheist politician. They had three sons together but their marriage was rocky. Patricius was a violent man and regularly abused her. He also was unfaithful to her throughout their marriage. But Monica remained patient. Other wives with marriage problems came to her for advice and she became a source of comfort for anyone suffering through difficult marriages. She served Patricius with selfless love and devotion, and she prayed for him every day. Eventually, her prayers bore fruit. A year before Patricius died, he converted to Catholicism—due mostly to Monica’s prayers and powerful example.
Although the conversion of Monica’s husband pleased her, she still worried about her son, Augustine. Though brilliant and gifted, he spent most of his time carousing the streets with friends, stealing food, and living promiscuously. He even fathered a son out of wedlock. Yet Monica refused to give up on her son, just as she committed to her husband. She prayed daily and intensely for Augustine, fasted for his sake, and begged God to help him return to faith. When Augustine traveled to Rome and Milan for his education, Monica followed him and continued praying.
While in Milan, she met Ambrose, the local bishop who would later be canonized a saint. Ambrose became a spiritual guide to her. He noted her restless longing for her son and the hours she spent praying for him. He promised her, “Surely the son of so many tears will not perish.” His prediction would eventually prove correct.
Augustine and Ambrose struck up a friendship and began discussions about Christianity. Ambrose was the first high-level Christian thinker Augustine had met. As a result of their many back-and-forth dialogues, Augustine finally decided to convert to Catholicism. Ambrose baptized the 32-year-old Augustine, who would eventually grow into one of the most influential thinkers in Western history, and one of the greatest saints in the Catholic Church.
Monica could hardly contain her enthusiasm after Augustine’s baptism. She and her son began sharing beautiful conversations about God and heaven. As she lay on her deathbed, content at having seen both her husband and her son come back to the faith, she felt her whole life’s mission had been accomplished. Today, the Church celebrates Saint Monica and Saint Augustine right next to each other in the liturgical calendar, with her feast day on August 27 and his on August 28.
Saint Monica exemplifies the power of a praying parent. She was not able to convince Augustine with words, and in fact, whenever she tried to talk to him about religion, he brushed her away. But through her daily, committed intercession, over more than fifteen years, Augustine was able to journey into the Church.
What can we learn from Monica’s example? First, do not stop praying for your child. When Monica complained that Augustine would not listen to her admonitions that he become a Catholic, Ambrose urged her, “Speak less to Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine.” She took his advice and never gave up, even when things looked dark. Eventually, her persistence paid off.
Jesus tells of a widow who was upset that a judge refused to hear her case. The widow kept coming to the judge with her request, over and over, until he finally relented, saying, “While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.” Jesus explained the parable, saying, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them?” (Luke 18:1-8). In other words, God loves persistent prayer. He never tires of your requests, even if you bring the same needs to Him every day.
Joan Hamill knows that from experience. Joan prayed weekly for fifteen years for different family members to return to the Church. “I prayed for Saint Monica to intercede for our family members,” says Hamill. “As a result I had two brothers come back to the Church as well as my sister and brother-in-law.”
So, do not give up praying for your child. Like Saint Monica and the persistent widow, have confidence that God will reward your perseverance. The more resilient your prayer, the more likely God will answer it.
The second thing to learn from Saint Monica is not to just pray for your child—you should also pray for an “Ambrose” to step into your child’s life. Perhaps there is just too much baggage between you and your child so that he will no longer hear truth from your lips. That is understandable. Pray that God will bring someone else into his path, someone with just the right combination of personality, interests, motives, and heart. Just as Ambrose stepped in to help Augustine, so you might need someone to nudge your child along.
(Also, keep in mind that while you are praying for someone to step into your child’s life, other parents are praying the same thing for their child. And you may be that person! Even if your child tunes you out, do not be closed off to helping other children return to faith. You could be the Ambrose for someone else’s Augustine!)
The third takeaway is that you can ask Saint Monica’s intercession for your child. A recent survey asked Catholic parents, “When you pray, how often do you pray to or ask the intercession of…” and then listed several options. By far, the most common responses were “God the Father” (74% prayed to him always or most of the time), “God the Son, Jesus Christ” (59%), and “God the Holy Spirit” (45%). But you know what the least common response was? The saints … Only one-in-five Catholic parents regularly asked the saints’ intercession. That means the most Catholic parents are missing out on some of the greatest spiritual support available to us.
For Catholics, the saints are not dead and gone. Saint Monica did not cease to exist when she died in 387. Her body may have stopped functioning when her soul departed, but she remains alive in Christ, residing with Him in heaven for all eternity. And because the Church is one, indivisible body (1 Corinthians 12:12), which neither death nor life can break apart (Romans 8:38), we can still connect with those holy men and women who have already passed into the next life and ask for their prayers.
Among all the saints in heaven, few know the gutwrenching pain of a wayward child more than Saint Monica. Reach out to her and ask her to pray for your child, just as she did for Augustine. We regularly ask our friends on earth to pray for us, and we can do the same with the saints. In fact, the saints’ prayers are generally more powerful than ours here on earth since they are closer to the mind and heart of God—the saints are already in heaven! So next time you pray, offer a short request to Saint Monica such as this:
“Saint Monica, I need your prayers. You know exactly how I’m feeling because you once felt it yourself. I’m hurting, hopeless, and in despair. I desperately want my child to return to Christ in His Church but I can not do it alone. I need God’s help. Please join me in begging the Lord’s powerful grace to flow into my child’s life. Ask the Lord Jesus to soften his heart, prepare a path for his conversion, and activate the Holy Spirit in his life. Amen.”
In all these ways, Saint Monica offers not only example but help in drawing our children back to the Church.
Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author and works as the Senior Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Reprinted with permission from StrangeNotions.com
As a part of my son’s 3rd grade curriculum, he was to learn about the life cycle of a butterfly. So, I did a bit of research so we could talk about it together. Even though I knew the four stages of a butterfly’s life cycle, I had never probed into it deeply. As I searched for videos and pictures about the different stages of this tiny, beautiful creature, I became fascinated by the 3rd stage of its growth when it’s in a pupa or chrysalis undergoing metamorphosis. The caterpillar has to remain in the pupa for few days to be transformed into an adult butterfly. If you open the chrysalis in the middle of the process, you would only find a sticky liquid substance, instead of a caterpillar having a cosy nap inside the shell until it gets its wings. In fact, during this stage, the caterpillar’s old body dies while a new body begins to form. The caterpillar has to fall apart completely. Only after it has completely liquefied, does it start to become the beautiful being it was designed to be. Another amazing thing I discovered is that the word Chrysalis is derived from the Greek for “golden” because of the golden threads surrounding the green chrysalis. You have probably heard some spiritual analogies about the chrysalis stage and how the tough times of our lives are actually those which transform us. However, when we actually find ourselves in crisis we often devalue the suffering, assuming that this isn’t meant for believers in Christ. We keep on asking God to remove the uncomfortable and ugly shell of hardships and grief from our lives. We want Him to change our circumstances, but He wants us to be changed in the process of it. Because, the deeper work within our souls takes place in the chrysalis. Our faith is strengthened by being inside the chrysalis. The most essential life lessons are learnt in the chrysalis. Our relationship with our Master Creator is deepened as we metamorphose in the chrysalis while the parts of our character that are not essential are stripped away. Just as the caterpillar is transformed into a beautiful butterfly in the darkness, solitude and repose of the chrysalis, such a time can reveal and prepare us for the purpose of our being. I don’t know which metamorphosis stage you are in at present. If you have got your wings, praise God but if you find yourself stuck in the chrysalis, the place where you feel nothing is happening, where you see the darkness of your pain and hardships, where you feel like you are falling apart each day and where everything feels so stuck, dead and inactive, I want to encourage you to trust the process, surrender to it, embrace it and wait until the process works its best, transforming you into everything you are meant to be, giving you the glorious wings of your purpose and reflecting the majesty of your Heavenly Father. No matter how your chrysalis feels, remember it will always be covered with golden threads of strength, assurance, love and grace from your Master Designer. He will be watching you throughout the process. Trust Him to protect and reconstruct you as you pupate in your chrysalis. Then your metamorphosis will astound you.
Here’s a scale to test your courage… Before entering a monastery hidden in the high desert of California, I lived at 5th and Main street in downtown Los Angeles, the border of Skid Row. Rampant homelessness is one of LA’s not so amiable qualities. Individuals down on their luck come from far and wide, often by means of a free one-way Greyhound ticket, to wander streets where winters are less hostile, begging for a means to rise above their circumstances. It is impossible to traverse a couple blocks of downtown without being reminded of the hopelessness that marks these individuals’ daily lives. The sheer magnitude of L.A.’s homelessness often leaves the more fortunate feeling as if nothing they would do could ever make the problem go away, so they resort to a strategy of avoiding eye contact, rendering invisible a population of 41,290, and counting. Man on a Mission One day I was having lunch with a friend at Grand Central Market. During our meal he unexpectedly handed me the key to a room in the luxurious Bonaventure Hotel, telling me it was mine to enjoy for the next couple of weeks! The Bonaventure, with its revolving sky restaurant, was the biggest hotel in LA, and only a ten minute walk from my studio apartment. I had no need for a fancy hotel room, but I knew 41,290 individuals who did. My only dilemma was how I should go about selecting the single person who would receive shelter? I felt like the gospel servant who was commissioned by his master to “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21). It was midnight when I got off work. Emerging from the metro station I began my “hunt,” asking God to select the person He wished to bless. Peering down alleyways, I glided through the city on my skateboard, trying not to appear like a man on a mission. I headed for the L.A. Cafe, confident I would find someone in need there. Sure enough I spotted a man sitting on the storefront sidewalk. He was old and thin, showing boney shoulders through a stained white T-shirt. I sat down a few feet away. “Hello,” I greeted him. “Hi,” he returned. “Sir, are you looking for a place to sleep tonight?” I asked. “What?” he said. “Are you looking for a place to sleep?” I repeated. Suddenly he became irritated. “Are you trying to make fun of me?” he said, “I’m fine. Leave me alone!” Surprised and feeling sorry for offending him, I apologized and rolled off dismayed. This mission would be more difficult than I expected. After all, it was after midnight, and I was a total stranger offering what seemed too good to be true. But the odds were in my favor, I thought. My offer might get turned down, just like the servant in the parable of the great banquet, but sooner or later someone would be bound to take me up on it. The only question was how long would it take? It was already late, and I was tired after a long shift at work. Maybe I should try again tomorrow, I thought. Unknown Realms Skating and praying, I continued to make my way through the urban jungle, eyeing various candidates. Sitting on a nearby corner, I spotted the silhouette of a man alone in a wheelchair. He appeared to be half asleep and half awake, as many do who are accustomed to sleeping on the streets. Hesitant to disturb him, I approached cautiously until he looked up at me with tired eyes. “Excuse me sir,” I said, “I have access to a room with a bed, and I know you don’t know me, but if you trust me I can take you there.” Without raising an eyebrow, he shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head. “Great. What’s your name?” I asked. “James,” he replied. I asked James to hold my skateboard as I pushed him in his wheelchair and together we made our way to the Bonaventure. His head became increasingly alert as our surroundings gentrified. While pushing him along through the darkness, I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be sand covering his backside. Then I realized the sand was moving. It wasn’t sand at all, but thousands of tiny insects. Entering the five star hotel lobby, James and I were met with expressions of shock from every onlooker. Avoiding eye contact, we passed the posh fountain, boarded a glass elevator, and arrived at the room. James asked if he could take a bath. I helped him inside. Once clean, James slid himself comfortably between white sheets and fell immediately to sleep. That night James taught me an important lesson: God’s invitations often come unexpectedly, demanding a measure of faith that usually makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes we must find ourselves in situations with nothing to lose before we are ready to accept His invitation to us. And more often, it is in bringing blessings to others that we are truly blessed.
The irresistible goodness of Christmas lasts more than just a day, if you put your mind to it... The magic of Christmas has never failed to enrapture me no matter the circumstances in the lead up to the season. Some years, the awe and wonder kick in later rather than sooner, but once the Christmas spirit conquers me, there is no turning back. The joy we experience from receiving God’s gift of His only Son sets the tone of this wonderful season. Being good almost becomes second nature for this brief but lovely time. While Santa’s list might be an obvious reason for the little ones, I’ve wondered what it is that makes us grown-ups feel this way and how might we bring to the rest of the year this inclination to goodness that we experience during the magical Christmas season. A Stark Reminder Last year my husband and I undertook a trip to regional Victoria. We visited a berry farm and while picking organic produce to take home, I had a chat with the owner. It was a pleasant cool day for summer, and we discussed how it had been the opposite a year before, with raging bushfires and drought conditions severely affecting crops and lives. As a volunteer firefighter, she had suffered the loss of a couple of her close friends while fighting those fires. Saddened to hear this, I was moved even more when the farmer said she was “prepared to fight when called” should the bushfires strike again. As we left the farm, she picked up her little one and they waved us goodbye. The farm was undoubtedly the most memorable part of the trip and the resolute determination we witnessed was a stark reminder of how we all need to be willing to do good when it is required of us—no matter what the time of year. Stepping Stones Once we are past the Christmas joy of December and well into the new year, it might take a bit more effort for us to act on inclinations to do good. I usually find that busyness can abruptly take the steering wheel with no comfortable stop in sight. As various professional and personal priorities take over, I wonder if I can be as attentive to the Lord’s prompts as I had been while wrapping gifts and singing carols. Our Lord, however, never slows down His pace—drawing our attention to a struggling local business, reminding us to call someone who is lonely, encouraging us to forgive, and inspiring us to give. My husband calls these God’s ways of helping us draw nearer to Him. I think of them as little stepping stones to God that we are blessed to receive. Even if we manage to look past the busyness, there are often other deterrents that discourage us from responding to God’s prompts. For instance, when we see a call for aid, we might rationalize that our contribution wouldn’t make much of a difference or might not be well-received by the person in need. Or an inclination to make amends with someone who offended us might be deterred by a new trivial offense. Fight the Good Fight Despite the possible deterrents, those little tugs at our heartstrings never stop. Why? Because Jesus has overcome the darkness within and around us. His love and light are blazing bright, forever creating sparks of goodness. Acting on these prompts is up to us if we want to draw closer to His goodness. As our Lady of Fatima reminded us, our future is in God and we are active and responsible partners in creating that future. If we remember that all the good that has ever happened to us, including our talents and blessings, are from the Lord, then we can respond willingly to even the slightest inclination to goodness that comes to mind. It is even more imperative today that we fight through the darkness, praying to our Lady for help to stay focused and strong to fight the good fight when called. It doesn’t take much to light up someone’s life, to bring Christmas hope and joy to them when they need it most, no matter whether it's Christmastime… or any other time of year. “Glory to God who shows His power in us and can do much more than we could ask or imagine; glory to Him in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20
I was 65 years old and I was looking into changing my life insurance policy. Of course, they required some lab tests. I thought, “Okay, I’ll go through the motions.” Up until then, every lab test I had ever taken, had been normal, including chest x-rays, EKG’s and colonoscopies, all normal. My blood pressure was 126/72 and my BMI was 26. I exercised four times per week and ate a fairly healthy diet. I felt good and was totally asymptomatic. All my lab results came back normal…except my PSA, it was 11 ng/ml (normal is less than 4.5ng/ml). Three years earlier it had been normal. Bummer! So, I went to see my PCP. During the rectal exam, he found my prostate enlarged and indurated. “I suspect cancer, I’m going to refer you to a urologist,” he said. Bummer, again. Eleven out of eleven prostate biopsies were positive for cancer. My Gleason score was 4+5 which meant that it was a highgrade cancer and could grow and spread more quickly. So, I underwent a radical prostatectomy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy with Lupron. Ooh those hot flushes! Ladies believe me when I say, I know what you’re going through. Bummer once again. So why only “bummer” and not “I don’t believe it, it can’t be, I’m going to die. God is punishing me”? Well, let me tell why. Before my mother’s kidney failure required at-home peritoneal dialysis, my parents traveled quite a bit, especially to Mexico. When daily dialysis brought travel to a halt, they spent more time working on puzzles, reading and studying their Bible. This brought them much closer to God. So, when her doctors told her there was nothing more they could do for her, she was okay with that. She told me, “I’m tired, I’m ready to be with my Father. I am at peace with family and friends, with myself, but most importantly, I am at peace with God.” A few days later, she died peacefully with a smile on her face. “I am at peace with God”. That’s what I wanted. I no longer wanted to be just a Sunday-Mass Catholic. It was then that I started on the path that has led me closer to God: reading and studying the Bible in both English and Spanish, praying, saying the Rosary, giving thanks for my blessings, and volunteering as a Catechism teacher. Soon, I hope to finish my internship as a volunteer hospital chaplain and I am about to complete my spiritual guidance course. So, yes, having prostate cancer is a bummer, but that is all it is, because I am at peace with God.
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