Thursday, May 31, 2012

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Baptism on Pentecost

Yesterday Lillian Grace Perry was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever at All Saints', Watsonville. She and her grandmother first came to All Saints' on Easter Sunday and Lilly asked me about baptism, so here we are! I haven't performed a baptism in English in ages. Here are some photos.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Feast of Pentecost

Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Feast of the Venerable Bede, Priest and Monk of Jarrow

Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Bede, or Baeda, was probably born in the year 673, the year of the Council of Hertford, the council in which the Bishops of England agreed to respect each others' diocesan boundaries and the date for Easter was settled. He was born on lands which were given to Benedict Biscop's new monastery, St. Peter's of Wearmouth. At the age of seven years, his parents placed him in the care of Abbot Benedict for his education and upbringing. The next year he was tranferred to the monastery in Jarrow, under the care of Abbot Ceolfrid, and he remained there for the rest of his life. Abbot Ceolfrid was a holy man and a a scholar, and young Bede was greatly influenced by his love of learning. Years later, Bede wrote a biography of Ceolfrid, which contains an incident which probably refers to Bede's boyhood. It tells of how, in the year 686, the plague attacked Ceolfrid's monastery, killinig all the choir monks capable of maintaining the regular services of the Church, with the exception Bede writes, of the Abbot himself and one boy reared and educated by him, who is now a priest of the same monastery and commends the Abbot's admirable doings both verbally and in writing to all who desire to learn them. Greatly distressed by this catastrophe, the Abbot decided to discontinue their usual practice, and to recite and sing all the psalms without antiphons except at Vespers and Matins. But when they had done this for a week with great sorrow and regret, he could bear it no longer and directed that the psalms and their antiphons were to be restored in their appointed course. So with the help of all survivors, he and the aforesaid boy carried his decision with no little trouble until such time as he could either train or procure from elsewhere sufficient numbers to assist at the Divine Office.

Ceolfrid's training and encouragement of the young Bede filled him with a love for the Divine Hours and the Church's services, and it was said that he believed that the angels attended all the Daily Offices and would not miss a service because "the angels would ask 'Were is Bede? Why does he not attend the appointed devotions with his brethren?'" Bede was ordained a deacon at the age of nineteen, which is really something since canon law set the normal age for ordination to the deaconate at age twenty-five. His scholarship and devotion must have been recognized as exceptional for him to be ordained so young. He was ordained a priest eleven years later, and he spent the next fifty-nine years writing commentaries on the scriptures and writing histories. He is called the Father of English History because of his classic work A History of the English Church and People which covers the years from 597 to 731, the period in which Anglo-Saxon culture developed and Christianity became the religion of the British Isles. His History is considered a prime source for historians studying early English history because of the care he took collecting information from those most likely to know, his meticulous listing of his authorities and his separation of historical fact from hearsay and tradition. His descriptions are very vivid and bring the story alive to the reader, which is another element of good historical writing in our own era, too. His biblical commentaries were highly appreciated by his contemporaries, because he would use the Vulgate Bible, old Latin texts, and the Greek texts in his studies, and would use the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory combined with his own insights. He wrote some twenty-four commentaries, several histories, a book of Hymns, a book of Epigrams, a Martyrology, a book on the Art of Poetry, a book on Tropes and Figures, and a book entitled On the Nature of Things. There was no printing press, so these books were all handwritten and then copied by others, so the production of so many books is really quite amazing!

What made Bede so prolific? Why did he write so much? He was a monk, a very dedicated monk, and a scholar. Bede experienced God through the use of his mind, through study and research and contemplation and writing. He ended his History of the English Church and People with this little prayer: I prayer you, noble Jesu, that as You have graciously granted me joyfully to imbibe the words of Your knowledge, so You will also of Your bounty grant me to come at length to Yourself, the Fount of all wisdom, and to dwell in Your presence for ever.

Bede was a scholar right up to the end, dying after dictating an English-language translation of the Gospel of John. He died on May 25, the Eve of the Ascension, in the year 735. One of his scholars, Cuthbert, who later became the Abbot of Jarrow, wrote an account of Bede's death, telling how he continued to work for several days even though he was short of breath. On Tuesday before the Feast of the Ascension, he was dictating and teaching but was having a difficult time breathing. He said to his students, "Learn quickly! I do knot know how ling I can continue, for my Lord may call me in a short while." That night, instead of sleeping, he spent the night giving thanks to God. That morning he continued to dictate the last chapter of his work on John's gospel. At three o'clock that afternoon, he said to Cuthbert "I have a few valuables in my chest, some pepper, and napkins, and some incense. Run quickly and fetch the priests of our monastery, so that I may share among them these little presents God has given me." Cuthbert fetched the priests, and Bede spoke with each one and gave him a present. They were all crying, and Bede said, "If it so pleases my Maker, the time has come for me to be released from this body, and to return to the One who formed me out of nothing. I have lived a long time, and the righteous Judge has provided for me well throughout my life. The time for my departure is near, and I long to be dissolved and be with Christ. My soul longs to see Christ my King in all his beauty." Cuthbert says that Bede spent the rest of the day in gladness until the evening. Wilberht, the boy who was taking dictation, said, "Dear master, there is still one sentence that we have not yet written down." Bede said, "Then write it down quickly. " When the boy was finished, he said, "There! It is written!" Bede said, "Good! It is finished; you have spoken the truth. Hold my head in your hands. I would please me much if I could sit opposite the holy place where I used to pray, so that I may call upon my Father sitting up." Bede sat on the floor of his cell, his head held by Wilberht. He said the Gloria Patri and breathed his last. He was buried in the chapel of the monastery of Jarrow, but his remains were moved to Durham and placed in the nave of the Lady Chapel of the Galilee Cathedral, in the year 1020. He received the title "Venerable" about a hundred years after his death. There is a legend which says that the monk carving the inscription on Bede's tomb was at a loss for a word to fill out the couplet Hac sunt in fossa Bedae -blank- ossa (This grave contains the -blank- Bede's remains). That night an angel came and filled in the blank with the word Venerabilis.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dr. Walter Smith

Yesterday my dear friend Canon Walter Smith became a Doctor of Humane Letters at C.D.S.P. It was great to see him and other friends there. We also stopped off an visited the Worlds' Most Beautiful Granchile™, which was great fun, too.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Feast of the Ascension

Hey, guys, it's kinda crowded up here!

In Which Padre Mickey Rambles On And On About The Ascension

Ascension Day is an interesting event to celebrate, and I will admit that this is a feast which carries some complications for a scientific minded, late twentieth-early twenty-first century North American like myself. We have a different understanding of the universe than did the original audience of the story of the Ascension. Many people in that part of the world believed in what we call a three tiered universe: there was the underworld, then our world, then the heavens. They believed that the ground separated the underworld and this world, and that something similar to a large curtain separated this world from the heavens. This curtain had little holes in it, and God’s glory shone through those holes, and that is what we call the stars. In a three tiered universe, certain beings were capable of moving between the three worlds. Greek mythology was full of stories of heroes who visited the underworld, and in our Nicene Creed we say that Jesus "descended into hell." The Church also teaches that he "ascended into heaven." The story of the Ascension appears in the three synoptic gospels, and in the second part of Luke’s work, the Acts of the Apostles. In John’s gospel the Ascension happens of the day of Resurrection and apparently there were no witnesses to the event. Now, when you read Luke’s two versions of this event, and the versions in the other gospels, for that matter, one is led to believe that Jesus floated up in the sky until he got to heaven. In a three tiered universe such a thing is possible, as one simply passes through that curtain which separates the two worlds and one will be at the Throne of the Father in no time. We, however, live in a different time; most of us remember the trips to the moon made by the astronauts of the 1970’s. We live in a time in which the sky is filled with satellites which make it possible for us to communicate with the other side of the planet in seconds. We live in a time when we have seen photographs of the planet taken from outer space. We live in the time of the Hubbell Telescope which has enabled us to see far across "the vast expanse of interstellar space." This knowledge of the universe, and this perspective of the universe, makes it difficult for many of us to think of Jesus as floating up to heaven; I imagine him rising up and up and up and up past the moon, past the asteroid belt, past Jupiter and the large planets, past our solar system, past the galaxies; I guess he would just keep rising and rising forever!!! But fortunately, that is not what Ascension Day is about. If the Ascension is not about Jesus floating up to heaven, what is it about? It has to do with several theological points, it has to do with the theology of the Holy Trinity. The Ascension is the moment when Jesus, the Son, the Redeemer, the Second Person of the Trinity, came into the presence of the Father, the Creator, the First Person of the Trinity. This is the moment when the Son came into the presence of the Father because he had accomplished the task given to him by the Creator. The theology of the Ascension has been an important part of Jesus’ story from the very beginning of the Church. It has always been an important part of the Christology of the Church. The theology of the Ascension has been an important aspect of Christology from the earliest days of the Church for several reasons. The first reason is that the Ascension represents the culmination of the earthly mission of Jesus. His death and resurrection could not have their full effect until Jesus ascended to the presence of the Father, to whom he presented his finished work of atonement. We teach that Jesus had two natures, that he was fully human and fully divine, and it was at this moment that the humanity of Jesus was taken up to God and glorified. This aspect of the Ascension, this aspect of the Resurrection, was very important to the early Christians, and St. Paul speaks of it several times in his letters to the Christians around the Mediterranean. The Ascension is also important because it tells us that the earthly body of Jesus is no longer present within time and space. The earthly body of Jesus now belongs to the Son of God in eternity, that is why the stories have him floating up into the heavens, so that there was no question of Jesus’ body being left behind, otherwise people might say that he wasn’t resurrected, he was revived somehow and then died later. Some people actually do make such a claim; there is a tomb in Japan and a tomb in Pakistan which are supposed to hold the body of Jesus.

The Resurrected and Ascended Jesus is not present to us in the way he was present to the disciples. We now seek the presence of Jesus within our gathering, because he told us that when two or three are gathered in his name, he is in our midst. We now seek his presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, where he is present in the sharing of the bread and wine. We now seek his presence in the faces of the poor, in the faces of those we meet and in the faces of those we love. The Ascension is a theological event, not what we would consider an historical event.

Another important aspect of the Ascension is that the Son had to come into the presence of the Father so that the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, could be sent to us. Jesus promised that after he ascended to the Father, he would send the Comforter, the Advocate, but the Holy Spirit could not come to do its work among us until the Son had ascended to the Father. And because the Holy Spirit has come among us, we are now able to do what Jesus has commanded us to do. The Holy Spirit helps us to love one another as Christ loves us, to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind, and to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the prisoner and welcome the stranger. So instead of celebrating Jesus floating up to heaven, let us prepare for the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Feast of Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop

Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Today we remember Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop and Theologian. He was one of the Cappadocians, three men who were very important in the battles between the Arians and the catholics. Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, all preached and wrote against the Arians and helped develop the orthodox understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity and the place of the Second Person in the Holy Trinity.

Cappadocia is an area in the nation we now call Turkey. Gregory was born in the town of Nazianzus, an obscure little place in the southwest of Cappadocia, a place which Gregory called “dull and unpleasant with few inhabitants.” Gregory’s father was a priest with a sect called the Hypsistarians, a group which reserved their worship for “the Highest.” This sect was heavily influenced by Zorastrianism, and the Hypsistarians kept symbols of light and fire on their altars. Gregory’s father was called an “illumined priest.” Gregory’s mother, Nonna, was a Christian, and spent many hours praying for her husband’s conversion. Apparently, the Hypsistarians used the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, because one night Gregory’s father dreamed that he was singing the first verse of the 122nd psalm: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord.” This dream urged him towards conversion to orthodoxy. What is strange is that this Hypsistarian became the bishop of Nazianzus. He was a relatively wealthy man of noble birth, owning much land. He built a church and was known for his generosity and gentleness. Nonna used to spend a lot of time in front of the altar of the church, gazing and praying, and when Gregory was born she dedicated him to God, much like Hannah dedicating Samuel to the Lord at Shiloh.

Gregory had a mystic, religious bent from an early age. He had a dream one night of two women who appeared at his bedside. They were dressed in white robes with veils which did not hide the brightness of their eyes. They told Gregory that they were Purity and Chastity, companions of Jesus, and that he should join his spirit with theirs, and then they vanished. This dream affected him very much and renewed his dedication to God. He decided early in life to become a man of letters, in fact, he had dreams of becoming a great Christian Orator. At the age of 13 he went to Caesarea to study, and it was there that he met his life-long friend, Basil. Gregory excelled in rhetoric and went on to study in Alexandria, Egypt, the city where Anthanasius was Patriarch. Alexandria was an intellectual center of the Greco-Roman world, and it was also one of the nerve-centers of Christianity. But Gregory’s desire to be a writer led him to leave Alexandria for Athens. On the way to Greece, the ship he was on was caught in a storm and almost lost off the coast of the island of Cyprus. The storm lasted for twenty-two days, and when they ran out of fresh water on board, most people on the ship were sure that they were done for! Those were the days when many people waited until they were near death to be baptized, as they were worried about committing sins after baptism, and Gregory, at the age of 17, was no exception. The storm had him terrified that he might die without being baptized, and in the midst of the storm he tore off his clothes and threw himself on the deck of the ship, weeping and promising that, if their lives were spared, he would devote himself to God. He prayed that God would give him “the gift of spiritual water from the deadly waves.” Soon a Phoenician ship came to them and supplied them with water and food, and the storm finally ended. Gregory studied in Athens for fourteen years, and his friend Basil joined him there. Another friend and classmate was Julian, the emperor-to-be. At that time Julian was a Christian, but by the time he became emperor he had converted to Paganism, partly due to his disgust with the politics of many Christians in the court of Constantinople. Gregory, Basil, and Julian would engage in debates with students from all over the Greco-Roman world, establishing the rhetorical power of the Cappadocians. At the age of thirty, Gregory left Athens for Constantinople, to visit his brother Caesarius. The brothers decided to return home to Nazianzus to visit their parents, who were getting quite old. Gregory decided to remain in Nazianzus and care for the folks. He seemed to lack any ambition; all he wanted to do was to read his books. He had already taken a vow of chastity, and now he added a vow of poverty. He slept on the ground, wore rough clothes, and ate only bread and salt and drank only water. He spent half the night in prayer and meditation, and spent his days supervising his dad’s estate, complaining about managing the slaves. He was a poor overseer because his heart was not in it. He and Basil kept up a correspondence, and Basil invited Gregory to join him in a monastery he was forming. He and Basil lived as monks for two years, and then Gregory returned once again to Nazianzus to continue his studies and writing. It was the year 361 and Gregory had returned to a town torn by the fights between the Arians and the catholics. Those with long memories remembered the Hypsistarian past of Gregory’s father, who was now bishop of Nazianzus, and they claimed that he had departed from the True Faith™. Gregory returned home to find a mob of monks ready to kill his father! He made a speech defending his father, which brought peace to the town. If a person was to become a priest in those days, they didn’t go before the Commission on Ministry or the Standing Committee, and they didn’t discuss their “call” with various groups. The people were the Commission on Ministry, and they grabbed whomever they thought should be a priest, dragged them before the bishop and had them ordained. That Christmas, the people of Nazianzus grabbed Gregory, dragged him before the bishop (his father), and demanded that he be ordained. Gregory was not prepared for this event; he had no desire to be a priest. He felt unworthy to be a priest. On the Feast of the Epiphany, he fled to his friend Basil in Ibora, where he stayed until Easter of that year. Basil convinced him that ordination was God’s will, and he returned to Nazianzus, where he delivered a stirring sermon on “the Despair of Being a Priest.” For Gregory, being a priest was serious business; he believed that a priest “must be cleansed before cleaning others; himself become wise that he might make others wise; become light before he can give light; draw near to God before drawing others near.” Gregory decided to submit to God’s will and work in Nazianzus. In the year 370 Basil became bishop of Caesarea. He wanted to move quickly against the Arians; he appointed his brother Gregory bishop of Nyssa, and ordered his friend Gregory to become bishop of Sasima, a little town twenty-four miles from Nazianzus. Gregory hated Sasima, and described it as “a detestable little place without water or grass or any signs of civilization. Here is nothing but dust, noise, screams, groans, petty official, chains and instruments of torture, and the population consists entirely of commercial travelers and strangers.” This appointment and the arguments between Basil and Gregory brought their friendship to the breaking point. Gregory decided to stay in Sasima only as long as he could do some good. He eventually returned to Nazianzus and served as Bishop Coadjutor to his father. He suffered two great blows not long after his return to his home town; both his sister and his brother died, one after the other. Then the new emperor took Nazianzus off the list of official cities and decided to level the town and build something else in its place. Gregory had to face down the troops, who were finally called off. Then his father died, and soon after, his mother Nonna. Then, making matters even worse, Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, died, and Gregory was devastated, since he had not repaired their broken friendship. Gregory retired from the world, working quietly on his fathers estate. Once again, he had no direction, no ambition, no desire to do anything. Nowadays we recognize symptoms of depression. He described himself as “a dead leaf floating in the stream.” Bout out of that dark night of the soul came a revived Gregory. He moved to Constantinople once again and began delivering sermons, which were well-received. The churches of Constantinople were filled with Arian clergy, but Gregory’s anti-Arian sermons were what the people wanted to hear. They proclaimed to the new emperor, Theodosius, that Gregory should be Patriarch of Constantinople, and the emperor agreed, appointing Gregory Patriarch of the capitol city of the Roman Empire. He only held the position for a few months; one of the canons passed at Nicea, a canon designed to defeat ambitious bishops, stated that the bishop of one See could not be transferred as bishop of another See. The emperor had forgotten about this canon, but Gregory’s enemies had not, and they worked to have him deposed. Before leaving Constantinople, Gregory wrote his great work on the Trinity, The Oratorio.
Gregory left Constantinople and returned once again to Nazianzus, where he remained, writing his treatises. He remained on his father’s estate, but at times he would retire to a cave in the hills, where he would pray and mediate and sleep on a piece of sackcloth, befriending the animals who would visit the cave. In the year 389, when he was around 60 years old, Gregory died on his father’s estate. Except for a few small bequests, he left everything to the poor.

Gregory received the titles the Divine and the Theologian in the Eastern Church. He was a person who bowed to God’s will for his life, whether it was to become a priest or a bishop against his will or to defend the faith against he powerful Arians. He gave up the ecclesiastical throne of Constantinople, even though he really believed he was called to be their bishop, because he respected the laws of the Church, something I wish more of the current bishops on all sides would consider. And because he was willing to submit to God’s will instead of his own, he made a difference in the world, and that is why we remember him to this day.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Feast of St. Monnica of Tagaste, Mother of St. Augustine

It's Padre Mickey's St. Monnica sermon

O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is the feast of St. Monnica, an African Christian woman of the fourth century. She was the mother of St. Augustine, the great African Bishop, theologian, and heretic fighter. Her story is a good one, about a mother's love for her son, of her faith in God and her trust that her wild boy would return to the Lord. When St. Augustine first published his autobiographical Confessions the story he told of Monnica's faithfulness has been considered an inspiring tale of God's faithfulness in answering the prayer of his children.

Monnica was born in the year 332 in Tagaste, North Africa, in the area we now call the nation of Algeria. She was born into a reasonably well-off Christian family. She was known for having a strong will, and there is a story from her childhood which illustrates this will. She was sometimes sent down to the cellar to draw wine for the family, and fell into the habit of taking secret sips. Pretty soon she was sneaking more than sips, she was taking deep, long, drinks of wine while in the cellar. One day a family slave who had been spying on the little girl denounced her as a drunk, as a wine-bibber, and Monnica, covered with shame, stopped drinking any wine. (I have no idea if there were 12 steps up from the cellar). Not long after this episode she was baptized, and from all accounts lived a life of virtue from then on. Once Monnica reached marriageable age her parents arranged a marriage with a pagan named Patricius. Patricius had a violent temper and was also known to be a "man of dissolute habits." He did not approve of Monnica's faith, and his mother joined his in mocking her for praying and especially for giving alms and caring for the poor. She kept the traditions of the African church which were considered superstitious by many; she kept the Sabbath, or Saturday, as the Lord's Day, and she visited the graves of martyrs with food and drink. These activities drover her husband and mother-in-law crazy! It was not a happy marriage nor, with Patricius' temper, a happy household, but due to Monnica's patience and sweet disposition Patricius did begin to come around and eventually to revere and respect her. Monnica was not the only woman in such a situation, and many of the other women of Tagaste in similar situations held her in reverence and respected her words.

Monnica gave birth to three children: Augustine, the eldest, a second son named Navigius, and a daughter, Perpetua. Because of Patricius' disapproval of her faith, Monnica was unable to have her children baptized as babies, and she was distraught and frightened when young Augustine fell ill. She begged Patricius to let her have Augustine baptized, and he agreed, but then withdrew his consent when Augustine survived the illness. After this all of Monnica's anxiety seemed to rest upon Augustine, but her patience paid off when Patricius was baptized a year later. Of Monnica's three children, Augustine was the trouble maker. Navigius seems to have been an exemplary son, and Perpetua became a religious. Augustine, the most intelligent of the three, was sent to Carthage to become educated and to become a man of culture. Augustine enjoyed studying and was a good student, although he also admitted that he was somewhat lazy, but he also spent a lot of time carousing and drinking and even took a mistress or concubine. At the age of nineteen, much to his mother's horror, he rejected the Christianity of his mother and embraced Manichaeism, a group which historian Peter Brown called "the Bolsheviks of the fourth century." He returned home for some holiday break and, like college students have done for centuries, spent his time upsetting his parents espousing his new-found ideas (he probably brought a semester's worth of dirty laundry with him, too). Monnica became so upset at Augustine's defense of the teachings of Mani that one night she evicted him from the table (Go sit in the car, Auggie!). He was not welcome at home after that until Monnica had a vision which changed her mind. One day as she was weeping over his behavior, a figure appeared and asked her the cause of her grief. She told the stranger about her problem child; the mysterious figure told her to dry her tears, then she heard the words, "Your son is with you." Monnica told Augustine this story, and he replied that since it was her faith which kept them apart, she should give up Christianity. Quickly she retorted, "He did not say I was with you: he said that you were with me." Augustine was impressed by the quick answer and never forgot it. It was another nine years before Augustine would be converted, but Monnica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf. She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, "God's time will come." Monnica persisted in begging him for his help, and the bishop said: "Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish."

When Augustine was twenty-nine years of age, he decided to move to Rome with his "wife" and son. Monnica was against the move, mostly because she thought he would never be converted if he lived in Rome, but she followed him and his family to the seaport and was planning to go to Rome with them. Once Augustine realized that she was planning to come with them, he told her that he wasn't leaving that day; he was waiting until the winds were right so that a friend of his could sail with them. He talked Monnica into spending the night in a shrine dedicated to St. Cyprian, and, that evening, while she was praying for him, he and his family set sail for Rome. Of course, Monnica was very upset the next morning when she learned that Augustine had given her the slip, but she didn't let it stop her, and she set sail on the next ship for Rome. The ship she took was caught in a storm, and the passengers were sure that they would die at sea, but Monnica's serene confidence in God and God's mercy cheered the passengers and they arrived in Rome safely. Once Monnica arrived in Rome she learned that Augustine had settled in Milan. While in Milan he came under the influence of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and had given up Manichaeism, but he wasn't a Christian yet. He had been experiencing major doubts, especially after spending time with Faustus, one of the shining lights of the Manichees, whom Augustine found less than inspiring. Monnica became a good friend of Ambrose, and, just as had been the case in Africa, she was foremost among women in her charity and her devotion to God. Bishop Ambrose was able to persuade her to give up some of the practices of the African church, especially that of visiting the graves of martyrs with food and wine. Under the influence of Ambrose, and in answer to Monnica's prayer, but most of all because of the grace of God, Augustine was converted and was baptized by Ambrose at the church of St. John the Baptist in Milan at the Easter Vigil of the year 387. Upon his conversion, he decided to end his relationship with his mistress, and Monnica was hoping to find an "appropriate" wife for Augustine, but upon the return of his mistress to Africa, he informed Monnica that he would adopt the celibate life and would devote himself to God's service.

Augustine had formed a small group of friends who were planning to adopt the religious life, and he and his mother and his friends decided to return to Tagaste. They spent some time at the seaport in Ostia, preparing to continue across the waters to Africa, when Monnica took ill. When Augustine and his brother realized that she would probably die, they were worried about burying her far from home. Augustine writes: I heard afterwards, too, that at the time we were at Ostia, with a maternal confidence she one day, when I was absent, was speaking with certain of my friends on the contemning of this life, and the blessing of death; and when they—amazed at the courage which You had given to her, a woman—asked her whether she did not dread leaving her body at such a distance from her own city, she replied, "Nothing is far to God; nor need I fear lest He should be ignorant at the end of the world of the place whence He is to raise me up." On the ninth day, then, of her sickness, the fifty-sixth year of her age, and the thirty-third of mine, was that religious and devout soul set free from the body.

One of the propers for today has this passage from John's Gospel, in which Jesus said, "You will grieve but your grief will turn to joy. A woman suffers pain when she gives birth because the time has come. When her child is born, in her joy she no longer remembers her labor because a human being has come into the world. . . I swear to God, if you ask the Father for anything using my name, he will grant it to you."
Monnica loved the Lord and she loved her children, and she especially loved Augustine and prayed for him. She prayed that he would give up his wild ways and return to the Lord. She did not desert her son but continued praying for him and the Lord answered her prayers. Monnica was happy because her son had accepted the Lord, but we can all be happy because the Christian Church received a great Doctor of the Church, a great Saint of Africa whose faith influences us to this day. Monnica's faithfulness gave the Church the blessing of Augustine, and the blessing of her faithful witness.
And that is why we remember her today.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Happy International Workers' Day, Comrades!

Here's hoping your office is heavily festooned with flowers! It's Labour Day in most of the world, but now that I live in the U.S.A. I'm supposed to ignore this fact.

I See You!

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