Motherly Love and Christian Piety

While reading Augustine’s Confessions this summer I, as he wanted his reader to do, found myself comparing my struggles, doubts, triumphs, and story to Augustine’s.

In one sense, his life is very relatable. Running from God in selfishness. Hiding our sins in shame. Turning our hearts stubbornly away from truth but instead towards pet sins as they slowly devour us from the inside. And finally, breathlessly, in dizzying relief, spinning around to find Him there, gently pursuing us.

It was all there. The Christian life. The history of sin, initial conversion, and daily struggle.

There was one thing, however, that was nagging at me. Yes, although with his own words Augustine was confessing to be just like us – the foremost sinner (1 Tim. 10:15), there was still something that I couldn’t quite relate to. Augustine is viewed as a hero of the faith, a leader in theology and philosophy, and in many traditions, a saint. I am not these things. I never will be these things. I am a daughter of the King, champion of the Kingdom, and warrior against the evil forces in this world, but the odds are, I will never recognized in any significant way by the Church.

Enter Monica.

“…with the peacefulness of age, full of motherly love and Christian piety!” (IX.iv (8)).

Monica, the mother of Augustine, was a imperfect, relentless, and beautiful person. In his Confessions, Augustine describes how throughout his rebellious youth she persisted in prayer for him. Knowing parents whose children have abandoned beliefs of their family, I cannot even begin to understand the pain that this causes. It is a silent and persistent and pervading hurt. Yet Monica continued to prayer for her son, never giving up on him, planting seeds of faith that only God knew about. Her actions have forever changed the course of the church.

Augustine rejoices in her life, calling her

[God’s] handmaid who brought me forth — in her flesh, that I might be born into this world’s light, and in her heart, that I might be born to life eternal. (IX.viii (17))

Not only did she give life to Augustine physically, but supported him spiritually. Had she not raised him in and continued to quietly point to truth, we do not know what Augustine’s life would have looked like. Not only would the kingdom lack a saint but the church would lack inestimable comfort and guidance that Augustine gave.

Take comfort. You may be an Augustine or you may be  a Monica. You may think that your contribution is not valuable but let me assure you: it is essential.

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