Thursday, May 4, 2017

Monica of Hippo

We know about Monnica almost entirely from the autobiography (the Confessions) of her son Augustine, a major Christian writer, theologian and philosopher (see 28 August). Monnica was born in North Africa, near Carthage, in what is now Tunisia, perhaps around 331, of Christian parents, and was a Christian throughout her life. Her name has usually been spelled "Monica," but recently her tomb in Ostia was discovered, and the burial inscription says "Monnica," a spelling which all AC (Archaeologically Correct) persons have hastened to adopt. (On the other hand, it may simply be that the artisan who carved the inscription was a bad speller.) As a girl, she was fond of wine, but on one occasion was taunted by a slave girl for drunkenness, and resolved not to drink thereafter. She was married to a pagan husband, Patricius, a man of hot temper, who was often unfaithful to her, but never insulted or struck her. It was her happiness to see both him and his mother ultimately receive the Gospel.

Monnica soon recognized that her son was a man of extraordinary intellectual gifts, a brilliant thinker and a natural leader of men (as a youngster he was head of a local gang of juvenile delinquents), and she had strong ambitions and high hopes for his success in a secular career. Indeed, though we do not know all the circumstances, most Christians today would say that her efforts to steer him into a socially advantageous marriage were in every way a disaster. However, she grew in spiritual maturity through a life of prayer, and her ambitions for his worldly success were transformed into a desire for his conversion. He, as a youth, rejected her religion with scorn, and looked to various pagan philosophies for clues to the meaning of life. He undertook a career as an orator and teacher of the art of oratory (rhetoric), and moved from Africa to Rome and thence to Milan, at that time the seat of government in Italy. His mother followed him there a few years later. In Milan, Augustine met the bishop Ambrose, from whom he learned that Christianity could be intellectually respectable, and under whose preaching he was eventually converted and baptised on Easter Eve in 387, to the great joy of Monnica.

After his baptism, Augustine and a younger brother Navigius and Monnica planned to return to Africa together, but in Ostia, the port city of Rome, Monnica fell ill and said, "You will bury your mother here. All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord. Do not fret because I am buried far from our home in Africa. Nothing is far from God, and I have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world."

Monnica of Hippo - 4 May

The Collect

O ALMIGHTY God, who hast called us to faith in thee, and bast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses; Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of thy Saints, and especially of thy servant Monnica, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we with them attain to thine eternal joy; through him who is the author and finisher of our faith, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle - Philippians 4:4-9

REJOICE in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice, Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

The Gospel - St. Luke 6:17-23

JESUS came down and stood in the plain, with the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coasts of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; and they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye still be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven.

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