Wednesday, May 06, 2009

One week, two saints

Arrggh! Here it is, May already. I was about to let two of my favorite female saints slip past - both have feast days this week. They are:

Monnica, Mother of Augustine of Hippo
4 May 387

Augustine takes leave of his mother, Monnica

Monnica gives us one of the greatest examples of intercessory prayer of all the saints. She prayed her whole life for her son Augustine's conversion to Christianity, along with her husband's. She made a number of mistakes along the way, but we see through her story how God will redeem our mistakes.

Augustine not only became a Christian, he became one of Christianity's greatest thinkers and theologians.

Methinks he got it from his mother. Monnica's simple statement, "Nothing is far from God," is one of the most succinct statements of faith and trust in God I have ever read.

James Kiefer's bio:

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."

PRAYER (contemporary language)

O Lord, who through spiritual discipline 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.

Julian of Norwich

Friday (May 8) is the feast day for Dame Julian of Norwich. You know she's my fav, right up there with Mary Magdalene. I feel her spirit poking around in my psyche, sometimes, trying to find something of her.

Sometimes she succeeds, with teachings such as:

"This blessed friend is Jesus; it is his will and plan that we hang on to him, and hold tight always, in whatever circumstances; for whether we are filthy or clean is all the same to his love."

"Glad and merry and sweet is the blessed and lovely demeanour of our Lord towards our souls, for he saw us always living in love-longing, and he wants our souls to be gladly disposed toward him . . . by his grace he lifts up and will draw our outer disposition to our inward, and will make us all at unity with him, and each of us with others in the true, lasting joy which is Jesus."

When things get tough, as they are wont to do, I quote Julian under my breath: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." I say it like a breath prayer, over and over, and it's incredibly comforting.

On days when it all just seems too hard, Julian reminds me about God's will, not mine, and that I'm supposed to hang on tight to him, "in whatever circumstances."

One of Julian's writings I first read was her vision of God holding the Earth in his (or her) hand, and it was something as small as a hazelnut ("a small, brown nut") held in his mighty palm. He would never, ever lose it, but would treat it tenderly.

It takes my breath away how well this mystic of the Middle Ages understood the fragility of our island home, this fragile Earth.

Thank you, Mother Julian. I love you.

Julian is probably the best-loved of all the English mystics. She was born around 1342, and her feast day is observed May 8. She's believed to have died on that date around 1417.

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