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Augustine and Monica

Two saints!  The Roman Catholic Church has a ton of saints.  Of course, that is a statement by a Quaker, a tradition that typically does not talk about saints.  As I grew up in the Quaker environment, the only time I heard “saint language” was about some of the writers in the Bible.  I did hear people talk about St. John or St. Paul.  As a kid, if asked about saints, I would have assumed saints are “Bible guys.”  Since I never gave it any thought, I never thought about women saints. 
      
My own Quaker tradition has held the radical equality of men and women since the beginning of our seventeenth century.  That part of Quakerism rubbed off on me and I have been very happy about that.  I have always seen women as my equal.  In fact, I would usually assume women were, by and large, better saint candidates than men---myself included!  
       
I am glad that my provincialism has been crunched.  I am much more widely aware and appreciative than I was when I was a kid.  Much of my education came from friends and from studying Catholicism and other traditions.  Part of that education has been “saintly.”  Augustine and Monica became historical teachers.  As I follow the daily lectionary---the readings offered by my Benedictine path---I bump into the various saint-days.  These are days honoring a particular saint.   

Two straight days in August give us Augustine and Monica.  I first ran into this pair when I did a church history class in college.  There was more exposure in seminary and then in my doctoral studies, I focused on the early church period.  I got to know well this couple.   
     
Saying they were a couple is misleading.  Monica was Augustine’s mother.  Augustine is perhaps the most famous or influential Christian figure after the New Testament gospel writers and St. Paul.  But we may never have heard of him if it were not for his mother, Monica.  She was born early in the fourth century.  Augustine came along mid-fourth century.  She was born into a Christian family.  Augustine wanted nothing to do with Christianity.           

She is a saint, not because she is a famous theological thinker or martyr, but because she lives her own life of holiness.  Part of that life was harboring hopes of holiness for her son, when he did not share at all those hopes. Part of her sanctity is a holiness of patience.  Like all good parents, she knew she could not force her son to be the person she wanted him to be.  But she also trusted that God would be graciously at work in Augustine.  Apparently, God was!         

When Monica died in 387, Augustine had become a Christian and was on his way to Christian fame.  When she died, she completed a holy journey and he was traveling what became his own holy journey.  Oddly enough, without the famous Augustine, we would never have heard of Monica.  And without Monica, Augustine would be, at best, a footnote in history.    
    
I am confident neither one would have said their goal was to be a saint recognized by the Catholic Church.  They both would have said, I am sure, that they espoused to live a life of obedience to what they perceived to be the will of God for their lives.  Their goal was not some self-serving, egotistical design for some kind of gratification.  Instead, their goal was to live out the commitment of their call to be a daughter and son of the living God.           

In this sense, they are not much different than any one of us contemporary people living out our own lives.  We might contend that our times are more complex, more difficult---whatever.  But in reality I think the basics of life are still fairly simple.  A basic life question is this: for whom or what am I living?  Obviously, there are many answers.  One common answer is that we live for ourselves.  We have our own agendas and most of us would want to be as happy as we can be.  
       
I am glad I know Monica and Augustine, because I do not think this would be their answer.  I think they would want to be happy, if possible.  But that would not be their goal.  Their goal would be to embrace the call of God on their lives, as they experienced that call.  They would want to live out that discipleship in as much fullness and depth as possible.        
 
For both of them, discipleship entailed giving away your life.  They gave life away in love and in service.  In some ways, I find Monica more useful than her son.  Some parts of Augustine’s life and ministry are difficult for me to accept.  But I do think he was trying to be true to that which he sensed God calling him to be and do.           

In the process his life and his story became not only his, but it became the church’s story.  Those who knew him and those who read about him came to see his life as the story of God’s life lived out in a fallible human being.  The holy life is not a perfect life.  Neither Monica nor Augustine was perfect.  Neither am I.  But if we strive to be obedient, at least we are on the holy path---baby saints, perhaps.

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