The Saint’s Death: St. Monica, Mother of St. Augustine

It’s the kind of things two saints say when they talk. Standing at a window looking into the garden in their home in Ostia, the harbor port of Rome, Augustine and his mother Monica talked of the life the saints would have in Heaven. They agreed, Augustine tells us in his Confessions, that the very highest earthly joys weren’t worth even mentioning compared to the life of Heaven.

Then Monica shifted the subject. “Son, for my part I have no further delight in any thing in this life. Why I remain here any longer, and why I am here, I don’t know, now that my hopes in this world have been accomplished.”

O my Praise and my Life, God of my heart: Laying aside my mother’s good deeds, for which I give thanks to You with joy, I now beseech You for her sins. Hear me, I entreat You, by the Medicine of Your wounds, Who hung upon the tree, and now sits at Your right hand, make intercession for us.

She dealt mercifully, and from her heart forgave her debtors their debts. Forgive her debts, whatever she may have contracted in so many years, since the water of salvation. Forgive her, Lord, I beseech You. Enter not into judgment with her. Let Your mercy be exalted above Your justice, since Your words are true, and You have promised mercy unto the merciful.

Unto the Sacrament of which our ransom, Your handmaid bound her soul by the bond of faith. Let none sever her from Your protection. Let neither the lion nor the dragon interpose himself by force or fraud. For she will not answer that she owes nothing, lest she be convicted and seized by the crafty accuser. She will answer that her sins are forgiven her by Him, to Whom none can repay that price He, Who owed nothing, paid for us.

— St. Augustine’s prayer for his mother, St. Monica

The one reason she had wanted to stay alive was to see him become a Catholic Christian. “My God did this for me more abundantly than I asked. I now see you, despising earthly happiness, become His servant. Why do I remain here?”

She Fell Sick

She would not remain much longer. A few days later, she fell sick of a fever. “Here,” she told Augustine and his brother, “shall you bury your mother.”

Augustine had to stay quiet to keep himself from crying, but his brother jumped in. He hoped she would die at home, not in a foreign land like Rome, he told her. Looking at Augustine, she told them: “Lay this body anywhere. Let not the care for that in any way disquiet you. I only ask this: that you remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you are.”

Augustine, unexpectedly, rejoiced to hear her say that. He knew, he explains, how worried she had been to be buried next to her husband, back at their home in northern Africa. After so close a marriage, she wanted to have the added happiness of people knowing their bodies were united again under the earth. He was pleased that she no longer wanted this.

Later he heard that some of his friends in Ostia had asked her if she was afraid to leave her body so far from her home. “Nothing is far to God,” she answered. “We need not fear that at the end of the world, He will not recognize where He is to raise me up.”

On the ninth day of her fever, when she was fifty-six and Augustine thirty-three, she died.

A Fresh Wound

Augustine closed her eyes. He felt a great sorrow and almost started crying. He calls his response “a childish feeling,” and kept himself from crying. His son Adeodatus did start crying, but stopped when the others checked him.

Augustine explains:  “We did not think it fitting to solemnize that funeral with tearful lament and groanings. For thereby do those who think the departed are unhappy or altogether dead express grief for them. She was neither unhappy in her death, nor altogether dead. Of this we were assured on good grounds: the testimony of her good conversation and her faith unfeigned.”

He knew she lived. Why did he feel so devastated? he asks. Because he had lost her company. “Being then forsaken of so great comfort in her, my soul was wounded. That life was rent asunder, hers and mine together, that had been one.”

 

The text of E. B. Pusey’s nineteenth-century translation of The Confessions can be found here. The language here has been modernized. The prayer has been simplified. For more stories of the saints’ deaths, go here

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