“O God, you search me and you know me and you know me. All my thoughts lie open to your gaze. When I walk or lie down you are before me: ever the maker and keeper of my days.”
That is the beginning of Bernadette Farrell’s beautiful rendition of Psalm 139, part of today’s readings for the Memorial of Saint Monica of Hippo (AD 332 – 387). Monica was married young to Patricius, who was adulterous and verbally abusive. Her generosity to the poor and her prayer habits annoyed him, yet it is said he did not stop her.
Her first son, Augustine, became wayward and lazy as he wrote in his Confessions. Monica cried many times over Augustine’s dissolute life. A Bishop consoled her fears for him, saying, “The child of those tears shall never perish.” Monica did live to see the conversion of Augustine and grief over her death inspired some of the finest pages of his seminal work. In Confessions, Augustine wrote of his mother:
“In place of a basket filled with fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the oratories of the martyrs a heart full of purer petitions and to give all that she had to the poor – so that the communion of the Lord’s body might be rightly celebrated in those places where, after the example of his passion, the martyrs had been sacrificed and crowned.” Confessions 6.2.2
Matthew’s Gospel today continues Jesus’ exhortation that began at the beginning of Chapter 23 that “The Scribes and the Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers; therefore, do everything and observe everything they tell you. But do not follow their example.” Today, he addresses the scribes and Pharisees directly, calling them “frauds’ who pay tithes on goods, “yet ignore the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and good faith. It is these you should have practiced without neglecting the others…. You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish and leave the inside filled with loot and lust.”
In bringing her “purer petitions” to the altar, Monica is certainly filling the inside of her cup with mercy and justice for the poor as Jesus has directed us to do. Her life gives us so many opportunities to emulate her faithfulness to God’s promise despite challenges. She is the patron saint of difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of adultery and verbal abuse and conversion of relatives. I don’t know of many families today who do not suffer at least one of those.
May we remember the example Monica gives us in her life of faithful service to the gospel as we strive to keep alive the Passion of Jesus in our daily lives. After his encounter with the Woman at the Well, Jesus reminded the disciples that “My food is to do the will of him who sent me; my wine to complete his work.” This is the communion of the Lord’s body that Augustine saw in his mother’s charity and prayer. It is the living of our faith to which Jesus calls each of us. It is what we hope God sees when he searches our hearts.