Saint Monica, Mother of Augustine of Hippo
1 Samuel 1:10-20
In the calendar of the church we remember today Saint Monica for her patience, and perseverance, and faithfulness. She was born in north Africa about year 430, and became an ardent Christian. Not so for her husband, Patricius, a Roman administrator known for his temper and infidelities, nor by their son, Augustine, who took after his father. Monica prayed and prayed for them, and a miracle happened. Shortly before his death, her husband converted to Christianity, and thereafter, the wild son, Augustine, also. Some years later, Augustine would write in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Very autobiographical.
The three lessons from the Bible appointed for today all tell stories about prayer for children. Whether or not we be parents, most likely all of us carry in our hearts people who have garnered our heart’s attention. We carry a deep concern for them, a fear for them, a hope for them, a love for them. We may pray for them, perhaps ardently, either because they have asked us to pray, or because we have been drawn to pray for them. Perhaps we pray because there is nothing else we can do. We are otherwise powerless to make a difference in their lives. So we pray.
Prayer is a mystery, a mystery that begins in God. Our prayer is always in response to God’s initiative. It is God who has caught our attention. Mysteriously, in our prayer for others, we invoke God of the heavens meanwhile being grounded in God’s love, God’s healing light, God’s presence here on earth. It is like we complete a triangle: God, our own self, these other persons for whom we pray. In my own prayer for others I often remember the image given to us by Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century abbess and mystic. Hildegard said we are like mirrors, catching God’s light and then mirroring that light onto the countenance others. Whatever prompts us to pray for others, we are always responding to God’s initiative.
Who Monica’s son, Augustine, would become held a stature far beyond all that she could have asked for or imagined, especially given what a bad, bad boy he was. Monica sets a very high ceiling for hope in how we and others can change, amazingly, miraculously for the better. So we pray our hearts out.
Blessed Monica, whom we remember today.
Today we celebrate All Souls Day. We ‘celebrate’? How can we celebrate when shortly we shall be remembering by name before God our loved ones who have died, and whom we so miss?
‘Behold, I tell you a mystery! We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible.’ Those amazing, thrilling words from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I can never read them without hearing Handel’s Messiah ringing in my ears! And they are words which tell us just what it is that we are celebrating today. We are celebrating what lies at the very heart of our faith as Christians. Jesus truly died, and yet was raised to life by God. And all who have faith in Jesus, although we too will die, will also be raised to life by God. Paul goes on to proclaim in ringing terms, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ The promise and hope of resurrection, of new life, IS our gospel as Christians. It seems to me that so much in life points to this. Just as winter leads to spring, so death and resurrection, loss and hope, seem to penetrate the very fabric of life itself.
Hebrews 12: 1 – 4
Psalm 22: 22 – 30
Mark 5: 21 – 43
It’s been quite a week. It’s been quite a week and, no doubt there is more to come. We have seen protests, demonstrations, and acts of witness, support and solidarity. We have seen millions in this country and around the world on the streets, in airports, in front of hotels all voicing their concern, their objections, and their resistance. It’s been quite a week, and there promises to be more to come. It seems that there is a new normal taking root, not just in this country, but around the world. My hunch, and it’s only a hunch, is that what we have seen in the past week, is what the next four years will be like, so we had all better get used to it.
For us a Christians as we watch the news, read the newspapers, talk with our friends and neighbours the questions at times like these is always: “should the Church be involved? Should the Church ever be involved?” There are those among us who would argue that the Church should stay out of politics; that the Church should never take a stand on this issue or that; that the Church must limit itself to the spiritual realm and leave the temporal realm alone. There are those who would argue that Jesus was not political; that he came to establish a heavenly kingdom and not an earthly one; that he opposed the mixing of the things of God with the things of Caesar, and so should we.
Driving from Boston to any location on the North Shore of Massachusetts via Route One is a unique experience with which we Brothers, and many of you, will be quite familiar. Route One is the most direct way to get back and forth between our monastery here in Cambridge and Emery House in West Newbury. Most of us – especially those living at Emery House for any length of time – have driven this route dozens, if not hundreds of times. Though I do have a soft-spot for some of Route One’s distinctively kitschy landmarks – a fiberglass orange dinosaur, a replica of the leaning tower of Pisa, a steakhouse sign in the shape of a gigantic cactus – I confess that on many days I find the barrage of retail chains and languishing motels tedious and vaguely depressing. A New England tourism website describes the Route One experience with appropriately mixed emotion: “Years have passed and Route One is still one of America’s hideous, tacky gems –with its odd charm still shining at us in its neon, kitschy glory.”
Throughout Lent and Easter tide this year, I’ve been praying with literature devoted to the Five Wounds of Christ. The meditative remembrance of Christ’s Passion was a profoundly meaningful practice in the spiritual lives of Medieval Christians, especially in England, and by the fourteenth century the visions and writings of saints steeped in such meditation concentrated with special intensity on the Five Wounds inflicted upon Christ’s Body: the nail holes in his right and left wrists, both of his feet, and the spear-wound in his side. These holy men and women saw the wounds of Jesus not as repugnant scars but as precious insignia testifying to the depths of God’s Love,as floodgates of Christ’s healing lifeblood, and as portals into the mysteries of Heaven. The seeds of such imagery are found in the Resurrection appearances in the gospels of Luke and John. When Jesus appears in the upper room, the disciple’s natural response is shock and fear, confusion and disbelief. Amid this rush of complex emotions, these distinctive marks clarify their vision and melt their hearts as they recognize the impossible: this is their Teacher, Friend, and Lord, crucified-and-risen.
1 Samuel 1:4-20
It’s a great joy for me to be back at the monastery, after my time of sabbatical. I spent much of my time with my family – my mother and my brothers and sister and their families, my nieces and nephews. I also stayed with friends in England, Ireland and France. It was also a great time for reflection and for prayer. I am so grateful for this time away, and I’m very grateful for your prayers for me.
I visited so many great churches and cathedrals, from York and Durham to Canterbury, and from Cork to Notre Dame in Paris. Whenever I go into a great church, I love to find a place to light a candle, and kneel down, and remember those I love, those who are on my heart, those who I know in need, or have asked me to pray for them. And I know many of you do this in the chapel – lighting a candle and offering up prayers.