In my 45+ years of serving in education and pastoral ministry, I frequently have had the privilege of journeying with people who were dealing with difficult marriages or difficulties with their children. When they share about their children, they often reflect on how hard they have tried to do everything the right way—prayer in the home, involvement in their lives, good schools, religious training—yet their children were going down the wrong path. Even when dealing with adult children, the parents still feel they are to blame for the bad choices being made by their children.
I would often introduce them to St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. St. Monica, whose feast we celebrate on August 27th, is the patron saint of people in difficult marriages, difficult children, and the conversion of relatives, particularly one’s own children. St. Monica gives us a powerful example of the influence of intercessory prayer (CCC 2634-2636). In all our lives there are times when all that we can do is pray for those we love.
Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan. Her husband, Patricius, had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in A.D. 371, one year after his baptism.
Her son Augustine was the subject of her intercessory prayers also. Monica did not use words to persuade Augustine to convert. Instead, she led by example, living with kindness and praying on his behalf. For thirty-two years she patiently prayed for his conversion, and God rewarded this faithful servant.
We are called to do the same, to live with genuine kindness and love, to pray constantly on the behalf of our troubled, hurting world, and to lead by example not just our words.
Saints Monica and Benedict had much in common when approaching prayer. Prayer was a part of their everyday existence rather than reserved only for special times or special places. Theirs was a concrete way of consecrating the whole day to God.
The principal work of a member of the Benedictine Order is prayer. Praying the Divine Office (a.k.a., the Liturgy of the Hours, the Opus Dei, or the Work of God) together in community consists of chanting or reciting psalms and canticles, Scripture readings and intercessory prayers for the Church and the world. Lectio divina, the reflective reading of Scripture whereby God’s word becomes the center of the monastic’s life, is the other significant form of prayer for Benedictines. All of this praying individually and communally culminates in the celebration of the Eucharist. Prayer is marked by regularity and fidelity, not mood or convenience. In Benedict’s supremely realistic way, the spiritual life was something to be worked at constantly, not merely hoped for.
Benedict envisioned a balanced life of prayer (ora) and work (labora) as the ideal for the followers of his Rule. Monastics would spend time in prayer to discover why they were working and would spend time at work so that good order and harmony would prevail in the monastery.
Prayer allows us to invite God into not just our own brokenness but also into the brokenness of others, to do his healing work.
St. Paul urged his fellow Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing. Through prayer one becomes in love with Christ, for prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.
Prayer enlarges our heart until it can contain God’s gift of self. Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive God. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God and listening to His voice in the depth of your heart.
What our fractured, hurting world needs is for good people on either side of the great divides we are dealing with to fall on our knees and pray without ceasing for God to heal our hearts, our minds, and our world and then get up and do whatever small or large things we can do to show true kindness and the love of God to all we encounter.
In closing I would like to share a prayer taken from Pope Francis’s “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace:”
O God of the expanse, whose love stretches beyond even the farthest distance we can imagine: Amid a season of darkness, we can catch now—out of the corner of our eye—the light of your hope on the horizon.
Grant us, we pray, the courage and humility to serve as mirrors of that light: diverting and reflecting it into the darkest corners of our humanity. May our light shine a path of compassion for our brothers and sisters in need, that we might serve them concretely and practically.
O God may the light of your hope on the horizon lead us to your peace, and may we never yield to the temptation of the darkness of disregard. Through Christ, our Lord, we pray: Amen.
By Sister Janet Marie Flemming, OSB