28 August 2008

Was St Monica an 'Irish mother'?

I had a pleasant lunch today at Colegio de San Augustin-Bacolod as the Augustinian Friars celebrated the feast of the great St Augustine (354-430). Present too were the Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation who run La Consolacion College, beside San Sebastian Cathedral here in Bacolod. This congregation was founded in the Philippines and has more than 230 sisters. Some of the friars of the Augustinian Recollects, known in the Philippines as the Recoletos, were also present. They own the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos (UNO-R) here in Bacolod.

Both the Augustinian and Recollect friars played a large part in the evangelization of the Philippines in Spanish times.

The second reading in the Office of Readings for the feast of St Monica (332-387) yesterday always brings a smile to my face and leads me to ask, ‘Was St Monica an “Irish mother”?’ St Augustine’s brother had said to their mother when she was dying that it might be better if she died in her homeland in north Africa, rather than in Italy. The extract from St Augustine’s Confessions goes on: But as she heard this she looked at me and said: ‘See the way he talks’. And then she said to us both: ‘Lay this body where it may be. Let no care of it disturb you: this only I ask of you that you should remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be’.

The latter part of the last quotation appears on innumerable memorial cards and I don’t know of a better request for prayers for the dead. But it’s the ‘See the way he talks’ that makes me smile. May’s the time I heard my own mother – and other Irish mothers – say, nearly always in a family-type context, ‘Did you ever hear such nonsense?’ It’s the kind of thing that only people intimately related can say to one another, conveying gentle criticism/a reprimand and affection at the same time.

Both St Monica and St Augustine were from the north-east of present-day Algeria. Hippo, where Augustine was bishop, is also located in Algeria. Today there is hardly a trace of Christianity in most of north Africa. Is Europe heading the same way? Our faith is a gift. We can lose it as individuals and as communities, as I often remind people.

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