John Henry Newman never used his marvellous powers of thought and language more effectively than during what he called his campaign in Ireland. His lectures on "University Education" in the Rotunda, his literary papers in the Catholic University Gazette, his sermons in the University Church that he built in St. Stephen's Green, display, according to the nature of their subjects, eloquence, grace and subtlety in a high degree. On a certain fourth of May in the middle of the fifties—it was indeed May 4, 1856—he began thus in his newly-erected pulpit:—
"This day we celebrate one of the most remarkable feasts in the Calendar. We commemorate a saint who gained the heavenly crown by prayers and tears, by sleepless nights and weary wanderings, but not in the administration of any high office m the Church, not in the fulfilment of some great resolution or special counsel; not as a teacher, evangelist, reformer, or champion of the faith ; not as a bishop of the flock or temporal governor ; not by eloquence, by wisdom, or by controversial success; not in the way of any other saint whom we invoke in the circle of the year; but as a mother seeking and gaining by her penances the conversion of her son. It was for no ordinary son that she prayed, and it was no ordinary supplication by which she gained Him. When a holy man saw its vehemence ere it was successful, he said to her : 'Go in peace : the child of such prayers cannot perish.' The prediction was fulfilled beyond its letter ; not only was that young man converted, but after his conversion he became a saint; not only a saint, but a doctor also, and instructed many unto justice. St. Augustine was the son for whom she prayed; and, if he has been a luminary for all ages of the Church since, many thanks do we owe to his mother, St. Monica, who, having borne him in the flesh, travailed for him in the spirit."
It is with difficulty that I refrain from going further with this exquisite discourse on "the Intellect the Instrument of Religious Training." But I am not reminding you of St. Monica and her instructive story for her own sake, but because I see in her a type of one phase of the relations of our Blessed Lady with the great Christian family, the Church of her Divine Son. The Blessed Virgin is the St. Monica of all Christians, deserving from each of us far more than the love and gratitude and confidence that St. Monica deserved and gained from the generous heart and magnificent mind of St. Augustine.
The two mothers have this in common, that each derives her glory from her Son. "Mary of whom was born Jesus.'' This fragment of an inspired text is foundation deep enough and broad enough and strong enough to sustain the vast superstructure of praise and reverence built upon it by the piety of Christian hearts. Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God. " Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.''
St Monica likewise in her due measure is known to us and loved and honoured by us as the mother of St. Augustine, who in his turn attributed all that was good in him to St. Monica. Cujus meriti credo esse omne quod vivo. " To her (says this great saint and doctor of the Church), to her belongs the merit of all the life, all the good that is in me, all that I am."
There was exquisite taste—if we may use so human a word in reference to a thing so divine as the liturgy of the Mass—there was exquisite taste shown in the selection of the Gospel of the Mass on the feast of St. Monica, It sets before us a scene which is a very pathetic revelation of the tenderness of the Heart of Jesus, St. Luke describes it in his seventh chapter : how, " as Jesus drew near the gate of the city, behold a dead man was carried forth, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow." St. Augustine, too, may be considered in this context the only son of his widowed mother, so completely is Navigius lost and absorbed in his illustrious brother. Herein the Blessed Virgin is like to the widow of Nairn and St. Monica, but only as Mother of Jesus, not as by adoption mother of us all. And, on the other hand, it is only under this latter aspect, as the Mother of us all, that she bears a likeness to St. Monica during the long years of patient, persevering prayers and tears, when, with all the importunity of a mother's much enduring love, she was besieging heaven for the conversion of her gifted son. Indeed she imitated well the patience of our Blessed Mother in waiting for the conversion of many a sinner. When all her efforts seemed to have failed, when Augustine broke away from the mute reproach of her presence and fled by stealth to Italy—even then Monica did not despair. She made what must have been the hardest sacrifices for the sake of one who was soon to prove himself worthy of it all; but that only her motherly heart could hope for or foresee. She determined to break up her home, to leave her native land, and to pursue the fugitive, though she hardly knew whither he had gone.
What is the parallel passage to this in the story of the Immaculate Mother ? We might find it 'perhaps' in that unrecorded crisis in the life of our Blessed Lady when the fear that had constantly haunted her is realised at last, and Jesus leaves her for ever in order to be about His Father's business, never again to be the same that He has been to His Blessed Mother. With a yearning pang she sees Him depart, and follows Him henceforth only in spirit, nor will she join Him again till she is summoned to His cruel deathbed to suffer a mother's part in His shame and pain.
It is better, however, to link Mary and Monica together by their common likeness to the unnamed widow of Naim. St. Augustine himself makes this comparison for his mother at the beginning of the 6th Book of his " Confessions " ; and, on the other hand, some holy writer has imagined that one of the reasons why Jesus was so deeply affected by the grief of this poor desolate woman following her only son to the grave was because He saw in her an image of what His own Mother would be when He, bowing His head in death, would leave her standing desolate beside the Cross.
A milder Calvary was St. Monica's at Ostia, where her mortal sickness fell upon her on their way back to Africa. Milder and more easy, for she did not see her son die, but saw him brought back to life, when God restored him also to his mother. She left him a fervent believer in Christ Jesus, a devoted child of His Church. She was now doubly his mother, as she is called in the Matins of her feast. Monica, sancti Augustini dupliciter mater, quia eum et mundo et coelo peperit. She brought him forth into the life of this world, and she brought him forth unto the life eternal. And so she might sing her Nunc Dimittis and leave this world with the calmness of resignation, and even with the eagerness of joy.
"Ah, could thy grave at home in Carthage be !"
" Care not for that, but lay me where I fall:
Everywhere heard will be the judgment-call,
But at God's altar oh! remember me."
Thus Monica, and died in Italy.
She died in exile, far away from her beloved home by the Libyan Sea. In exile. But is not life itself an exile for all of us : exules filii Hevae? Rather her exile ended there, and she was welcomed home in patria, where, after many glorious labours, after many magnificent writings which still instruct God's Church, St. Augustine joined her, and mother and son will never more be parted. They are never separated in the devotion of the faithful.
Art, as in the famous picture by Ary Scheffer, always sets them before us together. The Collect of the Mass of St. Monica, repeated seven times through the office of her feast, belongs to the son almost as much as to the mother.
" O God, consoler of those who mourn and salvation of those who hope in Thee, who didst mercifully receive the pious tears of Blessed Monica for the conversion of her son, Augustine, grant to us through the intercession of both to bewail our sins and to find mercy in Thy grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.''
Yes, through the infinite merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and the prayers of His Blessed Mother. We must not end with Monica and Augustine, but with another Mother and another Son. For the subject of our meditation is not St. Monica herself, but St. Monica as a type of the Blessed Virgin.
When considered as Mother of Him who is "First-born of many brethren,'' Mary Immaculate is the St. Monica of all true Christians. May she be such a mother to us, or rather may we be to her true children, loving her ardently, praying to her constantly, and above all serving faithfully her Divine Son, so that at our death He may be able to work a greater miracle of mercy than that recorded in the Gospel scene at the gate of Naim— restoring the son to the mother—by passing on us a favourable judgement which will place us for ever among the happy children of Mary in heaven.