| The Memorial of St. Monica
Psalms 139:7-8, 9-10, 11-12
Those of us who are parents know how difficult it can be to see
our kids grow up. This week I have been keenly aware of my daughter’s
challenging behavior on her road to independence. I find myself caught
guiltily between dreading her return to college --
knowing how much I will miss her -- and feeling almost relieved.
Children need our love, nurturing and support but also our cajoling and
yes, even nagging. It’s the pushing a prodding you do for those you
love when it would be easier to sit down and read a book.
Today we remember St. Monica a fourth century woman whose husband and son
were not Christians. Her husband later converted but her son, Augustine, moved
into adulthood stubbornly rejecting of his mother’s efforts toward his conversion.
For 17 years she grieved, cried and prayed for a change of heart. She
talked and wrote to him for years, knowing only that she loved him and that
she wanted him to experience the gift of faith. She was heartsick about
her son, but never wavered in her love for him. When he slipped out
of town, perhaps in an effort to avoid her pleas, she followed him to Rome.
When he had already left Rome, she trailed him to Milan. Her persistence
and prayers and much grace from God had an effect: Augustine finally heard
the message and embraced Christianity.
Today’s Psalm 139 always reminds me of that kind of persistent love of a
parent for a child: there is nothing you can do that will make me love
you less or give up on you. It is God’s love for us reflected in
the awe of the writer who wonders: is there anyplace I can go where God will
not lovingly follow me?
Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence where can I flee?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I sink to the nether world, you are present there. …
If I settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall guide me,
and your right hand hold me fast.
The gospel for today changes the tone as it sends us a strong
message with Jesus warning,
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth.
Jesus challenges the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders,
who have robbed religion of its meaning by focusing only on laws and appearances.
We can tell he's angry, because their pseudo-holiness not only doesn't take
people deeper into their faith, but causes others to turn away, making them
cynical about religion. In so many ways, Jesus reminds us that our holiness
has to be better than the mere "externals" of religion. It's about
a change of heart, an interior conversion, about placing our trust completely
in him. He is "heartsick" that these people whom he loved had hardened
their hearts so much against his message.
About whom are we heart-sick today? This isn't the question of about
whom are we judgmental today? It is a question of whom do we love so
much, that we deeply desire that they might come to know the Lord more, know
the Lord's healing love for them? That will tell us who those people
are in our lives that we need to faithfully love today and every day.
If they are to know that God loves them, they need to see and believe an un-hypocritical,
unselfish love in us. They need to experience our love, as unconditional
and healing, before they might be able to believe in God's love as without
strings and full of compassion.