What appropriate readings for the day of the Memorial of Saint
Saint Monica was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, and while never despairing,
she grieved for years over the path her pagan son was taking. As a
Christian, she knew the words of Saint Paul, of the Psalmist and of Saint
Matthew, and she knew that young Augustine was doing all the wrong things,
or sometimes the right things for the wrong reasons.
Paul wrote to the elitist Corinthians of the folly of the wisdom of mere
human eloquence, the limits of the learning of the merely learned.
He stated his disdain for "the debater of this age." And Monica's son had
put much effort into becoming just that, the debater. In his Confessions,
Augustine told how, "hot for honors, money and marriage," he went from his
native North Africa to Italy to study rhetoric and become a famous public
figure in the secular world. As part of his studies in 4th Century Milan,
he prepared "an oration in praise of the Emperor in which I was to utter
any number of lies to win the applause of people who knew they were lies."
And he won the applause, and was ashamed of it. Does this sound modern,
Monica prayed ceaselessly for her son's conversion, and her prayers were
successful. As a Christian, Augustine preached as did Paul that the
foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and that the weakness of God
is stronger than human strength. He named sin where he saw it, and
he saw that he had been guilty of it himself. But he now also proclaimed
our Psalmist's message: The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
And with Matthew he spoke the truth of Jesus in today's Gospel. The parable
of the wise and the foolish virgins tells us to "stay awake, for [we] know
neither the day nor the hour" of the Day of Judgment.
On a university campus today we have plenty of examples of how the world
works. We learn the ways of human eloquence, the wisdom of those wise
in winning wealth and power and reputation, and the strength that dazzles
the crowd with momentary glory. Like the young Augustine, we have endless
opportunities to do the wrong thing, or the right thing for wholly selfish,
even insidious reasons.
Today we can thank Monica for her faith and hope, for her exemplary love
for her once wayward son. We can be grateful for the Scriptures which
point out where we can go wrong, and where the message of the cross of Christ,
so foolish to many in the past, and still to many right now, is the power