Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Molly CahillAugust 26, 2022
A stained glass window depicting St. Teresa Benedicta, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Catherine of Siena at St. Therese of Lisieux R.C. Church in Montauk, NY

A Reflection for the Memorial of St. Monica

“Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.” (1 Cor 1:26)

There’s a certain set of adjectives that are usually used to characterize women saints. You’ll often hear that they were serene, patient, self-sacrificing, either a virgin or a mother. The characteristics we choose to highlight about them paint a particular picture of how a good woman ought to be.

I’m not here to knock the virtues of a patient, selfless, giving spirit. I don’t know where I would be without the people in my life, men and women, who embody that kind of goodness. But as a young girl growing up Catholic, I sometimes struggled to see myself in women saints because many times it seemed their human complexity was only half-drawn. Yes, they were patient and kind and good. But I also wanted to hear about the strength, zeal and wild spirituality that usually defined the stories of men who became saints. I was confident that women throughout the centuries had all those qualities, too.

That’s why I love St. Monica.

Monica suffers from the half-drawn fate of many ancient holy women, too. If you’ve read St. Augustine’s Confessions, you know most of what there is to know about her. Monica was the mother of Augustine, who became one of most influential figures in Christian history and whose many writings are still widely read today. As we know many women saints to be, Monica was certainly patient and self-sacrificing and a devoted mother.

Monica’s serenity and devotion make her an excellent role model for both men and women—and so do her sense of purpose and her intense vitality.

But I think what I love most about Monica is the way she breathes life into the message of today’s first reading. Paul urges us to “consider our own calling” and describes the incredible vocations God has in mind for those the world thinks “count for nothing.”

Monica, to me, stands out because of her intense sense of purpose. Her faith completely animates her life, and she is determined to share it with the people she loves, no matter how many times they let her down. As Augustine moves from place to place and entertains many different schools of thought throughout his spiritual journey, Monica is by his side, unwavering.

If you’ve read Confessions, you know that Augustine’s soul almost seems to bubble over. His intense desire for meaning, for love and for life come alive on the page, even though he died in 430. I think he got that singularity from his mom. While her son was the one to pen some of the most important theological and philosophical writings ever, it’s undeniable that Monica’s fingerprints are on every page. How cool is that?

It’s imperative to talk about women saints in all their complexity, in their purposeful and virtuous journeys toward eternal life as well as their joys and sorrows in this life. In knowing them more completely, they can be better guides for us in our journeys of faith. Monica’s serenity and devotion make her an excellent role model for both men and women—and so do her sense of purpose and her intense vitality. How blessed are we to walk in the footsteps of such multi-faceted, human, holy women.

More: Scripture

The latest from america

At center: Republican U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson sits beside Democratic President Joe Biden during the annual National Prayer Breakfast at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 1, 2024. (OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)
Your enemies are children of God—and that includes the presidential candidate you can’t stand and his supporters.
“Brothers and sisters, humility is everything. It is what saves us from the Evil One,” Pope Francis said at today’s general audience, concluding his cycle of catechesis on virtue.
Pope FrancisMay 22, 2024
“Authentic palliative care is radically different from euthanasia, which is never a source of hope or genuine concern for the sick and dying,” the pope said in a message to the first International Interfaith Symposium on Palliative Care in Toronto.
Pope Francis greets Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J., and Julie Sullivan, the president of Santa Clara University, on March 18, 2024. 
Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator is the first dean of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley born outside of the United States.