Across the archdiocese, parents have begun sending their children off to school. This is a time of excitement and challenge, a time when parents can see the fruit of all the hours they’ve spent forming their children, and it’s also a time to recall our ultimate goal.
There are many saints whom parents, pastors and teachers can look to for inspiration in forming children. But one of the most important is St. Monica, whose feast the Church celebrates on Aug. 27, one day before the celebration of her eldest son, Augustine.
Although he is now recognized as St. Augustine, he was not always so holy. In fact, at one point before his conversion, he strayed so far from the faith that his mother followed Augustine to Rome on a boat so she could beg him to turn to Christ.
I pray that few of you are being tested by children like Monica was. But we can all draw a lesson about eternity from St. Monica.
St. Monica was not worried about her oldest son because he was getting bad grades in school—in fact, Augustine was a “straight-A” student. Instead, she spent hours in tears—and in prayer—because she kept eternity in mind. From the perspective of eternity, St. Monica knew that her son was in danger.
Our ultimate destiny, and our final judgment by Jesus, is not something we much hear about anymore, except in our parishes. The problem is that our culture emphasizes the “here and now” and forgets about souls. It forgets about the eternal implications of how we live our earthly lives.
What Benedict XVI said to a gathering of Italian priests as he began his pontificate in 2005 continues to ring true today.
The West, he said, is “a world that is tired of its own culture, a world that has arrived at a time in which there’s no more evidence of the need for God, much less Christ, and in which it seems that man alone can make himself.”
Pope Francis has also warned about the need to live with eternity in mind.
When he explained to a March 2013 gathering of diplomats why he chose his name, he highlighted the fact that Francis of Assisi cared for the poor, and added: “But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism,’ which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.”
This cultural context is important to understand for all those who play a role in rearing the next generation. Our culture will not help us—so we are left to face the challenge of imparting a Christian worldview to our children—one that remembers the last things.
The Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children, which means they must confront this challenge first, instead of relying only on teachers or others to form children so that they reach heaven.
Parents are very busy and many things compete for their attention. But Catholic parents must be aware of the environment their children are going into, and they must prepare them for it spiritually.
St. Monica certainly did not have an easy time caring for her son’s soul. She was married at a young age to Patritius, a government official in the North African city of Tagaste, who was a pagan and didn’t understand his wife’s faith in Christ.
In spite of her troubled marriage and her strong-willed eldest, she dedicated herself to prayer for her son and challenged him to return to the faith. At one point, a saintly bishop she told about Augustine remarked, “the child of those tears shall never perish.”
Our culture will tell children that they don’t need God—that he doesn’t exist. Parents, teachers and pastors must form them to know the truth: that we are made for eternal union and happiness with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let us pray together for the intercession of Saints Monica and Augustine as this school year begins.