“We were alone, conferring very intimately. Forgetting what lay in the past, and stretching out to what was ahead.” Confessions (Book 9, Chapter 10, vs. 23)
St Augustine’s Confessions always read to me like they were written last week or last year. Somehow his style and insight is always new, fresh and lively. The passage we read today in the Office of Readings is both consoling and challenging. Alone with his mother Monica, who knew she was near death; both Augustine and Monica exhibit a powerful Christian attitude. They want to put the past aside in order to focus on the future and its possibilities.
And there was much in the past about which Monica and Augustine had to let go. Though raised as a Christian, Augustine got caught up with the Manicheans, a dualistic sect whose emphasis on wisdom rather than authority as a path to truth attracted him. At the same time, and by his own account, because he was so determined to impress his friends with his sexual exploits, Augustine did not exhibit much wisdom. He lived with a woman for thirteen years, who sadly is never named, and fathered a son with her.
It was the thirteen years of her son's turning away from the practice of faith and his hedonistic lifestyle that gave Monica such heartache and caused her to pray so desperately for him. While it is to Augustine’s credit that he acknowledges the power of his mother’s prayers, it is Monica herself that we want to celebrate today. Monica’s compassion and yearning for God do not allow her to blame her son, to berate him for his infidelity to the church, or to attack him for the hurt he caused her. Rather, she forgives and lets go of the past in order that both of them can go forward, she praising God in heaven, Augustine to fame as a bishop and renowned preacher.
What a witness Monica is for us today. If there is anyone who, as our twelve step friends remind us, is "living in your head rent free," let go and pray for the strength to move forward with your own life. Jesus refused to focus on his abandonment by his disciples, and begs his father with his last breath to forgive those who have tortured and killed him. Monica, as Augustine so beautifully acknowledges in his Confessions, does the same thing. She speaks intimately with her son, not about the past, but about what was ahead. We would do well to follow her example.