One of the most moving sections of Confessions is Book IX where Augustine recounts the life and death of his beloved mother Monica. By her son’s account, Monica, though a devout Christian, did not have an easy life. She was, for a time, addicted to alcohol. Later she married a surly pagan man who did not share her Christian faith or character. Perhaps worst of all, her oldest child was wayward and far from the Lord.
That wasn’t the end of the story of course. Augustine was famously converted in Milan and went on to become the Church’s most significant theologian. At her death, Monica explained that she was ready to leave this world because her hope in this world was already fulfilled. “The one reason I wanted to stay longer in this life,” she said, “was my desire to see you a Catholic [as opposed to a heretical] Christian before I die. My God has granted this in a way more than I had hoped.”
She died at age 56, when Augustine was 33.
In keeping with the ideals of the day, Augustine tried hard to fight back tears at the funeral. He didn’t want to imply that his mother was to be pitied, for she had entered a glorious rest. But despite his “inward struggle” and “powerful act of mental control” Augustine eventually allowed himself to grieve.
From then on, little by little, I was brought back to my old feelings about your handmaid, recalling her devout attitude to you and her holy gentle and considerate treatment of us, of which I had suddenly been deprived. I was glad to weep before you about her an for her, about myself and for myself.
Now I let flow the tears which I had held back so that they ran as freely as they wished. My heart rested upon them, and it reclined upon them because it was your ears that were there, not those of some human critic who would put a proud interpretation on my weeping.
And now, Lord, I make my confession to you in writing. Let anyone who wishes read and interpret as he pleases. If he finds fault that I wept for my mother for a fraction of an hour, the mother who had died before my eyes had wept for me that I might live before your eyes, let him not mock me but rather, if a person of much charity, let him weep himself before you for my sins; for you are the Father of all the brothers of your Christ.
May God give special grace to all those who weep for deceased mothers. And let us offer special thanksgiving for all the mothers who have wept over us.