The year was 387. A small group of Africans were leaving Italy to return to their homeland. Among them were a mother and son. The two had developed a close bond over the years, the mother praying ceaselessly until her son’s conversion, which had occurred the previous year. Now they were staying in the seaport town of Ostia, awaiting transportation to their home in North Africa. One day as the two were conversing, the mother turned the conversation in a surprising direction.
“My son,” she confided, “I no longer find any personal pleasure in a longer life here. I really don’t know why I remain here. The great hope of my life has been fulfilled.” She went on to tell him that “God has more than answered my prayers since I now see that you have turned your back on worldly values and have dedicated yourself completely to him. So, what am I doing here?”1
Within five days, she developed a fever. A few days later, at the age of fifty-six, she was dead. Though the mother accepted her death peacefully, her son did not.
“A huge wave of sorrow washed over my heart, a rushing torrent that threatened to pour from me as tears. And yet my eyes were dry, held tight by the stern command of my will. The tension tore me apart. . . . Like a fool, I was upset because I was human and so affected by the death of a human being.”2
Gradually the son was able to express his sorrow, saying,
“Finally, alone with you, my God, I was able to weep, to weep about her and for her, to weep about myself and for myself. With relief I was able to let go the tears I had been holding back, letting them flow as fully as they wished, spreading them out as a soft pillow for my heart. My heart came to peace resting on those velvet tears, tears that were seen by you alone.”3
The story of Monica and her famous son Augustine is told in Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions. Through it we discover that even this great man had to learn that peace sometimes comes only through our tears.
- Augustine, Confessions, 9.10.26
- Ibid., 9.12.29
- Ibid., 9.12.33