December 17: Santa Monica

Amazingly, St. Monica is not the patron saint of sport fishing, or boating. Unless your kids cut school to take up these activities, because she is the patron of disappointing children.

St. Augustine's, in his Confessions, wants to make you think that it was all a big struggle, his progress to sainthood. But it turns out he was a legacy all along! His mother was a saint too-- St. Monica, who is memorialized by her son today.

And the first thing he talks about is how she never gave her dad any lip, which is what kept her from being beaten:
And she so endured the wronging of her bed as never to have any quarrel with her husband thereon....But besides this, he was fervid, as in his affections, so in anger: but she had learnt not to resist an angry husband, not in deed only, but not even in word. Only when he was smoothed and tranquil, and in a temper to receive it, she would give an account of her actions, if haply he had overhastily taken offence. In a word, while many matrons, who had milder husbands, yet bore even in their faces marks of shame, would in familiar talk blame their husbands’ lives, she would blame their tongues...
Augustine is literally saying that women who get smacked around deserve what's coming to them. This is the type of thing that reminds you that the Harvard Classics were assembled before women got the vote.

Eventually we come to the end of her life, which is prefigured in the following conversation:
Thou knowest that in that day when we were speaking of these things, and this world with all its delights became, as we spake, contemptible to us, my mother said, “Son, for mine own part I have no further delight in any thing in this life.... One thing there was for which I desired to linger for a while in this life, that I might see thee a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath done this for me more abundantly, that I should now see thee withal, despising earthly happiness, become His servant: what do I here?”
In other words, now that you've become a nice priest, I can die! No pressure on Augustine, there. It reminds me of the joke about how Christmas celebrates the birth of the only Jewish son ever to live up to his mother's expectations. Anyway, Monica dies, and Augustine is devastated, despite the strong, saint-level strength of his faith. How bad is it? Even a bath doesn't help:
It seemed also good to me to go and bathe, having heard that the bath had its name (balneum) from the Greek [Greek], for that it drives sadness from the mind. And this also I confess unto Thy mercy, Father of the fatherless, 47 that I bathed, and was the same as before I bathed.
This is the kind of quasi-ludicrous detail that softens my heart. We who are regularly bathed -- or so I hope -- will never endow bathing with the same mystical power that the ancients did.

Of course, my mom's a saint too. But I was trained not to be a braggart about it.

Most importantly, and in keeping with the season, the invocation of St. Monica allows me to share Tom Lehrer's "I'm spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica," which I take it both she and her son would have hated:

No comments: