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The St. Monica Option

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By Chris Sparks (Aug 27, 2018)
Saint Monica (333-387), whose feast day is Aug. 27, is the answer to our present crisis. In spite of a husband with a temper and (possibly) something of a drinking problem, she still prayed her son, Augustine, from Gnosticism and hedonism into holiness, Catholicism, and the role of a father of Western Civilization.

Her patient prayer changed everything. It will affect the Church and the world until the end of the world.

But I have to acknowledge: Patient prayer can be the hardest thing in the world.

After all, it's not obviously efficient; not usually visibly productive; and wouldn't pass muster at most modern companies today as a troubleshooting device.

Prayer, properly done, is usually a holy waste of time — in the same way that playing with your toddler is a "waste of time." You won't get anything done off your to-do list; the conversation isn't intellectual or high level; the chores get no nearer to being done. And yet through your play, your child is loved and cared for. You receive joy. A relationship is enriched and affirmed.

So it is with prayer. You spend time with God and the communion of saints; you offer praise and thanksgiving; you enrich and restore your relationship with God, the Source of all being, the Font of love and truth. You don't get the bed made, the dishes washed, or the lawn mown (although it is possible to pray while doing all these things, and turn all your work into a prayer). No, the point of prayer isn't to finish your list of chores. It's spending time with someone you love.

You get nothing — and everything. You accomplish nothing — and everything.

Prayer is powerful, not in the way my computer is powerful, or a gun is powerful — point, click, and get a visible result. No; prayer is powerful as the love in a family is powerful; as words of truth spoken in a time of lies are powerful; as living a virtuous life amidst apparently universal corruption is powerful.

Prayer is powerful because it lets God in; it allows the communion of saints to take a hand; it opens the door to the angels. And God, the saints, and the angels all have minds of their own. They are not robots or grace-dispensing machines. They are wise beyond anything we can imagine; powerful beyond the strength of this life; and good beyond natural goodness.

So unleashing Heaven into the world through prayer leads to powerful results, but also often unpredictable or incredibly subtle results. It's a measure of the strength of God that He is able to be subtle at all; that His influence in human events guides the course of history, and yet still completely respects free will.

He respected the free will of St. Augustine, and yet He also pursued Augustine, putting good and true philosophy in his path, sending Christian converts to Augustine, and speaking to Augustine providentially through a voice saying, "Tolle, lege; tolle, lege (Take, read; take, read)." And Augustine took up the Scriptures that were near at hand, and read, and they changed his life forever.

And it all came about through the prayers and the tears of St. Monica.

Oh, she was tempted to give up; tempted to believe that her prayers and her tears were having no effect. She went to a bishop to speak to him about her son. And he famously responded, "The child of those tears shall never perish."

Patient, persistent prayer is more powerful than anything else on the face of this earth. Given that truth, let us turn our attention to the present crises and scandals.

The news seems to get worse by the day; the confusion grows ever more intense. Our most powerful contribution to the triumph of goodness, truth, and the Holy Spirit in the midst of all of this, though, isn't anger, despair, or furious words. The greatest thing we can do is patient, persevering prayer. We must pray for each bishop, priest, religious, or lay person as their names cross the screen before us. We must pray every time there's new bad news. We must pray every time we are confronted with confusion. First, last, and always, we must remain constant in prayer.

Saint Faustina was given special insight into the vital importance of persevering prayer. She writes: "In the evening, when I entered the small chapel, I heard these words in my soul: 'My daughter, consider these words: "And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly."' When I started to think about them more deeply, much light streamed into my soul. I learned how much we need perseverance in prayer and that our salvation often depends on such difficult prayer" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 157).

How powerful! Our salvation depends on our perseverance in prayer, even in the face of suffering, even in the face of every reason in the world to disbelieve, or to give up on the Church, or to believe that there's no way the present mess can be fixed. But our own salvation is just the beginning. The salvation of others depends on our prayers as well.

Pray as much as you can for the dying. By your entreaties obtain for them trust in My mercy, because they have most need of trust, and have it the least. Be assured that the grace of eternal salvation for certain souls in their final moment depends on your prayer (Diary, 1777).

At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or, when others say it for a dying person; the pardon is the same (811).

Oh, what great graces I will grant to souls who say this chaplet; the very depths of My tender mercy are stirred for the sake of those who say the chaplet (848).


Like St. Monica's prayer and St. Faustina's prayer, our patient, persevering prayer can change the course of human history. It can transform the present and future life of the Church. It can work wonders, often unexpected, always marvelous — but we need to be persistent. We need to be willing to abide in trust and endure the storm, believing that Jesus is still there in the boat, and to wake Him up if He's asleep (see Mk 4:38-40), or if we can manage that extraordinary trust, to let Him sleep, trusting that the Father will protect the Son of Man and all those with Him. We need to open the floodgates of Heaven, to allow the grace of God to pour out upon the earth, and to allow it to do so in a waterfall, not in a trickle.

When we are steeped in prayer, steeped in the Word of God and strengthened by the Sacraments, firmly clutching our Rosaries and wearing our sacramentals — when, that is, we are living by faith and not by sight, open wide to the Holy Spirit and all His graces — then we can usefully speak or act. Then we can write to our bishops and trust that we are saying and doing the right thing. Then we can try to discern our part in answering this crisis through prayer, word, or action.

When we are patiently praying like St. Monica and St. Faustina, we are standing on firm ground in the midst of the storm. Then we are powerful. Then everything can change.

In light of the abuse scandals plaguing the Church, Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers, is asking all Marian Helpers to join in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for all victims of clergy sexual abuse, for their healing and the courage to step forward. Pray also for the repentance of those who have committed abuse or who have covered up these terrible crimes, that they may assist in ending the silence, help make sure justice is served, and so perhaps save their souls in the process.

Chris Sparks is the author of the book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question (Marian Press).

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