Thank you for the Collect of the Day posts. I read them every day, and they are great help in my prayer life. However, I couldn’t bring myself to read today’s post [St. Monica]. I’m afraid it is simply too painful for me to think about. It’s a hard story for me. I’m the mother of three children, and my youngest son was lost to me while he was in highschool. He revealed to my husband and I that he was gay, and that he was in a relationship with a man almost twice his age. Soon after that, he ran away from home. I prayed for him every day. I cried every day, and then prayed again. I offered rosaries for him, and I had Masses said for his conversion. On the rare occasions I saw him, I was kind to him. I avoided harping on him. I told him he was wrong, that he was hurting himself. But I always made it clear to him he had a home, and he was welcome home whenever he wanted. A little more than two years ago my son died from complications due to HIV. I was not there. He never even told me he was sick. He died in a hospital alone, I was told later by one of the nurses. He had been abandoned by all his “friends”, and his family was denied the chance to be with him at the end. I ask myself every day why didn’t my prayers and sacrifices make him convert? Am I not holy enough? Am I not as good as St. Monica? Am I a terrible mother? What do you do when your son doesn’t return?
The last words written by Dom Guéranger on the feast of St. Monica were: “[A mother’s] prayers and sufferings must be efficacious; sooner or later, the wished-for grace will descend upon the prodigal, and he will return to God and to his mother.” It is not very often that I think Dom Guéranger wrong, but even before reading the comment above, while I was typing those words from the holy abbot, I knew from my own experience that Guéranger was just plain wrong. It is understandable, since Guéranger was never a parent of children, biological children, at any rate. There is in his statement a certain monkish naivety.
A parent is responsible for their children, but only to a certain point. After all, our children do grow up, and they, whether we parents like it or not, possess free will. The rub is: God made them that way. They will make decisions, some good, and some bad. Hopefully we have, as parents, instilled values and virtues that will help our children make more good decisions than bad. Hopefully, we have given more good examples than bad examples to our children of how to live as Christian men and women. However, no matter how holy, no matter how pious, no matter how moral or religious we are, that is no guarantee that our children will be holy, pious, moral or religious when they grow up and start making their own decisions.
Take for example… well… St. Monica! There is no doubt that St. Monica was holy, pious, moral and religious, and just look at where her son ended up! He turned out to be a profligate and a heretic! He lived in debauchery for a good portion of his young life. Never mind for the moment that he later converted and became a great saint. No one doubts for a moment that St. Monica was a noble and virtuous parent; no one thinks that she was somehow lacking as a mother. No one would accuse St. Monica of being the reason for Augustine’s profligate youth once he was out of the home. There’s only so much to which you can hold a parent responsible, and many times the life of a parent’s grown child does not reflect the life or character of the parent.
This should be born in mind by everyone in traditional Catholic communities. Think before you speak! Before you judge someone based on the actions of their children, consider the glass house you live in!
Also, we have to keep in mind that our children have their own crosses to bear, most of which we as parents had nothing to do with. Some of us have children who are born with handicaps, genetic disorders or predispositions, or they experience traumas or tragedies outside of our control. It is natural for us to want to protect our children or save them from their maladies. However, there are simply things that are beyond our control.
All we can do is pray, and trust God.
Once again St. Monica is a great example for us. If her son had not returned, would we consider her efforts any less holy, any less heroic? Of course, we wouldn’t know about her efforts, as it was her prodigal son that recorded them for prosperity. However, even if her efforts did not bring about her son’s return, they would be no less precious in the sight of God. It is her consistency in hope and prayer that we as parents ought to emulate, and even if we aren’t given consolation, our sacrifices are still precious in the sight of God.
While we should look to St. Monica’s example, and while we should always have hope, we can’t allow ourselves to dwell too long in disappointment if we don't get the same results. After all, Monica had an advantage that most of us parents simply do not have. Her son might have turned out a profligate and a heretic, but her son was also… well, he was St. Augustine! Even when St. Augustine was wrong, he was brilliantly wrong. St. Monica was blessed with a child who was far more intelligent than most others. Our children, while always being special in our eyes, usually aren’t equal to the genius of a St. Augustine. So in a way, God spoiled St. Monica. Not all of us parents have been spoiled in that way.
Being a parent is to strike out into uncharted waters. It takes a lot of courage to lay your heart out there, to expose yourself spiritually for your children. We are going to get beat up. Some of us more than others, but all things, good and bad, are for the greater glory of God. All we mere mortals can do is pray and trust God.
So I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer your questions, Anonymous Mom, but let me give it a shot.
Why didn’t my prayers and sacrifices make him convert?
I don’t know. God knows. And He will give you the answer some happy day. But I do know that your prayers are like so many roses about His Throne.
Am I not holy enough?
Did you not pray and weep every day? Did you not offer rosaries? Did you not have Masses said? Did you not tell the truth with charity and motherly affection? God help us if you aren’t holy, because then nobody would be holy.
Am I not as good as St. Monica?
I would say that today, you are a contemporary example of St. Monica for me, and for that, I thank you.
Am I a terrible mother?
If you are, then so was St. Monica.
What do you do when your son doesn’t return?
As difficult as it is, and knowing we have to push through even when it seems pointless and absurd, all we can do is pray and trust God.
I'm sorry, but that's all I got. For much better answers, please speak with your priest. Know that you will be in my prayers.