The Year of Evangelization in the Catholic church is coming to a close this November. It’s a year dedicated to bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to others through words and actions. We’re trying to get someone who has never been to church to come, and to get others who have left our church to come back.
That’s not easy to do. It’s more than knowing how to say the right things to someone else. Evangelization needs a lot of time and a lot of hard patience.
I was thinking about that as we remembered two saints last week in our church calendar ¬–St. Monica and St. Augustine. He’s one of the greatest intellects the world has every known; he has strongly influenced the way we think in our western world. Monica was his mother.
Most of us have heard these moving words to God from Augustine’s Confession:
“O beauty every ancient, O beauty ever new. Late have I have loved thee. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
In his Confessions Augustine tells God that God’s grace brought him to believe–so late, he admits. But in the Confessions, Augustine also acknowledges it was a mother’s tears and prayers that brought him to Jesus Christ. She was like the woman in the gospel who was bringing her dead son through the gates of the town of Naim to bury him when Jesus came upon them. Seeing her tears, he stopped the funeral procession and raised her son to life.
“ I was like that son,” Augustine says. ‘I was dead. My mother’s tears won me God’s life.”
You can see why the church celebrates her feast on August 27th, the day before her son’s, and why we read that story of the widow of Naim as the gospel for Mass that day.
Like many women from that time, we don’t know much about Monica. She was married to a man named Patricius, a tough husband who put her down and went out with other women. They had three kids. She had a feeling that Augustine was someone special, and she followed him, trying in her own way to get him to be the person she knew he could be. She wanted him to have faith.
It was a hard thing to do. He was so smart, so well educated, so hooked on the “lovely things” about him. He was deaf to her advice, blind to the path she wanted him to take, but she kept following him anyway. She was convinced God had something big for him to do, and she finally got her wish.
She sounds like so many people today, loving their kids, or the husbands or their wives or their friends, but worried about them getting mixed up in the wrong things. They’re not going to church, they not listening to the gospel. But they stick by them anyway.
Is that evangelization too?