Feast of Saint Monica
2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12
Some time ago I was speaking with a young man, a recovering cocaine addict. There was still suffering in his voice, and lots of tenderness in his eyes. When he narrated a telephone conversation he recently had with his mother, the reverence was palpable.
"Why won't you be coming home for Christmas?" she pleaded.
"Too many projects at the office, Mom," he replied. "I've just got too much work to get done."
"Frankie, why aren't you coming home for Christmas?" she retorted. ("Mothers are always able to discern truth," he told me.)
"Because when I'm there nobody will talk with me. Bob and Jean (his brother and sister) will pick up their kids and move to another room. It's just too painful to be alone when everybody's afraid of me."
"And without hesitating a moment," he said to me, "she replied, ‘... why don't you come sit by me then, Frankie? I love it when you are close to me.'"
"Father, this is the woman I lied to and cheated and stole from to support my habit. And she just won't stop loving me."
Although we don't know much about Saint Monica, we do know from Saint Augustine's writings that his mother surely possessed the Spirit's gift of long-suffering! She prayed unceasingly for her eldest child! Today we realize that not everyone's mother shared that grace or virtue. And the behavioral sciences and Twelve-Step programs also remind us that enabling addictive behavior or supporting (in a codependent way) such an aberrant lifestyle can be the exact opposite of love... "tough love."
With all the complexities of contemporary life, however, today's feast encourages us to be authentic. The word "hypocrite" that Jesus imputes to the scribes and Pharisees actually has its origin from the stage and acting. Repeatedly we are challenged to be real and genuine; we are not to be about performing, not about persona.
Maybe that's why Jesus chooses his twelve; not because they were disciplined and holy, or exceptionally intelligent or charismatic. Rather, they were open to being transformed. They were real, like Monica, and Augustine.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. ministers as a preacher of parish missions and retreats. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.