HOW ST. MONICA BY HER GENTLENESS AND CHARITY WON PATRICIUS AND HIS MOTHER TO CHRISTOf all the hidden forces in the world perhaps the most mysterious is what we call "influence." For good or for evil, to a lesser or a greater degree, it goes out from each one of us, and has its effect on all with whom we come in contact. It is like a subtle breath that braces the spirit to good, or relaxes it to evil, but never leaves it untouched or unmoved. "No man liveth to himself alone," said St. Paul, who had many opportunities of watching the workings of that mysterious force in the world and of studying its effects. According as we follow our best and noblest instincts, or, to use a homely but vivid phrase, let ourselves go, consciously or unconsciously, we give an upward lift or a downward push to all who come in contact with us. Happily for us all, God does not ask of us attainment, but effort, and earnest effort is the simple secret of healthy influence.
Monica, it is true, was a Saint, but a Saint in the making. Saints are not born ready-made; holiness is a beautiful thing that is built up stone by stone, not brought into being by the touch of the enchanter's wand.
During the years that had passed since Patricius had brought his young wife home to his mother's house, she would have been the first to confess how far she had fallen short of the ideal she had set herself to attain. And yet there had been ceaseless effort, ceaseless prayer, unwearying love and patience. Outwardly all seemed as usual, but the hidden force had been doing its work in secret—as it always does.
The mother of Patricius was growing old; she was neither so active nor so strong as she had been. What had used to be easy to her was becoming difficult. It galled her independent spirit to be obliged to ask help of others. Monica, reading her heart as only the unselfish can, saw this and understood. At every moment the older woman would find that some little service had been done by unseen hands, some little thoughtful act that made things easier for the tired old limbs. There was someone who seemed to know and understand what she wanted almost before she did herself.
Who could it be? Not the slaves, certainly. They did their duty for fear of being beaten, but that was all. It was all, indeed, that was expected of them. Not Patricius, either; it was not his way, he never thought of such things. It could therefore be no one but Monica.
The old woman mused deeply. She had treated her daughter-in-law harshly and unkindly during all these years. She had looked upon her as an intruder. But then, the slaves had told her unpleasant stories of their young mistress; it was only what she deserved. And yet …. It was hard to think of those ugly tales in connection with Monica as she herself knew her—as she had seen her day by day since she came first, a young bride, to her husband's home.
Again, how had Monica repaid her for her unkindness? With never-failing charity and sweetness, with gentle respect and deference to her wishes, never trying to assert herself, never appealing to her husband to give her the place which of right belonged to her. She had been content to be treated as the last in the house.
The old woman sat lost in thought. What would the house be like, she suddenly asked herself, without that gentle presence? What would she do, what would they all do, Without Monica? With a sudden pang of sorrow she realized how much she leant upon her daughter-in-law, what her life would be without her. She considered the matter in this new light. She was a woman of strong passions but of sound common sense; reason was beginning to triumph over prejudice.
Sending for the slaves, she questioned them sharply as to the tales they had told her about their young mistress. They faltered, contradicted each other and themselves—in the end confessed that they had lied.
The old lady went straight to her son, and told him the whole story. Patricius was not one to take half measures in such a matter. Not even the prayers of Monica, all unconscious of the particular offence they had committed, availed to save the culprits. They were as soundly beaten as they had ever been in their lives, after which they were told that they knew what to expect if they ever breathed another word against their young mistress again. As it happened, they had no desire to do so. The hidden forces had been working there too. Monica's kindness, her sympathy with their joys and sorrows—to them something strange and new—had already touched their hearts. More than once they had been sorry for ever having spoken against her; they had felt ashamed in her presence.
Justice having been done on the slaves, the mother of Patricius sought out her daughter-in-law, told her frankly that she had been in the wrong, and asked her forgiveness. Monica clasped the old woman in her arms and refused to listen. From that moment they were the truest of friends.
There were many things to be spoken of, but first religion. Monica had revealed her Faith by her life, her daily actions, and to the other it was a beautiful and alluring revelation. She wanted to know, to understand; she listened eagerly to Monica's explanations.
It was a message of new life, of hope beyond the grave, of joy, of peace; she begged to be received as a catechumen. It was not long before she knelt at Monica's side before the altar to be signed on the brow with the Cross of Christ—the joyous first-fruits of the seed that had been sown in tears.
One by one the slaves followed their mistress's example, hungering in their turn for the message that brought such peace and light to suffering and weary souls. Was it for such as they? they asked. And Monica answered that it was for all, that the Master Himself had chosen to be as One that served.
The whole household was Christian now, with the exception of Patricius, and even he was growing daily more gentle, more thoughtful; the mysterious forces were working on him too. His love for Monica was more reverent; his eyes were opening slowly to the beauty of spiritual things. The old life, with its old pleasures, was growing distasteful to him; he saw its baseness while as yet he could scarcely tear himself free from its fetters—the fetters of old habit so hard to break. He noticed the change in his mother, and half-envied her her courage. He even envied the slaves their happy faces, the new light that shone in their eyes and that gave them a strange new dignity.
Monica, watching the struggle, redoubled her prayers; her unselfish love surrounded her husband like an atmosphere of light and sweetness, drawing him with an invincible power to better things. She would speak to him of their children—above all, of Augustine, their eldest-born, the admiration of his masters at Madaura. He was astonishing everybody, they wrote, by his brilliant gifts. He had the soul of a poet and the eloquence of an orator; he would do great things.
Madaura had been all very well up till now, his father decided, but everything must be done to give their boy a good start in life; they must go farther afield. Rome was impossible; the distance was too great and the expense too heavy. Patricius's means were limited, but he resolved to do his utmost for his eldest son. Carthage had a reputation for culture and for learning that was second only to that of Rome. If strict economy were practised at home, Carthage might be possible. In the meantime it was not much use leaving the boy at Madaura. Let him come home and remain there a year, during which he could study privately while they saved the money to pay his expenses at Carthage.
The suggestion delighted Monica. She would have her son with her for a whole year. She would be able to watch over him just when he needed her motherly care; she looked forward eagerly to Augustine's return. The old, intimate life they had led together before he went to Madaura would begin again. Again her boy would hang on her arm and tell her all his hopes and dreams for the future—hopes and dreams into which she always entered, of which she was always part. She would look once more into the boy's clear eyes while he confessed to her his faults and failings, and see the light flame up in them as she told him of noble and heroic deeds, and urged him to be true to his ideals.
And so in happy dreams the days went past until Augustine's return; but there was bitter grief in store for Monica. This was not the same Augustine that they had left at Madaura two years ago. The days of the old familiar friendship seemed to have gone past recall. His eyes no longer turned to her with the old candour; he shunned her questioning look. He shunned her company even, and seemed more at ease with his father, who was proud beyond words of his tall, handsome son.
He was all right, said Patricius; he was growing up, that was all. Boys could not always be tied to their mother's apron-strings. The moment that Monica had so dreaded for Augustine had come then; the pagan influences had been at work. Oh, why had she let him go to Madaura? And yet it had to be so; his father had insisted.
She made several efforts to break through the wall of reserve that
Augustine had built up between himself and her, but it was of no use.
He had other plans now into which she did not enter, other thoughts
far away—how far away!—from hers. A dark cloud was between them.
One day she persuaded her son to go out with her. The spring had just come—that wonderful African spring when the whole world seems suddenly to burst into flower. Asphodels stood knee-deep on either side of the path in which they walked; the fragrance of the springtime was in their nostrils; the golden sunlight bathed the rainbow earth. It was a walk that they had loved to take of old, to delight together in all the beauty of that world which God had made.
Monica spoke gently to her son of the new life that lay before him, of the dangers that beset his path. He must hold fast to the Law of Christ, she told him; he must be pure and strong and true.
There was no answering gleam as of old. The boy listened with a bad grace—shame and honour were tugging at his heart-strings, but in vain. The better self was defeated, for the lower self was growing stronger every day.
"Woman's talk," he said to himself. "I am no longer a child."
They turned back through the glorious sights and sounds of the springtime; there was a dagger in Monica's heart. On the threshold she met Patricius. He wanted to speak to her, he said. She slipped her arm into his, smiling through her pain, and they went back again, between the nodding asphodels and the hedges of wisteria, along the path she had just trodden with her son.
There was an unwonted seriousness about Patricius. He had been thinking deeply of late, he told her. He had begun to see things in a new light. It was dim as yet, and he was still weak; but the old life and the old religion had grown hateful to him. Her God was the true God; he wanted to know how to love and serve that God of hers. Was he fit, did she think, to learn? Could he be received as a catechumen?
The new joy fell like balm on the new sorrow. Monica had lost her son, but gained her husband. God was good. He had heard her prayers, He had accepted her sacrifice. Surely He would give her back her boy. She would trust on and hope. "He will withhold no good thing from them that ask Him."
A few days later Patricius knelt beside her at the altar. Her heart overflowed with joy and thankfulness. They were one at last—one in soul, in faith. A few steps distant knelt Augustine. What thoughts were in his heart? Was it the last struggle between good and evil? Was the influence of his mother, the love of Christ she had instilled into him in his childhood, making one last stand against the influences that had swayed him in Madaura—that still swayed him—the influences of the corrupt world in which he lived? We do not know. If it was so, the evil triumphed.