A few Saturdays ago, a friend and I made a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, the patron saint of “lost and impossible causes,” in Philadelphia.
Before we made our way into the church for the evening Mass, we explored the lower shrine downstairs, which included written history of the saint, a chapel, and a first class relic, a religious habit which covered the incorrupt body of Saint Rita of Cascia.
In addition, an unexpected statue in the shrine caught my eye, a rendering of one of my favorite saints: Augustine of Hippo.
Before this visit, I hadn’t known that Saint Rita had been baptized at the Church of Saint Augustine in Cascia, and even lived under the Augustinian rule as a nun at the local monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene. Evidently she, like myself, had been captivated by this fifth century man who cast aside a life of worldly pleasures, entertainments and ambitions, and took on the mission of the Gospel in word and deed. Indeed, the statue at the shrine depicted him holding his flaming heart, ablaze for God.
In the most stirring passage of his spiritual classic “Confessions” (required reading for everyone), Saint Augustine writes about finding God:
“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! Lo, you were within, but I outside, seeking there for you, and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong – I, misshapen. You were with me, but I was not with you. They held me back far from you, those things which would have no being, were they not in you. You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
The story of Augustine’s conversion is also the story of his own mother’s faith, loyalty and devotion. After the death of her husband left her a single mother with three children, Saint Monica began to pray and fast for her 17-year-old son, Augustine, who was living an immoral life. Fervently praying for her son’s conversion, she followed his travels, which took him to Milan. There, Monica and Augustine found Saint Ambrose, who became a spiritual director for the former, and began to instruct the latter. Soon enough, Ambrose converted and baptized Monica’s son. Augustine would later become a priest, a bishop and one of the church’s most influential theologians.
Shortly after his conversion, Augustine’s mother passed away. In “Confessions,” he recounts her last words:
“Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.”
As we continue through this month of May, remembering Mary, the mother of God, and our own mothers, let us not forget the fervent love of Saint Monica for her wayward son, and ask God to inflame the hearts and minds of our own loved ones.
Peter G. Sánchez is a Catholic Star Herald staff writer.