Spiritual Fatherhood of St. Paul,
Spiritual Motherhood of St. Monica

Homily for Thursday Week 21 of Year 1
Memorial of Saint Monica

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What a contrast between the two servants in Jesus’ parable (Matt 24:45-51). One is a faithful servant to his master and the other unfaithful to his master. One represents living faithful to God and the other living without showing respect to God, which is really living as if God does not exist. The Thessalonians of the first reading (Year 1: 1 Thes 3:7-13) are living like the first servant, faithful to God. Timothy just returned to Paul from Thessalonica before Paul wrote this letter and he gave Paul a very positive report about the state of the church in Thessalonica. We see that it was a huge relief for Paul to hear such good news about the church in Thessalonica, he had been worried about how they were faring during persecution.

As we see the care and concern Paul displays for the Thessalonians in the first reading, we see that Paul really was a spiritual father to his converts in this city which was full of worship of all kinds of Greek gods. Again and again in his letters we see the spiritual fatherhood of Paul and sometimes he even explicitly refers to himself as a spiritual father. In the previous chapter Paul says he treated the Thessalonians as a father treats his children. Paul wrote to the Corinthians “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). Paul wrote to Philemon that he was the spiritual father of Onesimus, “I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.” (Philemon 10). In other places in Paul’s letters we again see him as a spiritual father when he refers to his flock as his children. Just one example is what he wrote to the Galatians, “My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you.” (Gal 4:19) So calling a priest “Father” is biblical, and is not at all contrary to Scripture.

Today (August 27th in 2015) we also remember St. Monica. Her prayers and example were responsible for her son St. Augustine transforming from being like the second servant in Jesus’ parable to become like the first servant in the parable. The great theologian of the last century, Romano Guardini, whose writings influenced the thought and writing of Cardinal Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI, writes in his book The Conversation of Saint Augustine, “There is only one person without whom Augustine’s development would have been unthinkable: his mother Monica.” (p146) He says her spiritual maternity enfolded St. Augustine. Monica features again and again in Augustine’s Confessions. When she despaired for Augustine, she was encouraged by a bishop who said to her, “As sure as you live, it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish.” The bishop was correct, but Monica had to wait in faith patiently many years to see these words fulfilled. In your future ministry as priests, parents will also share with you their worries about their family and you will encourage them like the bishop who encouraged St. Monica. It is a pity that many who go on pilgrimage to Rome do not seem to know about the Basilica of St. Augustine in the center of Rome where the relics of St. Monica are in the chapel to the left of the high altar. Hopefully during your next visit to Rome, you will get to visit that basilica and pray there for your own mother, it will be easy for you to do so because you will certainly be visiting that central area of Rome to savor pizza and, above all, chocolate gelato! Today we see St. Paul’s spiritual fatherhood in the first reading and we remember St. Monica’s spiritual motherhood of St. Augustine and we pray for those who live like the second servant in Jesus’ parable that they may come to realize the truth of Augustine’s words, “you have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2015

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.