Prayer works, especially the prayer of a parent for a child. That is the vital message of St. Monica. Monica is a later Mary. I revere her because, through her prayer, her son Augustine converted and became a Doctor of the Church. I revere Mary because, through her “yes”, she gave us Jesus and brings us to Him. I could learn something about parenting from Monica and Mary, but then I already have Joan of Beverly.
It is no secret among her friends or in our parish that Joan of Beverly faces serious health challenges, so I am not violating any confidences here. Tomorrow morning, in fact, a Mass will be said for her at our parish church—an unusual measure for a living person, but then Joan is an unusual lady. A cancer that began in her lungs and was apparently cured has metastasized and created a few small tumors on the back of her brain. She is courageously undergoing radiation treatment which has left her sapped for energy and looking remarkably like the stylish, short-haired and famously skinny model Twiggy, of 1960s fame. Joan is old enough to remember Twiggy.
What’s remarkable about Joan, as it is about Monica, is that in her affliction Joan has been praying for her friends and especially for her family. Joan has a large family—seven children, God knows how many grandchildren, maybe seven great-grandchildren, though I’m not sure of that either—and her prayers for her family are working. Joan does not tell me all the details—that would be a violation of confidence; and I won’t tell you any—ditto. But sitting with Joan in her living room and hearing her stories is like being thrown backward 17 centuries and listening to Monica.
Like Catholic parents anywhere, I suppose, Joan has always prayed for her children. When she was diagnosed with lung cancer nearly two years ago, she told me that she had been praying for reconciliation among certain members of her family and that, because of her sudden illness, that reconciliation was coming about. She laughed a great toothy Joan laugh and said, “I didn’t know the Lord would use my illness to bring this about, but he did!” She thought nothing of her illness, everything of His answer to her prayers.
Today’s reading from the Office is Augustine’s account of his last days with his mother. Monica told Augustine, “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect . . . ”
Joan is not yet at this stage. She loves life, perhaps more than ever. I saw her at Mass last Sunday, and I was looking at the happiest face I could imagine. After Mass, many friends crowded around her and you would have thought Joan was a child at Disneyworld, surrounded by Mickey, Minnie, Snow White, and all seven dwarfs. I have never seen her happier.
Why would she be so happy, facing a life-threatening illness like brain cancer? Because now again Joan is praying that God may lavish gifts on her children, and again He is doing so. Tomorrow, I’m sure many friends of Joan will gather at the 7 a.m. Mass to pray that God will continue to lavish his gifts on her.
St. Monica, pray for us all.