“O good and all-powerful One, you care for each of us as if we alone existed. You care for all with the same tenderness that you show to each one.” – Saint Augustine (The Confessions III, 11)
This quote appears in Book III of the Confessions when Augustine’s mother Monica finds herself distressed over Augustine’s conversion to another religion, Manichaeism.
She wept more tears for the death of my soul than ever mothers weep for their child’s bodily death.Saint Augustine (Confessions III, 11)
In the midst of her distress she has a dream where she finds herself crying as she stands on a “rule” (most likely a measuring stick). A man approaches her and asks her for the reason of her sorrow. She explained she is weeping because Augustine “lost his soul.” The man told her to “heed where she stood” and be at peace for where she was standing so will Augustine. The dream concludes as she looks up to find Augustine standing next to her.
When she wakes, Monica relays this dream to her son. As he reflects on this memory years later as he writes the Confessions, Augustine came to understand at the time God was truly “alert” to Monica’s distress and the cry of her heart. This leads Augustine to conclude God “cares for each of us as if we alone existed.”
Yet, when Monica relays the dream to her son, Augustine’s clever defiance continues as he tries to persuade her to believe it means Monica would be standing where Augustine presently is. Yet, Monica is quick to correct him and Augustine admits he was moved when she did so.
She was not fooled by my slick interpretation, but saw straight away the true meaning of the dream which had escaped me until she spoke. I was more amazed at this than at the dream itself.Saint Augustine (Confessions III, 11)
What Does This Mean For Us Today?
This is a story that is very relevant today. One of the most frequent concerns I hear among parents in the Church today concerns their children who have “fallen” away from the Church. Many parents suffer much agony as they deal with the questions and uncertainty about why their children left and how to draw them back. Indeed, it is a very real issue in our time.
As Edward Foley observes in Theological Reflection Across Religious Traditions, 32% of adults under thirty years of age identify as “religiously” unaffiliated. Consequently many parents who have raised their children in the faith are left wondering how to help their children who have since left. Many become further distressed as their children try, like Augustine, to elude attempts to draw them back.
Yet, there is hope. Most of those who identify as unaffiliated still believe in God (as Augustine did) while also believing religious institutions help society, especially in their work with the poor. There is much opportunity to create bridges between the affiliated and unaffiliated with the hope of bringing some (if not most) back to the Church.
I believe Monica’s experience can be a source of inspiration for parents who have children that have left the Church. Monica’s story shows that even when it appears the prayers of parents are going unanswered as their children continue to choose to remain unaffiliated with the Church, God truly cares about their prayers as well as about their children. From Saint Monica they too can find hope in “heeding where they stand” by remaining steadfast in their prayers and efforts.
For a good book on strategies to draw young people back to the Church, I highly recommend Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church by Brandon Vogt.
Yet, perhaps the scope of this wonderful quote by Augustine is not limited to those who are concerned about their children who have left the Church. Perhaps it can also bring hope to anyone who is seeking hope in the midst of a challenging situation in life. For just as God heard Monica’s prayers over her son, so God hears the prayers of all of us in the various circumstances of our own lives.
For just as Monica was asked to trust in the providence of God over her son’s life, so we are asked to trust in God who has providence over the desires of our own hearts.
Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believer that you will receive it and it shall be yours.Mark 11:24
 Edward Foley, Theological Reflection Across Religious Traditions: The Turn to Reflective Believing (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 16.
 Brandon Vogt, Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire, 2021), 31.
 Foley, Theological Reflections, 16.