Today we remember St. Monnica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. Before his conversion Monnica prayed and fretted for her son for nearly two decades. She visited a North African bishop and pled with him to meet with her son, to encourage him to put aside his worldly ways.
Augustine writes of the encounter:
“When he had spoken these words, and she still would not keep quiet, but by her entreaties and flowing tears urged him all the more to see me and discuss matters with me, he became a little vexed and said: ‘Go away from me now. As you live, it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.’ As she was often wont to recall in her conversations with me, she took this as if it had sounded forth from heaven.” Confessions 3.21
Like many people over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the nature of 19 year-old boys. What drives them? How vulnerable are they to influence by someone they respect? What would make a 19 year-old boy become unrecognizable to friends and teachers who had known him reasonably well?
Unlike many people, it’s not unusual for me to spend a great deal of time each day thinking about 19 year-old boys. I’m the mother of twin sons, both college freshman – one living nearby and one living across the country. My husband and I are grateful that, apart from some occasional low-grade snottiness, they have given us no heartache or sleepless nights to speak of (so far.)
I could be wrong, but I believe that a great deal of our sons’ comfort in their own skin is because, from their earliest days, they have been adored. By us and by a wonderfully large number of adults who, year in and year out throughout their childhoods, went to their games and concerts and poetry readings. Our sons were blessed by unrelated adult friends who thought they were, simply, the nuts. They were sheltered by boundless, unshakeable love.
A year ago our family met a young Iranian couple who had recently arrived in Maine to attend graduate school. Over the course of the year, we have grown close to them. Next week they will graduate from their masters programs and recently, with a certain formality not often seen in 25 year-olds in this country, they asked if my husband and I would be willing to stand in for their parents at their commencement. We are honored to play that role.
Here’s the truth: our lives are greatly enriched by their friendship and love. They’ve repeatedly said they never expected the warm reception they have received from so many people in the U.S. Our young man’s twin brother has been studying in a small provincial city in France for two years. He has yet to know such a welcome or degree of acceptance as an Iranian, as a Muslim, as a foreigner as his brother and sister-in-law have experienced here.
Here’s another truth: Jesus expects us to welcome the stranger, the other mother’s son and daughter. Monnica cried a river of tears over her son, Augustine. What would the world be like if if every child was so beloved?
If only we could make room in our hearts and lives for one or two people outside our cozy circle, who, for whatever reason – poverty, immigration status, disability, social awkwardness – are swept to the margins and isolated. If only we could daily live in the truth that they are all our sons and daughters.
Open your eyes to someone around you might need the shelter of love, support, and concern. Pray for the grace to offer that care, and then just offer it. You are well-loved by God whether your offer is accepted or rejected. Share that love lavishly with others in unexpected ways.