The Power of Prayer: Saints Monica & Augustine

St. Monica provides a powerful case study of the value of intercessory prayer.

This devout Catholic woman, who lived in Roman North Africa in the fourth century, was grievously worried about her son Augustine. Living in a persistent state of grave sin, fallen into an heretical cult, and still not baptized, Augustine was a totally wayward youth in danger of losing his soul.

Monica poured out her heart to God, praying, fasting and weeping for her son. She kept up her persistent intercession over many years, despite all of her prayers appearing to go in vain.

But in fact, they were not in vain. Augustine eventually experienced a life-changing conversion, a heart-rending repentance. Washed clean in the waters of baptism, he not only turned away from sin, but sought the perfection of the monastic life and ultimately became the bishop of Hippo. Augustine turned his prodigious intellectual gifts toward the study of theology, leaving us a priceless heritage through his writings, and ranking as one of the most influential doctors of the Church.

We celebrate his memorial on August 28, the anniversary of his passing from this earthly life. But the Church remembers that there may well have been no St. Augustine without the constant prayers of his mother. Therefore we fittingly celebrate the memorial of St. Monica on the day prior, August 27.

Aside from giving hope to all mothers whose children are going in the wrong direction, Monica also offers an example to wives enduring difficult marriages. Her husband, a pagan named Patricius, was the cause of much suffering. But he was softened by her prayers and her steadfast Christian witness, and converted shortly before his death.

Beyond just being an encouraging model for us to follow, Monica stands ready and willing to help us now with her intercession before the throne of God. All of us – in heaven, on earth, or undergoing purification in Purgatory – are united in the Mystical Body of Christ, able to share spiritual goods in the communion of saints. Let us boldly ask Monica, Augustine, and our patron saints to intercede for us.

For more, see St. Augustine’s Confessions (Book III, 11-12, and Book IX, 8-13), and Catechism paragraph 2683.

Prayer of Praise

Based upon Catechism paragraphs 2639-49:

When we praise God, we glorify Him purely because of Who He Is – the all-holy, all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful, all-beautiful One.

Praise therefore has a different aspect from the other forms of prayer, which in some way refer to ourselves and what God does for us. We bless God in response to His blessings upon us, and adore Him in recognition of our status as creatures; we offer thanksgiving to God for His abundant gifts; we ask Him to take care of our needs in prayers of petition; and we pray on behalf of others in our prayers of intercession.

In prayers of praise, however, we are focused upon God Himself, loving Him for His Own sake. We exult in the sheer awesomeness of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – Who Is Being itself, in glorious perfection forever, transcending time.

The technical term for a prayer of praise is “doxology,” a loan word from Greek. Examples include the “Glory to God in the highest” that we sing at Mass, the “Glory Be,” and the phrase added to the Lord’s Prayer, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are Yours, now and forever.”

As the conclusion to the “Our Father” implies, the other forms of prayer logically lead us into praise. Blessing, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession all call to mind the infinite goodness, generosity, and majesty of God, a reflection that culminates in our praising God just for being God.

This is illustrated to the highest degree at Mass: “The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is ‘the pure offering’ of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God’s name, and according to the traditions of East and West, it is the ‘sacrifice of praise.’”

Prayer of Intercession

Based upon Catechism paragraphs 2634-36:

Intercession derives from the Latin for “go between,” with the sense of intervening on behalf of someone. As the root word suggests, intercession is a form of prayer in which we ask God to help others, offering Him our petitions for their sake.

Intercessory prayer is an act of love, for we are truly seeking the good of others by praying to God on their behalf. In so doing, we exhibit a “heart attuned to God’s mercy.”

More astonishingly, we are thereby caught up in the mystery of God’s own life, where intercessory prayer wells up within the depths of the Most Holy Trinity. Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, continuously prays to the Father for us, as does the Holy Spirit. We enter into this dynamic of divine mercy whenever we pray for others, and especially when we pray for our enemies, as Jesus taught us.

Most often, however, our intercessory prayer will involve those closest to us, as we beg the Lord for the needs of our families, friends, neighbors, fellow members of the Body of Christ. We may even feel our faith stretched if our intercession doesn’t seem to help, if changes don’t occur for the better.

But in these difficulties, we must remember that God always respects the freedom of others. Our petition may require a certain level of openness or receptivity on another’s part, and if that person is not ready at a given point, the Lord will not force the issue. Rather, He will offer His grace according to His inexhaustible patience with us.

For that reason, we should never give up praying for someone, no matter how impossible the case may seem. God may be moving us to pray, so that He will cause it to bear fruit when the time is ripe.