Two days before the feast of St. Monica (August 27) I had the opportunity to do something with the St. Monica Intercessory Group of our parish. The group was established in 1997 and its main apostolate is to pray for anyone who may be in need of it. They are like the spiritual dynamo of the parish; if we priests are having an easy time doing our work in the parish it is because the prayers of these women are being heard.
The St. Monica Intercessory group members once a week (on Tuesdays) to meditate and reflect on the Gospel and to pray for one hour before the Blessed Sacrament. There are eleven members at present (not all are represented in the picture above), reduced to that number after three of their members passed away. The members are all women, wives and mothers.
Today’s special meeting was occassioned by a small glitch in our programming for the feast on August 27. I had asked them to give me the theme for this year’s feast and they formulated it as "St. Monica, Suffering Wife and Mother." The theme as they worded it gave me the opportunity to invite them to a "Monica-experience:" a three-hour session that would help them to enter into the liturgy of the Saint’s feast with their own experiences as women, mothers and wives.
Here is the program of activities I prepared for the group:
The Monica Experience is a set of activities that aims to
(a) help the members of the S. Monica Intercessory Group to see similarities between themselves and S. Monica as mothers, wives and women through the reading of relevant texts from St. Augustine (e.g., the Confessions and The Happy Life),
(b) help the participants enter into the Liturgy of the feast of St. Monica through their own understanding of what it is to be a woman, mother and wife,
Activity 1: Through a reading of some of the more important texts of the Confessions, allow the participants to see S. Monica as someone like them.
— Question: What similarities do you find between yourself and Monica?
— Sample Answer: Like Monica, I pray every night for my husband to change his ways.
Activity 2: Divide the group into three and have each group reflect on the readings for the Mass on St. Monica’s feast. August 27, 2006 falls on the 21st Sunday of OT, Year B.
Group I: Psalm 34. An acrostic psalm that purports to celebrate the deliverance of David from Abimelech. The psalm is a declaration of confidence in the Lord. Its leitmotif is that the Lord is attentive to the cries of the suffering just man/woman. The NAB divides the psalm into three parts: vv. 2-4 (Invitation to praise the Lord); vv. 5-11 (The psalmist’s experience of deliverance is also an experience of His goodness and of His continued generosity to all those who fear (love) Him); vv.12-23 (The didactic part of the psalm. To fear the Lord is equivalent to loving life itself.)
Group II: Ephesians 5. The selection is about marriage as the sacrament of the loving relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. The emphasis here is on the obligation of the husbands to love their wives — something quite new during the time of Paul (since the main concern of a husband then was to assure the continuity of the "gens"). Paul uses the love-verb that for Christians have come to mean "self-sacrificing, self-emptying, life-giving love", agapan. So that the participants — all women — could get the full force of the imperative "be subject to your husbands", the selection from 1 Peter 3:1-6.
Group III: John 6. The selection is from the concluding episode of the Living Bread Discourse. After some of the disciples scandalized by Jesus’ words on the Living Bread, cease to follow him, Peter declares the allegiance of the Twelve to Him: "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Thus the Twelve pass the first big test of their discipleship. They have heard the Lord’s words and they elect to remain with Him under the leadership of Peter.
After reading the texts assigned the group will answer this question: What does this sacred page tell me, a woman, wife and mother?
Activity 3: As a culminating assignment, the participants will be asked to write a letter to a person whom they know have problems as a wife, mother or woman. The content of the letter will be the insights they’ve gained from this exercise and how they think these may be of help to her (the addresee’s) present conditions. (The assignment should be submitted to me.)
It was a joy to see the group work through the activities with eagerness. They were very candid in sharing their thoughts and experiences and they taught me to look at their concerns from the perspective of women who are also mothers and wives. The sufferings of St. Monica were the sufferings of a wife and of a mother. But they discovered too that Monica rose on the wings of prayer from within the context of her concerns as a wife married to a violent man and mother to a wayward son. It was easy for them to grasp the similarities between themselves and a woman from the fifth century AD, and, with that knowledge obtained, to enter into the spirit of the liturgy: of being confident, inspite of tribulations, in the Lord who is always good (Psalm 34), of seeing the marriage covenant as the context wherein they define themselves as women and as "co-heirs" with their husbands (1 Peter 3) and the "place" where they declare, together with Peter, their allegiance to the one Lord of all who gives Himself to us as bread broken and shared for the life of everyone.
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