Wrestling for Souls
A Stepmother's Hope
A Saint's Encouragement
I’m a step-mom. I’ve tried really hard not be the “wicked stepmother” and have struggled to make their natural family as unified as divorce can allow it to be. We worked hard to avoid separate Christmases and managed a cooperative relationship between households. Nevertheless, I did not have the joy of raising his kids myself, since they lived with their mother. We got to enjoy them every other weekend and on alternating holidays. That isn’t a lot of time to bring them up in the Lord. We had Mass together when we had them. We managed to see them through CCD classes and receiving the sacraments but the true faith training that is a daily lived experience was not ours to share. We didn’t get a lot of time to model our own relationship with Jesus or a life of prayer and self sacrifice. It was spotty at best. Some children of divorce do not gain two homes they experience a disconnect, a sort of homelessness and a confusion in their identity. Roots and traditions help shape who we become. For some children the moving from one household to another, often away from friends, is a difficult adjustment.
Now that they are adults we grieve to see how far they have drifted from the Catholic faith we would have wished for them. We see the emptiness that a life with a limited or missing relationship with Jesus can produce. From the world’s view they are successful, well educated and well behaved. They are children to be proud of in every respect. They just don’t realize, in our opinion, that there could be so much more depth and peace in their lives.
No matter what your faith tradition is, if you love it and live it deeply it is part of your identity as a person as a family; your world view and your faith color everything you do, every decision, every action. It is the why, of who you are. Ultimately those who reject “organized religion” slowly erect barriers that close communication, sharing, and intimacy in their relations and with the culture of their religious heritage. They become separate and alien to one another.
For me the struggle has been in how to keep the doors of communication open, how to sustain some level of meaningful connection that will be both loving and open. I looked around for someone who has been where I am and can show me the way through.
Enter—Saint Monica, born around 333 in Tagaste, North Africa and died at Ostia near Rome around the age of 52. Her son, Augustine, was a child raised in a pagan culture and became morally wayward and that’s making a polite statement! He flitted from one school of philosophy to another, rejected his mother’s faith, lived the life of a playboy, cohabited with many women and fathered an illegitimate child.
Monica, for her part, wrestled with God for the soul of her son from his early teen years onward. She prayed and fasted regularly for the welfare of his soul. She followed him around the Mediterranean world from Africa to Rome and Milan where she finally got him linked up with the Bishop of Milan (St. Ambrose) who was a brilliant mind and highly skilled at rhetoric. Ambrose was a good match for the analytical and argumentative mind of Augustine. His influence was so great that Augustine eventually converted to Catholicism, became a great teacher himself, a prolific writer and eventually a Saint. Every Catholic mother’s dream come true!
Monica is a model for me of patience and of perseverance. She prayed for over 15 years believing in God’s promise that no prayer is wasted. Her steadfastness not only bore fruit for her dissolute son but resulted in the conversion of her volatile husband and a cantankerous mother-in-law. That’s the power of one! One woman’s prayer and one woman’s trust in a faithful God who loves our children more than we do.
Monica teaches me that faith is not for wimps and quitters. I too must wrestle with the temptations of this world for the souls of the children of my heart. It wasn’t until he was in his thirties that Augustine was converted. Monica died a short time after Augustine’s conversion knowing that her long struggle was over and her goal had been accomplished. I hope I won’t have to wait that long to see results!
Monica didn’t just pray but also fasted. When the disciples asked Jesus why they hadn’t been effective in casting out some demons, Jesus responded that some things are accomplished only by prayer accompanied by fasting. (Mt. 9:29) Sometimes just asking isn’t enough. A greater commitment is required. Action must be taken. For me, this is a nudge from the Lord that I have more to do. Love is a decision, a choice, a course of action. It is a deliberate act of the will, not some fleeting emotion. It is a life long, unconditional commitment. Mothers know this!
It’s good for me to look at the saints but I can look at some women in my own life experience; holy women. There’s Marian who fasts three days a week for her daughter’s health and Carol who gave up chocolate for life when her baby was in danger. There are countless unknown mothers who walk the floor at night praying for their child or in later years standing vigil at the window waiting for their safe return. These are my role models. They teach me that one person can make a difference and that perseverance wins the race. I cannot quit because Jesus didn’t quit on me. My vocation as a Christian and a step-parent is to cooperate with Him in bringing our children to the Father by any means possible (well not by force, that doesn’t work) How to keep the door open? Let God take the lead, surrender them into His care as Monica did then pray like everything depends on you; hoping that a St. Ambrose appears in their life too.
I did not give birth in the flesh but I pray that my efforts will birth “life in the Spirit” so that the children of my heart will arrive in the kingdom safely. I long to hear the Father say to me, “Well done my good and faithful servant.
This was written about ten years ago and sat in my computer. I’m happy to say that one of our daughters has returned to the Church and had her child baptized as well. She is well on the way to becoming a holy mother. God is good and answers prayer on His schedule not ours. I just had to surrender and leave the rest to Him. Long discussions or arguments were useless.