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Monica’s Consolation

for Margaret Coats, who introduced me to
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and his
mother, St. Monica (332-387)

Caritas, enter! I’m so glad you’re here.
It seems that sleep eludes us both this night.
I see your need, dear friend. Please have no fear.
We’ll talk until dawn bathes Milan in light.

I cannot rest until tomorrow’s baptism.
Augustine will receive Our Lord’s salvation!
And after nearly twenty years of schism
My answered prayers bring blessèd consolation.

Forgive me! I must not indulge such pride
When you are worried for your first-born’s soul!
Tomorrow morn your Simon shall be tried—
And punished for those silver coins he stole.

I fear that he will be condemned to jail;
But let him face the magistrate clear-eyed.
Trust God, Caritas! His will does not fail.
Come sit beside me. I’ve much to confide.

We both have sons. As mothers we have sighed
Since they were boys. We’ve shared each joy, each sorrow.
Our hearts leapt when they laughed; and when they cried
We dried their tears and helped them face the morrow.

Now Simon brings you heartache, shame and pain.
Be comforted by one who understands
Just how he’s scarred himself with sin and stain.
But know he lives within Our Father’s hands!

You tell me that your son’s a reprobate.
To pay a gambling debt he’d steal a purse.
He fornicates. For him no sin can wait,
And all that’s holy he mocks as a curse.

He won’t repent. You wonder, will he end
In jail? Insane? Or might he turn up dead?
I am not God. How can I know, dear friend?
But I remember what Our Savior said:

Christ did not come to summon righteous men
But rather to attend to those who sin.
Through Him your son may yet be born again;
Though Simon’s soul seems marred, grace yet may win!

For years Augustine sinned and courted hell.
His brilliance only emphasized his fault.
Few advocates could argue half as well;
His logic seasoned every word like salt.

He worshipped Plato, then turned Manichean.
He thought the Bible crude and full of lies.
He spurned all good news of the Galilean
And grew too smart to ever become wise.

A mistress came. And then a bastard child.
His gifts were spent for pleasure, wealth and fame.
I prayed in anguish. Still my son ran wild.
Caritas, I disowned him out of shame!

I wept more for Augustine’s dying soul
Than mothers who have watched their children die.
Then God revealed this son of such deep dole
Would never perish; I must act, not cry!

I made a vow. The son who left my womb
Would find Our Lord before I left this Earth.
I followed him to Rome, Milan… this room!
I learned his books to prove their moral dearth.

And finally Augustine heard God’s voice:
A warning how this shallow world enticed.
That’s when Augustine finally made his choice:
A hedonist no more, he’d follow Christ.

To see a sinner baptized into grace…
To rip the blinders from my son’s sharp eyes
Is all I’ve lived for! Now you too must face
Whatever truths can help your Simon rise.

Do not give up! Your patience is a suture
For wounds you must inflict for love and law.
Just know that every sinner has a future
And every saint who’s lived possessed some flaw.

You should not think for Simon it’s too late,
For nothing is too much to tax God’s will!
Wed love and discipline to conquer hate—
And you will find God’s city on a hill.

Your Simon, my Augustine! How they test
A Christian mother’s heart for charity!
Learn from my struggle—not to be impressed—
But so you know redemption yet may be.

A ship must wait in patience for the tide.
In weighty things which touch on life or death
It’s ever in God’s will we must reside—
For none but Christ gives Lazarus new breath.

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Poet’s Note: It is difficult to overstate the importance of St. Augustine, author of the City of God, to the development of Western and Christian thought. In his Confessions he gives much credit for his conversion to Christianity to the steadfast love and dedication of his mother, Monica. Her influence on Augustine of Hippo was so important to the early Church, that upon acclamation of Augustine’s sainthood Monica was also honored with sainthood. She is regarded as the patron saint of mothers.

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Brian Yapko is a retired lawyer whose poetry has appeared in over fifty journals.  He is the winner of the 2023 SCP International Poetry Competition. Brian is also the author of several short stories, the science fiction novel El Nuevo Mundo and the gothic archaeological novel  Bleeding Stone.  He lives in Wimauma, Florida.


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27 Responses

  1. James Sale

    A fine and interesting poem, Brian, and I like the ending very much:
    A ship must wait in patience for the tide.
    In weighty things which touch on life or death
    It’s ever in God’s will we must reside—
    For none but Christ gives Lazarus new breath.

    A wonderful resignation that is not despair and the allusion to John 11 is superb.

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, James! And that’s my favorite part of the poem. Our free will and ability to act can only go so far. At a certain point we simply must trust God!

      Reply
  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    You keep adding thoughtful, extremely well-wrought, and seemingly divinely inspired works to your SCP legacy. Devoid of exasperating words, you intricately weave the beautiful fabric of a great story that speaks to the heart and soul. In this case, you have reminded me of my own saintly mother and her daily prayers for me that kept me on the straight and narrow path. I suspect you felt the same depth of devotion.

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, Roy! I hoped with this poem to remind us of the unassailable love of mothers and the hope they may feel for their children — sometimes against the odds. I’m so pleased this reminded you of your own mother. My mother also was quite special.

      Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    Exquisite, Brian! Incidentally, my wife once belonged to a women’s discussion/prayer group called Sisters of Monica, so you see that her influence is felt even by non-Catholic Christians.

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much, C.B.! I’m so pleased to hear that St. Monica’s influence extends far and wide. I’d been to Santa Monica, California many times in my life but never once had given thought to the saint the city was named after.

      Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      I heartily concur, j.d. Thank you again, Margaret for introducing me to both of these remarkable saints!

      Reply
  4. Margaret Coats

    My deepest gratitude, Brian, for the dedication of this poem. Its thought and wording are entirely yours, though I’m glad to see my concept of Monica here. We often think of her distinction as “prayers and tears,” but in my view she possesses the “diamond heart” (description from a hymn to the sorrowful Mother Mary) of faith and love. Her faith in God is so hard and clear that when Augustine hears of the dream in which she is told they two would be together–and suggests she will come to him as a Manichee–she immediately outdoes his brilliant logic. She would have left this dearly beloved son for love of Christ, if necessary (she resides in God’s will, stanza 20), but the revelation fires her heart to act (stanza 13). She “weds love and discipline” (stanza 18) in “a Christian mother’s heart for charity” (fides caritate formata, stanza 19). Her consolation received and given (stanzas 17 and 20) is patience, the virtue whose root meaning is “suffering” for the one who exercises it, and which helps to heal wounds she and other mothers give in “love and law.” Wonderfully expressed!

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      You’re very welcome, Margaret. To dedicate this poem to you was a great joy and seemed a fitting way to let you know that your influence on my work has made me a better poet and means a great deal to me. I especially thank you for introducing me to Augustine’s “Confessions” which is a remarkable piece of literature — so very far ahead of its time in the author’s description of his intellectual and spiritual development. One day I know I will get through the “City of God.”

      As far as your concept of Monica, I’m glad ours align. I did quite a bit of research on a saint about whom little is actually known other than through Augustine’s writings. I took incidents from her life and paraphrased a couple of quotes from Augustine himself — and who’s to say he didn’t borrow them from her in the first place? I’m especially pleased that you understood the double-usage of “consolation” in this work as she consoles Caritas and describes the consolation she herself received. As for Caritas — that name was chosen with great care. The first words of this poem are, in effect, “Charity, enter.” I wanted the ideas of “faith, hope and charity (or love)” to be front and center here, but especially “charity” and its layers of meaning in Corinthians.

      Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is a perfect dramatic monologue with a silent interlocutrix (Caritas), whose words and responses we must intuit from what Monica says.

    The individual quatrains are very neat and precise. In themselves they give a picture of a logical and carefully self-controlled woman whose sharp thinking matches that of her son.

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, Joe. This particular poem was extremely difficult for me — largely because I could not quite find the voice of a woman about whom relatively little is known other than what Augustine says in his “Confessions.” And then there is the problem of Monica’s saintliness — would she ever have been acclaimed a saint if not for her influence on Augustine? In other words, if Augustine had never been a saint, would Monica anyway? This seems a difficult question to answer. But the “Confessions” and the recognition that Augustine’s brilliance may have derived from having a brilliant mother gave me enough — if I could find the right situation for her to present a dramatic monologue. More time was spent auditioning silent interlocutors on this poem than I’ve spent on any other poem. Coming up with Caritas was hard.

      Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, I thoroughly appreciate the effort that has gone into this fine piece. The smooth and subtle employment of poetic devices (no easy task) creates a conversational flow whereby the words melt away ensuring the magnitude of the message shines through… brightly and beautifully.

    I’ve heard of St. Augustine of Hippo, although I know very little of him. Seeing him through his mother’s wise eyes makes me want to know more… such is the power of your poem. I believe this poem will go a long way to soothing the hearts of many worried mothers today. In this increasingly lawless, hedonistic, and materialistic world, where crime and temptation are rife and avoiding trouble is a tall order for many young, testosterone-fueled men, these wonderful lines of hope sing to me: “Just know that every sinner has a future / And every saint who’s lived possessed some flaw.” In fact, these lines make God feel within touching distance to all who look his way… regardless of who they are and what they’ve done.

    I love this poem because you make saints accessible and relatable. “Monica’s Consolation” is a gift that’s awaits every mother desperately trying to guide a lost child. And your superb closing paragraph is a much-needed reminder of the wonder and glory of divine power in a world that turns increasingly to earthly authorities for answers way beyond man’s level of expertise.

    Brian, thank you!

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, Susan! You get right to the heart of why I wrote this poem in the first place — to give hope to parents who fear for the lives and souls of their children. Parenthood is very much on my mind these days as we see what I regard as prevalent parental dereliction of duty in a hundred ways.

      I’m so glad you liked my sinner/saint wording. St. Augustine famously said “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” I decided to paraphrase this slightly and give it attribution to Monica (who’s to say where he actually got this idea from?) My reference to the City on a Hill is also a borrowing from Monica’s son. If you would like to learn more about Augustine, I highly recommend reading his “Confessions” — at least the first half of it, which is a remarkably modern memoir of how he went from being a rather arrogant pagan to finally becoming a Christian. As far as I know, this type of self-disclosing and analyzing memoir is utterly unique in ancient literature and reads as if it was written 1500 years later.

      Thank you again, Susan. I’m so glad you liked this work! I do indeed hope to make the saints more accessible. They too were flesh and blood and had tough choices to make. There’s much we can learn from them.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Other critics have mentioned this also. The “Confessions” is unique for its time and place, and is the model for later autobiographies of self-exploration and revelation.

      • Margaret Coats

        Influence from The Confessions is very widespread. The 2012 movie “For Greater Glory” has an early scene where a boy steals fruit, immediately suggesting one of the young Augustine’s best-known sins. The screenwriter used it to imply a similar starting point in saintliness for Jose Sanchez del Rio, martyred in the Cristero War in 1928 at the age of 14.

  7. Margaret Coats

    Brian, this gift of my thanks to you shows how Augustine changed (using his own images) after thinking the Bible “crude and full of lies.”

    WHAT MOSES WROTE
    Confessions XII 26-28

    Augustine found his lines a fountain spring
    Of infinite expanse and clearest truth,
    A leaf-lined nest, weak fledglings sheltering,
    A shady fruit-filled bower nurturing,
    A branch for exegetes beyond their youth
    To spread their wings and fly immensely high.
    Although interpretations seem to vie
    With one another, consecrated sight
    And reverent thought can render each one right,
    And never yet exhaust eternal light.

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      Margaret, I can’t imagine a more beautiful and heartfelt gift of thanks! This is a beautiful poem. I especially love the lines “Although interpretations seem to vie/With one another, consecrated sight and reverent thought can render each one right…” That’s actually an amazing insight! Thank you for this.

      P.S. I really like that “fruit-filled bower” which is the scene of Augustine’s first “crime” — the theft of the tree-owner’s pears!

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Augustine does give a wondrous idea of the largeness of Scripture, with something for everyone, and every reading right–subject to his criteria of holiness and reverence in the interpreter.

      Reply
  8. Joshua C. Frank

    Brian, this is great! As always, you have a talent for writing in another’s voice. I’ve read Confessions and a later biography of St. Monica, and you have her down!

    In particular, the lines, “ I wept more for Augustine’s dying soul/Than mothers who have watched their children die” struck me. Queen Blanche of France said to her son, who would grow up to be King St. Louis IX: “I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of a mortal sin.” Similarly, in the book of Maccabees, we read that a mother of seven sons encouraged them to choose to be burned to death rather than eat pork.

    This is the logical way for any Christian to think, even (or, I should say, especially) about his own children. After all, the same St. Augustine said that God has not promised the grace of repentance to anyone who sins, only pardon for sinners who repent; in addition, it only takes five minutes to burn to death, but an eternity to burn in Hell.

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, Josh! I’m grateful for the integrity you describe here demanded of Christians, though a very tall order! Nonetheless, eternity is a long, long time and, like you, I very much believe that what we do here on Earth matters in the afterlife. Perhaps it even defines it.

      The lines you mentioned in the poem are, in fact, a paraphrase of Augustine’s account of St. Monica’s entreaties to God as described in his “Confessions.” “…Thou didst ​“stretch forth thy hand from above” and didst draw up my soul out of that profound darkness [of Manicheism] because my mother, thy faithful one, wept to thee on my behalf more than mothers are accustomed to weep for the bodily deaths of their children.”

      In many ways, “Confessions” is a memoir of Augustine’s relationship with Monica. They had a very intense mother-son relationship.

      Reply
  9. Daniel Kemper

    …You should not think for Simon it’s too late,
    For nothing is too much to tax God’s will!
    Wed love and discipline to conquer hate—
    And you will find God’s city on a hill.

    Howdy Brian~

    You know, from the stanza above, knowing Augustine had his mother’s blood, I wonder if she had some time in the darkness before she came to the faith. I’ve often thought that poems are the best biographies and this poem certainly supports that notion.

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed for this astute comment, Daniel. You’ve really hit the nail on the head — poems are in many ways the best biographies… because they are biographies of the soul! And as for me, I’d by lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a strong identification with Augustine. That’s what drew me to him in the first place. He had quite a past. And yet he turned out ok. More than ok.

      Reply
  10. Laura Deagon

    Brian, at the suggestion of Margaret Coats, I turned to your poem on St. Monica and St. Augustine. While I’m familiar with the story, I’m glad I did. In your poem, I experienced the seemingly hopeless situation of Augustine’s life, and the outcome of his conversion is rewarding not only to St. Monica, but to me!

    Reply
    • Brian A. Yapko

      This is such a beautiful coment, Laura! Thank you for making my day. One must never give up hope! Personally, I believe in miracles.

      Reply

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