Saint Monica – Commentary on Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 26:1-4,13-16; Ps 130; Luke 7:11-17
The Gospel reading is really symbolical. It tells the story of a widow in the city of Nain, which was probably a few kilometres south of Nazareth in Galilee. She had lost her only son and hence the only means of her support. Widows and orphans – women who have lost their husbands and children without parents – were regarded as the most unfortunate in the society of Jesus’ day. Without any form of social welfare they had no means of support and were looked on with a certain pity and contempt. They were seen as no good to anyone either as future wives or as husbands. And widows could be quite young. There were many ways in which a relatively young husband could meet his death.
The woman’s plight then was desperate. She had lost her husband and now had lost her son as well. As she brought her son for burial she was accompanied by a large group of people. They were sympathetic but there was not much they could do to help.
However, when Jesus saw her he was filled with compassion and told her not to weep. He stepped forward, touched the bier on which the man lay and the carriers stopped. “Young man,” said Jesus, “I tell you, arise!” Immediately the man rose up and began speaking with his mother.
Realising they were in the presence of someone with very special powers, the crowd was filled with fear. “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” they cried and “God has visited his people.”
Doubtless they were remembering the occasion when the prophet Elijah brought back to life the only son of widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 7:8-24). In this case, however, the resuscitation was brought about simply by a word. Not surprisingly, the event was being talked about even in the southern province of Judea and the surrounding region.
The story reflects the plight of Monica, who had lost her son to paganism and immorality. As a devout Christian herself, he might as well have died. But then, due to her incessant prayer, he came back to the faith of his mother. In time, he would become one of the greatest writers and saints in the history of the Church.
Many devout parents today have to suffer in seeing their children abandon the faith of the family. Like Monica, they need to keep praying that their children will find their way back to a life of faith and love.
The First Reading, from the Book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), is a description of the good wife and mother and reflects the relationship which Monica had with a dominant husband. Such a wife brings joy to her husband and is a blessing from God. “Be he rich or poor, his heart is content, and a smile is ever on his face.”
Such a wife is gracious, thoughtful, her restrained speech is a gift from the Lord as is her modesty and sexual fidelity. “Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heaven, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.” In a world where women had a very secondary role, such words are praise indeed. Monica is indeed a worthy patron of wives and mothers.