Father Michael Ahearne of St. Monica Parish in Palm Fields, Ala., was preparing to take a group of parish teens on a cookout to teach them something about prayer, so he prepared himself by spending his morning meditation asking the Lord for eloquence and persuasion of speech. This prayer was repeated several times during the day before they all piled into cars for the trip to the camp grounds.
All the teens knew this was a prayer outing, so as soon as they had gathered around the adults at the fire pit, Tony A. called out, “Say Father, what’s a good prayer to get rid of zits?” “Well, Tony, I th…” “Hey zitface,” came Suzie’s voice, “go to CVS and get some acne cream.”
“Suzie is right, Tony. We must not treat God like a magic genie who will do whatever we want if we use the correct magic formula of prayer. Besides, zits will not bother a person forever.”
“Yeah, Padre, I guess you and Suzie are right, but I have some friends with real problems. Dave P. lives across town and his father drinks away most of his paycheck at the local bar and then brutalizes the family. No three Hail Marys are going to fix that!”
“What about my aunt and uncle back in England?,” broke in Veronica S. “They have a kid, my cousin, who gets into strange gangs, and got two girls pregnant. How are you going to fix that with a couple of prayers?”
“Whoa, guys, slow down! I don’t believe I ever said to you or anybody else that a couple of prayers would on their own help solve all real problems. Now listen up! Our parish is named after St. Monica, and it’s about time for you to learn that saints were real people with real problems.
“St. Monica was born in the year 332 A.D. in a town of North Africa called Thagaste. When she was about 22, she married Patricius, a violent man 18 years her senior, a man of no religion, a man who had no intention of keeping his marriage vows. Through her prayers and kindness, love and patience, she led him to the Catholic faith before his death. At the same time, her eldest son, Augustine (Gussie to his buds), was away at school in Carthage, trying to prove he was a man. His live-in girlfriend bore him a son when Augustine was 17. For the non-Catholic group he was running with at the time (the Manichees), bringing a child into the world was the greatest of sins. Therefore, he denied having any part in it and blamed the birth on God. He claimed that the child was a gift given by God, and that became his name, Adeodatus (given by God).
“The faithful live-in girlfriend was sent back to Africa from Italy where they were now living and a suitable bride was selected for Augustine, the son of Patricius, a Roman magistrate, but she was still a child and would not reach the legal age for marriage for another two years. Gussie was impatient, so he took another concubine, but that didn’t last. He and his son Adeodatus were converted and baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan at Easter in the year 387. Three years later Adeodatus died at the age of 17.”
“Augustine, a school teacher by trade, gave himself completely to God and became the Bishop of Hippo. For approximately the next thousand years his writings became the standard for Christian theology in Europe, and they are still valued today, and through his writings he is known as one of the primary sources of Western Civilization. Not bad for the wayward kid of Monica of Thagaste.
“These few words only give a hint of the drama and triumph of that family from Africa. Now, all of you people on this cook-out have much greater knowledge of computers than I have, so I challenge you to fill in the story by a google search for Adeodatus 1414, 1019 Monica, Saint Augustine, Wikipedia. (I am suggesting reading about Augustine on Wikipedia because it is much shorter than the extended computer article, of which 1019 and 1414 given above are just pages.) To complete this little essay on prayer I suggest Letter 130 To Proba, which can also be found on the computer.”
“It seems the adults have cleaned up our mess, so let’s go home.”
Later that night as Father Ahearne was at his evening meditation, he seemed to hear a voice: “Hey, Father Dork, the kids don’t need eloquence but rather honesty, openness, truth and love.”
Father Buote is a retired priest of the Diocese of Fall River and a regular contributor to The Anchor.