His mother, Monica, worried continually about him. She was proud of his remarkable brain-power, but she knew there were more important things in life than brains.
She was a devoted servant of Jesus, the Christ. But her husband, the father of Aurelius, was not. They lived in an age when the mothers and servants (of the wealthy, which they were) had the most time with the children. Yet the fathers' influence overshadowed the bulk of time that the women had. Aurelius did not follow his mother.
But his mother had a weapon that neither Aurelius nor his father reckoned on. She prayed. Night and day she prayed for her son.
He moved out, went to the city, and made a name for himself in the latter day Platonist school of philosophy. It became clear that he was brilliant. And it became clear that he was moving further and further from his mother's love for Jesus.
He took a mistress, as was the custom, but only one which was all his funds would allow. They had a son.
Meanwhile, Monica's heart was breaking. It was bleeding. It was ragged before the throne of her Lord and God, Jesus. She pled night and day for her son to gain wisdom and humility to add to his brain.
No answer from the throne.
Aurelius didn't write home.
Aurelius entrenched himself in the world of philosophy and made his home with his mistress. He wrote brilliantly of a new philosophy that he was working out, based on Plato. No thoughts of God.
And Monica prayed. Year after year Monica prayed. Had she not known that her prayer was being heard and answered, she would have broken down entirely. As it was, she was half a wreck.
One day, her Aurelius was in the yard of his house when he heard some children playing a common game. Our kids chant "When I went down to grandfather's farm a billy goat chased me around the barn. . ." as they jump rope. Well it was the same back in the fourth century, except that the kids chanted their rhymes in Latin. Must have been overachievers!
Aurelius heard their game, but couldn't see them. They were on the other side of the wall. Although he knew the rhyme for he himself had played the game, it seemed that the words were spoken from the sky itself.
And part of the rhyme that struck him was the repeated refrain, "take and read, take and read."
His life was full of taking and reading, reading and writing. Who needed to tell him? Yet when he heard it, coming as it seemed to, from the sky, it burned its way into his mind. He couldn't get the rhyme out of his ears.
He had to obey it. He had to take and read. So he grabbed the nearest book.
Funnily enough it was a copy of Paul's letter to the church in Rome. It was his mother's book, which she had intentionally left lying around in her son's quarters. Mothers are funny that way.
Aurelius took and read. He opened it to the first place it happened to open. Chance, fate, or Providence opened it to the thirteenth chapter. His eyes fell on the thirteenth and fourteenth verses. Obeying the voice from over the wall, he read. "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."
It condemned his own life. He was broken. He knew himself to be condemned. And he repented.
Throughout his life he always knew that his mother's prayers for him had been answered, even against his own will. She and her master, Jesus, had won in the end. And he honored his mother all the more for it!
Prayer became his own strength and power. Just as it had been Monica's.
I am quite certain he was thinking of Monica, his mother when he said in a sermon:
My brothers and sisters,
Let us be wary of praying to Christ with our mouths
But remaining mute in our life.
Who is it that prays to Christ?
The person who spurns worldly pleasures.
The person who says-
Not in words but in conduct-
"The world has been cruicified to me
And I to the world"
The person who lavishly gives to the poor.
Rest assured, my brothers and sisters,
You will receive.
Ask, seek, knock;
You will receive and find,
And it will be opened to you.
However, do not ask, seek, and knock
With our voice alone
But with your life as well.
Do the works your life should never be without.
Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
in a sermon
from Augustine On Prayer