“I should have been a better mother,“ St. Monica said to Bishop Ambrose about her son Augustine.
“If Augustine had been an easier child, God would not have given him a mother like you,” he responded. –Dialogue from the movie Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine.
Such a perspective is balm to a parent’s praying heart. Ironically, the story of St. Augustine and St. Monica was one that I once did not particularly like. Monica shed many tears and stormed heaven for his conversion until his baptism at the age of 33. I wondered, why did it have to take so long?
My mother’s heart tended towards impatience, wanting my children to be close to God now and always. St. Monica was a saint, yet the results of her prayers were slow in coming. Or so it seemed to my limited thinking. During a homily at Mass one morning, my pastor presented a perspective on Augustine’s conversion. “He lived over 1,500 years ago,” Father stated. “Yet his books are still sold in bookstores. People have been reading his words for over 1,500 years.”
At that moment, I understood that the magnitude of Augustine’s conversion dwarfed the years of his mother’s prayers. His prolific words (no author from antiquity has left us more—5.4 million) have reached through the ages. Instead of looking upon the story of Saints Augustine and Monica with impatience, I suddenly marveled at the power behind such a mother’s prayers.
An Epic Movie
“It is a well-known, timeless story,” Tony Ryan, Director of Marketing for Ignatius Press said about the conversion of St. Augustine. In addition to book publishing, Ignatius Press partners with European production companies to distribute high quality Catholic videos. This past year, they joined with the Italian production company Lux Vide to sponsor the movie Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine. It is the first-ever feature film on St. Augustine. Based on his autobiographical book, The Confessions, it dramatizes his sinful youth and conversion to Christianity.
Over a period of eight months, various groups worked with Ignatius Press to host screenings in over 300 theaters. Besides the inspiration of a mother’s faith is the example for men.
“Many men were moved to tears,” said Ryan. “They realized the temptations they experienced were the same as St. Augustine’s; issues with pride, flesh, human respect, not making a commitment, evading the truth…these issues are timeless.”
Recently, my husband and I watched the movie, which is now on DVD. It includes a booklet explaining the historical events and two discs; a 203-minute version and the edited 133-minute one that was shown in theaters. We chose the longer version, having no desire to shorten our time with the man who has dramatically influenced the Christian faith. To also watch St. Monica faithfully mother her son, and St. Ambrose lead the early Church, was an experience beyond mere entertainment.
A Journey with Detours
The movie opens with Augustine in 430 A.D. as the 70-year-old bishop of Hippo, which is under siege by the Vandals during the fall of the Roman Empire. A series of long flashbacks then tells the story of Augustine’s early life which began in Thagaste, northern Africa, in 354. His father, Patricius, was a pagan and womanizer. Augustine was raised a Christian by Monica, even though he had not received Baptism. We see Patricius ask to be baptized on his deathbed while Augustine belittles it. Regardless, Monica states surely to her son, “One day, we will be united in our faith.”
Augustine moved to Carthage at seventeen, eventually becoming a great orator and lawyer. He desired to find the truth, but in reality, he tried to control it with his words, convincing people that the truth was whatever he said it was.
Augustine engaged in a hedonistic lifestyle and eventually lived with a slave woman, who he truly did love. They were together for thirteen years and had one son. Augustine’s search for the truth led him to the Manichaean religion and then Neoplatonic philosophy. He eventually took the prestigious position of the emperor’s orator and was tasked with using his words to get the people to side with the emperor’s takeover of Bishop Ambrose’s basilica.
Truth is a Person
Augustine began listening to the great preacher Ambrose. He was intrigued yet conflicted. Augustine still sought truth because he had never been satisfied. Ambrose told him: “It’s truth that finds the man because the truth is a person. It’s Jesus, the Son of God.”
One afternoon in his garden, Augustine wrestled with his thoughts until God finally reached him. The great orator stopped talking and began to listen to Bishop Ambrose. Augustine repents and gives himself completely to Christ. Ambrose baptized him, imparting the peace of Christ to Augustine’s once restless heart.
“Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” – Confessions
From that point on, his gifts of rhetoric and oration, once used selfishly and even against the Church, were used to serve the Church. And they still do, over 1,500 years later.
Using the medium of film to affect and inspire the culture in theaters has worked so well with Restless Heart that Ignatius Press is currently sponsoring a new film, Mary of Nazareth. This is yet another opportunity to be transported through time to be with those that have shaped the Christian world. To learn how to bring this film to your area, visit maryfilm.com.
Copyright 2013 Patti Maguire Armstrong