While Augustine’s brother Navigius was worried about where to bury their mother who was in the process of dying, her one request was: “Lay this body any where, and take no trouble over it. One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be” (Conf. 9.11.27; tr. Boulding). This request was an act of hope in eternal life and an act of faith in the efficacy of liturgical prayer.

The request that Monica makes of being prayerfully remembered unto eternal life, is one that Augustine himself will teach. In his letter to Proba, Augustine instructs that we need to pray for eternal life for ourselves and others: “I can, therefore, tell you this [what to pray for] in a few words: pray for the happy life, for all human beings want to have this” (Letter 130.4.9; tr. Teske) The exercise of desiring heaven helps one to grow in that desire, and in the capacity to receive such a gift: “we shall receive with a greater capacity to the extent that we believe it with more fidelity, and hope for it more firmly, and love it more ardently.” (Letter 130.8.17)

At the end of book 9, Augustine multiplies Monica’s request, by praying that the readers of his Confessions who are servants of God remember Monica and Patricius at the altar (Conf. 9.13.37). In this prayer that ends the book, Augustine speaks of his parents as “fellow-citizens in the eternal Jerusalem” and describes God’s people as being on pilgrimage (9.13.37).

The motif of pilgrimage, which is a favorite of Augustine’s, can be found in Scripture as well (see Phil 3:20; Heb 11:13-16). The language of pilgrimage underscores that we do not travel alone toward the eternal Jerusalem, but that we are on a common pilgrimage. Monica’s request for prayers at her deathbed, and Augustine’s prayer for her—along with his prayer that more servants of God will pray for her—goes against an individualistic understanding of salvation. Augustine recognizes that, by the gift of faith, the individual restlessness he experienced as a young man has been transformed into a common pilgrimage toward the heavenly city. Monica and Augustine share hope because they are both members of the same Christ.

Monica’s request for prayers at the altar—transmitted by Augustine—is answered in our own time when we celebrate her memory each year on August 27th.

Upon reflection of Monica’s dying process, one can wonder how Augustine’s own death compared to his mother’s. When his own death was approaching, Possidius narrates that Augustine asked for solitude so he could pray and weep, which suggests perhaps a difference and contrast to Monica’s final days. Yet, he prayed the psalms, which members of his monastic community had written on sheets and attached to the wall for him. Just like his mother who asked for prayer years before, Augustine asked for the written prayers of some of the psalms that the community prayed in the oratory. Just outside the walls of the room, the community knew he was weeping as he prayed and brought him meals, as well as a doctor. He was given solitude, but he was not alone. His solitude was surrounded by a respectful and caring community that one imagines was also praying for him when he requested solitude. Possidius writes that in his final moments, “we stood by watching and praying, as he fell asleep with his fathers (as scripture says) in a good old age.” (Possidius, Life of Augustine, 31)

We remember Augustine, too, at the altar each year on August 28th. Our yearly liturgical celebrations and remembrance of Monica and Augustine are an enduring confession to the power of God in human life. We ask for their prayers as we journey toward the eternal Jerusalem.