The United States Embassy to the Holy See has recently moved to new facilities in central Rome and has posted some pictures of its new surroundings online. One photograph is of a painting by Giulio Bargellini, showing Justice holding a text from Cicero which served as an axiom of Roman law: Salus populi suprema lex— the health of the people is the supreme law. This text finds its way into the canon law as salus animarum suprema lex in the last canon of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. It may be translated as “the salvation of souls is the supreme law.”
Why is this important? Saint Monica, whom the Church celebrates today, understood this notion well. In the account of her death in the Confessions of Saint Augustine we receive two insights. First, having seen the conversion of her son from paganism to Christianity, she asks, “What am I still doing here?” As the Collect reminds us, Saint Monica wept tears for the conversion of her son and, having seen him safely within the Church and achieved her principal hope, even her life-breath becomes circumstantial to her desire for eternity. Secondly, recognizing her death, Saint Monica instructs her son, “Lay this body anywhere, 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.” Knowing the importance of her own salvation also, Saint Monica thus shows concern for her own soul, too, by asking her son to intercede for her after she has fallen asleep in the Lord.
By her fervent prayer for the conversion of her son and her own concern for salvation Saint Monica shows us that salus populi suprema lex. May her example inspire us to put nothing before our own salvation, that we may turn once more to the Way that is life in Christ, and come with Saint Monica and Saint Augustine to enjoy eternal in the peace and joy of the heavenly kingdom.