In a narrower margin of victory than I expected, Richard Hooker defeated Scholastica, whose name sounds like she should be the patron saint of elementary school book clubs. Richard goes on to represent Anglicanism in the battle of the Saintly Sixteen. I’m still working on a motto for him – “HOOKER’S A LOOKER” , maybe? Let me know if you’ve got anything better.
Monica should be, as I said earlier, the patron saint of mothers worried about the souls of their adult children. Augustine, as we know, wandered wide and far from the path of faith as a young man before he heard the call. The story he tells in Confessions of his “conversion” has echoes of the story of Saul becoming Paul in the Book of Acts. As Augustine wrote of Jesus, “Too late I came to love thee”. Surely, Monica’s prayers for her wayward son must have been at work somewhere.
John Nava, Study for Saint Monica, oil on canvas, 2003.
Later in life, Augustine regretted the pain he had caused his pious mother: “I cannot sufficiently express the love she had for me, nor how she travailed for me in the spirit with a far keener anguish can when she bore me in the flesh.
Augustine had one child, an illegitimate boy named Adeodatus (“Given by God”), who died shortly after his baptism. Monica had dearly wanted to adopt him and raise him as her grandson, and herself died at fifty-nine.
In a lovely essay in Plough Quarterly, Susannah Black Roberts calls Monica “our spiritual grandmother”. While was only briefly and tragically a grandmother, Black writes that “all those who have converted after reading the Confessions, and all those whose hearts found rest in the doctrines of God’s grace which he articulated, and all those who have found their household in the church which her son did so much to build: these too are her grandchildren” (https://www.plough.com/en/topics/life/relationships/monica-of-thagaste)
Joanna the Myrrhbearer may have a stronger claim for fame because whereas Monica’s son worshipped Jesus, Joanna knew Jesus and paid his bills. In that respect, she may deserve to be the patron saint of church treasurers.
She is mentioned twice mentioned in the book of Luke, once as part of the administrators of the disciples (8:3) and more famously as one of the women who go to the tomb to anoint (myrrh was a burial spice) Jesus’ body (24:10), only to find the tomb empty. Thus, Joanna is honoured as one of the first to bear the Christian message, “He is risen!”. Speaking of tending the dead, Joanna is also honoured by tradition in the Orthodox church for recovering (and presumably burying) the head of poor John the Baptist after his execution.
Saint Joanna recovering the head of Saint John the Baptist
One wonders, given that the Baptist and Jesus were both popular preachers, and given that her husband worked for Herod’s killer, if Joanna paid a price for her faith. Joanna deserves the memory and honour of the church today as a person who had all the advantages of class and power, but who dedicated her life to following Jesus.
The connection of myrrh with the Nativity story also links Joanna with the Magi as those who honoured Jesus. I discovered a wonderful website dedicated to Joanna which calls on us to be “modern myrrh bearers”:
“We can identify the modern equivalent of myrrh in our lives, some intrinsically valuable way of living – controlling our actions and speech – that like myrrh will fight corruption in its modern, cultural sense. And we can make that thing of value, that myrrh, our gift to Him. The White Angel will beckon to us, and wait patiently to give us the Good News”. (https://modernmyrrhbearers.com/what-is-a-modern-myrrhbearer/)
Blessed be their memories.
I am currently three for four in my predictions thus far. I’ve picked Joanna to go up against Augustine, which would be a blessing to Monica, if you think about it, as that would just be awkward.
You can vote here – you’ll see the buttons when you scroll to the bottom:
Blessings to you this day,