I haven’t blogged about medieval Christianity in a few weeks and had a post in that time about the Adrian Peterson saga. However, today’s return to the medieval church is prompted in part by a recent viral blog post that has been making its way around the web. There’s a post from the blog “Teach Me to Braid” that is entitled “If My Child Marries Yours” which describes a mother’s prayer not only for her children but for the mother of their future spouses. While I appreciate the sentiment of praying over all aspects of one’s children, something about this post bothers me. It assumes that one’s children will get married someday, or will want to get married, which sets up a whole host of problems. Many single Christians in their 20s and 30s really struggle with being single and what it means for their identity in God’s Kingdom and the church body. I feel that praying for your child’s future mother-in-law and that she would raise her son or daughter “right” not only perpetuates certain gender roles (the blog post notes that men need to hold their wives when they are scared and women need to say the right things to their husbands when they are worn out and tired), but also ties up your children’s identity in who they will marry. But I digress.
What does this have to do with the medieval Church, you ask? Well today I wanted to take a look at the short but powerful life of Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). She actually committed to a life of celibacy at the age of 7 and at the age of 15 chopped off her long hair to repel interested men (Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006, 134). Throughout her life, she was politically active. She is often credited with convincing Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon and return to Rome, but M. Robert Fawtier is skeptical of just how much credit she deserves for the move (Tucker, Daughters of the Church, 159). She was a mystic and dictated many of her visions. Her other ministry was to the sick and dying in the town of Siena. There is a story of her being repulsed by wiping the pus from sores of a sick patient. Catherine felt convicted about her reaction to the situation and in order to show her repentance for such an attitude, picked up the bowl of pus and drank it (Tucker, Daughters of the Church, 158). Blech. She is credited with healing the sick, even raising the dead, and interceding for prisoners. Catherine was canonized in 1461 and made a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
I want to bring this blog to a close by examining a passage from her Dialogue, her most famous work, in which she has a conversation with God about her own faith, the reform of the Catholic Church, and the world in general. In one section of the Dialogue, God outlines the requirements for the clergy and leaders of the church. “I demand purity and charity of every soul, a charity that loves me and loves others, and helps others in whatever way it can, serving them in prayer and loving them tenderly. But much more do I demand purity in my ministers, and that they love me and their neighbors, administering the body and blood of my only-begotten Son with burning love and hunger for the salvation of souls, for the glory and praise of my name” (Catherine of Siena, Dialogue 113, in Oden, ed. In Her Words, 200). These requirements therefore show the importance of being one of God’s ministers, and God goes on to describe to Catherine the abuses present in the church. She, in turn, later prays for the Church and for God to “be merciful to the world and to the Holy Church. I am asking you to grant what you are making me ask… make your holy Church blossom again with the fragrant flowers of good holy shepherds whose perfume will dispel the stench of the putrid evil flowers” (Catherine, Dialogue, 134). Church reform is therefore a big part of her life’s work.
Catherine of Siena embodies wisdom, intercession, and prayer in addition to her political activism. From an early age, she shunned the typical life of marriage in favor of celibacy, and her ministry impacted many. She had a hand in leading the Pope back to Rome, she worked for the reform of the Church, and she ministered to the sick. While it “took her family some time to come to terms” with her decision to be celibate (Lane, 134), her brief life impacted the world in a great way. I wonder if instead of praying for our children’s future spouses (and their mothers), we should pray for our children to strive to impact the world like Catherine of Siena.
I welcome your comments on this issue. Is it wrong to pray for you children’s future in-laws? How can parents effectively pray for their children’s lives? What are you own prayer practices?