Midweek Medieval Blog: Praying for Our Kids to Turn out like Catherine of Siena

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?

Women in Church History, Part 2: Saint Monica, the Prayer Warrior

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In my last post, https://dansalyers.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/women-teachers-in-church-history-part-1-perpetua-and-felicity/, I looked at an account of two powerfully faithful women from North Africa. This post examines another such woman: Saint Monica. One of the most striking accounts of her faith is presented to us in Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Throughout the work, Augustine recounts how Monica, his mother, continuously prayed for him to be delivered from falsehood to the truth of Christianity (Confessions, 6.1). Augustine portrays her as a true prayer warrior: “She poured out her tears and her prayers all the more fervently, begging you to speed your help and give me light in my darkness. She hurried all the more eagerly to church, where she listened with rapt attention” (6.1).

Monica’s prayer for Augustine continued to not be answered as he simply moved away from Manichaeism, not all the way toward Christianity. One thing that jumps out to me is that although Augustine had left the Manichees and was attending Ambrose’s church in Milan, Monica did not yet consider her prayer answered. We see quite the opposite in fact, in the quote above that she prayed “all the more fervently.” It’s clear that Monica sees God moving in her son’s life and finds hope and renewed dedication to her prayer life.

Now, if you haven’t read Confesssions, Monica is a major figure in Augustine’s faith. He remembers her prayer life throughout his own journey to faith, even though it took several years for him to eventually become a Christian. Augustine recounts how Monica reacted to news of his conversion. “For she saw how you had granted her far more than she used to ask in her tearful prayers… you turned her sadness into rejoicing, into joy far fuller than her dearest wish.” (8.12).

Monica’s repeated prayers for Augustine are rewarded after years and years of his defiance and forays into a life of sin. She models for Christians today how to be faithful in prayer, trust God for full and good rewards, and how to be persistent in the life of the person for whom she prays. She follows Augustine to Milan, after all. In praying for someone, it’s easy to simply jot down that prayer request from them and pray it each day so that it becomes routinized, without following up with the person and his or her needs. I think Monica models how to be involved in the life of the person/ persons for whom you are praying.

While I think Monica’s example is important for Christians today, I have also heard her example used in a negative way. I have unfortunately been in churches that greatly restrict women’s roles in the community and essentially give them the example of Monica as a consolation prize. The dialogue goes something like, “You can’t have an active leadership role in our church, but you should remember how Monica was content to pray for her son, and look how he turned out! You have a great responsibility to pray for your kids!” Although I agree that both a FATHER and a mother should pray for their children daily, I think often women are seen as the only ones who are responsible for praying for their children. I do have to say, however, that I have directly benefited from the prayers of some very faithful women in my life: my mother and my grandmothers.

I think Monica’s example of a prayer warrior can speak to both men and women today. Be diligent and faithful in your prayer life. Pray regularly, passionately, and with hope. Suffer in your prayers as she did. Be a part of the lives of those you pray for as much as possible. Above all, trust in God -especially when you don’t see your prayers answered. After all, Monica didn’t see an answer to her prayer for over ten years.