Monica v. Joanna the Myrrhbearer

Another day, another matchup. Today it's Monica vs. Joanna the Myrrhbearer. 4th century Christian and the mother of a saint vs. a Biblical disciple of Jesus with a great moniker. Tough call, but one you'll have to make.

In yesterday' saintly action, Richard Hooker took down Scholastica 61% to 39% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen.

And if for some shocking reason, you missed this week's edition of Monday Madness you can watch it here. Tim and Scott take it very personally if you don't have the entire extended family gather around the computer screen to watch. Just so you know.

Time to vote!


Monica is a saint because she’s another saint’s mom. It stands to reason that if being someone’s mom makes you a saint, you were a pretty fantastic mom, and your child was a pretty amazing person.

Monica was born to Berber parents in North Africa in around 331. We don’t know much about her early life except that she was Christian. She was married to Patricius, who did not share her faith. When they had children, he would not allow them to be baptized until they were adults and could choose for themselves. Monica and Patricius both had some habits they strove to overcome. They both attempted to improve themselves throughout their adult lives, and Patricius was baptized just before his death.

One of Monica and Patricius’s three children was Augustine. Yes, THAT Augustine. Monica knew her son was highly gifted and a natural leader, and she encouraged him to marry someone in their social class who could help him launch a political career. Like many moms who try to plan their children’s lives, things did not work as she wanted. Augustine had a girlfriend, and together they had a son. Her political ambition for Augustine morphed into a fervent desire for him to be a Christian. By the time he was ready to marry the person Monica had in mind, he had decided to lead a life of chastity and piety.

Monica was with Augustine when he and his brother, Navigius, were baptized by Bishop Ambrose in Milan in 387. Monica fell ill and realized she would not return home. When Navigius expressed concern about her dying far away from home, she said, “Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world.”

Augustine’s role as a leader in the Christian faith assures his sainthood. So why is Monica also listed among the church’s saints? She had a strong prayer practice that made a difference in her life and those of her family. Monica shows us the depth and breadth of a mother’s love. She shows us what it looks like to believe in someone—and that they will return when they are lost. We honor Monica on behalf of all of us who love our children, pray for them ceaselessly, follow them where they travel, and want them to know God. We celebrate the feast of Saint Monica on May 4.

Collect for Monica
Deepen our devotion, O Lord, and use us in accordance with your will; that inspired by the example of your servant Monica, we may bring others to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Miriam Willard McKenney

Joanna the Myrrhbearer

If, like Kool and the Gang, you’ve searched so far, searched so long to find someone, someone to count on, Joanna is your girl.

After all, Jesus counted on her.

Joanna is mentioned twice in the Gospel of Luke, and some scholars speculate she may have been one of the sources for the book. She appears first among the Twelve and the women traveling with Jesus as he proclaims the good news of the kingdom of God. The women had been “cured of evil spirits and diseases,” Luke tells us, and also, “were helping to support them out of their own means.”

Certainly, Joanna had the means to support Jesus’s ministry. Luke tells us she was the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household. (More on how it went over when Chuza’s boss beheaded Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, if Joanna makes it through to the next round.) Joanna doesn’t stop at giving money to support Jesus’s ministry, though. She follows him out of her privileged, comfortable life and into the margins. Jesus also counts on Joanna to be among the first to share the good news of his resurrection.

When she appears for the second time in Luke’s Gospel, it’s Easter morning, and Joanna is among the women who prepared and brought spices (hence the title of “myrrhbearer”) to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body. Instead of his body, the women find two angels and the stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb where he had been buried.

The angels repeat Jesus’s words: The Son of Man would suffer many things. He would be rejected and killed. And, on the third day, he would be raised to life. “Then they remembered his words,” Luke writes, meaning Joanna and the other women who were with Jesus when he spoke to them the first time. Jesus’s prediction of his death appears earlier in Luke’s Gospel, when he was “praying in private and his disciples were with him.” Joanna is with Jesus when he preaches to large crowds, she is with him when he prays with close friends, and she is with him to the very end.

It’s possible Jesus also counted on Joanna to help lead the early church. One scholar has argued that Joanna is the same person as Junia, who Paul describes as “outstanding among the apostles” in his letter to the Romans.

Joanna is honored as a saint in a number of Christian traditions.

Collect for Joanna the Myrrhbearer
Almighty God, who revealed the resurrection of your Son to Joanna, Mary and Salome as they faithfully came bearing myrrh to his tomb: Grant that we too may perceive the presence of the risen Lord in the midst of pain and fear, and go forth proclaiming his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

— Emily McFarlan Miller


Monica: Benozzo Gozzoli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Joanna the Myrrhbearer: school of tsar’s izographs, c. 1700. Public domain



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120 comments on “Monica v. Joanna the Myrrhbearer”

  1. To the tomb with her sisters she came;
    To anoint Him was their only aim.
    But what they witnessed there
    (Stone rolled back and tomb bare)
    Helps explain why we worship His name.

    1. John Cabot, your limericks are inspired and inspiring. Have you ever thought of putting all your Lent Madness limericks into a book that the rest of us could enjoy year 'round? (Tim, Scott, are you reading this?)

      1. Why those limericks could serve as "Reflections on Lent Madness". Hmmmm, now that is quite an interesting book title. Published by Forward Movement!

  2. I love the glimpses we have of women ministering in the New Testament. My vote today goes to Joanna in thanksgiving for faithful women who are so often overlooked.

      1. Your write-up is outstanding. It’s so delightful to see this “hidden” figure, often overshadowed by Magdalene, shine. She is emblematic if so many women who have been ignored by history! Thank you for bringing her to life!

    1. Yes, perhaps they are overlooked; however, I think they had good self esteem. I tend to think they were humble. They knew what they were doing and just went to it! Humility one of my favorite human traits!

  3. I've never talked about Joanna and her faith in a sermon - 40 years. I hope I get to do so soon. What a woman!

  4. This was a very difficult choice for me. I finally went with Monica because she reminds me of my own mother's belief in her erring children's ability to straighten out their lives and callings. Hard to choose the mother of St. Augustine over a friend of Jesus, but I remembered that Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

  5. Mothers of difficult children always get my support. So, my vote today is for Monica. I'm looking forward to a "Monica vs. Augustine match-up"

  6. Monica today because she was a normal, faithful mom. Too often I think (well, I feel) that the ordinary faithful among us think we need to do something extraordinary for our lives to matter.

    1. I thought that, too, and of the millions of un-canonized moms thru the ages who are definitely saints. (Hopefully we all have at least a few saintly days.) But ultimately I had to go with Joanna for all the reasons others have given so well here. And of course we’ve simply GOT to hear about Joanna’s husband and John the Baptist in a playoff round!

  7. Well, I would have probably voted for Monica, because having Augustine as a son requires the patience of a saint, but I'm going not Jerusalem after Easter so I have a focused interest on closeness to these sacred moments of our Lord this year.

  8. Joanna deserves to move forward as her consistent presence & support of Jesus helps move his ministry forward. Obviously a believer, and strengthened by God to overcome the challenges of following a controversial activist know as Jesus.

    1. Berbers, being northern African do not necessarily have to be Black - The physical characteristics of a Berber that distinguish them from other ethnic groups are their build and skin color. They have slight builds and their skin tone can be anywhere from white to near-white to dark brown. The Berbers have intermingled with many other ethnic groups, most commonly the Arabs. › PILAfrica › webs › ethnic..

    1. I had that issue with voting on my iPad the last couple of years. Often gave up after “tap, tap, tap” did nothing.

      This year, discovered if I changed the “Website Settings” for the Lent Madness site in Safari to mobile, voting worked just fine. Clicked the ‘AA” in the left side of the browser address bar, selected “Website Settings” and turned off “Request Desktop Website”. That changed the browser to present the mobile version of the site. I didn’t notice a difference visually but the voting worked!

      Only had to make the change once. It’s worked ever since.

  9. Oh how I hate it when two great teams in a bracket are in the same conference. Hard to see one eliminated so early. I feel both today have provided strong examples of quiet and enduring devotion. Joanna taking the risk of going to the tomb of a “enemy of the state” pushed me to her direction.

    1. I agree with you. I have had to vote on my iPhone instead of my iPad twice this Lent Madness season! At least I have an alternate way of voting, but it’s maddening!!!

      1. Another idea is to turn your iPad/tablet from landscape to portrait or vice versa. That has worked for me when Tap Tap Tap has failed

  10. Joanna the Apostle, constant companion of Jesus from an early stage of His Galilean ministry. She provided for Him by her own resources, cooked the meals, washed the dishes, mended the clothes. Joanna was sent out by Jesus as an apostle. She was a 'fellow prisoner of Paul', sharing his imprisonment. Her significance to His ministry is unmatched.

  11. Face it folks, Luke is Joanna/Junia. I mean, what guy would say, "she (Mary) treasured all these things in her heart"?

  12. Tough choice today, as I could go for either one. Waiting till later in the day to vote and hoping the path will get clearer for my vote after my second cup of coffee at lunchtime.

  13. Oh gosh, I like Monica very much, but I covet the "last name" Myrrhbearer. If I could be known for something like that, it may be "Coffeebearer" or "Dessertbearer" but hey - good to aspire to being known for your important service.

    1. I love your comment about helicopter moms needing a patron saint. I've grown into a helicopter grandmother who need a role model for letting go to let God.

  14. So I love both of these saints, but St. Monica's feast day is my late mother's birthday, and the Patron saint do a longed for child so I vote for her today.

  15. Ok, am I the only one who's going to mention that this morning's email came with the proper subject line but only talked about (and linked to) Monday Madness? At any rate, it's Joanna for me.

  16. For the renowned SEC: Seems to me that there are a lot of former contenders in this year's bracket. Cleaning out the closet, there?

    1. I think it's interesting seeing a saint get a second chance -- or third -- we've had some in the brackets at least three times in the 14 years of Lent Madness. (14 years! Unbelievable.) And at least one got knocked out in the first round the first try and subsequently made it all the way to the Golden Halo.

    2. I really do think there are more repeats this year. I just looked at the brackets back to 2010, and almost half of the saints this year have been in the Madness before.

  17. If it was today, I bet Joanna and a lot of the women would be called Apostles in their own right. Left out because their culture didn't think they were important. Anyway, anyone who left their life of comfort to follow Jesus has to have been amazingly cool. So, Joanna has my vote.

  18. Although Joanna was a saintly person, I cannot relate to her position in life. However, I can relate to a saintly mother who encouraged her son. That is my life's experience.

  19. Monica is one of my heroes in the faith. She prayed her son from hedonism to sainthood. However I was taken by the active faith of Joanna who followed Jesus even to the grave. While others hid in fear she went forth to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. My vote is for Joanna.

  20. I too got Monday Madness not the matchup! Hard choice, but as a mom who keeps hoping and praying - I chose Monica. And like others mentioned- if born to Berber parents - wouldn’t she have been black? This got my artist’s mind redrawing/ repainting her portrait….

    1. In response to comments on the appearance of Berbers, I had a Berber student from Algeria. She had red hair, freckles, and her features looked North African. The Vikings got around, she said, in discussing her appearance. On another note, Joanna was definitely an apostle, as were all the women supporting Jesus' ministry.

  21. We heard about Monica several years ago on Lent Madness
    I can’t remember how far she got in the Saintly scoredom
    So I didn’t know about Joanna so she got the vote
    Amazing women

  22. I would have liked to vote for both women - Saint Monica was one of the first Saints I learned about when I was little.