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. There is much still to be honored and discovered about Joanna -- she's a quiet and strong figure, always there for Jesus, even in the hardest of times. Her voice has been too silent throughout the years. Monica raised a good son, although methinks she interfered a bit too much. But Joanna stood on her own, and deserves recognition.

  2. As a mom, Monica's story resonated with me. I can't describe it better than our blogger today:
    "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."

  3. I'm glad that Joanna is doing so well. The time when Augustine sailed across the Mediterranean to escape his mother's nagging, and Monica hopped the next ship to pursue him, I decided she was the mother no one should be hampered with. I have disliked her ever since.

  4. Joanna appears in Season 3, Episode 1 of The Chosen (available for free on byutv). She appears just after the Sermon on the Mount (John the Baptist told her to go listen to Jesus) and then takes Andrew to see John in prison.

  5. For most of us, there will never be a love like the one our mother has for us. Still, everyone needs a friend they can really count on! Joanna is my choice today.

  6. We all know you included that teaser about Joanna the Myrrh bearer and John the Baptist just so we would vote for her....and we did!
    Nice going Lent Madness!

  7. Had to vote for Joanna. Can't wait to find out what happened when John was beheaded. LOL - Almost feels like a bribe to get the vote!

  8. This was the most difficult choice so far. On the one hand there is Monica, mother of Augustine who sometimes didn't have an easy time raising a rather pious child. I remember one story about her being chastised by him for picnicking in the cemetery, a usual practice of the time. I also think of her as a patron since I was ordained a priest on the Feast of St. Monica. On the other hand there is one of the faithful women who journey with Jesus and who anointed him at his death. But in the end, knowing full well that she is the underdog, I voted for my patron saint, Monica.

  9. I cast my vote for Joanna. The New Testament is full of women who walked with Jesus and talked with Jesus and supported Jesus, yet somehow I didn't get that impression growing up. Jesus and the apostles, those twelve goofy guys who couldn't quite figure out what Jesus was really up to and sometimes just got in the way when Jesus was doing his ministry.
    Yet bit by bit I have come to realize it's more than Jesus, his band of guys, and his mom. There's a lot of women who played a larger role than I thought, and I am happy to honor them with a vote for Joanna today.

    1. Just how I see the disciples: twelve goofy guys trying to figure it out. Arguing about who is the greatest instead of paying attention. The women not so much silent as unrecorded.

  10. I voted for Joanna the Myrrhbearer, because I helped (in the tiniest possible way) write an icon of myrrhbearing women. I can remember very distinctly painting vermilion onto the skirt of the woman standing at the foot of the coffin. Was that Joanna? I don't know. But three women bringing myrrh to the tomb reminds me of three magi bringing gifts to the manger. The circular, mythical nature of the scene seems elemental. I cannot reconcile myself to Monica, who cannot be accused of "treachery," exactly, since she worked so openly to undermine her son's marriage, but there seems something "disloyal" (to modern sensibilities) about a mother who makes it completely clear to her child that he cannot please her unless he makes an advantageous marriage that will profit the family. The daughter-in-law is collateral damage. For all that she's this zealous "Christian" who helps get the Christian Juggernaut rolling into history, her behavior seems . . . "unChristian." There is little of charity in Monica, whereas the nearly anonymous myrrhbearing women are performing the final act of charity, and remind us that small acts of kindness count greatly.

    1. That exact icon helped tip my vote to Joanna. That and wanting to hear the rest of the story.

  11. I dunno. Monica made Augustine break off his relationship with the mother of his child in order to betroth him to an 11 year old heiress he couldn't yet marry because of her age. In the meantime, he pined for his ex and then became celibate. Voting for Joanna was easy.

  12. Finally got it to vote! Monday Madness messed me up, I figured out that I had to go to the browser today to read bios & vote.
    I’m sure Monica had her hands full raising Augustine & brothers & converting husband as well, but Joanna (as my extra godson calls me) gets my vote today! Following Jesus when it was not easy to do so & supporting him of her own means is inspiring! You Go, Jo!

  13. “Overlooked women” often have to helicopter their children or lean in at work to play a meaningful part in this world. Both of these two were blessed, with God’s help, to make a difference.

  14. This was a tough one. I voted for St. Monica because my first involvement at Transfiguration was with St. Monica's Guild, a group of women with young children. We taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School together, and VBS week was always one of the happiest weeks of the year for me. Also, I'm sure that her son, the not-yet-a-saint Augustine, must have been a handful, but she was up to the challenge.

  15. I was born on the Feast of St. Monica so I thought I was going to vote for her, but when I read that Joanna gave up her life of privilege to follow Jesus, I had a change of heart. (Besides, I had forgotten that Monica was the prototype of the pushy mother who tries to control her child's life!)

  16. Being a mother of an important Saint is important but I believe that being at the tomb is more important so Joanna gets my vote and because a wonderful friend is named for Joanna.

  17. I'm going with Joanna the Myrrhbearer. I'm happy there is a churchwoman in the running this year considering how much work women perform in the church to spread the Gospel and bring people to the Lord. Yay!

  18. Joanna, the most relatable person in that original gospel band. Reading about her in this day's gorgeous write-up puts me right in her shoes. Joanna and Chuza, the most interesting pair of the Followers, but oddly, so little is written about.
    The couple made an appearance Roma Downey and Mark Burnett's series about Jesus and, honestly, that was the first time I noticed them. I'm glad I get to root for Joanna and will definitely look forward to learning more about her.

  19. I've read Joanna's name in the Holy Bible, but didn't know much about her. Thank you for this information.

  20. is there a reason that such old saints are chosen instead of ones that at least lived in this century who more is known about? Stephanie Lee Harris Chaplain

    1. There has always been a mix of saints old and new. Indeed, it is a great way to learn about and to celebrate the saints who went before those today. Lent Madness is like a tapestry of vignettes of lives of these witnesses. Sometimes the matchups are between the older saints and then they meet up with more recent saints. It is called Lent Madness for a reason.

    2. The lower right quadrant, Modern Mayhem, has more recent saints, although saints are everywhere in time and place.

    1. Yes, that’s who I immediately thought of - Sister Mary Monica ❤️ (I was a postulant at CHS many years ago)

  21. I appreciate the comments and discussion almost more than the vote! This is what makes Lent Madness for me; sharing viewpoints in a non-confrontational way, openly, humorously, poetically, and without fear of reprisal.

    Today I read about a meddling mother who interfered. Too many (adult) children lose out on potential life experiences because they listen to their controlling parents. That’s how regrets start, and are carried throughout life.

    On the other hand, Joanna was a woman with purpose, who knew her mind and was able to make her own decisions. She was counter-cultural, hanging out with Jesus and his “gang”, supporting such a controversial threat to the establishment. This was dangerous, especially in light of who she was married to, and their political connections. Carrying the myrrh used in the death rites would have been a sacred honour; being chosen for this duty implies close friendship and deep respect. Joanna remained steadfast by Jesus throughout his ministry, during his darkest time, and after his death. She is worthy of my vote today.

  22. Stop the presses!! Just like "America's Got Talent" has the golden button that advances the contestant to the final round, we need a "golden halo" button to advance Joanna to the winner's circle. Both of today's saints are worthy and beyond mere mortal praises, but there's no question..."She follows him (Jesus) out of her privileged, comfortable life and into the margins." Isn't that the same call that Jesus offers each and every one of us?

  23. As so many have said, a really tough choice. As the mother of two sons, though neither of them fathered a child out of wedlock, I went with Monica. But if Joanna, who is currently WAY ahead, gets the vote, I won't grumble and I somehow think Monica wouldn't, either.

  24. The courage it took to follow Jesus in those early days, given her privileged life is remarkable. She was with Jesus early in his ministry and was there at the end. Her commitment to Jesus is no less remarkable than the disciples answer to his call.

  25. For me, it is a shout-out for people who remain in the background ( instead of making important speeches or trying to be in the forefront, or dictating who her son should marry. Joanna is the one!

  26. The courage it took, Joanna to follow Jesus in those early days, given her privileged life is remarkable. She was with Jesus early in his ministry and was there at the end. Her commitment to Jesus is no less remarkable than the disciples answer to his call.

  27. I voted for Joanna simply because I want to hear about how the beheading of John The Baptist by Chuza's boss went over.