Today the church remembers a saint who, though she could have easily lived in luxury, chose a different way: Marcella of Rome, Widow and Model of Generosity.
St. Marcella grew up with everything someone in the 5th Century might want. Her family was powerful and prominent. She married young, and married wealthy. She lacked nothing.
But shortly after her marriage her husband unexpectedly died. Quickly on the heels of his death, another suitor, Cerealis, cousin of Caesar himself, proposed to her.
She said, “Bye, boy,” and rebuffed his advances.
Seeing this as an opportunity for a different kind of life, she converted her mansion into a communal house for other women interested in living a charitable life. In this converted home/convent, she and other noblewomen used their wealth to help the poor and destitute. It was from this home, too, that she taught other young women in the ways of intentional poverty (chosen, not forced), most notably her favorite pupil Principia.
St. Marcella was known to have said, “I prefer to store my money in the stomachs of the needy than hide it in a purse.”
We know about her and her life through the letters of the prolific St. Jerome, who wrote to Principia. St. Jerome even notes that he learned much about God and the scriptures directly from St. Marcella, making her an early (though under-the-radar) teacher of the church.
In 410 Rome was invaded by the Goths. They stormed St. Marcella’s mansion and, when they had ransacked the place and found she had (as she had told them) given all her wealth away, they tortured and beat her.
Not long after this abuse, St. Marcella died, purportedly in the arms of her dear Principia.
St. Marcella is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that there is, indeed, a choice to make when it comes to how we live in this world.
-historical bits from Clairborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
-icon hangs at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA.