Sunday, December 21, 2014

December 21 - Melania the Younger, Mother, Pilgrim

Melania was a child of wealth to an affluent and influential family in Rome. In fact she was a member of the family Valerii. She was Christian from an early age and was a child of an age after the persecutions that claimed so many Christians. As a follower of Jesus, she felt compelled as a teenager to commit to a life of celibacy and prayer. Yet, her parents were not especially fond of the idea and tried to convince her to marry a patrician of some importance named Pinianus. She insisted that she felt called to celibacy but eventually conceded to her mother and father's wishes and was married at the age of fourteen to another wealthy man who desired children. Up to this point, her story is not all that different from other young women in the late fourth century yet it is at this point that it takes a turn.

In the span of only seven years, Melania and Pinianus had two children. Yet, her first child died at a very young age and Melania was heartbroken. But, the pain of one lost child was compounded when their second child also died young. After seven short years of being a wife and mother, Melania had tasted more than her fair share of matronly tragedy. She begged Pinianus to grant her the right to commit herself to Christian celibacy and charity. Further, she asked him to join her in a life of devotion to Jesus. Perhaps because of her earnestness and zeal, Pinianus was convinced and joined with his wife--who he now called sister--to follow an increasingly narrow road that would lead to being a better and more fit disciple of Jesus.

Melania and Pinianus traveled for many years to various parts of the Roman world including Africa and the Middle East to spread the Christian Gospel and provide hospitality and charity to the needy. While in Africa, she became associated with Augustine and Alypius and had a friendly relationship with the two that was mutually beneficial for the discipleship of all involved. She and Pinianus established nunneries and cloistered environments and took in pilgrims and converts so that they might continue to journey further along the path of devotion to Jesus that they, too, travelled. Eventually, they settled in Palestine and considered their long pilgrimage over. They established a home for pilgrims in Jerusalem that provided for the sick and suffering but also the travelling and the strangers. She also met Jerome while in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, she finally agreed to sell the remainder of her property and when she had received the funds from their sale, she continued her acts of charity and benevolence to the people of Jerusalem in the name of her savior Jesus.Even after her husband's death, Melania continued to build convents and cloistered spaces for those pilgrims who also found themselves along the narrow way that leads to the Kingdom of God. Near the end of her life, she traveled to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas with a friend in a convent and found herself growing suddenly more ill by the moment. After praying with her friends and loved ones, she retired to her bed never to rise again. Her last words--fitting words for a pilgrim like Melania--were: "As the Lord willed, so it is done."

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