54) The Wealth of St. Marcella

     St. Marcella (325-410 A. D.) was born into a wealthy family of considerable influence in ancient Rome.  Then, she married a man of wealth and influence.  Marcella was primed for a life of pleasure, recreation, and relaxation in the very upper levels of Roman society.  Less than a year after she was married, her husband died and she became a widow– but a widow who could live very comfortably thanks to the wealth she had inherited from both her husband and her parents.

     Marcella was born into a Christian home, and after her husband’s early death she became convinced that God was directing her to a life of poverty and service.  She shocked her social circle when she left behind her fashionable dresses for a coarse brown garment, along with abandoning her usual extravagant hair styling and makeup.  Appearing as a low-class woman, she unintentionally started a trend, and soon other young women joined her.  They formed a community known as the brown dress society, spending their time praying, singing, reading the Bible, and serving the needy.  She kept her huge home, but turned it into a refuge for weary pilgrims, for the sick, and for the poor.  Marcella also started a school for women to study scripture and pray.  It was successful and soon she was spiritual mother to many younger women who sought to follow after the same Christ who had so captivated Marcella.

     Marcella lived to see the end of the Roman empire in 410 A. D.   In that year the Goths, led by Alaric, defeated the Roman army, invaded Rome, and plundered the riches of that once great city.  They soon found their way to Marcella’s mansion.  They forced their way into her home, now filled with all sorts of needy people, and demanded all of her money and valuables.  She calmly responded that she had no riches and nothing to offer them, as she had spent her life giving herself and all she had to the those in need.  Her wealth, she declared, was in the stomachs of the poor people in the city, saying she preferred to invest her money there rather than hide it in a purse.

     Though she was an elderly woman, the Goths tortured her to force her to reveal her hidden stores of valuables, but they were not successful.  She truly had nothing but her clothes and a few meager possessions to offer them.  The soldiers seized one of her students named Principia and informed Marcella that they would rape and kill the woman if Marcella did not give them what they wanted. Marcella dropped to her hands and knees and begged for mercy from Alaric, insisting that she had nothing to give and begging them to leave the young woman alone.

     Seeing the once wealthy and powerful old woman on her knees in tears, begging for the welfare of another, her attackers were shamed by such purity of spirit, and she was released.  A short time later, Marcella died from her wounds.



I do not think I exaggerate when I say that some of us put our offering in the plate with a kind of triumphant bounce as much as to say:  “There– now God will feel better!”…  I am obliged to tell you that God does not need anything you have.  He does not need a dime of your money.  It is your own spiritual welfare at stake in such matters as these…  You have a right to keep what you have all to yourself– but it will rust and decay, and ultimately ruin you.  — A. W. Tozer


When we let go of our money we are letting go of part of ourselves and part of our security.  But this is precisely why it is important to do it.  It is one way to obey Jesus’ command to deny ourselves.  — Richard Foster, The Challenge of a Disciplined Life


It’s pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness.  Poverty and wealth have both failed.    –Ken Hubbard


II Corinthians 9:7  —  You should each give what you have decided in your heart to give.  You shouldn’t give if you don’t want to.  You shouldn’t give because you are forced to.  God loves a cheerful giver.

 Acts 20:35  —  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said:  ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

I Timothy 6:17-19  —  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.


     Dearest God, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and to not count the cost.  Amen.   –Ignatius of Loyola