January 26: St. Paula, The Vegan Widow and Guilt-Ridden Mourner

Paula lived in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, and enjoyed the good life, as a Christian, with her husband and children a little too much, and this slightly impeded her full dedication to Christian principles in all things. And so, Butler writes, “God, compassionating her weakness [of being a tad worldly], was pleased in his mercy to open her eyes by violence”–by killing her husband and leaving her a widow at the age of 32.

In the midst of her torrential grief, Paula was counseled by another widow to set aside her mourning and instead to dedicate herself to the service of Christ. Paula, doing so, decided never again to sit at table with any male and to confine herself to a tee-totaling, vegan diet (“She abstained from all flesh-meat, fish, eggs, honey, and wine . . . .”). Paula also took to sleeping on cold stone covered with sackcloth and dedicated herself to serving the needs of others.

But that wasn’t enough to purify this saint! God saw fit to compass the death of Paula’s eldest daughter, Blesilla. Upon hearing of Paula’s grieving the loss of her daughter, St. Jerom saw fit to write Paula and tell her how Jesus regards her daughter’s death. Jerom wrote Paula that, were Jesus there, he would say to her “Art thou angry, O Paula! that thy daughter is made mine? Thou art offended at my providence, and by thy rebellious tears, thou dost offer an injury to me who possess her.”

What a wretched God-head Paula was talked into serving, indeed! First, the Father teaches her a lesson about having too good a time in life by making her a widow (what lesson God was teaching the husband or the children is unclear, of why it was not God’s choice to teach another way). Then, when her daughter dies, Paula is told that she is offending Christ by her mourning. It is not enough that Paula had already dedicated her entire body, riches, life, and service to this God–now she was expected to repent of her maternal grief.

Along with an American folk hymn, one may well ask:

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!”–only I’d make it a question rather than an exclamation.

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