Women in the Pentecost Gospels

A Maronite lesson in the Church we are called to be

Pentecost marks the birth of the Church and throughout the season we hear Gospels and Epistles with messages to the Church. As Pentecost comes to an end, we hear a series of Gospel’s whose central characters are women. While the Gospel’s can speak to each of us individually about the kind of person we should be, these Gospel’s are chosen to speak to us collectively about the Church we are called to be, a Church that is called to decrease in order to increase.

In the Syriac Rabbula Gospel icon for Pentecost, we see the inclusion of Mary in a prominent position.  Mary is not specifically mentioned in the scene in Acts 2, however she is mentioned as being with the Apostles earlier in Acts 1:14. In Syriac thought, Mary herself is a type of  Church. As the Pentecost Gospel’s unfold, we see other women in the Gospels are also types of Church.

On the twelfth Sunday of Pentecost we are introduced to the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). The Gospel begins with Jesus leaving “that place” and going to the region of Tyre and Sidon. The place he was leaving was where he had been challenged by the Pharisees and teachers of the law about the breaking of the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:1). The leaders and experts of the Church are burdened and preoccupied with the laws and  it is against this exchange, that we are introduced to the Canaanite woman, a foreigner. The Canaanite woman’s call to Jesus demonstrates immediately that she knew who he was. She recognised he is Lord, the Son of David and that he is the one that can heal her demon possessed daughter who is suffering terribly. The disciples tell Jesus to send the woman away and Jesus, in what can only be regarded a humiliating rebuke, tells the woman that he was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel.

When our faith is challenged and we are

humiliated our instinct is to react and demand justice for ourselves. Instead, even when the Canaanite women was compared to a dog and humiliated and marginalised, her concern remained for her daughter’s healing. She knew that Christ was the path to that healing and she continued to beg him for it.

In the season of Pentecost,  the Canaanite woman becomes an example to us all about the Church we are called to be. The Canaanite woman is not preoccupied with the law, rather she understands the law and with that understanding approaches Christ in love, faith and humility.

With so much happening in our world today, it is easy for us to consider ourselves persecuted and react with anger and demand justice for ourselves, forgetting those who are suffering terribly. It is easier to speak of the “rules” like the Pharisees and teachers of the law and demand that they not be broken. The Canaanite woman does not react this way, instead she unravels her beauty in humility and meekness and becomes an example of faith. She kneels before Christ and begs him, not for herself, but for her daughter who needs healing. To be the Canaanite woman is counter intuitive to how we think the Church should conduct herself in society. Why shouldn’t the Church stand up and defend itself? Against our intuition, we as a Church do not need to demand justice for ourselves, rather we need to have faith that our love and humility can lead others to be healed by Christ.

On the thirteenth Sunday of Pentecost, in the Gospel of Luke 8:1-15 we hear about the women who were accompanying Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Susanna ‘and many others who provided for them out of their resources.’

These were women who were healed by Christ are now devoting their resources to accompany Christ, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

The mission of the Church is a central theme in Pentecost. The Church is called to devote its resources to preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The women in this Gospel are testimony to the fact that Christ came for all of our healing and salvation. This is the very mission of the Church, to proclaim that good news.  In the season of Pentecost, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has been sent to give us the wisdom to take the message of redemption to the world. As a Church, the message is simple, Christ came for our healing and our salvation and like the women who were healed, we as a Church also stand witness to that and are called to proclaim that. These women have left everything to be with Christ and join him on his mission.

Similarly, on the fourteenth Sunday of Pentecost we hear the story of Mary and Martha. Mary leaves everything to be with Christ. Like the other Gospels, Luke 10:38-42 opens with Christ, accompanied by others, continuing a journey.

Martha like the Pharisees in Matthew’s Gospel is burdened, “anxious and worried about many things” even though Christ came to lift that burden and fulfil the law.

The message to us as a Church, is we need to avoid getting caught up in anxiety for the future, of losing our rights and way of life. Christians trust God to provide for them. The Church is more than an ideology. When as a Church, we become disciples of the ideology and are consumed by anxiety, we forget the very essence of who we are. Christ is at our centre and as a Church, like Mary, all we need is to be with him.

This year, the liturgical cycle did not proceed to the fifteenth week of Pentecost, yet in that week we would hear the Gospel of the sinful woman who found repentance through Christ. (Luke 7:36-50)

The Maronite  Pentecost lectionary gives as a typology of women to inspire us to the Church we are called to be, a Church of faith, love and humility. A Church on a missionary journey who is accompanied and healed by Christ himself.

In the words of the Liturgy at Pentecost let us remember:

Jesus is the faithful Groom
and we are the Church, his Bride.
He loves us and keeps us in the palm of his hand.
Our betrothal prophets blessed,
and our vows apostles wrote,
and when martyrs shed their blood
the promise was sealed.

Amen

Saint Charbel – An Inspiration to Holiness

If the world was to ask us what St Charbel famous for what would we answer? He did not come from a noble family and was not a renowned theologian or philosopher. No dignitaries were present at his funeral.

What is it that makes St Charbel so special? Holiness! Plain and simple holiness. This holy man who is the very blood of our blood and bones of our bones, achieved sainthood by living the simplest life in prayer, humility and work. His eyes were always gazing at the floor but his heart, mind and soul were always lifted to the Lord. He did not concern himself with what the world would think of him, rather he concerned himself only with the Lord.

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St Charbel Statue in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

St Charbel’s life may seem to the world unremarkable. He was born on 8 May 1828 in the village of Bekaafra, high in the mountains of Lebanon.  His Maronite parents Antoun Makhlouf and Brigitta Chidiac named him Youssef Antoun Makhlouf. His father died when he was 3 years old, leaving Brigitta a widow with five children. She later remarried a man who joined the priesthood and became the parish priest of the village.

In 1851 at age of 23, Youssef left his family and entered the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq. It is at that monastery that the famous Maronite icon of  Our Lady of Elige is located. One could imagine Youssef spending many nights praying before an icon, seeking the intercession of Our Lady.  Later, Youssef transferred to the Monastery of St Maroun in Annaya, where he took the name Charbel, after the Christian martyr, Saint Charbel of Edessa.

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St Charbel church in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite.

Charbel then began studies at the Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina in Kiffan. One of his professors at the seminary was Father Nehmtallah Kassab, who later became the Maronite saint, Nehmtallah Hardinie.

Charbel was ordained a priest in 1859 at 31 years of age. He was sent back to the Saint Maroun Monastery, where he lived a life of asceticism. In 1875, Charbel was given permission to live as a hermit at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. He lived for the next 23 years as a solitary hermit.

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St Charbel’s Room in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

On Christmas eve, 1898, while serving the liturgy, Charbel collapsed at the altar and died from a stroke at the age of 70. His death was a quiet affair and his funeral was attended by only four monks. It was only long after his death, when many miracles were attributed to him, that St Charbel became known. He was canonized as the first Maronite Saint on 9 October 1977, by Pope Paul VI.

For those not familiar with the area, Baakafra, where St Charbel grew up, is located above the Qadisha valley in North Lebanon.  Nearby, in Becharre, are located the Cedars of God. Over time, this entire secluded area has become a refuge and sanctuary for many Maronites and the perfect place to search for God. It is no surprise that St Charbel, who was born high in Baakafra, developed a love of silence. St Charbel did not rely on words to attain sainthood. He would have come to know silence well in his 23 years in solitude at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. It is that great simple, contemplative silence which has marked Maronite asceticism for generations and it is that silence which the world needs now more than ever.

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Ba’kafra, Lebanon where St Charbel grew up. Copyrighted to Living Maronite.

The desire to want nothing (not even words), but to be with our Lord, has been the way of the Syriac monastics from the beginning. No doubt, if St Charbel was here with us now, he would inspire us to turn off social media and phones and all the many distractions of our time and grasp just a moment to build up our souls in contemplation of God.

Contemplation is not only for monks, like St Charbel we can look to detach from the things in this world, the things keeping us away from God. We can all regularly abstain and fast and moderate the things of the flesh. We can be inspired by St Charbel to have a preparedness to pilgrim to a place of holiness deep within ourselves where in solitude we can just be with God and be ‘wakeful and pray’. (Matt. 26:41). We all need to carve out our own space and our own time and find silence in the noise of each day.

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St Charbel’s robe. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

St Charbel died while serving the liturgy and there can be no doubt that the liturgy would have been the centre of St Charbel’s life.  God uses the physical to make known the intelligible. God the Son clothed himself in humanity so we may come to know him. In the same way, the liturgy raises our mind to the spiritual realities. Like the incarnation in which the invisible Word of God became visible, our liturgy inspires us to deepen the spiritual dimensions of our lives. Be inspired by St Charbel to visit the liturgy regularly. The liturgy is our ladder to salvation and at its summit is the life-giving Eucharist.

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Burial place of St Charbel, Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

So as the Maronite Church celebrates this great feast and the bells in the mountains of Baakafra ring out in joy to the rest of the world, we look to St Charbel to inspire the world by his example of simplicity and humility to strive for holiness.

Amen


Christina Maksisi and Theresa Simon

The Earth, our Mother and our Child

“Lord, you have made so many things!
How wisely you made them all!
The earth is filled with your creatures.
There is the ocean, large and wide,
Where countless creatures live.”
Psalms 104: 24-25

When God made the humble butterfly, I wonder whether it was while painting its wings in bursting watercolours, or if it was while teaching it to fly, that God decided to give butterflies the ability to stop time itself. I wonder if butterflies know their power. Such a small creature can transform a mind filled with a chaotic storm of thoughts and emotions to a calm river. Never has there ever been a person that has not caught themself stopping whatever task it was that was occupying them only to watch this graceful insect dance in the air before them.

And I wonder if it was while God was planting the Lebanese cedars that God decided to loan it wisdom. Or was it while shaking the snow off its branches that God decided to give it age and grace beyond human capacities. I often ponder what the cedars would show us if they could. I wonder if they remember all the wars, the invasions and independances. Did God give us the cedars as a sign of solidarity? That no matter snow or shine, regardless of if there is war or peace, like the cedars, God would remain?

And the soil beneath our feet; why did God decide it necessary to give the earth a foundation to grow on? Why must we bury seeds in the dirt to grow a rose? Why can we not grow a garden on a rock or in a pond? I wonder if God was trying to tell us that things can only grow from a place that has been nourished with the right things. I wonder if that is a metaphor for our very souls; that we as people can only grow if we prepare ourselves for growth – if we place ourselves in an environment that will allow us to grow.

Finally, do you not think it funny that God, a fountain of boundless knowledge – who knew we would destroy such a perfectly crafted world – would still decide to place it in our hands? It is like spending hours burning and moulding sand into a crystal glass, and then placing it in the hands of a toddler and expecting it not to break. But God trusted us. Even though God knew the world could very well break within our hands, God also knew the world could be made to grow in those same hands. We are a people of growing knowledge; and we have been gifted with the ability to learn and create.

So may someone tell me why in the process of leading the human race to the future, we have left the earth that we call home, behind? The earth loved us before we were civilised, so why have we disrespected it in return? If not for ourselves and for the future generations, we should at least respect our God enough to look after the world that God loved into existence.

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
(Genesis 1:31)

Jennifer Khoury

Freedom of Speech

In this season of Pentecost, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has been sent to give us the wisdom to take the message of Christ to the world. As Christians, the right to practice our faith is important, however with that right comes a responsibility. Even if the world allows us to say whatever we want, as Christians, we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit and discern how we say things and when we choose to say them. In this season of Pentecost we can reflect on the fruits of the Holy Spirit and use them to guide our speech.

Love

St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we can do many things, but if they are done without love, they are pointless.

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Christian preaching is worthless without love. It is our love which will inspire others to Christ, not our judgement. Condemnation of people is not going to bring people to Christ. God transforms in love, not in fear.

Joy

Christianity is not going to be attractive if the people in it are morally outraged, full of self-righteousness, judgmental, fearful and closed up on themselves. We must resist anger and the language of moral decline. The joy of the Gospel is for everyone and no one is excluded.

Peace

Peace comes from relying on God. We need to avoid getting caught up in anxiety for the future, of losing our rights and way of life. Christians trust God to provide for them. From the beginning the central message to Adam and Eve was that God in his divine glory had given them choice. He gives us the choice to choose Him. Many did not believe Jesus was the Messiah because they expected someone who would come and overthrow the present kingdom, the government of the time. Jesus consistently taught that his Kingdom was not the kingdom of this world.  He resisted temptation in the wilderness when Satan showed him all the kingdoms of earth and offered them to him to rule.  Jesus did not come with armies or rule by forcing his views, morals and doctrines on anyone. He came in peace.

Patience

What is the point of saying to someone who does not share your Christian views – Doesn’t anyone believe in marriage anymore? The truth is many people don’t believe in Christian marriage and they have not done so in a long time. What is the point of telling people they are going to hell when they don’t even believe in hell? God has allowed us all the freedom to choose. Patience requires us to have a knowledge of our own imperfections and our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness and to accept that others have a right to examine their own imperfections and make their own choices.

Kindness

Our actions are in the spotlight right now, including how we speak and how we treat people. Kindness is the willingness to give to others beyond what we owe them, even if we don’t agree with them.

Goodness

Avoid evil yourself and embrace what is right. People are only going to be attracted to something that they see is working. They need to be inspired by the way you live your life in Christ. If you are living your own life as a true Christian and you are loving both your neighbour and strangers, people are going to be attracted to that.

Perseverance

Do not be easily provoked. We are witnessing amongst a section of our Christian community a growing fear about the world. We are witnessing knee jerk reactions. Don’t fear the secular world and the things happening in it, rather remember that everything is an opportunity to bring Christ into the midst.

Mildness

Christ Himself, said “I am gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). Don’t let anger and rashness cause you to say things you will regret. Take your time, be gentle and forgiving rather than angry. Be gracious rather than vengeful. Do not insist on always having your own way and choose your moments carefully. The need to win the argument in the short-term can lead to us actually losing it in the long run. A discussion that descends into argument, debate and personal attacks will not bring anyone to Christ. Listening to and understanding the other person’s view, even if you don’t agree with it, is the key to unlocking what it is you need to say to that person in that moment. There are times when it is actually prudent to say nothing. The need to have the last word in this moment may cause hurt and drive people away forever. Think beyond the need to win and be patient.

Faith

Faith requires us to live our lives in accordance with God’s will at all times. As Pope Francis has warned, be careful of turning the faith into an ideology because when we do:

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

Modesty

Being modest means humbling yourself and being just as powerless as God. Modesty requires us to resist the temptation to coerce, rather it allows us to slowly unveil the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them.

Self-Control

We need to exercise moderation in all things. We must be prudent about when and how we speak and not provoke others to anger. Self-control sometimes requires us not to speak at all, but rather listen. Listening will often lead us to improving ourselves.

Chastity

We are not called to simply indulge in our physical desires and succumb to what we need to say in that moment. If you are speaking about Christ, start by speaking about who Christ is and that he came for all of our salvation. He came to heal, forgive and free us. Don’t start by telling people Christ came to condemn them. Don’t indulge in your own self-righteousness, be prepared to listen and allow the Spirit to work through you to properly discern the right time to speak and the right words to say.

St Antonia and St Alexander – 9 June

Saint Antonia and Alexander were Christian martyrs in 313 from the town of Cardamon, with a similar story to Saints Theodora and Didymus.

The Roman emperor at the time was Diocletian, wanted to increase the number of native born Roman citizens, by criminalising intentional celibacy among women. All Roman women of suitable age were ordered to marry and produce children. At the same time Emperor Diocletian persecuted Christians. 

alexanderantoniaWomen who refused to be married were forced to work at a brothel. Antonia was sent to a brothel upon refusing to marry. Alexander was a Christian soldier who disguised himself at the brothel and asked for Antonia. He did not wish to rob her of her virginity but rather save her. He traded clothes with her in order for her to escape. Soon after, Alexander was captured and both Antonia and Alexander were burnt alive. 

Their feast is celebrated in the Maronite church on June 9. It may be possible that they were given these names to tell their story, or that the story might be of Saints Theodora and Didymus, although this is not certain. Regardless, this is a story of great faith and martyrdom. 

Lord, we pray that we have the strength to do what is right, to keep our faith in you always. Let us not be discouraged by others, and remain strong in our faith. 

Christina Maksisi

Saint Simeon the Younger

A Stylite is a Christian ascetic who lives on top of a pillar or column, they spent their time standing, exposed to rain, wind and any other natural weather. They stood preaching to those who come to seek their wisdom. The first Stylite to climb a pillar to remain in seclusion from the rest of the world was Saint Simeon, the elder whose feast is September 1. Saint Simeon the elder should not be confused with Saint Simeon, the younger, whose feast is celebrated on May 24.

Saint Simeon the Younger was attracted to the community of ascetics and sought spiritual direction from a pillar hermit named John. From a young age, Simeon had a pillar built where he would stand to pray and fast, he remained there for more than 68 years. Simeon was ordained a priest and would conduct mass from the pillar and his disciples would climb up a ladder to receive communion. There were a large number of miracles attributed to Saint Simeon, the younger. During the last years of his life he spent his time on a column near Antioch on a mountain named “Hill of Wonders” because of his miracles, and this is where he died.

We learn from the Stylite’s that prayer and fasting is crucial for us to grow spiritually in our faith. We pray that we learn from the Ascetic’s and integrate prayer and fasting into our lives more often.

Christina Maksisi

Read about what a Stylite is here.

https://livingmaronite.com/resources/what-is-a-stylite/

 

 

 

Why Trust Jesus? The testimony of a victim of Domestic Violence

WARNING: This article deals with difficult issues concerning domestic violence.  Some readers may have experienced or witnessed domestic violence and reading this may vividly bring back buried memories.  If this applies to you, please consider your own wellbeing and whether you should continue reading.  If you are in an abusive situation or know someone who is, (Australia) call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Domestic Violence Help Line (1800 656 463). (USA) – 1−800−799−7233. (Canada) http://endingviolencecanada.org/getting-help/

I interviewed a victim of Domestic Violence and how she still trusts Jesus, despite the evil she has been through. Without further ado, here is her testimony. Her identity will remain anonymous.

Mum and dad were always fighting. He would hit her. I got caught in the crossfire. I would become bruised and I covered it with makeup.

I started to cut myself. I became depressed. My family stopped talking to each other. I felt like I needed punishment for making my family fight. But the cutting didn’t last long. I realised it was wrong.

When I tried to get advice from other people, they would say ‘that’s your parents business, don’t get involved, this is very common, everyone does this’. I was repeatedly told to pray on it. I did.

I felt that it did not help, I found that people didn’t like to talk about it, it was taboo. I needed to let it out, I needed someone to talk to. Everyone kept silencing me. I felt like no one could ever understand what I was going through.

We went to Lebanon. There was 1 priest who kept watching me. He called me over. I said cheerfully ‘Hi Abouna (Father)’. He looked at me and asked why he can feel waves of anger coming out like heat from me. I burst into tears. He told me I needed to forgive. I needed to be like Christ and forgive. The priest said I should never force someone to love me. Jesus never forced anyone. He only gave the opportunity for people to love him. This day I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders.

I went to Adoration back home. I felt calm, safe. Adoration built my trust in Christ and his will. I was in the dark all those years.

Dad recently flipped it over virtually nothing. He held my mum to the wall. He raised his hand to hit her. I got in between them. He started to choke me. He dragged me to the balcony and nearly threw me over. I screamed, and my sibling pushed him off me. My life and my mum’s life were in danger. This is when we took action. We became fed up with the abuse. He is gone now.

My family started talking to each other about our experiences. We started to open up about our wounds. My mum said she wished she did this sooner. I wished we never put up with the abuse.

It helped us heal and grow together. We are closer than ever.

I realised that talking about it with people who had gone through the same thing helped me a lot.

I trust Christ to lead us out of this. I tried my way (give him space and let him come back to us), the hard way (forcing him to be good), but the only way that worked was God’s way, leaving it in God’s hands. We have moved on from him. My way and the hard way did not work. Christ is the only hope I have.

I was asked how can I still trust Jesus after all of this? I thought of when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wanted his Father to take the cup of suffering from him. Then he trusted God in his will and accepted the cup. If Christ can trust God in his grand plan, then I can trust God in his plan for me. I accept the cup offered to me.

– Emily Dib

I will be your voice

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Copyright Shaun Yeo

I am presently blissfully on spiritual retreat and on a social media ban for Lent. As the horror in New Zealand was unfolding, I was very grateful that I was not on social media. It was going to be easy to ignore it and the vitriol that came with it. Then, after midnight, I received an open letter from a Muslim friend.

She asked me to keep her identity anonymous and I will respect that because I know what she has been through. We met while we were studying. I am a Christian and she is a Muslim and we immediately connected. It was like we had lived the same life. We were wives and mothers. We had pursued education and we had achieved in our careers. We were both women of faith who worked within our own communities. We immediately understood each other’s experiences without the need for any explanation. We knew what it was like to be marginalised by society based on our ethnicity and what it was like to be marginalised by some from within our own community because we were women who had an opinion.  We both knew what it was like to be ridiculed by some in secular society for being women of faith.

Then one morning it became clear that her burden, as a Muslim woman in Australia, was much heavier than mine could ever be. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and her face popped up. It was odd, why was her face on my feed? I clicked on the post and my gentle, kind, intelligent and caring friend was being vilified as a Muslim extremist who was allegedly inciting all sorts of ridiculous things.  What was worse was that it was coming from someone within my own community. I was mortified. I had read her work, the work they were speaking of. She was no terrorist, in fact her work was considered, loving and important. I wrote to the author of the post and told him she was my friend and this was not true and asked him to take the post down. He was surprised she was my friend and said he himself did not know her and had not read her book, but that was what he had ‘heard’. I wrote to her to check she was ok. In the following months it became clearer to me she was not ok. Previously she would write and speak openly in the Australian media and she was now silenced in fear. She could no longer take the violence and hate that would be aimed at her young family and at her whenever she wrote something. It was not going to matter what she wrote, she had been targeted. You cannot dialogue with hate and you cannot dialogue with trolls.

Even as I am writing this, I know the vitriol that will follow. What about Christian lives? Don’t they matter? What about all the times they have hurt “us”. Labels will be thrown at me with an expectation that I defend myself publicly and deny them – you are a leftist, feminist, heretic and whatever else.

Over the following months I continued to watch horrified as my Muslim friend was vilified, including by some in my own community. I sometimes sent her messages to check on her, but I also retreated into silence and avoided a defence of her. It was easier.

This morning I have decided that today is not a day for retreat and today is not a day for silence. I ask you to read my friends own words of how she is feeling. For all those who have ever had a view about how evil Islam is or how evil Muslims are, either on social media or in the secrecy of the walls of your own home, this is a reminder that your views and words have wider consequences. Hate breeds hate, fear breeds fear and today as individuals and as a nation we must take a collective responsibility for our words, for every time we have vilified the ‘other’, for every time we have failed to speak up for those who have been silenced and for all those times we have remained silent in the face of wrong. To my friend, I will lament with you like the Kiwi in that cartoon and in all this grief, brokenness and hurt there is hope. I was so proud to see my own Bishop standing with Muslim religious at Lakemba Mosque last night. Today, I will stand with you also and share your voice with the world, because I know you can’t.

Dear Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten

I am an Australian Muslim woman.  I am highly educated and hold a professional job. I spend a great deal of my time working with the Australian legal system. I am a wife.  I am a mother.  And tonight, I am frightened, anxious and so very sad.

The tragedy that has occurred in Christchurch has pierced a hole in my heart that I cannot actually close.  The grief is deep. These innocent people were simply praying when massacred by a man that had a deep disdain and hatred for them, not because they said or did anything but simply because they were Muslim.

Watching the images and hearing the eyewitness accounts are beyond traumatic.  We have shed tears and expressed our hurt but most of us have something in common. As hard as it is to say this we are not surprised or shocked.

Why?

Because we have lived with this fear for a long time now.  Genuine fear that our lives are at risk simply because we are Muslim.  I am someone who has received death threats, been vilified through the tabloids, subject to petitions to remove me from my employment and regularly receive hate mail because I am Muslim. So perhaps the threats hit close to home.  I also have had the opportunity to research and present about Islamophobia in Australia and know full well the experiences of many Muslims who are attacked and vilified because of their faith.

Our fear does not exist in a vacuum.  It resides and is increased in a society where our leaders sit in a parliament where it is ok to call Islam a “disease”, where it is ok to refer to a ‘final solution’ when talking about Muslim presence in society, where it is ok to wear and ridicule our religious attire as if it is nothing more than scrap material, where it is ok to say that we made a ‘mistake’ to let Muslims come to this country in the 1970’s, where it is ok to say that Muslims don’t condemn terrorism even though Muslim leaders have issued more statements condemning terrorism than they have on any other topic.  Where it is ok to make Muslims feel that they do not belong!

Our fear is not created because we ask for it. Many say if you wear hijab or write about Muslim issues then this is all part of the territory – well is it?

Toughen up they say, be resilient, this happens to all new migrants and soon it will be another group that gets picked on.  Those comments don’t reflect our society they say, Australia is not a racist country and after all you can’t be racist towards Muslims because Islam is not a race.

I don’t care what you call it – racism, islamophobia or xenophobia – tonight these terms are meaningless to me! They don’t help me talk to my teenage children about these attacks, they don’t help me to stop their pain as they try to make sense of why the country they are born in sometimes doesn’t feel like home.  They also don’t help me explain how after today’s events a Senator can use an Australian parliamentary letterhead to blame Muslims for being killed!

Prime Minister and Mr Shorten, it was great to see you say the right things today but also very painful.  So many people today genuinely seemed shocked. How do you deal with a situation where the attacks were clearly anti-Islamic and not even the media outlets could mask it? This was a terrorist attack from a right-wing extremist.

Why couldn’t you realise that when you failed to call out the attacks on Muslims, when you used dog whistling rants to fuel your election prospects and when you failed to show courage in the face of shock jocks who demonise Islam that this is where we would end up! Let me clearly say that I am not laying the blame for the attacks at anyone’s feet other the perpetrators, but that does not mean that I cannot call out the context that allows such views to flourish. A context in which we dehumanise Muslims simply because of their faith.

Isn’t it time that we realised that we cannot continue with divisive politics?  Isn’t it time our leaders showed some moral courage and recognised that ‘terrorism’ and ‘violence’ is not a “Muslim” thing but something that will come from a society that lacks understanding and compassion?  Extremism in all its forms needs to be called out.  We need to ensure that we create a society where we all belong, one in which we see past our differences and see our common humanity.

No doubt coming days will see the best of our society come forward and stand in solidarity with Muslims. I have no doubt that we live in the best country on earth. Shoulder to shoulder we will stand strong and not let this tragedy define our society.

But tonight, please understand we are grieving.  Tonight, we cannot stop crying and nothing will ease our pain. Tonight, Prime Minister Morrison and Mr Shorten as you place your heads on your pillow please remember the pain that we are going through. Believe us when we say that we are scared and most importantly please have the moral courage to go beyond the grand statements that are about gaining votes and make a commitment to create a cohesive society where we all feel that we can belong.

Anonymous Friend


Theresa Simon

The thirst is real

The topic I have for us this week is ‘Being Thirsty to the Word of God’, and yes, the thirst is very real. 

Everyone, no matter who you come across is thirsty for something that seems to be unquenchable. I don’t mean the type of thirst you feel when you’re done with your 12 sets after leg day, the type where you’re scrolling through insta and see bae’s beach day post or the thirst to keep that iPhone updated with every release. 

I mean the type of thirst you feel when you want the truth. The truth of Christ, the words that God spoke when on earth. We weren’t there when Jesus came down to earth. We didn’t camp out with him and his mates having a fish and bread BBQ. We didn’t get to travel around and witness him roasting pharisees and performing mind boggling miracles. 

It’s hard for us. How do we know what we’re doing now is right? Is whatever we are doing what God wanted? We are always asking these questions because we’re thirsty for that deeper connection, that deeper understanding of God. 

One thing you can do is quite obvious. Go to mass. Seriously. Go in (not late, make some effort) and actually concentrate on the words in the liturgy. One of the liturgies have this sentence in it: ‘Living without you is death, and dying with you is eternal life’…. someone upload that to Pinterest right now. (heart eyes emoji). Our Maronite Liturgy is such a tall glass of water for us. Our chants and hymns, if engaged in properly will get you on some great vibes. What I mean by ‘engaged in properly’ is by us singing it, understanding the words and learning the tunes here. Thank you for such a great resource, Fr Geoffrey Abdallah. These hymns have been carried through the ages to us today. They connect us right to the start of our Maronite Faith. 

Another way to quench your thirst is to read the bible. WARNING – start with the New Testament and go slow. Don’t rush it, you will have to google some parables. You will be surprised as to how much it actually relates to us today. There are parts that make you think to no end and that is exactly what God designed it to do. It forces you to look deep inside of yourself and ask ‘Wait, I do that.. Jesus just said that’s wrong…’. This helps you understand what God wants from us. It also helps you understand Christ and what he went through. Your questions and answers in searching for the truth lie in the pages of the New Testament. There are so many records of Jesus saying that he can quench our thirst with something more than earthly water. It takes faith and a trusting heart.

Prayer is also something that quenches that thirst too. If you don’t know how, feel free to join rosary sessions at church. They have booklets for you to follow along to so you’re not out there like a roo in headlights. If you aren’t confident yet, just go solo, with our guide here, find a quiet spot and either pray it or just talk to God. If you’re expecting someone to whisper an answer in your ear, it’s not going to happen, unless your little sibling is hiding there trolling you. Sometimes God gives us an answer 1 hour or 1 year later. Sometimes it never comes. If it doesn’t come then God never wanted you to have that Shadow Black 2019 Ford Mustang. Maybe God wanted you to go on a pilgrimage to Israel instead, to walk where God walked. (Life changing trip by the way). Another form of prayer is the Jesus prayer. This is a very ancient prayer from the East where you focus on saying just 1 sentence: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’. Fr Yuhanna Azize did a talk on this prayer. It is lengthy so sit back and relax. Get rid of the naughty siblings or invite them to listen too.

You can take it a step further and study theology. Study can get you far, it’s true, but don’t forget that there are many holy people who didn’t need to be ‘smart’, witty or book savvy to be saints. Many reached sainthood through simplicity and works. 

So maybe God wants you to truly quench that thirst by getting to know Christ more rather than getting to know things that distance you from God. See Sr Margaret’s short excerpt on things that distance us. Our thirst won’t be quenched until we meet God. But we can have those sips that lessen the thirst. Go to mass, pray and read some good books. St Ephrem’s ‘Hymns on Paradise’ is a perfect book to start with. Happy sipping. 

– Emily Dib