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

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

Novena to the Holy Spirit for Son or Daughter

OPENING PRAYER 

Lord before your Ascension you promised to send the Holy Spirit to finish your work on earth. As we wait these nine days for Pentecost, I pray for my child/children and call on the Holy Spirit to renew the heart of my son/daughter <name>. Help him /her to adore your beauty and bask in your truth. Guard my child and help him/her to seek you and know what is from you. Holy Spirit, come fill my child <name> with your gifts;

– Wisdom to keep God central in her/his life.  

– Understanding to comprehend God’s message.

– Knowledge to allow God to be revealed in his/her life

– Counsel to see the best way to follow God’s plan in his/her life.

– Fortitude to know what is right.

– Piety to pray to God in true devotion.

– Fear of you Lord and may (name) stand in amazement before God, who is all-present.

Help <name> to be one of your true disciples and protect him/her all the days of his/her life

FIRST DAY: For all the gifts
God, you have created <name> in your image and he/she has been baptised in your Spirit. Send forth from heaven your Spirit on <name>. Fill <name> with the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and a fear of you Lord. Help <name> to come alive in all these gifts, that he/she may serve you well all the days of his/her life. Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

SECOND DAY: The Gift of Wisdom
Come Holy Spirit and fill <name> with wisdom, and reveal to his/her soul your mystery. Teach him/her to love you Lord above the things of this world.  Help him/her to glorify you by always choosing what is right especially during temptations, trials, and all the daily challenges that he/she faces in this world. Instil in him/her a desire to live up to the ways of God always.  Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

THIRD DAY: The Gift of Understanding
Come Holy Spirit and fill <name>, with understanding. Enlighten his/her mind that he/she may accept and believe in the Lord’s salvation. May <name>, stay on the path leading toward heaven. Give my child the ability to discern what is right and enlighten him/ her to understand the truth of the faith.  Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

FOURTH DAY: The Gift of Knowledge
Come Holy Spirit and fill <name> with knowledge. Grant that he/she may know the will of God in all things.  Enlighten his/her mind to understand the meaning and purpose God has for him/her and to live up to that meaning. Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

FIFTH DAY: The Gift of Counsel
Come Holy Spirit and fill <name> with good counsel. Help guide him/her in all his ways, that he may always do your holy will. Move his/her heart to what is good and direct my child on the path of your commandments and towards the goal of eternal life. Inspire and guide <name> to live the truth of the faith. Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

SIXTH DAY: The Gift of Fortitude
Come Holy Spirit and fill <name> with fortitude. Protect his/her soul in times of struggle. Sustain his/her efforts in holiness. Allow him/her to discern and stand against what is wrong. May my child never be separated from you Lord.  Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

SEVENTH DAY: The Gift of Piety
Come Holy Spirit and fill <name> with piety. Possess his/her heart. Enkindle in her/him a desire to worship you Lord and serve you in love. Purify and humble him/her and allow my child to live only in you. Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

EIGHTH DAY: The Gift of Holy Fear
Come Holy Spirit and fill <name> with the fear of the Lord. Penetrate his/her heart so that he/she may prefer the Lord above all else.  Allow my child to understand God’s greatness. Inspire my child to serve the Lord and to walk with Christ always. Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

NINTH DAY: The Fruits of the Holy Spirit
Come Holy Spirit, give me courage to raise this child of mine in the warmth of your flame. Let my heart be glad and my tongue rejoice. Make known to me the path of life and through my child fill me with joy in your presence. Amen.

Pray 1 “Our Father”, 1 “Hail Mary”; 1 “Glory be” AMEN

St Rita

Saint Rita’s feast is celebrated on May 22 in the universal church.

Saint Rita is a patron for many women, including women enduring hardships of marriage, motherhood, domestic violence and more. She lived her life always praying and finding hope in God for many of the challenges she faced. 

Rita was born in the year 1381 in the village of Roccaporena, near Cascia, Italy. From a young age she was drawn to the Augustinian nuns in Cascia although her parents had arranged for her to marry. In obedience to them she was married and spent 18 years in a challenging marriage, as her husband was cruel and harsh, often becoming abusive towards her. Through faith and constant prayer, Rita was able to convert her husband into a better person.  Her husband’s family was one of the two Aristocratic families in the 14th century and consequently her husband was murdered by the opposing family. Rita feared that her sons would seek revenge, she tried hard to guide them and was unable to convince them, so she prayed to save their soul and that God would take her sons before they committed any sin, her sons fell sick and died before committing any crime. 

After the deaths of her husband and sons, Rita sought to enter the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in Cascia but was turned away as the nuns were afraid of being associated with the family feud that had her husband murdered. Rita prayed and was persistent until she was permitted to enter the Augustinian monastery. She lived a prayerful life in the monastery and strongly desired to suffer with Christ. At age sixty, while praying before the crucifix she received a visible wound on her forehead. She bore this suffering with Christ for the next fifteen years and offered up her pain for others. The last four years of her life, she was confined to her bed, a relative from her hometown visited Rita and when asked what she desired, she only requested a single rose from her parents’ garden. Although, the roses were not in bloom in January, the woman returned to find one single rose in the garden and brought it back to Rita who was grateful. Henceforth, Saint Rita became associated with roses and impossible causes. 

Novena-to-Saint-Rita

Rita died peacefully at age seventy-six on May 22, 1457. She lived a difficult life but remained hopeful in the Lord. Rita prayed and had faith in God.

We pray that Saint Rita will intercede for all those suffering hardships in their lives, may they find comfort in the Lord. 

In our life we may come across people who are suffering, one common Christian response to them is to endure the suffering like the saints did. While we must all strive to be like the saints, they are from a different time. Rita endured her suffering as she had no other means to find help and the society she lived in did not have the sufficient support she would have needed to deal with family violence. As Christians we are called to help those who are most vulnerable within the community. No one should remain in their struggle when in our modern society we have so many resources to help. 

In Australia there are many services ready to help

1800RESPECT

1800 737 732 is a 24 hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk.

Christina Maksisi

The Way of the Cross – LivingMaronite

The Way of the Cross (sometimes referred to as Stations of the Cross) is a form of meditative prayer which is often said on Fridays in Lent. It is a reflection on Christ’s way on the road to the Cross of Salvation. It is a great way to pray with your family and Parish and remember Christ’s suffering for us.

At the link, see a specialised LivingMaronite copy of The Way of the Cross for you to pray and meditate to. You can download it or view it below.

[Hymn tunes coming soon]

Way of the Cross