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From Director of Faith and Mission

10 March 2023

International Women’s Day – #EmbracingEquity

We have kicked off March with Pope Francis’ call this Lent to give, rather than giving up, by giving thanks for the strong women of grace in our community and our world on International Women’s Day. We started the day as a faith community in the Chapel for a morning liturgy inspired by four women in the bible, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth and Mary of Bethany. The four readings, all speak of women who showed great strength, wisdom and faith when at the time, they like many women, were undervalued for their true grace.  In a patriarchal society, these women rose above the societal expectations of women and through their actions found themselves noteworthy to be recorded in a Biblical record that favoured the importance of men.  These women played a vital role in bringing to life, the monotheistic religions, not by birthing a key person but as prophet and disciples of God’s saving power.  Let’s look at these women a little deeper.

The first reading from Exodus tells us of a prophet, Miriam, Aaron’s sister.  But who is Miriam and why was she seen as a prophet, in fact the first female prophet?  While it says she is the sister of Aaron, what it mentions earlier is that she is the sister of Moses.  Her bravery shaped the course of history. When the Pharaoh was ordering the killing of the first-born sons, Miriam helped her mother Jochebed to hide Moses in a basket.  Instead of just leaving him in the reeds and hoping for the best, she stayed close by and then when Moses was discovered by pharaoh’s daughter, Miriam risked her own life to approach her and offer to fetch a nurse for the baby, Moses own mother. It was Miriam who orchestrated Moses to be nursed and raised by his own mother in the Pharaoh’s house.  She then worked with Moses and Aaron to share God’s message of salvation to the Israelites bringing them into relationship with God and to their covenant.

Next, we heard of the only female judge in the Book of Judges in fact in the entire Bible. Deborah was not only devout in her faith, and a loving wife, but she was also revered as a judge to the Kingdom of Israel. Both men and women would go to her for her great wisdom, and it was both her devotion to God and her intellect that brought about the saving of the Israelites from greater oppression and imminent death.  At a time when women were seen as second-class citizens Deborah broke all barriers set against women.  It takes extraordinary will, power, strength, and intelligence along with God’s favour to defy the odds.

We then heard about a Moabite named Ruth. The Moabites even though ancestral relatives of the Israelites the Israelites were against them because they didn’t worship the same god and were seen as foreigners. When tragedy strikes Naomi’s husband and sons all die, she is left a widow.  Penniless, homeless, and destitute because in those days women were nothing unless they were the property of their parents, husband, or sons, Naomi’s only hope was to go back to her ancestral lands and beg. She gives her daughters-in-law an out.  While Orpah leaves them, Ruth refuses.  Her words and actions change the course of history. Why is this so important?  Her commitment to stay and look after her mother ends up saving Naomi’s life. Ruth then marries a man who respected her for her faith and commitment, and she gives birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David and ancestral relative of Jesus.  Ruth is one of only four women named in Jesus’ genealogy. 

By the time we get to the New Testament writings, women are seen less.  Even Mary, the mother of Jesus is mentioned less than 20 times in all of the Gospels, Acts and letters combined. So what made the inclusion of Mary and Martha of Bethany so important and specifically the actions of Mary?  Mary put Jesus first. She was a disciple of Jesus because she as the word disciple means was a follower, a believer, a student of Jesus.  When I was thinking about just how powerful her action was, I was drawn to the passage that appears in all four Gospels. When Jesus calls the first disciples, he says to them, “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”.  Here are these men who hear Jesus and leave their job, leave their expected role, step outside of their normal behaviour and follow Jesus.  It is exactly what Mary of Bethany did.  Society said her role was to be silent and unseen, yet here we have a woman who has seen the light, the truth and the way and wants to learn and hear and be with Jesus.  While Mary Magdalene is known as the Apostle to the Apostle, Mary of Bethany is a disciple of Christ before women could rightly be disciples.

So, what can we take from these?  For centuries women have cracked the code needed to have a gender equal life and have shown those around them what power, strength and grace comes from sharing in that code. The Code is not a formula to transmit information but existed at the beginning of time, in fact before time, the code transmits the most important information using a thought, a feeling and an action.  The code is the Word, and the Word was with God and the word was God…the code word to crack inequity… is love.

The Liturgy was a wonderful celebration of faith filled women bringing about positive change.

This was followed by a breakfast in the Performing Arts Centre where we were blessed to hear from members of the recent MMSP immersion to the Philippines. Ally and Caitlin shared their personal journey which led them to going on the immersion and the deep spiritual experiences they had by being a part of the lives of those they encountered. A truly inspiring experience and keynote address. We thank them and Fr Jude for accepting the invitation and empowering us all to look for ways we too can be a positive change for our world.

The final session for the morning was a show case of two of our amazing female student leaders. Claire Glowacki one of our Music Captains and a very talented Year 11 student, performed Katy Perry’s Roar accompanied by Matt Morse. Evelyn Jacob, our Social Justice Captain, then shared with us all the new Social Justice initiative, inspired by the call to embrace equity. #EquityPeriod, is an action initiative to make reusable sanitary pads for women without access to this basic necessity. Far too many women are forced to withdraw from education and society for a week every month as they don’t have access to sanitary items for proper menstrual hygiene.  From now until Mother’s Day, we invite anyone willing to cut and/or sew to support the initiative and make reusable sanitary pads.  More information will be coming out via Simon and PAM and sewing sessions will be offered if you don’t have a machine at home. 

The International Women’s Day events and the Social Justice initiative are both wonderful ways to live the school theme of acting justly and the sharing in the motto, ‘They will shine’.

Ms Alexandra Higham
Director of Faith and Mission