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In the shoes of Gospel women

Over 30 people took part in an online retreat entitled Great Faith: Women in the Gospel through Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality, Dublin, from 6 to 11 July, 2020. Organised by Mike Drennan SJ (main photo) and Aileen Murphy RLR, retreatants looked at the patterns of discipleship offered by a number of women about whom we read in the Gospels. These included named women such as Elizabeth, Mary and Anna who are models of faith and their anonymous sisters such as the woman from Samaria, the woman in Simon’s house and the woman with the haemorrhage who attracted Jesus’ attention and admiration. The theme was taken from the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus commended the faith of the woman from Canaan, declaring, “Great is your faith!” (Matthew 15:28).

Each day, retreatants watched a video by Fr Drennan who introduced a woman from the New Testament while giving some context from the Old Testament. He paused at different moments when he asked reflective questions and encouraged prayer on relevant scripture passages.

For example, he reflected on the place of widows in the Jewish tradition on day three, focusing on the characteristics which became clear when retreantants contemplated the life of Anna, the humble widow in the Temple (Luke 2:36-38). They saw how Anna shows us how to listen, to wait, to recognise and to give praise in the circumstances of our lives. After taking time to ponder, they let Anna teach us anew how to recognise Jesus in our time.

A retreatant, who gained much strength from praying with Anna, said:

“Anna is truly an inspirational woman. She prayed without ceasing, she recognised Jesus instantly, she lived in the present moment. As a widow, she was beautifully vulnerable and especially dear to God. She reminds me of my own widowed mother and helps me to be more attentive to her tenderness.”

In another example on day five, Fr Drennan considered Jesus’ presence in the house of Simon and saw, in how he related to the woman who approached him (Luke 7:36–50), many lessons for us. Retreatants prayed with the woman and reflected on what the story said to them about hospitality and forgiveness as well as inviting them to conversion, to a change of attitude.

A retreatant commented:

“The woman in Simon’s house raises the bar pretty high! When guests come to my house, do I offer them a cup of tea, a biscuit, something more? Am I hospitable in the sense of a good listener, letting guests speak their hearts’ desires, enabling them to let go of any pent-up frustration with life?

With regard to forgiveness, do I hang onto a negative word of my guests? Do I react to their own reaction? Or am I able to forgive any harshness, see deeper and persevere in getting to know them better, in trying to understand what is behind their pain? Am I able to take risks on revealing myself? Am I able to expose my own frustrations and vulnerabilities?”

After retreatants watched the selected video for the day and prayed with scripture, they were encouraged to submit a response or question and to take part in an online meeting later in the evening.

Fr Drennan gave some feedback at the beginning of the meetings. Retreatants shared their prayer experiences on the Gospel women, and it was noted that there was a direct link for many retreatants between the scripture passages and their own personal lives. Many retreatants resonated with each other’s experiences and there was a warm atmosphere and a spiritual depth to the conversations. Sr Murphy also facilitated the conversations and she ended the meeting with a short reflection and prayer.

A retreatant reflected on the overall experience:

“As a male, I didn’t expect to be able to step into the shoes of the women in the Gospel. But I became aware – through prayer and interaction with the facilitators and other retreatants – of many parallels between the women’s lives and my own life.

I noticed a parallel between Elizabeth who recognised the great faith of Mary and my recognition of great faith in my friend; between Mary’s confidence in her call to be mother of Jesus and the confidence in my own vocation; and between Anna’s recognition of Jesus in the present moment and my recognition of the goodness of others.

I also noticed a parallel between the Samaritan woman’s fearless honesty with Jesus and my fearless honesty with those I deeply respect; between the woman in Simon’s house who got on her knees to silently serve Jesus and showing love to my family without having to say anything; and between the woman with the haemorrhage who touched Jesus’ cloak out of need for healing and my wish to connect with him for help with my health.

I ended the retreat with words from a childhood prayer of mine: ‘O God, you bring joy to my heart.'”

Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality » continues to offer retreats at this time.