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Women of the gospel, women of the everyday

Gospel Heroines: Women of the Gospel between Virtue and Challenges, Symbols of Courage and Rebirth in Universal Love

These are women of courage who cross the pages of the Gospel and tell us about their virtues and their limitations. They are real women. Now women of mercy to the bitter end, now women of pain and shame restored to their dignity, but all, indistinctly, women who said yes to Life because they felt chosen, sought, welcomed, loved and restored to their truth by a greater Love that called them by name. Women side by side with Christ and the disciples on their journey or lifted up from the mud and returned to the life of which they are the generators and to their primitive essence when, coming forth from the hand of God they completed its creation and harmony. Women attentive to the voice that from the depths of their souls, rose to their intelligence and hearts inviting or calling them back to their distinctiveness, to their true identity in the courage of a rebirth that made their womb the immense womb of the Earth, capable of generating all good.

So to the Gospel I have always returned to consider its courage, special care and the extraordinary power of love that knows how to change situations and events in that silence that only women know how to listen, understand, maintain and manage so that humanity can become human again. I used to read the Gospel in the days of a macho society and a clerical Church, when I saw women relegated to tasks that were not theirs, valued only for the efficiency of what cultural thinking dictated or for what appeared to the envious or greedy eyes of those who looked at her in her most ephemeral beauty, eyes clouded by the helplessness of not being able to reduce her to worn-out stereotypes. Yes, when I opened the Gospel I discovered that the Woman was other… Looked at by the eyes of Jesus she regained her dignity, her task, her role and her undeniable being in front of man, a similar and other creature, thanks to that God of Mercy who restored her place, who brought her back to her primitive innocence and her true task in the world and in the Church. And I was enjoying that rebirth, that redemption that no one could deny anymore without being guilty of it. In my mind of a girl who rejoiced in her being a woman, I would then slide before my eyes the women I knew and, in the jargon of a language that belongs to me, call them “madonnas” like the Florentine madonnas, like Mary of Nazareth whom Tonino Bello liked to call simply: Woman of everyday life, weekday woman, woman of every day.

In this woman of every day chosen to generate, maintain and save life, I saw Carmen, the woman of welcome and charity who did not stop for a moment and, like Martha in Bethany, bent over backwards to welcome anyone who stopped at her door. She welcomed every unexpected poor person with her own humility, and so as not to humiliate anyone who asked her for a bit of bread, she greeted them as a blessing. Attention and care illuminated her day with a sweet and demure serenity and a deep and discreet sorrow. To everyone she repeated that she had encountered God in that suffering humanity and was sorry she could not do more.

Teresa, on the other hand, was a woman of prayer and forgiveness. Like Mary of Bethany, I often found her in the parish. She was sweet and delicate, married to a crude and violent man who reproached her for her desire to attend Church where she often took refuge to find, in silence, “the best part” of herself. Like Mary the sister of Lazarus, she quenched her thirst at the Word and then poured out its freshness on anyone to be happy. To those who told her that she was not obliged to obey her husband and advised her to leave him, she replied, “No one forces me it is I who freely chose to love him and be faithful to him forever.” She, contemplating the face of Jesus for a long time, “had chosen the better part” that of prayer, forgiveness and the freedom to obey herself even when events came unexpected and difficult in their unfolding over time.

Then there were Argentina, Tullia, Antonia who mourned their lost children who left home to follow vain and lying promises. We would see them passing along the road and ask, of anyone who had gone down to the plains, if they had met anyone with new news. I waded through them with a tight heart, their children were friends lost in drugs, in vice, in paper mache havens they thought were full of money. I knew them brave, ready to give their lives to bring them home. Then I was reminded of Jesus’ words when on the way to Calvary he had stopped before that group of weeping women and recommended, “Do not weep over me, but over your children.” And Argentina Tullia and Antonia were telling me by their testimony that a mother’s heart is ready to give life as long as her children receive it back in fullness. And there is no greater love than the one who gives his life for others.

Instead, Sofia was a childhood companion, too good and too innocent to notice those who stole his smile and youth. They called her “the prostitute”. Her life had been lost among the lighted streets that led to where man thirsts for lust and blackmails the innocent without any scruples. She was ashamed as she passed and no longer greeted anyone. The scrutinizing glances of the “righteous” weighed on her as the “pleasure-thirsty” ones of her tormentors were hostile to her. But a Voice full of mercy had risen in that immense pain where, for too long, the word of forced prostitution had resounded, a drama foiled by courage by the witnesses of her long agony. “Woman no one has condemned you? Not even me. Go and sin no more.” Jesus had lent his voice to Luke who, seeing the woman’s great pain, had helped her get up. And Sophia had gotten back up with renewed courage ready to return to the belief that life was still worth living and like the woman in the Gospel had followed Jesus into Flavius the man who married her forming a family with her according to God’s heart.

Finally there was Stefania with her sick daughter in a wheelchair. She was not a widow, but she had no husband and Lucietta was everything to her. In the morning she always stopped in front of the little chapel in front of the house and prayed to the Crucifix from the bottom of her heart that He would make her daughter well. Kneeling on the first step in front of the Cross, she would not move until the regular bus that would take her to work arrived. Summer and winter, cold and heat, night and day never stopped her. Her temperament and adamantine faith placed her along the road leading back to Calvary where there was no Cyrenian to help her. “Talitakum” was the word that came to mind and Stefania repeated it every day, though in a different way, in that hope that love sustains. Woman of courage they called her in the village, but she scoffed, saying that it was faith in God the Father of mercy that sustained her in her task of being a mother. And along with faith was Lucietta’s radiant smile in which she sensed all the courage of the pure in heart, the courage to run in dreams, to walk in hope, to enjoy every step that moved around her.

And as in the Gospel, Mary of Nazareth, the Woman par excellence, was also in the village. Her wooden statue clad in cloth robes as was once the custom, brought her so close to those women whom she, from the chapel on the left side of the church aisle, loved and protected. I see them again on their knees, understood, looking up at the Mother. They all resembled Her and each represented Her in some detail. With Her I found them women who had defied life without making a fuss, who had fought every obstacle without using weapons, without claiming those equal rights they acquired day after day by their standing by every cross they encountered along the way, determined to obey only love. Women who together had kept to the Earth the generating force that brought back among men true beauty, that which springs from within where the sacred and the human merge and become One. Women who had chosen to be free to recompose Love and make it the emblem of their most tenacious contestation. Free women who had owned the world precisely because they were unique and different! Women who, looking in the mirror, had recognized themselves in their being and their role and were and remained faithful to it. Women who had always been there at the right time and in the right way. Women of the frontier, always in the front row. Women whose “Hic Sum” allowed Life to continue to inhabit the earth. Simply Women whose claim has only one slogan: “Always be there to be women, to be Love.”

 Suor Roberta Casini



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