Martha of Bethany vs. Gobnait

Welcome to the Faithful Four! Over the past few weeks we have whittled down the field from 32 saintly souls to a holy four: Martha of Bethany, Gobnait, Zenaida, and Pandita Ramabai. The spiritual nets have been cut down and one of these four will, in a few short days, be awarded the coveted 2019 Golden Halo.

This marks the first time in Lent Madness history that we have an all-female Faithful Four. This means that at the end of this 10th year of Lent Madness, we will have crowned five male winners and five female winners.

Today it's Martha of Bethany vs. Gobnait. To make it this deep into our little tournament, Martha got past Mary of Bethany, Nicodemus, and Photini, while Gobnait defeated Hrotsvitha, Paula of Rome, and Ignatius of Loyola.

Tomorrow Zenaida will tangle with Pandita Ramabai and then our respective Faithful Four winners will vie for the 2019 Golden Halo on Spy Wednesday, with the winner being crowned at 8:00 am on Maundy Thursday.

Throughout Lent Madness, our saintly heroes have battled via basic bios, quirks and quotes, and event kitsch. In this round, we let our remaining Celebrity Bloggers loose as they answer the question “Why should Saint XX win the Golden Halo?” In other words, they’ve been charged with letting us know why their particular saint is so awesome. We have also invited them to share their two favorite images of their saints. Away we go!

Martha of Bethany

“Martha, Martha.” The chiding comment of Jesus is one of the most familiar in the New Testament. If the story of the parable of action versus contemplation in which she expresses bitterness toward her sister, remains all we know of Martha, then she would hardly be worthy of the Golden Halo. Thankfully, the Christian tradition recorded her importance in the early church as a disciple and leader. The theological imagination of the faithful kept her story alive in both Cypress and France, where the very habits she was chastised for—hospitality and service—were recognized as her spiritual gift and the foundation of her ministry. She was not relegated to the role of “the sister who got it wrong.”

Ever since I began to discern my call to the priesthood and through my priestly formation in seminary, I have wrestled with my active nature, attempting to become more contemplative. I imposed disciplines upon myself and tried many forms of prayer and meditation. Although many principles of contemplative prayer and mindfulness seeped into my way of being, the stillness and quiet never took, and I saw this as a failure. Finally, thanks to my spiritual director, I accepted God has called me to be a Martha, busy with the work of love and service. I should stop painfully trying to become something I wasn’t called to be. Just as the medieval hagiographies saw in Martha an ultimate reconciliation of action and contemplation through her ministry of hospitality, so can all of us Marthas celebrate rather than resist our spiritual gifts.

As her medieval biographer, Psuedo Marsalia wrote, “Martha chose to perform her own ministry and it pleased God greatly.” We do not choose the calling God gives us. Sometimes we or others don’t understand, or we are tempted, like Jonah, to run away. Perhaps it was Martha’s courage to follow her own true vocation to action and service that allowed her to perform miracles similar to Jesus—water to wine and resurrecting a child. Perhaps it made her a figure with the strength to tame dragons, honored to this day as Santa Marta Dominadora, the dominator, helper of the oppressed, the most Christlike calling.

Regardless of whether we are inclined to action or contemplation by our temperament and vocation, the hectic pace of modern life demands all of us be doers. We must all look to Martha’s example for guidance. Grounded in love for Jesus, we can serve and lift up others. Since Martha’s lifetime, many have followed in her footsteps as busy worker bees building up the kingdom of God. But Martha was the first, our Biblical example of a holy, active life, and for this reason, she deserves the Golden Halo.

-Amber Belldene


There are those who are quickly recognized for their life and work. Some who stand out in the church because of their positions: priest, bishops, and deacons. Others whose work is so public that we can’t help but notice them: public martyrs, activists, and those in the news. And still others whose works are enshrined in the literature of our faith: those recorded in Scripture, in the great works of church history, and in the annals of reform and renewal.

These names we know.

Yet the bedrock of the church are those who toil daily in the faithful work of discipleship. Women and men whose names are often forgotten – those who are overlooked by history.

It is among these quiet, daily disciples that we discover Saint Gobnait.

One of Gobnait’s patronages is iron-workers. When excavating the site of Gobnait’s home in 1952, they discovered the remains of 137 iron forges. Can you imagine the number of workers required to sustain such a site? There must have been – covered in soot and ash, in the midst of the heat, creating goods and artwork that would be used and enjoyed by those with wealth – a whole host of laborers and their families living out their days without recognition.

It is among them that Gobnait walked. It is to them that she offered her healing ministry – employing prayer and salves made from the honey of her beloved bees. It is on their behalf that she offered prayers. And it is for them that she repeatedly defended this community.

She defended her community. She offered healing. She founded a monastic community. She cared for the creation.

And yet history would have us overlook Gobnait. Her life is not known because she shows up in the historical record of the day, or because an early historian recorded her life.

Instead, we know of Gobnait from two sources. She is a part of the Life recorded about her brother Saint Abban. And she is remembered through the stories preserved by the ordinary people in her community and passed down through the ages.

Perhaps at this present moment in the life of the church, we need less “superstars” and more ordinary saints. Faithful people struggling with what it means to be disciples in the grind of daily life. Unnamed folks far from the spotlight performing extraordinary acts of love, kindness, and service on behalf of those who need it most.

-David Hansen



PLEASE NOTE: At about 9:52 p.m. EDT, the SEC confirmed some voting patterns that we had been monitoring since the afternoon. There were a number of repeat votes for Gobnait, cast by people who were not respecting the one vote per person rule. As a result, we have blocked several addresses and have removed 150 votes from Gobnait to compensate for that number of inappropriate votes. This is your reminder not to vote more than once per contest.

FURTHER NOTE: Multiple additional addresses have been blocked around 11:18 p.m. EDT. Please enjoy your play, but vote ONCE. Keep Lent Madness fair and fun for everyone.



Martha of Bethany vs. Gobnait

  • Martha of Bethany (51%, 4,401 Votes)
  • Gobnait (49%, 4,277 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,678

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Mary: Johannes (Jan) Vermeer - Christ in the House of Martha and Mary - Google Art Project
Gobnait: Harry Clarke's design drawing for the Saint Gobnait window in Honan Chapel, Cork, Ireland (1914). Public Domain
Joy McAllen, "Scoil Naomh Gobnait"  Stained Glass;  Dungarvan, Co.Waterford


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138 comments on “Martha of Bethany vs. Gobnait”

  1. With Faithful Four the next in store, my bracket is quite clear:
    A careful analyst would say my chance I missed!
    My willing walk with Wilberforce perforce has cost me dear
    So lim’ricks I’ll desist — such rhyming I’ll resist!
    To please those fond of autopsies, the details I’ll unveil:
    St. Martha poor Photini with her ladle did assail.
    Then Wilberforce from Ramabai received an unforced out;
    Next Gobnait’s buzz just barely beat Ignatius in their bout.
    Though Zenaida swiftly Chrysostom to banishment dismissed,
    No more my words I’ll twist: there’s no-one on my list!

    He put them on his list — he had 'em on his list;
    Now all of them have missed — there’s none left on his list!

    1. I'm in the same place, John, there's no one on my list. I suffered damage from the beginning, with my final choice, Phillips Brooks, going down in the first round. That being said, by sticking around to vote even after I have nothing to gain personally, I am struck by the two beautiful bios written today by Belldene and Hansen. Congrats to both for such moving and personal tributes. I am particularly moved by Amber's juxtaposition of Martha and Mary and her own personal attempts at the contemplative life. I have only recently discovered that the contemplative life works for me very well indeed, but I have admiration and love for the Marthas of the world, so that is where I will place my vote. May we love each other as we love ourselves!

      1. I too was struck by the eloquence of today’s celebrity bloggers. I am suspecting that Martha will win the halo, but I voted for Gobnait, because everyone seems to assume that Jesus is putting Martha down in the gospel story, and I don’t think that is it at all. I think Jesus was speaking to the spirit in which we do things, you can’t assume everyone would have gone hungry if not for poor overworked Martha. Do we hear Martha asking Mary for any help? No. I did appreciate Gobnait’s care for those poor forgotten ironworkers.

        1. Yes, I agree with you, Betsy. I believe that Jesus recognizes that Martha and Mary are two different types of people, and is encouraging Martha to be more forgiving of her sister, but not criticizing her for not behaving like Mary.

  2. Our tribute this morning takes us to the Elizabethan Era and the age of the the Bard, William Shakespeare. To honor Martha a Gobnait, sing along to the tune of “Welcome to the Renaissance” from the musical “Something Rotten”.

    War of the Romans. A to Z.
    Sisters who blister for status.
    St. Nick v. Rudolph’s Christmas theme.
    All this was this year’s Lent Madness.
    Some haikus and lim’ricks and Diana’s hymn.
    That was so Monday Madness.
    That was so Scott and Tim.

    Welcome to the Faithful Four!
    They’re healing, teaching, and doing chores,
    And tending bee hives.
    They serve and fight for justice.
    And illness they ease.
    They guard their town with swarms of killer bees.

    Welcome to the Faithful Four!
    Where some “tsk!” and grouse “It’s a gender war!”
    (Some question bias.)
    An scathing piece expected with voting besmirched
    In “Living Church”…
    Gender in the Faithful Four
    Look like a bishop’s search.

    Narrow views of Martha makes supporters yelp.
    She’s more than just an extra from the film “The Help”…
    Her faith was never flaggin’.
    She also slayed that dragon.
    Was the theologian of her time.

    Gobnait made sure those who came to cause unrest
    Lit’rally were treated to a hornet’s nest.
    Destroyed fortress erections.
    Drew lines for their protection.
    Both these saints lived lives that were sublime.

    While we’re giving alms, fasting and penitent,
    Lent Madness bracket saints are heaven sent!
    (They’re heaven sent!)

    Welcome to the Faithful Four!
    When their brackets busted, some people swore.
    (Succumbed to Madness!)
    The left side of the bracket today will be done.
    We’ll know who won.
    Who did not make Faithful Four?
    Let’s look back just for fun!

    Hey look, it’s that Photini drawing water quite serenely.
    Well, it seems that Martha martyred her as well. Buh-bye.
    Hey look, it’s St. Ignatius. Lost as well, but so gracious.
    Gobnait o’er the Jesuit founder ran pell-mell. And buh-bye.
    And we have a list of saints here who have left the brackets in past weeks…
    It’s true! We do!
    Like who?
    Like who!

    Like Dismas! Whoo!
    Hrotsvitha! Whoo!
    Ananias! Uh-huh! And Tikhon of Zadonsk!
    Dominic! Marina the Monk!
    Dorcas, too – and our brightest saints! Yo!
    Here they come, their two stars collide.
    (Clap clap clap clap)
    The best of this year’s bracket’s left-hand side
    They’re just so freakin' awesome!

    We love ‘em, we love ‘em, we love ‘em, we love ‘em
    We love ‘em, we love ‘em, we love ‘em, we love ‘em
    Their lives were so saintly. Our faith they diffused.
    Martha or Gobnait? Lord, how can I choose?
    We love ‘em, we love ‘em, (How can I choose?)
    We love ‘em, we love ‘em
    We love ‘em, we love ‘em
    We love them!

    Welcome to the Faithful Four!
    Not the one concerned with the BBall score.
    (No, the one more saintly.)
    Where Anna Alexander came in and cleaned up.
    Where Anna’s face is on a coffee cup.

    Welcome to the Faithful Four!
    And it’s time Lent Madness winds down once more.
    (Well, at least ‘til next year…)
    Spy Wednesday is the day when their stories are told.
    It won’t get old.
    Welcome to the Faithful Four!
    Whose halo’s made of gold?
    Whose halo is gold?
    Welcome to the Faithful Four.
    Whose halo is gold?
    Spy Wednesday is in two days!

    1. Adorable; maybe your best yet. So perfect and it put a smile on my face. Thanks for the holy week wake up!

    2. voted for Gobnait today in honor of the iron workers, specifically those who worked at Ground Zero following 9/11. Have been watching several stories the last few days on YouTube about that day that I had never heard before. Stories of love and faith and selfless sacrifice, and surprisingly-no hatred, from those whose lives were intimateky affected.

    3. Certainly the trickiest lyrics of any musical ever! I can't believe you got them all in there. I am so going to miss waking up to these songs... It has been such a treat--both the tunes I knew and the new ones I learned (like today!). Thank you!

  3. I have a question--once a saint has been nominated and loses, can he or she ever be nominated again. I have to confess my heart is broken over Damien of Molokai.

    1. I agree, Amy,
      but yes, he can be renominated - how soon depends on when eliminated, and I believe in the first round, so pretty soon - maye two years - I wanted him for the Golden Halo

  4. Because this is the essence of being vote is for Gobnait.
    “Perhaps at this present moment in the life of the church, we need less “superstars” and more ordinary saints. Faithful people struggling with what it means to be disciples in the grind of daily life. Unnamed folks far from the spotlight performing extraordinary acts of love, kindness, and service on behalf of those who need it most.”

    1. That got me, too. I thought I was going to vote for Martha but ended up with Gobnait.

  5. Neck in neck as I submit my vote, not a surprise . Love them both but decided Gobnait this time . Exciting now to see the finals shaping up .

  6. This was so hard! I quite literally had to flip a coin because I wanted to vote for both! My coin toss said Martha so I voted for her but will be pleased no matter who wins.

    1. Jerry, that's brilliant! Thanks for the chuckle to start the day here on the west coast.

  7. ‘This marks the first time in Lent Madness history that we have an all-female Faithful Four.’
    I am thankful for this and all four of these women. How do we vote against one? I am going to silent retreats now and trying to be more contemplative. Yet, i know who am and i voted for Martha.

  8. For Celebrity Blogger David Hansen re Gobnait: If it's time for "ordinary" saints and not "superstars" that's why I chose Martha over Gobnait. Poor Martha, a model of love, hospitality and caring even if a trifle impatient and what's her reward? Being told she didn't choose wisely. Yet she did choose wisely - she welcomed Jesus and his entourage and cared for her family. She is the one who proclaimed him as the Son of God at the grave of her beloved brother. Not a superstar - an extraordinary woman of faith and hope.

  9. Martha's story has more than one episode. She complains to Jesus when she feels Mary has left all the hospitality work to her. Jesus responds. We see Martha later at the feast where Mary is anointing the feet of Jesus and wiping them with her hair. Who complains this time? Not Martha--Judas. Martha has learned. We see Martha again when Lazarus falls ill and dies while the family is waiting for Jesus to come. Martha runs to Jesus with her broken heart and affirms her faith in him-- and her brother rises. Martha, like the non-prodigal son, does her duty and speaks bluntly when she feels her faithful work is taken for granted. Instead of feeling confused and nursing resentment, she questions. And she learns. She's complicated and human. Her journey from kitchen kvetcher to dragon tamer deserves consideration, admiration, and a Golden Halo.

    1. Yes, Peg S! It seems like everyone always focuses on the first story we hear of Martha and I've always felt like Martha is given a bum rap because of it. I so identify with Martha and without her example of service would we even recognize others' service. Gobnait seems to have followed Martha's example.

      Did anyone other than me reflect on Dismas when his part was read during the Passion yesterday?

      1. I preached on Dismas closing out my Lenten series on “second chances.” I was inspired by my fellow Lent Madness crew, so thanks for your help in sermon prep.

    2. Peg, a great post that captures my thoughts too. I am drawn to Gobnait, but feel close to Martha's story of using her gifts, learning, and speaking.

    3. Thank you, Peg! I was planning to vote for Martha, partly because I've voted for her from the beginning--God loves even us busy-bodies. Your comment encouraged me to remember her continuing faith and action.

    1. With the bees endangered by our stupid chemical farming choices I must support her whos simplicity is likewise endangered by our hectic world. Besides I can’t get past Martha condemning her sister’s choice to entertain her guests while Martha preferred to shave in the kitchen. We don’t all follow the same path.

  10. I like how Amber tried to preempt the bee imagery and get there first with the bees. Well played. I especially like the personal testimony about accepting one's vocational gifts. Well said. John 11:27.

  11. I can’t say it any better than Patricia and Peg S., above at 8:39-8:40. Forget the pious accretions to the stories of both saints, and focus on the Gospel accounts of Martha’s fidelity and diligence.

  12. So, I'm looking at the final four and seeing how voting went since the beginning. If gambling wasn't a pathway to seperating ourselves from Christ and others, I would lay money on Pandita.

  13. Why am I so taken with St. Gobnait? Why do I find her so fascinating and inspiring? Perhaps, I am intrigued that she could command bees to protect her village. There were many women who functioned as healers, so why am I hoping she’ll win the Golden Halo?
    In this particular match-up, it’s a no-brainer for me to vote for Gobnait over Martha of Bethany. I’ve read all the arguments that Martha personifies the ministry of action, of doing good works, but I honestly can’t get past her petulant attack on her sister, Mary, and Jesus’ rebuke.
    Gobnait was also a woman of action, defending her village and caring for the villagers, using her bees’ honey as a cure. Even today, honey is known for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as soothing a sore throat and calming a cough. It’s used in healing wounds and is especially effective on severe bruising.
    So, for all the LM folks who are contemplating a vote for Martha because she is a ‘doer,’ please consider St. Gobnait as a ‘doer’ as well. And Gobnait does it with sweetness!

    1. My 90 yr old bedbound mother had a bed sore on her heel the hospitalist doctor said would never heal because of poor circulation. Thanks to a great visiting nurse and manuka honey it's almost gone. That and the great write-up influenced me to vote for Gobnait.

    2. Love your thoughts here, though I must say, as a sister myself, I find Martha’s “attack” to be humanizing — maybe I, too, can be a great saint, despite my sibling squabbles!

  14. This year's Lent Madness has been great. Not ready to see it end. We have missed Oliver's comments this year. Pray he is well.

  15. Gobnait is the perfect saint for the Golden Halo. Lent Madness is all about educating us about saints we never knew. EVERYone knows about Martha of Bethany. No more education needed there. But just look into the future and see Gobnait (or Zenaida, or Pandita Ramabai) pictured on your commuter coffee mug. See people asking "who the heck is that?" See yourself proudly explaining about this unknown saint and why she is so honored that the golden halo is hers!

    That right there is evangelism. That right there is WHY Lent Madness exists.

  16. Healing and creation care - what we and our world so very much. I respect Martha, of course - but for today, Gobnait has my heart and my vote.

  17. Beautiful write-ups on both candidates today. Had to vote for Martha, but it was difficult.

  18. I wish I could vote for both of these wonderful saints. Thank you to the celebrity bloggers for their moving words. In the end, as someone who is still wrestling with the nature of my vocation, my vote goes to Martha. May I, like her, live with integrity and pursue my own calling.

  19. Thank you Amber and David for your thoughtful reflections today. Your words only made a tough choice tougher.

  20. The bloggers made this an exceptionally difficult choice. Both testimonies will stay with me. I think I am voting for Gobnait because I won't forget about Martha, but I may be in danger of forgetting about Gobnait - one of the ordinary saints of God - and I mean to be one too.

  21. very hard, indeed. Ironic, that we value Gobnait in part to look past the superstars to the ordinary--yet to vote for her puts her among the superstars. Haven't decided yet.

  22. WOW! This was a difficult choice. We are anxious to find out who wins today's match-up!