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. I do love Martha; truly I do. But, the chastizement story and her goal of a more contemplative exercise of her faith represent for me the ever-present subversion of woman's purpose in the Bible as an instrument of patriarchal social norms. (What a mouth-full.) Therefore, I choose Gobnait. Check out Elizabeth Cady Stanton's last suffrage accomplishment, The Women's Bible.

    1. Thank you for mentioning Elizabeth Cady Stanton's 'The Woman's Bible'. I had never heard of that before. I just downloaded it and am looking forward to reading it.

  2. I loved Amber's reflection about the tension inherent in Martha's "busyness", and the criticism that has been heaped on her as a result. As one who has tried vainly to suppress my kinetic side, she has always resonated. As Amber writes, Martha is the "Biblical example of a holy, active life." Amen.

    1. "Kinetic." Now there's a word to lift your hat to!

      I have voted for all four of these women, so at this point it's eeny-meeny-miney-mo. I'm good with whoever wins.

  3. Wow, today’s a toughie! Gobnait and Martha are my favorites out of the whole bunch. I love both these ladies and think both deserve the Halo for different reasons. Alas, there can only be one. So I cast my vote for the quiet, daily disciple. Gobnait for the Golden Halo!

  4. 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.

  5. Today I recognize the dichotomy of my own being between Martha and Mary and my difficulty in being still for very long. However, I had to give the mostly unrecognized Gobnait my vote. She being relegated to the back of the class deserves to be moved forward in recognition of her offerings. Martha is worthy of the Golden Halo but I just have to say go Gobnait.

  6. Beautiful and inspiring reflections by both Amber and David today. They made a hard choice even more impossible, which is actually a good thing.

  7. To all you Marthas, who seem to feel guilty that you aren't Marys, here's one Mary who has always felt that though they never said so outloud, the Marthas in my life all were criticizing my 'Mary-ness' as they bustled. Maybe it's just my own, though I do appreciate Martha, particularly for her declaration at Lazarus's tomb that Jesus is the Christ, I'm going to support the lesser-known one, whose gold halo (if she gets it) may bring her more attention. Besides, my brother-in-law just got a couple new hives of bees to replace those he lost this past winter.

  8. As the recipient of many “Martha, Martha” tsk tsks from family, I must vote for Martha. In the words of Popeye(?) “I yam what I yam”

  9. I am another 'ordinary saint' I only care what God thinks. I don't need the recognition at meetings or in the bulletin. If I do more than 10% of my time tithe - oh well. Our heavenly Father knows and that is what matters.

  10. I voted for Martha. Retirement has deprived me of the satisfaction of good work well done. Yet before, when I was so busy, I yearned for more time for prayer and contemplation. How could I overlook the fact that now I have one of my heart's desires? Martha accomplished much and was able to serve Our Lord with her own gifts.

    1. Oh dear—sorry for that epic link! Techno-people, how could I have shortened that?!

    2. I follow the Abbey of the Arts, with its "Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks". It feeds both my spirituality and my creativity. That image is part of a series commissioned by the founder, Christine Vaulters Paintner. I believe she lives in Ireland now and much of what she writes is steeped in Celtic tradition.

  11. Thank you, David and Amber! Both of your summaries resonated with me: 'busy worker bees building up the kingdom' (in the Martha summary) made me chuckle out loud in its juxtaposition with Gobniat and 'unnamed folks far from the spotlight' (in defense of Gobnait) reminded me of the blessings from all those 'saints' I have be privileged to be 'busy' with on this earthly journey. Both these ladies lived lives of service to others. . .as should we all in whatever capacity we have to serve. So, in deference to the lack of difference between the two, I flip the coin! Either is a worthy candidate!

  12. I've never liked that the story of Mary and Martha gets read as Mary vs. Martha (contempletive vs. active) when I read it as about pursuing one's calling (or spiritual gifts) to love Jesus within the roles we are in, whether that be mistress of the house (Martha) or not (Mary), and doing that in a way that focuses on Jesus and not distractions or cultural expectations (like of hosting in a certain way). I don't think we need to look past the Biblical story to later tradition to get that. We just need to look past the ongoing centuries of misreading the story.
    That's just Luke's version anyway. It's John's Martha who really shines.
    In John 12's version of this story, just before Jesus' entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), Martha serves at a dinner for Jesus in someone else's house. Judas is the one who gets corrected for scolding Mary for sitting at Jesus' feet (and anointing them). In this story, Martha's service exemplifies what Jesus then suggests we should be doing now that he is no longer with us in the same way: serving others (the poor) in his name and in his stead.
    Also, although the woman at the well (Photini) in John 4 is the first to have faith in Jesus as Messiah, Martha in John 11 also expresses this same faith but she is also the very first to have faith in Jesus' resurrection, a far more radical belief at the time. I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned more. To me, that's the biggest reason Martha deserves the Golden Halo.

  13. Martha is a favorite because she reminds us of ourselves. Jesus got it wrong - we're fine just the way we are. Vote for yourself! Vote for Martha!
    Or not.

  14. I was very moved by these bios today. I thought I would vote for Martha, as I haven't seen Gobnait's story as being compelling. However, today the compelling point of the unsung faithful touched me deeply, and resonates with the need to keep on keeping on even when unrecognized. The meaning and impact of Gobnait's life of service spoke to me and I voted for her joyfully and with conviction.

  15. This was a most difficult chose today. Being a “Martha” myself, I found today’s bio of Martha very comforting. Perhaps now I can find comfort knowing that it is because I’ve been gifted as a Martha that I find it difficult to be quiet in prayer and meditation. But, being beekeeper, I am biased towards Gobnait. Oh, decisions! Martha gets my vote! Sorry Gobnait. (hope my bees don’t find out!

  16. Amber and David both did such a fantastic job today that they made an already difficult decision even harder. I finally voted for Gobnait, thinking of so many people I have known, many of them women, who were faithful disciples doing so much good in quiet ways. "Let us now praise famous men." Let us now praise women who are not famous and are deserving of our admiration.

  17. We have come, in our times, to worship the superstars. Yet, it is the quiet, the unknown, the toilers who make life possible for the rest of us. Gobnait speaks to me as someone who does not reach superstar status but is an illustration of the meek of the Sermon on the Mount.

  18. Come in all ye beekeepers, honey-lovers, iron workers and Celts. Let’s put our sweet Gobnait, the unknown, over the top.

  19. Come in all ye beekeepers, honey-lovers, iron workers and Celts. Let’s put our sweet Gobnait, the unknown, over the top.

  20. Female Faithful Four!
    Femmes fatale du jour?
    Founded in philanthropy,
    Focused on philosophy,
    Finally I’m fain to find
    Fellow females of the mind,
    Physician, Founder, Jesus’ Friend,
    Famous fearless bees befriend;
    Fantastic fabulous feminity,
    A fully faithful sorority!

  21. I’m Team Martha for the duration now. Her witness in the gospels continues to draw me deeper into comtemplating Christ. Furthermore, each of the remaining ladies has defeated a favorite of mine somewhere along the way, and although Martha bested Photini, I’d like to see a Biblical winner crowned for the first time since 2012.

  22. I would like to suggest to the Supreme Executive Committee that next year (Lenten Madness 2020) ALL the candidates be female. If that were the case, voting would never be based on a gender preference (usually female!)