Sunday, July 21, 2013

Martha and Mary- a short Sunday reflection

We live in a world that seeks to push us all towards polar extremes. Sadly this as true in the Church as in the world. Such a force is truly diabolic, meaning that it is the devil's work to divide us. Our English word "devil" is derived from the Latin word diabolus, which, in turn, is a transliteration of the Greek word διάβολος. This Greek noun comes from the Greek verb diaballo that literally means something like "to put at cross purposes" (dia= "across," or "through" and ballo= "to throw"). It seems to me that the point of today's Gospel, especially in light of our first reading from Genesis, wherein Abraham and Sarah go to great lengths to provide a feast for their three guests, in whom the Church sees an image, or at least some kind of vague intimation, of the Most Holy Trinity, is not to privilege contemplation over Christian service. To give one example, Does the Church not need both deacons and contemplative religious orders?

Given the above I find it interesting that the place where the Holy Father has taken up residence in the Vatican is the Domus Sanctae Marthae, or, in English, "St. Martha's House." An old Benedictine, that is, monastic, motto is "receive everyone as you would Christ," meaning offer anyone who turns up as much hospitality as you are capable of giving her/him. In the final chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, the sacred writer reminds his listeners, "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels" (13:1-2). Our first reading from Genesis may well be what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote those words.

Christ with Martha and Mary, by Johannes Vermeer, 1654-55

As a deacon, I firmly believe that the shape, or form, of my discipleship is supposed to be more like Martha's than Mary's. My role in the liturgy is to effectively do what Martha was doing in our Gospel today. It seems to me that what earned Martha what I can only personally imagine to be a gentle correction from our Lord was her either/or thinking, her demand that the Lord "Tell [Mary] to help me" (Luke 10:40). Let's not fail to see the very unique circumstance in which Martha and Mary found themselves- being visited in their home by the incarnate Lord! Jesus' gentle rebuke to Martha reminds me of when He said, in response to the criticism that His disciples were not fasting, that wedding guests do not fast while the bridegroom is present, before indicating they would resume fasting after He left (Luke 5:33-39).

I would never argue that we should not all take the time to sit at Jesus' feet and simply be in His presence, as it were. Quite the contrary! It is of the essence that we do this and, in all honesty, probably more frequently than most of us do. But it is also vital for us to avoid reading Scriptural passages in isolation, apart of the rest of the witness of Scripture and disregarding the experience of the Church over time, especially the experience of the saints, who show us what it means to follow and serve Jesus Christ in every age. After all, we venerate both Martha and Mary as saints!

I think the key is not to act like Martha when we should be acting like Mary and vice-versa. It is also important to recognize that Christ's Church needs both.


  1. Hello Deacon, I was in Salt Lake City last month and heard Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. I just wanted to let you know that I think it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I've been too.

    I stumbled upon your blog while researching Mormon-Catholic relations and coming across Cora Evans. I'll be praying for her canonization and asking her to pray for the conversion of Mormons.

    God Bless!

  2. Norm:

    I am glad you were able to worship with us. I hope you have an opportunity to again. Yes, invoke Cora's heavenly help whenever you can.


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