We’re all familiar with the Gospel account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet whilst Martha is burdened by the numerous tasks required to host an important visitor. This is made worse because she feels that Mary is contributing nothing, absolutely nothing, to this essential domestic work.
Like the loyal son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Martha feels maligned, underappreciated and, to a certain extent, betrayed. Why should all of the work fall to her when she has a sister who is equally capable? Why can’t she have a turn to rest and listen to Jesus? It certainly doesn’t seem fair. And then, to top it all off, when she appeals to Jesus, she doesn’t get the answer she’s looking for. He doesn’t ask Mary to come to her aid. Instead, he seems to admonish her.
Now, I’m not going to lie, I’ve always sympathised with Martha. I mean, it’s good to enjoy the company of visitors but the work is not going to do itself.
I’m one of those A-Type personalities- the hardworking perfectionistic overachievers – and I’ve always struggled with this Gospel passage, especially now that I’m a busy wife and mum of six. Who wouldn’t love to spend all day at the feet of Jesus, basking in His presence, listening to His parables first-hand and soaking up His truth and wisdom? But, in reality, there are babies to feed, children to get to school, lunches to pack, clothes to wash, floors to clean and so on…ad infinitum.
However, if we look closely at what Jesus says, we learn that He is not reproaching Martha for her work, or even for choosing to work, but for something altogether different.
Saint Francis de Sales explains: “When our Lord reprimanded Saint Martha, He said to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset over many things.” You see, if she had simply tended to their needs, she would not have been troubled. However, her resentment and preoccupation with perfection makes her hurried and agitated. This is why Our Lord reprimanded her.”
If she had simply tended to their needs… How simple that sounds, but when we feel engulfed by the needs of those around us, we may lose focus and forget to perform our duties with care and compassion. Martha was cautioned because she became unreasonable and anxious in her haste to complete this work. She became fixated on the work itself, and who should be engaged in it, rather than who and what it was for.
Mary has chosen the better part, not for merely sitting by the side of Jesus, but for accepting His peace which the world cannot give. Her inner tranquillity enabled her to judge that paying attention to what her guest is saying is a higher priority than hastening to bring him something he does not need at that moment. She knows that the work of service must still be done, but it can – and will – wait. This moment will never come again – a good thing for parents to remember with their children and spouses.
Had Martha performed her acts of service cheerfully and serenely, she could have enjoyed His company, in the midst of completing her tasks. Then, she too could have relaxed by His side, unaffected by the passions of frustration and jealousy.
So, how can we be more like Mary, so that we can seize these opportunities to sit at Jesus’ feet? Here are a few ways in which you can turn your inner-Martha into an inner-Mary:
Begin your day the right way, in prayer. And continue to pray throughout day. Offer all your joys, works, and sufferings to Him in your Morning Offering. Attend Mass regularly, daily if you can. Pray the Rosary daily as a family. Recite the Angelus before Grace at lunch. Spend time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Mary delighted in Jesus’ presence, so we should do the same!
Owning up to our mistakes and failures can be daunting, but recognising our own shortcomings and failures through a daily examination of conscience can be both informative and illuminating. We are flawed human beings and we’re going to make mistakes. We should not dwell on these mistakes, but simply acknowledge them, express sorrow for them and make reparation. The Sacrament of Penance is one of the most underappreciated and underutilised pathways to grace. Regular monthly Confessions are an excellent aid to both finding and maintaining our inner peace, by reconciling us with God, our neighbours and ourselve.
This is easier said than done, as I well know, but, as Saint Francis de Sales explains: “Never is a task accomplished with impetuosity and haste done well.” The solution? Try to accept all of your tasks with peace. Complete them in a prioritized order and delegate what you can or must.
If you feel burdened by a task, or anxious about life in general, ask for help. There is no harm in asking for a hand, if you need one. You’d want your friends and family to approach you for support should they need it, so make sure you consider yourself in the same manner. Of course, pride may get in the way, but perhaps God has popped this task into your life to help foster the virtue of humility in you.
God is infinite. He is infinitely merciful and generous. He cannot be outdone in generosity. Relinquish the cares and worries of this life, the burdens that weigh you down, the anxieties that prevent you from achieving anything. Let Him help you. Trust in His wisdom and mercy and you shall see that He will give you everything you need to endure the harder times. Jesus exhorts us to be like the innocent children who trust Him implicitly. They don’t worry about things that don’t concern them.
A little detachment is a good thing for all of us, especially our inner-Martha!
Dear Jesus, you are the strength of my life. Restore my soul and break the chains of anxiety and panic that bind me. Amen.
©Emily Shaw is a former Australasian Catholic Press Association award-winning editor turned blogger for australiancatholicmums.com and is a contributor to Catholic-Link. A wife and mother of seven, she resides on a farm in rural Australia and enjoys the spiritual support of her local Catholic community.
The simple and tender words of Jesus instructing us to “love one another as I have loved you” have taken on a deeper meaning for me over the past few weeks as the coronavirus has spread throughout the globe. I have witnessed love of neighbor in action from every end of the earth, and in my own backyard. And if this love had a sound, that sound would be silence: quiet classrooms, empty offices, and desolate parks. The silence is powerful. It is the sound of love. It is the sound of Isolation, sacrifice, and self-denial for the health and safety of humanity. What a beautiful movement in a defining moment. Odd as it may sound, there is an immeasurable amount of beauty in all this suffering we face. As I look in my daughter’s closet and see her dresses for prom and graduation hanging up, now never to be worn, I can’t help but feel a twinge of pain and sadness for the memories she and so many others will never create. But she is living in a moment she will never forget. A moment that none of us will ever forget --when the world came together and love spread faster than a virus. That is the most extraordinary memory to keep. That is what makes this time of pain and loss extraordinarily holy. Like many people, I hope that when love and prayer and science conquer this pandemic, life does not return to normal. I pray kindness and compassion will continue to overflow this earth. I pray the pain, sacrifice, and hardships we are all enduring softens us – softens our hearts, our actions, our thoughts. I pray that each of us will appreciate our blessings in life a little more, that our faith will become a little deeper, that our love for each other will grow a little stronger. My hope is that the little things in life become the bigger things in life, as our appreciation for everything around us flourishes. I pray that we fully understand what it means to love each other as Jesus loves us and actively live this love, because we are all in this beautiful life together.
I had the most extraordinary experience of love of neighbor with a Hindu family. A gentleman came to our house and said, “Mother Teresa, there is a family who has not eaten for so long. Do something.” So, I took some rice and went there immediately. When I saw the children, their eyes were shining with hunger. I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger, but I have seen it very often. The mother of the family took the rice I gave her and went out. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go; what did you do?” She gave me a very simple answer: “They [a neighbor family] are hungry also.” What struck me most was that they were a Muslim family. And she knew. I did not bring any more rice that evening, because I wanted them - Hindus and Muslims - to enjoy the joy of sharing. Those children were radiating joy - sharing their joy and peace with their mother because she had the love to give until it hurts. You see this is where love begins - at home in the family.” [Excerpt from “A Call to Mercy” by Mother Teresa] This happened at a time when religious violence was prevalent in India, and thousands of people died in the riots between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The unselfishly generous gift this poor woman unhesitatingly gave to her hungry neighbors, who happened to be a Muslim family, deeply touched Mother Teresa. She often looked to the poor; for their love was simple and their hearts were full of joy. Mother Teresa invites us to learn from the poor and receive their joy by sharing our blessings generously. “Not all of us are called to do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
I have always loved the Acts of the Apostles and have often recommended it to those who are approaching the Bible for the first time. Filled with colorful narratives, adventure, martyrdom, persecution, and journeys by sea, it makes for stimulating reading indeed. But I love it especially because it shows us the excitement of being a follower of Jesus. Long before there were parishes and dioceses and the Vatican and other institutional structures, there was this band of brothers and sisters who were so overwhelmed and energized by the fact of the resurrection that they went careening around the world and to their deaths with the message of Jesus. It also features some wonderful exemplifications of Christian preaching, for it relates to us some of the earliest kerygmatic proclamations of the apostles. If we attend carefully to these speeches, we can learn a lot about good preaching, but also a lot about the nature of Christianity. A particularly fine example is the sermon given by St. Peter on Pentecost morning and described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. We hear that Peter stood up with the Eleven and raised his voice. First lesson: all legitimate Christian teaching and proclamation is apostolic, which is to say, grounded in the witness of the first intimate followers of Jesus. Bishops are entitled to preach precisely because they are successors of the apostles; priests and deacons are formally commissioned to preach by bishops. This is to assure that what preachers say is not just a matter of private opinion or the fruit of the present cultural consensus, but is rather rooted in the experience of those who knew Jesus personally. So what does apostolic preaching sound like? Peter says, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Notice, first, the strength, confidence, and edginess of this proclamation. There is nothing weak, vacillating, or unsure about it. This is not a preacher sharing his doubt with you or reveling in the complexity and multivalence and ambiguity of faith. This is a man speaking (in a loud voice) about his absolute conviction. And what is he convicted about? “That God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Christos, the Greek term for Messiah from which we derive the English word Christ, has the sense of anointed, which implies the new David, which means the fulfillment of the expectation of Israel. Good preaching always puts Jesus in relation to Israel, for he makes sense only kata ta grapha (according to the Scriptures). A Jesus abstracted from the history of Israel devolves in short order into a mere religious teacher or teacher of timeless spiritual truths. And not only is he Christ; he is also Kyrios (Lord). This term had, at the time of Peter and Jesus, both a Jewish and a Roman sense. On the Jewish reading, it designated Yahweh, the God of Israel, for Adonai (Lord, in Hebrew) was the typical substitute for the unpronounceable tetragrammaton, YHWH. Paul, who continually calls Jesus “Lord,” says that Jesus was given the name above every other name, by which he means the name of God. Preaching that leaves the Divinity of Jesus aside or in the shadows is, therefore, not Apostolic preaching. Now Kyrios also had a Roman sense, since Caesar was called Kyrios, meaning the one to whom final allegiance is due. Do you see how edgy and subversive it was to declare that Jesus is Lord, and by implication, Caesar is not? And do you see why those who made that claim usually ended up imprisoned and/or put to death? A twentieth century Anglican bishop memorably expressed the insight as follows: “When Paul preached, there were riots; when I preach, they serve me tea.” Notice, next, that Peter is not tickling the ears of his hearers: “God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified.” He’s not pulling any punches or trying to win friends and influence people. About as bluntly and clearly as he possibly can, he names the sin of his audience. And this is precisely what “cuts to the heart” of his hearers. Trust me when I tell you that abstract spiritual principles, tired bromides, and timeless moral truths don’t cut people to the heart. And so they cry out, “What are we to do?” Peter’s sermon continues: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” Every truly evangelical sermon should be a call to repentance, to turn one’s life around. If it doesn’t lead to contrition and a conviction to change, it has not cut to the heart. Mind you, this doesn’t entail moralizing in a brow-beating way, but rather the presenting of the message of Jesus in such a clear and compelling way that people naturally see how they’ve fallen short and want to change. Peter concludes: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Followers of Jesus are a holy nation, a people set apart. We have renewed minds and wills; we should profile ourselves distinctly against the backdrop of the world. If we think and act like everyone else, we haven’t taken in the Gospel. Relatedly, if all we hear from the pulpit is what can be heard on talk-shows and in discussion groups and in political conversations, we haven’t heard the Gospel. Finally, we are told that, “Three thousand persons were added [to the Church] that day.” I know that everyone and his brother tells us not to worry about numbers and there is indeed truth to that. For God wants us to be, not successful, but faithful, as Mother Teresa said. However, like it or not, the Bible is interested in numbers. And good preaching, if it is truly evangelical, is meant to draw people into the Church. That they are staying away from the Church in droves today says, I would suggest, something rather negative about the quality of our preaching. To all preachers, I might recommend a careful consideration of the kerygmatic sermonizing in the Acts of the Apostles. If you preach like Peter, they might not serve you tea after every homily, but they will know that they’ve been cut to the heart.
Ignoring the Obvious ‘He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So, the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation”’(John 11:43-48) I could never understand how the chief priests and Pharisees responded to witnesses reporting such a mighty miracle. How could they ignore the obvious conclusion? They could not deny the miracle. Instead, they adopted the absurd policy of denying the one who performed the miracle! Ironically, they were trying to save the man-made tabernacle (holy place) by destroying the true tabernacle (Jesus). Why couldn’t they recognize the Saviour they had long awaited? The answer is simple: They didn’t want to! Accepting Jesus as the Christ could cost them everything, so they wilfully closed their eyes to the Truth! Whenever we choose comfort and turn a blind eye to the Truth (knowingly or unknowingly), we are in the company of these people. Wilful blindness is a deeprooted problem in many of us. Is it a Right to remain Ignorant? Mr. M is a hardcore atheist. He says he believes in Science, but purposely avoids anything which Science struggles to explain. His wilful blindness doesn’t allow him to see things on their own merits. Everything is filtered through his ‘I know there is no God’ lens. Lately, I started recognising some ways in which I am wilfully blind. As an example, last week, a policeman stopped my car to test my breath for alcohol. As a non-drinker, I always considered myself a safe driver who doesn’t pose a danger to others. However, although my alcohol level is always zero, I have sometimes failed to get enough sleep before taking the wheel. A drowsy driver is as dangerous as a drunken driver! Wilful blindness can affect how a faithful Christian interprets Scripture. That is why it says the Gospel I read is my own gospel. Antony reads Antony’s gospel; Joseph reads Joseph’s gospel and Mary reads Mary’s gospel! Each one interprets the Scriptures in their own way! We tend to give greater importance to verses that give us comfort and overlook verses that could challenge us! For example - A nondrinker who sees the warning against the ‘drunkard’ and ignores warnings against other sins is wilfully blind. A husband who sees the ‘submissive wife’ in Scripture but misses the Christ-like husband, who must love his wife and give himself up for her, is also wilfully blind (and vice versa). A preacher I know used to quote Luke 12:32 which says,“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. Every time, attendees responded with familiarity. Then, he would ask whether anyone knows the very next verse. Nobody could ever answer the question. It says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor”. The first verse is, in fact, a pre-assurance that we need not fear to do the latter, but we tend to ignore the whole message and stick to what is comforting. This is wilful blindness. Eyes become useless when the mind is blind Two thousand years ago, during His trial, Jesus told Pilate that He came into the world to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth, listens to His voice. Even though Pilate asked Him to clarify this statement, he didn’t pursue his question. He probably knew that knowing the Truth would hinder him from what he was about to do. He had to turn a blind eye towards the Truth to keep his position and reputation. Can we do a better job? In fact, it doesn’t need a great effort on our part! We simply need to turn our eyes to the Lord and keep them open. He, the Light of the World, will come into our hearts to illuminate the darkness so we can see clearly.
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