Today, we celebrate St. Martha, one of the figures in Scripture with whom many of us can easily identify. Martha and her sister Mary invited Jesus to dinner and in a scene we can easily imagine—because we’ve been there—Martha points out to Jesus that while she is running around doing all of the work, Mary is just sitting around chatting. Who hasn’t had this experience? A sibling who chats with Aunt Mary, while you clear the table, a co-worker who seems always to disappear when its time for heavy lifting, a spouse who goes for a run, two hours before guests are to arrive. Surprisingly, Jesus who is all about serving, seems to reprimand Martha, saying “ Martha, Martha, you are busy about many things, and only one is necessary, Mary has chosen the better part.” http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/luke/luke10.htm At first glance, it appears that Jesus is suggesting that the contemplative life is “better” than the active life. Saint Augustine raises this very question. In Sermon 104 he says if this is what Jesus meant than we ought to stop feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and sit down and take up our prayer books. That however is not the way of the Christian. Augustine points out that Martha’s fault is not her hospitality for that is at the heart of the Christian life, but that she is so distracted by her tasks that she fails to recognize her Lord whom she loves, is here in her midst and she ought not to miss the importance of the moment. Martha is being given a taste of heaven and she’s about to miss it.
To Be or to Do
Augustine points out that heaven is sitting at the feet of the Lord, that all our work in done and our reward is to sit with the Lord and be filled with the grace of his presence. In heaven there will be no more to do, we will just be…. For many of us, this is a scary thought, we who are far more comfortable doing than being. When we try to be still, to pray contemplatively, we get so easily distracted, or we find ourselves saying, I am too busy to pray, I wish I had more time, but…. Jesus gently reminds Martha and us, that it is not good to be so distracted we fail to recognize him in the moment. It’s those moments at Mass, when we realize we are making the grocery list rather than listening to the Gospel, when we intend to leave work a little earlier so that we can get to Adoration or to Confession, but we start one more thing, when we check our blackberry first thing in the morning rather than praying.
Our service will only be as good as our prayer. It’s not that the contemplative life is better is better than the active life, or that some of us are Martha’s and some are Mary’s but rather we are both. We are active contemplatives who are quick to recognize Jesus in the moment.
Take a moment to be contemplative in front of the screen and look at www.sacredspace.ie.