Martha And Mary

Homily given at a Mass at St. John The Baptist Parish, Winfield IL. They are celebrating their 150 year jubilee year.

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Last week while serving at your Sunday morning Masses I learned that you were going to have a concert in the park on Thursday – and it would be big band swing music.  Since I have always liked this type of music I attended, and it was marvelous.  The music, your campus and the energy of the attendees made it a beautiful evening.  It was a marvelous way to help celebrate St. John the Baptist Parish’s 150 year jubilee.

This community can be proud of your journey and it is always good to look back at what you have accomplished, where you are today, and look towards tomorrow to where and what you will be in the future. A jubilee year celebration is always a special time to reflect on the journey of your parish.

A parish journey is one of community and as such it is made up of a multitude of journeys; as many as there are and have been parishioners. Each of us is on a journey; we are pilgrims, we are journeying through this existence to a goal. Each of our journeys are different but with the same future goal, the only real goal – eternity with our Heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ walks with each of us on our journey, and gives us helps through His bride, Holy Mother Church. We have the helps of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist to strengthen us and heal us.  We have each other, fellow Christians to walk with us and support us; and this extends to the Church victorious, the angels and saints in heaven. We have the revealed word of God to lead us; and on and on.

But one of these helps is little understood by most Catholics – the Liturgical Year.  Other than clergy and liturgists and few others, most don’t really understand the gift of the liturgical year.  Except for when decorations and music change, vestments turn a different color there is no notice. But there should be. The liturgical year is a great spiritual and catechetical tool; if we live with the liturgical year affecting us we can grow in our faith and our witnessing to the beauty of that faith.

Holy Mother Church gives us great seasons and feast days to teach us the many facets of our God and His people. Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter celebrate the great acts of our God for His people; but the one season that seems to be mostly ignored is the ‘green season’, Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time is a poor title because it is a horrible translation of the Latin; there is nothing ordinary about it.  A closer translation would be Ordered Time (thus the titles like today, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, next week will be the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time and on and on). I like to call Ordinary Time the ‘School of Discipleship’ because the readings in it teach us what it means to be followers of Christ, it trains us to be better witnesses for God.  Through honest reflection of the readings we can take stock of how we are doing.

Today’s reading is a great lesson in our journey as disciples.  We see Martha and Mary. Martha – she is busy doing; and Martha has the right of it. Jesus calls us to do things – calls to activity. In the gospel of St. John (known as the most Eucharistic gospel) the description of the Last Supper doesn’t mention the institution narrative as other gospels do. No, instead it relates to us the washing of the feet – action, service – this is what the Eucharist calls us to do. The final words of the Mass, the dismal, in the official Vatican text is Ite Misa Est – ‘Go you are sent’ a call to action. His final words to His apostles before His ascension calls us to action: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…[1]  So Martha is following the teachings and commands of Christ to do things.

Mary – on the other hand seems to be just sitting and doing nothing, letting her sister do all the work.  This is true, she is not doing, she is listening, and Mary has the right of it as well. But Mary has correct priority of things.  She is listening to our Lord. Another Mary, the Blessed Mother, tells the servants and us at the wedding feast of Cana to ‘Do whatever He tells you.[2] She calls us to action but first to listen.

Being a disciple means we have an apostolate – we have things to do for our Lord, but we need to listen to what it is that He has to tell us. We have to come to understand His directions first then do them; otherwise we are just doing our own thing, spinning our wheels in our journey to be more like Christ.

To listen to the Lord we need to participate in His dialog, the Mass of course is the summit of His dialog but we also need to dialog with Him in our prayer.  Mass is at best daily, usually weekly, but prayer is constant.

I would suggest to you that this gospel reading about Martha and Mary can be viewed not as two different people but what goes on with our journey. We are at times more Martha than Mary, then more Mary than Martha.  We need to prioritize our lives with Martha and Mary in mind. Martha and Mary teach us a very important lesson in priority; we need to use our ears first, mind and heart second, and last our hands and feet. Or as St. Josemaría Escrivá puts it: ‘First, prayer; then atonement; in the third place – very much “in the third place” – action.[3]

May the lesson of Martha and Mary help us be more fruitful in our apostolates.

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[1] Mt 28:19-20a
[2] Jn 2:5
[3] Josemaría Escrivá The Way #82

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Doing

It is interesting to listen to the discussions about ‘participation’ at Mass. There are those who think things need to be done by as many people as possible and there are those who think about participation as our interior activity during the Mass. All you need to do is go around to many of the churches in our diocese to see the wide range of understandings.

Cardinal Sarah, in his inaugural speech this month at the 2016 Sacra Liturgia in the United Kingdom spoke about this and the current state of celebrating the Mass and mentioned a maybe more foundational cause of what has happened in the past 50 years to the liturgy: ‘Too often we assume that knowing things about the liturgy is all that is required for liturgical formation, when what is more important is an immersion in the depths of the liturgy, a living out of a truly liturgical life.[1]

His comments and this discussion go much broader than just the ‘doings’ of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; it dives deep into the understanding of prayer as well.  To which we should ask ourselves: Do we just do prayer or are we immersed into prayer?

This question, of course, strikes to the heart of our participation in the Liturgy of the Hours.  If we are not careful we run the risk of only ‘doing’ the hours (specific prayers) and not allowing our conversation with God to come from deep within and allow His response to enter back deep within.

My friends in Christ, our understanding of liturgical action should be based on the realization that the physical actions, either in the Mass or the Divine Office, are not the goal of our participation. Among other reasons, they are meant to focus us and calm our physical being from the chaos of our life so that the spiritual effects of opening our minds and hearts to God is all the more fruitful.

If we come to the Mass to offer our participation in Christ’s sacrifice to His (and our) Father by opening ourselves to God’s transcendent reality then this should also be our attitude in prayer. Our participation in the Liturgy of the Hours should be more than the recitation of printed prayers that we do at certain points of the day; it should be part of an organic flow in our lives where we flow from our dialog with God into our daily activity then flow back into our dialog with God.  It really doesn’t matter if we understand everything about the Liturgy of the Hours if we don’t allow our prayer to immerse us into the cosmic reality of the Triune God. It doesn’t matter how exact, punctual and consistent we are in our daily prayer regime if it doesn’t affect our lives, and our lives doesn’t affect our next prayer. Of course there will be times that our prayer seems dry, seems mechanical, and we need to persevere through these times; not giving up, always praying, because that is what our faith calls for; but we need to cultivate our participation to make those times fewer and farther between.

Brothers and sisters let’s remember that we are both physical and spiritual, we need both physical and spiritual aspects of our faith, but don’t let the ‘doing’ of prayer crowd out what prayer can do for us.
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[1] New Liturgical Movement – article on the Cardinal Sarah’s inaugural speech at the Sacra Liturgia UK gathering

10 Years

10 years ago, on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time we began our Sunday Vespers prayer group.


Today is a day that I hoped for but doubted would ever come – our 10th anniversary of Sunday Vespers. We can look back and raise a praise of thanksgiving to almighty God for this beautiful and compelling gift of our participation in the internal dialog of the Trinity.

  • Beautiful, because when God became incarnate in Jesus Christ – the Trinitarian dialog became reachable to us. Christ elevated our conversation to among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’s dialog with each other. No longer is man’s conversation only between creatures but now it is also with the creator Himself – we have been brought within their dialog of love.
  • Compelling, because it envelopes us in the dialog of absolute love, and as such we are called to live as God lived among us; we are called to continue the witness of Jesus Christ, we are called to love those around us by proclaiming the truth through living it; and by loving everyone especially those who are far from this life in Christ.

This has been and will be a daunting gift.  The world never has and never will be easily receptive to the Gospel, even though their hearts yearn for what the Gospel proclaims.  This is a cross that we must bear, one that we must be joyful in carrying. But in addition, this is all the more daunting because of the ever changing dynamic of the world we live in.  Each day we find ourselves in a new situation; each day things we have done before have changed and things never known are now in front of us and we should participate in. To ignore this dynamic is to stagnate in our own isolation and refuse to participate in what God truly desires us to do, which keeps us from who we can fully and truly be.

However, prayer, our participation in the Trinitarian dialog can be unsettling, makes us unsure and timid; but we should embrace it with the knowledge that our continual dialog with the Trinity both in public prayer, such as our vespers and of course the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and just as important, our constant dialog of personal, internal, prayer keeps us united with our strength and guide.

As we enter the unknown of our eleventh year let’s rest assured that He who we dialog with and in will be right there with each of us.  To be sure, we will know doubt and weakness; but we will be embraced by almighty God and live within His dialog of love. Through His loving embrace we can look confidently through the fog of the changing and unknown to the only real future, heaven. It is really up to us; as long as we participate with the Holy Trinity in their dialog and continue to use His gifts as He desires we will know peace and joy. After all, He desires that we use what He has gifted us to ensure that history is His Story.

Let me finish with a beautiful assurance and urging given by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to the youth in Madrid Spain:

Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.[1]

Let’s live a life of faith as we journey into the uncertainty of tomorrow with the confidence that prayer gives us – that of the eternal goal.

May God bless each of us; and may each of us continue to participate in the dialog of Love, come what may.
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[1] Pope Benedict XVI, 8/21/11, talk to the youth in Madrid Spain

Poor

While finishing up a boat tour on the island of St. Lucia I heard one of the tourists, a man from the U.S., ask the tour guide if there were any poor areas on the island like the ones he saw on the other islands he had visited. It seems that he was surprised, relieved, he didn’t see any. I am not sure of his intent, I can’t read his mind but his delivery was brash, clueless and culturally insensitive. It was also idiotic since he had never gone onto the island – it was a boat tour that started behind the cruise ship – which is what the tour guide politely pointed out. She went on to say that the island was very rural in some parts – an interesting observation and one that confused the man – who then connected rural with poor.

Another time I heard a lady behind me talking to another about the low wages the crew made – it seems that these ‘poor overseas people didn’t know how much they should really be making’ – sigh! Americans, the gracious tourists!

I kept reflecting on these two tourists as the vacation went on and their attitudes. It seemed to me that there was a common thread: poverty is something that they shouldn’t have to see – it is evil and should be eradicated – and those who were poor didn’t know enough to elevate themselves.

They seem to think that being poor was something that should never happen, that it should be eliminated from the world. As honorable an intention as that might seem, it is both impossible and maybe, deep down, a selfish wish.

Impossible
Are we to contradict our Lord? It was He who said: ‘The poor you will always have with you,’[1] Christ is making us aware that being poor, in and of itself, isn’t something evil. Those who are poor aren’t failures because they are poor, in fact they could be successful in what is truly important – faith.

The issue here lies between two words poor and destitute.  The people of these islands that this tourist saw, and had a type of pity for, might very well not need his pity. Yes, they hardly had much at all, at least according to our standards (which is a very consumerist, vulgar viewpoint) but they were not lacking in the necessities, and they had family, faith – love.  They made due with what they had, and were happy.  Now to be sure some probably had fallen into destitution but not all.

Selfish
What strikes me about these types of tourists, and by extension many Christians of the first world is that their desire to rid the planet of the poor by elevating them is a cover for their fearful distaste of having to help them in a personal way.  Sure, these types of Christians will most certainly throw dollars at the issue, but that is not what Christ calls us to do – he calls for more.  He calls us to a solidarity with the poor. Pope Francis speaks constantly about looking into the eyes of the poor, talking with them, showing concern and care as we help them financially.  Christ calls us to love and love isn’t paying for them to go away by raising their standard of living. Love is compassion – compassion is made of two latin words: com (meaning with) and passion (meaning to suffer).  We are called to be one with them, solidarity among family.

Hard lesson but important
This is a hard lesson to teach even to the Christian world, especially we who live in the first world.  We are called to live with those who need our help. Some try to separate almsgiving from the social works of charity and I have to ask – is this how we witness to love? We proclaim to be members of the mystical body of Christ, the Church, so how can we be satisfied with this logic? Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical speaks of the specific attributes that separates the church (and every member) from well-meaning but bureaucratic charitable organizations ‘The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support.[2]

Brothers and sisters, let’s take to heart Jesus’ words in our actions towards those we meet ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.[3]

Judgement no – compassion yes.

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[1] MK 14:7
[2] Pope Benedict XVI Deus Caritas Est section 28b
[3] MATT 22:37-39 (RSV)