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A Continuing Quest for Balance

Pope Francis, in his Sunday Angelus message, eloquently describes the “balance” that has been my elusive goal this year.

The reading of the 10th chapter of the evangelist Luke continues this Sunday too. Today’s passage is the one about Martha and Mary. Who are these two women? Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, are relatives and faithful disciples of the Lord, who lived in Bethany. St. Luke described them in this way: Mary, at Jesus’ feet, “listened to his word,” while Martha was busy with a lot serving (cf. Luke 10:39-40). Both offer welcome to the Lord as he is traveling, but in different ways. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening. But Martha lets herself be absorbed by the things that need to be prepared and in so busy that she turns to Jesus saying: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me” (7:40). And Jesus responds rebuking her with sweetness. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (10:41).

What does Jesus wish to say? What is this one thing that we need? Above all it is important to understand that it is not a matter of contrasting two attitudes: listening to the Lord’s word, contemplation, and concrete service to our neighbor. They are not two opposed attitudes but, on the contrary, they are two aspects that are both essential for our Christian life; aspects that must never be separated but lived in profound unity and harmony. So why does Martha receive the rebuke even if it is done with sweetness? Because she took only what she was doing to be essential, she was too absorbed and worried about things to “do.” For a Christian, the works of service and charity are never detached from the principle source of our action: that is, listening to the Word of the Lord, sitting – like Mary – at Jesus’ feet in the attitude of a disciple. And for this reason (Martha) is rebuked.

In our Christian life too prayer and action are always profoundly united. Prayer that does not lead to concrete action toward a brother who is poor, sick, in need of help, the brother in difficulty, is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when in ecclesial service we are only concerned with doing, we give greater weight to things, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ; we do not set aside time for dialogue with him in prayer, we are in risk of serving ourselves and not God present in our needy brother. St. Benedict took up the way of life that he summed up for his monks in two words: “ora et labora,” pray and work. It is from contemplation, from a strong relationship of friendship with the Lord that there is borne in us the capacity to live and bear God’s love, his mercy, his tenderness to others. It is also our work with our needy brother, our labor of charity in works of mercy, that brings us to the Lord because we see the Lord in our needy brother and sister.

(Unofficial translation: Joseph Trabbic of the ZENIT News Service, via  Thomas Rosica of Salt & Light TV and Father James Martin, SJ.)

Each day, I will get up and try again. And each day I will fail a little bit less until I finally succeed. At least for one day. And then I’ll try for two.

Video via the Vatican’s YouTube Channel.

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