Balance (one word 2013)
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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.

A New Year, a New Word

Last year, in place of a long list of resolutions that I had no chance of keeping, I tried something different:

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap that long list of goals you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word.

One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long.

One Word, 365 days (really 366, but who’s counting?). And the word I chose?

“Pray.” Not just in the morning or before bed, but constantly. Not just every day—one of the four parts of my ongoing New Year’s resolution—but all day. As St. Paul said: “Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” —1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18 (NAB)

How did I do? It was hit and miss. I know in retrospect that I took on too much too soon in the beginning and set myself up to falter. But, despite my far less than perfect attempt, I learned two important lessons. By setting the specific goal to pray I was more likely to accomplish it, and on the days I slacked off I really missed it. Over the course of the year, I found myself in a more prayerful place and I grew spiritually as a result. I’ve established a habit of prayer that I can stick to, even if it isn’t quite what I set out to accomplish a year ago.

So now I need to pick a new word for the next 365 days (really 364, but who’s counting?) and I’ve been thinking through some options.

I’m working on a guest post right now on the Benedictine motto of ora et labora (prayer and work), and since “pray” was my word last year, I thought I might try the other half this year. I am a writer—a struggling one, of course—so I could be practical and chose the word “write.”

But I realized that part of my struggle last year was due to my own frustration. I tried to force things that weren’t there, and when I lost control I got resentful and angry. I forgot that so many things in life are out of my hands, and to trust God to open new doors for me, and to look for those new doors, rather than trying to pry the old ones back open with a crowbar. So I could choose the word “trust.” When it comes to God, at least, we could all stand to trust more. But with the rest of the world? Not so much.

A third option—which is also the theme of my ora et labora post—is “balance.” In studying the Rule, and specifically the way St. Benedict structures a monastic schedule, I discovered that the basis of his approach is balance. Every aspect of the rule is a quest for balance.

I also like that balance is both a verb and a noun (that’s the writer in me again) and it seems to be what’s most lacking in my life right now, which might be while I’m so strongly drawn to the Rule. I see in it something I find missing in my own Sturm und Drang existence. Yes, drama is great for art, but it’s not so good for real life, and we all deal with enough uncertainty in life.

So “balance” it is. My word and my goal for 2013.

If you want to try this out for yourself, go to One Word 365 and pick your own word for 2013. There’s over 500,000 to chose from!