John 11:19-27 or Luke 10:38-42
Today on this Feast of St. Martha the Church offers us the option of two possible gospels for our reflection. I chose Luke’s story of the conversation between Martha and our Lord. It is a familiar story for most of us. Jesus comes to visit his friends Martha and Mary who lived with their brother Lazarus in Bethany. Now Martha, being the good hostess, was busy with all the serving, tending the needs of all the guests. (My presumption is that Jesus did not go alone but brought at least his disciples. There were probably others from the village there also as well as the news of the arrival of a famed teacher and healer like Jesus would have spread through the village like fire.) Needless to say, the house was more than likely crowded with folks that needed to be fed and cared for.
Martha therefore had her hands full. And it seems reasonable that she would be a bit perturbed by her sister’s lack of assistance. While Martha was running around like the proverbial chicken with its head off; there sat Mary at the feet of Jesus soaking in every word, every gesture of the Master. Martha complaint does seem justified. "Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me." You would think Jesus being reasonable and just would have taken Martha’s side. Yet as is Jesus’ way he turns the situation upside down telling Martha that she worries and fret about so many things…but Mary has chosen the better part.
How often do we choose the better part? How often do we sit at the feet of the Master contemplating his word and soaking in his every gesture?
It is interesting to note that St. Paul of the Cross, our Founder, made it a priority for all members of the Congregation to take time away to sit at the feet of the Master. In his 1775 Rule Paul of the Cross specifically refers to the houses of the vowed members as "retreats." These "retreats" were not at first places where the laity would gather for preaching and reflection on the Passion the way many of our retreat centers now are. Rather they were homes for the vowed members to rest and rejuvenate their spirits after the preaching missions they were sent on throughout Italy and beyond. These "retreats" were their home base where they could recharge their batteries and seat at the feet of the Master to be replenished. As an analogy from the first reading from Exodus, these "retreats" were the mountains where members could go to meet God face to face as Moses did in order to bring God’s people the word of life itself.
It is not enough for a Passionist, vowed or lay, just to preach the Passion of Jesus. Those dedicated to the Good News of the Passion must also spend time reflecting on it and its implications for their lives and the life of the world. Can we take time this summer to sit like Mary at the feet of Jesus? I am sure in the end Martha did.
Patrick Quinn is the director of planned giving at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.