Saturday, July 17, 2010

16th Sunday of the Year. "The Better Portion": To stop, look and listen is also to love

Activity is part of the life of everyone. All of us have our work to do. Although God told Adam that he would earn his bread "by the sweat of his brow", and Eve that she and all her daughters would give birth "in pain", the Lord also told us that he is "working, and that the Father is working even now". The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

"Jesus fulfilled the work of the Father completely; his prayer, like his sacrifice, extends until the end of time. The prayer of this hour fills the end-times and carries them toward their consummation. Jesus, the Son to whom the Father has given all things, has given himself wholly back to the Father, yet expresses himself with a sovereign freedom by virtue of the power the Father has given him over all flesh. The Son, who made himself Servant, is Lord, the Pantocrator. Our high priest who prays for us is also the one who prays in us and the God who hears our prayer." (CCC 2749)

And so work, in Christ, has become even a source of blessing despite the exertions and exhaustion that it sometimes brings into our lives along with the food, shelter and clothing which it enables us to have.

In the Gospel Martha is working very hard and for a very important guest: the Lord Himself. Martha loves the Lord very much and she shows this by taking care of his physical needs: making him comfortable, preparing a meal. But she feels overwhelmed and asks a favor of Christ in the midst of her chores, begging him, "please tell my sister to help me."

Mary is sitting down, and appears to be doing nothing. Mary's lack of activity seems to indicate that she does not care about her sister but we find that this is not in fact so. Mary is also doing a kind of work: she is listening in love. Although Mary loves Martha, her sister, she loves the Lord even more. In order to act on this love for Christ Mary needed to stop everything else and to look upon the Lord, so that she could truly listen well to His words, to dwell in His presence. This too, our Lord tells us, is something that we need. And, what's more, he tells us we need this kind of work even more than the kind of work we see Martha doing: Mary, he tells us, has chosen the "better portion".

All of us face the same necessity each day that confronted Martha and Mary: with all the work we have to do, how do we order our priorities so that "first things" remain "first". Is God not first? If so, do we make the effort to stop, to look and to listen so that we can do the work of loving God along with our daily tasks? And how do we find time for God if, for whatever reason, our other work, our lesser priorities, have crowded Him out of our lives, making it more difficult for us to see the evidence of our love for Him, the love that we are so often quick to claim for ourselves in words but which, sometimes, the evidence for which is lacking in our attitudes and actions.

Have you heard people say, "If they arrested you for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" Here we are together engaged in the public prayer and witness of the Church, at Mass, and this is very good. There are diverse roles at Mass: the lector helps to proclaim the Word of God in sacred Scripture, the extraordinary minister helps the priest and deacon to give the people the Body of Christ in holy Communion, the servers assist the priest at the altar, and these are sometimes necessary. But they are not the most important roles, even for those who undertake them. No, the "better portion" for all of us is possessed only when we stop, look and listen, receiving God as He gives Himself to us in Word and Sacrament, being receptive and attentive to Him as was Mary.

And at home, too, we can also slow down, pause and pray the Rosary, read the Scriptures, go apart and pray so that this better portion becomes for us an attitude, a grace, a gift that we can take advantage of wherever we find ourselves, for whatever needs present themselves each day. The Catechism urges us to persevere in this prayer:

"The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter. One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state. The heart is the place of this quest and encounter, in poverty and in faith." (CCC 2710)

The holy Mass is the most important way in which we act on our love for God, in which we stop, look and listen, seated at the feet of the Lord as Mary did, so that we also can enjoy the "better portion". For to listen to Christ as His holy Word in Scripture is proclaimed, to come before the altar where he offers His Body in the sacrifice of our redemption, this is to anticipate and enjoy already the wedding feast of heaven, where God will do all the work and we will be seated at His feet, adoring His everlasting beauty and rejoicing in His love, in eternal life, "where God will be all in all".

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