The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Gen 18:1-10 + Col 1:24-28 + Lk 10:38-42
July 21, 2019
“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Jesus today is in the home of Martha and Mary. These two sisters—as often is the case with siblings—are very different. After reflecting upon these two sisters, we have to choose which of their stances to take up.
First, reflect on Martha. Martha is physically in the same house as Jesus. But when He speaks, instead of listening to Jesus, Martha is doing her own thing. Martha is in the presence of Jesus, but she is not present to Him.
Then we have to ask: what exactly is Martha doing instead of listening to Jesus? She would certainly be the first to explain that she’s working for Jesus. Her work is all about Jesus. But here’s the kicker: she’s not doing what Jesus wants her to do.
This sets before us one of the key distinctions of the Catholic spiritual life. This is the distinction between sincerity and fidelity. Some persons believe that as long as they’re sincere in what they do in life, then they’re being faithful to what God wants them to do. This is a misconception, and this misconception can lead to many dead-ends in the spiritual life. Sincerity may be a virtue, but it is not a measure of fidelity.
Turn next to Martha’s sister Mary. In today’s Gospel passage, Mary is in the presence of Jesus, and is also present to Jesus. Mary shows us that the yardstick that measures our fidelity is the spiritual virtue of listening.
Mary listens to Jesus. But what did Jesus say to her? It’s telling that St. Luke the Evangelist does not reveal to us what Jesus said to her. What Jesus said was for Mary alone. But that Mary listened is for all of us to imitate: to listen, so that we might faithfully obey God.
What the evangelist does reveal is that Mary “seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to his words.” There are at least two points that the evangelist makes in this sentence. First: Mary was seated, not standing for service, like a waiter who takes your order. Whatever Jesus said to her, it was not marching orders, but something so deep that Mary had to take it “sitting down”, to ponder it thoroughly.
Second: there was no dialogue between the two. It was not two-way communication. The words flowed in only one direction: from Jesus, to Mary. And Mary listened. Mary listened to Jesus’ words: this is what Jesus calls “the better part”. Today’s Gospel Reading not only makes a distinction between prayer and action, calling prayer the “better part”. Today’s Gospel Reading also makes a distinction about two different types of prayer: a distinction between speaking to God and listening to Him. Listening is the “better part” and the foundational part of prayer.
Now, what do we get when we put these two portraits—of Martha and Mary—together, and look at them side by side? How do the two relate to each other? The saints and doctors of the Church who have reflected on this passage have taken many lessons from this scene.
Some of the saints point out how Martha is a symbol of good works, and Mary is a symbol of prayer. From this perspective, the primary lesson of the passage is that prayer is “the better part”. Prayer is better than good works. But that’s not to say that good works are bad.
It’s not that works are bad, and prayer is good. We are not like those among our separated brethren in Christ who believe that salvation is about faith alone apart from works. Rather, it’s that works are good, while prayer is better. From this, we see the reason why Martha is anxious and worried: not because she’s doing something bad. Martha is anxious and worried because she did not put prayer first. Her works do not flow from her prayer. In your own daily life, when you put prayer first, and base decisions upon prayer, then this becomes the foundation of our fidelity to God. That doesn’t mean that we’ll always be correct in hearing God’s voice in our prayer. But we can be sure that we’re on the right path, and that’s no small thing.
click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this liturgical Sunday (4:11)
click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday
click HERE to hear and read the homily of Bishop Edward Rice for this Sunday (11:31)
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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2016 Angelus address for this Sunday
click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2010 Angelus address for this Sunday
click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2001 Angelus address for this Sunday
Christ with Mary and Martha by Alessandro Allori [1535-1607]