Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi
October 4, 2022
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Martha and Mary. These sisters are the personification of the Benedictine motto: Ora et labora: Pray and work – the two essentials that we all struggle to balance in our lives.
They, with their brother Lazarus, are dear friends of Jesus. The scriptures show us that Jesus felt comfortable at their home, and that they loved to have him stay with them.
As all of us do with our closest friends, Jesus understood the lights and shadows of their personalities – and they of his. He knew that Martha was the organizer, the one who planned and worried about the incidentals. Mary was deeply spiritual, but maybe had her head in the clouds a bit when it came to getting things done.
Perhaps these personality differences caused some tensions between the sisters, as they might between us and our family members or close friends. Sometimes these little, unnoticed frictions can suddenly become chasms between us and those we love.
How and why does it happen?
Jesus gives us the answer in this Gospel passage. He hears Martha’s simmering frustration. He calms her, as one might a child – “Martha, Martha…”. We can hear his gentle tone. Jesus tells her that worry and anxiety are signs that we are not spiritually free. He tells her that Mary has focused on the important thing.
This may sound repetitious, but just think about it a while:
It is so important to know what is important.
It is so freeing to agree on what matters with those closest to us. Talking with each other in openness, respect, and unconditional love is the only path to that freedom.
Maybe Martha and Mary slipped off that path a bit in this situation. But with Jesus’ help, they righted their relationship.
That’s the best way for us to do it too. Let Jesus show us what is most important through sharing our faith, and even our prayer, with those closest to us. Let him show us where our self-interests, need for control, fears and anxieties are blocking us from love and freedom.
It is the same way that we, like Mary, can strengthen our relationship with God. It is not sufficient for our prayer to consist of incidentals — pretty words and empty practices.
We must sit open-hearted at the feet of Jesus and let him love us, let him change us. Even in the midst of our responsibilities and duties, we must balance “the better part”.
Poetry: Bethany Decisions – Irene Zimmerman, OSF – How appropriate to have this wonderful Franciscan poet speak to us on this Feast of St. Francis. Let us thank God today for the wonderful charism of this saint from Assisi, and for the amazingly gifted women and men who carry it to us today.
As Jesus taught the gathered brothers
and Martha boiled and baked their dinner,
Mary eavesdropped in the anteroom
between the great hall and the kitchen.
Her dying mother’s warning words
clanged clearly in her memory—
“Obey your sister. She has learned
the ways and duties of a woman.”
She’d learned her sister’s lessons well
and knew a woman’s place was not
to sit and listen and be taught.
But when she heard the voice of Jesus
call to her above the din
of Martha’s boiling pots and pans,
she made her choice decisively—
took off her apron and traditions,
and walked in.
Music: a charming little song by Peg Angell which leaves me with same practical question I always have when reading this passage: who actually did get the dinner ready?