recognizing the better part

In the Gospel Martha invited Jesus into her home; I wonder why? What was her reason for asking? Was her motivation centered on Jesus and what he might have to say? Or was it centered on herself; perhaps a desire for prestige, recognition, or personal gratification?

Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha

When we come together on Sunday for Mass, what is our motivation for being here? Are we here to hear what God has to tell us, to focus our attention on what Jesus has to teach us, to listen with open minds and contrite hearts; or … are we here to be entertained, to socialize, to impress others?

Are we God-centered or self-centered? We should understand that true hospitality demands self-sacrifice, a willingness to forgo our own self-interests and focus on the interests and needs of others?

Life has changed significantly over the past two-thousand years. Today, our world is filled with marvelous technology, gadgets that keep us informed, entertained, and in constant communication with anyone and everyone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We have radios, televisions, telephones, cell phones, Blackberries, iPods, Gameboys, X-Boxes, Wiis, Computers, DVDs, and much, much more. We are constantly connected through email, satellite, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, texting, twitter, voicemail, and occasionally phone calls.

With all this marvelous technology at our fingertips you would think we must be the most fascinating, socially-adept, well-informed, and interesting people to be around.

Sadly, I believe, this is rarely the case. All this wondrous, magical stuff appears to be driving us inward, closing our minds and hearts from the real world; our world now comes to us as digital images on a game console or a television set; friends and acquaintances are represented as icons or avatars on a computer screen.

We are rapidly losing our ability to socialize and to see the value in the company of others. Instead of engaging in deep and interesting dialog we communicate in sound-bites; we text, we twitter, we tweet, we blog. Today my grandchildren sit in their bedrooms and text each other rather than sitting down face-to-face and talking to one another!

We seem to have forgotten the one thing that is truly important, close personal relationships with others, with Jesus, and with God. We have lost the willingness and even the ability to open ourselves to those around us, to listen, to learn, and to grow through honest interaction with one another. Close, personal, intimate human contact has somehow become something to avoid. Far too many of us actually fear it.  Stress, anxiety, and fear are barriers to doing good for others; for doing that one thing that is needed; for listening and hearing what God wants us to do.

Some years ago a friend of mine recounted how she experienced her own Martha moment. Shortly after their marriage, she and her husband invited some friends to their home for the evening. After an enjoyable dinner, everyone moved to the family room to relax and continue their conversation. Everyone, that is but my friend, who felt compelled to clean up before she could sit and enjoy time with her guests.

She busied herself clearing the table, doing the dishes, putting the remains of the meal away. While she was busy doing, her guests kept asking her to come and visit.

She insisted that she was on her way even while continuing to finish her work. When she was finished, she hurried to the family room, only to find that her guests had grown tired of waiting and had left.

She got the message and has never forgotten what is truly important.

Martha and my friend weren’t wrong to want to be hospitable and to desire to provide a welcoming environment for their guests. But where each got into trouble was while in their eagerness to provide for their guests they forgot their guests. In scrambling about, doing welcoming things, they failed to make their guests feel welcome. Jesus even tells Martha that she is needlessly anxious and worried about a great many things but has forgotten the one thing that is necessary: spending time with him.

Real hospitality demands a two-way relationship in which host and guest open to each other and become present to one another in various ways. Good hosts find ways to provide for their guests while simultaneously spending time listening and conversing with their guests.

Our lives are busy ones, filled with activities such as work, school, children, homework, housework, yard work. We never stop; it’s always go, go go, be here, be there, do this, do that. We are a society of overworked, triple-booked, overcommitted, busy, anxious, stressed-out people.

It is hard not to become over-busy and consumed by work; difficult, almost impossible to surrender yourself to the never-ending demands coming from everywhere. Henri Nouwen once described our lives as over-packed suitcases with too much in them. There is always one more task to do, one more phone call to make, one more person to see, one more bill to pay, one more thing to check, one more leak to fix, one more demand from church or school, one more item that needs to be picked up from the store. Simply put, our days are far too short for all that needs to be done.

And it creeps up on us so that we seldom see it coming. The busier we get the less we realize what it is that we are no longer doing: building and strengthening relationships with our families, friends, church, and with God. The heavy weight of busyness protects us from the unresolved issues within our lives. It provides us with an all too perfect excuse: we are just too busy.

And therein is where we encounter much the same problem as did Martha. We tend to become overworked and in doing so lose sight of what is most important. We become needlessly anxious and worried about a great many things but forget the things that are truly important: family, friends, church, and God.

Bruno of Segni, a twelfth century bishop, spoke of Martha as symbolizing the active life and Mary symbolizing the contemplative. He wrote:

“All that contemplatives want to do is to sit at the feet of the Lord—to read, pray, and give themselves up to contemplating God is their whole desire. It is enough for them to be always listening to the word of God and feeding their minds rather than their stomachs.

Now the reason the active life is so called is because it consists of constant activity, weariness, and toil, so that scarcely a moment’s quiet can be found in it.

The contemplative life then is superior to the active because it is free from anxiety and will never end. Nevertheless the active life is so indispensable that in this world the contemplative life itself cannot exist without it.” 1

So, it is important that we pause every now and then and focus on the one thing that is needed. Do we sit at the feet of Jesus as Mary did or are we like Martha, too busy to do the one thing that is needed, to choose the better part?

I believe that if it had been today, Jesus would have looked at Martha, and with a little smile and a twinkle in his eye said “Martha, Martha, Chill girl! Come, spend some time with me; after all I’m not going to be around forever, you know. And oh, if you really feel the need, just order a pizza.”


Homily #078
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
Genesis 18:1-10A
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

1 Bruno of Segni, Bishop, On Luke’s Gospel 1, 10; PL 165, 390-391, ed. Edith Barnecut

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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