SERVICE AND CONTEMPLATION
Two Sides of the Same Coin
On this 16th Sunday, the first reading and the Gospel have so much in common. Of utmost importance is the fact that they both revolve around hospitality and welcoming Christ as our guest and friend. It is on the strength of these therefore, that the church invites us to welcome, appreciate, celebrate Jesus Christ (God) who is among us as a dear guest and friend. We are locked up in a very busy and stereotyped world where virtually everything has been so designed and planned that if we are not careful as Christians we live someone else’s life. That is, that of those who fashioned the way society operates and what they consider the state’s or society’s priorities. The problem with this is that often times they do everything possible to bracket God and spirituality out of the whole system. Not only this, they employ all that is within their power to ensure that directly or indirectly we live by it.
In the First Reading, Abraham saw his opportunity to have God under his roof and he did not let it pass him by. He insisted thus: “…if I find favour with you, kindly do not pass your servant by…that is why you have come to your servant’s direction.” his hospitality transcended mortals and extended to immortals. Not only did he welcome them under his roof, he equally paid attention to what they have to say to him, gave them a good share of his time, and attended to almost all their basic needs. Of course, he won their friendship instantly and this friendship brought blessings upon his household.
In the Second Reading Paul succinctly tells us that the “Mystery that God revealed to the world is Christ himself among us.” This Mystery of course is equally our guest and friend, and also our hope of glory. In order words, he comes to us as one friend visits the other. Welcoming this Mystery which is Christ as our guest and friend is a pre-requisite for establishing a long standing relationship with God.
In our today’s Gospel we hear the story of two sisters, Martha who is busy with the work of the Lord and Mary who is more interested in knowing the Lord of the work. Let us understand the orientations of the two sisters. First, Martha is a service oriented person as she is portrayed in the gospel’s scenario, second, Mary’s orientation is relationship with Jesus. Like the missionary in our story, Martha must have been shocked to hear the Lord himself saying that it is relationship with him that comes first, because without it service is meaningless.
In our Gospel story, many people may think that Martha was the materialist and Mary the spiritual one. The association of Martha with materialism is easy to be made in the sense of original root of name,’ Martha’, that in English language seems to rhyme with the word ” matter.” however, this stream of thinking in terms of separation between spirit and matter does not belong to the gospel of Luke. In the gospel St. Luke the evangelist presents Martha and Mary as two sisters who are both interested in the Lord, two women who both want to please the Lord. The difference between them is the manner in which they go about trying to please the Lord. As said before, Martha takes the way of service or working for the Lord. Mary takes the way of relationship or being with the Lord.
From the other evangelist more especially St, Mark the evangelist, we understand that Jesus called the apostles to follow him, he called them for dual purpose: ” to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message.” (Mark 3:14). The need on the one hand , is to be with the Lord, to know him, to fellowship with him and be nourished by his word and, on the other hand, to do the Lord’s work, to serve the Lord in others, to proclaim his message of love in word and deed, brings us to a conflict. The issue is that which one should enjoy the priority? how much of my time should I devote to being with the Lord, to prayer and listening to God’s word, and how much time to doing the work of the Lord? In spite of the urgent need to throw ourselves into the work of the Lord, it is only logical to say that my relationship with the Lord of the work comes before my involvement with the work of the Lord.
We can ask ourselves this question that what is the pivotal point of the story we have heard in our today’s gospel? I think the point of the story of Jesus with Mary and Martha is not to invite us to choose between being a Martha or Mary. The true disciple needs to be both Martha and Mary. We are challenged by the story in our today’s gospel on our priorities. What our most priorities? We are challenged to understand that fellowship with the Lord, being with the Lord, and hearing his word should always be given the first priority and should take precedence over the work we do for the Lord. Do we really have a daily schedule of daily fellowship with the Lord? Some fulfill this by assisting daily in the Eucharist where they can also hear the word of God. Others schedule a holy hour or quiet time when they can pray and read the word of God.
When Martha complains that Mary is not helping her Jesus seems he doesn’t even care, Jesus reprimands her. His concern is not what she or Mary is doing but doing the will of God at the moment and this is most important. That we must listen interiorly to the Lord’s direction and deeper needs of those around us.
Actually this might be a strong and convincing reason why God created us with two eyes and two ears but only one tongue. He wants us to speak less but see and listen more especially in our hearts. Let us take this example that may help us to understand the gospel reading, that washing a car is pretty much the same as washing your heart. First the car must be still ( must not be moving) so that it can be washed. Likewise, the heart must be silent so that it can listen. God cannot speak to a noisy heart. Second, the car like the heart must be obedient and submissive. God cannot speak to a heart that denies, rationalizes or postpones. Third, the car is like the heart, must be open so that all the deepest corners and chambers can be reached and cleaned. In the same way, God cannot clean and heal a heart that is closed tight.”
The women portrayed in our today’s gospel represent the two dimensions of our spiritual life. Martha represents the active apostolic life because she was hard working and could even say selfless in what she was doing. However, there is a danger. The danger is that even good works and apostolate can leave the soul empty if we neglect our prayer and interior life. Christ sees the effects in Martha: “You are anxious and concerned about many things…” we can understand these dangerous attitude that Jesus saw in Martha. He saw deep down inside of her the dangerous attitude of: resentment, narrowness and unkindness. anxiety and worry as well. These were to fill the vacuum left by a lack of serious prayer. The Lord will be pleased if and only if we don’t forget our soul with prayer and reflection.
Moreover, Mary is of the contemplative life, as she sits down attentively listening and learning from Christ and find deeper meaning in his teaching. Without attention to prayer, we soon run the risk of having entered into our minds and hearts criteria and interests that are very far from the heart of Christ whom we should desire to emulate. However in this perspective we are also challenged by the fact that our love must also become incarnate in whatever we do to meet the needs of others. That is, Martha and Mary: work and contemplation, prayer and service. Listening and doing. In a nut shell we need to have a balance between service and contemplation. A good disciple prays and serves. There is no option between active apostolic life and contemplative life because they are not in opposition with each other but complementary. We need the two in our lives as Christians, it is not only because Jesus needs listeners, but he also needs cooks.
Are you busy, tired, stressed out, and stretched to the limit? Does life seem a little out of control? Are you running long on “to do’s” and short on time? In Balancing Life’s Demands you will learn how to put “first things first” and find peace in the midst of pressure and adversity. No clichés or quick fixes, just practical biblical insights to help you order your personal world.
A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee. When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups have been taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups… And then you began eyeing each other’s cups. Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of life we live. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee. Savor the coffee, not the cups! The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything. Live simply. Pray deeply, Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.
I know that You have created me with a purpose and plan. I know it is Your desire that I too have a life filled with joy, purpose and victory. Please help me today to fulfill the destiny You have planned for my life. I know that in order to do this, I must live a life obedient to Your Word, and a life of balance, with my priorities in the proper place and my heart focused on You.
Dear Lord, help me to attain that balance in all areas of my life. Examine my heart, and show me those places where I may be out of balance. Help me to focus on the things that are most important, and keep me from being distracted by the things that would steal my time and attention. Protect me from those things that try to keep me from reaching my goals and achieving the dreams that you have put in my heart.
And most of all, dear God, remind me daily that You have called me to be fruitful, not just busy. Give me the wisdom and strength to produce in abundance that which is most important and constructive in my life and the lives of those around me. Thank you for your constant presence and for helping me to grow and increase in every area of my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Principles for Living a Balanced Life
1. Make a list of the things where you spend most of your time and money.
Ask yourself; Why are you doing the things you are doing?
2. Identify your priorities.
Decide what things are most important to you. Set your schedule around those priorities. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by things that are less important. Stay Focused!
3. Make a commitment to your health.
Take time to rest and reenergize.
4. Focus on building relationships and making memories.
Give your family and friends the time they deserve.
5. Spend time with God every day.
Pray and read your Bible. If this is new for you, just start with 10–15 minutes each day.
6. Get involved with other Catholics.
Attend a Bible study in your area and support your church with your faithful attendance, charity and service to others.
The items on this checklist will help you establish and maintain balance among the various areas of your life. Give it a try. Check off each item that you already do, and then add the others, one at a time, until they all become habits.
C H E C K L I S T
Add responsibilities responsibly
Communicate your needs clearly
Learn to compromise
2. Body and Health
Pay attention to your body’s signals
Get enough sleep
Eat dinner as a family
3. Personal & Spiritual Growth
Find your spiritual connection
Take the time to reflect on each day
and on your life as a whole
Get involved in helping others
Watch your debt so you don’t have to work all the time to pay it off
Avoid career burnout
Limit work hours
Turn off your cell phone after hours
Pick a weekly day of rest
Create a budget
Balance your checkbook
each month, noting expenditures
Live within your means
Pay cash for everything
Cook meals at home
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.