“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:42
There is a classic argument between Catholic and non-Catholic Christian communities. Are we saved by faith alone or we saved by works? It is sometimes difficult to respond to this because the argument starts with a false premise, an either/or attitude. We are either saved by faith or we are saved by works.
But Catholicism is not an either/or faith, it is a faith of both/and. We are saved by our faith but a true lasting faith is expressed in the work we do. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit, to be fully human is to embrace and integrate both our physical nature and our spiritual nature.
Prayer and action are not separated, we pray as we live because we live as we pray.
Martha and Mary
In the story of Martha and Mary, Martha demonstrates the danger of falling into this either/or attitude. She shows hospitality in serving, which is a very good thing, but she is tending toward an attitude of either prayer or service. She is anxious and frustrated and takes it out on her sister.
But why? Why was she so anxious? Why was she taking on so much work in the first place? Certainly it needed to be done but was she doing it out of a sense of duty, responsibility, or obligation? Was she afraid of what people would say about her if the house was not properly prepared to receive Jesus and His disciples?
How often in our own lives do we do good things but for the wrong reason? Sometimes we do the good to be admired or appreciated and get upset when others don’t seem to be pulling their weight.
But Jesus does not criticize Martha for serving, He does not even say we shouldn’t ask others to do their part. But He asks her, and all of us, to remember why we do what we do. Our service is meant to be done out of love. And to love someone means to choose what is good for another person even if we are not noticed or appreciated for it.
Every action in our lives is a chance for us to love God. Every act is a way to put our prayer into action, and every action can become a prayer.
The key is to remember why we’re doing whatever we’re doing.
When God calls us to serve Him, do we eagerly answer the call out of our love for Him? Or do we hesitate, wrapped up in our own lives. Are we afraid of what God may be asking of us?
When God asked the Blessed Virgin Mary to become the Mother of Christ, she said “yes.” It wasn’t an easy affirmation; she had no idea what her consent would imply. But she remembered why she said “yes.” God was calling her; God would give her the strength. She could offer her life in service without knowing the reward, since love is its own reward.
It is a matter of priorities. “There is need of only one thing.” Listening to the Word of God, spoken by Jesus, must take precedence before action. We cannot earn this Word through our actions; it is freely given to any who are open and willing to listen. We cannot expect to be able to act in accordance with God’s will if we have not first listened to His Word.
Before the Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, Abraham listened to God and was obedient to His will. Even the great prayer of the Jewish people, the Shemah, begins with the words “Hear, O Israel.”
Our actions must follow and be obedient to this “listening.” Faith must come before works. We do not imagine that our faith will grow from doing good deeds. Rather it is through listening to God that we will be moved to offer good works.
We all need time to contemplate, to be alone with the Lord and nourish our spiritual lives. If we do not take this time, our spirits will suffocate.
We’re called to serve like Martha, with a deep spirit of prayer. And yet, like Mary, we also need times where we’re sitting at the Lord’s feet: looking at him, letting him look at us, and listening to him.
Mary listened at the Lord’s feet, and anointed Him for burial. And the Lord defended her deeds from all attacks. In doing so He established Mary as a model for all activity throughout Christian history.
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
© Lawrence Klimecki
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com