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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 17, 2016

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          Today’s Gospel is not so much about the exultation of religious contemplative life over the life of active service.  Separating prayer as spending time heart to heart with Jesus from service diminishes both.  The Gospel is not a matter of which is most important, but a matter of how they complement each other.  The better part chosen by Mary is to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him attentively.  There is a paramount value of hearing God’s word, which is essential for following Jesus.  Hearing creates an even deeper communion between the one speaking and the one listening.  Jesus is not criticizing the ministry of hospitality, nor is he exalting the contemplative live over the active apostolate.  Jesus is reminding Martha, and all of us, that when we listen attentively to his words – whatever our calling is – the meaning of all of our activities and distractions becomes clear.

In reality, Mary by her actions is saying, my house, my heart and my life are yours!  Our response to God’s word, the person of Jesus and his invitation to follow him, leads us to active discipleship.   We say, don’t we, that faith without works is lifeless.

          How about our lives?  How committed are we to a life of prayer from which our service to God and neighbor flows?  Is this our only offering each week, this hour?  Or do we try to put our faith into action in how we treat all people: family, coworkers, friends, enemies, those we just don’t like.  Do we give our lives totally to him?  Saint Peter didn’t until he embraced his crucifixion.  I’m not saying that he wasn’t committed, but that his journey gives us hope.  Little by little we should be conscious about our efforts to give our whole lives to Christ.  That may be a goal too grandiose for some, but is a wonderful target for all of us, regardless of our walks of life!

          Sometimes I wander who some people are serving.  Only God knows what is in our hearts.  And I will be the first to say that people have thanked me for things right when I needed encouragement without them knowing that I was discouraged for whatever reason.  But I have to ask myself, “Am I leading people to Christ or to myself?”  If it is the latter, then I am an egotistical maniac in the wrong profession.  And there are some who explode and give up their leadership as a volunteer if you ask them to do a simple task.  There are some that I sit back I wonder if this person likes the attention more than they love serving those in need.  My point is, and I think it is that of the Lucan Jesus, that service without a prayer life that nurtures our relationship with Christ is or at least can be misdirected and narcissistic. 

          Martha sheds light onto those things that can happen for whatever reason when we serve the Lord.  She may have forgotten why hospitality is important.  She was more concerned with serving than with the one being served.  Maybe someone -  Mary or another, let her down, so she was left with the work herself.   Maybe she was doing so much that she just got exhausted, frustrated and overwhelmed!  I think the philosophy to developing a disciplined prayer life is appropriate for a disciplined life of service.  That is, choose manageable and realistic goals.  When we try to do more than is humanly possible, bad things it smaller, controlled temper tantrums or be it more serious breakdowns and failures to do what is necessary or be it stress’s consistent wear and tear on our immune system and emotional well-being.  So before we can change is stress is an issue, we have to embrace why we drive ourselves so hard.  Who are we serving – our egos or our God?  In a way, Martha demonstrates the importance of balance and boundaries in our commitment to the Lord.  I loved a few years ago, as we were trying to identify and train married couples who could work as sponsor couples for engaged couples, when one person of a couple, both of whom were already very involved in many ministries here, said, “if I spend any more time at STM, my spouse will leave me!”  Both that awareness and that boundary were crucial and important.  Where are we in our commitment to service:  are we doing too little, just right, or too much facing burnout and losing focus on why we are doing what we do?  Do we let unimportant and/or selfish, self-serving desires demand our time and take us from what really matters?  Another way of saying this, we must not allow the matters of this life, innocent though they may be in themselves, prevent us from attending primarily to the one most important reality, our future life with and in our Lord.