Mary and Martha: A Different Perspective
As Catholics, the story of Saints Martha and Mary Magdalen is very familiar to us. In Luke 10:38-42, we read the account of Our Lord’s visit to Martha and Mary in their home. Martha is very busy, getting the house ready and preparing all that is needed for Jesus. Mary sits at His feet, captivated by His words. Martha sees this, and rebukes Mary for not helping her. Christ says to Mary after hearing this: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Many people compare this story to the vocations of the active life of those in the world and the contemplative life of religious, with the contemplatives having the better part. Many also compare this occasion to married and religious life, holding that Our Lord favors those in convents and monasteries better than those living in the world. But, I want to look at this episode from a different perspective. After all, those living in the world may feel discouraged at such a comparison. But what is beautiful about sanctification, is that each person has a different vocation that will bring them to Christ. Each vocation, in accordance with God’s Will, is the best for that particular person and God expects us to pray for and perfect the vocation He gives us.
Perfection in a Vocation
The reason Martha was rebuked by Our Lord was not necessarily because of their vocational differences, but because Mary was more focused on what really mattered as opposed to Martha. Martha was not rebuked because her duty was less meritorious than Mary’s, but because she was not doing her duty perfectly. We see her in this scene running around trying to get everything done, not paying much attention to Our Lord. Mary sets aside all the cares of the world and sits lovingly at the feet of Jesus, refusing to be worried and anxious in the presence of her God.
No matter what our vocation is, we need to remember that God is the most important aspect of our lives. We may be caught up in worldly affairs, but one day our lives will be over and God will ask us how much of our lives were lived for Him. Whether we are a priest, a nun, a spouse, or a single person living in the world, our daily duty is the highest and most perfect vocation for us. If we had a family and left suddenly to become a hermit because there is more merit in the contemplative life, we would not be gaining any treasures of merit at all. God calls us to sit at His feet, and place all our worries in His care.
This story reminds us that we should have a balance of carrying out what needs to be done in our earthly lives, and what needs to be done in our eternal lives. God does not often call us to do spectacular things, but to perfect ourselves in the little acts, to sit at His feet when He calls.
St. Francis de Sales would often pray: “Lord, I am Thine, and I must belong to no one but Thee. My soul is Thine, and must live only by Thee. My will is Thine, and must love only for Thee. I must love Thee as my first Cause, since I am from Thee. I must love Thee as my End and Rest, since I am for Thee. I must love Thee more than my own being, since my being subsists by Thee. I must love Thee more than myself, since I am all Thine and all in Thee. Amen.”
We must live for God and God alone, offering to Him every action we perform, no matter how small. It is truly an act of humility to say, especially if we are young: “Lord, though I do not have spectacular offerings to give Thee, I give Thee all that I can. Everything I do today, whether it be making my bed or helping around the house, I know that these actions, united to Thy Life, will be of infinite merit and will be a pleasing act of love toward Thee.” Our Lord rebuked Martha because she was worrying, and not trusting in Him with her duties. Mary chose the better part, because she chose God over material worries. We need not worry about the things of the world, but use them to become closer to God.
Fleeing from Anxiety
St. Padre Pio once said: “If certain thoughts bother you, it is the devil who causes you to worry, and not God, Who, being the Spirit of peace, grants you tranquility.” Worrying is never from God, we can always be assured of that. God may send us crosses and tribulations, but an upset in our peace of soul is not the work of our Heavenly Father. Anxiety paralyzes the soul, making it almost impossible to focus on perfecting ourselves.
Our Lord was sure to bring this up when He saw Martha worrying. What is worrying about details, when the Son of God is sitting in your living room? We must always pray for the grace to discern the Will of God and see what is most important in our lives. Once we begin perfecting ourselves and eliminating the worry that holds our souls captive, we will see religion as being an essential guide to our lives, rather than a burden.
Contemplation and the Need for Action
Yet though Mary sat at the feet of Our Lord and was told she chose the better part, we cannot take it as an example to retire from all our cares and simply retreat into silence and prayer. Prayer is essential, yet will not be very beneficial if we are refusing to do our duty. If we are a parent and choose to spend our days in church instead of with our children, are our actions pleasing to God? As Traditional Catholics we often get distracted with our many devotions and private practices. Yet we do not need to busy ourselves constantly and quickly mutter the words of prayers just to fit it in our day. All we must do is sit at the feet of Christ and listen to His words. We can do this constantly throughout the day, beginning by simply saying our Morning Offering! How kind God is to give us so many means of reaching sanctity.
St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri tells us: “During our sojourn in this world, we should learn from the Saints now in Heaven, how to love God. The pure and perfect love of God they enjoy there, consists in uniting themselves perfectly to His Will. It would be the greatest delight of the seraphs to pile up sand on the seashore or to pull weeds in a garden for all eternity, if they found out such was God’s Will. Our Lord Himself teaches us to ask to do the Will of God on earth as the Saints do it in Heaven: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’”
God is praised not in fear and worry, but in humility and prayer. We may think that in this parable, Mary is not the best example for those living in the world; but if we see it as Mary always being mindful of the presence of Our Lord, it can be extremely helpful to us as we go about our day.
The modern world is distracting, yet let us use the story of Saints Martha and Mary Magdalen to help focus us on what really matters. We may not have the opportunity to live in a silent cloister, constantly contemplating the presence of Our Lord, but we do have all the means in our own lives to reach sanctity, thereby remaining in the presence of God at all times. In Matthew 10:28-31 we are told: “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: better are you than many sparrows.”
God knows all of our needs, all we need to do is love and obey Him, and all the rest will be taken of.