July 18, 2004 Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Genesis 18:1-10a) Reading II (Colossians 1:24-28)
Gospel (St. Luke 10:38-42)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord, looking at Martha, tells her there is only one thing that is necessary. The question we have to ask is – What is it? – because He does not really say; all He says is that Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her. So what is that one necessary thing? The one thing necessary I think Saint Paul makes very clear in the second reading today as he explains to the Colossians that there is a mystery that has been hidden from ages and generations past, but it has now been revealed to those whom God has chosen; and, among those God has chosen, we have to count ourselves. Obviously, we would not be here today and we would not be seeking the Lord in any way if the Lord Himself had not chosen us first. And so Saint Paul speaks of this mystery, the very mystery which he himself has been called to bring into the world, to bring to the Gentiles, and he says, This mystery is Jesus Christ in you. The fact that Christ dwells within us is the mystery which made such a difference for Saint Paul that he was willing to leave everything behind for the surpassing value of this mystery.
Now we run the risk of thinking this is not such a big deal because we have heard all about it for so many years that we might ask, “What is so important about it?” What is so important about it is that Jesus is God, and God dwells inside of us if we are in the state of grace. What is so important is we become the very dwelling place of God, we are called to holiness, and, as Saint Paul makes very clear, it is to present us perfect before the Lord. That is what he understood this to be about, that the Lord in His mercy has chosen us to give Him glory, to be perfect in the presence of the Lord. Now that is something that, again, we run the risk of ignoring, of kind of pooh-poohing and suggesting that it is not possible and therefore we do not have to pay any attention to it. That is not true. It is completely possible. However, it is impossible for us to do it alone. As the angel said to Our Lady and as Our Lord said to His apostles: For man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.
Now what exactly will this look like if we are able to accept that the Lord loves us so much that He has chosen us, that He comes to us to dwell within us, that He wants us to be holy and perfect and without spot or wrinkle? What would it look like? It looks like pure charity, which means that there is nothing selfish. That means we have to be seeking the Will of God, and it means we have to be trying to overcome anything that is selfish. So again, if we look back at the Gospel reading, we see Martha scurrying around trying to serve while Mary is seated at the foot of the Lord. Some people would misinterpret this to say that God does not like us being active but He just simply wants us to be in prayer all the time, that the contemplative life is better than the active life. That is not what it means. Rather, Martha is being chastised because of her selfishness. The Lord did not say anything to Martha in all the time she was serving until Martha looked at the Lord and said, “Aren’t you concerned that my sister is not helping me? Tell her to do something.” She is looking for attention for herself. She wants to be noticed for what it is that she is doing. She was running around anxious and upset about many things.
Isn’t this the way most Americans are these days, running around like chickens with our heads cut off, anxious and upset about many things? The reason for that is because we are not doing God’s Will. We are doing what we think might be God’s Will, but the problem is that we do not ask. If it looks good, we think it must come from God. If it sounds like something we enjoy or like, we assume that it must be what is good for us and off we go. So you can look at your life and you can ask yourself, “Am I at peace or am I anxious and upset? Is my life filled with worries, concerns, anxieties?” If it is the latter, you are doing what Martha did. You are running around doing all kinds of good things but you are not doing the best thing. That is the trick of the devil and he is very shrewd at it. The devil will give you many, many good things to do in order to keep you from doing what is the best because the best is so much better than all those good things combined that he is willing to allow you to run around and do good things. He knows you are not going to do a bunch of bad things. He knew that if he came before you and put a temptation to do something evil that you would say “no”, so, in his shrewdness, he presents something that is reasonably good – but far from the best. And because it appears good, we automatically assume that it has to be of God, and we run around anxious and upset because we have too many things to do and we cannot accomplish them all. Then what happens is we get focused on ourselves, we start thinking about what we have to do, about how overburdened we are, we start recognizing that there is no way we can take on this whole array of things that we have decided we have to do, and we begin to make the focus simply ourselves.
Mary, on the other hand, chose to listen to the Word of God, and then she was able to do what needed to be done. The same will be true for all of us if we will take the time every single day to pray, to pray deeply, to enter into the heart and to listen to the Lord. One of the problems most of us have in prayer is that we do not listen. We go to prayer and we do exactly what Jesus tells us not to do: We ramble on like the pagans and we do not shut up. On and on and on we go with all of our little stuff, and then we get up and leave – and we never took a moment to allow the Lord to speak. What is worse is that we never took the opportunity to listen. We unloaded on Him, which is just fine, but we did not allow Him to show us what His Will was. We never asked and we did not listen. So each one of us has to take that time every day.
For those who pray, as you know fully well, you are going to be overburdened by all kinds of things just like everyone else; the difference is that there will be peace because you will know that you are doing what God wants you to do and you know that it is God Who is going to have to give you the strength to be able to do what has to be done because humanly it is not possible. Look at any of the saints and ask yourself, “How did they do what they did?” It was not them doing it; it is just that simple. They had to cooperate and do their part, but God did the rest. And He will do the same in any one of us. But we have to pray. We must take the time and sit at the feet of the Lord and listen.
No one has an excuse for not praying – no one. If you were to object right now and say, “But I’m too busy; I have all these things I have to do,” I will say, “That’s right, Martha, you’re too busy and anxious and upset about many things.” As the old saying goes, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.” Remember the greatest commandment in the law is to love God first with your whole heart and soul and strength. To put the Lord first means that we have to put the time aside to pray and seek His Will so that we know what we are doing is what God wants us to do. It means that we have to die to self, and that is not easy.
Look at the first reading today; we hear all about Abraham serving the three angels who came to him. The angels did not condemn him for serving, neither did the Lord condemn Martha for serving, nor will He condemn us for doing so. Remember, He is the one who said, Whatever you do for the least of My brothers you do for Me. He is also the one who said, The Son of Man came into this world to serve and not to be served. He is not opposed to service, He is not opposed to doing the work. He is opposed to doing it selfishly, of looking out for something for your own self. So we look at what Abraham is doing as he serves these three angels that he did not know at that time were angels; he just recognized that they were strangers and he served them. He was looking for nothing for himself. If we look back over Abraham’s life, recalling that he is the one chosen by God (in case any of us thinks we cannot do this, we have been chosen by God too), he was given a promise that he would have a son and that he would have heirs, as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore of the sea. And Abraham believed the Lord, just as each one of us believes that Our Lord has chosen us for whatever reason. Some of us would have to admit He has a pretty good sense of humor to choose us, but regardless of that, the Lord has chosen us and we have, thanks be to God, responded. But we know how much selfishness there is; we know how much self-love is in there.
So, again, go back and read in the Book of Genesis. The story of Abraham goes on for a number of chapters, and what you will see is that one time after the next, after the next, and after the next, Abraham does some pretty stupid things because he is caught up in himself. He does it his way rather than God’s way. God’s choice and His promise are still there, but God could not fulfill that promise until Abraham had perfected that love, when Abraham was no longer trying to do it himself but was going to allow God to do it. That took years for Abraham to do. Now he had finally achieved that point where he could simply seek the Will of God and he could serve in a selfless manner. When he was no longer looking out for anything for himself, the promise was renewed: Within one year, they said, Sarah will have a baby son.
So how is this done? It is exactly what Saint Paul tells us in the beginning of the second reading when he says, I rejoice in my sufferings. When was the last time you said that? “I rejoice in my sufferings because they are a gift from God.” But, once again, if we do not pray we are not going to see that those are a gift from God and we are going to reject them and we are going to try to do something else. But Saint Paul rejoices in his suffering because he is making up in his body for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of the Lord’s Body, the Church. It is suffering – and it is only suffering – that is going to take away the selfishness, that is going to take away the imperfections, that is going to purify us so we can be perfect without spot or stain or wrinkle, which means simply that we will love, that we will serve, that we will do God’s Will in all things because first and foremost we will seek God’s Will in all things. That is what it is about. But it is not just suffering like an animal. It is suffering in a truly human way, in a way which is dignified, in a way which is united with the suffering of Christ, so that all the difficulties and trials of our lives (which none of us will be able to escape in any way), we, as Christian people, now see in a different way. We see that they are a share in the suffering of Christ and that they can be used for good, for the good of others; and in using that suffering for the good of others, we become purified ourselves so that we become perfected, so that we recognize through the sufferings of our lives that we cannot do things by ourselves. It breaks us of our pride, it breaks us of our selfishness, it breaks us of our self-will. In the midst of our suffering, we learn to turn to God and we learn to sit at His feet and we learn to listen, to listen to God’s Will for us and to carry it out. That is the one thing necessary. It is not beyond any one of us, but it is a call that each one of us has.
So we need to make the choice to spend the time every single day in prayer, to unite ourselves with Christ. Certainly, it is most perfect if you can get to an adoration chapel or at least to a church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, but if you cannot the Lord dwells right within. That is the mystery that is taking place in you. And being that that is the truth, then each one of us can look once again at the end of the Gospel reading and apply it to ourselves. There is only one thing that is necessary, and that one thing is Jesus Christ. It is necessary for us to sit at His feet, to listen to Him, to seek His Will, and to carry it out.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.