Archive for the ‘St. Martha’ Category

Abraham, Martha, and Our Lord

July 16, 2022

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

In this Sunday’s readings, Abraham and Martha play host and hostess to our Lord. The Book of Genesis tells how “the Lord appeared to Abraham… as he sat in the entrance of his tent,” and that Abraham ran to offer his three visitors hospitality. Today’s gospel from Luke recounts how “Jesus entered a village where… Martha welcomed him.” Both Abraham and Martha served the Lord but Martha, unlike Abraham, receives a gentle correction from him. So in what ways did Martha and Abraham’s actions differ?

The pair share similarities. Both of them wanted to put other people to work. Abraham tasked his wife Sarah to make bread rolls and his servant to prepare a tender, choice steer, while Martha sought for her sister Mary to help her. Both Abraham and Martha were a flurry of activity. After running to set Sarah and his servant to work, Abraham fetched curds and milk and the meat that had been prepared and served these to his guests in the tree shade. And Martha was famously “burdened with much serving.” So what are the key differences between them? I would like to highlight three.

First, Martha gives the Lord an command, while Abraham politely invites. She says, “Tell [my sister] to help me.” Abraham also asks things of the Lord but in a different spirit: “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant.” Abraham is respectful and open to whatever the Lord thinks best. When the Blessed Mother brings Jesus the news that the wedding feast of Cana has run out of wine, she does not order him what to do; instead she instructs the servants to “do whatever he tells you.” We are free and invited to ask the Lord Jesus for anything, large or small, but ask him with reverence and trusting that whatever he decides will be best.

A second difference between Martha and Abraham is that Martha gets noticeably stressed out while Abraham, though vigorously active, appears to maintain his peace. “Martha, burdened with much serving,” complains and criticizes. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” But Jesus says to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” Martha has placed expectations on herself for how she needs to show hospitality, she’s failing to meet these self-imposed standards and it is depriving her of peace. Martha has fallen into an anxiety trap. Anytime we feel like, “I have to do this, but I can’t. I have to, but I can’t,” it’s not true. Jesus does not demand the impossible from us. So either you do not really have to do that thing, or (if God is calling you to do it) with the help of God you can accomplish it. When the yoke you carry on your shoulders feels heavy and grinding, consider whether it may be a yoke of your own making. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you… and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Some reevaluation may be necessary to exchange your yoke for his.

A third and final difference between Martha and Abraham, is that Martha allows her work to get in the way of her relationship with the Lord. Abraham labors too, but he enjoys the company of his heavenly guests even as he serves and waits on them under the tree. He and his guests converse together, leading to Abraham’s great blessing. One of his guests declares to him, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” Jesus said Martha’s sister Mary, sharing the Lord’s company listening at his feet, had “chosen the better part and it [would] not be taken from her.” Abraham did not exclude this better portion from his labors. We too should spiritually commune with the Lord throughout our day’s tasks, for he is always near.

Whatever good works we do for Jesus are not nearly as important as who we are for each other. Jesus says that at the Judgment, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” Do not merely serve and obey Jesus, on the level of a slave. Love him as your dearest friend, for he is already the greatest friend towards you. The one thing needed is Jesus Christ.

Longing to go Home — Funeral Homily for Donetta Bowe, 90

September 27, 2021

You may or may not have known it, but Donetta wrote poetry. She wrote these words during her retirement:

“I want to go home
  Not to the house in town
  But back to the farm.”

In the following lines she went on to fondly recall the farm’s many sights and sounds, the cardinals and chickadees, the wild turkeys and pheasants, “the humming birds by the flowers,” the deer crossing through the fields, and the barn cats she left behind.

“But it’s not the same anymore,” she wrote,
“I need to find another way
  To satisfy those feelings now.”

In her later years, Donetta felt the fading of her flesh, and lamented at not being able to do all that she could do before.

“Only in my spirit,” she wrote,
“Only in my spirit
  can I run up a green grassy hill.
Only in my spirit
  can I skip along a shady park path.
Only in my spirit
  can I still run up the stairs.”

Over time, our lives accumulate losses. We painfully lose people and places and bodily powers. If this were only natural, why doesn’t it sit more naturally with us? Why do we desire the infinite? Where is the fulfillment of our insatiable longings to be found?

As Martha mourned the death of her brother Lazarus, Jesus assured her this was not her loved one’s end. She replied to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live… Do you believe this?” She answered him, “Yes, Lord,” and Martha saw his words proven true sooner that she had expected.

Therefore,” as St. Paul told the Christians of Corinth, Greece, “we are not discouraged… Although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day… This momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory… We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is passing, but what is unseen is eternal.

Despite looking back, Donetta looked ahead, to the ultimate fulfillment of her longings through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Here are the words of a final Donetta poem, as it appears on her funeral card:

“My time has come for me to go
  and say goodbye to the ones I know.
My body is tired my mind is weak
  it’s difficult for me to speak.
And now I’m waiting by the gate
  so as I go don’t be sad
  for I am grateful for all I had.
Embrace the day and smile for me
  for I am going where I want to go.”

Meals with the Lord — 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 21, 2019

Our first reading from Genesis recalls Abraham at a meal with the Lord. In the story immediately preceding this one, God had renewed his covenant with him. The Lord changed his name from Abram to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude,” and indeed, today more than two billion Christians around the world call Abraham our father in faith. A covenant bond is an alliance which transforms unrelated persons into family. In the ancient world, nations and peoples would form covenants, declaring themselves brothers. Today we rightly call marriage a covenant. And God has established many covenants between himself and members of the human race through salvation history. Something that family members do is eat together. Sharing a meal signifies communion and relationship with each other. Today, after renewing his covenant with Abraham, the Lord visits him for a meal.

Genesis says “the LORD appeared to Abraham,” but, “Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.” Like when God said at Creation, “Let US make man in OUR image,” Christians detect signs here of the presence of the Holy Trinity. There’s an interesting alternation of singulars and plurals in their dialogue. Abraham says, “Sir, if I may ask you (singular) this favor, please do not go on past your servant….” Abraham offers THEM a meal and THEY reply, “Very well, do as you have said.” Later THEY ask him, “Where is your wife Sarah,” and then ONE of them declares, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” Genesis does go on to call two of these three visitors “angels” but in Hebrew and Greek this word angel means “messenger or representative.” And who are the greatest representatives and messengers of God the Father but God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? Whatever the mystery that was actually at play here, Abraham serves a meal with the Lord and is blessed in the encounter.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord God visits Martha in the person of Jesus Christ. She welcomes him and sets about serving him with food and drink. Her sister, Mary, sits beside the feet of the Lord listening to him speak. And Martha, burdened with much serving, comes to him and says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” “Martha, Martha,” Jesus replies, “you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” Notice how Jesus repeats her name, something seen only a handful of times in the New Testament. Jesus laments over “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” before his Passion, he admonishes “Simon, Simon” at the Last Supper, he cries out “Eloi, Eloi / My God, My God” on the Cross, and he calls out to “Saul, Saul” on the road to Damascus. That’s some extraordinary company she shares. Clearly, Martha matters a great deal to Jesus.

So what was Martha doing wrong? Is it because she was working so hard to serve the Lord a meal? Well, Abraham hastened and hustled to serve too; he ran to pick out a choice steer, get curds and milk, and set these before his guests. Abraham even got others to help him work; telling his wife to make some bread rolls and directing his servant to prepare the meat. The problem wasn’t Martha’s work. It was her mindset, her outlook. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” Why was Martha anxious and worried? Anxiety and worry come from fear. What was she afraid of? Was she afraid of failing? Was she afraid of what others might think? Was she afraid of disappointing the Lord? What are you afraid of? What drives your anxiety and worries? Do you think Jesus will abandon you if things go wrong, if things are less than perfect?

Jesus says, “There is need of only one thing.” What is that one thing? Mary apparently had it sitting at his feet, listening to him teach. She was sharing personal communion with him and receiving from him. And later, when Mary got up to do whatever task came next, I bet that peace remained with her. “Mary has chosen the better part,” Jesus says, “and it will not be taken from her.” If you have gravely sinned, then return to Jesus, go back to confession, and come into the state of grace. And when in the state of grace stop letting yourself get in the way of connecting with Jesus and receiving and enjoying his good pleasure in you. Rest with him, rest in him, even as you work hard for him.

Fifty years ago this weekend, mankind took its first steps on the surface of the Moon. The astronauts journeyed from Earth more than 200,000 miles, through the extreme temperatures of an airless void, to achieve a modern marvel watched and celebrated around the world. But a still greater journey is made, a more incredible wonder is accomplished, when Jesus Christ comes from Heaven to this altar and invites you and me (who remain far from perfect) to share this covenant meal with him.