16th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

At my parish on Long Island, a new prayer group had started and it was greatly influenced by the charismatic movement.  My mother joined and heard of amazing spiritual experiences such as speaking in tongues.  Mom said she did not share in those experiences, but she felt closest to God in serving the poor.  A person in the group said, “Some of us are just Marthas.”  It was not a compliment.

Inevitably, the story of Martha and Mary plays out as a choice between two ways of life; as kind of a Catholic personality test.  You are either a Martha (practical and task driven) or a Mary (contemplative, spiritual and prayerful.)  The history of the interpretation of this passage has favored Mary.  However, for most of us, our sympathy flow toward Martha.  We have all felt we are doing all the work and someone else is reaping all the benefits.  When Martha makes her famous complaint, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” we want Jesus to say, “Of course.  Get up Mary and so some dishes so Martha has a turn.” However, Jesus says the contrary.  “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Now there would no “better part” for Mary unless Martha took the bold step to invite Jesus as a prestigious rabbi to a home led by a woman.  And if you are going to invite Jesus over for dinner, someone should make it for him. It is not that some are called to be Martha and others Mary.  We are all called to be Martha and Mary.

Combining Martha and Mary is the perfect depiction of the Christian life.  We need to welcome Jesus into our lives and into our homes as Martha did.  And as Martha literally served Jesus, we need to serve him by reaching out to him in the guise of others.  But we also need to sit at the feet of Jesus as Mary did and soak in his wisdom, truth and love.  The dichotomy reminds me of one of my favorite phrase about prayer. “Prayer without action is powerless.  Action without prayer is chaos.”  Prayer without action cannot open us to service and cannot bring us or others closer to Christ.  Action without prayer prevents our activity in the world with being informed, motivated and infused with the love of Christ. Our prayer should be grounded in our reality and our reality should be grounded in our prayer.

I will never forget the homily Bishop Hubbard gave at my ordination.  He said the prayer life of a parish priest rests in the lives of his people.  How true that has been. Today I have prayed for my friend Earl who passed away in thanksgiving for his life and for the family struggling with their loss.  Then my prayer was elevated with joy as I baptized four babies.  I have been experiencing Christ in the people God has given me.  Isn’t that true for you as well?  Isn’t your prayer about your family and your friends, the people God has given you in a special way?  Isn’t it about the problems you have and the issues you care about whether it be the unborn or migrants on the border?  I believe our prayer should be grounded in reality, in the lives of those around us and the circumstances that surround us.  This is the Martha and Mary way of prayer.

We need to pray.  God knows we think about things enough; we think them to death.  But there is a difference between prayer and thinking.  When we pray, we bring Christ.  We are connected by the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit brings us closer to Christ and the object of our prayer.  The prism through which we pray is the love that Jesus has for us, the faith he has shared with us and the peace he promises us.  Everything looks different and carries more hope when we pray.   And clear eyed and confident, we can know what to do next as our prayer leads our actions.

Take a moment to hold in your heart someone or something you would like to pray for.  Just close your eyes and bring that person or issue to your heart and to God.


Let Christ color that picture of that person or that concern so you can have more forgiveness, more power, more peace and more love. Let the love in which we are rooted lift up, console and bring hope for there is always hope in our God.  Feel the love that binds us to Christ.  Feel it bind us to others.  What a powerful gift we have in our prayer.  Don’t think. Pray.

If you drive on Union Street in the mornings in the nice weather, you will spot me at my favorite place for private prayer.  I have powerful experiences before the tabernacle. My favorite prayer is the mass, a wonderful blend of contemplation and action.  But I love to pray on my porch as cars go whizzing by and I sense the pulsating life of Christ whirling around me.  My life and my ministry are built on those prayers.  We can be Martha.  We can be Mary.  And we are both, we are Jesus Christ.