Monday, July 18, 2016

"Martha, Martha, keep holy the Sabbath"

XVI Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
San Jose Parish & St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Austin, TX

Last week we heard the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Lk 10:25-37). There along with the scholar of the law we felt the call to go forth and to love our neighbor as the Samaritan had, by engaging in Christ’s works of mercy. Today, we begin our readings with the story of the “Hospitality of Abraham,” (Gen 18:1-10) when Abraham hosts the three angels (representing God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Again, the message seems clear, we are called to take up the works of mercy—feeding the poor and granting drink to the thirsty—for in this way we play host to God Himself present among us in our neighbor. Again, love of God is now to be manifest in the love of our neighbor in whom we see and serve Christ Himself. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt 25: 40). 
And then, there is today’s gospel. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things…Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42). Does this not seem quite the contradiction? Go and serve, but now stop and rest. Busy yourselves in the love of neighbor, but now clear your mind and listen to my Word. And if the juxtaposition were not enough, this story of Martha and Mary directly follows the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” Has Jesus flip-flopped here? Or have we understood poorly the lesson of the parable? 
We are not the Good Samaritan. We are called to be, but we are not, not yet. We are the one who fell victim to the robbers. And until we experience the saving power of Christ, His love and mercy, by which he anoints the wounds of sin with the oil of salvation and washes them clean with the wine turned blood of His passion and death; until we have been brought to the inn which is the Church and had the price of our salvation payed, our lives redeemed, we simply cannot be the Good Samaritan. For if love of God is to be manifest as love of neighbor, then we must not forget that “We love, because He [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is the story of Christ not passing by, but choosing to save us who have fallen victim to sin and death. So if we are ever truly going to be able to love our neighbor, we must first receive that love and mercy from God Himself, though the reception of the sacraments. 
And what of Abraham? Undeniably, Abraham and his wife Sarah believe they are serving God by hosting these three angels. Yet, if he were to stop and consider the privilege being offered to him, that is, to communion with God by sharing in this banquet, he might think less of his works and more of the work God is doing—fulfilling the earlier promise that his 90 year old wife will bear a son who will be the father of a great nation as numerous as the stars in the sky. Indeed, what need have angels of some good BBQ? No, it is they, the angels, God Himself, who is serving Abraham. 
Unlike work, sports, games, community service, etc…the work we do matters less, not more, when it comes to our salvation; we cannot earn our salvation. It matters much more the works of God, than the works of men. Now, I do not want to say that we are passive in our salvation; that we simply receive it and have no part in its accomplishment. We do. But only by way of participation in the work God is already doing. That is by receiving His mercy and so being made bearers of God’s mercy into the world. Yet this requires this initial moment of encounter with Jesus Christ, a saving encounter in which through the reception of His mercy (much like the man who fell victim to the robber or Abraham and his wife with the angels) we are transformed and made capable of loving others. 
This moment of encounter, this time of receiving God’s mercy and love is precisely what Jesus is asking of Martha in our story today; that “one thing” is an encounter with the Risen Christ. Mary chose the better part for she chose this “one thing,” to encounter Christ. And it is time for Martha to do the same. 
Practically this means taking time to sit and listen to the Word of God, to rest in this transforming encounter with God’s mercy. Fortunately for us, this time is sort of preprogramed into our lives—Sunday: the third commandment to keep holy the Sabbath manifest in the Church’s precept to attend mass every Sunday. Thanks to our christianized society we are afforded (most of us) this day, Sunday, free of work and toil. Yet, even though we take this time off, Sunday, as a day of rest, do we really fulfill the commandment? Do we keep it holy? I know. There are a myriad of activities: the kids sports tournaments (multiple), the cowboys are playing, got to take a nap, catch up on your favorite TV show on Net flicks, go to the movies, get to Church, finish the final stage of that video game, visit or at least call grandma, read your favorite book, get some exercise, scratch one off the “Honey do list” or just go catching Pokemon. And while all of these things are good, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing” (Lk 10:41). As Pope St. John Paul the Great said, “Sunday recalls the day of Christ's Resurrection. It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ's victory over sin and death” (Dies Domini, 1). Unfortunately, Sunday can loose this fundamental meaning and simply become merely part of a “weekend.” Hence, “The disciples of Christ…are asked to avoid any confusion between the celebration of Sunday, which should truly be a way of keeping the Lord's Day holy, and the ‘weekend,’ understood as a time of simple rest and relaxation” (Dies Domini, 4). 
To do this, we must make Mass the center and high point of our Sunday. Everything orbits around this weekly appointment with the Risen Christ. We desire to communicate the importance of our faith to our kids. How this is done when nothing ever stands in the way of attending Mass, no tournament, social function, or busy weekend. We should also make time to pray and to share a meal as a family. For if the family is the “domestic church,” the Eucharistic table we gather around at Mass should extend into our homes through family prayer and a shared meal. I would also challenge those who help out at Church on Sundays. Make sure that you also make time for quiet prayer with the Lord. We all know how hectic serving in the Church can be. After a long week at work (sometimes over 50 hours) we need to make sure our desire to serve is not covering our fear of sitting quietly with the Lord. Again, it is less what we do, but more what God does for us in our Salvation that matters. 
There are innumerable other suggestions I could make, like going home and talking about the homily as a family—which is a personal favorite of mine—but I dare say that if Mass is a nonnegotiable and that there is time for family prayer and a shared meal, our Sundays will be quite holy indeed.  

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