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Bible Reflections View Comments

Are We Too Busy to Hear the Lord?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013
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In today’s Gospel we hear the familiar story of Mary and Martha, the two sisters who, along with their brother, Lazarus, welcome Jesus into their home in Bethany. This family must have been particularly close to Jesus. We also see them in John’s Gospel, when Lazarus dies and Martha and Mary confront Jesus over his late arrival. In both stories, the sisters are both clearly familiar enough with Jesus to be able to speak to him directly.

This story offers scholars a look at cultural conventions of the time—and ways in which Jesus was willing to bend those conventions in service of the Gospel. They talk about how Mary, in assuming the listening role of a disciple, probably scandalized onlookers because such a role was reserved for men. They say Jesus is affirming that Mary had the right to assume that role.

But there’s more to the story than a lesson in first-century Palestinian culture, or a debate over gender-specific roles. The story of Mary and Martha can be set in our own kitchens and living rooms—or factory floors and corporate offices. My sister and I have a running joke that she’s Martha and I’m Mary. When either one of us uses the name, it speaks volumes. She might be telling me to get something done. I might be telling her to take time to relax.

Many of us have had Martha’s experience of feeling as though someone else was getting away with not carrying their fair share of the load. It might be a sibling not helping with dishes—or the care of elderly parents. It might be a coworker who takes everyone else’s ideas and presents them as original thoughts to much praise—and compensation. It might be someone who consistently shirks difficult tasks with one excuse or another.

It’s easy to sympathize with Martha and to be shocked at Jesus’s admonition that Mary had chosen the better part. Our busyness becomes its own rationalization. When we’re busy, we feel like our lives have more value. When we’re busy, we don’t have to be available to help others. When we’re busy, we don’t have to listen to God asking us to do something different. Jesus tells Martha, “You are worried and anxious about many things.” Most likely he would tell us the same thing. When we find ourselves feeling stressed by demands and expectations, we might ask how many of those things are truly essential in the larger picture. If we can do this, we will discover for ourselves what it means to choose the better part.

Today’s first reading from Genesis shows us that Abraham was every bit as busy as Martha in providing hospitality for his visitors, but he did it with ease and a lack of anxiety. Perhaps we can learn from him to do what we’re doing without worrying about other people’s expectations or contributions. Like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, he was focused on the one thing necessary at the time. And in doing so, he was creating a restful oasis for his visitors. And the Lord blessed his efforts.

Our world needs both Martha’s activity and Mary’s prayerful attention to the word of God. The former doesn’t need to be restless and anxious; the latter doesn’t need to be passive. We will be at our best when we can suit our personalities to the needs of the moment, always being attentive to the Lord’s deepest desire for our lives.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
St. Monica
The tears of this fourth-century mother contributed to her son's conversion to Christ.

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The love of husband and wife is the wellspring of love for the entire family.

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