Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi
We have the faith we need to love and serve God, and one way we live out this faith is by being a neighbor to all we meet. Today we hear perhaps the most famous test case: Martha and Mary or, as many view it, Martha versus Mary. However, this is not a case of Goofus and Gallant, for those who remember the morality cartoon.
The key lies in Christ’s words to Martha: “…you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” Notice He does not tell her to stop what she is doing and join her sister, nor does He brush off the fact that she is working hard to be a good hostess. In other words, as has often been misunderstood, He is not chiding her for what she’s doing but rather exhorting her to do it with an undivided heart.
Yesterday we were reminded that we must seek to love God with our whole heart, but when our heart is divided among many loves, we become anxious, and even serving Jesus—which is its own reward!—we become burdened by what ought to be our joy, being as we were created, according to St. Ignatius, to “praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord.” When we find ourselves invested too fully in too many things, what area of our life often suffers first and most?
“I’m too busy to pray…I had too much going on to make it to Mass on Sunday…I only go to Mass on Christmas and Easter…” The list continues.
The word “anxious” carries, at its etymological root, associated meanings such as “strangled… pained… distressed” and is related to the word “anguish.” Is this not how an anxious heart feels? Yet when our heart is focused in its love for the Lord, such as Mary’s heart was, we find peace even in the midst of many tasks, and the most demanding things are not burdensome. Martha had the honor of serving Jesus, yet she could find no joy in it because of whatever anxieties lay upon her heart; so strangled and distressed was her heart that it saw her sister as failing in her own duties as co-host, rather than rejoicing in the fact that Jesus was in her house.
In Mary we do not see someone who is succeeding where Martha is failing, but rather we see the contrast between the undivided heart that listens at the Lord’s feet—the posture of a disciple—and the anxious heart that is trying to love too many things at once when one thing—Jesus—is all that is required. Jesus did not enter the house of Martha and Mary simply to have lunch; rather, He entered their house with the hope and desire of entering into their hearts. Martha, the Gospel says, welcomed Him into her home, but it was Mary who brought Him in the rest of the way.
Let us, then, remember this Gospel the next time we receive communion, recalling that Jesus does not simply wish to enter our mouths, our stomachs; no, He desires entrance into our very hearts, and not simply a guest room, but He wishes the whole place for Himself, forever.