Saturday, July 29, 2006

St. Martha, patron saint of worriers...

Feast day for the very, very nervous.

"Jeepers Richard! I'm nervous!" Madelaine Kahn's character, Victoria Brisbane, from "High Anxiety."

Everyone always likes to use Mary and Martha as examples for the so-called active and contemplative life. I cannot dispute the Fathers and all the other saints, if time allowed I would write how Teresa of Avila praised the so-called active life and called attention to its own unique contemplative qualities. Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters are marvelous examples of this. Enough said on that.

When it comes to Martha complaining about Mary not helping out when the Lord was at her house, I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't incited to do so by the men in Our Lord's company who may have thought it unseemly for Mary to be sitting at the Teacher's feet - after all, it was the men Jesus was speaking to, a woman's place was indeed servile. Martha's exasperation may have been with this attitude, plus having to leave her work to call Mary. Of course we don't know that.

What we do know is that Martha was agitated, a bit anxious and nervous. Don't we all get like that? Today I am. Everything seems overwhelming for me today, I'm worried about many things, I need St. Martha's intercession to help me realize that "Only one thing is necessary." (Hard to understand sometimes when you're in the throes of anxiety.) Nevertheless, I think I should get some medication for panic attacks, while asking Martha for her help.

1 comment:

  1. Don Marco2:18 PM

    Talk about being on the same page! Terry, you inspired me today. Benedictines and Cistercians celebrate the Holy Family of Bethany: Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Here's this morning's homily:

    Genesis 18:1-10a
    Psalm 33:2-11
    Luke 10:38-42

    July 29, 2006
    Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B.
    Branford, Connecticut

    Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were all three disciples of the Lord Jesus and, more than disciples, close friends. The house of Bethany was a place of rest for Jesus, a retreat far from the relentless demands and clamor of the multitude. At Bethany, Our Lord was sure of finding warmth, affection, and friendship: values to which His humanity was acutely sensitive. Bethany provided Jesus with more than food, drink, and a quiet place to rest. Bethany offered Jesus a place of refreshment for His Heart.
    In the monastic tradition Martha, Mary and Lazarus are venerated as the patron saints those who are charged with carrying out Saint Benedict's mandate of sacred hospitality: “Let all guests be received as Christ, for he will one day say, I came as a guest and you welcomed me.” (RB 53:1). For this reason the Benedictine Lectionary gives us today the story of Abraham and Sarah extending hospitality to the three mysterious visitors by the oak of of Mamre. The feast of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus invites us to practice hospitality of the heart. “Behold,” says the Lord, “I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me” (Rev 3:20).
    My friend Terry Nelson refers to Saint Martha as the patron saint of the very, very nervous. In every family and community there are people who seem to thrive on anxiety. They seem to fret over everything. Anxiety is born of fear. Fear of what? Fear of losing control. Fear of going without something or finding oneself in need. Fear of being asked to change. Fear of failure.
    The anxious person is forever watching others to see what they are doing or not doing, saying or not saying. Look at Martha in today's Gospel! She had one eye on her casserole and the other on her sister. The anxious person goes so far as to think she knows what another is thinking or not thinking. In families and in community the very, very nervous person tends to make others very, very nervous. Anxiety is a contagious neurosis. There is a reason why Lazarus stayed out of the kitchen! Surely you noticed that Lazarus is not even mentioned in today's Gospel. Our Lord was very courageous to put Himself between Martha and Mary.
    At the same time, Saint Martha was a goodhearted woman. Though she tended to be a busybody, she was generous and willing to do absolutely anything to make Jesus feel at home in her house. Our Lord desired more for her. He saw a woman weighed down by the duties she had assumed. He rebuked Martha, going so far as to tell her what was wrong in the way she was behaving: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful” (Lk 10:41-42). Our Lord invited Martha to an inner freedom from disquiet, a freedom that would allow her love to soar to divine heights on the wings of confidence and trust.
    Jesus wanted the hospitality of Martha's house to be the outward expression - the sacrament - of the inward hospitality of her heart. He desired to raise Martha to a higher love, to the love that listens in silence, to the love that fixes its gaze on his face. Martha's love had busy hands and scurrying feet. Jesus desired to give her love ears and eyes: ears to listen to His word and eyes to contemplate His face. More than anything else, Jesus wanted Martha to let go of the need to control, to supervise, and to fret over others, so that she could open to him the door of her heart. “Those who love me,” he says, “will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home within them” (Jn 14:23).
    To some, Mary of Bethany appears dreamy-eyed and passive. On the contrary, by taking her place at the feet of Jesus, she was boldly occupying a post normally reserved to men. Only men were deemed capable of conversing with men. It was fitting for a son of the Law to sit at the feet of his rabbi; women were to stay in the background, listening from behind the curtains. Look at Sarah and Abraham in the First Reading: “And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him” (Gen 18:10). What may have irked Martha in Mary's behaviour was that she was putting herself forward so and usurping the place reserved for male disciples. Martha thought it unseemly. But Our Lord approved entirely. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42).
    Concerning Saint Lazarus, we are certain of one thing. Our Lord cherished him. There was a bond of intimate friendship between them. At the death of Lazarus Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Lord, come and see.' Jesus wept. So the Jews said, 'See how he loved him'” (Jn 11:33-36).
    In the monastic tradition, Saint Lazarus is the patron of converts and penitents. Jesus delivered him out of the putrefaction of the tomb where, after four days, he had already begun to stink. To everyone's surprise, Lazarus came forth from the tomb, still bound in his burial shroud, but fragrant with new life. “Unbind him, and let him go” (Jn 11:45), said Jesus. Where did Lazarus go at that moment if not straight into the arms of Jesus, his beloved Friend and Saviour? Lazarus spent the rest of his “second life,” his “new life,” living differently. Saint Lazarus is close to all who are delivered by the merciful Christ into a new life and called by Him to spend the days given them in reparation and in joyful penitence.
    Between today's Gospel episode and the death of her brother Lazarus something changed in Martha's life. It was to Martha that Jesus spoke the liberating words, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25). Martha responded: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world” (cf. Jn 11:27). Again it is Martha who said to her sister Mary: “The Master is here and is calling for you” (Jn 11:28).
    Martha, the patron saint of the very, very nervous, changed. I would like to think that little by little she became less controlling, less anxious, and less judgmental. I would like to think that she became a peaceful soul, content to live from moment to moment in abandonment to Divine Providence. And I would like to think that in the end, she no longer intimidated Lazarus to the point of making him stay out of the kitchen. She may even have come to accept that Mary's way was different from hers and that, because it pleased the Lord, she had something to learn from it.
    The Eucharistic hospitality of God awaits us at the altar. The door of the “banqueting house” (Ct 2:4) is already open to us, as it was open to Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. In it there is room for all of us. The Eucharist communicates peace to the anxious and busy soul. The Eucharist is the Food of Love given to those who, like Mary, are bold enough to sit at the feet of Christ. The Eucharist is sustenance for a new life of reparation and penitence, for that “second life” granted each of us by Divine Mercy. “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (Ct 2:4).


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