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07/21/19 Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Today’s readings remind us that contemplation and hospitality are like love and service: they go together and enrich one another. In today’s readings it seems one person might be getting the brunt of the grunt work (Sarah and Martha), but when it is understood from the perspective of communion, a perspective Paul reminds us of in today’s Second Reading, we know that whether we are in a moment of contemplation or hospitality, love or service, we are benefiting the whole Mystical Body of Christ.

Abraham, in today’s First Reading, had a unique encounter with the Lord through three visitors. He’d been told to wander to new lands as a nomad with the promise of a land and children of his own.  Sarah had been there every step of the way for years, just as she was now by preparing food for unexpected visitors. Now the Lord, in the three mysterious visitors, promises that Sarah will bear a son.  Sarah receives the blessing, a blessing for her and her husband, that both had been striving for in different ways. Sarah let Abraham take the lead, but both reaped the benefits.

Paul, in today’s Second Reading, speaks of making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church. Greco-Roman philosophers spoke of society as being like a body, with its members doing things, glamorous and unglamorous, for the good of society.  St. Paul may have been inspired, in part, by this understanding of a society as like a body, but the Body of Christ for him was something much more profound, perhaps from the moment the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus (when he was still Saul, the persecutor of Christians) and said “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). As Saul persecuted Christians he was persecuting Jesus himself. As members of the Body of Christ, we can benefit our brothers and sisters in the faith, and they can benefit us, just as our sins can adversely impact the whole Body. Our Lord took upon himself the toughest part, on the Cross, to teach us that we too can take on the hard things for the spiritual benefit of others. Some always have the tougher part; as believers, they can be consoled by knowing that doing their part, easy or hard, will result in blessings for them and the entire Body.

Mary, in today’s Gospel, seems to have left her sister Martha in the lurch, sitting at Our Lord’s feet, and Martha is not shy about bringing that up to Our Lord. We all are tempted from time to time of being envious of what others are doing when our part seems burdensome or unfair. Our Lord reminds Martha that everyone has a part to play, be it love and contemplation or hospitality and service. Mary may have had the “better” part, but Martha had an important part to play as well. In the end, both Mary and Martha would be blessed when Our Lord raises their brother Lazarus from the dead thanks to their love and faith. The story of Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel also helps us take stock of our prayer life. Martha, through serving the Lord, is making her life a prayer; she’s busy, but she is doing it for him. The first step in any prayer life is the desire to know and to serve the Lord.  At the same time, Martha’s prayer life is tainted with activism: focusing on doing so much that she loses sight of why she is doing it. This is proved when she comes to Our Lord to complain and judge her sister: a lack of charity is a symptom of a lack of prayer life. Our Lord is well aware of this, which is why he presents Martha’s sister Mary as an example of contemplative prayer: Mary just sits at the Lord’s feet, apparently “doing” nothing, but she is loving the Lord.  Everyone needs this kind of prayer too: prayer not so much of reciting words or doing things as simply “sitting” in the Lord’s presence and listening to whatever he has to say, or simply just being there and loving him while he loves us.

The main scriptural foundation for the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is in the Letter of James: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). This sacrament is not just for the benefit of the afflicted person; the whole Church benefits when sufferings are offered up for her. The Catechism describes this as an “ecclesial grace”: “The sick who receive this sacrament, ‘by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ,’ ‘contribute to the good of the People of God.’ By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person, and he, for his part, though the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father” (CCC 1522).

Try taking ten minutes today from your schedule to just sit down in a quiet place (at home, in a church, etc.) and simply recollect yourself and speak with Our Lord heart to heart. He will speak if you listen. It will help you be more like Martha and like Mary in a good way.

 

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