Dear Friends in Christ,
In a story unique to St. Luke’s Gospel, we read of a remarkable and beautiful incident in Jesus’ life. Mary of Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow, is traditionally associated with the Mary before us today but scholars think that it is unlikely to be the same person, believing this woman to be Mary of Bethany. What is clear is that, like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany loved the Lord. In this account, she did not wash his feet with her weeping or anoint his body with expensive nard but she showed that one thing was needed, and that was to sit at the Master’s feet and learn from him
There has always been a tension between the contemplative arm and the apostolic arm of the Church. The contemplatives are accused of being too focused on prayer whereas the apostolics are criticised for being too preoccupied with action and not placing enough emphasis on the interior life. Of course, this is too simplistic juxtaposition but there is an element of truth in it.
It is, however, hard not to feel some sympathy for Marth, who in this understanding embodies the apostolic approach, Mary can come across as a kind of ‘goody two shoes’. Martha on the other hand, has not airs and graces; she is a worker and not a shirker. Clearly both women were serving the Lord, but Mary, in Jesus’ own words, chose what is better. This doesn’t mean what Martha was doing in that moment wasn’t good or noble or worthy, or even right for her to be doing; it simply means that ultimately sitting at the Lord’s feet and learning from him who is humble and gentle or heart is the goal of our faith.
The great saints of the Church did not hesitate to serve others practically. It was aid of St. Catherine of Genoa, for example, that she used to be so preoccupied in prayer that she appeared to be in a trance. Nevertheless, if anyone needed her help, she would stop praying immediately to respond. Pope Francis is calling us all to serve others in a spirit of love and charity, but all service of God must be first rooted in prayer and hearing God speak through his Word.