Imitating St. Martha’s Virtues, July 29, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Martha
July 29, 2014
Jer 14:17-22, Ps 79, Jn 11:19-27

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • The Church has us celebrate the feasts of the saints not merely so that we can beg for their intercession but so that we can learn from them the virtues we need to live the Christian life in a holy, faithful and truly fulfilling way. Today on this Feast of St. Martha, I’d like to ponder four of her great virtues.
  • We can ponder first her hospitality. St. Luke tells us, “Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.” The evangelist features that is was Martha — not Martha, Mary and Lazarus — who welcomed Jesus, because she was the one who really put in the effort of hospitality. That’s also what today’s opening prayer features, when we turn to God the Father “whose Son was pleased to be welcomed in Saint Martha’s home as a guest” and ask for the grace similarly to be received by him in the house of heaven. Together with St. Benedict, she is the most famous saint of hospitality in the history of the Church. It’s not by coincidence that the guest house in the Vatican where Pope Francis now lives and where all the Cardinals stay during the conclave is called the Domus Sanctae Marthae, “St. Martha’s House.” Her hagiographically famous hospitality to Jesus and the apostles should cause us to examine our own. St. Josemaria used to call the chapels he would make and adorn to house Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament “Bethanies,” and he would use that as an illustration to show how our hearts, our lives, our bodies and souls are likewise meant to be like Martha’s House in Bethany, receiving Jesus within. And once we learn how to receive Jesus in that way, then it becomes so much easier to extend a similar hospitality to others because, as Jesus said, whenever we welcome a stranger, Jesus says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
  • Second, we can ponder her loving service. St. John says that after the raising of Lazarus she threw a reception for Jesus and she was “ministering” to the guests present (Jn 12:2). We see her doing the same when she and Martha received Jesus into their home in St. Luke’s Gospel (10:38-42). She was cleaning and cooking for Jesus and working so hard that she began to resent that her sister Mary wasn’t doing any work at all but sitting at Jesus’ feet. Jesus gently defended Mary’s choice, saying that she and chosen the “better part,” and the “one thing necessary,” and she wouldn’t be robbed of it. She hadn’t realized that Jesus had come to their home primarily to feed and not to be fed, to serve and not to be served, and that’s what Mary grasped that Martha hadn’t. But this does not mean in the least that Jesus was somehow disparaging her loving service of him. He had elsewhere praised feeding the hungry, saying, “I was hungry and you fed me.” All he was doing was calling her to recognize that in our relationship with Jesus we first must be nourished before nourishing others lest we run out of the ability to nourish others with the most important nutrition of all. Her loving service of Jesus and others leads us to examine the extent we go to care for Jesus in others. Do we seek to work as hard for Jesus as she did, in our parish, in our homes, in our work places?
  • The third virtue we can ponder is her faith. We see that faith on display in the great miracle of the raising of Lazarus in today’s Gospel. Despite being apprised of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus had waited until he had been dead for four days until he arrived in Bethany. There was a Jewish idea that the soul would hover around the body for three days after death trying to re-enter, but once a person had been dead for four days, it was over. Martha obviously must have known about the raising of the little girl of Jairus the synagogue official and of the only son of the widow of Nain, but both of those resuscitations happened minutes or hours after death. Lazarus had already been dead past the point of no return. Yet, she ran up to Jesus with faith and said, first, with perhaps a little bit of resentment, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died,” but then slipped in a petition for an inconceivable miracle, “but even now I know that whatever you ask of God, He will give you!” Jesus replied to her, “Your brother will rise,” and Martha immediately responded by expressing her firm belief what Jesus must have told them about the afterlife in response to their questions when he dined in their home: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day!” But that’s not really what Martha was seeking and Jesus took advantage of the opening to help her to see that the resurrection would not be so much a fact as a relationship, specifically a relationship with him: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, even though he die, will lie and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” For someone with this faith in Jesus, in other words, death would merely be a change of address; life would be changed not ended. Then Jesus asked her directly: “Do you believe this?,” and Martha responded with words that show the meaning of real faith: “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Because she believed in Christ, she believed in what he said, even if it far exceeded her human experience. She believed in everything Jesus said he could do, including raising people from the dead. We see a similar faith in Jeremiah in the first reading, weeping over the fate of Judah and Jerusalem as a result of a drought and a famine. He knew that the sins of the people were so abominable that they didn’t deserve mercy, but yet he turned toward God anyway,  reminding him of his own fidelity and his own power to open the heavens and send showers. There was nothing he couldn’t do, including forgiving the unforgivable. Eventually God the Father would hear that prayer in the person of his Son. Martha’s faith, and Jeremiah’s, lead us to examine our own faith. A couple of days ago I received an email from a consecrated woman who comes to see me for spiritual direction. She was on her annual eight day retreat. She’s had a very rough few years with various types of suffering, but she was meditating on the scene of the resurrection of Lazarus and the faith seen in Martha and Mary and emailed me her conclusion that Jesus’ presence “can change everything, including death.” He could raise her from the dead in every way she needs it. He could turn her sorrow even into joy. That’s the type of transformation the Lord can, and in fact, wants to work in all of us. But he says to us, like he said to Martha, “Do you believe this?”
  • The fourth and final virtue we can examine is Martha’s desire to share the grace of Jesus’ presence and power with others. Once this dialogue was over, she ran to her sister, Mary, who was in the house, and said, “The Master is here and he is calling you.” She became, in essence, a vocation director. The Lord, the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world, comes precisely in order to call us to himself. And Martha wanted to make sure her sister knew of that call. That expression in Latin has often been written on the frontispiece of altars to highlight not only the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist but how he seeks through the Eucharist to summon us to himself, to reveal to us our vocation to be with him and to be sent out by him to bring others into union with him and us: Magister adest et vocat te. The Lord is present in the tabernacle and calling us. The Lord is present in Sacred Scripture and calling us. The Lord is present in the poor and calling us. The Lord is present in his Church and calling us. The Lord is present in the confessional and calling us. The Lord is present in his priests and calling us. And in all of these ways he wishes for us to go out to others and say the Lord is calling them, too. Do we go to those we know and remind them that the Lord is alive and calling them, right now, to experience his resurrection and life so that even if they die they’ll live forever?
  • Today at this Mass we seek to welcome Jesus within us with the same loving hospitality with which St. Martha welcomed him in Bethany. We want to serve him and serve others with the same receptive vigor with which she served him in Bethany. We reaffirm our faith in him and everything he says. And we commit ourselves to go and announce the good news that the Son of God has come into the world and is calling us and everyone we know to a life of loving communion with Him that will continue even after death.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
JER 14:17-22

Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
Over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.
If I walk out into the field,
look! those slain by the sword;
If I enter the city,
look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.Have you cast Judah off completely?
Is Zion loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow
that cannot be healed?
We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
We recognize, O LORD, our wickedness,
the guilt of our fathers;
that we have sinned against you.
For your name’s sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.
Among the nations’ idols is there any that gives rain?
Or can the mere heavens send showers?
Is it not you alone, O LORD,
our God, to whom we look?
You alone have done all these things.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 79:8, 9, 11 AND 13

R. (9) For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.
R. For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Help us, O God our savior,
because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name’s sake.
R. For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Let the prisoners’ sighing come before you;
with your great power free those doomed to death.
Then we, your people and the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
through all generations we will declare your praise.
R. For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.

JN 11:19-27

Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

I also print the Gospel that is mentioned in the homily:
LK 10:38-42

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”