Lessons from St. Martha, 16th Saturday (I), July 29, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life
Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Martha
July 29, 2017
Ex 24:3-8, Ps 50, 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: 

  • I’ve always thought that two of the most important days of “reparation” in the liturgical calendar are July 3 and July 29, for St. Thomas and St. Martha respectively. Like St. Thomas, St. Martha is one of the saints who throughout Church history have seemed to be remembered not for their great faith but for the way Jesus challenged them to grow in faith. Thomas will forever be remembered more for his “doubt” — a doubt the other apostles shared before Jesus’ first appearance — than for his Christological confession. Likewise Martha has suffered in comparison to her sister, Mary, as someone whom Christian tradition has deemed to have had her priorities mixed up. Today is a day to try to correct the record and do ecclesiastical penance by learning from them! The Church has us celebrate the feasts of the saints, as you know, 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, therefore, I’d like to ponder four of her great virtues, virtues that Sisters of Life, that Catholic priests and indeed all Catholic faithful should be known for.
  • We should 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 help us to examine our own, first to Jesus and then in him, to others. St. Josemaria used to call the chapels he would make and adorn to house Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament “Bethanies,” and would say that we should welcome Jesus in this chapel and elsewhere with the same love he found there. 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.” Welcoming the Lord and others as we would the Lord is something in which we need to persevere. It’s not enough in welcoming to give a good “first impression,” but the welcoming must continue. We must receive others as gifts given by the Lord, including those who are near us, to make them feel valued, loved, appreciated, at home.
  • Second, we should ponder St. Martha’s 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. She seemed to learn the lesson over time, as we will see. These first two points culminate, in a sense, in today’s first reading. Our welcoming of Jesus must lead to action. After Moses proclaimed the Covenant to the Jews, they replied, “All that the Lord has said we will do!.” Our faith must be faith in action, and we see that faith in action in the Sisters of Bethany, particularly in Martha when she works focused on the better part and one thing necessary.
  • The third virtue we should ponder is St. Martha’s 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.” Those were words that echo St. Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, in which moved by God the Father he pronounced Christ the Messiah and Son of God. Because Martha 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.  Jesus says to us, today, 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 pregnant women and their growing babies calling us. The Lord is present in his Church and calling us. The Lord is present in the confessional 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. The proclamation of the Gospel is a witness that that the Lord Jesus is alive and calling us and others, 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 EX 24:3-8

When Moses came to the people
and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD,
they all answered with one voice,
“We will do everything that the LORD has told us.”
Moses then wrote down all the words of the LORD and,
rising early the next day,
he erected at the foot of the mountain an altar
and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.
Then, having sent certain young men of the children of Israel
to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice young bulls
as peace offerings to the LORD,
Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls;
the other half he splashed on the altar.
Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people,
who answered, “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.”
Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying,
“This is the blood of the covenant
that the LORD has made with you
in accordance with all these words of his.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 50:1B-2, 5-6, 14-15

R. (14a) Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.
God the LORD has spoken and summoned the earth,
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
R. Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.
“Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his justice;
for God himself is the judge.
R. Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.
“Offer to God praise as your sacrifice
and fulfill your vows to the Most High;
Then call upon me in time of distress;
I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.”
R. Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.

Alleluia JN 8:12

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel 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.”