The Glow of St. Martha’s Virtues, Feast of St. Martha, July 29, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life
Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Martha
July 29, 2015
Ex 34:29-35, Ps 99, 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: 

  • 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! 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, 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.”
  • 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. When I picture Martha caring for Jesus, after he corrected her so that her heart was not “worried about many things” and helped her rediscover the one thing necessary and the better part, I see her face and whole existence shining, much like Moses’ face was radiant after praying to the Lord in the Meeting Tent, as we see in today’s first reading. When we come into contact with Jesus, our lives begin to change, we almost begin to glow. Pope Benedict once said that as Christians our whole lives should glow with fervor and that happens when we do things lovingly in the Lord’s presence. It’s easy to picture St. Martha’s radiance and she welcomed and served those she loved and her example helps us to examine the extent we allow Jesus to care for us and respond with care for him in others. Jesus wants to minister to us to help us minister with and like him with regard to those whom he sends. May we glow with fervor!
  • 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.” 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. One of the consecrated woman who comes to see me for spiritual direction wrote me during her retreat last year. 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 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 34:29-35

As Moses came down from Mount Sinai
with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands,
he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant
while he conversed with the LORD.
When Aaron, then, and the other children of Israel saw Moses
and noticed how radiant the skin of his face had become,
they were afraid to come near him.
Only after Moses called to them did Aaron
and all the rulers of the community come back to him.
Moses then spoke to them.
Later on, all the children of Israel came up to him,
and he enjoined on them all that the LORD
had told him on Mount Sinai.
When he finished speaking with them,
he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses entered the presence of the LORD to converse with him,
he removed the veil until he came out again.
On coming out, he would tell the children of Israel
all that had been commanded.
Then the children of Israel would see
that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant;
so he would again put the veil over his face
until he went in to converse with the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm PS 99:5, 6, 7, 9

R. (see 9c) Holy is the Lord our God.
Extol the LORD, our God,
and worship at his footstool;
holy is he!
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
and Samuel, among those who called upon his name;
they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
From the pillar of cloud he spoke to them;
they heard his decrees and the law he gave them.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
Extol the LORD, our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for holy is the LORD, our God.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.

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.”