Prayer in a Busy World by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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."
Martha seems to be one of the Gospel characters we can easily identify with. There are at least two recorded conversations between her and Jesus, and both times it is easy to come away saying, "I hear you, sister." Our Lord, however, uses both of those occasions to reveal some profound truths.
One one occasion, recorded in chapter 11 of John's Gospel, Jesus goes to the tomb of Martha's brother, Lazarus. Lazarus has already been in the tomb several days by the time Our Lord arrives. Martha goes out to meet Him, saying, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." If we have ever lost a loved one, we can readily identify with Martha's anguish. Maybe we prayed and prayed for healing that never seemed to come. Martha is hurting, and she lets Our Lord know that. Jesus tells her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live."
What a profound revelation Christ makes regarding His own self. He is eternal life, and He shares that life with those who believe in Him. That lesson is echoed elsewhere in the Scriptures: "For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the son gives life to whom he will" (Jn 5:21); and "(We) proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship lies with the Father and the Son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1:2-3).
What comfort those words can bring to us. Death takes our loved ones from us, but Christ has conquered death. We have good reason to hope that our loved ones are not lost forever. Rather, we have good reason to hope that they have gone on ahead of us, and that one day, through the grace and mercy of God, we shall see them again in paradise. We identify with the anguish of Martha, but Christ is the source of hope.
The second conversation between Martha and Jesus is the one presented to us this Sunday. Jesus is in Bethany visiting with His friends. While Martha is bustling about the house trying to provide hospitality, her sister, Mary, is sitting at Jesus' feet listening to His teaching. Martha takes note of this: "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?" Again, we might be able to identify with Martha. We might live very busy lives, and finding time for good, solid meditative prayer seems almost like a luxury. There is just too much that needs to be done. This can certainly happen in family life with its many demands. It can just as easily happen even in priestly ministry. It is easy to get caught up in doing things - ministering to the many needs of others, administrative duties, teaching - and neglect personal prayer. Again, we need to make note of Jesus' response to Martha: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."
The "good portion" chosen by Mary is Jesus Himself. While He is so near, she has chosen to sit with Him and listen to Him. We might think of Peter's words to Jesus after the Bread of Life discourse in John 6. When Jesus asks the apostles if they, too, will leave Him, Peter asks where they could possible go. Jesus' words are the words of everlasting life. This should be enough to tell us that time spent in personal prayer is not a luxury. When it comes to the interior, or spiritual, life, prayer and meditation are critical. There we hold up to Our Lord our daily activities and scrutinize them in the light of His teachings to see what needs to be discarded or strengthened, to see what is leading us closer to Him or taking us away from Him.
No time of prayer, especially prayer before the tabernacle, is ever wasted. What we bring with us each time may be a little different. At times we will readily praise and adore Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer. At times we will come in sorrow for our sinfulness and weakness, seeking His mercy. At times we will come in gratitude for the spiritual and material gifts He has given us. At times we will come with numerous petitions for ourselves and others. At all times, we give Jesus our hearts. He will give us the good things we need.
What are those good things? Pope Benedict XVI gives us an answer in his book Jesus of Nazareth: "The 'good things' that he gives us are himself. This reveals in a surprising way what prayer is really all about. It is not about this or that, but about God's desire to offer us the gift of himself - that is the gift of all gifts, the 'one thing necessary.' Prayer is a way of gradually purifying and correcting our wishes and of slowly coming to realize what we really need: God and his Spirit" (p. 137).
Yes, Martha is a character we can all identify with. And thanks to her, we have learned some important lessons about Our Lord.
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