“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (RSV Ecclesiastes 3:1). I am sure you have heard this verse at some point in your life. Or maybe you have been told “Now is not the time” when you thought you had something really important to say. We know that there is a time to be speaking and a time to be listening; a time to be working and a time to be praying.
As Catholics we are called to live a life of both service and prayer. However, we need to find a balance of the two and be aware of which has first priority our lives. This can be hard when we live in a selfish and busy world where there is always something to do. Our culture gives us few examples of true prayer and service in everyday life, however we can always look to the Bible and our faith for assistance. One of the shortest, yet most memorable bible stories is the story of Martha and Mary as Jesus is the guest of their house. In this story Jesus teaches us a little bit about serving, listening, and priorities.
Let’s take a closer look at the well-known story Luke tells us. “Now as they went on their way, he entered a village (Bethany); and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, 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’” (RSV Luke 10.38-42).
Martha greets Jesus and invites him into her home, then goes to prepare a meal. From this story we can see that she is hospitable, sensible, and likes to get things done and in theory there is nothing wrong with these attributes. However, Martha is often seen as the woman making the obvious mistake because she was making dinner instead of listening to the word of God. However, we must understand that Martha was doing a very good deed. She was attempting to serve Jesus in the best way she knew how, which was preparing a feast to honor her Lord and friend. One can relate to her feeling of exasperation and yearning for help so it is not surprising to see Martha say “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” It is easy to point out Martha’s mistake. We see her passing up a chance to listen to the teachings of Jesus as she tries to use Jesus to get Mary to do what she feels is needed. But we often forget how easily we can follow in her footsteps. We become so busy with our own lives that we forget to pray, read the word of God, and listen to his voice responding to us. We need to fulfill our duties of everyday work and service, however we are called to remember “one thing is needful” and that is prayer.
A great example of this needful prayer can be seen in the other sister, Mary as she spends undivided time with our Lord. Mary is depicted as sitting humbly at the feet of Jesus listening to his word. We can only imagine what they were talking about, but it is likely he was sharing his teachings or telling of his travels. She uses this rare opportunity to listen to the word of God and enrich her relationship with her good friend, Jesus and though we do not live in gospel times, Jesus calls us to do the same. Jesus still wants us to spend time with him and listen to his word. We are given the gifts like adoration and mass so that we, like Mary, can spend time with our Lord and friend and simply be in his presence. We may not be lucky enough to physically listen to Jesus speaking across a table from us (at least not most us, here on earth), however God gives us opportunities to listen to his word revealed in scripture.
By looking at the scriptures we can see Jesus’ response to the situation and what he is telling us. First, notice how Jesus never tells Martha that her service is wrong but rather he implies that she is not serving him in the best way and Mary has chosen something better (the good portion). Jesus tells her that she is “anxious and troubled about many things”. Martha was so distracted by the business of life that she was unable to simply be mentally present to Jesus in the moment. Martha did not realize that the meal did not have to be perfect or extravagant. She only needed to prepare something simple rather than stressing about such material things. Similarly we can be easily distracted when trying to meditate in silent prayer. We might even think that our prayers are not beautiful, long or perfect enough for God, but God values all prayer, especially prayers from the heart. As St. Louis de Montfort once said “It is not the length but the fervor of the prayer that pleases God and wins His Heart. One Hail Mary said well is worth more than a hundred and fifty said badly…”(Why The Rosary?).
Often in our own lives we are busy. We have homework, chores, extra activities, and we want to have free time on the side to talk to our friends. How in the world are we supposed to find time to pray in our noisy, world where to do lists and distractions seem to never end? I have asked myself this question many times before especially this past school year, so I once asked a priest how to put prayer into everyday life. He said “make your life a prayer”. When you are doing something hard offer it up. When you have a few moments in between tasks say a short prayer to yourself. Try using a children’s prayer book or prayer card with short easy prayers you can read or memorize. Create instances to think of Jesus and his mother Mary even if it is just to say “I love you Jesus” or “Mary, help me today”. It is too easy to pray only when we “need something” from God. Instead, we must remember God is present in our lives and wants to have a relationship with us every day, not just when it is convenient. We can feel as if the only time we can talk to our creator is when our lives feel like they are tearing at the seams. However, even in this busy world we need God every day and therefore it is vital that we take time for personal prayer (even if we don’t specifically need anything from Him). Jesus himself, would take extended periods of time alone to pray to his father in Heaven and he did this to model for how we should pray.
The story of Martha and Mary is a lesson about serving, listening, and priorities. We must fulfill our everyday duties, however we must keep in mind what is needed. We, like Mary, must give Jesus undivided time devoted to being with him and listening to his word. But most of all we must learn to prioritize our work and prayer so that we have time for both in in our lives. The idea can be summed up in Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (RSV Phil.).
Revised Standard Version. Camden: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1952. Print.
“Why the Rosary?”singlemothersofmary. WordPress. Web. 5 June. 2015.