Martha or Mary? That is the question…at least that was the question that began our monthly retreat for September. A group of us gathered to watch “The One Thing Needed: A Retreat Guide on Martha and Mary” presented by Fr. John Bartunek LC, which we obtained from RCSpirituality.org. The focus of the retreat meditating on the exchange between Mary, her sister Martha, and Jesus in Luke 10:38-42.
38 As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. 39 She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. 40 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.” 41 The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. 42 There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
We have all been Martha in one moment or another. One quote which really helped to pinpoint the problem with Martha is that she is living with a “divided heart”. As many of us struggle to keep our focus on God during the moments of our busy lives, we may want to become aware of what really gets the focus of our attention and time. Jesus gently reminds the “busy” side of our hearts to do the one thing needed; be still and listen to him.
Fr, Bartunek is often skilled at investigating the various perspectives of the scene. In this particular moment, we understand Christ is talking with his close friends; even so much that “Martha didn’t think twice about involving him in her family squabble.” Why was Martha really upset? Was it going to look bad for her when everyone arrived and things were not “just so”? The root sin of Vanity would be taking root in us if that were the case. Was she doing it for show so others may think more of her? Maybe she just didn’t want to do the work; or didn’t want her sister to rest. She may have been ligitimately tired; whatever her reasons, when she becomes bothered by Mary’s lack of assistance, she has lost sight of the gold; the presence of Christ.
To begin our meditation, we needed to recognize the default human behavior of going through life “anxious and worried about many things” as Martha was doing in this scene. We have moments of anxiety which erodes our virtue of trust and hope in Christ. Making a conscious effort to reject and denounce this fear is a necessary ACTION by which we can soberly own our own intention. When we do this, even by saying aloud, “I believe in you Jesus. I trust in you”, as an act of faith, we are taking a step toward opening the gate for Christ to make room in our hearts and obscure the worry from our minds. Just being aware of the fact that we should not be worried if we are really trusting God, is a great beginning to this step.
The second part of our meditation focused on the fact that we can only begin to conquer these habitual human slides by the grace of God. It isn’t anything we do, but recognizing what God has already done FOR US. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paved a way for grace to permeate our being and remove the stain of sin from our lives. We cannot force our hand at our own humanity, but we must rely on the graces that we are gifted through prayer and the sacraments. What is going on inside of me spiritually is what sets the pace for my soul to remain in Christ and bear fruit. Without a conscious effort to pray throughout my day, my soul cannot magnify God. It will magnify the stress I live with as a consequence of not receiving the grace I need to be a light for others.
The twist in the morning’s formation was when we got to the “Conference” portion of the retreat, where we discuss how to put what we have received into practice. Surprisingly, but certainly not without great significance, Father Bartunek called us to concentrate on the primary place to begin to find “The One Thing Needed”; a new approach to Sunday.
Keeping God’s day holy isn’t one of the first commandments for just any old reason. It is a primary way to show the Lord that we mean business and accept the gift of rest and time to worship with tremendous gratitude. When we follow the natural rhythm of rest and work, by actually stopping our week and placing God and rest first on this designated day, we are fitting ourselves to receive God’s grace in abundance and teaching those around us to do the same. Rather than acting like Sunday is the “On Deck” day for Monday, we should make sure it is the exclamation point of our week’s end.
We all took a few minutes to discuss how this challenges us in our own homes, and what kinds of efforts we have seen others make in order to honor God on Sunday. It may require a little “salmon action” of swimming upstream against a culture that schedules sporting events, meetings and even work for some on this Holy Day, but we were ready to begin the process of dropping the “tha” from our Martha, and adding the “y” to our Mary.