Sunday, July 22, 2007

Make Room for Mary (of Bethany) in Your Life

"Christ in the house of Mary and Martha," by Jan Vermeer

(Sixteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on July 22, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 10: 38-42.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixteenth Sunday 2007]

Fr. Stephen Rossetti is a psychologist as well as an ordained priest. In his book, The Joy of Priesthood, he tells a story about himself that ties in well with the message of today’s gospel text from Luke 10.

Several years ago, Fr. Rossetti visited a Carthusian monastery in nearby Vermont. The Carthusians are members of a very strict religious order that was founded in France in the 11th century by St. Bruno. Carthusians live a disciplined, ordered, prayerful life; they are definitely not “spiritual wimps”! Among other things they wear hairshirts (ouch!), they sleep on beds made of straw, they don’t eat meat, they live like hermits, and they eat only one meal a day.

Now you know why I’m not a Carthusian!

Although he’s a diocesan priest like me, Fr. Rossetti received special permission to stay at this monastery in Vermont for several months. During that time he never left the grounds.

When his extended retreat was finally over, he walked down the hill on which the monastery was built, and got on a city bus in order to start his journey home. It was then that he noticed something—something that he probably would not have noticed prior to his stay with these Carthusians. Listen, now, to his description of the event: “As I sat there among the people, I was struck and astounded by the amount of sadness on that bus. I thought to myself, ‘These people are incredibly sad. I wonder what happened to make them all so sad?’ Since the Carthusians do not read newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch television I had been cut off from news of the outside world. I figured something terrible must have happened while I was up on the mountain. But after a few moments the truth came to me: ‘Nothing happened to these people. These people are always this sad.’ But I did not know it until I had experienced true joy. Their 11th century founder, St. Bruno, spoke of the Carthusian life as ‘peace unknown to the world and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

So what’s the message here—that we should all go off to Vermont and join the Carthusians immediately? No!—although it’s possible that God is calling a few people here to embrace that type of vocation.

Rather, the message of this story is that if we know what’s good for us, we will make a special place for “Mary” in our lives (in this case I’m talking about Mary of Bethany, not Mary our Blessed Mother). Practically speaking, that means we will take personal, daily prayer seriously—very seriously! In today’s gospel passage Jesus commends Mary of Bethany for choosing the “better part”. He commends her, in other words, for taking the time to sit at his feet and prayerfully contemplate his words. Notice he doesn’t call Mary’s choice to pray “the only part”—as if Martha’s work was bad or unnecessary. Rather, he calls it the “better part,” signifying that daily, personal prayer is something that should have a certain priority in our lives.

In her frenzy to provide for Jesus’ physical needs and get all her household chores done, Martha was a lot like those bus travelers in Vermont, wasn’t she? She lacked peace; and because she lacked peace, she also lacked joy. She was full of anxiety and worry.

By the way, can you imagine what Martha would be like in 2007—living in our modern, American culture? In between the cooking and the cleaning and the hospitality, she’d also have to worry about answering the phone, and keeping up with her emails and text messages!

On some level, of course, we can all relate to Martha, since we all have worldly responsibilities that occupy a great deal of our time.

The problem comes, however, when we can relate to her TOO MUCH! From my conversations with Catholics over the years (both in and out of the confessional), I’ve come to realize that most of them do understand the importance of daily prayer; they know that their relationship with God will weaken without it. (Please hear that, those of you who went to Steubenville East last weekend! Your relationship with Jesus Christ will not grow and develop unless you read Scripture and communicate with the Lord every day!)

But even though most Catholics KNOW that having a consistent, disciplined prayer life is necessary, relatively few of them actually act on that knowledge! They will tell you, “I really know I should pray more often, but . . . “

And after the “buts” come the Martha-like excuses: “I really know I should pray more often, but I work a lot”; “I really know I should pray more often, but everyone in the family makes demands on my time”; “I really know I should pray more often, but I have too many things to do during the day”.

There’s an old saying: If you’re too busy to pray, then you’re too busy.

There’s also another old saying that applies here: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

If prayer really is a priority for you, then you’ll find some way to integrate it into your daily life. If you have to, you’ll get creative. For example, you might decide to keep the radio off on the way to work each morning so that you can pray the Rosary; or you might make the decision to listen to Christian music while you’re running or working out at the gym; or you might put your Bible on your nightstand so that you’ll remember to read a short section of it when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night.

Or you’ll devise some other clever way to pray in the midst of your hectic schedule.

Of course, it’s much better when you can pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament in church (or in some other quiet place) for an extended period of time, because then it’s a lot easier to FOCUS and to LISTEN (prayer, remember, involves not only speaking; in prayer we should also make the effort to LISTEN to the Lord—like Mary of Bethany did).

But even when finding a peaceful, quiet place is impossible for us, prayer in some form is still possible.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Some of you may now be thinking, “That’s my situation, Fr. Ray. With my crazy schedule, I definitely need to get creative in my prayer life.”

Before you come to that conclusion—before you decide that you’re too busy to have a regular prayer time (at least 15 minutes) in a quiet place each day—I would ask you to do something: take a good, hard look at the way you budget your time. One way to do this is to keep a careful record for a couple of days of all your activities. Write down, in other words, everything you do from the moment you get up in the morning until the moment you put your head on the pillow at night.

Do you know what most people discover when they do this? They discover that they actually have a lot more free time than they ever thought they had! Many of them, in fact, come to the realization that they waste huge amounts of time each day! “Gee, I never realized that I watch so much television—3 hours a night! “My goodness, I didn’t know that I spend so much time talking on the phone, and text messaging my friends, and playing mindless video games!” “Wow, I wasn’t aware of the fact that I spend so much of my time sitting around doing nothing!”

The Lord’s message to us today is simple and clear: Make room for prayer—make a special place for Mary of Bethany—in your life.

And if you need any added incentive to follow this instruction and get serious about your prayer life, just think of those people on that bus in Vermont: Do you really want to go though life like them?

I certainly don’t.