July 29, 2011

St. Martha, Friend of Jesus (Feast day July 29)

Spiritual Direction:by Kathryn Marcellino, OCDS
What better goal can we have than to be followers and close friends of Jesus as was St. Martha, whose feast day we just celebrated on July 29? What can we learn from her and her relationship with Jesus? Below are some Gospel passages about what Jesus taught St. Martha.

John 11:20-27. "When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 'Lord', Martha said to Jesus, 'if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha answered, 'I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' 'Yes, Lord', she told him, 'I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.' "

Martha knew Jesus personally. She witnessed perhaps Jesus' greatest miracle of raising her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. (John, Chapter 11). She came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that those who believe in him have eternal life. These are important lessons to know not only intellectually but to stop and reflecct on and to realize these things are truly real and also to share them with others.

Jesus also gave Martha some personal spiritual direction on how she and we can follow him more closely:

Luke 10:38-42: "As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, 'Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' 'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.' "

We see that Martha served the Lord. Serving God and others is a very good thing. Most of us do well to work as Martha did and also to help others with their physical needs, but Jesus said there is something even better and not to neglect that as well. The something better, Jesus said, is to "listen" to what he says.

Many people today are like Martha, that is very "worried and upset about many things" (and there are many things that we could be worried and upset about), but Jesus tells us, "Do not worry" (Matt 6:34), and "Do not be afraid" (Luke 12:32), and "My peace I give you." (John 14:17)

How can we also have the peace of Christ even when things are not going well?

Jesus gives us the answer in his words to St. Martha when he tells her about the better part, which is taking time to listen to Him. When we listen to Jesus with an open heart, ready to do whatever he asks of us, following him as our Lord, putting into practice (with the help of his grace) all we know that he wants... we begin to experience his peace and joy inside even if outer things are not always going that well. In other words, as we open our hearts more and more to God and follow him more closely we begin to experience his love for us, and deep peace and joy even in the midst of outer things that could upset us if we let them.

It is good to remember that God desires only what is best for us. He desires that we are happy and become holy. The old Baltimore Catechism said God made us to, "to know him, love him and service him in this life and be happy with him forever in Heaven." God loves us and wants us to love him in return and to trust in him first and foremost. He sometimes allows us to go through sufferings and difficult things to help us to grow in virtue and to teach us to put Him first in our love, trust and allegiance instead of hoping and trusting too much in created things that often can fail us.

So how do we listen to Jesus today? How can we be his friend?

One way to listen to Jesus is to go to a quiet place such as our room and spend some time in prayer and reading Jesus' words in the Bible. In reading and pondering God's word in Scripture we are listening to God. In prayer we can speak to Jesus as to a friend. Also in being quiet for part of our prayer time we allow God to speak to use in the depths of our heart. We don't have to continually speak but we can take a little time to listen as well.

We really can trust Jesus as he loves us immensely even while we are still imperfect sinners and he is completely trustworthy. (Divine Mercy Prayer: "Jesus, I trust in you.") He invites us to open our hearts to him and to be receptive to whatever he would give us including his will and plan for our lives. If something is troubling us or distracting us, we can, "Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

Besides speaking to Jesus as we would to a friend, some other ways to pray are the rosary (including meditating on the mysteries from the Gospels), Lectio Divina (a way to pray with Scripture), the Liturgy of the Hours and other forms of prayer. There are many ways to pray and we can see what works best for us at any given time.

Most of us can find a quiet place for at least a few minutes of silence and solitude each day. The goal of our prayer relationship is ultimately union with God. We can ask God for all the things we need both earthly and spiritual, but most of all we pray to find out God wants and as God knows best. ("Thy will be done" not "my will be done.") We can follow Jesus example in this, i.e. in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was to die on the cross when he prayed, "Father if it be your will take this cup from me, but not my will but thine be done." (Luke 22:43).

The goal of the spiritual life is union with God not just to get our earthly needs and wants met, even though God does say he will take care of us and answer our prayers if they are in accordance with his will.

Ideas on finding time for prayer

Finding time for prayer can be challenging. If we have a very busy schedule perhaps waking up a little early or going to bed a little early would be good times to spend some time alone with Jesus without the distractions of a busy day. For example, I have a friend who says if she doesn't pray before getting out of bed in the morning she just doesn't have time to pray during the day due to family demands and work. Another idea is to attend daily Mass and spend some time before or after for private prayer. An adoration chapel is also a great place to spend some quiet time alone with Jesus. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Spiritual reading, action and support

Besides taking time to pray, and to read and meditate on God's word to us in the Bible, it is also good to study solid spiritual books. Official Church teachings such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church help explain what the Bible means and what Jesus meant. The writings of the saints and solid Catholic writers are also very helpful for us to know and understand Jesus better. We also need to put into practice what we learn (with the help of God's grace).

Finding a good spiritual director is also helpful as well as having some practicing Catholic friends, groups or organizations. In general it is best not to try to live the Christian life alone if we can find others who are serious about living their faith and following Jesus to be friends with. If we make an effort we should be able to find some friends or a Bible study or some sort of Catholic organization to join. If one is not available there are resources available to start your own group using good study materials such as Johnette Benkovic's Women of Grace study groups, Jeff Cavins The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study, third order lay religious communities, and others. Also there is an online course below for learning more about the spiritual life if interested.

In summary, St. Martha's friendship with Jesus can give us some spiritual direction on how to be better friends with Jesus. She knew Jesus personally. She believed in Jesus and sets a good example for us to follow. Jesus' directions to St. Martha show us the importance of making time to listen to Jesus, which we can do both in prayer and meditating on his words in Scripture, and then putting into practice what we learn.

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