Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi
Reading 1 GAL 1:13-24
You heard of my former way of life in Judaism,
how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure
and tried to destroy it,
and progressed in Judaism
beyond many of my contemporaries among my race,
since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions.
But when he, who from my mother’s womb had set me apart
and called me through his grace,
was pleased to reveal his Son to me,
so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles,
I did not immediately consult flesh and blood,
nor did I go up to Jerusalem
to those who were Apostles before me;
rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus.Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas
and remained with him for fifteen days.
But I did not see any other of the Apostles,
only James the brother of the Lord.
(As to what I am writing to you, behold,
before God, I am not lying.)
Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
And I was unknown personally to the churches of Judea
that are in Christ;
they only kept hearing that “the one who once was persecuting us
is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
So they glorified God because of me.
Responsorial Psalm PS 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15
O LORD, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
My soul also you knew full well;
nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret,
when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Alleluia LK 11:28
Blessed are those who hear the word of God
and observe it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 10:38-42
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.”
I’ve found that the most powerful times in my life, spiritually have been times when I have had the greatest intimacy with God and have focused myself on his business. Likewise, the driest seasons have been when I have gotten too busy to spend time with God.
Fixing our eyes on the prize and on things of eternal significance is the singular thing we have to do as believers. What matters is how we respond to God’s gift, to the Father’s call. The thought that struck me a while back is that word, “singularity“. Singularity of function, singularity of purpose.
In the field of business, we would call it a “critical success factor“, that is, factors that most or all our activities must be aligned with. My critical success factor is healing – the subject of healing.
When awake, I think of healing. When asleep, I dream of healing. In daily life, I visualize God healing. I have led hundreds of people to the Lord and I thank God for salvation, but where I fit is healing. I have been involved in mercy ministry, counseling, writing, giving, teaching financial seminars, even children’s ministry, but healing ministry is where I know I should be.
Singularity does not mean I am obsessed or one-dimensional. Even if we are obsessed, it is OK to be obsessed with God’s business. But I hope you understand. Life goes on, I go to work, I spend time with family, I empty the trash. You can get so spiritual that you’re of no earthly good. That’s not me.
Paul knew a little bit about singularity when he wrote to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:1):
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”
To paraphrase, Timothy was encouraged to spend his time on his calling and to make it his singular purpose. I watched Joseph Prince the other night teach about receiving healing through communion and that was encouraging to see a man in this generation being bold about healing. It is one of the ways to receive healing I listed earlier.
What strikes me is that most of the men and women prominent in healing ministry over the last century are dead or elderly now. I’m sure those still alive are amazed at the extent to which the healing message of the gospel has almost disappeared in our day. This is not only referring to America, but to Christianity globally.
I also do not refer to traditional denominations – they have long since moved on, or perhaps more accurately, regressed in their theology.
So back to singularity. Singleness of purpose means that we pay more attention to God’s call than to what everyone else is doing. That’s singleness of purpose. Personally, I’m looking forward to spending more time and more focus in ministry, doing what I know I was called to do.
● Today’s Gospel presents the episode of Martha and Mary, the two sisters of Lazarus. Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus was listening to his word. Martha, in the kitchen was busy doing the domestic work. This family, friend of Jesus is frequently mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 10, 38-41) and of John (Jn 11, 1-39; 12, 2).
● Luke 10, 38: The friendly house in Bethany. At that time, Jesus came to a village and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house”.Jesus was going toward Jerusalem, where he would die. He arrived to Martha’s house and she welcomes him. Luke does not say that Martha’s house was in Bethany. John tells us that Martha’s house was in Bethany, near Jerusalem. The word Bethany means House of Poverty. It was a village on the Mount of Olives, close to Jerusalem. When he was in Jerusalem, Jesus usually went to the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (Jn 12, 2)
●It is impressing to see how Jesus entered and lived in the houses of the people: in Peter’s house (Mt 8, 14), of Matthew (Mt 9, 10), of Jarius (Mt 9, 23), of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7, 36), of Simon the leper (Mk 14, 3), of Zacchaeus (Lk 19, 5). The official recognizes: “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Mt 8, 8).
People looked for Jesus in his house (Mt 9, 28; Mk 1, 33; 2, 1; 3, 20). The four friends of the paralytic stripped the roof to lower the stretcher where the man was and put him before the place where Jesus was teaching the people (Mk 2, 4). When he went to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped in the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (12, 2). In sending out the disciples, their mission was to enter in the houses of the people and take peace (Mt 10,12-14; Mk 6,10; Lk 10,1-9).
● Luke 10, 39-40: The attitude of the two sisters. “Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking; Martha was distracted with all the serving”. Two important attitudes, always present in the life of Christians: to be attentive to the Word of God and to be attentive to the needs of persons. Each one of these attitudes demands total attention.
For this reason, both live in continuous tension which is expressed in Martha’s reaction: “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me”. This is also expressed in the reaction of the Apostles before the problem which arose in the community of Jerusalem. The service at the tables took up all their time and they could not dedicate themselves completely to the announcement of the Word. This is why the community met together and they said: “It would not be right for us to neglect the Word of God so as to give out food”(Ac 6, 2).
● Luke 10, 41-42: Jesus’ answer. “Martha, Martha! You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her”.Martha wanted Mary to sacrifice her attention to the Word and to go and help her in the service of the table. But one attitude cannot be sacrificed in favour of another one. What is necessary is to attain a balance. It is not a question of choosing between contemplative and active life, as if the first one was better than the latter. It is a question of finding a just distribution of the apostolic tasks and the ministries in the community.
Basing oneself on this word of Jesus, the Apostles asked the community to choose seven deacons (servants). The service at the tables was entrusted to the deacons and in this way the Apostles would be able to continue their pastoral activity: “to dedicate themselves completely to prayer and to the service of the Word” (Ac 6, 4). It is not a question of trying to find in this word of Jesus an argument to say that contemplative life in the monasteries is superior to the active life of those who do pastoral work.
Both of these activities have something to do with the proclamation of the Word of God. Martha cannot oblige Mary to sacrifice the attention to the Word. The interpretation of the mystic of the Middle Ages is beautiful. The Dominican friar Mestre Eckart who said: Martha already knew how to work and serve at table without compromising or impairing in any way, her attention to the presence and the word of God. Mary, he says, was still learning at the feet of Jesus. This is why she could not be interrupted. Mary chooses that which for her was the better part. The description of the attitude of Mary before Jesus recalls the other Mary. Of whom Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Lk 11, 27).
● How do you try to find a balance in your life between the desire of Mary and the concern of Martha?
● In the light of the response of Jesus to Martha, the apostles knew how to find a solution to the problem of the community of Jerusalem. Does the meditation on the words of Jesus and his gestures help me to enlighten the problems of my life?
The works of his hands are fidelity and justice, all his precepts are trustworthy, established for ever and ever, accomplished in fidelity and honesty. (Ps 111,7-8)
It is significant that St Paul could preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ without speaking or mentioning about His life and ministry. When we read his letters, very little is mentioned of the life and ministry of Jesus. It means that the gospel of our Lord could be proclaimed without knowledge of the historical life of Jesus. The whole gospel for St Paul is centered on the kerygma, which is the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. He went straight to the heart of the Good News which is in a nutshell, called the kerygma, delineating the fact that Jesus was put to death by His enemies; and that the Father raised Him from the dead and therefore proclaimed Him as Lord of the universe. In all his preaching, it was limited to the fact that the dead man, Jesus, was raised from the dead, and therefore we are called to have faith in Him who is the mercy and compassion of the Father. Through the shedding of His blood for us all, He brought about the forgiveness of our sins; removed the enmity between God and us; and thus reconciled us in Him. As a consequence, we are made adopted children of God, sharing in Christ’s sonship through the reception of the Spirit of Jesus. In Christ, we are made a new creation.
How could St Paul proclaim the gospel without speaking about the life and ministry of Jesus, His miracles; and even the resurrection stories? It seems therefore even if a person does not know the life of Jesus, he or she could still encounter the Risen Lord. This is true even today. Quite often, non-Christians attend our worship services or healing rallies. Even though their knowledge of Jesus is so little, many of them in faith gave themselves to the Lord, and found healing and salvation. Only subsequently, did they begin to search and study more about the life of Christ. This means “didache”, that is, instruction, follows from the kerygma. The encounter with the power of the Risen Christ and His healing love precedes catechesis.
Thus, the central doctrine of the Church is that justification is through faith in Christ who justifies us by His grace given to us at His passion, death and resurrection. Anyone who has faith in Christ as his or her Saviour and that He is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose for us in the power of the Spirit will be saved. He only has to entrust himself or herself to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is therefore not through good works or merits but solely by the grace and mercy of our Lord. Faith is the way to receive this grace of justification.
This is precisely what St Paul is telling us in the first reading. “You must have heard of my career as a practising Jew, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it, how I stood out among other Jews of my generation, and how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors. Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans.” The preaching of the gospel for St Paul centered on the fact that Christ the Lord appeared to Him and convicted him of his sin of pride and ignorance. Having been converted and enlightened, the Lord also chose him; unworthy he was, to be His apostle to the gentiles. St Paul did not need any historical proof about the details of the life of Jesus to announce the gospel. All he did was to announce the kerygma wherever he went. “After that I went to Syria and Cilicia, and was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judaea, who had heard nothing except that their one-time persecutor was now preaching the faith he had previously tried to destroy; and they gave glory to God for me.” His preaching was basically the testimony of his conversion and with such a convincing testimony, it was difficult for people to reject even if they disagree with his theological arguments.
This too was the mistake of Martha in the gospel. She thought that one could earn the mercy of God. The Lord told said, “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.” Martha got her priorities wrong, just like many of us. We think the best way to please God or to find salvation is to do good works to earn the love and mercy of our Lord. Martha thought by caring for Jesus’ needs, she would please Him and gain favours and appreciation from our Lord. She wanted to do things for Jesus to seek His attention and win His love. Hers was salvation through good works.
Mary also found the heart of the gospel through attentive love to our Lord. She was basking herself in Christ’s love with full devotion of mind, heart and soul. There lies her strength, her consolation and her motivation to do good. She was not seeking to earn Christ’s love because she knew she has already been loved. She understood that what the Lord was seeking was not food but intimacy. The Lord wanted to share His life with them and wanted to allow them to experience His love. He did not want to be distracted by all the unimportant things of life. What matters most is love and intimacy. Hence, the Lord commended her for having chosen the better part or rather what is most important.
This is not to say that Martha was not doing the right thing but her priority was wrong. She is typical of many of our Church workers and volunteers. Most of us are concerned about service, activities, programs and achievements before intimacy with the Lord in prayer and contemplation. Like Martha, they have good will. They want to serve God and His people. They want to help the Church grow and spread the gospel. But unfortunately, they lack the foundation and the energy to sustain their activities. Many get hurt in the ministry and stopped serving the Church. Many suffer burn out as well. So one wonders whether they are serving the Lord or serving themselves. Do we serve the Lord only when things are well and comfortable, and because we enjoy it, or because it is what the Lord is asking of us? Most of us seem to be serving more for our sakes rather than for the sake of God. If we are truly serving God, then we will serve Him in poverty and riches, in joys and sorrows, in success and failures, in good and bad times. Should priests who face difficulties in the ministry, persecution and opposition also resign too? If that were the case, the gospel would not have gone further than Palestine and would have ceased soon after the death of Jesus. But the apostles, so filled with the love of Christ, were ever ready to die for the Lord regardless of the sufferings and trials they had to suffer. Without intimacy with the Lord, we will end up like Martha, complaining, lamenting, arguing and becoming disillusioned.
However, if we bask ourselves in His love, we will find the strength and the courage to persevere, not for our sakes but for the love of Christ. If parents can make sacrifices for the love of their children, we can make sacrifices for Christ, if we love Him. Good works must spring from encountering His love and as the expression of our love for Him, never as a means to gain attention or claim merits for our salvation. This has always been the foundation for all the saints in the Church. When we study the lives of saints, all their works came from their deep love for Christ even when they do social work. One thing is clear: today, some of our so-called organizations doing charity work, spring more out of humanitarian reasons than born from the love of Christ and the desire to bring His love to all.
So too, the historical study of the life of Jesus, beginning from His birth, infancy and His earthly ministry in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, both in words and in deeds, is necessary. We cannot dispense with the earthly life of Jesus eventually, after the proclamation of the kerygma. If Christian life is an imitation of our Lord, then it requires the Christian to contemplate on His entire life, His works and deeds and not just the kerygma which is simply the starting point of faith. When we fall in love with someone or when someone is seen as important to us, then we would want to understand the background and the life of this person and see what we can learn from him, what motivates him and how he overcomes life struggles.
And though St Paul did not speak about the earthly life of Jesus, he did eventually in his letters end with a section that dealt with Christian praxis, that is, the implications that flowed from his theological doctrine of justification by faith. This we see clearly in his letters to the Romans and Galatians. So, let us once again fall in love with the Lord and put Him first in our spiritual life. Let us not be too concerned with what we do so long as they spring from our love for God and not from human motives of wanting to feel needed, honoured and loved. If we get our priorities right, we will always find joy in the ministry and accept whatever comes our way, because we are motivated by pure love for Christ and a disinterested love in service of our fellowmen.
One can never do justice to telling the story of Padre Pio except to say, I think about him every day. He taught me: “If you are worried: pray. Once you are praying, you can stop your worry.” Padre Pio had the stigmata.
“Pray, pray to the Lord with me, because the whole world needs prayer. And every day, when your heart especially feels the loneliness of life, pray. Pray to the Lord, because even God needs our prayers.”
Many spiritual teachers say if you want to get the Holy Spirit into you — make room by emptying yourself out in service to others…
What is it that you are devoted to? Money? Sex? Golf? Travel? Why not God?
As no sensible person would make a long road trip without first consulting a map, so the person intent upon gaining Heaven should turn to a competent guide to reach that most important goal. An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is addressed as a personal letter to Philothea, the “lover of God.” This book instructs us in our approach to God in prayer and the Sacraments, the practice of 16 important virtues, remedies against ordinary temptations, and becoming confirmed in our practice of devotion. TAN-CLASSICS Edition; paperback.
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