Dominica 8 post Pentecosten / Evening, 29 July 2017 / Church of St John
And as many as received him, he gave them power to be made sons of God (Jn 1:12).
We had St Mary Magdalen in our midst this time last week; fitting, then, that we should celebrate her relative, St Martha: both the ancient and modern calendars keep her feast today.
The liturgy calls her Martha, hospes Domini. We know her especially from that episode in Lk 10:38ff, when she worries about all the serving while her sister Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening. We know how our Lord discretely, gently corrected her worry. But think well on that title: host of the Lord. Remember that in Mt 10:11 the Master said, “And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart.” Our Lord obeys his own instruction, so he stayed often with Martha (and her brother, Lazarus.) Therefore we know that Martha was a most worthy hostess, not merely some incompetent busybody.
If she was worried about a host of practical matters, then we know the feeling. Now to be sure it is not that earthly, practical matters are somehow dirty or sinful or dangerous. That would be manifestly absurd. But rather, there is some danger in placing all our attentions only natural things, which is why St Paul instructs us this Sunday in the epistle: “Debitóres sumus non carni, ut secúndum carnem vivámus—[rather], for if you live according to the flesh you will die.” Allowing the needs of this life to overtake us will leave us dead—yes, literally, but also spiritually. In a sense, then, our Lord taught this same truth to St Martha before St Paul dictated it to the Romans.
But there is more. There is also something to be said about vocation. Remember, St Martha was a most worthy hostess—God Incarnate availed himself of her home and hospitality. Each of us has a spiritual temperament, each has a vocation that corresponds to that temperament. And this is well, for the divine glory can use all types—because, in fact, he has fashioned all types, precisely to manifest his glory. All must listen and pray; all must labor and serve—the degree to which this is done should not cause us to lose our peace. Leave all proportion to God.
What is more, the home of St Martha is an image of the Church. I quote Dom Gueranger:
Here we recognize a perfect type of the Church, wherein, with the devotedness of fraternal love, and under the eye of our heavenly Father, the active ministry takes the precedence, and holds the place of government over all who are drawn by grace to Jesus.
The Church has a ministering function in the world; the hospitality of St Martha shows us how. Not that we must take this to say that prayer and contemplation are to be considered lower and unimportant. In fact, contemplation is a higher activity insofar as it represents what we all shall someday do in heaven, please God. But the Church does labor for souls: the Church is a mother of a household, who is constantly gathering and tending souls who come to Christ. In this sense, she is ever active, ever solicitous. But the Church is ever solicitous to supernatural things, which was Christ’s reminder to St Martha; you can be sure she never forgot it.
But the dinner party of Lk 10 continued, and St Martha was refreshed with heavenly doctrine and a new freedom of heart. Each Mass we hear the words of the Last Gospel, “And as many as received him, he gave them power to be made sons of God.”—Those who receive Christ as guest are changed. He made his home with you at your Baptism, at the Baptism of your children. Therefore the end of the Christian life is that we should be made worthy hosts of the Lord.—And we do this by relating and offering all our natural labor to be taken up and made supernatural by the sanctifying labor of the Church. The Catholic home is a holy home, a foretaste of the rest, order, and love of our heavenly home. There, even in your home now, you may be safe from all the danger that threatens the world and the Church. How? By making Christ your constant guest.
The Catholic who must immerse him or herself in all manner of practical thing should take heart. Do not worry, for as along as all things are given up to God, as long as in your labors you are constantly looking to the heavenly places with calm and peace, all things may grow holy before you and Christ makes his home with you.—And then something happens. By the mysterious symmetry of grace, when we receive him, he sets the table for us. Gustate et videte, as we will hear for the Communion antiphon. Christ, the Divine Guest and High Priest, prepares the Eucharist for us and plays the host of our souls.
This is keenly expressed in a poem written by George Herbert (1593-1633,) an Anglican clergyman. In it, he likens Christ—Love itself—to a seemingly importunate innkeeper.
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Why made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.