Tuesday, July 23, 2013

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C: In Contemplation, We Love the Lord with Our Whole Heart, Being, Strength, and Mind.

Do you remember last week’s Gospel? A scholar of the law asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, but Jesus asked him for his own take on the answer. The scholar replied, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, …being, …strength, …and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then Jesus vividly illustrated the second half of his answer by telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan. St. Luke, today, follows up this parable by illustrating the first part of the scholar’s answer, how we are to love God with all our heart, being, strength, and mind.

Last week we went deeper into the parable because it is too easy to just dismiss the priest and the Levite who passed by, praise the Good Samaritan for his good deed, say, “Just love everybody,” and end it at that. In this account of Martha and Mary we must also go deeper in order to see how it really illustrates loving God with one’s whole heart, being, strength, and mind. Again, it is too easy to just dismiss Martha for her busywork, praise Mary for her listening, say, “Just listen to God more” and end it at that. We need to appreciate the work Martha was doing. In the first reading, Abraham busily tended to his three guests. He saw the Lord in them, he ran to greet them, ran into his home to have Sarah prepare a meal, then ran to his servant who quickly prepared the meat, and finally he waited on them while they ate. With eagerness and haste he waited on the Lord.

This sounds a lot like the hospitality that Martha gave our Lord. She too “welcomed him” and was “burdened with much serving.” We see in her the same sense of eagerness and haste in serving the Lord that Abraham had. In fact, Abraham’s scenario – which occurred “by the terebinth of Mamre” – and Martha &Mary’s scenario – which occurred in a “village”, probably Bethany – both happened in the same area, just south of Jerusalem. These parallels help us to see that Martha’s “anxious and worried” hospitality should not be simply dismissed. Jesus would never rebuke such hospitality outright. We can imagine that Jesus had his disciples with him and Martha wanted to honor them by being a good hostess. The Lord’s reply to Abraham, “Very well, do as you have said” should comfort Martha too.

But, at the end of the day, very little was needed physically or temporally. After all, in serving the Lord, Abraham only brought his guests “a little food”, just enough to “refresh” them. Jesus himself says to Martha, “There is need of only one thing.” His physical needs will come and go, but his Word endures forever. Mary preferred to sit at his feet, as a disciple does before a master, and listen carefully to his teaching, tending to the Word of God. Were these words to be lost on Martha? Her work for Jesus was good and will continue to be good but only after she spends some quiet time with him listening to his voice, and receiving it deeply into her heart. This is how we are to love God, by allowing our whole heart, being, strength, and mind to be filled with and permeated by the Word of God.

How can we, like Martha’s sister Mary, choose “the better part” each day, if we do not love the Lord enough to let Him speak to us? Ignoring or not giving enough attention to his voice is tantamount to not loving him. How many wives would insist that their husbands loved them if their husbands never communicated with them on a deep level? How many children would insist that their parents loved them if their parents completely ignored them? Loving God involves much more than just hearing the readings on Sunday. It means much more than fitting some quiet time for Jesus into our busy day. Loving the Lord means fitting our day into Him! Setting aside time for quiet prayer is certainly very good. But the other parts of the day that do not give us silence can still be lived in dialogue and union with God who is always speaking to us, always calling us to be with Him.

Fr. Jean Corbon, a Dominican theologian, wrote a book that I read a few summers ago called, The Wellspring of Worship, about how we can constantly live in the grace of the liturgy. In that book is a quote that always comes to mind whenever my conscience tells me to pray but the evil one makes me feel guilty for not being busy. It’s a simple quote that just says, “Contemplation is the most fruitful human activity.” This is because contemplation involves our whole heart, being, strength, and mind.

Contemplation can happen in silence or in activity. In silence, we love God with our whole heart when we give him all our inclinations and passions and ask him to make our heart like his Sacred Heart which beats with purity, sacrifice, and perfect love. In silence, we give our whole being to him when we surrender to him as his faithful disciple and he fills us with his own being by making us holy through grace. In silence, we give all our strength to him when we focus all of our attention on him despite how tired, or bored, or distracted, or rebellious we may be and he gives us strength to persevere in prayer when it is dry or to be consoled when it is fruitful. Finally, in silence we give our whole mind to God when we give him all our thoughts, feelings, and desires and he in turn gives us what he gave St. Paul: the completion of the word of God, “the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past”, and “the riches of the glory of this mystery”, indeed, “all wisdom.”

Contemplation can also extend to the activity of our day. We can and we must extend the dialogue of our quiet time in prayer throughout the rest of our day. I really like how you all spend some time in prayer before Mass in order to gather your heart, being, strength, and mind to be filled by God. Many parishes have fallen out of this practice. I also encourage you to spend time in prayer after Mass to thank him for making you holy and to draw the rest of the day’s plans into his presence. We must continue to do this.

Then when we get up Monday morning for work we can say to God that we will work this day not for some superficial goal but in order to glorify him. And during the day we could say: “Lord, let me approach this customer as if it were you.” Or, “Lord help me to offer up the pain I feel from my illness for the salvation of my family, just as you saved all mankind through your crucifixion.” Or, “Lord I invite you to be a part of even the smallest steps of this project.” Now, work is not prayer, it must have its own time. But our work can be done prayerfully when we contemplate the presence of God in everything we do and in everyone we encounter.

This is the “better part,” when we fit our entire lives and our entire day into him, rather than fitting him only into some small part of our life or our day. When we pray at night, at the end of a day of both quiet and active contemplation, we will not feel as if we are finally speaking to our long-lost friend again. We will be speaking to the Lord who all the while was “standing nearby” us, was running to “the entrance” of each day to greet us, who has brought us the “little food” of the Eucharist for our eternal refreshment, who hastens and runs to bring us his graces, and who “sets these before” us always. We will discover that He was the one “burdened with much serving” so that even through a busy day, he “will not be taken” from us. Through contemplation, the most fruitful human activity, we shall “love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, …being, …strength, …and mind.” We “will live in the presence of the Lord” and “shall never be disturbed.”

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