This year, the Gospel reading about Martha and Mary struck a different chord for me. I took away something more this time. It's not that one of the sisters was right and the other was wrong, but that – for that moment in time – Mary’s reaction to being in the presence of Jesus may have been the more appropriate. Yet, someone always has to be tasked with the grunt work, if you will, even as there’s also a need to stop and smell the roses – to take in the finer details and absorb them into our very souls. Perhaps, just this once, the meticulous care taken to have the house in order and meal prepared, cost Martha a very precious gift – communing with Jesus and the opportunity to drink in what He had to share. Nonetheless, each woman’s task was a necessity – otherwise, there would have been no household to gather within.
Martha or Mary: Both Roles Have Value
In pondering the way our Church leaders govern, a similar thought came to me. As much as we, as a Catholic people, find comfort in the familiar, sometimes a new way to approach our ancient faith can have its merit as well. Much has been made about the difference between Pope Francis and his most recent predecessor, but when we look to Martha and Mary in this broader way we are spurred to look at the overall picture instead of solely the minor details.
Pope Benedict XVI was a supreme teacher as well as being very shy and modest. His care of the liturgy and its reformation was a very necessary step after the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II led to numerous deviations from what the Mass is and always has been. What started out as a way for the laity to more actively participate in the liturgy, sometimes became the travesty of making the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass a do-it-yourself project for many. That the fault didn't lie with the documents or the council of Vatican II mattered not a whit to those who willfully used the opportunity for their own purposes – or, for that matter, to the people in the pews who were unaware that terrible liberties were being taken. The scholarly writings of Pope Benedict will feed souls for many years to come and his care of the structure of the Mass will help assure its survival.
Pope Francis, as best as can be surmised within the brief time he has been with us, is more outgoing in character. He seems to thrive on being in the company of the people – celebrating Mass in small venues, eating with the workers, and going out into the throngs to press the flesh. His homilies are short and sweet but very much to the point. The Devil is among us, Hell is a reality, and we must love one another as commanded by Jesus. He doesn't couch his words but matter-of-factly shares them as recurring themes. It doesn't appear that he is as concerned about maintaining protocol in the way a Pontiff dresses, where he lives, or how he travels. In my humble opinion, he appears to be a bit more spontaneous.
Martha and Mary: No Wrong, No Right
Like the story of Martha and Mary, however, we find that there is no wrong or right here – there is simply a difference of approach. That both men value the necessity of the rules governing the Church, celebrating Mass, and maintaining an order that ties us back to the very beginning of the Church instituted by Jesus Christ Himself, is evident. The Great Commandment that we love one another, is also very apparent in the lives of both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. We are commanded to serve one another and that is given priority status by both. Rules cannot be followed at the exclusion of living the Gospel but neither can living the Gospel cause us to throw rules out the window.
What we are seeing here is a difference of approach – because their earthly God-given gifts vary – much like what is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12. Whether it is an eye, foot, or ear – all are important. We are one body – the Body of Christ – and just like the physical human body has many parts, so does the Church. And all purposes are significant in their own service.
“That there might be no schism in the body; but the members might be mutually careful one for another.
And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it.”
Martha and Mary: Both Are Necessary for the Whole
So we see that there is much more to Luke's Gospel than at first glance. Both Martha and Mary are a necessary part of the equation – they bring their special gifts to procure the accomplishment of the whole. There is a goodness in realizing the right season, the right mission, the right goal at a given time. For, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”. It is ours to obey the whispering call as scripture and the Holy Spirit give us what we need - just at the right time. There is a necessity of continued learning and perusal of Gospels, the Word of God and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in order that we might arm ourselves with the proper tools for the proper time. As the cycles of our lives change so does what we take away from reading, prayer, and inspiration. As a very wise priest once told me, “sometimes the result of inspiration is not known until years later”. In the spirit of Martha, Mary, Benedict and Francis let us continue to function as worthy members of the Body of Christ - each doing his own part.