Fr. Bryan Howard
16thSunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – 21 July 2019
Psalm 15, today’s Responsorial Psalm, begins by asking the question, “O Lord, who will dwell in your tabernacle? Who will rest on your holy mountain?” Which is another way of asking, “How do we grow closer to God? How do we get to heaven?” The answer, walk blamelessly, do justice, know the truth in your heart, do not slander or harm your neighbor, despise sin but honor those who fear the Lord. That is, the holy and righteous man who follows the Law of God in loving God and neighbor will be taken up to heaven. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of Psalm 15, because He is the only perfectly righteous man who never sinned and always followed God’s will.
We, on the other hand, often fall short of that ideal, but we should never give up. Instead, we should strive to grow closer to that ideal, the example that Jesus gives us, each day of our lives. To do that we need to train ourselves, as a craftsman has to train in their craft, or an artist at their art, or an athlete at their sport. Baseball players have to train not only to hit, catch, and throw, but to keep their bodies in good physical condition. We have to train ourselves spiritually to keep our souls in good spiritual condition so that we can more easily love God and neighbor in those challenging circumstances, like when we’re tempted to sin, stressed out and irritated, or enduring some form of suffering.
Christian training comes in two forms: active and passive, prayers and works of charity. There are different religious orders in the Church which focus on one or the other of these. The Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, focus on acts of charity by looking for the poorest of the poor, the most needy, and those who are very sick, and caring for their needs. They give up worldly pleasure and live lives of poverty so that they can better care for the poor. I saw a video once of Mother Teresa touring a building they were turning into a convent for her nuns, and she told them to take out the hot water heater because they wouldn’t be needing it. However, you can’t take it all the way to the extreme. Even the Missionaries of Charity begin every day with an hour of adoration of the Eucharist and pray throughout the day.
On the other side there are cloistered orders of nuns and monks, like the Carthusian monks and the Carmelite nuns, who separate themselves from the world to dedicate themselves entirely to prayer. They take a vow of stability, meaning that they will stay in the monastery for the rest of their lives, leaving at the most once or twice a year, and some of them never leaving it at all. They dedicate many hours of their days to prayer, reading the Bible, and spiritual reading. Once again, though, there must be a balance, and they always have some kind of outreach to the surrounding community, often by leading retreats, running a school, or welcoming visitors. St. Joseph Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Covington, has the Pennies for Bread program. The monks bake 2,000 loaves of homemade bread every week and some friends of the Abbey deliver it to charities who distribute it to the poor.
These two aspects of spiritual training, prayer and works of charity, are seen in today’s Gospel through Martha and Mary. Martha gets upset with Mary because she’s not helping her with serving their guests and asks Jesus to tell her to help. Martha represents the active life of works of charity, while Mary represents the life of contemplative prayer. Jesus responds to Martha, “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.”The whole point is to grow closer to Jesus, and so the first, and only truly necessary thing is to keep our eyes fixed on Him. Prayer is the one thing that is necessary because, when it’s done right, prayer leads us closer to Jesus and causes us to grow in love. Prayer leads to charity. If we put the work first, then we’re bound to get it wrong, to mix up our priorities like Martha did.
Prayer helps us to focus on Jesus, to keep our eyes fixed on Him and to listen to His words in the Bible. However, prayer that only stays in the mind isn’t really doing anything, is it? Our prayers should lead us to grow in love, which will make us want to help those around us who are in need, following the example that Jesus set for us. So, I want to challenge everyone to set aside some time every day, even just 15 minutes, as time dedicated to God. Pray the rosary, or read a passage of the Bible, or do some other devotion. For me, the best time to pray is in the morning before I’m distracted by all the business of the day. If I wait until the evening I usually don’t do it at all. However, I do know some people who just aren’t morning people and prefer to pray in the evening, but it does take more willpower to do it that way. But, whenever and however you pray, end your prayer by thinking of one, concrete thing you can do to put that prayer into action that day.
In that way, through both prayer and acts of charity, we can climb the mountain of the Lord and come to rest in His heavenly Temple and, in the words of St. Paul from our second reading, may be presented to God “perfect in Christ Jesus.”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.