There are only a few people whom I look at in biblical history and identify with on an average-human-level. It can be hard to find personal connections to many saints and holy people for me. Some were ordinary and humble, but others were so extraordinary and left big shoes to fill. It can be challenging to wrap your head around their sanctity—I know it is for me. When I hear about St. Martha though, I think, “Yes, she’s my girl.” Martha had close friends and pesky siblings, and when important company came over, she was mad no one was helping as she cleaned and cooked herself into a tizzy. She was so human, so relatable.
St. Martha, her sister Mary, and their brother Lazarus were close friends of the Lord. We hear about them from Luke’s Gospel:
As they continued their journey he 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.
This is such a great passage. It shows the humanity of these average people. It contrasts Martha, the burdened preparer and host for the occasion, with Mary, the one who sat with and listened to their wise friend, Jesus. It is a chance for those of us who get frazzled to stop for a moment and listen to the Word of God. It is a chance for us to not only let Jesus into our homes, but also into our hearts as well. Martha is so relatable.
In a later moment in John’s Gospel, we hear about Martha taking a completely different approach to the Lord’s arrival. This time, he is met with her sadness but also her faith. This is a big moment for Martha. She seems to have learned to trust and believe, and thus Christ’s arrival brings hope for her even after the death of her brother. She tells Jesus that if he had been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died, but has hope and faith that everything will still be okay. Jesus responds,
“Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
From this we hear St. Martha echo her own “fiat” with the words, “Yes, Lord.” This is when we see her inner beauty emerge. Her old self, prone to complaining and anxiety from hosting, has been replaced by faith.
I find a lot of comfort knowing that St. Martha was imperfect and struggled—even when Jesus was in her home. Her feast day is July 29th, the day before my birthday, and I feel more connected to this saint than ever before. It wasn’t the first time that Jesus entered her home or that she listened to his words. It also probably was not the second or third time she had interacted with him, being close friends. But when the moment came for her to have hope in the Lord, she did. Patience and sitting with Christ, like her sister Mary did, might be another way to sainthood, but for Martha, her heart was not as ready to accept Him then. Her human imperfections kept her from that. Her path to sainthood was a journey comprised of moments of faith and trust, as we saw in her conversation with Jesus after Lazarus’ death. She shows us that, though we can’t always be perfect, our call to sanctity begins with the words, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe...”
“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.”
Today’s Gospel challenged my understanding of what it means to be compassionate. When Jesus learned that a loved one was ill, He responded in a peculiar manner. He didn’t rush to the sick one’s side or hurry to comfort His beloved’s family. Rather, He waited two days.
Why did He wait two days? I sure wouldn’t have done that. If He knew all along that He would raise Lazarus, why would He prolong the wounded agony of Mary and Martha? How could Jesus desert those He loved in their moment of need? It seems almost like a test, a cruel and unnecessary test.
Yet I suspect Jesus had a different intention. By waiting two extra days He was not punishing or testing Mary and Martha but inviting them to examine their own brokenness. The idea of resting in brokenness, rather than avoiding it, has been a particularly challenging concept for me. I first encountered it in Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, in which Stevenson says “We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”
It seems that Jesus chose the former. When He finally arrived in Bethany and witnessed the woundedness of those He loved, He “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” Then, “Jesus wept.” Knowing that Jesus wept helps me reclaim my own brokenness and affirms that truly embodying compassion requires entering into the chaos of woundedness, both my own and that of the “other” person.
Prayer: God of grace, help me rest in my woundedness. When I feel most alone and deserted, remind me of Jesus’ constant refrain “Do not be afraid.” Help me remember that Jesus Himself, the almighty Son of God, wept for the pain of His community. Let me never forget that one of Jesus’ greatest miracles of raising Lazarus from the dead was precipitated by His solidarity in suffering with those He loved dearly. Amen.
Focus on: Social Justice
How have you been wounded by the, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. puts it, “sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism?” How can you – and your surrounding communities – enter into this brokenness and encounter healing compassion?
Service Inspiration: My mother, Sue, understands part of my volunteer experience, but struggles with other components. However, I recently babysat for a colleague’s children, a two-and-a-half year old and a six-month old. When I left, I was exhausted. I realized later that I watched two boys the same age difference as my brother and I, but only for a few hours. My mom did it for years, and then became my teacher and homeschooled us. She served as an enormous role model, never asking for thanks or recognition, silently taking on her children’s struggles. She is an inspiration and reminder of Jesus here on Earth.
*This Lenten reflection was originally published on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog and was posted with permission.
Greg Hamilton attended Saint Michael’s College in the grace-filled Green Mountain State of Vermont and is currently serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Washington D.C. at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Most days, Greg finds a way to involve his favorite poet, Mary Oliver, in his routine.
We’ve heard the story of Martha and Mary welcoming Jesus into their home. Martha is busy tending to hospitality needs while Mary listens to Jesus. Martha complains to Jesus requesting Mary’s help. Instead, Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:38-42)
As a young girl, I found the story of Martha and Mary difficult to understand. Growing up in a family valuing hard work, I often associated myself with Martha’s work ethic. I couldn’t figure out why Jesus would value inaction rather than work. Proverbs 12:24 says, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the lazy will be put to forced labor.” But then I realized I had the point of the story wrong.
Jesus’ response has nothing to do with working hard. It has everything to do with listening to his message. We can then see in ourselves what Jesus points out in Martha – we can be easily distracted and worried by tasks we need to accomplish in this world. Through Martha’s story, Jesus reminds us that there is one thing that is important: following Jesus’ message and his individual calling for each of us.
In John 11:17-27, Martha meets Jesus as soon as she learns he is coming after hearing Lazarus has died. Immediately we see a change in this narrative of Martha. She purposefully goes to Jesus and when he asks her about his belief in him she responds, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Next, Martha has the opportunity to serve Jesus six days after the Passover (John 12:1-8). She does so humbly and quietly. We come to understand Martha’s role is a different calling than Mary’s, much like in our own lives when those around us may not be called to the same occupations, tasks, talents, and other circumstances. Martha has chosen to serve with love instead of with bitterness and arrogance.
Martha’s story gives us hope. Even though we can fall into the trap of trying to complete tasks on our own without God, there is opportunity for us to try again. When Jesus speaks to Martha, he is not unkind. His response is a loving one. As sinners we can only strive to learn and grow from our mistakes to make the next opportunity filled with Christ.
Known as the patron saint of cooks, homemakers, and servants, St. Martha reminds us to thank those in our lives who serve us. This can be our parents or those who cook for us, those who work in public service, or even the waiter or waitress at our next restaurant meal. As a way to celebrate St. Martha’s feast day with our families this July 29th, we can pray to serve Jesus better:
Saint Martha, pray for us that we might serve Jesus better. Help us to overcome our distractions and worries to listen to his words and be present to him this day. Amen.
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
As a fun activity to celebrate St. Martha’s feast day, I found this no-bake pumpkin pie recipe from Quebec named after St. Martha in my family cookbook, Cooking with the Saints: An Illustrated Treasury of Authentic Recipes Old and Modern
Tarte a la Citrouille Sainte-Marthe
¾ c. (200g) sugar
1 ½ c. (375g) pumpkin puree
½ c. (125ml) milk
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. gelatin (1 ½ envelopes)
1 pre-baked piecrust
If you have used sweetened pumpkin puree, reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe by half.
Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until fluffy, add half the sugar and continue beating until smooth. Set aside.
In another bowl beat the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar until the mixture thickens and becomes pale. Add the pumpkin puree, milk, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Continue beating until mixture is smooth.
Transfer mixture to the top of a double boiler and cook it for 7-8 minutes until it thickens.
Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the cold water and let it soak for 5 minutes. Add gelatin to the contents of the double boiler and stir until it is dissolved.
Let the pumpkin mixture cool to room temperature, then carefully fold in the beaten egg whites with a spatula.
Pour into the pre-baked piecrust and refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm and set.
Have you ever wondered about women and their place in the Catholic Church? I have. When I was little, I wanted to be the Pope (before I decided my dream was to become President, of course). Only then did I discover that since I was a girl, I could not become the Pope. That infuriated me as a small child, and sparked my interest in learning more about my life’s vocation as a woman of faith. Only as I have grown older have I begun to learn how I can actively participate in my faith traditions, as a layperson and as a woman.
Women have a role in our faith. We are witnesses and called to be exemplary versions of ourselves. We are called by Christ to function in our Church using our own gifts, talents, and love. The example of women leaders in our Church shines through to us in the lives of many female saints and other women in our Church who used their femininity to do God’s will. We read about Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary who were friends and followers of Jesus and who were with him throughout his ministry on earth. Later in the 14th century we see St. Catherine of Siena, who helped bring the papacy back to Rome. St. Clare of Assisi founded the female religious order similar to Franciscans. St. Therese of Lisieux is a Doctor of the Church, thanks to Blessed Pope John Paul II. These women and countless others have made their mark on the Church in critical and defining ways, allowing other women to look up to them and see how to live out God’s love through actions and service. In Mulieris Dignitatem, a 1988 apostolic letter by Blessed Pope John Paul II, he says, “Holy women are the incarnation of the feminine ideal.” This tells us to follow the example of the holy women in our Church, who taught us all a great deal about the special place women hold.
The New Evangelization needs women to be examples of true womanhood. What is a true example of womanhood, you might ask? Who do we look to for guidance? Well, Mary, the Mother of God is a perfect place to begin. In the Blessed Mother, we see a sinless woman, courageous and steadfast in her faith, who said the ultimate “Yes” to God at a young age. In the face of adversity and rejection, she showed how strong her faith was by bearing the Son of God and then delivering her child in a stable. No simple feat! Throughout Jesus’ life, she was with him, both in person and in prayer. When he was lost and teaching in the temple, she worried like any mother would about her son, then pondered these things in her heart; at the Wedding of Cana, she knew when he needed a nudge to begin his ministry; at the foot of the cross, she wept for the life and humanity of her son. As a woman and a mother, we see Mary’s grace and strive to imitate her desire to do the will of God, unwavering in faith and holiness.
As true, confident, feminine examples of love and generosity, we need to know and understand Church teachings and desire to do more as laity in our Catholic faith. As individuals we are a part of the Body of Christ, with an important responsibility to love and with incredible opportunities at the end of our fingertips. Mulieris Dignitatem encourages us—women of faith—to deepen our own understanding about ourselves, and be a witness of faith. We must recognize that our vocation is to understand and teach the faith, to evangelize the world, to desire to grow ever more deeply in Christ’s love, to care for the poor and destitute, and even to answer the call to religious life. But, the most important of these things is to love unconditionally. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
In our faith today, we sometimes see people questioning where and how women should participate in our faith and its traditions. This is an issue that many on both sides of the spectrum feel strongly about. The New Evangelization is a way for all people who are members of the Body of Christ—especially women—to reconnect with God and to rekindle the desire to live our lives to their fullest potential.
Krissy Kirby is a Senior at The Catholic University of America and a Resident Minister through the Office of Campus Ministry.