Jul 15, 2016

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time


The image that comes to mind after reading the Gospel which speaks of the two sisters Martha and Mary is that of one who is concerned with the needs of guests and the other who sits at the feet of the Lord listening to his voice. When the Lord told Martha that she was anxious about too many things and her sister Mary had chosen the better part by listening, the Gospel does not share with us how she reacted. If we presumed by the tone of Martha’s complaint to the Lord that there was tension between the two sisters over the demands of catering for visitors we would miss the point.

Instead, to offer us a greater insight into a bigger picture to contemplate, the Church has given us an appetizer, so to speak, in the form of the First Reading – the visitation of the three mysterious guests to the tent of Abraham (Gn. 18:1-10a). On the surface one can easily recognize the demands of hospitality and generosity evident as a theme to this Old Testament event. This may also provide us with a reflection on the corporal works of mercy demonstrated by feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. 

But for the Christian when we look back to these events through the lens of faith, we can see in Abraham’s remarkable hospitality and Sarah’s listening attentively behind the scenes, a “dress rehearsal” for the Annunciation when the Virgin Mary was told by the angel she would bear a son whose name would be Jesus. (CCC 489, CCC 2571, Comp. CCC 536)

When the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, God was “enfleshed” (i.e. incarnated) in humanity in every way except sin. God experienced human hunger and thirst. We saw this spelt out clearly when Christ was in the desert fasting. We are told that he was hungry. Now, we find him being fed by the love and generosity of family and friends. 

Imitating her, Martha provides a valuable service to God. It is by her sacrifice and acts of charity that she nourishes the Lord’s body, providing him with the necessary sustenance so that he might continue his journey. This gives Christ the strength of mind and body in order to accomplish his mission. He will need this strength in order to carry the cross. But when Martha complains that she finds herself alone in her work, Christ reminds her, as he does us, in more words than one, that a time will come when there will be no need to feed the physical body – a time will come when it will be transformed feed by the very presence of God. 

Remember Christ’s words while he was being tempted by Satan in the desert, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. However, Mary the sister of Martha also provided us with a glimpse of hunger, not of a body for food, but of a soul hungry for God. In the words of St. Augustine, Martha’s sister “was eating the one she was listening to…because he was the one who said ‘I am the Bread come down from heaven’. This is the bread which nourishes and never diminishes”.

After the consecration, what we perceive with our natural eyes as bread and wine, the heavenly angels from their perspective see the glorious body of the living Christ. It is for this reason that this Blessed Sacrament is called the “Bread of Angels”. Today’s Gospel allows us to imitate Martha’s generosity in preparing the table and the offerings needed to celebrate this holy banquet and accomplish works of charity. Martha’s sister, Mary, will then show us how our attention must be drawn, not to our own kindness or anything that we can do or accomplish, but to Christ’s who, out of his eternal sacrifice and generosity, gives us himself as the true Bread that has come down from Heaven. And there is enough food for everyone to feast on!

He Ascended into Heaven

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity, a privilege, to offer the graveside prayers at our Catholic cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 19...