Tuesday October 5, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Galatians 1:13-24) Gospel (St. Luke 10:38-42)
In the readings today, we hear about two people who are anxious and worried about many things: Martha, in the Gospel; and Saint Paul, as he speaks about himself and his former way of life in Judaism, how he excelled beyond all his contemporaries in the ancestral traditions that had been handed on to him and was so zealous that he was even going to try to destroy the Church of God.
Yet, at the same time, we see also two different situations of people who had now chosen the better part. We have Mary, in the Gospel reading, who is at the Lord’s feet, and we have Saint Paul after his conversion to Our Blessed Lord. And he tells us that He Who called him had now been pleased to reveal His Son to him. It was precisely this point that brought about the change in Saint Paul’s life. It was also this exact same understanding which allowed Mary to choose what was called “the better part”.
It was not that in serving Martha was doing anything wrong, but rather it was the matter that she had missed what was most important. That is, she had God right there in her home and she did not recognize Him. She was busy about all kinds of things but had completely missed the reality of what was taking place right before her. Obviously, Saint Paul, even after he recognized Who Our Lord was, still was busy about many things: going from place to place, preaching the Gospel of Christ, caring for his converts, and all of the things he had to endure. So it is not that he became purely secluded or purely contemplative, but rather it was a matter that he had chosen the better part. He was serving God in the way that he thought he was supposed to until he finally understood Who God truly was, and then it changed his life. Martha was serving God according to the way that she thought she was supposed to, but Mary had recognized what was the greater thing, the greater service.
The Son of God has been revealed to each and every one of us. The question is – Have we chosen the better part? It is one thing for Martha not to recognize Who Our Lord was at that point and it is certainly understandable that Saint Paul had not recognized yet Who Our Lord was, but we are without excuse. We know Who He is, and we know the way that we are to be living our lives. But many of us choose willfully to run around and be anxious and worried about many things because we do not really want to be at the feet of the Lord. Saint Paul went away for three years so that he could pray, so that he would be able to be formed in the Gospel. Mary sat at the foot of the Lord listening to Him.
Many of us do not want to pray. We will say prayers, and that is very good, but we do not really want to pray deeply because we know it is going to change our lives and we do not want to change. So we come up with all kinds of excuses: “Look at all the good things that I’m doing. I have all these things I’m involved in. God must be very pleased; I’m doing the work of God, after all! Look at all of the good.” And then we do not pray, and we come up with some stupid thing like one priest who said, “My work is my prayer.” Nonsense. You have to pray so that you can do the work and so that you can work in the midst of the prayer. One is not to stop praying, but one has to have a very specific formal time for prayer set aside every day. If we do not, we have not chosen the better part. We will be anxious and worried about many things. We will not be at peace, but we will try our best, like Martha, to convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing.
Saint Paul was completely convinced of the same reality (He was doing the right thing, after all!) because he had not taken time to pray. He had not taken time to discern what God’s Will really was. He was just zealous for the ancestral traditions and was going to do whatever he needed to do to try to protect and uphold them. Martha knew what her task was when a guest came over, but she did not take time to discern Who the Guest was and what would be the better way to approach Him.
We have to be very careful that we do not fall into the same trap, that we first sit down and allow the Guest of our souls to teach us and to serve us so that we in turn can serve Him in the way that He chooses – not in the way that we have decided would be the best way. When we are united with Him then it is His work that we are doing, and He Who dwells within us will be doing His work in us and through us. That is the way to choose and to live the better part.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.