Fr. Paul Brian Campbell, S.J.

Many years ago, my mother was at daily Mass and today’s Gospel reading was used. When the priest read the words, “Mary has chosen the better part,” a woman a few pews in front of her blurted out, “Typical man!” very loudly and this caused the whole congregation to laugh heartily.

Like that woman at Mass, I think most of us relate more to Martha than Mary. It will come as no surprise to learn that she is the patron saint of cooks, servants, housewives, waiters and waitresses. Like Martha, we are often too busy with many worries and concerns all day and, again perhaps like her, we tend not to concentrate on Jesus as the most important reality in our lives.

In John 11:5 we hear that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” He spent time with them at their home in Bethany, a village a couple of miles outside Jerusalem. Unlike many other visits to houses to help and heal, he went to their home simply to enjoy their company. Having said that, when Lazarus died, the sisters felt free to call on Jesus, even though a return to Judea was probably unsafe for him at that point in this ministry.

Martha’s great glory is her profound statement of faith in Jesus after her brother’s death. “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.’” [John 11:25-27]

Even now, Martha and Mary are used as examples of the superiority of a contemplative life over one that is “burdened with much serving.” St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, got around this dichotomy by urging us to become “contemplatives in action.” So, may we all strive to be like both Martha and Mary!