July 18, 2010
First Things First
Three nuns were cleaning the chapel. The topic of their conversation was on how to serve God. The first nun said: “I want to be like these candles so that I can always accompany Jesus with my light.” The second said, “I wish to be like these flowers so that I can give my beauty and fragrance to the Lord.” The third one said, “I want to be the white cloth that covers the altar.” The other two were puzzled. “And what does the cloth have to do with serving the Lord?” With a twinkle in her eyes, the nun said, “So that Father can kiss me everyday before and after Mass!”
Like these nuns, the sisters Martha and Mary had their own ideas about serving the Lord. Martha went directly to the kitchen and hurriedly prepared food for her special guests. She was frantic and nervous because she was doing everything by herself and was running out of time. On the other hand, Mary was not concerned about the work in the kitchen. She sat down at the feet of Jesus and listened to his every word.
Martha represents the active apostolate, while Mary the contemplative apostolate. Which of the two was favored by Jesus? When Martha barged in to complain that her sister was not helping her, Jesus gently reprimanded her: “Martha, Martha, you are so worried and anxious about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Does this mean Jesus regarded contemplative life more important than the active life? Definitely not. Both are important in the life of every Christian. However, Jesus made sure that we set our priorities right: first things first. When asked about what the greatest commandment is, Jesus made it very clear: “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” God first, neighbors next.
Mary has chosen the better part, not that Martha chose the wrong one. Rather, Mary had the right priority. She sat down and listened to the words of the Lord. Before doing anything, she made sure she had the guidance and inspiration of the Lord. On the other hand, Martha was “anxious and worried about many things” because she rushed right into her work without seeking the wisdom and strength from the Lord.
It was, therefore, not a question of which of the two is more important. Work and prayer are both important. It is more a question of which of the two should come first. The Gospel is telling us that it is prayer that should come first so that our work will have the guidance and inspiration from God. A quotation says, “When man works, it is only man who works. But when man prays, God works.” This reminds us of the Scripture passage, “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain does the workman labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil.” Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Ultimately, it is God who makes things possible, who makes our work fruitful.
There is a story about two woodcutters. The first woodcutter works eight hours a day. The second works only for five hours. But both of them have equal number of logs cut with their axe. Asked about the secret of his productivity, the second woodcutter said, “It is because take time to rest and recharge my body. And while resting, I sharpen my axe.”
Nowadays, people have to be reminded of this lesson. Too many among us have the disease called STD – stress, tension and depression. We work so hard to make ends meet. We rush to meet deadlines, to catch the train, and to come on time for our appointments. At the end of the day, we are exhausted, wasted, dull and empty. And this happens everyday for years. It is summer time, vacation time. But many consider taking vacation as luxury. It has become too expensive, and we cannot even think of taking some time off from work. Worst of all, many of us say that we have no time even to go to Church or to pray. We are just too busy. The Lord is now telling us: “Martha, Martha, you are so worried and anxious about so many things! Relax. Come to me, and I will give you rest!” We need to come to Jesus to get some rest and lots of sharpening.
Remember: Jesus is the tree; we are the branches. A branch cannot bear fruit if it is not connected to the tree. We are powerless and lifeless if we are not connected to Jesus. We have lots of work to do and many obligations to fulfill. Yes, we have to work hard. But first, let us make sure we find time to sit down at the feet of Jesus and listen to his words, be inspired by his spirit and be strengthened by his grace. Then the work becomes light, the fruits of our labors become sweet and abundant. Let us take home the motto of Saint Benedict: “Ora et labora.” Pray and work. Not vice versa.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002