One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

July 22, 2007

For the Sixteenth Ordinary Sunday of the Church Year

[It is not my turn to preach in the monastery church today. Here is a homily I wrote some years ago on today’s Gospel.]

Luke 10:38-42

There is need of only one thing, and Mary has made the better choice.
She sits at the Lord’s feet to listen to his teaching.
Her sister, Martha, for her part, is not doing a bad thing.
She is busy with household service; she is serving as a hostess for Jesus.
Nonetheless, the Lord says something else must come before service— something that makes service authentic.
“There is need of only one thing.”
Without that one necessary thing, our service is bound to be anxiety-ridden, troubling, and perhaps even misdirected.
None of our activity as members of Christ’s Church is in right order, if we do not first and always sit at the Lord’s feet to listen to his teaching.
Upright living and true Christian service must always first learn right Christian teaching.
Right Christian teaching comes to those who have the humility to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Today in his Gospel, Jesus says the one necessary thing is to sit at his feet to listen to his teaching
On that blessed day when our service as members of the Church is complete, we shall sit forever at the feet of the Lord.
That blessed destiny is what Jesus in his Gospel today calls “the better part” that has never been and never shall be taken away from Mary.
We might think that sitting, listening, learning, and praying at the feet of Jesus might be a good thing for those who live in monasteries.
However, that is not what Jesus thinks.
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.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, during the infancy of his Church, his first apostles followed the example of today’s Gospel.
Prayer was of first importance in their service, and other forms of service and activity came second for them.
The result, according to Scripture, is that the Church grew quickly.
You may recall from the Book of Acts in the New Testament that the Greek Christians in Jerusalem complained to the apostles— Hebrews— that the Greek widows were suffering neglect when the Hebrew Christians gave out food to the poor.
Scripture tells us the apostles responded:
It is not right that we should give up the word of God....
Pick out from among you seven men whom we may appoint to this duty.
But we will devote ourselves to PRAYER and the service of the word. [Acts 6:2-5]

The apostles appointed others to social service while the apostles devoted themselves to PRAYER and the word of God.
Scripture goes on to tell us:
the word of God increased;
and the number of the disciples MULTIPLIED GREATLY in Jerusalem,
and a great many of the [Jewish] priests became obedient to the faith. [Acts 6:7]

“There is need of only one thing.”
Mary and the apostles chose it.
Without it, there can be no authentically Christian discipleship, no authentically apostolic service, and no growth in the Church.
The foundations and priorities of genuine Christian discipleship are prayer and attentive listening at the feet of the Lord, the Word of God.
Indeed, this Gospel of Mary, the sister of Martha, sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to his teaching— this Gospel has always been an inspiration and an encouragement for monks to spend time daily reading the Word of God attentively, humbly, and prayerfully.
However, centuries before there were monks in the Church, prayer and the Word of God were also the soul and body of the ministry of the apostles themselves— uniquely necessary and surpassingly good that the apostles delegated other forms of service to other men in the Church.
Today in the Church, we need to respect what prayer did in the infant Church, and what prayer can continue to do for the Church today.
Without a solid life of prayer, the apostles— who were the first bishops of the Church—would not have led the Church into growth.
Without a solid life of prayer, parish priests and diocesan bishops turn into mere functionaries.
According to Jesus today in his Gospel, the same goes for heads of Christian households.
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.

Now, as we turn to the Eucharist, let us acknowledge the Lord in his Body and Blood— the “better part”, the “one thing” that alone is needed.
Let us learn from Christ in his Blessed Sacrament.
What he teaches and gives us as we humble ourselves before this sacrament shall never be taken from us, unless we ourselves ignore and neglect it.

That God Be Glorified in All