Martha

“Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
Over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.
If I walk out into the field,
look! those slain by the sword;
If I enter the city,
look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.”
Jeremiah 14: 17-18

One danger of constant busywork is that it can provide us with a means of escaping the problem at hand. For many of us, that problem is often an emotional or spiritual one: if my hands and mind are occupied with work, I don’t have to think about how my friendships are going, what I’ve been struggling with in prayer, or other (for some of us, a seemingly endless amount) concerns mounting in the backs of our heads. It is very common for us to answer the question, “How are you?” with the word “fine” even if we are feeling far from it.

That’s sort of how I picture Martha today in the Gospel. I’m reminded of a time when I was helping to run an event and was extremely anxious that everything should go well. At some point a priest pulled me aside and asked how I was doing. I didn’t want to admit to my anxiety, so I just listed a series of tasks that I still had to accomplish before the event was over. He saw right through me. “You can cry,” he offered, “don’t worry.” I think of Jesus watching Martha prepare everything perfectly and seeing something weighing on her heart that she is afraid to show to Him. But He already knows it, and loves her, and wants her to lean on Him for help. I think of all the times we go to prayer with a sort of false stoicism, putting on a “game face,” when all God wants is to see us as we are. I imagine Christ saying, “Go ahead and cry, yell, plead, laugh–if that’s what you need to do, do it!” God already knows what you desire. You don’t have to put on a face for Him, and it’s silly to even try. Let’s all try to develop the confidence in the Lord necessary to be able to drop our defenses, to let down the walls of our hearts so that He may enter and bring more abundant life.

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The Magdalene

“Mary, do not weep; the Lord is risen from the dead.”
-Responsory, Liturgy of the Hours for Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene

What is the proper response to our own sinfulness? Penance, sorrow, and ultimately, a re-commitment to love: the Magdalene shows us this. She who loved much because she was forgiven much (cf. Luke 7:47) realizes that a disciple’s response to sin is not be scandalized, not to give up, and not to sit dumbfounded by one’s own lack of perfection. She knows this because she was given the privilege of being the first person at the Lord’s tomb. When she wept because all seemed lost, she was told to stop crying. “Do not be afraid, for I have conquered the world,” our Lord tells us (John 16:33). And yet we are often deeply distressed that we do not live up to our expectations of ourselves. We take pride of the image of ourselves that we would like to cultivate, and this image becomes our god.

Reflect instead on the Magdalene. She had no reputation to worry about, because hers was already destroyed. None of the holy men at the time regarded her as anything more than a sinful woman. All she had was Christ, and she was willing to appear foolish for him, to commit luxurious acts of love, to run to his disciples and tell them Her Lord was alive even when they were completely incredulous. Rather than priding ourselves on our own righteousness, why don’t we assume the position of Mary Magdalene, admitting our sinfulness and complete reliance on God’s mercy to get through the day?

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us, that we may grow in humility, and that we may not be afraid to appear foolish in the eyes of the world in our zeal for God.

Who Shall Climb the Mountain of the Lord?

“For the purity of Christ and the purity that is manifest in our hearts are identical. Christ’s purity, however, is the fountainhead; ours has its source in him and flows out of him. Our life is stamped with the beauty of his thought. The inner and the outer man are harmonized in a kind of music. The mind of Christ is the controlling influence that inspires us to moderation and goodness in our behavior.”
-From a treatise on Christian Perfection by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, bishop (2nd reading in Matins today)
 
Last night’s Bible study discussion led me to meditate on purity–how we get it, where it comes from, etc. So it was without surprise that I opened up the Office of Readings this morning to find this passage. 
 
My rag-tag feminist sensibilities have always led me to a distaste for the word “purity”–for its sexual connotation and how it seems to hold men and women to different standards. But when the psalmist says, “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?” and answers, “The man with clean hands and pure heart,” (Psalm 24), I sit up and take notice. Last night at Bible study we discussed the various ways in which the pagans surrounding the Israelites pulled them down into sin, and what that looks like in our own lives. Seeking the beautiful and the good ought to be pleasurable, and yet it is sometimes obscured by the false attractions of the world around us.
 
In the end, purity is not about being a Pollyanna– it’s about being free. Free from snares, free to pursue God fully. “Take every thought captive in obedience to Christ,” and you will receive his peace as a result (2 Corinthians 10:5). Easier said than done, I know, but take heart–Christ is victorious over sin and death, and he has already conquered the world. Claim his victory in your life and never tire of doing what is right (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:13).