No matter how many times I read/pray a passage from Sacred Scripture, I am always amazed by the new and beautiful insights that can be received by those who avail themselves to the grace of the Holy Spirit. We can never exhaust the wealth and depth of Sacred Scripture, in this life. By praying this 1st Reading from Genesis 18, we can see just how rooted this is in Theology of the Body or, rather, just how much Theology of the Body is rooted in it.
Just look at the intimacy God has with Abraham, that the Lord would “appear” to him. Three persons appeared to him…Could this be a foreshadowing–a tiny glimpse–of the present reality of the Blessed Trinity? The scripture clearly states the Lord appeared to Abraham. Yet, later in Genesis 19:1, two angels go to Sodom and Gomorrah. Were these the other two who appeared with the Lord to Abraham? This is possible, but it is not clearly stated. Be that as it may, is this not the same intimacy Adam and Eve had with God and each other in the Garden of Eden? Intimacy truly means “into me see.” In his catechesis “Men and Women He Created Them- A Theology of the Body,” St. John Paul II teaches that God gave Adam and Eve original innocence, original unity, original solitude and nakedness without shame, but they trusted not in their Creator: they were be-guiled by the Devil, just like many in our culture today. We are all created good by the good God and called to holiness.
God had been preparing Abraham; you notice his name here is Abraham and not Abram, so this encounter is after God had given the covenantal promise to him. God had been preparing Abraham to receive this encounter with Him, and Abraham is able to receive Him. Abraham supplies the ordinary means of life, not that God needs it, but Abraham provided food, water and a means to be clean that any and every human person should be afforded, even when they are dying in a hospital room – why? It is truly because of the immense and incalculable dignity of the human person – why? It is truly because we come from the Divine, Created in His Image and Likeness. Abraham doesn’t know that it is God Himself who is appearing to him and he serves them (3 persons) and God allows Abraham to do so. Abraham, in a certain sense, is administering corporal works of mercy to God and asks for no reward at all. He is completely self-giving, serving the other for the sake of the other. He asks for nothing in return because he says: “afterward you may go on your way.” Just as Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, came to serve and not be served, Abraham is a kind of foreshadowing of the future Christ. God shows us the dignity of serving others and not desiring to be served, as well as how God prepares us to receive Himself and sends messengers as well to do so. That’s how much He much cares for us and loves each of us individually and uniquely.
Today’s Gospel from Luke 10 has a different twist to it. Here we see the very familiar passage with Martha and Mary. Martha is serving, which is a good, but she is complaining to Christ that Mary isn’t helping her. Martha is looking for something in return. She is doing good, but her service needs to be purified of self-love, which not only will prevent her from giving herself completely to the other for the sake of the other, but will actually mitigate the efficaciousness of the merit of her acts. Mary is gazing upon the Master and she is also allowing Him to gaze upon her and allowing herself to be loved. While Martha is choosing a good, Mary is choosing the greater good- God Himself.
The Corporal (outward directed) works of mercy MUST flow from a deep, intimate, personal relationship with Christ and the Trinity; otherwise, our service is in danger of becoming self-centered and competitive. The Universal Church, a diocese or even an individual parish’s social justice outreach and formation of community must flow from a deep, intimate communion with the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus Christ. Forming community without communion with Christ reduces the Church to social work, which is good (Martha), but that’s not who the Church is! The Church needs to be Mary, as well, which means contemplative, prayerful, and gazing upon the Lord and His Cross– this is true communion. Martha without Mary leads to hyper, unfocused activism and Mary without Martha can be self-serving, as well. This is why we need both as a balance. Mary was reposing with Jesus as St. John did on the chest of Christ at the Lord’s Supper. There needs to be a balance between serving our neighbors and being served by God– a balance between washing others feet and allowing God to wash our feet.
St. Gregory the Great, in his Moralia, says the two women signify two different dimensions of the spiritual life. St. Martha represents the active life, as she labors to honor Christ through her service. St. Mary represents the contemplative life as she gazes upon the Lord and learns at the feet of Christ. This is what St. John Paul II refers to as the Marian posture of receptivity, which will counteract the hyperactivity we are exposed to in this culture. There must absolutely be a healthy balance of the two: both/and, not either/or. For us to flourish and grow in this life, we not only need to serve God and our neighbors, but also have the humility and poverty of spirit to recognize our weakness. We need to allow God to heal and take care of us – we cannot know how to love unless we allow ourselves first to be loved by God. Amen.
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Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joined the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three-year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.