There is a lovely hidden message in today’s Gospel; one that has not often been expounded on and one that I have come to believe contains a true recipe of the proper development of a good solid spiritual life. It is true that neither Mary nor Martha’s actions in this passage are indispensable and it is important to see that both women were indeed busy! Had Martha not busied herself with the preparations, the visitors would not have been served and would have gone hungry; something incredibly embarrassing for a host family. Had Mary not busied herself with contemplation she would have lost out on a moment of intimate communion with the Lord. Both souls were busy… one was busy with temporal affairs that misted communion, the other busy with communion that misted the temporal.
What is of utmost importance here is that ‘Martha was worried and distracted by her many tasks’. She lost sight of who she was serving and why she was serving and became preoccupied on how she was serving or indeed struggling to serve. She didn’t call Mary aside and ask for help, she remonstrated with Jesus! She failed to consecrate the moment: she failed to sanctify the mundane. We do this so often because we are inclined to think of life in terms of ‘work or prayer’. If we look at the life of Jesus, the two were always one. The famous phrase ‘Ora et Labora’ which is also generally associated with its use in the Rule of Saint Benedict, reminds us that prayer and work are best exercised together. St James, in one of his letters, highlights this when he reminds us about the futility of good works if they are not founded in prayer and St. Paul in one of his letters, teaches us about the futility of prayer if not followed by good works. The secret therefore lies in the symbiotic and intrinsic relationship between prayer and work where the two become one as they did in the life of Jesus. Saint Josemarí a Escriva, founder of opus Dei once explained that, “our work too must become personal prayer; that it become a real conversation with Our Father in heaven…You cannot allow your cares and concerns to become impersonal and routine, because if you were to do so, the divine incentive that inspires your daily tasks will straightaway wither and die” (Friends of God, 64). St. Josemaria went on to say, “Ordinary citizens can lead full Christian lives without changing our normal days of labour and duties” and that “in God’s service there are no unimportant jobs: all are of great importance” (The Forge, 618).
So the next time you load the dishwasher, sweep the same floor for the thousandth time, or have a mind-numbing work project dropped in your lap, think about these tasks differently … do all with the hands of Martha and the heart of Mary. Each duty done well, with love, and offered up to God for specific intentions can become a special way to communicate our love to Him. In this way, our daily work and mundane responsibilities become a most valuable prayer not only for our souls but for all souls, thereby transforming the ordinary in our lives into something truly extraordinary and holy.
Just as God took flesh in Jesus without ceasing to be God, our prayer should take flesh in our work without
our work ceasing to be prayer.