“There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Prayer for Grace and Guidance
Oh my God, You know my weakness and failings, and that without Your help I can accomplish nothing for the good of souls, my own and others’. Grant me, therefore, the help of Your grace. Grant it according to my particular needs this day. Enable me to see the task You will set before me in the daily routine of my life, and help me work hard at my appointed tasks. Teach me to bear patiently all the trials of suffering or failure that may come to me today. Amen.
Show favor, O Lord, to your servants
and mercifully increase the gifts of your grace,
that, made fervent in hope, faith and charity,
they may be ever watchful in keeping your commands.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
READING IGn 18:1-10a
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot.
Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.
When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them;
and bowing to the ground, he said:
“Sir, if I may ask you this favor,
please do not go on past your servant.
Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet,
and then rest yourselves under the tree.
Now that you have come this close to your servant,
let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves;
and afterward you may go on your way.”
The men replied, “Very well, do as you have said.”
Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah,
“Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.”
He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer,
and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.
Then Abraham got some curds and milk,
as well as the steer that had been prepared,
and set these before the three men;
and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.
They asked Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?”
He replied, “There in the tent.”
One of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year,
and Sarah will then have a son.”
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 343 Man is the summit of the Creator’s work, as the inspired account expresses by clearly distinguishing the creation of man from that of the other creatures.1
CCC 489 Throughout the Old Covenant the mission of many holy women prepared for that of Mary. At the very beginning there was Eve; despite her disobedience, she receives the promise of a posterity that will be victorious over the evil one, as well as the promise that she will be the mother of all the living.2 By virtue of this promise, Sarah conceives a son in spite of her old age.3 Against all human expectation God chooses those who were considered powerless and weak to show forth his faithfulness to his promises: Hannah, the mother of Samuel; Deborah; Ruth; Judith and Esther; and many other women.4 Mary “stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion, and the new plan of salvation is established.”5
CCC 706 Against all human hope, God promises descendants to Abraham, as the fruit of faith and of the power of the Holy Spirit.6 In Abraham’s progeny all the nations of the earth will be blessed. This progeny will be Christ himself,7 in whom the outpouring of the Holy Spirit will “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”8 God commits himself by his own solemn oath to giving his beloved Son and “the promised Holy Spirit. .. [who is] the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.”9
CCC 2571 Because Abraham believed in God and walked in his presence and in covenant with him,10 the patriarch is ready to welcome a mysterious Guest into his tent. Abraham’s remarkable hospitality at Mamre foreshadows the annunciation of the true Son of the promise.11 After that, once God had confided his plan, Abraham’s heart is attuned to his Lord’s compassion for men and he dares to intercede for them with bold confidence.12
1 Cf. Gen 1-26.
2 Cf. Gen 3:15, 20.
3 Cf. Gen 18:10-14; 21:1-2.
4 Cf. I Cor 1:17; I Sam 1.
5 LG 55.
6 Cf. Gen 18:1-15; Lk 1:26-38. 54-55; Jn 1:12-13; Rom 4:16-21.
7 Cf. Gen 12:3; Gal 3:16.
8 Cf. In 11:52.
9 Eph 1:13-14; cf. Gen 22:17-19; Lk 1:73; Jn 3:16; Rom 8:32; Gal 3:14.
10 Cf. Gen 15:6; 17:1 f.
11 Cf. Gen 18:1-15; Lk 1:26-38.
12 Cf. Gen 18:16-33.
This incident which happened to the Father and Founder of the Jewish race, the Chosen People, nearly four thousand years ago, would seem at first sight to have little if any interest for us Christians of the twentieth century. Yet it has. That is why it is read in our liturgy today. Whether things happened exactly as described, or whether the inspired writer later used his poetic imagination to drive home to his readers, and to all of us, some very important lessons, matters but little. The basic fact of the narrative is that Abraham, after years of faithful trust in God, was finally given a definite guarantee that God’s promise to him would be fulfilled within a year.
The fulfillment of that promise has more meaning and importance for us than it had even for Abraham. It was the beginning of God’s preparation for sending the Messiah, his divine Son in human nature, to raise us men above our natural capacities and make us heirs of an eternal life. We call Abraham “our father in faith” in the Mass and rightly so. We owe it, after God, to his faith and trust in God, that the way was prepared, according to God’s eternal plan, for the coming of Christ amongst us. This resulted in the supernatural change in man and in his relationship with God.
How slowly, how patiently, but how effectively and successfully, God works when dealing with weak, worldly and often stubborn man. The whole story of salvation is an example of divine, infinite patience and almost incredible tolerance in the face of human ingratitude, infidelity and, frequently, utter unworthiness. Yet, he carried out his plan and opened heaven for us unworthy and ungrateful men.
That was all before Christ came on earth. Has man been much more grateful, much more obedient, much more reverent towards God, even since he sent his Son to raise us up to the dignity of sonship with himself? There have been noble exceptions, thank God. Down through the two thousand years of Christianity, men and women have given their lives totally and exclusively to the task of thanking God for all he has done for mankind. But the vast majority of all generations have taken God’s gifts as they take the weather. They grumble when it rains. They are thankless when the sun shines.
Human nature has changed very little. Thanks be to God, he does not change either. He is still tolerant. He is still patient. He is still forgiving and more anxious to get us to heaven than even we ourselves are. We have much to learn from Abraham’s faith. When God seems to be slow in answering our urgent request, when he seems to forget the pressing spiritual needs we have put before him, when he seems to be kinder to his enemies than to us his children, it is well for us to think of Abraham’s years of patient trust and absolute confidence in God’s promise. God has his reasons which we cannot see or understand. Of this we can be certain though: he makes no mistakes. Our prayers and our requests are and will always be answered in God’s time and in God’s way. That means, at the right time and in the manner best for us. We are the very worst judges in our own cases. Leave it to the all-wise judge.
It is worth noting also in today’s lesson that Abraham was given his final, definite guarantee after he had proved himself a true, kind, generous neighbor to complete strangers. Perhaps if we all forget self a little more, and think, instead, of our needy neighbor, then God would come more quickly to our own aid. There is a strong stubborn and selfish strain in every man. Overcoming that selfishness is one of the principal obligations of a Christian. We have all failed miserably in this duty in the past. We have all failed often. But we must keep on trying. There are occasions every day for practicing brotherly love, which is the true mark of Christianity, not only on our doorsteps but within the walls of our own homes. These are the means God is sending us to help us to earn eternal life. Unless we use them we shall live and die as selfish, self-centered individuals. There is no place in heaven for the self-centered, selfish man.
Heaven is the home of the great and loving family, where each is for all and where all are for God.
Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
One who walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
by whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.
He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
One who does these things
shall never be disturbed.
He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his body, which is the church,
of which I am a minister
in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me
to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
It is he whom we proclaim,
admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 307 To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of “subduing” the earth and having dominion over it.1 God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God’s will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings.2 They then fully become “God’s fellow workers” and co-workers for his kingdom.3
CCC 618 The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediator between God and men”.4 But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” is offered to all men.5 He calls his disciples to “take up [their] cross and follow [him]”,6 for “Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps.”7 In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries.8 This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering.9
Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.10
CCC 772 It is in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals his own mystery as the purpose of God’s plan: “to unite all things in him.”11 St. Paul calls the nuptial union of Christ and the Church “a great mystery.” Because she is united to Christ as to her bridegroom, she becomes a mystery in her turn.12 Contemplating this mystery in her, Paul exclaims: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”13
CCC 1499 “By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ.”14
CCC 1508 The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing15 so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church.”16
1 Cf. Gen 1:26-28.
2 Cf. Col 1:24.
3 1 Cor 3:9; 1 Thes 3:2; Col 4:11.
4 1 Tim 2:5.
5 GS 22 # 5; cf. # 2.
6 Mt 16:24.
7 I Pt 2:21.
8 Cf Mk 10:39; Jn 21:18-19; Col 1:24.
9 Cf. Lk 2:35.
10 St. Rose of Lima: cf. P. Hansen, Vita mirabilis (Louvain, 1668).
11 Eph 1:10.
12 Eph 5:32; 3:9-11; 5:25-27.
13 Col 1:27.
14 LG 11; cf. Jas 5:14-16; Rom 8:17; Col 1:24; 2 Tim 2:11-12; 1 Pet 4:13.
15 Cf. 1 Cor 12:9, 28, 30.
16 2 Cor 12:9; Col 1:24.
What a startling and amazing piece of news the gospel must have been for the Gentiles! Up till then, they had heard of many gods–the products of men’s hands and imaginings. These gods were powerless to help man. They were stone deaf to his prayers. Men may have had a desire to live for ever, but what a hopeless piece of wishful thinking it must have appeared to them as they saw even the richest and most powerful among them invariably end in the grave.
Now they hear of one all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God, who made all things and cares for all things. That all-loving, all-powerful God, who gave such marvelous gifts to man, has still greater plans for the masterpiece of his creation. He intends that man should share his own eternal happiness with him, so man’s desire to live forever turns out to be something that can and will be fulfilled. Man’s created, finite nature could of itself have no claim on, or reason to expect such an extraordinary privilege. But God planned from all eternity to unite the human with the divine. This he did through the Incarnation. The Son of God became man–humanity was united to the divinity in him. Human nature was thus enabled to share, in a finite way, in the divinity of God. Only God could do this, and only infinite love could move God to act in that way towards a mere creature.
Because God acted in such a manner, man’s lot on earth was radically changed. The troubles and hardships of this life mattered little now. The grave no longer meant the end of everything. It was, rather, the beginning of man’s true life. The moment of death, when they would meet Christ in his glorified human nature, united to his divinity, was something to be looked forward to, and not a thing to be dreaded. No wonder these first Gentile converts led exemplary Christian lives. They appreciated sincerely all that God and Christ had done for them. The best that they could do was not half enough to show their heartfelt gratitude.
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” the proverb says. After almost twenty centuries of Christianity, we have indeed grown familiar with it, and some, alas, have the rudeness to despise and ignore it. A true familiarity with God’s love for us, however, should rather increase our respect and our gratitude for the extraordinary gift of his divine love, Christ’s Incarnation–with all its consequences for us. It has made new creatures of us. It has raised us up above our ordinary selves. It has made us sons of God. We know there is an eternal life awaiting us when we finish with this earthly life. The marvelous powers of intellect and will which God gave us and which make us the highest of his creatures on earth, will have their full scope and satisfaction in that eternal life. All human problems will be solved, and all human pain and sorrow will end. There will be no more tears nor cause for tears. Heaven will be a place of unending happiness and peace.
The conditions we must fulfill in order to merit this happy, everlasting abode are not impossible. With the aid of God’s grace, which is there for the asking, they are not even difficult. The trials of life, which we all have to face and bear, are made so much easier for us. We can see in them God’s mercies, sent to cleanse us and prepare us for what lies beyond.
What most of us need is a great bit of that fervor which animated the early Christians. If we meditated and pondered more often on the gift of Christ and what the Christian faith means to us, we would live our daily Christian live a little more fervently. Our love for God and for neighbor (the proof of love for God) would grow stronger. Not only would we make sure of our future happiness, but our good example would spur the careless Christians, that we encounter, to love and esteem the blessings which Christ and Christianity have made available to them.
Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, 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.”
This story concerning Mary and Martha has often been used by spiritual writers to prove the superiority of the contemplative life over the active, pastoral form of life. That there is room and necessity for some members of Christ’s body, the Church, to dedicate their lives solely and entirely to meditation and prayer needs no proof. Each member of the body can and must help the other members. Most Christians cannot give much time to prayer, contemplation of God, and acts of thanksgiving for all he has done and is doing for them. There are members set apart for this very purpose. With their material needs provided for by the other members, they can act in the name of the whole body. They can represent all its members in their prayers and acts of thanksgiving. It is God himself who has thought of this form of religious life and who provides the vocations to keep it going.
The more correct lesson which the story of Martha and Mary seems to have is that we must not let the affairs of this life, innocent though they be in themselves, prevent us from attending primarily to the one affair that really matters, our future life. The emphasis, then, is on Martha rather than on Mary. In her over-excitement to prove herself a kind and true hostess, she bent all her energies to preparing an excellent meal. She had no time to listen to the Master’s words of divine wisdom. The work she was doing was excellent and faultless in itself. She need not and should not have excluded learning from Christ’s teaching while doing that good work.
Like Martha, many “good” Christians are “anxious and upset” about many earthly concerns. These concerns are necessary. This we know. A man must earn his daily bread; a wife must cook and wash and labor for her husband and family. This is what God himself expects us to do. What we need not and must not do, however, is to forget or exclude God in the process. Our daily tasks, whether in the office, workshop, or home, are prayers that are honoring God and thanking him for the many gifts of mind and body that he has given us, if we offer them to him and do them with this intention, they are indeed perfect prayers.
This is where so many fail. They spend days, months, maybe years, intent solely on their earthly tasks, without a thought for their future fate in the life that is to come. Yet a truly profitable Christian life is so easy for the vast majority of true Christians. A short morning prayer can be said while dressing. Thus we offer to God the day with all its joys and sorrows, all its trials and tests. It will mean that the day is registered to our account in the Book of Life. A few moments of thought for God and his goodness every now and then during the day will help immensely to keep our morning offering alive and active. A few moments on one’s knees beside the bed before retiring to rest, thanking God for the day he has given us, and asking pardon for the faults committed, is not too difficult for anyone.
A day such as this is a day spent in the service of God, such as will ensure a happy future when our last day comes. Mass and Holy Communion will round out each week for all practicing Christians. Besides, everyone ought to do some good reading. The knowledge gained from reading is a must today for anyone who really wants to help his fellowman many of whom have lost their bearings and need a helping hand to put them back on the right road.
Yes, while active in the necessary affairs of this world, providing for the earthly necessities of ourselves and our dependents, we can at the same time, if we are sensible and sincere Christians, be storing up merits for ourselves. These merits will give us a pleasant surprise when the day of reckoning comes.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission from Franciscan Press.
Why Listening is a Part of Life
Man ought not to try to be self-sufficient, and he must have the humility to learn, to accept something – “incline thy head.” He must find the way to follow the call into listening. And listening means not just giving ear to whatever is going the rounds, but also listening to the depths, or to the heights, since what the Master says is basically the application of Holy Scripture, the application of this fundamental rule of human existence… We can see in the Rule of Saint Benedict how nothing that is truly human ever becomes old-fashioned. Anything that really comes from the depths of our being remains a counsel of life that is always relevant… Perhaps we are beginning to see again that God’s service, stepping outside the mentality of mere achievement, is what we need. That listening – for the service of God is to a great extent a matter of letting God in and of listening – must be a part of life. Just as discipline and right measure and order belong together, just like obedience and freedom, so, equally, tolerating each other in the spirit of faith is not merely a basic rule for any monastic community, but all these things are, when you come down to it, essential elements for building any and every society. This is a rule that springs from what is truly human, and it was able to formulate what was truly human because it looked out and listened beyond what is human and perceived the divine. Man becomes really human when he is touched by God.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Act of Hope
For Your mercies’ sake, O Lord my God,
tell me what You are to me.
Say to my soul: “I am your salvation.”
So speak that I may hear, O Lord;
my heart is listening;
open it that it may hear You,
and say to my soul: “I am your salvation.”
After hearing this word,
may I come in haste to take hold of you.
Hide not Your face from me.
Let me see Your face even if I die,
lest I die with longing to see it.
The house of my soul is too small to receive You;
let it be enlarged by You.
It is all in ruins;
do You repair it.
There are thing in it,
I confess and I know,
that must offend Your sight.
But who shall cleanse it?
Or to what others besides You shall I cry out?
From my secret sins cleanse me, O Lord,
and from those of others spare your servant.
Saint Augustine of Hippo