16th Sun Ord: The Way of Martha and Mary: How to Work and Pray

4/30.2 Working with the knowledge that the Lord is by our side. Presence of God in the workplace.

Showing a real sense of trust in her guest, the elder sister complained to Jesus, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.

For many centuries these two sisters have been held to represent two rival lifestyles. According to this traditional interpretation Mary exemplifies the way of contemplation, the life of union with God. Similarly, Martha is seen as the personification of an active life of work. But the contemplative life does not consist in simply being at the feet of Jesus doing nothing. That would be a disorder, if not pure and simple indolence.[4257] For we must find God in our daily job, transforming our professional work into the hinge on which our calling to sanctity rests and turns.[4258] We show our love for God through the exercise of the human as well as the supernatural virtues. It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to have a deep interior life and at the same time live a vibrant apostolate if we lack a serious commitment to our daily work.

For too long a time there has been a mistaken insistence on the supposed incompatibility between secular work and the interior life. Nevertheless, it is there in the midst of daily work and by means of it, not in spite of it, that God wants to call most Christians to lives of holiness. We are to sanctify the world and sanctify ourselves with a life of prayer that gives divine meaning to earthly tasks.[4259] This was the constant message of the Founder of Opus Dei, who taught thousands to find God in their ordinary lives. On one occasion, while speaking to a large number of people, he said, You must understand now more clearly that God is calling you to serve him ‘in and from’ the ordinary, material and secular activities of human life. He waits for us every day, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university lecture room, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it. There is no other way. Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find him. That is why I can tell you that our age needs to give back to matter and to the most trivial occurrences and situations their noble and original meaning. It needs to restore them to the service of the Kingdom of God, to spiritualize them, turning them into a means and an occasion for a continuous meeting with Jesus Christ.[4260] This involves combining the love of Mary with the ‘work ethic’ of Martha.

Jesus responds to Martha with that affectionate counsel, Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.

It is as if He had said, ‘Martha, you are worried about worldly affairs, but you are forgetting about me. You are deeply concerned about important tasks, but you are neglecting the most important one of all, which is union with God, personal sanctity. If your worries lead you to lose presence of God while you work, those worries are not good for you, even though your work itself be good and necessary.’

Jesus does not pass sweeping judgment upon Martha or Mary. He responds to Martha’s question with profundity by pointing to what is most important in life, that being the presence of Christ in the house. How often might not the Lord make the same reproach to us? Nothing can justify forgetting Jesus in our daily work, not even the most important of concerns. We cannot put him who is the Lord of all things aside for the sake of the things of the Lord. We certainly cannot minimize the importance of prayer with the excuse that we are too busy with apostolate, with activities of formation, with works of charity, etc.[4261]

[4257] A. del Portillo, Homily, 20 July 1986

[4258] St. J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 62

[4259] cf J. L. Illanes, On the Theology of Work

[4260] Conversations with Monsignor Escrivá, 114

[4261] cf John Paul II, Address, 20 June 1986