Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday word, 21 Jul 2013

16th Sunday of the Year (21 Jul 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
A while ago in The New Yorker John Radney, I recall, wrote its “Shouts and Murmurs” column. He wrote about hearing voices in his head. Humorously, Mr. Radney related these voices long had been with him:
Get up; go to the bathroom; take a shower; get dressed; eat breakfast (I don’t recall he admitted always listening to that one); go to work.
Such voices drive us all.

Other drives have their voices. Many people find “voice” best describes religious experiences. I wondered what voices Abraham and Sarah heard in their heads while extending hospitality to God. Abraham may have heard, “These visitors are more than visitors, but I can’t ask them. I’ll rely on my Eastern Mediterranean behavior: when in doubt, spread a feast.” Abraham may have answered that voice, “Heaven knows if I’ll be around to tell this to my promised ancestors!” And Sarah and that flour: she used nearly a bushel! It seemed to have clouded Sarah’s hearing. At least it muted voices she may have entertained. At the tent door she overheard one visitor’s voice tell Abraham she would be the mother of his son. She had nothing to say to that voice echoing in her old soul. Her laugh was answer enough.

I also imagined voices Mary and Martha heard as they opened their home to Jesus. Voices like: “It is so kind of Jesus to stop when he visits Jerusalem!” Mary, right? “We have little food! Jesus never comes alone!” Surely Martha. “When I listen to Jesus it’s as though he had never left Bethany.” “I never look forward to Jesus’ visits even when I expect him.” “Being with Jesus is to live in the presence of the Lord”: Jews often made the Psalmist’s voice theirs!

Freeing my imagination I realized Martha and Mary dwell in me. I suppose they dwell in each of us. To which voices, like ones which may have echoed within them that day at home, do I give first importance in the home of my heart? Does the melee of mundane, essential events drown my thirst for inner quiet? Do I allow only one voice? The gentle voice or the urgent one? When we afford room to each in the right proportion, we allow God to make known the riches ofglory in us. Proportion is key to this gospel. We see what the lack of it has done.

Some had and gave the impression that Mary won that day. Some contemporary folk think Jesus settled for Mary over Martha. Others live frustrated, thinking Mary had never helped her sister at all. A close reading opens onto freedom not frustration. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to Jesus and said to him, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”

Would any of us ask guests to settle squabbles? Guests are not asked to do that. We ask nothing of guests and forbid them to help. When a guest defies a host and helps, the host allows the guest to win. It’s the hospitable thing for us.

Ancient Mediterraneans had a stricter code of hospitality than us. To ask guests to settle disputes violated their code. In her stress Martha did. Jesus did not gasp to Martha that she had done anything wrong. Nor did Jesus obey Martha’s order. He assured her that as important as hospitality is, it is not the only thing.

I have to remind myself of that all the time: when I’m a host or hard at work of other kinds. How easily I am tempted to lose proportion! How easily I can choose not to give 15 minutes to savor the mystery in whom I live my day, Jesus, who creates me and you each moment.Jesus did not demean hospitality and the work it and other stewardship entails. He lived from the hospitality of many, especially women.1 Nor did he idolize it. He did invite people to cultivate a gentle, savoring manner to appreciate all they do. Why? Activities of every kind tend to dominate us and seduce us from loving Jesus more deeply and from following him more closely.

That New Yorker journalist wrote he sometimes spoke responses to the voices he heard. He responded, he insisted, “for the voices’ sake.” While he wrote in humor, responding to voices pictures prayer aptly. In gospel words prayer is the Mary in us attending to Jesus after we do other vital things to satisfy the Martha in us. If not she will distract us from Jesus, this mystery in whom we live, to use St. Paul’s phrase.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause from activity to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Martha and Mary to present you to Jesus.
  • Praise Jesus for creating you and giving you life this moment. Thank Jesus for allowing you to welcome him as your guest.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to welcome him regularly so activity of any sort will not frenzy you.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer: say one word as you breathe in; say the next as you breath out. That method2 is vital for us who are tempted never to slow ourselves and savor what is most real.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Luke 8.3.
  2. Ignatius of Loyola recommended praying “according to rhythmic measures” (Spiritual Exercises, 258). A recent translator of the Exercises noted the method was akin to the ancient Jesus Prayer, “which had widespread popularity in the 14th century and its apogee in the 17th.” The 15th Century was Ignatius’ era. (George E. Ganss, S.J., The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1992, note 135, p. 187.)

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