Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 18:1-10; Col 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

I want to go back two weekends ago to my eventful masses at St. Roch’s parish. On that Saturday I arrived for 4:00pm confessions at about 3:55pm. There had been a wedding at 2:30pm, but I was told they would be gone by the 4:00pm time for confessions. Alas, they were not. At 4:00pm they were just beginning to take pictures in the church. With a lot of little kids running around and yelling into the microphone, the whole interior of the church was a scene of loudness and chaos. There were flower petals scattered all over the floor. At 4:15 I reminded them that there was a mass at 5:00 and that people would begin arriving around 4:30pm. My words had no effect whatever. At 4:30pm they were still going full force with pictures when the lady sacristan arrived to set up for mass. She took one look in the church and said, "Oh, my God!" What followed in the next few minutes was something similar, I think, to Jesus cleansing the Temple of the moneychangers. Within five minutes they were all gone—people, photographic equipment and flower petals. And so we were able to start on time at 5:00pm. The lady sacristan definitely took a proactive, Martha-style approach to ministry.

Interestingly, many biblical scholars think that today’s story about Martha and Mary (at least in Luke’s version of the gospel) is not primarily about the value of contemplation over action, which is how it is often taken. Rather it’s about the necessity of integrating contemplation or spirituality into the context of doing ministry. The primacy that’s afforded to Mary in the story serves as a reminder that interior spirituality has to be the foundation that ministry goes back to for its renewing source and ongoing inspiration. The struggle to integrate spirituality and prayer into ministry is a struggle that we all, men and women ministers alike, must deal with. Without continually going back to the source of ministry in our relationship to Christ we can tend to make some distorted judgments. Martha’s problem is not that she is doing the ministry of serving; it’s that she blames someone else (her sister) for not being and doing the exact same thing as she does. And isn’t that true: we tend so often to criticize people because they don’t behave the exact same way that we do? Martha has lost the perspective that spirituality brings to ministry.

Maintaining that integration between spirituality and ministry becomes especially hard when the work of ministry gets tense or angry, is draining emotionally or just plain upsetting. In those times any attempt to pray or even think about spirituality seems limp. (We just want to deal with the problem.) I would suspect that the lady sacristan did not find it easy to fully participate in the Eucharist after throwing the wedding crowd out of church. She wasn’t angry, but she was definitely upset and that can serve to have the same confusing effect as open anger.

Even after it’s all over, it’s not easy to get a balance back again. That’s because by getting angry or upset, we can feel that we have "lessened ourselves." There’s a drop in self-esteem. But that’s what we need to guard against. The better tact would be to assess and learn from our episode of anger or upset. Because we may have been fully justified in our feelings. There are such things as a good anger and a good feeling of upset. The lady sacristan had every right to be upset. The same is true of just about every person working in ministry. There are times when you just have to take a deep breath and say, "Let’s do a little examination of this episode." And you know something.....I think Martha did! And I hope the lady sacristan did too.

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