Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Oh, Mary….

This seems to be a week for the Marys of Scripture. A few days ago we celebrated Our Lady of Mt. Carmel; Sunday’s gospel reading told of Mary and Martha and their different ways of receiving Jesus; and today is the new feast of St. Mary Magdalene. And since I named my younger daughter Mary, it should be obvious that the name is special to me.

I wrote yesterday about the magnolia tree in my Mary Garden blooming for a second time this season. Research suggests this is, if not unique, at least fairly unusual — but not unheard of. Certainly it caught my attention, coming as it did the day before I professed my vow of celibacy. The Mary Garden also has a new and beloved planting, a “shooting star hydrangea,” which was a special gift from a dear friend in celebration of my vow. As I planted and tended this new beauty, I thought of how Our Lady is always ready to lead us to her Son, to help us make ourselves better for him, and to show us new ways in which to love him. Recently, I received the brown scapular, with its accompanying promises and prayers, and found that the beauty of wearing it is all wrapped up in how it helps me think of Mary, the Mother Jesus gave us at the foot of the Cross, and turn to her often throughout the day.

The story of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, in Sunday’s gospel has always been a difficult reading for me. Although no one will ever accuse me of being a whiz in the kitchen or at housekeeping or entertaining, I’ve always felt a little miffed on Martha’s behalf, and I’ve puzzled over the meaning of the story. Of course, I’ve heard dozens of homilies over the years based on this story; finally, the one I heard yesterday led me to a deeper understanding of its meaning.

The issue with Martha is not the “busy.” The issue is her focus. She has let her busy-ness make the whole thing about her, and thus she lets it make her impatient with anyone and anything not lining up with that focus. At the heart of it, both Martha’s bustling activity and Mary’s reflective sitting at Jesus’ feet are ways of serving Jesus, honoring him, and loving him. The “better part” that Mary has chosen is to focus on, indeed be absorbed in, Jesus as the source and purpose. Martha’s activity is necessary, and it is her role; its merit is in focusing on and being absorbed in Jesus as its source and purpose, and that’s what she has missed. As the priest said in his homily yesterday, we don’t get to hear the rest of the story — whether and how the sisters made up, whether and how they were changed by Jesus’ words, whether and how Jesus might have further explained his meaning. What we do know is that Jesus held them as dear friends and returned to their home, and I think that suggests that Martha learned to focus her response to her own calling on Jesus rather than on herself.

That’s an important lesson for anyone who is striving to hear and learn what God calls them to in life, who is striving to live out that calling. Focus on oneself and the message gets muddled. Focus on Jesus, the source and purpose of it all, and the message gets clearer day by day.

And then there’s the feast of Mary Magdalene. If I identify in part with Martha and in part with her sister Mary, I find a soul sister in Mary Magdalene. I identify with her life before she encountered Jesus, and I identify with her need for forgiveness and cleansing, and I aspire to her unflagging love for and devotion to Jesus after he cleansed and forgave her and opened up for her a whole new path in life. With the grace that came from this healing, she became an amazing witness to Jesus’ ministry and his glorious resurrection. If she, a great sinner who was once in the thrall of her demons, became such a champion of her risen Savior, then there is also great hope for me.

At one time in my life, I walked away from what Jesus was calling me to do…walked away because I was unwilling to change, or to be changed by him and his grace. This day, I pledge and commit myself to walk with him, not away from him; to be fully open to how he wants to change me; to let him have his way with my heart, my soul, my mind, my life, so that perhaps in some small way, through me, he can have his way with the world around me.

As I offer myself in this way, I’m remembering the beautiful words of St. Therese of Lisieux (my confirmation saint) as underscored by Fr. Michael Gaitley in Consoling the Heart of Jesus: We are little, and being little, we begin to understand how completely we must depend on Jesus. St. Therese writes that when we embrace being little, “Jesus will come to look for us [and] He will transform us in flames of love.”

Jesus, teach me to be little — to rely not on my own talents and abilities but on your grace, to be wholly dependent on you for all the good things you bring to my life. Only when I strip away my self-importance and self-centeredness can I find the small soul who needs you and cannot survive without you. All in life has meaning when there is nothing between you and me but love. I pray, with St. Therese, that you would fill me with your love, fill me so full that I can’t help but overflow with it and freely give it to others. Jesus, teach me to be little. Amen.

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