INNER LIFE BY DAVID
DEAR SLTSANNA, I am so pleased to hear that you find the articles on prayer helpful. Believe me you are not the only one who has difficulty with the story of Martha and Mary. It makes many mothers, like yourself, feel like second-class citizens in the Church, because they don't seem to have the dine for prayer that they feel is expected of them.
This particular story has been misinterpreted by some early Christian writers to promote their own personal point of view, a view that I don't believe was originally intended.A simple and selfevident observation made by Jesus was taken as endorsing the contemplative life at the expense of the active life and the religious life at the expense oldie married life.
When you see this story in the context of the whole of the Gospels I don't believe that such an interpretation can be sustained. But sadly it has been repeated and taken 'as gospel' by subsequent Christian writers and preachers down to the present day.
The old penny catechism defined prayer as 'the raising of the heart and the mind to God'. Now there are two ways of doing this, first by turning to God directly in formal prayer, and second by turning to him indirectly through the neighbour in need. Your immediate neighbour is your family, which is in need of your love, your care and your attention. When you turn to them in selfless loving service you are turning to God, who identifies himself with the neighbour in need. Atter all, charity begins at home even though it doesn't end there.
In the story of the last judgement God doesn't say to those he is about to judge: how much dine did you spend in formal prayer, what wonderful feelings did you have there or how many ecstasies did you experience. He says quite clearly and quite emphatically: how did you love me in the neighbour in need? In your case the first neighbours in need of your attention are your own children. When you spend your time trying to feed and clothe them, trying to free them from the insecurities and the fears that imprison them, then you are doing it for him.
Different ways of life demand different periods of time that need to be given to formal prayer. A religious living alone, for instance, can easily become insular and selfcentred. Therefore greater dine would be necessary for formal prayer, to practise the selfless giving that is more readily open to a mother, and to receive directly the same love that the mother receives indirectly from her children and her husband.
However, every mother also needs time for formal prayer to receive help and strength. This enables her to continue giving herself to her children with the selfless love that will make her a good mother and them secure, loving children.
A great medieval mystic called Angela of Foligno, who was a mother before she became a religious, readily admitted that she needed more time for formal prayer when she was a religious than when she was a mother.
She found that she was in far more danger of falling into selfishness in the convent than looking after her children in her own home.
She also learned from her spiritual father St Francis, and from her own personal experience, that the more she gave as a mother or as a religious then the more she received the love that she desired more than anything else. As St Francis put it "it is in giving that you receive".
Sometimes religious people give the impression that God calls especially chosen 'souls' to the religious life while the rest of us, who are encumbered with bodies, have to muddle through in the married or the single life, as if vocation only meant one thing.
If God calls each of us to a different vocation, he certainly does not categorise them in order of priority, as if some were spiritually more perfect or important than others.
Everyone is important, but in different ways. It's not a matter of being a Martha or a Mary it's a matter of being both. The balance between the two will be determined by each person's respective vocation in life, something that may change with the years.
Jesus himself was "busy about many things", doing his father's will, but he still needed time for the prayer that led him to "the inner room", "lonely places", and "the garden where it was his custom to pray".
In him we find the perfect balance for those of us who are called to the active life we have no need to look any further than this.t