Mary at the feet of Jesus - Consecrated Contemplative Life

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

This homily was delivered in a cloistered convent.

Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus is often taken to be a model for the contemplative consecrated life (for example Vita Consecrata §109; Perfectae Caritatis §5). Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, spending time listening to him. She withdrew from the activities around her so as to concentrate on the Lord.

  • She needed silence in order to listen to the Lord. She received praise from the Lord who said,

    Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, it is not to be taken from her. (Luke 10:41-42)

    To be with the Lord we need space and silence, and the cloister gives that space and silence needed for a special relationship with the Lord. Indeed to someone coming in from outside, being inside this cloister gives the impression of already being halfway to heaven.

  • Mary in the Gospel not only found space at the Lord’s feet to be with him but had to withdraw from doing things so as to give time to the Lord. Living in the cloister is withdrawing from activity to be with the Lord.

  • Mary in the Gospel also had to withdraw from her sister while she spent time with the Lord. Living in the cloister also means renouncing some of the goods of creation to make space for the best of all, the Lord himself.

Mary’s sister, Martha, did not understand and complained about her sister. Not understanding the call and grace to love the Lord in this special way goes right back to the time Christ himself was on earth, and therefore is nothing new. One of the twelve apostles even showed the same lack of understanding – Judas – when he complained about the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus (John 12:7).

Living in the cloister you live out union with Christ joyfully by means of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Just as Mary was an example by spending time with the Lord, this particular way in which you live out your relationship with the Lord by means of poverty, chastity, and obedience, is also a much needed example of the importance of these values in a world which is ever more getting lost in what has no value.

  1. We are well aware that this country had become materialistic, greedy, and selfish during the economic boom of recent years but your life of evangelical poverty is a response which shows that having the Lord in one’s heart is “the one thing necessary” or the “better part” spoken of by the Lord in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:42).

    Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, it is not to be taken from her. (Luke 10:41-42)
     

  2. We are well aware that society is losing sight of God’s plan for the gift of sexuality, and separating sexuality from morality. Society is forgetting God the giver of the gift, and forgetting the boundary that God has put around his gift of sexuality. Your life of perfect chastity here in the cloister is a response which shows that with the grace of God it is possible to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength; that it is possible to love God above everything and everybody, and to do so joyfully.

  3. Thirdly we are aware of perverted notions of freedom in society today that have separated freedom and morality, separated freedom from living under God. Your life in the cloister is a response which shows that true freedom is freedom in Christ, and therefore freedom is obedient to Christ. Any other freedom would ultimately end up in slavery. Indeed we might ask if the current economic collapse and mountain of debt (2010) is an example of a return to slavery after irresponsible and immoral freedom during the economic boom. There is only one freedom, freedom for Christ.

By your living of poverty, chastity, and obedience here in the cloister you are living examples of the love Mary showed to Jesus in the Gospel today.

Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, it is not to be taken from her. (Luke 10:41-42)

Of course living the cloistered consecrated life is a dying to oneself and a sharing in its own particular way in the Passion of Christ, but a sharing to find new life in the joyful resurrection of Christ. We all share in some way in the Passion of Christ when we offer our suffering to the Lord for the Kingdom. Your renunciation of self in so many ways is akin to Paul in the second reading today (Col 1:24-28) who said that in his own body he made up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of the Church (Col 1:24). You make up in your own bodies what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of this parish, this diocese, this country. But this renunciation of self always lead to joy because the cross leads to resurrection. Your renunciation of self leads to closer union with Christ your Spouse. Indeed we sometimes talk of Christ as your Spouse due to the special relationship of consecrated religious with the Lord (for example Vita Consecrata §34; 59; 93).

The Church values you and your life of prayer and commitment to Christ so much as well as depending on your prayers and example. Indeed the Church teaches that your consecrated life has an objective superiority because it is so rich a manifestation of the values of the Gospel of Christ and already anticipates the future fullness of the Kingdom of God (for example Vita Consecrata §32) Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus is often taken to be a model for the contemplative and consecrated life (for example Vita Consecrata §109; Perfectae Caritatis §5). Mary withdrew from the activities around her so as to concentrate on the Lord just as you have renounced so many good things for the best, the Lord himself. Your poverty, chastity and obedience are examples to the world of what has true value. Your life manifests richly the values of Christ’s Gospel and rightly does the Church often say that your Spouse is Christ.

Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, it is not to be taken from her. (Luke 10:41-42)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was on vacation in Ireland after joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Sixteenth Sunday

Martha, Mary and Prayer

Martha, you worry and fret about so many things - Mary has chosen better

Slow Down to Enjoy Life and Spend Time with Jesus

Do we give God time and space in our lives every day or are we too busy? 2007

Homilies on listening to the Word of God:

Your Word is a Lamp for my Steps and a Light for my Path

They have the Scriptures, let them listen to them!

Second Reading: The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering 2008

stories about prayer