Homily: Parish Secretaries In-Service, 2016

Parish Secretaries In-Service
4th October, 2016
Galatians 1:13-24; Luke 10:38-42

Today we celebrate the memorial of St Francis of Assisi. As a young man he enjoyed all the pleasures of the earth; however, Francis' later life was not only an unblemished model of religious devotion, but a great example of harmonious existence on earth, and a peacemaker in every sense of the word. He is a heroic example of sacrifice, of selflessness, of humility, and likewise, a reminder of the attainability of achieving a state of peace and unity with all creation, by simply exuding love. Yet for as much as he lived in a spiritual realm, he was entirely human. He made no attempts to deify himself. He expected no reward for his life of service.

The young soldier Saul of Tarsus, before his conversion, saw the ‘Christians’ (who were of course Jewish) as a dangerous deviation from the Jewish traditions and he believed that they had to be stopped at all costs. But then, as in the life of St Francis, a great change came over Paul. The dramatic account of his conversion to the Apostle St Paul, shows that had been chosen by God for a very special mission.

As if to emphasise the direct nature of the revelation he received, St Paul stresses that at this time he did not discuss his experience with anyone nor was he in contact with any of the apostles still in Jerusalem, which was both the religious centre of Judaism and the birthplace of Christianity. He wants to emphasise that his change of heart was the result of the direct influence of God and not due to persuasive arguments from human beings.

Damascus was the capital of Syria and was, of course, also the scene of St Paul’s (Saul’s) dramatic conversion. We do not know how long St Paul stayed in the desert, but three years later he tells us he was in Jerusalem and stayed with St Peter (Kephas in Aramaic) for about two weeks. Except for St James, who seems to have been the leading elder in the Jerusalem church at the time, St Paul says he did not see anyone else. Clearly, the only effective influence on his new life at this time was Jesus himself.

St Paul was still relatively unknown to the Christians in the Jerusalem area, who only knew that their one-time persecutor “was now preaching the faith he had previously tried to destroy”. And they thanked God for that turn of events. But it is clear enough that St Paul was not yet quite ready to become part of the Christian mission.

Let us reflect today on our calling for we, too, were chosen to be followers of Jesus. Why us and not others is a mystery we will never be able to answer. As we go through life we may receive other callings and I could ask myself today to what kind of service is Jesus calling me at this time in my life? What is my call to service in 2016?

Let us recall and give thanks to God also for the very many people who, directly or indirectly, have brought and continue to bring a deeper understanding of Christ into our lives.

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus in the home of the sisters, Mary and Martha. We know that they have a brother named Lazarus. They lived in Bethany, a village about 3-4 km from Jerusalem and it seems that Jesus was a familiar visitor to the house for remember at the time of Lazarus’ illness Jesus is told: “Your friend Lazarus is sick.”

The story of Martha and Mary restores a balance in our following of Christ.
Martha was a doer to the point of being a fusspot. Martha, we are told, was “burdened with much serving”. Serving is something that Jesus himself did constantly and he urged his followers to do the same. But it should not be a burden. And, after Martha had complained about her sister, Jesus chided her that she was “anxious and worried about many things”. A true servant does not experience anxiety and worry. It signifies a lack of peace.

Because Mary seemed to be doing nothing, Martha saw her as idling and even selfish. Martha must have been somewhat surprised when Jesus said that Mary had “chosen the better part” which would “not be taken from her”.

What was that better part? Was Mary just sitting at the feet of Jesus and doing nothing? No. We are told that she was “listening to him speak”. Listening to his message is something Jesus tells his disciples and the crowd they need to be doing all the time. And that listening involves understanding, accepting and assimilating that message so that it becomes part of our very selves.

If we do not spend time listening to Jesus, how can we know that our activity is properly directed? It is easy for us Christians to be very busy but are we busy about the right things?

To answer that question, we have to stop to listen, to discern and to pray. And, ultimately, the highest form of activity in our lives is contemplation, like St Francis and St Paul, being in conscious contact with God and his Word. If I find myself saying that I do not have time to give some time to prayer or contemplation each day, then there is a serious imbalance in my priorities and in my understanding of what it means to love and serve my God.

The essence of Christian living is action for others, that is guided by what we learn in contemplation. This was the pattern of Jesus’ own life – he spent long hours bringing healing to people’s lives, but also retired to quiet places to be alone in communion with his Father. The same pattern must be ours too. We call it being ‘contemplatives in action’.