July 21, 2013

The One Thing

By giving us Abraham's mysterious encounter with the three men (Genesis 18: 1-10a) as the first reading, the liturgy today sets us up to interpret the gospel of Martha and Mary of Bethany (Luke 10: 38-42) in terms of hospitality.

This leads us most immediately to Martha the anxious hostess and to noticing the Lord's tenderness towards her despite his unwillingness to intervene in the drama between the sisters--as he gently points out to her that the injustice she perceives outside of herself is really within. What a fine meditation this gospel might be for those who dismiss God because he doesn't intervene in the world in the way they imagine he should!

But a reflection on hospitality also brings us to Mary, who is also receiving the Lord by making herself a disciple who sits listening at his feet. She teaches us that prayer, adoration, and the love of God are acts of hospitality, of graciously receiving the presence of Jesus Christ.

A merely human religiosity can see prayer as an addressing of ourselves to a deity somewhere up in the sky, either literally or in some rarefied sky more palatable to persons imbued with modern science. We pray to this god either in the hopes of manipulating him for our purposes, which is magic, or to try to squeeze benefits and graces from his apparent stinginess.

The good news of Christian faith is that it turns all of the unwisdom of such human theological imagination on its head. From the call of Abraham to the Resurrection appearances, Christian faith speaks of a God who arrives, who is adventitious. He is not a supreme being who must be pulled down from the sky or a cthonic power that must be conjured up from the netherworld. Rather, he is a Presence discovered, sometimes as a surprise, as with Abraham and the three men, or simply recognized precisely when he calls us by name, as with the Risen Lord and Mary Magdalene. Prayer and adoration, then, as the postures that make us disciples of Jesus Christ, are acts of hospitality, of graciously receiving the Presence of God as he arrives in the particular circumstances of our days.

A similar teaching comes to us in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The Bridegroom is always arriving in our lives, of course, because he lives in transcendent eternity. But it is only by allowing our souls to be lit up by the burning oil of prayer that we come to notice his arrival and know to make space, to graciously receive him.

James Tissot, Les Vierges Sages

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The One Thing- This is my first visit to your sight. I was recommended by Sr.Pat - a dear friend and prior teacher. Thanks, your messages really hit the spot for me today !! With prayers, Arlene