Mary and Martha: Ora and labora



St. Luke’s story of Mary and Martha is a short-but-powerful lesson for us.

We all know the two sisters; and if we look closely, we realize that they are just like us.

We meet Martha first, and we are told about her hospitable nature with these words: “she welcomed Him.”

We learn that her sister, Mary, “sat at His feet listening to Him speak.”

Years ago, I came to the understanding that to be a balanced Catholic woman, it would take many elements of Martha blended with numerous parts of Mary. That’s a tough mixture to achieve.

During my high school years, I lived at the academy at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Indianapolis. I felt that I was half raised by the Benedictine Sisters there.

In my 50s, I studied to become a spiritual director at the Benedictine monastery in Ferdinand.

Both groups of sisters live the Mary-and-Martha story on a daily basis. They follow the example of pure hospitality shown by Martha, which takes a lot of time and energy. They also sit at Jesus’ feet, drinking in all He has to teach them.

As I watched them live the examples set by both Mary and Martha, I came to realize that it’s really about finding a healthy balance between ora and labora – prayer and work.

And then 2020 happened.

Last March, I went inside. There were no more Sunday dinners at Grandma Mamie’s house. No more book club meetings here. No more Bible studies. Really, no more need for hospitality because no one was coming over.

And the deep cleaning that I learned to do during my high school years, thanks to the guidance of the Benedictine Sisters? That also fell to the wayside. What was the point?

Of course, there weren’t watermelon vines growing out of my carpet; but my cleaning standards did slip considerably.

When I say I went inside, I also mean that I went inside myself.

I had always feared loneliness, but I discovered that I loved solitude.

I made the decision to start and end my day with these words: This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

That’s quite a promise, isn’t it?

As I go forward, as I re-enter a busy, almost chaotic world, I hope I can balance the examples of Mary and Martha in my daily life.

But my deepest hope is that I will be filled with the holy awe of sitting at the Master’s feet.