Reflection for Sunday – July 17, 2022
Readings: Genesis 18: 1-10a; Colossians 1: 24-28; Luke10: 38-42
Preacher: Christine Nowak Kvam
The weekend my son was baptized we had a house full of guests. That Saturday evening, my mother-in-law and father-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and nephew, and two dear friends from grad school with their 1 1/2-year-old daughter were gathered around our too small dining room table.
Within a few minutes of everyone taking their last bites of baked ziti and garlic bread my mother-in-law sprang up from her seat and began clearing the table. In that moment I felt conflicted. On the one hand, this was my house, my dirty dishes, my responsibility; I should get up and take over cleanup duty. On the other hand, these were precious moments around the table with people I love and don’t get to see very often; I should sit, talk, and laugh with them. I didn’t know what was the “right” thing to do.
This Sunday’s readings don’t really clarify that conflict. In the first reading and corresponding Psalm response, Abraham’s generous hospitality is presented as righteous, and he is rewarded with the affirmation of God’s promise of a son for his service to the travelers. But Martha’s similar work to provide for her guest, Jesus, is rebuked as worry about something that doesn’t truly matter. The “backwards” gender roles here are certainly intriguing (a man is praised for the household work of waiting on guests while a woman is told it is better to simply sit, listen, and learn), but I suspect that the juxtaposition of these two readings in the lectionary is less about gender-appropriate behavior and more about discerning the most faithful response to the situations we face. When should we take action and when should we be still and listen?
Faithful Christians have faced this question since the earliest days of the Church. Think of the desert fathers and mothers who embodied stillness and listening as they abandoned “the world” and fled to the quiet of the Sahara to focus more intensely on the Word of God and their relationship with Christ. And recall the anchorites and anchoresses like Julian of Norwich whose prayerful solitude led to visions and a profound mystical connection to Jesus. These holy women and men can surely be seen as heeding Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel to put aside “many things” and devote full attention to “only one thing.” And they have enriched the Church by doing so.
But our Church has also benefited tremendously from equally holy people who chose the path of action. As a Mercy educator, I can’t help but think of Catherine McAuley who defied the expectations of 19th century religious leaders in Ireland and founded a group of women religious who earned the nickname “the walking nuns” because they refused to be cloistered but rather took to the streets to minister to the poor, sick, and uneducated.
And earlier this month, Sister Simone Campbell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, for her activism on behalf of economic justice. While I’m sure these women and others like them do spend time in prayer, they certainly seem to be busy about many important things.
Few of us can (or would want to!) be hermits. Few of us can (or would want to!) be revolutionary activists. Perhaps this is why the tenant of “contemplation in action,” a core concept of Ignatian spirituality, is so appealing. Like so many aspects of Catholic Theology, it makes room for “both/and.” We can make time to sit and listen, to discern the voice of Jesus in the quiet stillness of prayer. And, in those moments of contemplation, we may hear a call to action and receive direction for our work in building the Kingdom of God.
As with most aspects of discipleship, this is easier said than done. Finding the balance between contemplation and action is a challenge in our fast-paced world. The good news is that the invitations are always there. There is no shortage of opportunity to act on behalf of justice in our broken world. And Jesus is always ready to welcome us to sit beside him in prayer. As we are busy caring for others this week, may we share the blessings of Abraham and the honor of Sister Simone Campbell. And when we make time to sit quietly with Jesus, may we receive Jesus’ loving affirmation like Mary and Julian of Norwich. May we know the blessing of “both/and” as we strive to be contemplatives in action.