Today’s Gospel invites us to address God as Father, in one of the revolutionary theological insights of the New Testament. The theme for the Jubilee of Mercy, “Merciful like the Father”, prompts us to reflect on our relationship with God, as his sons and daughters. Reflecting on this theme inspired the painting of the return of the Prodigal Son that currently hangs above the entrance to Our Lady’s Church. Since a few parishioners have asked for an explanation of the iconography I thought I might offer a short reflection here. Firstly, every Jubilee Year is initiated by the opening of the Jubilee Doors at each of the Four Major Basilicas in Rome (St Peter’s, St John Lateran, St Mary Major and St Paul’s Outside the Walls). These doors are supposed to signal the welcome return of the penitents into the Church, who seeking the Jubilee indulgence, pass through these doors. The Jubilee theme, “Merciful like the Father” recalls the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who moved with compassion, goes out to welcome his son home. With the Jubilee ‘Doors of Mercy’ in mind I wanted to situate this scene at the entrance to the Father’s home. A warm, golden light streams through this gateway offering a vista into a beautiful garden leading to the Father’s mansion. This imposing edifice reminds us that “there are many rooms in the Father’s house” (John 14:2), room indeed for each one of us!The central dome is a reference to St Peter’s Basilica, to remind us of the ecclesial dimension of our salvation: that the Father’s house can also be thought of as Holy Mother Church. In front of the house, the cool, refreshing fountain might prompt us to think of the whole sacramental life which wells up within the heart of the Church as a life-giving spring. This bright inner scene is juxtaposed with the darkness of the world beyond the gates. The iron gates are wide open.
The sisters Martha and Mary are disciples of unusual prominence in the Gospels and enjoy a special intimacy in the life of Christ. This Sunday’s passage from Luke’s Gospel (10:38-42) is a scene of particularly domestic intimacy, as Jesus is offered hospitality in the home of Mary and Martha. The contrasting responses shown by the two sisters become a source of tension between these sisters in a scene that is very true to life, but also carries an important message. Martha is clearly preoccupied with making a fuss over their special guest. She wants to honour Jesus by impressing him with a lavish display of hospitality. What better way to demonstrate her love for Christ? This is quite understandable, and we are inclined to sympathise with her in her complaint against Mary who appears to be thoughtlessly avoiding all the work. Surely Jesus will be sympathetic to Martha’s complaint and have her put to good use? Alas, poor Martha is in for an education, and so are we!
Both Mary and Martha sought to give their attention to Jesus. However Martha allowed her preoccupation with serving to become a distraction – her focus became the pots and pans rather than Jesus. We sense, rising up within Martha a spirit of restless irritability. Meanwhile, Mary is captivated by Our Lord, and sitting at his feet drinks in the spring of living water flowing from his lips. We sense her profound tranquillity, moved to her very soul being in the presence of her Lord. Herein lies the difference: Martha wants to offer Jesus what she has to offer; by contrast, Mary wants to receive what Jesus has to offer. Our disposition before God should ultimately be one of docility and receptivity: just think of Our Blessed Mother. The truth is that God can offer us infinitely more than we can ever hope to offer him, and so we must make him our first priority, above any of our own projects, however important they may seem.
“Martha, Martha, you worry and you 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.” The strength of Jesus’ words are a sobering reminder for those moments when we can be tempted to see prayer as a waste of time, or something we fit in when (or if) we get a moment’s spare time. Unless our focus is truly set on Christ then all our fussing can make us overly reliant upon our own efforts resulting in a neurotic and frenzied descent into fruitless activism. Look at what a state poor Martha gets worked up into! On the other hand the investment of time in prayer is a real act of faith that such time is not wasted, because far more can be achieved by reliance upon God’s grace than by succumbing to the temptation to self-reliance. As Psalm 127 puts it:
In the poorest and most disadvantaged communities of Cambodia, and other developing countries all across the world, children are always the most vulnerable. Many cannot attend school because they have to care for their younger siblings while their parents work long hours to earn barely enough to survive. Some children are even forced to work themselves to help support the family. Illiterate and with no formal education, these precious children have very little opportunity to ever break the vicious cycle of poverty that has entrapped their families for generations.
Thanks to the support of Catholic Mission, Sister Eulie Desacula from the Daughters of Charity has initiated the innovative Mobile Tuk-Tuk Education Centre which proactively goes out to the children from disadvantaged communities and gives them an education they would otherwise never achieve.