July 29 – St Martha, Virgin
Magdalene this time was the first to meet our Lord. Scarcely a week had elapsed since her glorious passage, when she repaid her sister’s former kind office and came in her turn saying: “The Beloved is here and calleth for thee.” And Jesus preventing her, appeared himself and said: “Come, my hostess; come from exile, thou shalt be crowned.” Hostess of the Lord, then, is to be Martha’s title of nobility in heaven, as it was her privileged name on earth.
Into whatever city or town you shall enter, said the Man-God to his disciples, inquire who in it is worthy, and there abide. Now St. Luke relates that as they went, our Lord himself entered into a certain town, and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. How could we give greater praise to Magdalene’s sister than by bringing together these two texts of the holy Gospel?
This certain town, where she was found worthy to give Jesus a lodging, this village, says St. Bernard, is our lowly earth, hidden like an obscure borough in the immensity of our Lord’s possessions. The Son of God had come down from heaven to seek the lost sheep; he had come into the world he had made, and the world knew him not; Israel, his own people, had not given him so much as a stone whereon to lay his head, and had left him in his thirst to beg water from the Samaritan. We, the Gentiles, whom he was thus seeking amid contradictions and fatigues, ought we not, like him, to show our gratitude to her who, braving present unpopularity and future persecution, paid our debt to him?
Glory, then, be to this daughter of Sion, of royal descent who, faithful to the traditions of hospitality handed down from the patriarchs and early fathers, was blessed more than all of them in the exercise of this noble virtue! These ancestors of our faith, pilgrims themselves and without fixed habitation, knew more or less obscurely that the Desired of Israel and the Expectation of the nations was to appear as a wayfarer and a stranger on the earth; and they honored the future Savior in the person of every stranger that presented himself at their tent door; just as we, their sons, in the faith of the same promises now accomplished, honor Christ in the guest whom his goodness sends us. This relation between him that was to come and the pilgrim seeking shelter made hospitality the most honored handmaid of divine charity. More than once did God show his approval by allowing Angels to be entertained in human form. If such heavenly visitations were an honor of which our earth was not worthy, how much greater was Martha’s privilege in rendering hospitality to the Lord of Angels! If before the Coming of Christ it was a great thing to honor him in those who prefigured him, and if now to shelter and serve him in his mystical members deserves an eternal reward, how much greater and more meritorious was it to receive in Person that Jesus, the very thought of whom gives to virtue its greatness and its merit. Again, as the Baptist excelled all the other Prophets by having pointed out as present the Messias whom they announced as future, so Martha, by having ministered to the Person of the Word made Flesh, ranks above all others who have ever exercised the works of mercy.
While Magdalene, then, keeps her better part at our Lord’s feet, we must not think that Martha’s lot is to be despised. As in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office, so each of us has a different work to perform in Christ, according to the grace we have received, whether it be to prophesy or to minister. And the Apostle explaining this diversity of vocations, says: I say, by the grace that is given me, to all that are among you, not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety, and according as God hath divided to every one the measure of faith. How many losses in souls, how many shipwrecks even, might be prevented by discretion, the guardian of doctrine and the mother of virtues.
“Whoever,” says St. Gregory with his usual discernment, “gives himself entirely to God must take care not to pour himself out wholly in works, but must stretch forward also to the heights of contemplation. Nevertheless, it is here very important to notice that there is a great variety of spiritual temperaments. One who could give himself peacefully to the contemplation of God would be crushed by works and fall; another, who would be kept in a good life by all the ordinary occupations of men, would be mortally wounded by the sword of a contemplation above his powers: either for want of love to prevent repose from becoming torpor, or for want of fear to guard him against the illusions of pride or of the senses. He who would be perfect must therefore first accustom himself on the plain to the practice of the virtues, in order to ascend more securely to the heights, leaving behind every impulse of the senses which can only distract the mind from its purpose, every image whose outline cannot adapt itself to the figureless light he desires to behold. Action first then, contemplation last. The Gospel praises Mary, but does not blame Martha, because the merit of the active life is great, though that of contemplation is greater.”
If we would penetrate more deeply into the mystery of the two sisters, let us notice that, though the preference is given to Mary, nevertheless it is not in her house, nor in that of their brother Lazarus, but in Martha’s house that the Man-God takes up his abode with those he loves. Jesus, says St. John, loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus. Lazarus, a figure of the penitents whom his all-powerful mercy daily calls from the death of sin to divine life; Mary, giving herself up even in this life to the occupation of the next; and Martha, who is here mentioned first as being the eldest, as first in order of time mystically, according to what St. Gregory says, and also as being the one upon whom the other two depend in that home of which she has the care.
Here we recognize a perfect type of the Church wherein, with the devotedness of fraternal love, and under the eye of our heavenly Father, the active ministry takes the precedence, and holds the place of government over all who are drawn by grace to Jesus. We can understand the Son of God showing a preference for this blessed house; he was refreshed from the weariness of his journeys by the devoted hospitality he there received, but still more by the sight of so perfect an image of that Church for whose love he had come on earth.
Martha, then, understood by anticipation, that he who holds the first place must be the servant, as the Son of Man came not to be ministered to, but to minister; and as, later on, the Vicar of Jesus, the Prince of Prelates in the holy Church, was to call himself the Servant of the servants of God. But in serving Jesus, as she served also with him and for him her brother and her sister, who can doubt that she had the greatest share in these promises of the Man-God: “He that ministers to me shall follow me, and where I am, there also shall my minister be, and my Father will honor him.”
And that beautiful rule of ancient hospitality which created a link like that of relationship between the host and a guest once received, could not have been passed over by our Emmanuel on this occasion, since the Evangelist says: As many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God. And he himself declares that whoever receives him, receives also the Father who sent him.
The peace promised to every house deemed worthy of receiving the apostolic messengers, that peace which cannot be without the Spirit of adoption of sons, rested on Martha with surpassing fulness. The too human impetuosity she at first showed in her eager solicitude, had given our Lord an opportunity of showing his divine jealousy for the perfection of a soul so devoted and so pure. The sacred nearness of the King of peace stripped her lively nature of the last remnants of restless anxiety; while her service grew even more active and was well pleasing to him, her ardent faith in Christ, the Son of the living God, gave her the understanding of the one thing necessary, the better part which was one day to be hers. What a master of the spiritual life Jesus here showed himself to be; what a model of discreet formness, of patient sweetness, of heavenly wisdom in leading souls to the highest summits!
As he had counselled his disciples to remain in one house, the Man-God himself, to the end of his earthly career, continually sought hospitality at Bethania: it was from thence he set out to redeem the world by his dolorous Passion; and when leaving this world, it was from Bethania that he ascended into heaven. Then did this dwelling, this paradise on earth, which had given shelter to God himself, to his Virgin Mother, to the whole college of Apostles, seem too lonely to its inmates. Holy Church will tell us presently how the Spirit of Pentecost, in loving kindness to us Gentiles, led into Gaul this blessed family of our Lord’s friends.
On the banks of the Rhone, Martha was still the same: full of motherly compassion for every misery, spending herself in deeds of kindness. Always surrounded by the poor, says the ancient historian of the two sisters, she fed them with tender care, with food which heaven abundantly supplied to her charity, while she herself, the only one she forgot, was contended with herbs; and as in the glorious past she had served the Head of the Church in Person, she now served him in his members, and was full of loving kindness to all. Meantime she delighted in practices of penance that would frighten us. Martyred thus a thousand times over, Martha with all the powers of her holy soul yearned for heaven. Her mind lost in God, she spent whole nights absorbed in prayer. Ever prostrate, she adored him reigning gloriously in heaven, whom she had seen without glory in her own house. Often, too, she would travel through towns and villages, announcing to the people Christ the Savior.
Avignon and other cities of the province of Vienne were thus evangelized by her. She delivered Tarascon from the old serpent, who in the shape of a hideous monster not content with tyrannizing over the souls of men, devoured even their bodies. It was here at Tarascon, in the midst of the community of virgins she had founded, that she heard our Lord inviting her to receive hospitality from him in heaven, in return for that which she had given him on earth. Here she still rests, protecting her people of Provence, and receiving strangers in memory of Jesus. The peace of the blessed, which seems to breathe from her noble image, fills the heart of the pilgrim as he kisses her apostolic feet; and coming up from the holy crypt to continue his journey in this land of exile, he carries away with him, like a perfume of his fatherland, the remembrance of her simple touching epitaph: sollicita non turbatur; ever zealous, she is no longer troubled.
|Martha nobilibus et copiosis parentibus nata, sed Christi Domini hospitio clarior, post ejus ascensum in cœlum, cum fratre, sorore, et Marcella pedissequa, ac Maximino, uno ex septuaginta duobus discipulis Christi Domini, qui totam illam domum baptizaverat, multisque aliis christianis, comprehensa a Judæa, in navem sine velo ac remigio imponitur, vastissimoque mari ad certum naufragium committitur: sed navis, Deo gubernante, salvis omnibus Massiliam appulsa est.||Martha was born of noble and wealthy parents, but she is still more illustrious for the hospitality she gave to Christ our Lord. After his Ascension into heaven, she was seized by the Jews, together with her brother and sister, Marcella her handmaid, and Maxima, one of the seventy-two disciples of our Lord, who had baptized the whole family, and many other Christians. They were put on board a ship without sails or oars, and left helpless on the open sea, exposed to certain shipwreck. But God guided the ship, and they all arrived safely at Marseilles.|
|Eo miraculo, et horum prædicatione, primum Massilienses, mox Aquenses, ac finitimæ gentes in Christum crediderunt: Lazarus-que Massiliensium, et Maximinus Aquensium episcopus creatur. Magdalena vero assueta orationi et pedibus Domini, ut optima parte contemplandæ cœlestis beatitudinis, quam elegerat, frueretur, in vastam altissimi montis speluncam se contulit: ubi triginta annos vixit, ab omni hominum consuetudine disjuncta, quotidieque per id tempus ad audiendas cœlestium laudes in altum ab Angelis elata.||This miracle, together with their preaching, brought the people of Marseilles, of Aix, and of the neighborhood to believe in Christ. Lazarus was made Bishop of Marseilles and Maximin of Aix. Magdalene, who was accustomed to devote herself to prayer and to sit at our Lord’s feet, in order to enjoy the better part, which she had chosen, that is, contemplation of the joys of heaven, retired into a deserted cave on a very high mountain. There she lived for thirty years, separated from all human intercourse; and every day she was carried to heaven by the Angels to hear their songs of praise.|
|Martha autem, mirabili vitæ sanctitate et charitate, omnium Massiliensium animis in sui amorem ad admirationem adductic, in locum a viris remotum cum aliquot honestissimis feminis se recepit: ubi summa cum laude pietatis et prudentiæ diu vixit: ac demum, morte sua multo ante prædicta, miraculis clara migravit ad Dominum, quarto calendas Augusti. Cujus corpus apud Tarascum magnam habet venerationem.||But Martha, after having won the love and admiration of the people of Marseilles by the sanctity of her life and her wonderful charity, withdrew in the company of several virtuous women to a spot remote from men, where she lived for a long time, greatly renowned for her piety and prudence. She foretold her death long before it occurred; and at length, famous for miracles, she passed to our Lord on the 4thof the Calends of August. Her body which lies at Tarascon is held in great veneration.|
Now that, together with Magdalene, thou hast entered forever into possession of the better part, thy place in heaven, O Martha, is very beautiful. For they that have ministered well, says St. Paul, shall purchase to themselves a good degree, and much confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. The same service which the deacons, here alluded to by the Apostle, performed for the Church, thou didst render to the Church’s Head and Spouse; thou didst rule well thine own house, which was a figure of that Church so dear to the Son of God. But God is not unjust, that he should forget your work and the love which you have shown in his name, you who have ministered and do minister to the souls. And the Saint of saints himself, thy indebted guests, gave us to understand something of thy greatness when, speaking merely of a faithful servant set over the family to distribute food in due season, he cried out: Blessed is that servant whom when his lord shall come, he shall find so doing. Amen I say to you, he shall place him over all his goods. O Martha, the Church exults on this day, whereon our Lord found thee thus continuing to serve him in the persons of those little ones in whom he bids us seek him. The moment had come for him to welcome thee eternally. Henceforth the Host most faithful of all to the laws of hospitality, makes thee sit at his table in his own house, and girding himself, ministers to thee as thou didst minister to him.
From the midst of thy peaceful rest, protect those who are now carrying on the interests of Christ on earth, in his mystical Body, which is the entire Church, and in his wearied and suffering members the poor and the afflicted. Bless and multiply the works of holy hospitality; may the vast field of mercy and charity yield ever-increasing harvests. May the zeal displayed by so many generous souls lose nothing of its praiseworthy activity; and for this end, O sister of Magdalene, teach us all as our Lord taught thee, to place the one thing necessary above all else, and to value at its true worth the better part. After the word spoken to thee, for our sake as well as thine own, whosoever would disturb Magdalene at the feet of Jesus, or forbid her to sit there, would deserve to have his works frustrated by offended heaven.
Let us, in union with the Church, make a commemoration of Saints Simplicius and Faustinus, martyred in the persecution of Diocletian, together with their sister Viatrice, whose name was gracefully changed into Beatrice after she had gone to heaven. The sisters had time to bury her brothers; and after her own combat she was laid to rest beside them, by the last of the celebrated Lucinas. The hour for the triumph of the Church had not yet arrived; nevertheless the tomb of this illustrious trio, in the very grove of the Dea Dia of the Arvales, proclaims the victory of Christ over the most ancient superstitions of Rome. The holy Pontiff Felix, who shares the honors paid to this glorious company, suffered in the time of the Arians.
|Præsta, quæsumus Comine, ut sicut populus christianus martyrum tuorum Felicis, Simplicii, Faustini, et Beatricis temporali solemnitate congandet: ita perfruatur æterna; et quod votic celebrat, comprehendat effectu. Per Dominum.||Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, that as thy Christian people rejoice together in the temporal solemnity of thy martyrs Felix, Simplicius, Faustinus, and Beatrice, they may enjoy it in eternity, and may effectually attain to what they celebrate in desire. Through our Lord, &c.|
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)