16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
16th Sunday / Ordinary / C
July 16-17, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
One of the wonderful things about living in Ames, other than summer, is our public library. I go there to pick up books, an occasional movie, and sometimes pick up a CD to listen to while I drive. Lately I have been getting into bluegrass, and have been listening it this week. Some of the songs are Gospel songs, and it occurred to me that these songs are like praying the psalms from the Bible. Except that it is not Gregorian chant like the monks do, but more like praying with the banjo which is more my style.
The message of one of the songs is this: "If you are not listening to Jesus, the devil will speak to you." As I thought about this, there is some truth there. Each days lots of thoughts enter our minds, and they may come from other people or our culture, from movies or politics, from our egos or old wounds, and yes, even from the devil. The thoughts from the devil are not of God and do not lead us to greater holiness. But they do slowly and subtly shape us . . . unless we are listening to Jesus.
Today's Gospel is the familiar story of Martha and Mary. Martha is doing good things for other people, which is obviously an important part of discipleship. But sometimes we get so focused on doing good things for other people, in our lives and in our parish, that we miss the more foundational part of discipleship, listening to Jesus like Mary did.
Jesus describes Martha as anxious and worried about many things. That phrase describes our world today with so much evil and bad news almost every week. Our world is anxious and worried about many things. That phrase might also describe our lives as well, running from one thing to another, doing many good things for others, but without a sense of deep peace.
The question is how do we become more like Mary? It is simple to understand but not always easy to do: We listen to him. Our Tradition holds that there are many ways that the Lord speaks to each of us, but the main way is through his Word, through Scripture. The great bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, once said, "We speak to God when we pray. We listen to Him when we read Scripture."
That is why our parish proposes the 1% challenge. 1% of our day is about 14 minutes, and the goal is to spend that time with the Lord each day. This has some wondering what they are supposed to be doing these 14 minutes. Well, there is an old adage that say to pray as we can and not as we cannot. Different kinds of prayer work for different kinds of people. But the best forms of prayer include listening to the Lord.
We might look at that thick book called the Bible and wonder where to begin. One suggestion is to begin with the daily Mass readings. Or pick a book of the Bible that catches our attention and read through it slowly. Another great idea is to join a small group this fall, where people help each other figure our what the Lord is saying to us through these inspired words.
I think of this on the parish level as well. How can our parish become more like Mary? About ten years ago, I was invited by my alma mater, St. John's University in Minnesota, to participate in a series of discussions with pastors and parish leaders from around the upper Midwest. I met some great priests and wonderful parish leaders.
One pastor floated this idea: A one year fast from all parish meetings for everyone. And the time that we would spend at meetings, each of us spends prayer and reading Scripture. When I heard that, I thought, "Count me in!" But then I wondered how that would work in reality.
But it does point out the danger in our parishes of Martha-ism. We get so caught up in activities and meetings and programs and projects, that we become like Martha. Doing lots of good things for others, but somehow missing the point of it all. I wonder what a parish would look like if it did this one year fast from all meetings and committed to prayer instead. I suspect it would become more like Mary, who was not anxious and worried about many things.
So this week I will continue to listen to my bluegrass CD, praying not Gregorian chant, but with banjo music. This reminds me of the message of today's Gospel: "If we do not listen to Jesus, then the devil will speak to us."