St Martha

(entered heaven in the first century)

Dear Martha,

I was heartened to receive your note asking for some pointers on prayer; it clearly showed that you have made that most auspicious of activities a priority in your life, even during the time of year when most young people deplorably neglect it (to the great sorrow of our Lord and the great detriment of their spiritual life).  In general, you are on the right track. You have made a commitment to daily prayer, including vocal prayers like a decade of the rosary, a morning offering, and an Our Father and a Creed before you go to bed at night. And you have also committed yourself to 15 minutes of daily meditation. By your remarks about the latter, however, I can tell that you have been talking to your friend Storm, the Yoga instructor.  Be careful. Christian meditation differs radically from that self-help-stress-reducing-pseudo-Eastern-mental-relaxation-breathing-slowly-and-evenly- technique you are dabbling with instead of the simpler methods I tried to teach you when you were younger.

Yoga (et alia) is fine, as long as you don’t adopt its spirituality.  It is true that our lifestyles are often imbalanced, and the physical relaxation produced by those stretching and breathing exercises can have a real effect on our mental and emotional states.  Nevertheless, you are a Christian, a Catholic, an heir to the great tradition of holiness and prayer that stems from God himself become man in Jesus Christ. I would encourage you to look into this treasure house of spirituality before moving into a tiny studio apartment with no view and blank walls.

The key to your daily meditation you can find in the example of today’s saint.  Martha, you may remember, was the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany (the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead – check out John Chapter 11 if you need to refresh your memory).  She was the busy one who prepared the dinner while her sister sat lovingly at the feet of the Lord. It’s a pity she is remembered almost solely for that incident, since she has much more to teach us.  When Jesus came to speak with her after the death and burial of Lazarus, they had a conversation that shows how real, how human, how positively normal their friendship was. Martha comes to him and expresses her regret that Jesus didn’t come in time to heal him.  Then Jesus questions her, trying to stimulate her faith. She answers so simply, so honestly, so matter-of-factly, and yet her every word evinces reverence and respect. Finally, our Lord elicits from her one of the most beautiful acts of trust in the entire Gospel.  He tells her that he is the “resurrection and the life” and asks if she really believes it. She answers, “Yes, Lord, I have learned to believe that you are the Christ, you are the Son of the living God; it is for your coming the world has waited.” Then, after her sister Mary has her own conversation with Jesus (in which he breaks down and cries for empathy with their sorrow), equally intimate, familiar, real, human.  Eventually, they take him to the tomb, and he orders the stone sealing the tomb to be removed, whereupon Martha whispers in his ear, “Lord, the air is foul by now; he has been four days dead.” But Jesus gets his way and ends up bringing Lazarus back to life.

The point here is not just the miracle, but the relationship that Martha had with Jesus.  It was not abstract. It was not distant. It was not “saying the right thing” in order to impress him.  They knew each other, respected each other, and interacted as true friends (though she never failed to show him the respect he deserved).  She trusted him, could (and did) talk to him about anything – their conversation was heart to heart. And that’s how your meditation needs to be.  Follow the steps we spoke about, and make sure that your recollection and reflection lead you into a personal, sincere, real conversation with the Lord.  Therein lies your key to spiritual growth… I must be off – more interrogations sessions. Ugh.

Love, Uncle Eddy

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