Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
1st Annual Women’s Conference
May 23, 2018 

What an incredible gathering – what a great day to celebrate our faith in Jesus – what a powerful sign your presence is to our world as we resolve to live that faith as disciples of Jesus.

So often, you’ve heard me speak of the gospel mandate given to all of the baptized to embrace the gifts that God has given to us and to build the Church.  You’ve heard me say repeatedly that the responsibility to evangelize is not solely the work of bishops or priests or deacons or faithful religious.  No – the work of evangelization is the task of every person who professes faith in Jesus – every soul who seeks to live as a disciple – a follower of the Lord.  …  This conference is a powerful example of what lies at the heart of the gospel mandate that I shared with you a moment ago.  …  This conference – quite simply – is an example of what we are all called to do and to be as Christians.   …  This conference is not about being passive observers but engaged Christians in the midst of a world that so often diminishes the values of the gospel message.  …  This conference is evidence of the Church ALIVE and filled with hope – even and especially in the midst of our broken world!

Thank you for your courageous witness – for your desire to refresh your faith – and for your commitment to living the good news of Jesus.

Some time ago, I read the following observation in a newspaper column that offered a critique about life these days for some in America.  “The trick to happy living these days is to quit trying to keep up.  There is simply too much to keep up with and people who try end up weeping because they still haven’t gotten the iPhone 8, can no longer tell the difference between a Lexus and an Infiniti, and their friend’s vacation pictures posted on Facebook seem far more interesting than their own.  …  It’s a glorious time to be alive in our great country, but the glories come at us so relentlessly, so multitudinously, that they will finish us off unless we ration the intake.”

In other words, while we live in a wonderful land, it’s fair to say that we often become so self-absorbed and preoccupied with pursuing and maintaining a life-style that we can miss out on life itself.  Today’s gospel, taken from a very different era and culture than our own, is a perfect reminder of that fact.

In today’s gospel, it is obvious that Luke the evangelist understands something about human psychology as he invites us into the world of Martha and Mary as they host Jesus in their home.  Let’s take a closer look.

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, this gospel passage used to bother me.  We find Martha breaking her back to get the food ready and to serve the guests who have gathered in her home while her sister, Mary, is content to set aside all of the details of hospitality and simply listen to Jesus teach and speak about God.  And when Martha finally says something to Jesus about her sister, Jesus defends Mary’s decision of opting out of the work.  …  For those of us who are type A and love to run around doing things, the best of us are probably wondering what is going on with Jesus and these two sisters!

The gospel passage becomes even more confusing when we situate it within the broader context of Luke’s gospel.  Just a few verses prior to today’s passage, a lawyer asks Jesus a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  In response, Jesus asks the man what is written in the Law?  The response is not dissimilar to our second reading today from the first letter of John:  “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole strength and your whole mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus then goes on to explain who fits the category of “neighbor,” as he relates one of the most beautiful of all the gospel parables:  the tale of the compassionate Samaritan – the good Samaritan.  You know the story well.  A traveler falls prey to robbers, who strip, beat and leave the man for dead.  A priest and a Levite – two righteous, holy men – ignore the beaten man.  Maybe they said a prayer for him – who knows.  It’s a Samaritan, however, – an unclean man from the perspective of the Jewish priest and Levite – a man who lives on the peripheries of life – who stops to care for the burdened man – who literally serves him and helps to nurse him back to health.

Do you see the tension between these two consecutive gospel passages?  In one, Jesus praises the Samaritan who goes out of his way to serve a stranger.  In the other, Jesus is critical of Martha, who seems to be working so very hard to serve and to provide hospitality to Jesus.

I would suggest that the key to resolving the tension between these two passages and for understanding today’s gospel story in particular is found more in Martha’s personal character rather than in her willingness to work hard to provide hospitality for Jesus.  Martha’s anxiety in providing for her guests is understandable.  What isn’t acceptable to Jesus, however, is her self-absorption.  Martha’s self-preoccupation and resentment led her to break the rules of hospitality far more than her sister did, going so far as to attempt to ask Jesus to intervene in a family rivalry.  In many respects Martha was just as self-consumed as were the priest and Levite who refused to do a thing for the poor man who fell prey to robbers on the road to Jericho.  …  Martha was focused on herself.  Mary was focused upon her guest.

Therein we come face to face with what is required for authentic discipleship and holiness:  Love – selfless, sacrificial love.  …  Recall again the words chosen for today’s second reading from the first letter of John.  “In this way the love of God was revealed to us:  God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.  In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.”

At the heart of the cross, in and through which God’s love for us is most clearly revealed, we see nothing short of total selflessness in the gift and service of Jesus offered for the sake of the lives entrusted to his care.  For those of us who seek to be faithful disciples, then, Jesus’ pattern of love must be our pattern as well.  There are no exceptions or rationalizations.  That’s why, for as much as we have a soft spot in our hearts for Martha, Jesus called her to something more.  He called her to a deeper sense of holiness and mission.  Yes, serve – but serve for the sake of your neighbor and not just yourself.

In his recent exhortation, Rejoice and be glad: On the call to holiness in today’s world, Pope Francis talked about our desire to grow in holiness and to refresh our faith.  In his own way and in his own words, he speaks to all of us today.  Listen to his words and let them touch your hearts and spirits.

“To be hold does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious.  We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend time in prayer.  That is not the case.  We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.  Are you called to the consecrated life?  Be holy by living out your commitment with joy.  Are you married?  Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church.  Do you work for a living?  Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters.  Are you a parent or grandparent?  Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus.  Are you in a position of authority?  Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.  …  Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness.  Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation.”

Pope Francis goes on, “Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.  …  We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service … so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes.  In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness.”

My sisters and brothers, for all that you bring to this moment of prayer – for all of the challenges of life that distract you from the path to holiness that you seek to embrace – for all of the hope that rests within your hearts as you seek to deepen your faith – for the selfless love that you so generously seek to pour into the lives that God has entrusted to your care – know of this great promise that comes to us from Word of God proclaimed this day.  “If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.”       Amen!