I hope everyone was able to survive the terrible heat wave this week. I am sure most of you have passed by the small white clapboard Watchung Presbyterian Church on Watching Ave. The minister there has a knack for posting witty short announcements on the bulletin board in front of the Church. I really enjoyed this weeks post “if you think it’s hot now”. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
In my homilies I usually make mention of saints, those holy people who have gone before us. Maximilian Kolbe, Mother Teresa, Therese the Little Flower. Their life example helps us to become saints. Recently I came upon the name of a living saint. His name is Dr. Tom Catena. Dr. Tom hails from Amsterdam, New York. As a young man, he joined the US Navy, where he served as a medic. When his military service ended, he attended medical school and became a surgeon. As a devout Catholic, he wished to serve the Lord as a missionary. He was, and is, very much influenced by Francis of Assisi, whose idea was to radically live the gospel. Since 2008, Dr. Tom has volunteered with the Catholic Medical Mission at the Mother of Mercy hospital in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, a land of horrors, where families cower in caves to avoid aerial bombings by the Sudanese government. There is no one better qualified to describe what the leaders of Sudan do to their own citizens. He is the only surgeon at Mother of Mercy H. that is capable of dealing with severe war injuries, mostly amputations. He also treats conditions like malaria and pneumonia, leprosy, stroke, meningitis, and shell-shocked women who walk days and hours with their babies, alive and deceased, to the clinic for help. Dr. Tom says “The most rewarding part of the job is seeing sick people get better.” “We have a good number of patients with serious but treatable conditions. To be able to offer a good service to care for a wide variety of diseases is a real joy.” Dr. Tom, as the saints I mentioned before, has much to teach us about discipleship. He says “Our FAITH is what motivates us to keep pushing on with the work - despite the isolation and daily frustrations of working in a remote, undeveloped region with little support.” “Christ’s call to serve the ‘least of these’ is a tonic to encourage us in the work. Our faith helps us in that we know we are not the masters of life and death and that God is in charge of all things. We know that our lives here are temporary, and that there are promises of greater things to come.” This by the way is exactly what Pope Benedict wrote about in his encyclical “In Hope we are saved.”
Dr. Tom lives inside a small compound with a few religious sisters and a few priests. At 5:30AM he wakes up to the alarm of roosters crowing, donkeys braying, and cows mooing. With the sisters and priests, he moves from the living compound, across a dry riverbed, to a small chapel where he attends daily Mass. The Eucharist is his strength – the strength to go on in the midst of chaos – the cries of children dying and mothers wailing. Sometimes he feels he cannot continue. But he does.
Dr. Tom always wanted to serve. “The idea is to serve,” he says. “You use Christ as your guide, your mentor. This is what Jesus did. He came to serve, not be served, and I try to follow that. “I just wanted to be in a position where I could be of service to others.” “I had always wanted to do some type of mission work where I could put my FAITH IN ACTION.
I bring up this story of Dr. Tom today because it has a direct correlation with today’s Gospel, the story of Martha and Mary – a story of faith, then action.
Jesus visits with his dear friends Martha and Mary. Martha greets Jesus at the door. She is a good friend, cleaning house, preparing the food - but while Martha is doing all the work, all good work, what is her sister Mary doing? - sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha is not happy – maybe for two reasons. One: Martha is working, Mary is resting. Martha’s irritation is obvious. Two – Martha sees Mary as being arrogant. When Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, she is taking the position of a disciple learning from the teacher. In this particular instance, the teacher / disciple relationship is quite unusual, for Mary is a woman. Mary assumed the stance of a man – in a man’s space. In the first century, a woman would not be accepted by a teacher as a disciple. So there is a significant teaching here, that ALL are invited to sit at the feet of Jesus – to enjoy full participation in Christ’s call to discipleship.
So Jesus puts it to Martha straight. You - Martha - are anxious and worried. Mary is doing something more important here. She has taken the “better part.” Now Jesus is not saying what Martha is doing is unimportant. Her actions are indeed important and beautiful– as they are acts of love. Maybe Martha, like you and me, needs to spend more time in prayer.
Mary has chosen, in Latin, the “Unum necessarium” the one thing necessary. Mary is sitting at the feet of Christ - and she is “listening.” What does it mean to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen? Our soon to be canonized Holy Father – Blessed John Paul II - said that “Listening to the Word of God is the most important thing in our lives. Christ is always in our midst and desires to speak to our hearts. We can listen to him by meditating with faith on Sacred Scripture, by recollection in private and communal prayer, by silent meditation before the Tabernacle, from which he speaks to us of his love. Christians, especially on Sundays, are called to meet and listen to the Lord. This happens most completely through participation in Holy Mass, during which Christ prepares the banquet of the Word and of the Bread of Life for the faithful.
And now the most important line;
“Through the action of the Holy Spirit, God takes up his dwelling in the heart of the believer; it becomes easier for him/her to serve the brethren.”
So first let we let Jesus enter into our hearts, then we can serve the brethren.
Dr. Tom’s “listening” is his daily reception of the Eucharist. This is his strength to do the impossible. First he “listens”, and then he “acts”.
Brothers and sisters, we are living in hard times, religious freedom is under attack. We must not let anyone or anything deprive us of “the better part”, for we are all called to discipleship – to do great acts of love in Jesus’ name. And this will not be taken from us.
God bless you.
Deacon Brian J. Murphy
* Thanks to Fr. Robert Barron for the inspiration