Today’s gospel story is well known. Martha welcomes Jesus to her home. At the time of Jesus, men welcomed men into their home. I wonder where Lazarus was, that the honor fell to Martha. Yet the story of these two sisters gives evidence that the early Christians had much higher regard for women than others of that era had for them. Around the time Luke wrote his gospel we read in the Acts of the Apostles how some widows were being neglected. The disciples wanted to help; however, they realized that they could not leave their evangelizing tasks and journeys. The solution? Deacons, those known for their diakonia (service). Deacons were both men and women. In this story, Martha had a problem and a solution for her busyness; namely, she had too much to do and her sister could help her. Though Jesus was presented with this solution, he didn’t act on it. Instead he made an important announcement by using Martha’s name twice. “Martha, Martha.” Service is important and appreciated. There are times places and persons for service in the Church. Yet the most important element in being a disciple is listening to the Word of God. That would never be taken from Mary.
I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the new Holy Father take the name of “Pope Francis.” The name announced something new in our Church—something to create “our common home” and leading to the document Laudato Si. We’ve read numerous times in recent weeks and heard speeches at the UN that this decade is our last chance. We know the story of Saint Francis of Assisi, how he literally took to heart Christ’s words “Rebuild my church.” The whole world, especially international corporations and heads of state, must tackle the huge, costly, and life-transforming solutions that are needed immediately. Even if we lack the will, the courage, and the means, we have no choice. What we do today to save Planet Earth and the lives of future generations is our only hope.
There’s an aura of unreality about today’s celebration of 50 or 60 years of religious profession. Actually, some Sisters are celebrating 51 and 61 years, because the jubilarians of 2020 needed to postpone their celebration 16 months due to the pandemic. In my mind, there’s a juxtaposition of “It’s finally here” and “Is this a mirage that looks real but moves farther away as we reach for it?” Well, I’ll put on my “new” dress that has hung in my closet for almost two years. I’ll renew my vows, a daily private practice for 51 years, but now in the presence of the other jubilarians, my religious community, and family and friends during the Eucharistic liturgy. Afterwards we’ll enjoy party food, laugh, cry, perhaps open some cards and gifts. Whatever may happen—and whether it feels real or not—it is a time to look back in gratitude and to live forward and inward. To look back and understand life backward, reflecting on the joys and trials of the journey and wonder at what they have taught. To live forward and inward for God’s purpose in my life.
When Jesus was born, the angels brought the news of great joy! When Jesus rose from the tomb, the angels attested to the resurrection: “Surprise! He’s not here! Why even look for him among the dead?” Have you experienced the angels as messengers of joy and surprise bringers? When I drive, I often ask the angels and saints to be with me. And in many other ways I ask for their intercession. Sometimes my prayerful requests are so tiny that I’m almost embarrassed to pray them. But voila! Those tiny things that mean a lot to me are fulfilled with hardly any time passing. I can almost hear that angel or saint snickering: “Thought I couldn’t do it, didn’t you?”
We Sisters of Notre Dame are 171 years young today! Our two founding sisters, Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring and Sister Maria Ignatia Kühling, became the first Sisters of Notre Dame on this date in 1850. God has blessed us through the years, and we are doing well. So let’s call ourselves “young.” We are young in several ways. First, as an international congregation we are blessed with many who are chronologically young, especially in Africa, Indonesia, South Korea, and the Philippines. And we’re happy to have some younger sisters in our own country. Second, we have a young spirit. We’re adventuresome seeking new frontiers, that is, new places of ministry, always answering the question “Where is the need?” Recently some Sisters have worked at the borders with migrants. Others have lent their expertise and muscle to assist during the pandemic. Third, we’re young in our thinking. It’s nothing unusual for a sister in her nineties to say “When I’m old . . .” as she takes Communion to residents in a nursing home or keeps up correspondence with prisoners or makes sandwiches for the hungry.
In the year 2000 our congregation celebrated its sesquicentennial. It was a grand event with sisters from across the nation gathering for prayer, picnic, and play at Lial Renewal Center in Whitehouse, Ohio. What will our bicentennial be like in 2050? If I live to be a hundred, I’ll let you know.
Luke comes to the end of his gospel with a meal that looks to the future of the Church and its mission. This last of the ten meals in Luke and the first meal with the full assembly of the church is a “to be continued” episode. Those at this meal (Lk. 24:36-53) must accept the responsibility to spread the gospel.
The three-part story reflects the early Christian liturgy as it’s beginning to take shape around 75 A.D. Jesus appears to the community, greets them, and eats fish. Then Jesus gives a final discourse connecting what he taught with the mission the Church now must do. Finally Jesus blessed the people and ascends. This reflects the early liturgy consisting of greeting of peace, meal, discourse, and parting blessing.
After Jesus ascended, they returned to Jerusalem “filled with joy.” The gospel of great joy announced by the angel to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth is fulfilled. May this joy be ours as we dine at every Eucharist and someday dine in the Kingdom of God.
Luke’s Gospel with its ten meals and eucharistic overtones ends with a three-part description of the Resurrection. The first story recounts two visits to the tomb, one by women and one by Peter. The second story is the Emmaus story, and the last story is the final meal with the community in Jerusalem. All three take place on the same day—“day one of the week” recalling the first day of creation in Genesis. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are in a new creation! But the disciples on the road to Emmaus are despondent and hopeless.
A Stranger comes along, but the eyes of the two disciples were “prevented” from recognizing him as the Risen Lord. They bemoaned in verbal irony that this was already “the third day,” a phrase used in the early Church for the day of resurrection. The two had “little sense” because they couldn’t accept the passion and death. So Jesus led them in reflecting on all the Scripture said about the Messiah.
The two asked Jesus to “stay with us,” a phrase meaning to dwell—the same word used many times in previous stories such as the visit of Mary to Elizabeth. Then the roles are reversed as Jesus becomes the host. Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives bread; and the two recognize Jesus in these four eucharistic actions.
Are we Christians ready to break bread with the stranger, whoever he or she may be? Do we recognize Jesus Christ in the assembly with whom we worship?
We hear “This is my body” and “This is the blood of the covenant,” phrases that mark the bread and wine with Christ’s name. Eating and drinking food marked with Jesus’ name isn’t enough. It’s not the food alone, but the mode of being food for others that validates the Lord’s Supper and allows it to be a proclamation of his saving death. To partake of the Lord’s Supper is to live the Lord’s dying.
Every act of dining presupposes an act of violence. For example, to share a loaf of bread we bury wheat seeds that grow and then are cut down, crushed, kneaded, put into an oven. Similarly, grapes are crushed and fermented. Nothing in food or beverage is pretty and tidy before it comes to table. Those who have studied rules of etiquette down through the centuries feel that the rules were made to keep the diners from becoming the dinner. After all, we sit across from one another with knives and forks in our hands.
Because death and life are evident in meals, Jesus made the meal the bearer of the mystery of his life and ours, his death and ours.
How are you food for others? When do others feed on your time and energy?
If Jesus were coming to your house tonight for dinner, would you be just sitting here reading this blog? Well, Martha had this experience, and we know how that went. Martha was “busy with all the details of hospitality” while her sister Mary sat at the Lord’s feet. Martha’s problem had a perfect solution: “Jesus, get my sister to help me.” But Jesus had another solution.
Like other stories in Luke’s gospel, this story reflects a concern among the early Christians. Among Christians, women and men were equals. Women could be disciples in the full sense, right along with the apostles. When there was not enough help being given to the Greek speaking widows (Acts 6:1-7), deacons were appointed. Women deacons also assisted whenever there were tensions between time for ministry (work) and time for discipleship (prayer, listening to God’s word). Nothing important could be neglected. Martha was distracted by serving (diakonia). The Lord’s solution is one we all need: Don’t neglect prayer and attention to the Word of God, because these things will give meaning to all your work and ministry. If you’re going to be a good disciple, you have to recognize the Lord’s presence by being present to him.
Luke’s gospel puts Jesus on a journey ever onward to Jerusalem where his mission will be fulfilled in his death, resurrection, and ascension. As we walk the journey we see how the Eucharist is part of the journey filled with reconciliation, miracles, evangelizing. In the famous story of the multiplication of the loaves at Bethsaida, the reference to Eucharist is quite evident in the key words take, bless, break, give. These four words have been part of Eucharistic prayers down through the centuries. (We’ll see them again in Luke’s gospel.) In this story, Jesus’ actions and words are very like the celebration of Eucharist in the early Church when Luke wrote his gospel. Luke was writing more than a biography of Jesus’ life; he was addressing issues of concern for the early Christians around 75 A.D. when he wrote. Accordingly, Luke writes of both the sacramental life of the Church and the historical-theological life of Jesus as prophet, Messiah, and Lord (God).
Eucharist can never be separated from the gospels. Nor can we separate the Eucharist from our lives. We live the Eucharist. We don’t just go to Mass; we live the Mass. We die and rise with Jesus Christ in his perpetual self-offering of the Paschal Mystery.
Our Mass combines the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Word and Sacrament. Both feet are needed on our journey to the Kingdom of God.