Anxious and Worried About Many Things: Homily for July 21, 2019, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Anxious and Worried About Many Things: Homily for July 21, 2019, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time July 20, 2019
Photo by Lerone Pieters on Unsplash

If you’re feeling tired this Sunday morning, it may be for other reasons besides the heat.

According to a recent survey, the average American works 47 hours a week.

But that’s just for starters.

Eleven percent of those surveyed worked 41-49 hours, 21 percent put in 50-59 hours every week, and a whole 18 percent work 60 or more hours. That means that almost exactly 50 percent of full time workers log more than 40 hours every week.

On top of all that, there’s soccer practice, cub scouts, the school play, the PTA, the project in your brief case that you have to get done for work the next morning, the toilet that’s broken, homework to correct, bills to pay, dinner to cook, and the dog to walk.

Little wonder that according to one poll 83 percent of Americans want more time to spend with their families – and even more want more time just to spend with themselves.

And so this Sunday, in the middle of that kind of frenzy — a frenzy that probably had its own variations in first century Palestine — we hear Jesus say to Martha those words we all can relate to: “You are anxious and worried about many things.”

Yes. We are. Maybe this week, you were also anxious about the air conditioning, or subway closings, or the standoff with Iran, or the crisis at our border, or whatever the President has decided to send out in a Tweet at four in the morning. These days, we find ourselves anxious about things Martha never dreamed of.

We’re pulled in so many directions, how do we know which way to go? The Gospel today gives us a clue.

To understand the story of Martha and Mary, I think, it helps to put it in context. Just before this, as we heard last weekend, St. Luke gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan. Having taught that lesson, Jesus next goes to visit Martha and Mary.

And to the busiest of the two, Martha, Jesus says: “There is need of only one thing.” He doesn’t explain what that is. He doesn’t have to.

Because he has already told us, in the story of The Good Samaritan.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind. And your neighbor as yourself.”

And now, we are seeing that in the flesh.

Mary is fulfilling the first half of that: loving her Lord with all her heart.

And I would add: Martha, in her own frenzied but well-meaning way, is loving — and serving — her neighbor.

The challenge to us today is to combine those, to bring them together, the same way that Mary and Martha are brought together, sharing the same house, living under one roof.

How do we do that?

How do we find the time to love the Lord and love our neighbor and get done what we need to do?

About 400 years ago, in France, there was a young man by the name of Nicholas Herman who had spent much of his youth as a soldier and eventually decided to enter a Carmelite monastery. He took the name “Brother Lawrence.” He was assigned to kitchen duty. He hated it. But in the kitchen, amid all the noise and frenzy, he found a way to God. He later wrote down some of his thoughts in letters that were collected in a little book, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” that has become a spiritual classic.

Brother Lawrence wrote that even in the noise of the kitchen, he possessed God as if he were praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

He wrote: “It is not necessary for being with God to be always at church. We may make an oratory of our heart, wherein to retire from time to time, to converse with him in meekness, humility and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God.”

His secret was simple: he spent every moment reminding himself of the nearness of God, the intimacy that God shares with us. It’s an idea that was captured centuries later on a famous engraving. I have a copy in my office at home: “Bidden or not bidden,” it says, “God is present.”

Whether you realize it or not, God is with you.

Understanding that, Brother Lawrence made even mundane kitchen work a prayer.

It’s the kind of prayer that Jesus was calling on Martha to pray. And 2,000 years later, he calls on all of us to live and pray that way: to discover in the long work week and the carpools and the chores and the umpteen unfinished projects of daily life something sacred.

We need to remember that God is present in all of it. We need to be grateful for that, and to celebrate that, and to never take it for granted.

As Brother Lawrence put it, it is all about striving to practice the presence of God — in effect, adoring him like Mary, serving him like Martha, welcoming his presence into our lives.

For us this morning, it can begin here and now, as we receive the Eucharist, and receive that presence — the Real Presence of Christ — in Communion.

And it can continue as we leave Mass and try to live out what we have received — to make that Presence known to the world.

If we do that, I think it will bring us one step closer to living the message of today’s Gospel.

Too often, we may all seem as busy and as anxious as Martha.

But we can also bear witness, and listen, and love, like Mary.

Doing that can make every moment of every day one in which we practice the presence of God.

Related: The Busy Person’s Guide to Prayer 

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