Martha and Mary: Contemplation and Action

by | May 8, 2014 | International Association of Charities - Ladies of Charity

aicMartha and Mary: Contemplation and Action




As Vincent took his initial steps in ministry he was accompanied by women and that reality reminds us of the many women who accompanied Jesus from the time of his initial preaching in Galilee.  We remember especially Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus.  Both of these women were very hospitable toward Jesus but they had very distinct personalities.  We find that one could be characterized by her words and actions and the other by her contemplation and prayer.  Let us reflect on Martha and Mary in today’s world.

Development of the Theme:

AIC is an Association that is composed primarily of women and for the most part, our service is directed toward women.  That reality leads us to reflect on what we can learn from these women whom we serve and whom we could refer to as biblical women, women like those that we find in both the Old and the New Testament.

Without a doubt the first woman whom we are called to follow and imitate is our heavenly mother, the Virgin Mary.  The greatness of Mary, who was proclaimed as “blessed among women” (Luke 1:42), is found in her ability to reach out to others and her commitment.  Mary was a humble and trusting woman, “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).

Among these many women we also find Martha and Mary who, as we will see in this presentation, are models for our activity and service, models for our Vincentian commitment.

Martha was the elder of the sisters and did many of the household tasks; she was a very active, talkative, restless and a very obliging woman.  Very attentive to detail, she prepared the meals and served at the table; she was attentive to the guests and when they were over-bearing and demanding, she herself could become flippant and even stubborn at times.

The younger sister, Mary, was at her side.  She was calm, reflective and out-going.  She remained seated at the feet of their friend from Galilee, attentively listening to him as he spoke.

These sisters teach us that their experiences in life are still valid at the present time. Indeed, we have to serve in the various places where we find ourselves and we have to struggle against the various forms of poverty.  At the same time Martha and Mary teach us that we have to deepen our faith and that at all times and in all places we need to minister together and thus serve our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Like Vincent de Paul we must be willing to ask the question:  “Lord, if you were in my place, how would you act on this occasion?” (SVP:XI:348; ES:XI:240; CCD:XI:314).  Vincent recommended that we should be ever mindful of our encounter with Christ in prayer.  In fact, he emphasized prayer when he stated: “what food is to the body, prayer is to the soul” (SVP:IX:416; ES:IX:381; CCD:XI:327).

Vincent’s plan to provide for the spiritual and material needs of the poor obliges us to honor the love of Our Lord, a love that we, by the manner in which we serve the poor, can reveal to those men and women living in situations of poverty.  Thus we are challenged to clothe ourselves more fully in Vincentian spirituality and invited to engage in a process of on-going training and preparation so that we might better respond to the present situations of poverty.

We are to provide for the spiritual and material needs of our brothers and sisters and to encourage their participation in this process so that they become actively involved in promoting their development and the development of their community.  We are challenged to empower people because then, as Vincent stated, the poor will evangelize us (cf. Coste XI:201) and this in turn establishes a good relationship between those who “are assisting” and those who “are being assisted”.  We should remember that our plans and projects ought to be such that they transform the lives of those who are excluded from participation in society.  Thus we imitate Vincent, who wanted to alleviate the miseries that he discovered in society, and at the same time we imitate Christ, who attacked the causes of poverty.

We cannot remain on the level of piety.  It is not enough to go to all the meetings, to recite all our prayers and to participate in the Eucharist.  Indeed, if we do not serve our brothers and sisters who live in various situations of poverty, then we are not authentic Christians and we have not learned how to love Jesus who, before becoming present in the Eucharist, served his disciples.  In the Eucharist we find both the element of service and the element of prayer and those who believe that one dimension is more important that the other are actually misinterpreting the Eucharist.  Both prayer and service are equally important if we are to be authentic volunteers on behalf of our association and if our activity is to be motivated by love.  Indeed, we see that both prayer and service were part of Jesus’ life.  Love has to be shared with others and this sharing is done through service.  We are exhorted to imitate Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper.  Three things will endure: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

The Christian life means that we are filled with and guided by the Word of God and that we place ourselves in a position to serve our brothers and sisters. One without the other is meaningless.  Nevertheless, the encounter with the Lord is fundamental.  Therefore we pray that we might learn how to combine our action with prayer and thus learn how to balance the “Martha and the Mary” that is part of each one of us.

Personal and Community Reflection:

Let us meditate on the following words of our beloved founder, Vincent de Paul:

  • “How little it takes to be very holy: to do the will of God in all things” (SVP:II:36; ES:II:34; CCD:II:47).
  • “God calls you to make your prayer, and at the same time he calls you to that poor, sick person.  That is called leaving God for God” (SVP:X:595; ES:IX:1125; CCD:X:478).

What do these words mean to us today?

Activities and Questions:

  • Take a moment to reflect on how the characteristics of Martha and Mary are present in your own life.  What must be changed in order to become a person who balances prayer and action?
  • What initiatives can we take to improve our time of prayer and our union with Christ and with Mary?  What initiatives can we take to improve our service as a group, that is, to better our service on behalf of our brothers and sisters to whom we minister?

Prayer and Hymn

Text: Selina Suárez Fermín — Translation: Father Charlie Plock

AIC International Secretariat – Rampe des Ardennais 23 – 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

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AIC, an international network that fights against poverty, which works primarily with women.


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