This past July 11th, as every year, the Church celebrated the memory of St. Benedict, the man who is called the “father of western monasticism” and from whom the Benedictine Order takes its name. Benedict was born in 480 and lived in central Italy. As a young man, Benedict was sent to Rome to study. While there, he became disillusioned with Roman life, abandoned his studies, and left the city to find peace away from it, eventually becoming a hermit in Subiaco. It was there that Benedict wrote his famous Rule which has been the guiding force of Benedictine life, and reference for religious life in general, for 1500 years.
At the heart of the Benedictine life is the rhythm of prayer and work, in Latin ora et labora. A balance between contemplation and activity is key to balance in the Benedictine way of life. In reading the Rule, it may appear that work takes more time than prayer, but ultimately prayer should permeate every aspect of the monk or nun’s life, work included. The Rule’s prologue begins with listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is the advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. The monk or nun’s life is all about listening, about making sure that one can hear the voice of God over the voices of the world.
This Sunday’s Gospel tells us of the welcome that Jesus received from his friends Martha and Mary. Martha is dutiful in her responsibilities towards hospitality, but she becomes lost in her efforts, and is angered by her sister Mary who has chosen to sit and listen to the Lord. Martha attempts to win the Lord’s backing to rebuke Mary but it is Martha who finds herself gently corrected by Jesus. In his response to Martha, Jesus does not dismiss her efforts nor downplay the importance of hospitality, but invites her, like Mary, to see what is most important, in this case it is the Lord, who simply wants to be with the two sisters.
All of us have things going on in our lives, some of which are very important. As disciples we must be sure, in things large or small, that we do not become distracted from the Lord. The monk or nun goes about their work with God before their eyes as they complete their labors, but mastering that awareness takes time and discipline for anyone; even the most “experienced” monastic takes time from the their labors to sit at the Lord’s feet. In going about our daily living, we must keep the Lord before our eyes in all things; learning how to do this takes time at his feet to listen. Excelling in our discipleship will only be possible, and sustained, through taking the time to be with the Lord, to listen, to love, and to be loved.
Martha’s labors were important but she lost sight of why, or rather for whom, she was doing them. Each day, as we go about our living, as we are faced with choices and decisions, may everything be for the Lord. For us to have the grace to make those choices for him, we must first to take time with him.