17th July, 2022

St Benedict statue


St Benedict

‘Ora et labora’ – Pray and work

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C

Once I heard about a little girl who received a gift from her grandfather who lived in America. It was quite a valuable and unusual gift – one gold dollar coin that was issued on some special occasion. A very pleased and excited girl immediately went to her room where she kept her favourite piggy bank, but after a short while she returned to her grandfather a bit disappointed and said: You know what? Unfortunately, I have to give you your coin back! Why? – asked the surprised grandfather. Because it can’t fit in my piggy bank! Grandfather looked at it and said: Indeed, your piggy bank is full – full of one penny coins, and there is no space for anything else. The gold coin from her grandfather did not fit into the piggy bank because it was full – filled with coins of little value.

Now let’s take a look at today’s Gospel reading which tells us something very similar to that story. Sometimes we are very much like that little girl when we cannot find room in ourselves, or in our daily lives for what is really valuable and important, and what brings us real happiness and satisfaction. I don’t know about you, but I got the impression that Jesus was a bit disappointed when he spoke to Martha in today’s Gospel scene. And I think it would be good to find out what was the reason for his disappointment, dissatisfaction and criticism. He definitely didn’t criticise Martha for being a busy and hard-working woman, or for preparing a meal for Him. I think nobody normal would criticise such a person! I definitely wouldn’t, moreover I would appreciate such a person very much! As we remember, Jesus was very often invited to meals by various people and He really enjoyed people’s company and hospitality. Moreover, after His Resurrection, He himself prepared breakfast for His disciples. So why was He disappointed in today’s Gospel scene, and why He criticised Martha, though it was a very gentle criticism? The answer is very simple. Because so many worries about the hustle and bustle of the kitchen prevented her from concentrating on what was most important and relevant at that particular moment, that is, on listening to His words. ‘You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is your sister Mary who has chosen the better part, it is not to be taken from her’.

During my summer holidays I like to visit various places, but especially I enjoy visiting old monasteries and abbeys such as medieval Benedictine abbeys. As you may know, they can be found in many countries and places around the world such as Monte Cassino in Italy which is my favourite one; Tyniec in Poland which I visited most often while living in my country. Some of them can be found here in England as well, and in many other inconspicuous places. If you would like to know how to reconcile these two things: work and prayer – or in other words – how to combine work and spiritual life, or work and relationship with God, and how to balance these two things without neglecting any of them, then I encourage you to visit one of these monasteries or abbeys and get to know the spirituality of Saint Benedict and the Benedictine order that was founded by St Benedict 15 centuries ago. Benedictines know well how to combine and reconcile work and prayer in their daily lives. Their main motto is the Latin phrase: ‘Ora et labora’ – Pray and work.

There is no doubt that we need to work to provide for our families. That’s an obvious thing. Martha from today’s Gospel represents that business we experience in our lives quite often, and her attitude might be a good example or just a good lesson for us that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to become slaves to work, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to become too busy, and too much focused on earthly reality and on earning money. Sometimes we see how many people around us make a disastrous mistake and place material things above God who created us and who sustains our lives. What we need to remember is that if God is ‘number one’ in our lives everything else will be working well for us. When He is our priority, we will maintain good relationships with others. That is what I see happening in my life. I hope that’s your experience as well. In today’s Gospel the Lord commented that Mary who sat at His feet and listened to Him chose a better part that will not be taken from her. She decided to pay attention to the most important guest on earth. She wanted to know Jesus better, and learn more about a new life that He was talking about. She understood that: ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’. Her priority was Jesus, not cooking.

What is your authentic priority at this moment of your life? Are you willing to balance prayer and work, your activities and relationship with God? Let us open our hearts to Jesus and choose Him as the Lord and Saviour once again. He will enlighten our minds to understand how to focus our attention on Him and the heavenly kingdom He promises us. During this week let us work hard at letting go of worrying and fretting about so many things. Let us place God first in different situations we will face and let us imitate Mary and choose a better part meditating upon Jesus’ words every day.

Fr Gregory