Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, by Jan Breugel the Younger and Peter Paul Rubens. Photo from Wikipedia

As Mary abides and Martha strives, CWL tries for closer Jesus ties

  • December 22, 2023

The Gospel story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary is not scheduled until mid-summer in the liturgical calendar, but the Catholic Women’s League in Calgary was not waiting until then to contemplate this Scripture passage.

The women of the CWL believe the message needs discerning amid the hustle and bustle of preparing for Christmas. Thus, a “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha Season” presentation was on tap at the diocesan CWL Advent Retreat Dec. 2 at Holy Spirit Parish. 

“At any time of the year, many women feel they have to be busy to be joined to God,” said presenter Cathy Bouchard, a lifetime member of the CWL, in an interview with The Catholic Register before the retreat. “We wanted to use this special time of Advent to show that busyness can be overdone. We are called to stop ourselves and abide in the richness of the season.

“I want them to come away with abide and stride. Abiding is what Mary was doing, and striving is what Martha did. How can we combine those to draw closer to Jesus Christ?” 

In the Gospel, Martha opened her home to Jesus as He and His disciples visited the village of Bethany. While her sister sat at Christ’s feet and listened to Him speak, Martha fixated on preparing a hospitable environment. 

Martha complained to Jesus, saying: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Jesus calmed Martha and supported Mary’s decision to sit in His presence.

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Bouchard said most people assume Martha’s actions in this “story are not good, but it is good as she was serving as Mother Teresa did, and what many women do today.” The one thing Martha overlooked, said Bouchard, “was missing out on the gift in her house.”

Fellow presenter Fr. Julian Studden, an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Cathedral and vicar of the Permanent Diaconate of the Diocese of Calgary, said, “In our modern day of life, we show that we care for others by doing, doing and doing.” He said there is value to working hard on the Christmas feast, creating a festive atmosphere with decorations and choosing thoughtful gifts. The main question Studden asks people to contemplate is whether we are going along during the holidays “just to please people” or if something deeper motivates our actions.

Bouchard told the attendees about her family life with eight siblings. Her mother had a prayer posted on the kitchen wall that read, “Lord of all the pots and pans and things.”

“It was called the kitchen prayer,” said Bouchard. “It was a reminder about why we are doing these things for my family. Why am I doing this busyness? Am I serving God in serving my family? Am I being more mindful of God being present in our work?”

Bouchard said that mindfulness can spawn stillness and patience — values out of step with the modern commercialization of Christmas. 

“We seem to get pulled into what the secular world is saying is the value of Christmas. There is no waiting in the secular world. People already have their Christmas trees up on Nov. 1, and then by Dec. 26, when the Christian-Catholic world begins our celebration, they are each taking down their tree and not focusing, as the old cliché says, on the reason for the season.”

Both Studden and Bouchard recommend prayer and reading the Bible as the tried-and-true ways to grow in intentionality like Mary and Martha did when Christ walked the Earth. 

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