I invite you to share Fr Austin’s homily on Martha and Mary: a good thought for the holidays. WT.
Luke 10:38 – 42.
What kinds of things frustrate you? The phone rings as you are about to leave – you run back in, and find someone sitting there near the phone. And the answer you get – it won’t be for me! I think today’s Gospel is all about this.
There are dangers in overwork, no matter how good the work and no matter how noble the motivation for doing it. Spiritual guides, beginning with Jesus, have always warned of the dangers of becoming too taken-up in our work. Many are the spouses in a marriage, many are the children in a family, many are the friends, and many are churches, who wish that someone they love and need more attention from was less busy.
Generally too our society supports us in this escapism. With virtually every other addiction, we are eventually sent off to a clinic, but if we are addicted to our work, we are generally admired for our disease and praised for our selflessness: If I drink too much, or eat too much, or become dependent on a drug, I am frowned upon and pitied; but if I overwork to the point of neglecting huge and important imperatives in my life, they say this of me: “Isn’t he wonderful! He’s so dedicated!” Workaholism is the one addiction for which we get praised.
Beyond providing us with an unhealthy escape from some important issues with which we need to be dealing, overwork brings with it a second major danger: The more we over-invest in our work and daily routine, the greater the danger of taking too much of our meaning from our work rather than from our relationships.
As we become more and more immersed in our work and the things that interest us, to the detriment of our relationships, we will naturally begin too to draw more and more of our meaning and value from our work and, as numerous spiritual writers have pointed out, the dangers in this are many, not least among these is the danger that we will eventually find it harder and harder to find meaning in anything outside of our work and daily routine.
Old habits are hard to break. If we spend years drawing our identity from working hard and being loved for being anything from a professional athlete to a dedicated mum, it will not be easy to simply shift gears and draw our meaning from something else.
Classical spiritual writers are unanimous in warning about the danger of overwork and of becoming over-preoccupied with our work; with on-line interests; with anything that excludes others; when using hospitality becomes abusing. This is in fact what Jesus warns Martha about in the famous passage in scripture where she, consumed with the very necessary work of preparing a meal, complains to Jesus that her sister, Mary, is not carrying her share of the load.
Jesus, instead of chastising Mary for her idleness and praising Martha for her dedication, tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part, that, at this moment and in this circumstance, Mary’s idleness trumps Martha’s busyness. Why?
Because sometimes there are more important things in life than work, and what I prefer to be doing; even the noble and necessary work of tending to hospitality and preparing a meal for others. Idleness may well be the devil’s workshop, but busyness is not always a virtue.