I was about to enter the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph in “the old days” when members of religious communities were given new names to symbolize the new life that they were undertaking. In my community, we were able to submit three names to the superior in hopes that we would be given one of them. As things were beginning to change with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, I had little hope of receiving a different name because our Church was coming to see again the primary importance of the baptismal commitment. It was likely that I would be forever named Lois Ann as I was at my baptism. Nevertheless, I wrote to my mother, asking her what name she thought I should request. Her answer was a succinct summary of her life of faith which I have carried with me for the last 45 years and recounted countless times in appropriate situations. She wrote, “I think you should ask for Sister Mary Martha. When I was young I was busy about many things, but now that I’m older (She was 53 at the time), everything I do, I do for God.”
I did get my own name and as I mature into it (still an ongoing process, I think) I remember what my mother said and I continue to try to balance the active and the contemplative sides of me. In this morning’s gospel, Jesus tells Martha (whose feast we celebrate today) that Mary, who spends her time sitting at the feet of Jesus rather than doing household tasks, has chosen “the better part” because there is only one thing necessary. Implied here is the practice of love that was so clear in Mary’s behavior. On Martha’s behalf, however, I would like to remind us that loving service is the way we grow into selflessness and the Marthas of the world are to be commended. What we need to practice each day is the intention to serve with love without the resentment that everyone else is not working as hard as we are! (Keep in mind that their brother Lazarus had just died when Jesus and Martha had this conversation so not only was Martha grieving but there was a lot to do!)
Today I will assess both the Martha and the Mary in me, cognizant that there is always a “to do” list in my life, but as someone recently suggested, there should also be a “to be” list in my days. In that way I will honor God and my mother in the way only Sister Lois Ann can be and do.