Mother Church has set before us today readings from the treasury of her Scriptures which urge us to pay careful attention to the sort of welcome we give Jesus into our lives. The Gospel reading told us:
Jesus entered a certain village and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.
In the first reading we were told of a theophany in which Abraham:
Looking up, he saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: ‘Sir, if I may ask you this favour, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree. Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way.’ ‘Very well,’ they replied, ‘do as you have said.’
Both accounts told of a sincere welcome being given to divine and angelic visitors. Abraham, however, was as attentive as he could possibly have been:
He took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
Martha, on the other hand, was not quite so whole-hearted:
Martha was burdened with much serving, and Jesus said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.’
What was Martha so anxious about? First of all, something that perhaps she did not recognize, or would not admit had she been able to recognize it: namely, her desire not only to prepare well for Jesus, but also to be seen to prepare well, a desire not to let herself down, so to speak. But there was something else too; after all, Jesus said that she was not only “anxious” but also "worried" about something. Now Martha had a sister, a younger sister, Mary, and it may perhaps have been the case that Martha, being the elder, and also a dynamic sort of person, was accustomed to taking or giving a lead, and the difficulty, the "worrying" aspect for her today, was the fact that Mary was not following her lead, for we are told that:
Mary sat beside the Lord at His feet listening to Him speak.
Consequently, it was not possible for Martha to be whole-hearted in her welcome of Jesus because she was both concerned about her own image, and, at the same time, irritated by what she considered to be her younger sister’s lack of consideration. And so, Martha, being an honest -- even blunt -- soul, could not restrain herself from making known to Jesus what was, indeed, troubling her:
She approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’
Looking again at Abraham, we see that he had been well rewarded for his hospitality and attentiveness; but not only Abraham, for Sarah too had shared fully with Abraham by preparing food for the guests in the background. Both, therefore, had been rewarded with the promise of a son, the child for whom they had prayed long and hard but who, they had come to think, would never be theirs. In the Gospel story, therefore, though Jesus appreciated Martha's toil and solicitude, He considered Mary's attentive love and self-forgetfulness to be of another order, and so He said in reply to Martha's complaint:
Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.
Mary’s self-less commitment to, and appreciation of, the Word that Jesus was speaking, was a choice valid for eternity and it won her a blessing that would never be revoked. Her love for the authority and beauty of Jesus’ message caused her to forget herself; Martha, on the other hand, though she truly loved Jesus, still cherished herself dearly: she could not yet work whole-heartedly and with humility, as Sarah had done before when plagued with the thought that - by human reckoning - she was not being sufficiently appreciated.
Now we are all here at Mass to welcome Jesus -- all of us, I myself, just as much as you – and the welcome we give is, as our readings show, mysteriously significant and important. Each of us must welcome Jesus, first of all, into our own heart, and then, all of us together, into our parish community and thereby into His universal Church, and finally - let us never forget it - through us and His Church He must be welcomed into our world:
May this sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world.
At this moment then, the Universal Church and the whole of mankind, are, to a certain extent, relying upon us and the sort of welcome we give to Our Lord: because, the deeper, the more sincere and whole-hearted that welcome, the greater the blessing will be, for ourselves, for the Church, and for the world.
The apostle Paul, speaking to us in the second reading, said:
I became a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the Word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
Let us now, therefore, listen carefully to him telling us something of the Word he had been sent to preach to us and for us. It is, he says:
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past, but now manifested to His holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
So, the apostle was to proclaim the mystery of Christ dwelling in all who are His faithful disciples in Mother Church: to make known the riches of this mystery by opening up our minds to the prospect of eternal glory promised by Our Lord, and our hearts to the influx of a joyous and inspiring hope through the gift of His Holy Spirit.
The question now is, of course, what sort of welcome are you giving - even here and now - to this proclamation and explanation of the mystery of Christ at work in us through His Spirit? For some misguided and half-hearted Catholics Mass begins and ends with Holy Communion. Now how can such people truly welcome Christ in Holy Communion when they ignore Him in His Holy Word, having no interest in the Scriptures nor in the God-given power, privilege, and duty of Mother Church and her priests both to proclaim and to explain the mystery of Christ among us and in us? How can they welcome into their own lives Him Whom they can't be bothered to understand in His Body, the Church? Who can be filled with gratitude for riches of which they choose to be ignorant?
Holy Mass starts at the very beginning of our assembly when we first ask God to free us from our sins. We do that so that we may be able to celebrate the whole Eucharistic offering aright: first of all by hearing God's word with our ears, as it is proclaimed, and then embracing it with our minds and hearts as it is appreciated and explained in the homily. Only after having thus welcomed Christ in His Word are we rightly called and enabled to offer ourselves - in Him and with Him - in His own Eucharistic offering and sacrifice for the Father’s glory and the salvation of mankind. Welcoming the Bread of Life Himself together with His Gift of the Holy Spirit into our very hearts and lives through Holy Communion is the consummation of our oneness with Him and the sure hope of our enduring faithfulness and fruitfulness in His work.
It is particularly important for us today, however, to give attention to the welcome we accord to the Word of God, to Jesus in the Scriptures proclaimed by Mother Church. Commonly, these days, people want short readings and almost demand short sermons; and it nearly always raises an easy and rather cheap laugh when this attitude is made into a sort of joke: "If you can't say what you want to say in five minutes, it's not worth saying". This was not the attitude of the early Church, as can be appreciated from the following account to be found the Acts of the Apostles of a church meeting led by Paul at Troas:
On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight. A young man named Eutychus who was sitting on the window sill was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. Once overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and when he was picked up, he was dead. Paul went down, threw himself upon him, and said as he embraced him, “Don‘t be alarmed; there is life in him.” Then he returned upstairs, broke the bread, and ate; after a long conversation that lasted until daybreak, he departed. And they took the boy away alive and were immeasurably comforted. (Acts 20:7-12)
Obviously what is prolonged for no good reason is not welcome. But no one, having some treasured possession, is ever content to look at it, rejoice in it, or express their appreciation of it, for just once, and then never again allow himself to take further delight in it. Now the Scriptures are like a field that contains countless hidden treasures. If you are computer-wise you will be aware of some programmes where certain words are signalled, which, if you press on them, up pops further information, further enlightenment. Holy Scripture is something like that. A Scripture reading might seem, at first, to be just a long sequence of not very interesting words, phrases and sentences, but, by the grace of God, any one of those sentences or phrases, indeed almost any one of those words can be found to contain so much that is beautiful beyond measure. Now, the only way to discover such treasures contained in the Scriptures, is not, indeed, by pressing some mechanical button, but by learning from the wisdom of Mother Church, and by entering into a personal relationship with the Spirit of Jesus, that is, by allowing the Holy Spirit, Who first inspired those sacred words, to reveal something of their meaning to you. If you do not prayerfully approach the Scriptures yourself, if you will not hear them or listen to explanations of them with reverence and respect, then the Holy Spirit will in no way lead you to find the treasures they contain, for did not Jesus Himself once say to His Apostles (Matthew 7:6):
Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine.
On the other hand, however, those who do reverence the Scriptures, receive a blessing from the Lord, Who, spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying:
On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word. (Isaiah 66:2)
They are the ones who, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, discover and delight in the hidden treasures of the Scriptures; for them, the words of the Scriptures are revealed as words of life, as Jesus Himself said:
It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' (Matthew 4:4)
That is the manna God offers us His People as He leads us through the desert of this world to our home in heaven; it is the food we need for a journey which can be long; the food meant to give us peace and joy, to be our comfort and strength, to become, indeed, our very life and fulfilment. May all of us gathered here today be enabled to receive and experience it as such, through the loving kindness and mercy of God our Father, Jesus our Saviour, and the Holy Spirit Who is God’s Gift to each and every one of us in Mother Church.