This morning I walked into the living room where Caleb was playing in his play pen to give him a kiss goodbye when I had four simultaneous thoughts (well, three observations and a thought):
- What’s that dark mark on his face?
- Smells like someone needs a diaper change!
- Speaking of diapers, where is Caleb’s diaper?
- Oh dear God…
There. Was. Poop. Everywhere. I called out to my wife, “Katie! He’s playing with poop!” I can only imagine what the Amazon Customer Service Representative I was on the phone with at the time thought. And so began a 45 minute adventure. Katie took Caleb and thoroughly cleaned him while I went on a seek and destroy mission for . . . particles.
As Katie and I set about to take care of our duty (really Caleb’s duty) we could only laugh. And we did laugh. I wondered what else besides love could bring about a situation where two fairly normal human beings are scouring someone else’s poo off the ground and various toys with an irrepressible joy causing fits of laughter. It’s not like the poop wasn’t so bad. It smelled like, well, poop. And it really was everywhere. But love changes things. By knowing our Father loves us, and reflecting that love to the world we can see with the eyes of faith what our greatest treasure is. Today my greatest treasure was to spend the better part of an hour sanitizing my living room.
Jesus talks about what it is we should truly treasure in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. He offers us a parable of a man who believes he is set for life. He has enough to never have to work, never be uncomfortable, never have to worry about his next meal and he believes this will give him a life of contentment. And he is a fool. Not because food or drink or comfort or happiness are bad things—they aren’t. But they’re not the ultimate ends for which we were made either. They don’t represent the treasures our hearts were designed to seek. We are images of God who is Love and the greatest expression of that love is Jesus Christ Crucified. Our greatest treasure is to be that kind of selfless love and not just for our own family. Even the wicked know how to love their family (Luke 11:13). The real treasure is a “poo-scrubbing-with-a-smile-on-your-face” type love for everyone—for those who can do nothing for you, for those who dislike you or even hate you.
This Sunday, 23 teens and 7 adults from Saint Mary of the Hills depart for Mexico, ME to do a week of Christian service at Beyond Sunday Missions. Please pray that their motivation be a “poo-scrubbing-with-a-smile-on-your-face” type love. Or more simply, and more accurately, a crucifixion type love. Let a crucifixion type love be what leads them to step outside of their comfort zone, to work despite fatigue, frustration, self-doubt or uncertainty, to smile and show kindness even when smiles and kindness haven’t been earned and to bring the lessons learned home to our parish so that we may be inspired to do likewise. This is the lived faith the whole world desperately needs to see.
I prefer to do obvious chores. I’m guilty of doing the most noticeable housework first. Empty the sink, clear out the dishwasher, do the laundry. I even leave folded clothes out on the bed so Katie knows how wonderful I am. (Because what’s the point of putting the clothes away? Then no one will notice you did laundry. Duh.) I don’t sweep unless the floor is crunchy and I don’t vacuum unless the rug is visibly dirty. I certainly don’t dust. Where’s the reward in that? And I find I’m not alone in my need be doing and doing in a visible way.
Every year, when dozens of our teens go on a summer mission trip, they have the opportunity to select the work site they want to be at all week. Without fail people are drawn to the home where the work is more visible (construction or painting) and the family circumstances are most dire. I remember one year where this became almost a competition between work teams (“Today we framed three walls for our host Tony who has diabetes, heart disease, gout, his kids don’t talk to him, he’s super poor, he has terrible halitosis…”). We reinforce this as a society with a great focus on “doing” at all times. Especially in ways that are measurable. Think, in this Year of Mercy, how much attention we pay to the corporal works of mercy and how little attention is given to the spiritual works of mercy. We give awards of recognition, require service hours and do write ups in the Milton Times for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. I wonder if any high school student has ever turned in a service hours form for 10 hours of “bearing wrongs patiently.”
This brings me to this Sunday’s gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42). In it we see Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, and Martha, burdened with much serving. Martha wasn’t doing anything wrong. What she was doing was very good. She was serving her family and her guest, who happened to be her Lord. It’s not that Martha was wrong and Mary was right. What Martha did was good, but what Mary did was better. It was the only thing that needed to be done.
The message for us is to choose the better part like Mary did. What I want is to be doing. I want to do a work that is a visible accomplishment. And not even so I can receive credit or boast—I want to look at what I did and know I did something. But that isn’t the better part. That isn’t what Jesus knows I need. He wants me to come to Him and simply be in His presence. To sit at His feet, under His loving gaze. To pray, to be healed in Reconciliation and receive Him in the Eucharist. There are no awards and there is no sense of accomplishment. There is so much more—there is grace and the unconditional love of God that strengthens all of our efforts; there is mercy and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. I firmly believe that Mary, after spending time at the Master’s feet, went out and was able to do the works of Martha better than Martha ever could.
Recognize this picture? If you’re unfamiliar with the Saint Mary of the Hills upper church, this is the side altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother. She’s currently missing (not to worry, the statue has been taken for repairs). I was standing here with Caleb during the 10:15 Mass this past week and my eye kept being drawn to this empty space. The “Marylessness” of the side altar—it got me thinking about my life as a Catholic before I discovered true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 2014. The spiritual “before” and “after” photos would be jaw dropping if you could photograph such a thing. I could talk about her without end, but I won’t. I hope to share a simple and practical rationale and method for starting a devotion to Mary.
Why devotion to Mary? I can think of a number of great reasons:
- Jesus gave His own Blessed Mother as our mother from the cross (John 19:26-27)
- She is the perfect disciple and evangelizer. If our job is to bear Christ into the world then who better to show us the way than the one who did it first.
- Mary makes personal holiness easier. If I stand at the foot of the cross alone it can seem impossible, almost unimaginable, to love as Christ loves. But when I realize Mother Mary is there, holding my hand, it becomes attainable. And I don’t have to reinvent the wheel in becoming a saint. I can simply follow her model of submitting to God’s will and doing whatever Jesus commands. (Luke 1:38 and John 2:5)
You can start easily by praying with Mary to her Son Jesus. There are a number of traditions for this. You could intersperse your day with Marian prayers such as the Hail Mary, the Magnificat, and the Memorare. Of course there is also praying the Rosary daily, which is such a great blessing if you can find time. I’ve found some useful tips to make a daily Rosary possible:
- Do it first thing. I try to begin my prayer before I even have my socks on. Ok, that’s a lie. I sleep with socks on. But placing time in prayer at the beginning of the day makes it less likely that it will get pushed off the day’s to do list.
- Start small. If a full five decades is too much try just one. Use a recording to get you in the habit. There are a number of great ones out there. I like Gretchen Harris’
- Don’t do something else (like driving, housework, working out) while praying, but feel free to pray while doing something else (like driving, housework, working out). Very often my morning Rosary coincides with emptying the dishwasher. I’ve hiked and run with the Rosary. There’s even a DVD series of yoga and (Pontius?) pilates type movements to accompany the Rosary called Soul Core. The key difference is mindset. Am I allowing activity to become a distraction to my prayer vs. am I offering up the activity to God through prayer.
End Marylessness* and make praying the Rosary an important part of your prayer life this summer! I hope that you are blessed by this devotion as much as I have been.
* I’m pretty sure I invented a new theological term here