The Confession of Saint Peter - January 18, 2012
On the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter, I celebrate the tenth anniversary of my ordination as a priest. As I do every year, I take the day to go on a retreat, to pray, reflect and write. This one day retreat has come to be more valuable to me than the celebration of my birthday or any number of other significant dates.
Ordination is marriage to our Lord – even for those who are also married to a wife. Of course, Baptism is also marriage. It is the first step in our marriage to Christ – it is the believer entering the Church and becoming the Bride of Christ. Confirmation is the renewal of our baptismal vows, ideally a moment where we recognize that we need to take our marital vows more seriously. Ordination in part, is another renewal of vows, but it is more than that. It is the commitment to spend the rest of one's life encouraging the whole body of Christ to be faithful to their marriage vows to Christ, and to invite others to become the Bride of Christ. Of course all Christians share in this responsibility, but clergy bear a unique responsibility in this effort. [Consider Hebrews 13.17]
I have come to this retreat exhausted and spiritually famished. This has been one of the most trying years of my life. The reason for this was made obvious within the first hour of my retreat: I am so busy and stressed that I hardly remember what is to be a human being. As the Bride of Christ, I am spending very little time with my husband. I am spending a lot of time cleaning His house, but very little time just enjoying His presence, and I am bitter about it. I'm tired of listening to everyone's problems. I'm tired of trying to solve everyone's difficulties.
Now if we take this analogy the wrong way, we might start to think in human terms like, “Why doesn't he clean-up his own messy house!” We could slip into that bitterness that Martha felt when she saw Mary just enjoying being with Jesus. [Luke 10.38-42]
Luke tells us that “Martha was distracted by all of her preparations.” We can easily imagine her frowning red-faced as she pointed to her sister Mary and scolded her Lord saying, “Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?”
Martha's frustration pretty well sums up my prayer life over the past several months: “Lord, do you not care . . .” Ironically, I suspect Martha wasn't as irritated with her sister's lack of help as she was with feeling like she was missing out on the best part of being a disciple – because she was!
And that is what Jesus tells her. Listen to Jesus' tender reply: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered by so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
“Only one thing is necessary” spending time with Jesus; being in his presence. It is the very heart of humanity: we have friends because we want to spend time with them. We get married because we want to enjoy one another's company. We become Christians because we want to live with Jesus. But we become so worried and bothered about unnecessary things, that we lose our friends and family, we suffer from loneliness and divorce, and some even leave Christ and His Church.
Jesus' answer to Martha is the same answer that we need: “Only one thing is necessary, spending time with Me.” Nothing is more important. Don't you see it? Jesus was not condemning Martha's service. He just wanted her to understand that all of her worry and bother for Him was pointless without taking the time to be with Him.
“Jesus I've forgotten the words that You
have spoken pomises that burned within
my heart have now grown dim with a
doubting heart I follow the paths of earthly
wisdom forgive me for my unbelief
renew the fire again
Lord have mercy Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy on me
I have built an altar where I worship things
of man I have taken journeys that have
drawn me far from You now I am returning
To Your mercies ever flowing pardon
my transgressions help me love You again
I have longed to know You and all Your
tender mercies like a river of forgiveness
ever flowing without end so I bow my heart
before You in the goodness of Your
presence Your grace forever shinin like a
beacon in the night”
[Lord Have Mercy – by Robin Mark]