Ordinary Time 16, Year C

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Exercise hospitality (Rom 12:13)

Wrote Vincent de Paul to Louise de Marillac around 1630 (cf. P. Coste, I, 86 at [1]):

Read the book about the love of God, taking note of what deals
with the will of God and with indifference. As for all these 33
acts to the holy humanity and the rest, do not get distressed
when you miss doing them. God is love and he wants that one be
guided by love. So do not hold yourself bound to all these good
resolutions.

I find this advice to be reminiscent of the gentle admonition Jesus gave to Martha when she came up to him complaining: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”

The story of Martha and Mary welcoming Jesus speaks, no doubt, of Martha’s anxiety and worry about many things and of Mary’s choice of the better part. But in this story, too, Martha may very well “represent the sector of the Jewish people that ardently desired to serve God, but was obsessed with a tangle of legal obligations or of very complicated and continuous ceremonial observances in the temple in Jerusalem, so that they were left with neither time nor room in their mind for what is most important” (cf. Jaime Sancho Andreu’s commentary at [2]). And Mary, on the other hand, could be serving as the model of the true Israelite who, knowing to scrutinize the signs of the times, seized the moment and the opportunity that Jesus presented.

Louise de Marillac—not unlike the Martha who was “anxious and worried about many things” and unaware of the one necessary thing—apparently used to be “an anxious, troubled, scrupulous woman” who was bent on becoming “a saint by the sheer force of her will and the multiplicity of her prayers” (Louise Sullivan, D.C., “Louise de Marillac: A Spiritual Portrait” in Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac: Rules, Conferences and Writings [ed. Frances Ryan, D.C. and John E. Rybolt, C.M.]). As can be gathered from her “Rule of Life in the World,” Louise imposed a rigid structure on her life in general and on her prayer in particular. Continues Sullivan:

From her first thoughts on awakening until retiring at night,
she accounted for every minute. She left no room for
spontaneity. ... Indeed, it would seem that Louise was trying
to turn the little apartment where she had moved after Antoine
Le Gras’s death into the cloister where she had been refused
admittance years earlier. She set aside times to recite the
hours of the Office of the Blessed Virgin. She fixed the time
for assisting at Mass and the days for receiving Holy
Communion. She established periods for meditation and spiritual
reading, even indicating the titles. She specified fasting and
penance, the hair shirt and the discipline. Finally came her
devotions: the rosary, special prayers said at special times,
and acts multiplied within certain periods of times.

Given such rigidity, I doubt it if Louise would have had time or space in her life for what is most important. Had Divine Providence not designed that she be guided finally by Vincent de Paul, she would not have learned eventually to be truly free, at peace, cheerful, calm and leisurely, to let go and let God, to live content in the midst of things that cause discontent, not to brood on herself too much nor be carried away by indiscreet zeal and useless apprehension nor make a drudgery of serving God (cf. P. Coste: I, 26, 39, 67, 68, 69, 86, 90, 172, 302, 313, 620 [3]). With her attention, like Mary’s, fixed at last on Jesus, St. Louise thus got to practice genuine hospitality—so all-engaging that she would not allow strangers to just go on past her, so all-embracing that she welcomed to the table those whom many others would rather prefer to keep on the margins of society.

How many church leaders today—if I may dare wonder—are not so obsessed with a tangle of absolute certainties with regard to true doctrine, that they seem to have all but forgotten the meaning of these welcoming words, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”? (Mt. 9:13; 12:7) I only wish they are as accomodating and welcoming with regard to lex credendi and as they are with regard to lex orandi. It wouldn’t not hurt anyone, anywhere and anytime, I don’t think, to bear in mind that God is love and he wants everyone to walk in love. It might just lead to more Marys being admitted to sessions or positions patriarchal societies have traditionaly reserved only for men (cf. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., “Both Mary and Martha” in the July 16-23, 2007 issue of America).