'Come, my hostess; come from exile, thou shalt be crowned."
The Liturgical Year
Time after Pentecost Vol. IV
By: Dom Gueranger
July 29 Saint Martha, Virgin
MAGDALENE this time was the first to meet our Lord. Scare a week had elapsed since her glorious passage, when she repaid her sister's former kind office, and came in her turn saying: 'The Beloved is here and calleth for thee.' And Jesus preventing her, appeared Himself and said: 'Come, my hostess; come from exile, thou shalt be crowned.' (RABAN. De vita B.M. Magd. et S. Marthae, xlvill). Hostess of the Lord, then , is to be Martha's title of nobility in heaven, as it was her priviledged name on earth.
Into whatever city or town you shall enter, said the Man-God to His disciples, inquire who in it is worthy, and there abide. (St. Matt. x. 11.) Now St. Luke relates that as they went, our Lord himself entered into a certian town, and a certian woman named Martha received Him into her house. (St. Luke x. 38). How could we give greater praise to Magdalen's sister than by bringing together these two texts of the holy Gospel?
This certian town, where she was found wrothy to give Jesus a lodging, this village, says St. Bernard, (BERN. Sermo 2 in Assump. Beatae Mariae Virginis.) is our lowly earth, hidden like an obscure borough in the immensity of our Lord's possessions. The Son of God had come down from heaven to seek the lost sheep; He had come into the world He had made, and the world knew Him not; Israel, His own people, had not given Him so much as a stone whereon to lay His head, and had left Him in His thirst to beg water from the Samaritan. We, the Gentiles, whom He was thus seeking amid contradictions and fatigues, out we not, like Him ,to show our gratitude to her who, bravingpresent unpopularity and future persectuion, paid our debt to Him.
Glory, then, be to this daughter of Sion, of royal descent, who, faithful to the traditions of hospitatliy handed down from the patriarchs and early fathers, was blessed more than all of them in the exercise of this noble virtue! These ancestors of our faith, pilgrims themselves and without fixed habitation, knew more or less obscurely that the Desired of Israel and the Expectation of the nations was to appear as a wayfarer and a strangers on earth; and they honoured the future Saviour in the person of every stranger that presented himself at their tent door; just as we, their sons, in the faith of the same promises now accomplished, honour Christ in the guest whom His goodness sends us. This relation beween Him that was to come and the pilgrim seeking shelter made hospitatlity and the pilgram seeking shelter made hospitality the most honoured handmaid of divine charity. More that once did God show his approval by allowing angels to be entertained in human form. If such heavenly visituations were an honour of which our earth was not worthy, how much greater was Maratha's priviledge in rendering hospitatliy to the Lord of angels! If before the coming of Christ it was a great thing to honour Him in those who prefigured Him ,and if now to shelter and serve Him in His mystical members deserves eternal reward, how much greater and more meritorious was it to receive in person that Jesus, the very thought of whom gives to virtue its greatness and its merit. Again, as the Baptist excelled all the other prophets by having pointed out as present the Messias whom they announced as future, so Martha, by having ministered to the person of the Word made Flesh, ranks above all others who have ever exercised the works of mercy.
While Magdalen, then, keeps her better part at our Lord's feet, we must not think that Martha's lot is to be despised. As in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office (Rom. xii. 4.), so each of us has a different work to perform in Christ, according to the grace we have received, whether it be to prophesy or to minister. And the apostle, explaining this diversity of vocations, says: I say, by the grace that is given me, to all that are among you, not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety, and according as God hath divied to every one the measure of faith. (Rom. xii. 3.) How many losses in souls, how many shipwrecks even, might be prevented by discretion, the guardian of doctrine and the mother of virtues.
'Whoever,' says St. Gregory with his usual discernment, 'gives himself entirely to God, must take care not to pour himself out wholly in works, but must stretch forward also to the heights of contemplation. Neverthelss, it is here very important to notice that there is a great variety of spiritual temperaments. One who could give himself peacefully to the contemplation of God would be crushed by works and fall; another, who would be kept in a good life by the ordinary occuplations of men, would be mortally wounded by the sword of a contemplation above his powers: either for want of love to prevent repose from becoming torpor, or for want of fear to guard him against the illusions of pride or of the senses. He who would be perfect must, therefore, first accustom himself on the plain to the pracetice of the cirtues, in order to ascend more securley to the heights, leaving behind every impulse of the senses which can only distract the mind from its purpose, every image whose outline cannot adapt itself to the figurelss light he desires to behold. Action first, then, contemplation last. The Gospel praises Mary, but does not blame MArtha, because the merit of the active life is great, though that of contemplation is greater.' (Moral. in Job c 25 passim.)
If we would penetrate more deeply into the mystery of the two sisters, let us notice that, though the preference is given to Mary, neverthelss it is not in her house nor in that of their brother Lazarus, but in MArtha's house, that the Man-God takes up His abode with those He loves. Jesus, says St. John, loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus. (St. John xi. 5) Lazarus, a figure of the penitents whom His all-powerful mercy daily calls from the death of sin to the divine life; Mary, giving herself up even in this life to the occupation of the next; and MArthya, who is here mentioned first as being the eldest, as first in order of time mystically, according to what St. Gregory says, and also as being the one upon whom the other two depend in that home of which she was the care.
Martha, then, understood by anticipation that he who holds the first place must be the servant, as the Son of Man came not to be ministered to, but to minister; and as, later on, the vicar of Jesus, the prince of prelates in the holy Church, was to call himself the servant of the servants of God. But in serving Jesus, as she served also with Him and for Him her brother and her sister, who can doubt that she had the greatest share in these promises of the Man-God: He that ministers to Me shall flollow Me, and where I am, there shall also My minster be, and My Father will honour him.
And that beautiful rule of ancient hospitatlity, which created a link like that of relationship between the host and the guest once received, could not have been passed over by our Emmanuel on this occasion, since the Evangelist says: As many as received Him, He gave them power to be made sons of God. (St. John i. 12.) And He Himself declares that whoever receives Him, receives also the Father who sent Him.
The peace promised to every house deemed worthy of receiving the apostolic messengers, that peace which cannot be without the spirit of adoption of sons, rested on Martha with surpassing fulness. The too human impetuousity she at first showed in her eager solicitude had given our Lord an opportunity of showing His divine jealousy for the perfection of a soul so devoted and so pure. The sacred nearness of the King of peace stripped her lively nature of the last remnants of restless anxiety; while her service grew even more actie and was ewell pleasing to Him ,her ardent faith in Christ, the Son of the living God, gave her the undertanding of the one thing necessary, the better part which was one day to be hers. What a master of the spiritual life Jesus here showed Himself to be; what a model of discreet firmness, of patient sweetness, of heavenly wisdom in leading souls to the higest summits!
As He had counselled His disciples to remain in the one house, the Man-God Himself, to the end of His earthly career, continually sought hospitatliy at Bethania; it was from thence He set out to redeem the world by His dolorious Passion; and when leaving this world, it was from Bethania that He ascended into heaven/ Then did this dewelling, this paradise on earth, which had given shelter to God Himself, to His Virigin Mother, to the whole college of apostles, seem too lonely to its inmates. Holy Church will tell us presently how the Spirit of Pentecost, in loving-kindness to us Gentiles, led into Gual this blessed family of our Lord's friends.
On the banks of the Thone, Martha was still the same: full of motherly compassion for every misery, spending herself in deeds of kindness. Always surrounded by the poor, says the ancient historian of the two sisters, she fed them with tender care, with food which heaven abundantly supplied to her charity, while she herself, the only one she forgot, was contented with herbs; and as in the glorious past she had served the Head of the Church in person, she now served Him in His members, and was full of loving-kindness to all. Meantime she delighted in practices of penance that would frighten us. Martyred thus a thousand times over, Martha with all the pwoers of her holy soul yearned for heaven. Her mind lost in God, she spent the whole nights absorbed in prayer. Ever prostrate, she adored Him reigning gloriously in heaven, whom she had seen without glory in her own house. Often, too, she would travel through towns and villages, announcing to the people Christ the Saviour.
Avignon and other cities of the province of Vienne were thus eveangelized by her. She delivered Tarascon from the old serpent, who in the shape of a hideous monster, not content with tyrannizing over the souls of men, devoured even their bodies. It was here that Tarascon, in the midst of the community of virgins she had founded, that she heard our Lord inviting her to receive hospitatlity from Him in heaen, in return for that which she had given Him on earth. Here she still rests, protecting her people of Provence, and receiving strangers in memory of Jesus. The peace of the blessed, which seems to breath from her noble image, fills the heart of the pilgram as he kisses her apostolic feet; journey in this land of exile, he carries away with him, like a perfume of his fatherland, the rememberance of her simple, toughing epitaph: SOLLICITA NON TUBATUR - ever zealous, she is no longer troubled.