Today is the Feast of St. Martha and the day’s celebration offers the celebrant two choices for a gospel reading. One is the well-known Lukan gospel in which Martha wants Jesus to make her sister Mary help her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” And in that moment we wonder if we are being told that Mary’s spirituality is the preferred one and poor Martha was so busy she was missing the great moment of faith.
Yet in the Johannine reading we hear the story of Martha’s encounter with Jesus on the sad occasion of the death of her brother Lazarus. Did she miss the great moment of faith? Hard to reach that conclusion. Martha is the one who proclaims: “She said to [Jesus], ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” Pretty clear.
Mary has a spirituality that works for her. Martha has a spirituality that works for her. Their own spirituality, each very different, draws each one closer to Jesus. And this is the “thing” about spirituality. There is not one size fits all. At any given time there will be a group in the church that seems to offer a “superior” spirituality. In the 70s there was a huge “Jesus movement” that weekly attracted stadium-sized crowds. In the 80s there was an emerging charismatic movement in Catholic circles. In the late 2nd and into the 3rd centuries it was the desert hermit experience. Which became the monastic movement. And that gave way to the perigrinatio – the wondering monk evangelists who re-evangelized northern Europe when the light dawn upon the dark ages. Soon enough the Carmelites, Dominicans and Franciscan movements arose, followed by the Jesuits, the Salesians, and a whole roster of men’s and women’s spiritual groups – each with their own spirituality.
Spirituality that works for its members. One not “better” than the other, but the one that works for you. The spiritual life that best enables you to say: ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’”