Q: My wife’s name is Martha, and we celebrated her feast day on July 29 with morning Mass and breakfast at her favorite restaurant. But I think that St. Martha’s sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus, should be remembered with her in the liturgy. Do you agree?
A: Yes! And that is why July 29 is observed as the memorial of “Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Hosts of the Lord” in the Benedictine liturgical calendar.
It is good to honor them together during the summer months that are marked by abundant hospitality to family members and neighbors in our homes and to vacationing worshipers in our churches.
St. Benedict’s advice for how monks should welcome guests is good for everyone: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:35).”
The home that Martha, Mary and Lazarus shared was in a small town and not on a busy street, but everyone knew where it was. People would drift by on a spring day as the family got the garden ready for planting, or on a summer day to watch the zucchini grow, or to share something tasty from the oven. And Jesus was among those welcome ones who used to stop by and stay awhile.
Martha, Mary and Lazarus were delighted to be hosts for the Lord Jesus when he lived on this earth. He was delighted to be a guest at their home, to share their table and be part of their lives.
But maybe you also have been a generous host for the Lord Jesus. Maybe you have welcomed him many times, in many ways, in many people. Maybe you have welcomed him into your home, into your life, into your parish. For now Jesus comes to us, not in physical form, but in many different appearances: that of the spouse, the parent, the child, the relative, the neighbor, the guest, the immigrant. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me,” Jesus said (Matthew 18:5). Each of us can welcome Jesus Christ in the person of so many needy ones.
Receiving and giving
Hospitality is an outward expression of an inward love for others, whether the expression be lavish or simple, elegant or plain. Thus, Father Pierre-Marie Delfieux explains that “in your heart God has excavated an immense space where he has placed a precious treasure.
From now on you have the twofold duty of receiving and giving: sharing the treasure of the kingdom you bear within you and stretching the area of your tent for those around you.” (“The Jerusalem Community Rule of Life,” trans. Sister Kathleen England [Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985, p. 29).
When I was growing up in north Minneapolis, my parents rented a second-floor apartment from the landlady, Helen Anderson. She lived downstairs with her sister Esther, whom polio had left unable to walk. From time to time on long summer evenings, my parents and I would join these two sisters on their tiny screened-in porch for root beer floats: made of the richest ice cream, the best and frothiest root beer, served in tall glasses with straws and long spoons. The whole experience was filled with the spirit of contentment and peace that composer Samuel Barber has captured in his setting of poems by James Agee, “Knoxville Summer of 1915.”
A form of worship
Maybe that’s what Jesus felt when he received the hospitality from Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Jesus must have loved their home and their companionship. Maybe he knew what later rabbis wrote: “Hospitality is one form of worship.” And it was just like Jesus to turn the tables on people. So in raising Lazarus from the dead, he revealed to this holy trio the wonders of resurrection life, the life that we hope to share forever in God’s hospitable home.
Welcoming God, with Mary of Bethany we open wide our ears to hear your Word; with Martha, we open wide our hands to do your work; with Lazarus, we open wide our selves to share your life.
Let our prayers center our hearts on your Son, Jesus Christ, who is Lord forever and ever. Amen.
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at email@example.com or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.