Being and Doing


"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."
(Luke 10:42, from the Gospel for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

I was listening to a podcast with Fr. John Riccardo and he said something to the effect of “we often think that the calling to be a disciple is to work for Jesus, but the calling of a disciple is to be with Jesus.” The Gospel account of Martha and Mary this week is so important for us to hear and learn from. 

Over the last six years, I have worked in two suburban parishes doing adult formation. Both parishes are located in very affluent areas and have a large number of upper middle class, white collar professionals. We have CEOs, attorneys, physicians, salespeople, pharmaceutical professionals, corporate executives, and even professional athletes. I’ve joked at times that our home could probably fit in the garages of some of the parishioners I know. Many of their young people are involved in multiple afterschool clubs and traveling sports teams. To say that I am often surrounded by Type-A personalities would be an understatement.

There is often a temptation to carryover the fast-paced, hardworking, overcommitted, results-oriented lifestyle into one’s spiritual life. We busy ourselves with doing things, good things, but can confusing doing things for God for being with God. I know this can be a struggle for me. I do quite a bit of teaching and it can be tempting to allow studying scripture to put a teaching together to replace spending time prayerfully in scripture to just connect with the Lord.

When we look at the Gospel for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time we see Martha and Mary, two women who loved Jesus and desired to be his disciples. Martha is focused on serving Jesus and her guests, and that is a good thing. As Catholics we value the works of mercy and have a robust social teaching focused on carrying for others. The average Catholic parish cannot function without an army of dedicated volunteers who selflessly give of their time, talent, and treasure week in and week out – and we can always use more of them. Focusing our efforts on doing good things with good intentions is a good thing.

But Mary chose something better. Many times the good can be the enemy of the best. The foundation of our spiritual lives needs to be “wasting” time with Jesus. We must learn to value being over doing. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father declares his pleasure with Jesus before Jesus did any public ministry. Jesus didn’t earn the Father’s pleasure by doing things, but he had his pleasure based on their relationship. If we want to be effective in doing good things for God, we must start in a place of rest and knowing that God’s love and pleasure for us is not found in what we do, but who we are. 

Being & doing are not mutually exclusive. One is not right & the other wrong. However, being is more important ("the better part") and effective doing must come from a place of being. Being is also the part that most of us find more difficult, but it is worth the effort.

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