Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mary, Martha and earning readers

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Jacopo Comin (Tintoretto) (1518-1594)
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
I’ve referred to Luke 10:38-42 before, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as Jesus’ big convention-crossing moment, when he allows Mary the sister of Lazarus to sit at his feet as a disciple, a place only men could take. Here, if one wishes, one finds Jesus unequivocally treating a woman as an equal to the men around her, refusing to relegate her to the role of servant to men against her will.

That’s if one wishes to do so. G. K. Chesterton noted, in The Everlasting Man, that Christ “did not particularly denounce slavery … [but] he started a movement that could exist in a world without slavery. He never used a phrase that made his philosophy depend even upon the very existence of the social order in which he lived. He spoke as one conscious that everything was ephemeral, including the things that Aristotle thought eternal.”[1]

In the same way, the passage in Luke’s Gospel is not about sexual politics or women’s equality. Rather, it’s about how we let the thousand details of quotidian life distract us from discipleship.

By “we”, of course, I mean “I”.

Anybody who’s followed me for very long can see that my writing has suffered since I started working again, not only in quantity but in quality as well. For this I can claim no valid excuse, because there are plenty of other writers out there in the Catholic blogosphere who have not only jobs but kids (and, in the case of Fr. Dwight Longenecker, not one but two full-time ministries), and yet they manage to keep churning out fine work. I only have the one job — no wife or kids, only an aging mother whose arthritic hands require occasional assistance; until recently, I could compose my posts during the many slack hours at work. (Changed processes now keep me productive from clock-in to clock-out, which is just as well; getting paid to do damn near nothing is not the worker’s paradise you’d think it would be.)

And yet, if I posted here more than twice a month, it was an unusually inspired time. I look back over the last year’s posts, and there’s not a lot I can be especially proud of, especially concerning last year’s election cycle. The quote I got from the late author and philosopher Ralph McInerny still remains taped to my wall in front of my computer, as it has been for almost 2½ years: “The dilettante writes to amuse himself, an easy task, but the serious writer seeks to interest a reader. … No one owes you a reading. It has to be earned.”

I haven’t been earning it. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

It all came to a head for me last week. Between work, visitors from out of town, an air-conditioning compressor that went kaput, and the onset of a bout of bronchitis, I came close to submitting a post for Catholic Stand that was a total crapburger, as well as flubbing my first Knights of Columbus meeting as a council officer. The post I did submit was a recycle from this blog, “God and the Holocaust”, out of which I’d hacked about three hundred words to meet Catholic Stand’s limits. It’s a good post, one of my better ones … but I don’t like feeding leftovers to my guests.

It was after the Knights meeting, as I drove to buy some household goods before returning home, that I realized the needle on my spirituality tank is bouncing on “E”, and has been for some time.

Ironically, my Mass attendance is better than it has been for many years, though it’s yet to be perfect. But a regular presence at church is not the end of discipleship; as I’ve said before, the extent to which daily responsibilities and requirements take up our minds, hearts and energies is the extent to which we are distracted from God.

It’s not that the contemplative life is necessarily better than the active life. Rather, as Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us, there’s a time for everything, including contemplation. If you don’t adopt the scheduled rigor of a communal life, such as that of the Benedictine monks and nuns, then you need to create a time in the day to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to what he teaches.

Writing Outside the Asylum, oddly enough, became my time for contemplation between January 2011 and February 2012. It was never supposed to be a substitute for a job, something to do while first taking care of my dying brother and then searching for employment after his passing.

I lost sight of that. I lost my sense of vocation because, like Martha, I let myself be distracted by the minutiae of life. I reverted to being a dilettante rather than a serious writer. You deserve better; my colleagues at Catholic Stand and New Evangelist Monthly deserve better; God and the Holy Catholic Church deserve better. My apologies to you all — especially those who have left regular readership out of frustration with me.

It may take me some time to shake this spiritual malaise and recapture my sense of vocation, for which I abjectly beg your kind indulgence. Meanwhile, let me tie a bow on this apology with one thought:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). When Jesus knocks on your door, will you greet him like Martha — too busy serving him to pay attention to what he says? Or will you greet him like Mary — ready to sit at his feet and listen to him? Will his visit be an inconvenience or an opportunity?

Please pray for me.

[1] Chesterton, G. K. (1925). The Everlasting Man. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press; p. 195.