Practical effort, while necessary, will be only “sterile activism” unless it flows from listening to the Word of God, Pope Francis said Sunday.
In his message before the Angelus prayer July 17, the pope reflected on the Gospel story of Jesus’ visit to the sisters Mary and Martha in Bethany.
Jesus “acknowledges Martha’s effort. However, he wants to make her understand that there is a new order of priorities, different from the one she had followed until then,” the 85-year-old Francis said from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
“Mary had intuited that there is a ‘better part’ that must be accorded first place,” he continued. “Everything else comes after, like a stream flowing from the source. And so we wonder: what is this ‘better part?’ It is listening to Jesus’ words.”
According to the Vatican gendarmes, around 12,000 people were in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s weekly message.
The Gospel of Luke says Martha was busy with serving, while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him speak.
Pope Francis said: “Then Martha turns to the Master and asks him to tell Mary to help her. Martha’s complaint does not seem out of place; indeed, we would tend to agree with her. Yet Jesus answers her: ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”
He emphasized that “the word of Jesus is not abstract; it is a teaching that touches and shapes our life, changes it, frees it from the opaqueness of evil, satisfies and infuses it with a joy that does not pass.”
“Jesus’ word is the better part, that Mary had chosen. Therefore, she gives it first place: she stops and listens. The rest will come after,” he said.
Pope Francis said practical effort has value, but it should flow from listening to the word of Jesus, not precede it.
“It must be enlivened by his Spirit. Otherwise, it is reduced to fussing and fretting over many things, it is reduced to sterile activism,” he underlined.
The pope also had advice for how to follow Mary’s example: start the day with scripture.
He encouraged Catholics to spend time in the morning meditating on the Word of God before diving into the busyness of the day.
“Let us ask ourselves: When I start my day, do I throw myself headlong into the things to be done, or do I first seek inspiration in the Word of God?” he said.
“If we leave the house in the morning keeping a word of Jesus in mind,” he said, “the day will surely acquire a tone marked by that word, which has the power to orient our actions according to the wishes of the Lord.”
Take advantage of the slower pace of summer, he urged.
“Nowadays it is increasingly difficult to find free time to meditate,” he noted. “For many people the rhythm of life is frenetic and wearisome. Summertime can be valuable also for opening the Gospel and reading it slowly, without haste, a passage each day, a short passage from the Gospel.”
“Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by those pages, asking ourselves how our life, my life, is going, if it is in line with what Jesus says, or not so much.”