Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Friday, July 29, 2005

Ora et labora

The picture above from Quarr Abbey shows Our Lord with St Mary and St Martha, whose memorial the Church celebrates today. The altar piece depicts the account given in Luke 10:38-42, wherein Martha rebukes Mary for not helping her in serving Christ at the table but the Lord responds: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things. But only a few things are necessary, really only one. For Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

It would be a regretable misunderstanding if this is taken to mean that Mary's listening, contemplative attitude was better than Martha's service and the distractions that hospitality and work sometimes entail. Indeed, if there were no one to serve and work, it would be impossible to contemplate. Both are needed. As such, the ancient Benedictine maxim: ora et labora unites prayer and work as necessary and St Benedict's rule strives to combine these two elements of a balanced human life; monasteries are models of the importance of both these complementary elements.

I think what the Lord means is that Mary had chosen well. She chose the "good part" because she chose to sit at the feet of the Lord and listen to him. Jesus obviously did not come often to visit, so when he did, she chose to spend time with him and listening to him.

It's ironic that often when I invite friends for a dinner party, rather than to relax and enjoy their company, I am so busy and distracted about the food etc that I can't actually sit and enjoy their presence. My friends travel to come and see me, talk to me and catch up. And yet, I am so concerned about providing them a gourmet meal that I fail to give them the very thing they came for: my company! In fact, a simple take away meal would suffice, if only we could sit and chat together... I suspect the Lord felt similarly when He entered Mary and Martha's home and the latter was so busy fussing about Him that she could not sit and spend time with Him. In this sense, Mary chose well. For even now, busy-ness keeps us from listening and even hearing the Lord.

In life, we have to make many decisions and more often that not we choose wrongly, upsetting the balance that should exist. Very often, given the chance to waste a few hours in Adoration, we choose instead to do a chore which may not be truly necessary. Or in the example above, it was not necessary to go through all the stress of cooking such a lavish meal; a simple one would suffice. Hence the Lord says that "only a few things are necessary..." Indeed, he says only one is: prayer.

Why? Because prayer grounds us; it is the foundation of our lives. Lives without prayer are without direction. And yet, modern capitalist societies are so obsessed by work that there is no room for prayer, thus making for a very unbalanced human experience of life, indeed many work-obsessed cultures seem directionless. All too many young people, my peers, are so caught up in the 'rat race' that they start to wonder why and what their place in life is... Work gives dignity to mankind but only when it is seen in the right perspective, along with prayer, family life, recreation etc; otherwise, our work becomes an idol dominating and excluding all else. Workers trapped in this cycle then become no more than cogs in a huge capitalist, corporate, greedy machine.

St Martha's day reminds us that prayer is a necessary corrective to this. The Benedictine monks down tools immediately upon hearing the bells that summon them to prayer, and they rush to pray, contemplate and spend time with God. This is instructive: it says that work is not all -important nor so urgent that it comes in the way of prayer. The Dominican tradition is slightly different because the work of the Order is nothing short of the preaching of the Gospel which is always urgent. But even so, Dominicans place contemplation at the heart and as the source of their work of preaching.

But let the last work on the unity of prayer and work, the role of work in the balanced Christian life go to Pope John Paul the Great:

"In these present reflections devoted to human work we have tried to emphasize everything that seemed essential to it, since it is through man's labour that not only "the fruits of our activity" but also "human dignity, brotherhood and freedom" must increase on earth. Let the Christian who listens to the word of the living God, uniting work with prayer, know the place that his work has not only in earthly progress but also in the development ot the Kingdom of God, to which we are all called through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the word of the Gospel" (Laborem exercens, 27).


Blogger ~m2~ said...

paul, i am so pleased to make your acquaintence and the fact you thought of me during mass today (feast day of St. Martha) warms me to no end :)

thank you for your kind comments on my blog and i am taking notes on the sacred music you recommended and will be purchasing soon...

peace be on you.

5:52 pm  

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