Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Fr. Roger J. Landry

10/7/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

Jesus indicates to Martha and to all of us how to prioritize the better part during the Year of Faith

To all of us in this frenetic era, who feel drawn-and-quartered by seemingly having to do so many things well at once, Jesus, with words shocking to our 21st century sensibilities, presents us today a summary of the Good News. He who came to set the captives free, who is the Truth incarnate, who knows everything and who cannot lie, tells us in one sentence, as he told Martha, the secret to our liberation: "You are worried and distracted by many things. Only one thing is necessary." The crucial question to be answered is, "What is that one thing?" 

Set and keep proper priorities.

Set and keep proper priorities.


By Fr. Roger J. Landry

Catholic Online (

10/7/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Martha, Mary, contemplative, Active, priorities, prayer, contemplation, Year of Faith, Fr. Roger J. Landry, catholicpreaching

FALL RIVER, MA (Catholic Online) - One of the most important things in human life is to learn how to set and keep proper priorities.

Often the difference between a happy and unhappy life, between a rewarding and a wasted one, centers on whether we've set the right goals and perseveringly sought to achieve them.

And it is getting harder today for people to set and achieve these priorities. So many of our technological advances, while offering great possibilities to improve our lives, often just leave us torn apart by a list of to-dos that just seems to keep growing, enslaving us to so many tasks that there seems to be no time for the things that deep down we know are most important.

Scores of American men have long complained that, because of all of the demands at work and the fulfillment of other duties, they have less and less time to do the things that are really fulfilling. Even many teenagers and young kids today have to keep a detailed calendar because with lessons, sports, homework, and even play dates, their schedule has become overwhelming.

To make matters more complicated across the generations, technological advances like cell phones, email, texts, Facebook, and Twitter has created a culture of the nanosecond, where those contacting us have gotten so used to an immediate response that we feel we must drop what we're doing and answer right away.

Life has become like the whack-o-mole game that many of us used to play at arcades, where black moles pop up in front of us and we have to whack them down continuously with a mallet. The only difference is that what we're about is not a game and that the moles are coming up not just in front of us in five or six predictable holes but all around us all the time.

To all of us in this frenetic era, who feel drawn-and-quartered by seemingly having to do so many things well at once, Jesus, with words shocking to our 21st century sensibilities, presents us today a summary of the Good News. He who came to set the captives free, who is the Truth incarnate, who knows everything and who cannot lie, tells us in one sentence, as he told Martha, the secret to our liberation: "You are worried and distracted by many things. Only one thing is necessary."

The crucial question to be answered is, "What is that one thing?"

In the scene from today's Gospel, Jesus reveals the answer in his interaction with the two sisters in Bethany. Martha and Mary welcome Jesus to their home, but they seek to welcome him in two different ways. Martha seeks to please the Lord by doing various things for him. The Gospel doesn't specify what she was doing, but anyone who has hosted a guest knows the types of things that would have characterized her hospitality. She would have been finishing up whatever cleaning might be done, setting up the place to eat, and doubtless preparing a meal.

Yet when Martha similarly spares no effort to welcome God-incarnate with loving attention to detail, and solicits Jesus' authoritative help in persuading her sister Mary to do her fair share of the preparations, Martha receives what at first glance seems to be a mild rebuke.

What Jesus was not saying here was that Martha's efforts were somehow evil or not appreciated. Shortly before he entered their home, Jesus, as we heard yesterday, gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, praising the one who made the effort to take care of another in contrast to those who did nothing.

In several other places in the Gospel he praised service of others: he said that he himself had come among us as one who serves; he washed his disciples' feet at the Last Supper and told them to do the same; he promised to gird himself with an apron and wait on those at the heavenly banquet; and he said that the greatest among us would be the one who serves the rest,

Jesus was clearly not castigating Martha for that service. What he was saying to her, however, was that none of those efforts was strictly-speaking essential. Therefore there was no reason to get worked about them. There was something more important, something that Mary, who had chosen the "better part," realized and that Martha didn't.

Here's what Mary recognized: Jesus had come to their home not to be fed, but to feed. The welcome he sought most was their time, their friendship, their love, their open ears and open hearts. Mary understood this and sat at Jesus' feet listening to him as if nothing in the rest of the world really mattered - because, in fact, Jesus implies, nothing in the rest of the world really does matter anywhere near as much as that.

Jesus once said in a parable, "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." Jesus was for Mary that pearl of great price more valuable than everything else put together.

Mary showed how much she understood the practical consequences of Jesus' value when he and his apostles visited their home again, just a few days before his death. St. John gives us the scene:

"Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served - some things never change! - and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' .  Jesus said, 'Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me'" (Jn 12:1-8).

The aromatic nard would have cost Mary almost a full year's salary, but she spent it entirely on Jesus because she knew he was worth every ounce of it and more. Jesus was her treasure and worth everything she had. Jesus was the "better part," better than anything or anyone else. He was the one thing necessary.

In these interactions in Bethany with Martha and Mary, Jesus was indicating to them, to the apostles, and to us today the most important priorities of all so that we, too, might choose the better part, by identifying the most important thing of all and then setting our minds and hearts on acting in accordance with that priority.

So let's get practical, especially in this Year of Faith, because each of us wants one day to have Jesus say of us what he said of Mary in today's Gospel. We can ponder three applications.

The first is to our hospitality toward Jesus. Like the sisters of Bethany, each of us is called to welcome Christ into our homes, both our physical homes and the spiritual abode of our hearts and souls. Do we welcome Jesus and sit at his feet in prayer? Do we have a time and a place where we pray regularly and say yes to him and no to the series finale of TV drama or to a playoff baseball game? Christ knocks on the doors of each of our hearts and homes wanting to come on in, but how often and how much do we invite him in?

One of the great family prayers - which the Church focuses on in particular in October - is the Rosary, when we, together with Jesus' mother Mary, ponder all Jesus teaches us in 20 of the most important mysteries of his life and the life of the Church. We can likewise sit and listen to him speak to us in Sacred Scripture, knowing that to listen to God give us the Good News each day is so much more important than reading or listening to the bad news that normally covers the front page of the daily paper or evening newscast.

The question is whether we, like Martha, are too caught up, anxious, and distracted by so many other less important things that we're welcoming into our minds and souls each day that we no longer have the energy or space to invite in Christ. It's Christ, however, who ought to be invited in first. That leads to the second point.

We're called to imitate Mary in choosing the better part and truly allowing Jesus to feed us as he desires to do. It's not enough for us to know what our priority should be. We also have to choose it. It's not enough just to know where the treasure is buried, we need to make the choice to sell off other things that own us so that we can buy the field. That means reorienting our life to make Jesus truly its center.

One of the most common problems facing many even faithful Catholics today, and preventing their spiritual growth, is that they put many things ahead of God, on Sunday, on Monday and throughout the week. I like to call this mixed up set of priorities the "Jesus is an important part of my life" syndrome. They try to squeeze Jesus into their schedule if they still have room and are not exhausted after having completed all the other activities they believe they "have to" do, whereas what we're supposed to be doing is making God truly the God of our life, giving him first place, and then centering all the rest we do around our relationship with him.

Those who center their life around Jesus will have a totally different attitude toward Eucharistic adoration, to daily Mass, and to adult education opportunities where Jesus seeks to feed us than those who are just trying to fit him in, as if Jesus is just one more important person or duty in a long series. To choose Jesus as the best part of all was Mary of Bethany's great wisdom and we will be wiser the more we imitate her.

The last application is to Martha. Martha often gets a bad rap in Church history in comparison to her sister because many interpret what Jesus did as a spiritual smack down, somehow denigrating the loving service Martha was doing for him in the kitchen.

Jesus wasn't at all minimizing the importance of what Martha was doing but was focusing on how she was doing it. The last thing Jesus would want would be for all of us merely to sit at his feet and allow everyone else to work to serve us. That's certainly not the Christian way or the way Jesus adopted.

Like Martha, we are called to work hard serving others but we're supposed to do it with the spirit of Mary. That's what the sanctification of our work is all about, to have Martha's hands and Mary's contemplative heart, so that we won't be distracted by many other things, but so focused on Jesus in work, at school and in family life that we'll be getting fed by him in action so that we might feed others not just by our work but with the One working within us. That's the vocation of every Christian.

And one of the most important forms of service we can give to others is to help them to form the true priorities that will bring them to happiness, holiness and heaven. Jesus wants to send us as missionaries to show them by our witness and words how to choose the better part, how happily to make God the true priority of one's life, in the midst of so many modern distractions and anxieties that leave people without a sure compass and spinning out of control. Each of us is called to work as hard as Martha, out of love for God and others, in setting an eloquent, attractive example like Mary, the example of a life with Jesus at the center.

Today, we, too, like Mary, have listened at Jesus' feet while he has fed us with his word. We ask him likewise to give us the courage to reorder the priorities of our life, and to base our lives on what he has reminded us today. Jesus is the one thing necessary. Mary chose the better part. Now let us ask her to intercede for us from before Jesus' feet in heaven for the grace to make the same choice today, tomorrow and each day going forward.

----- Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Living Faith

'I HAVE GIVEN YOU FULL WARNING.' Dark Days - Did Pope Francis just predict the END OF THE WORLD? Watch

Image of

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Pope Francis has invoked Mark, Chapter 13 as a warning that we may be approaching the end times. He suggested that what he has seen appears to fit the end times as described by Jesus. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Pope Francis has warned that we could be in the ... continue reading

Unbelievable exorcisms: Why is everyone obsessed with them? Watch

Image of Sixty-eight percent of Americans believe in the presence of angels and demons (The Possession).


Despite the growing belief that religion is losing its influence, people continue to firmly believe in the necessity for exorcisms. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to a Pew Research Survey, 68 percent of Americans believe angels and demons exist on Earth. ... continue reading

Come together this Thanksgiving with a beautiful prayer Watch

Image of Each year thousands of families celebrate Thanksgiving, but make the food their priority. This year, make God and all He has given us your priority.


Each year, millions of people across the United States rush to grocery stores and prepare to visit their families in celebration of Thanksgiving. Visiting loved ones and enjoying a specially prepared meal are both wonderful parts of celebrating, but don't forget to ... continue reading

Pope Francis: Jesus is weeping over a WORLD AT WAR

Image of Pope Francis mourns a world at war.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has made it clear, Jesus is weeping over a world at war. It has become obvious that this is a time of extreme danger for all people around the globe. No population is safe from terror. The threats aren't just from terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al ... continue reading

Oxford to begin study of Catholic relics. Here are 5 macabre relics people venerate from around the world Watch

Image of The skull of St. Thomas Aquinas.


The veneration of relics in the Catholic Church has been one of the most debated practices in the faith. While such veneration is actually common in the human experience -even Communists did it with the body of Lenin, the veneration of relics in the Church is the ... continue reading

Nine bishops, one abbot, dine and dialogue with peace activists Watch

Image of

By Tony Magliano

During the recent U.S. Catholic bishops' fall assembly in Baltimore, several bishops and one abbot, decided to skip dinner at the downtown Marriott Waterfront hotel, and walked several blocks to an inner city parish to share a simple meal with about 30 peace ... continue reading

Woman turns her cancer over to Jesus Christ - survives, thrives Watch

Image of Heather King shares her struggles in her new memoir,

By Mary Rezac, CNA/EWTN News

Heather King never cared much for doctors. Los Angeles, CA (CNA) - It's an attitude she partly inherited from her mother, "who classified ginger ale as a medicine, considered Novocain a snobbish extravagance" and somehow managed to avoid a visit to the doctor's office ... continue reading

Top 5 ways to find joy Watch

Image of Find happiness in spite of the darkness.


It is easy to fall prey to depression and sadness with everything that has been going on in the world these days. The trick to maintaining a positive attitude and living in the joy God has for us is as easy as following five simple steps. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic ... continue reading

Want to lose the War on Christmas? Surrender Advent Watch

Image of What millions of Christians do a day after expressing thanks for what they already have.

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Want to lose the War on Christmas? Surrender Advent. We Christians have gone out of our minds, arguing about Starbucks cups and greeters who (correctly) say "Happy Holidays" in place of "Merry Christmas." In all the bustle of the season, we have forgotten that Advent ... continue reading

The one easy thing you can do everyday that will profit your faith

Image of Reading Catholic Online every day can provide you with the Catholic outlook on the world you need.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

There is one thing you can do every day that will profit you in many ways. It requires no work and the most minimal effort. It will inform you, inspire you, and ignite your passions. That thing is to visit Catholic Online every day. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading

All Living Faith News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • You won't believe what happened to this pair of infant twins!
  • Prayer For Faith HD Video
  • Christmas Presence vs. Presents
  • Pope Francis orderes sweeping audit of the Vatican
  • St. Eligius: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, December 01, 2015
  • Daily Readings for Tuesday, December 01, 2015
  • Parents' Prayer For Their Children HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 11:1-10
1 A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, a new shoot will grow from ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 72:1, 7-8, 12-13, 17
1 [Of Solomon] God, endow the king with your own fair judgement, the son ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 10:21-24
21 Just at this time, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said, 'I ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 1st, 2015 Image

St. Eligius
December 1: Eligius (also known as Eloi) was born around 590 ... Read More