Today we hear the story of two sisters, Martha and Mary, who invite Jesus into their home. One of these women is very active and busy serving Jesus, the other is captivated by his mere presence, and sits listening to his feet. Martha, the active, busy woman, is frustrated with all the work she has to do; eventually she confronts her sister. Martha must have been thinking, Mary is useless right now! Jesus is a guest in our home; there are so many things to do, and here she is just sitting there. And yet, Jesus recognizes that it is Mary who has chosen the better path, and that it is Martha who is really the useless one (Lk 10: 38-42).
We can ask ourselves similar questions: What use is there coming to Mass every week? What use is it to see the same people and hear the same readings? And I can tell you right now, Mass is useless!
I remember when I was teaching High School that I would start one of my classes by posing the following question, “What is a successful life for you? Who in your eyes has lived a successful life?” The kids would throw out names: politicians, actors, singers, businessmen. After they were done I would ask, “And who has led a beautiful life?” After a pause, they would start throwing out different names: Gandhi, John Paul II, the firemen who died giving their life in 9-11. They noticed that in a “culture of accomplishment” there is a difference between what you accomplish and the ideals that guide your life; not everything is about doing and achieving. Beyond accomplishment there is also a beauty that compels us to act a certain way, a beauty that compels us to just contemplate it.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, said the following,
“I live tired in these times. Man is dying of thirst and there is no problem in the world bigger than this: to give men a spiritual sense, a spiritual restlessness. One cannot live any longer on refrigerators, on politics, on balance sheets, on crossword puzzles. One cannot! One cannot live any longer without poetry, without color, without love.Working only for the material good, we end up building up our own prison. We lock ourselves up in our own currency of ash that does not buy anything that is truly worth having.”
What is the point of having museums, art, paintings, beautiful songs, and poetry, if not for beauty itself? A spiritual author of our times, says the following,
“Beauty is useless, superfluous, like all great things in life. Is not the universe itself a totally superfluous firework of divine glory and therefore so priceless? Useful things have a price but who can assess the value of a poem in dollars and cents? Who can put a price tag on a kiss? If God’s glory is really all that matters, then the totally useless is not the relegated to moments of spare time once in a month or on Sundays, we have to learn that the useless comes first” (Steindl-Rast).
The useless comes first! Jesus recognized in Mary that she chose the better path because she was enjoying his presence; she was “useless” by choosing to just be with her Teacher, and to absorb his wisdom and presence. As we see in the First Reading, it is God who seeks us first. Three men pass by Abraham’s house, and Abraham stops them and invites them in. He recognizes the presence of God, and what does he do? He enjoys a meal with them (Gn 18:1–10a). He sits down like we are sitting down around the holy altar of God to enjoy a meal with Him, to enjoy of his presence, not to profit, not to benefit, not to work, but to “uselessly” enjoy the presence of our heavenly Father .
“The practice of the liturgy means that by the help of grace, under the guidance of the Church, we grow into living works of art before God, with no other aim or purpose than that of living and existing in His sight; it means fulfilling God’s Word and ‘becoming as little children’ (Mt 18:13); it means foregoing maturity with all its purposefulness, and confining oneself to play.” This participating in the Liturgy has “one thing in common with the play of the child and the life of art–it has no purpose, but it is full of profound meaning. It is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God’s sight–not to create, but to exist–such is the essence of the liturgy” (R. Guardini).
Through song, through the Word, and through the Breaking of the Bread, we are here to adore God for being God; we are here to sit at the table with Jesus, and to listen to him, to enjoy his presence. God seeks us out. God, like with Abraham, is passing by our house, and it’s up to us that we may find his presence and call him in.
So when somebody asks you, “Why do you go to Mass?” You and I can now respond, “I go because it’s useless!” May Mary show us to adore Our Father in the Holy Mass; may she guide us to hear His Holy Word and to contemplate Christ in His sacrificial Offering.
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