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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The value of the contemplative life

Barbara A. Schoeneberger

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary 1570-1575, Tintoretto, oil on canvas, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
by Tintoretto (Wikimedia Commons)

“Now it came to pass as they were on their journey, that He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him to her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also seated herself at the Lord’s feet, and listened to His word.  But Martha was busy about much serving.  And she came up and said, ‘Lord, is it no concern of Thine that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her therefore to help me.’

"But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: and yet only one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the best part, and it will not be taken away from her.’”  Lk. 10: 38-42

About eight or ten years ago, some devout Catholics got riled up over criticism of a small monastery of cloistered Carmelites by fellow Catholics engaged in what we call “social justice” issues.  It seems some Catholics attached to the local Franciscans were saying that since the Carmelites were diminishing in number and had more space than they needed, their monastery should be taken away from them and used to house the poor because “those nuns weren’t doing anything anyway.”

I knew that the Carmelites owned their property, that there was no danger of the bishop taking the monastery away from them and using it for other purposes, but I visited with one of the nuns anyway and carried back the information to the others to calm their anxieties.

The monastery is a juridical person, that is, the group of nuns were protected as an entity by canon law.  They were also a foundation of pontifical right, which means only the Pope could close them down, and he would have to have a very good reason to do so.  So the worries were unfounded and things calmed down.

The devaluing of contemplative life disturbed me a great deal then and still does today.  Martha and Mary stood out in my mind strongly.  Moreover, I now look back at what happened within the context of those who are too ill or disabled to “do” things and their devaluation by others using the utilitarian yardstick.

Continue reading at Barb's blog, Suffering With Joy.

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