The Privilege of Following Both Martha and MaryPrayer Service No. 6

Version française

Echoing the Fundamental Principles, we said in the previous reflection that if we consciously allow the unspectacular flow of everyday life to form us, God may break through us and liberate our hearts from the things that make us restless. For this encounter between God and each of us to happen, however, we must have a presence of mind – the ordinary awareness – which would make us ready to turn toward God when, like a flash of lightning, He unexpectedly becomes present to us.

In Middle Dutch mysticism, one who constantly leads a life of readiness before God is a “common person” (ghemeyne mensche). In this context, “common” does not mean “plain.” Rather, “common” signifies being so intimately grounded in God that – although one cannot be equal to Him – one has the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). Common persons share in God’s passion and compassion for the world and, in so becoming, they “become willing instruments of God (who are) ready to do all that He commands” them to do for the sake of the Kingdom. Common persons are not those who lead “split-level” lives – that is, those whose public actions are not in harmony with what they profess to believe in. Common persons are those whose spiritual lives are in harmony with their apostolic commitments: “Contemplation and action come readily to them and they are perfectly at ease with both.”

Ryken clearly wanted his followers to develop into such non- dichotomized followers of Christ. Because of that, he hoped that they would gain the “privilege of following both the lives of Martha and Mary.” They are not to see their lives as split between spiritual exercises and apostolic ministry. Rather, they allow both of these to influence and inform each other. In doing so, Xaverians are ultimately transformed into persons who are prayerful and apostolic at the same time. This, according to the Middle Dutch mystics, is what it means to be a real contemplative: “No one can be a common person unless he is a contemplative man.” Thus, when a Xaverian takes a contemplative stance, it signifies that he is present before God and the world as a son or daughter of Ryken with a well-integrated spiritual-apostolic life.

A Reading from the Xaverian Tradition

If it is God’s pleasure to lift our proposed plan to that very height that we intend and of which we hope that it is pleasing to Him, then the members of the congregation will have the privilege of following both the lives of Martha and Mary. In fact, by living the religious state and following its exercises, such as prayer and meditation, they follow Mary in the contemplative life, while by catechizing children and older people and working at those people’s salvation, they follow Martha in the active life.

[From the Plan written by Theodore James Ryken, ca. 1837-38: §61]

A Reading from the Dutch Mystical Tradition

Oftentimes, it is necessary to climb down from the spiritual ascents – that is, to cease for a time, but not to desert the climb altogether – for the sake of your neighbor. You will seek with all your might the contemplative life… to sit with Mary at the feet of Jesus while he preaches, mentally exercising to ascend such great heights. But then, you must also descend when your neighbor calls you, bidding you to go out or to climb down the heights without delay, throwing yourself at the foot of your neighbor in Jesus like Martha. You must descend promptly and devoutly… with Martha saying to Mary within you: “The Lord is here, and is calling you – He to whom you entrusted yourself as a disciple.” And Mary should rise, throwing herself at the feet of Jesus saying, “My heart is ready, ready and waiting upon your command – ready as you order me to minister to others.”

[From “The Spiritual Ascents” by Gerard Zerbolt: part 4. no. 6]

Points of Reflection

1. Ryken envisioned that his followers would lead BOTH the lives of Martha and Mary. But in all these years of being a disciple of Christ in this congregation, do I continue to experience a lack of connection between my life of prayer and my life in ministry? Do I give myself over to one commitment more than the other?

2. “Contemplation and action come readily to common persons; they are perfectly at ease with both.” What outside activities and/or way of thinking may account for the lack of harmony and balance in my life of contemplation and action?

3. The Xaverian Life calls us to respond as a community “when your neighbors call you, bidding you to go out or to climb down the heights without delay.” Is my community truly responding to the needs of our neighbors, not as brothers who are individually doing good works, but as a “band of brothers” who are “centered on the Word and worship of God”? Is there something that my community can do together to live out this challenge from our spirituality?


PDF version of Prayer Service 6

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *