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St Martha of Bethany
This icon was written for Steve Katsouros, SJ, Dean and Executive Director. Arrupe College, Loyola University Chicago. I asked him to write something after receiving the icon, here it is.
About our friend Martha:
The multi-faceted Martha of Bethany speaks to me in several ways. She is first the exemplar of hospitality, as evidenced by the home she shares with her siblings as a center for conversation and fellowship with Jesus and I am certain others. When her brother dies, she is able to express her anger at Jesus for not being there when she needed him; that said, she also clearly loves Jesus. Martha is like us—complex, capable of holding opposing emotions. She is the best of us, however, because her love is what grounds her—not her anger or resentment. During her exchange with Jesus after the death of Lazarus, when Jesus asks her if she believes in him, she explains that she has “come to believe” that he is God’s son. I find this very consoling. Martha knew Jesus, and yet, her faith in him was not achieved in an instant, with a thunderclap or a burning bush or a eureka. Rather, she came to believe in him—it was gradual, a process, a journey, a series of interactions, conversations, common experiences, meals, during which she came to believe in him. I am reminded that my faith journey is just that, a journey, requiring attention to Jesus, the guest, the companion, the conversationalist, the teacher, the friend.
Back to Martha the hostess. As someone who experiences pressure for taking on too many projects, I can relate to Martha’s frustration in her sister—Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, Martha, fretting about the timing of the dinner or the cleanup afterwards. Jesus’s line about Mary choosing the better portion can be irksome. Like Martha, I came to appreciate Jesus’s response to Martha’s frustration gradually. In my case, our students at Arrupe College served as clarifiers here, as agents of insight, as they often do. My colleagues and I at Arrupe could easily default into Martha’s activity—doing for our students. Jesus reminds us that such a stance is not enough. Rather, it’s about Mary’s approach—being with, rather than doing for. Pope Francis has elevated the word “accompaniment” to deepen our understanding of ministry. We are invited to be with, rather than do for—in my case, I’ve been called at Arrupe to be with our students during their first post-secondary educational experience, rather than doing for—if I simply did for, I’d miss their gifts, just as Martha misses Jesus’s gifts by giving her attention to completing the task at hand.
Despite Martha’s misstep here, I am confident that she experienced the gift of hosting Jesus—part of her gradual “coming to believe” process, part of her being a complex woman who is capable of holding contrasting emotions simultaneously.
Consequently, Martha of Bethany has the capacity to be Martha of 2018–like Thomas the twin, Martha mirrors how we might miss out on what’s really important, how our faith lives are journeys, how at times those faith lives include wrestling a variety of emotions at once. Martha remains anchored in love—and so must we as we come to believe in Jesus during our journeys of missing him and feeling conflicted about him.
Fr. Steve Katsouros, SJ