Martha and Mary – Augustine

Here Augustine reflects on hishat famous incident, recorded in Luke 10, when the Lord comes to the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha busies herself with the details of hospitality, anxious and troubled about many things. In the Catholic tradition, Mary, seated at the Lord’s feet, is seen to represent the contemplative life while Martha represents the active vocation and the battle we all face against the distractions inherent in our everyday responsibilities.  For the feast of St. Martha on July 29.

ur Lord’s words teach us that though we labor among the many distractions of this world, we should have but one goal. For we are but travelers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, not yet of enjoyment. But let us continue on our way, and continue without sloth or respite, so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination.

Martha and Mary were sisters, related not only by blood but also by religious aspirations. They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them. Martha welcomed him as travelers are welcomed. But in her case, the maidservant received her Lord, the invalid her Savior, the creature her Creator, to serve him bodily food while she was to be fed by the Spirit. For the Lord willed to put on the form of a slave, and under this form to be fed by his own servants, out of condescension and not out of need. For this was indeed condescension, to present himself to be fed; since he was in the flesh he would indeed be hungry and thirsty.

Thus was the Lord received as a guest who came unto his own and his own received him not; but as many as received him, he gave them the power to become sons of God, adopting those who were servants and making them his brothers, ransoming the captives and making them his co-heirs. No one of you should say: “Blessed are they who have deserved to receive Christ into their homes!” Do not grieve or complain that you were born in a time when you can no longer see God in the flesh. He did not in fact take this privilege from you. As he says: Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers, you did to me.

But you, Martha, If I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labors you seek the reward of peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveller to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit, or quarrelling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury?

No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. Thus what Mary chose in this life will be realized there in all its fullness; she was gathering fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.

A reading from a sermon by St. Augustine (Sermo 103, 1-2, 6: PL 38, 613, 615) for the Feast of Saint Martha sister of Mary and Lazarus on July 29. 

Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine, born in Roman N. Africa to a devout Catholic mother and a pagan father, was a notoriously rebellious Catholic teenager who cohabitated with a girlfriend, joined an exotic Eastern cult, and ran away from his mother.

Augustine became a brilliant and renowned teacher of public speaking and was appointed by the emperor to teach in Milan, Italy, at that time the administrative capital of the Western Roman Empire. While there, he happened to hear the preaching of the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, who baptized him in 386.

 St. Augustine ultimately renounced his secular career, put away his mistress, and became first a monk, then a priest, then the bishop of Hippo, a small town on the N. African Coast. The voluminous writings of this Early Church Father span every conceivable topic in theology, morality, philosophy, and spirituality. St. Augustine of Hippo is commonly recognized as the great teacher in the Western Church between the New Testament and St. Thomas Aquinas.  He died in AD 430.  (bio by Dr. Italy)

  • Been reading Ignatius all day and now enjoying this delicious post on St. Martha. Please also recommend any of your studies or the Father’s about Mary Magdalene. Is St. Mary Magdalene Martha and Lazerus’ sister? Thanks Dr. Italy!

  • Marcellino D’Ambrosio

    Bob, Mary Magdalene is so-called because she came from the town of Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee, just a couple of miles walk from Capernaum. Mary, sister of Lazarus, was from Bethany, about 100 miles walk from Galilee. Though they’ve often been confused with one another, they are not the same person. But they seem very similar in their devotion to Jesus! As far as other studies on Mary Magdalene, honestly I can’t remember how many I’ve posted on the website. I’d recommend that you use the search function and just put in Mary Magdalene and see what comes up. If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.