St. Martha, Virgin

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St. Martha, Virgin
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

St. Martha, more than once mentioned in the Gospel, was born of illustrious parents. Her father was of Syria, her mother of Judaea, and after their death, she inherited their house and estate at Bethany. She exercised herself freely in good works, especially in those of charity, and was one of the first women who, by attending the instructions of Christ, and by His miracles, recognized in Him the true Messiah. From that hour her heart was filled with the most devoted love to the Lord, who, according to the Gospel, returned her pious affection. The conversion of her sister Magdalen, which has been related in the life of this Saint, was in a great measure her work, as she persuaded her to hear Christ's sermons. After Magdalen's conversion, she and Martha accompanied Christ from place to place, desiring not to lose any of His divine instructions. Frequently had Martha the grace to receive our Lord into her house, and to see Him sitting at her table.

One day, being so honored, she prepared, with her own hands, everything that she would set before our Saviour, anxious that He should be served well. Seeing that her sister Magdalen meanwhile sat quietly at the feet of Christ, without assisting her, she, mildly complaining, said to the Saviour: "Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? Speak to her, therefore, that she help me." Christ reproached her somewhat for her too great solicitude for temporal things, with these words, fraught with deep meaning: "Martha, Martha; thou art careful and art troubled about many things; but one thing is necessary; Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her." Martha humbly received this kind reproof, this wholesome lesson, and when Christ was at table with Lazarus and Magdalen, she served Him, thinking rightly that this was the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon her.

Shortly before the Passion of the Saviour, Lazarus, her brother, became dangerously sick. She immediately sent a messenger to Christ to announce this to Him, in the following words: "He whom thou lovest is sick." Both sisters thought this would be enough to induce Christ to come and heal him. But, as our Lord desired, by raising Lazarus from the dead, to give a still greater proof of His power, He came not until Lazarus was buried. Martha went to meet Him when she heard of His arrival, and said: "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But now, also, I know that whatever thou wilt ask of God, He will give it to Thee." Christ said to her: "Thy brother shall rise again." "I know," said Martha, "that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." "I am the resurrection and the life," said Christ; "he that believeth on Me, although he be dead, shall live; and every one that liveth and believeth in me, shall not die forever. Believest thou this?" She answered: "Yes, Lord, I believe that Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God, who art come into the world." When she had said this, she entered into her house and announced to her sister the arrival of Christ. Rising hastily, Mary went with her to Him. What further took place will be related in the life of St. Lazarus. It will be sufficient to say here, that our Saviour, deeply moved by the tears and prayers of the two sisters, called Lazarus again to life, who had been in his grave four days. The joy of Martha and Magdalen was beyond measure, and the expression of their gratitude touching and humble.

Nothing more is said of Martha in the Gospel, but it is not doubted that she was, with the other pious women, on Mount Calvary at the time of the Saviour's Passion, and later also present at His Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost. All her biographers agree in the fact that, in the persecution of the Christians, she was placed by the Jews, with her brother and sister, in a boat which had neither sail nor oar, and was cast adrift on the high sea to perish. But God was their pilot, and guided them to Marseilles, in France, where they safely landed.

Magdalen, some time later, went into a desert, where she led a penitential life for thirty years. Martha, however, after having converted many virgins to the Christian faith by her kind exhortations, and instilled into them a love of virginal chastity, selected a secluded place between Asignon and Arles, where she erected a dwelling. There she lived with her maid Marcella and several virgins, who desired, like herself, to spend their days far from the tumult of the world, in chastity and peace, and to lead a cloistral life; whence St. Martha is by many regarded, if not as the first founder, yet as a model of a religious life. She was a guide to all, and her example served as a rule to them whereby to regulate their conduct.

Thirty years she lived thus in great austerity, abstaining from meat and wine. She was devoted to prayer, and it is written of her, that she threw herself upon her knees to pray one hundred times during the day and as often during the night. Her virginal chastity she preserved until her death, the hour of which was revealed to her a year before she departed. A fever which seized her, and lasted until she died, was regarded by her as a means to become more like her Saviour and increase her merits. Hence she was always cheerful in her suffering, bearing it with angelic patience. Eight days before she died, she heard heavenly music, and saw the soul of her sister, accompanied by many angels, ascend to heaven, which not only filled her soul with divine joy, but also with the fervent desire soon to be re-united with Christ. The Saviour Himself deigned to appear to her, saying: "Come, beloved one; as thou hast received Me in thy terrestrial home, so will I receive thee now in My heavenly mansion." St. Martha was transported with joy, and the nearer the hour of her death approached, the more fervent became her prayers and her desire to be with God. Shortly before her end, she desired to be laid upon the ground, which was strewn with ashes, and after having given her last instructions to those under her, she raised her eyes to heaven and gave her virgin soul to the Almighty, while she pronounced the words her beloved Saviour had spoken: "Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." Her tomb has been glorified by God with many miracles, and is held in great veneration.


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A Homily by St. Augustine the Bishop

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ which have just been read from the Gospel, give us to wit that there is one thing toward the which we are making our way, all the while that we are striving amid the divers cares of this world. Thitherward we make our way, whileas we are still strangers and pilgrims, unpossessed as yet of any abiding city, still on the journey, not yet come home, still hoping, not yet enjoying. Still thitherward let us make our way, not slothfully nor by fits and starts, but so that some day we may arrive thither. Martha and Mary were sisters, not in the flesh only, but also in godliness; together, they clave unto the Lord; together, with one heart they served the Lord present in the Flesh.

Martha received him into her house. It was just as strangers are received, but it was the handmaiden receiving her Lord, the sick receiving her Saviour, the creature receiving her Creator. She received him, to give bodily meat unto him by whom she herself was to be fed unto eternal life. It had been the Lord's will to take upon him the form of a servant, to be fed by servants (still out of his good pleasure, not of necessity), and in that form of a servant which he had taken upon him. This was his good pleasure, to offer himself as a subject for hospitality. He had Flesh, wherein he was somewhiles an-hungered and athirst, but know ye not how that, when he was in the desert and was an-hungered, angels came and ministered unto him. Himself it was therefore, that gave unto them of whom he was fain to be fed, the wherewithal. And what wonder is this, if we consider how that holy Elijah, coming from being fed by the ministry of ravens, asked bread of the widow of Zarephath, and himself gave her the wherewithal to feed him? Had God failed to feed Elijah when he sent him unto the widow? God forbid. He did so that he might bless that godly widow for a service rendered unto his servant.

Thus was that same Lord received as a guest, who came unto his own, and his own received him not, but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, adopting servants and making them children, redeeming prisoners and appointing them co-heirs. Perchance some of you will say: O how blessed were they who were worthy to receive Christ as a guest into their own home! but mourn not, neither murmur, for that thou hast been born in an age wherein thou canst no more see Christ in the flesh. He hath not put the honour of receiving him beyond thy reach. Inasmuch, saith he, as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. The above remarks have occurred to me regarding the Lord considered as fed in the flesh, and I shall now touch briefly, as time permits, upon the same, considered as the Feeder of the soul.

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