Balance between body and soul
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - July 21, 2019 - 12:00am

A father attended a parent-teacher conference in the high school of his son.  During a talk with one of his son’s teachers, the father broke down and began to cry.  After he regained his composure, the father apologized, saying, “My son no longer lives with me.  But I still love him, and I want to know how he’s doing in school.” 

The father then told the teacher how his wife and four children had left him that afternoon.  The man was a building contractor and sometimes worked 16 hours a day.  Naturally, he saw little of his family, and they slowly grew farther and farther apart. 

Then the father said something sad.  He said: “I wanted to buy my wife and kids all those things I had dreamed of giving them.  But in the process I got so involved in working that I forgot about what they needed most: a father who was around at nights to give them love and support.”

That true story illustrates the point of today’s gospel reading.  It is this: We can get so involved in what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it.  We can get so involved in living that we forget the purpose of living.  We can get so involved in pursuing the things money can buy that we forget the things money cannot buy.

It’s this kind of mistake that Martha made in today’s gospel.  She got so involved in cooking a meal for Jesus that she forgot why Jesus had come.  He didn’t come for a free meal; he came to be with friends.

It’s so easy to lose our balance in today’s world.  It’s so easy to lose our bearing.  It’s so easy to get our priorities mixed up.  It’s so easy to lose sight of what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Many a person whose busy schedule found him nearly exhausted each night with no time for quiet prayer with the Lord, has experienced a remarkable change, when he did set aside daily a definite period for prayer.  He was able to accomplish even more than the usual load of work.

The reason is first of all psychological: quiet prayer with the Lord calms the nerves, rests the entire organism, and enables one to avoid much of the unnecessary trivial things that take up one’s time and energy. 

Secondly, the Lord imparts his blessings on those who seek him in regular prayer, so that with added energy, their undertakings are more successful.

During the Second World War, a young soldier was stationed on the island of Saipan in the South Pacific.  During his time off, he and his friends used to go for a swim in a secluded spot just off the steep cliffs of the island.  It was a lovely place surrounded by rocks.

He observed that when they arrived, the water was so clear that they could see fish ten feet below the surface.  After they had swum for an hour, however, the water became so clouded with sand, churned up from the bottom, that they couldn’t see a foot below the surface. 

But the next day, when they returned or another swim, the sand had settled.  The water was crystal clear again.

Our mind is like that water.  It too can get so clouded up from the turmoil of everyday living that it’s hard for us to see clearly.  We lose sight of everything: our perspective gets clouded, our priorities get confused, and our balance gets upset.

What we need to do when this happens is to pause and let the murky waters of the mind become clear again.  We need to do what Mary did in today’s gospel.  We need to sit at the feet of Jesus in quiet prayer.  We need to let him teach us anew what is important and what is not.

Today’s gospel is an invitation for us to pause daily at the feet of Jesus in prayer, just as Mary did in today’s Gospel.  This brings a question to mind.  What if we have become so involved with life that we have lost the habit of prayer?  What if we have forgotten how to sit quietly at the feet of Jesus?  Is there anything we can do to learn how to pray once again?

Happily, there is something we can do.  And we can begin doing it tonight.  We can use a simple method of prayer that had helped many people like us rebuild the habit of prayer and recapture the art of praying.

This is how one can proceed.  Each night before falling asleep, we take three minutes to do three things.  During the first minute, we pause and do a mental replay of our day.  We pick out the day’s high point – something we are happy about, like getting a letter from an old friend.  Then, we speak to Jesus about it very sincerely.  Then we conclude by giving thanks to Jesus for the letter and friend.

During the second minute, we do a second mental replay of our day.  Only this time we pick out the low point in it, something we’re sorry about, like yelling at a parent, a spouse, or a child, a house-help or a driver.  We speak to Jesus about this weakness and ask him to forgive us and to heal us.

Finally, during the third minute, we look ahead to the following day, to a critical point.  We look ahead to some difficult thing we have to do, like talking to a parent, a spouse or a child about a problem that has arisen.  We speak to Jesus about it and ask his light and his strength in handling it.

This simple method of prayer has helped many people rebuild the habit of prayer and recapture the art of praying.  The beautiful thing about this method of prayer is that it puts us not only back in touch with life but also back in touch with Jesus.

A priest has a housekeeper, whose name is Martha.  Each year when she hears today’s gospel, she gets a little upset, saying, “If it weren’t for Martha like me, nothing would get done in this convento.  If I took time to sit at the Lord’s feet, the laundry would stink.  If I took time to sit at the Lord’s feet, the sink would overflow with dirty dishes.  If I took time to sit at the Lord’s feet,the floor would be as dirty as sin.”

There’s a bit of Martha and of Mary in each one of us.  We are both body and spirit.  And we must keep both in balance.  We must give each its due. 

And if we say that we haven’t time to do this, then we are in trouble – big trouble.  For when we are too busy to be with each other or to pray, then we are too busy – period.  And we’d better do something about it – quick!

In an article entitled “Time for the Soul,” an explorer from the U.S. was making an expedition on foot with Indian guides and porters through the Amazon forests of South America.  The first two days they made excellent time.  On the third day, however, when it came time to set off in the morning, the explorer found his Indian guides and porters sitting back on their haunches looking very somber and making no preparation to leave.

“What’s the matter?” the explorer asked a guide.

“It’s a very serious problem,” said the guide, “the men say they cannot move any farther until their souls have caught up with their bodies.”

That’s precisely what Jesus is telling us in today’s reading.  We must keep our bodies and our souls together.  We must keep the Martha and the Mary inside us in delicate balance.

Let us end with a prayer:

Lord, keep us from getting so involved in life

that we forget why you gave us life.

Keep us from getting so involved in living

that we forget the purpose of living.

Keep us from getting so involved in pursuing

the things money can buy

that we forget about the things money can’t buy.

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