Is Acting Better Than Praying?

July 29, 2021   Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (Lectionary: 404/607)

Reading I   Ex 40:16-21, 34-38
Moses did exactly as the LORD had commanded him.
On the first day of the first month of the second year
the Dwelling was erected.
It was Moses who erected the Dwelling.
He placed its pedestals, set up its boards, put in its bars,
and set up its columns.
He spread the tent over the Dwelling
and put the covering on top of the tent,
as the LORD had commanded him.
He took the commandments and put them in the ark;
he placed poles alongside the ark and set the propitiatory upon it.
He brought the ark into the Dwelling and hung the curtain veil,
thus screening off the ark of the commandments,
as the LORD had commanded him.

Then the cloud covered the meeting tent,
and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling.
Moses could not enter the meeting tent,
because the cloud settled down upon it
and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling.
Whenever the cloud rose from the Dwelling,
the children of Israel would set out on their journey.
But if the cloud did not lift, they would not go forward;
only when it lifted did they go forward.
In the daytime the cloud of the LORD was seen over the Dwelling;
whereas at night, fire was seen in the cloud
by the whole house of Israel
in all the stages of their journey.

Responsorial Psalm   84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a, 11
R. (2) How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young–
Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!
Blessed they who dwell in your house!
continually they praise you.
Blessed the men whose strength you are!
They go from strength to strength.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!
I had rather one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I had rather lie at the threshold of the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!

Alleluia   Jn 8:12
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel   Jn 11:19-27
Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”


Lk 10:38-42

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”

By Victoria Mastrangelo 

Whenever another tragic event is reported there are those who immediately respond with “thoughts and prayers” and those who denounce the “thoughts and prayers” and call for action. This dichotomy is often presented by comparing two of the saints we celebrate today.

I feel like I am often asked on this feast day to contemplate whether I am a Martha or a Mary. In response to the seemingly daily tragedies, I am starting to feel like I want to be a Martha, to be the one actually doing something, but Jesus reminds me in Luke’s Gospel that Mary chooses the better part.

In both Gospel stories offered today, it is Martha’s shoes in which I often find myself.

I am either trying to do something rather than sit with Jesus or I am accusing Him of not being there when I need Him.

I can get caught up in the activist narrative that doing and acting are better than any thoughts or prayers that I could offer. In the face of constant sin and suffering, it does feel like prayers don’t actually work or do anything. Sometimes I wonder what a gift free will can truly be with how awful we can be at exercising it. Like Martha I often accuse Christ, “Lord, if you had been here” or I ask “Lord, do you not care?”

The truth is, of course, that He is there constantly. Like His presence as a cloud and as fire in the desert, God is always present to be seen “by the whole house of Israel” or by the world in “all stages of [our] journey.”

To see God in the chaos, to see how my prayers are heard, I must be able to see His presence in whatever form it is taking now, for it is there for all to see at every moment, every stage of the journey.

Jesus admonishes Martha for being “anxious and worried about many things” when “there is need of only one thing” and that is Him.

The only way to be able to see Him and to know His presence in my current stage in life is to step into Mary’s shoes and sit at His feet. Any action that I want to take to see and make change in the world is meaningless or misguided if it is not formed, shaped, and rooted in Christ. I can only do that if I first know Him, learn from Him, and ground myself in His presence.


Victoria Mastrangelo is a wife, mother of three, and high school theology teacher in Houston. She loves to read multiple books at once, research, write, drink coffee, and travel, as her dream job is to be a perpetual student. Her favorite saints are Edith Stein, Ignatius of Loyola, Dorothy Day and John Paul II which tell you a lot about her spirituality and love of the feminine genius and social justice. You can find her on Instagram here and more of her writing here.

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