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3 lessons from Martha and Mary on how to host a great party

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From Rachel Ray to Mother Teresa, I need lots of help to be a hostess.

“So who are you,” a good friend asked me recently, “Mary or Martha?”

We were discussing that morning’s Scripture readings — the story in which Martha of Bethany runs around serving food while her sister Mary simply sits and spends time with Jesus.

“I’m Martha-all-the-way,” my friend said with a sigh, referencing her hard-working “Type A” tendencies — tendencies I’ve always admired and tried to emulate, because I’m definitely not a Martha by nature. But unfortunately that doesn’t make me a Mary by default. Just someone who’s really good at avoiding housework.

So speaking as someone who’s had to strive to cultivate the awesome qualities of both Mary and Martha — and yes, Martha had awesome qualities; Jesus would have gone hungry without her! — here are some tips I’ve swiped from the many Marys and Marthas God’s sent my way over the years:

1.  Before your event, pray like Mary: In the days and weeks leading up to your gathering, offer up a prayer any time the special day comes to mind. Sounds simple but in a noisy world, finding time to pray is often hard. A Mary God brought my way recently is St. Alphonsus de Liguori. His book How to Pray at All Times is on my nightstand and while its wise suggestions are countless, the first chapter is calming my nerves about holiday preparations. “God wishes us to speak to him with confidence and familiarity,” is the chapter’s title and that alone says so much. In the first few pages, Liguori focuses on God’s nurturing qualities as emphasized in Isaiah 66: “As one whom the mother caresses, so will I comfort you.”

From entrusting Immanuel with serious fears like family tensions erupting, to tiny details like a whispered “Don’t let me forget to buy …” on the way to the store, the book’s been encouraging me to confide in God in a more frequent and familiar way. As Liguori writes: “Bear well in mind that you have neither friend, nor brother, nor father, nor mother, nor spouse who loves you more than God.” [Note:  Immanuel means “God with us” because he is!]

2.  Prepare like Martha (ahead of time): A champion Martha in my life is a homeschooling mother of nine, who at the time we met was finishing a Masters in Theology — yep, my old friend Julia is a classic Martha (and I mean that as a compliment). I’ll never forget the time Julia invited the parish over to her house for a potluck, something she did monthly.  Rather than running around filling punch bowls and wiping countertops, Julia relaxed on the couch and chatted with guests … now that I think of it … maybe Julia is a Mary after all!

Regardless, as someone who had only ever hosted in a frenzy, I took note of Julia’s simmering crockpot, stack of paper plates, and cooler of self-serve drinks.

“Ahh,” I thought, “she prepared everything yesterday.”

Needless to say, I stole Julia’s idea and now when I play hostess, people probably think I’m a Martha too — boy, are they wrong.

But I haven’t just stolen Julia’s ideas when it comes to party planning. Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart have a way of making what can often be a stressful endeavor fun. Subscriptions to their magazines are always on my Christmas wish list, and because of these two ladies, my hallmark pigs-in-a-blanket recipe is often paired with something that sparkles.

Rachel Ray once suggested hosting an entire meal by serving only easy appetizers — I got rave reviews for that one.  And Martha Stewart — the name alone … she’s gotta be a Martha — has a great piece on her site this month about hosting a “Friendsgiving” — swiping that one as well.

3.  Finally, visit like Mary: The beautiful Christian tradition in which I was raised emphasized letting others see Christ in me. In Sunday School we often sang “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine …” and while I love this tradition and still hold it close, Mother Teresa is my all time Mary.  She taught me to see Jesus in the face of my child, the stranger and the guest at my table: “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise,” the saint famously said.

So how will I treat Jesus when he sits at my table this holiday?  Will I ignore him in favor of basting the turkey?

I hope not. I hope to sit down and take in his beautiful face. I hope to spoon him the mashed potatoes that have been sitting in my crockpot since that morning because even if I’m not a natural Martha or Mary, I’m faking it all the way. Of course, “Mary chose the better part when she chose [Christ]” but since I want food on the table when my guests arrive I’ll agree with Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero, the former archbishop of Turin:  “In our house there is room for Martha and room for Mary, and we must occupy both places. We must be Mary because we are welcoming the Word, and we must be Martha because we are receiving the Son of Man.”

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