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I’m not scheduled to preach this weekend, but here’s a homily adapted from one I delivered three years ago. The original version was preached to a gathering of deacons in Ohio and focused on the notion of the deacon as servant—how we are too often Martha, not Mary.
Three summers ago, New York was mourning the loss of a legend, George Steinbrenner. But the same week, another legend of the New York Yankees died, and it almost went unnoticed.
His name was Bob Sheppard.
Bob Sheppard never threw a pitch or stole a base or scored a triple at the bottom of the ninth. But he was as much a part of Yankee Stadium as the wood in the bleachers and the smell of the popcorn and the roar of the crowd.
Bob Sheppard was the stadium’s announcer.
Everyone knew the game would not begin, could not begin, until they heard Bob Sheppard utter those immortal words: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Yankee Stadium.” His was the voice that generations of boys heard on a Saturday afternoon, heralding the arrival of giants. Joe DiMaggio. Mickey Mantle. Whitey Ford.
When he died, some of his obituaries mentioned that Bob Sheppard was a devout Catholic, and went to mass every day. He was also a lector at St. Christopher’s, his parish on Long Island. And that may be why he brought to his work in baseball an element of grace.
In Yankee Stadium, that great cathedral of baseball, he was known by everyone as the “Voice of God.”
I’m thinking of him this Sunday, and thinking of the “voice of God,” because in the gospel we just heard, Mary encounters the voice of God — and gets to hear the real thing.
She also gets an earful from her sister, Martha. In fact, in this episode, Mary is the only one who doesn’t speak. She doesn’t utter a word. She doesn’t even seem to have a voice. Mary is captivated, instead, by the Voice of God, the voice of Christ. As Luke describes it:
“Martha had a sister named Mary, who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.”
Is there any image more beautiful? What more could any of us here want than to sit at the feet of the Lord, and “listen to him speak”?
How many of us here would give anything to experience that moment, to be transported to Bethany for just a few minutes, to hear what she heard – and to have the opportunity, that blessed opportunity, to place ourselves in the presence of God…and just listen.
One of the tragedies of modern life is that listening for God’s voice has become increasingly difficult. God has too much competition: earbuds, iPads, iPhones, Androids, and on and on. And those are just the electronic ones. There’s the boss, the neighbor, the crazy person screaming at you on the subway. And like Martha, we are worried and anxious about many things. The mortgage, the weird noise in the car, the melting of the polar ice caps, skyrocketing debt, school bake sales, Syria, George Zimmerman, the HHS, the IRS, the CIA.
And then — in the middle of all that — your daughter comes home with a ring in her nose.
Yes. We are worried and anxious about many things!
But we cannot forget…to listen.
Listen. Listen for the voice that spoke to Mary. The voice that called out to Moses. The voice that spoke to countless believers and seekers across the centuries, down through history. The voice that said, “Be still. Know that I am God.” The voice that said, “Be not afraid.”
There is wonder and beauty in striving to hear God speak, in taking the time and the trouble simply to listen.
Listening, in fact, might be considered a key theme in Luke’s gospel. It begins with Zechariah listening to an angel. Then the Virgin Mary listens to an angel, too, and so does Joseph, and so do the shepherds. And decades later, there are the throngs who listen to Jesus on hillsides and on seashores. And near the end, in the final episode of the gospel, two people on a journey begin to discover the truth about Jesus by walking with him…and listening.
When Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, he chose for his name, and his patron, the saint who revolutionized Europe by writing a rule for life that begins with one simple word: “Listen.”
“Listen,” the Rule of St. Benedict begins. “Incline the ear of the heart.”
Twenty centuries ago, in the town of Bethany, a young woman did just that – and as Jesus said, she chose the better part.
One final point worth noting about this gospel passage. It illustrates, I think, the diversity of the Christian family, the Church.
The house in Bethany, the home of Martha and Mary, contained two very different kinds of women, living under one roof. But together, they formed a family.
Well, the Church is home to different types of people, as well. Traditionalists and progressives, proud and humble, rich and poor, young people and families. But together, we are all sinners. Together, we make up the diverse but searching family that is the Body of Christ.
And this episode reminds us: the Church needs everyone. It needs Marthas, but it also needs Marys. And it needs us to love one another for all of our similarities and all of our differences.
At times, that can be the greatest challenge of all.
In a few minutes when we receive Christ in the Eucharist, let us pray for God to make us more open to him—and to one another. Let us pray that he makes us better listeners.
Let us pray not only to be attentive to the work of the world, but also to be attentive to the word and the will of God.
And let us ask for Mary’s great gift: the grace and humility to serve God not just with our hands, but also with our hearts.
Image: “In the House of Martha and Mary” by Eileen Kennedy.