Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jesus, our Guest of Honor

What would you do if Jesus came to visit you?

Would you welcome him with open arms and invite him into your home? Would you call up your friends and family to come over and meet him? Would you set your table with your finest china and spread a banquet out for him?

Which one of us would not be excited to have Jesus be a guest at our home?

While he would no doubt appreciate all the work we would do to make him feel welcome, there is really only one thing which he desires of us. He wants us to sit with him and listen. More than any good works or pious acts we could perform, he wants above all else our friendship.

It was the lesson he taught Martha in today's gospel. She and her sister Mary were blessed to be friends of Jesus and to have him as a guest in their home on many occasions. In her joy, Martha busied herself preparing a sumptuous meal. Mary, on the other hand, showed her love for Jesus by sitting at his feet and taking in his words of wisdom. Martha wanted to feed Jesus. But, above all, he wanted to feed them with his word. Jesus teaches them - and us - that the "better part" is not keeping ourselves busy but sitting ourselves down to listen to the wisdom of our Master.

In light of today's gospel, it is important for us to ask ourselves what it means to live out our faith. Is it a simple matter of following rules? Is it merely a matter of going to Mass on Sunday and avoiding serious sin? Is religion about the good works we should do? Or is it something more?

Living our faith means primarily having a loving relationship with Jesus. It is the recognition that he loved each of us enough to spread his arms on the cross to grant us the forgiveness of our sins. All the rules and regulations that are part of religion only make sense when we come to understand that Christianity is a matter of having a profound and personal friendship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Not only does today's gospel shed light on what it means to live our faith. It also teaches us an important lesson about prayer.

If religion were only about following rules and regulations, then prayer would be a simple matter of reciting formulas and acting out rituals. But when we understand our faith to be about building our relationship with Jesus, then prayer becomes a conversation. As we would with any friend, we pour out our hearts to Jesus. We tell him about our hopes and fears, our dreams and our demons. We thank him for loving us and praise him for the beauty of creation. We ask for his strength to fight temptation. We beg for his wisdom so that we can know his will and make choices that are pleasing to him. When we understand that Jesus is our friend, prayer is no longer a chore but a joy. It becomes something we look forward to and make time for just as we would make time to be with any one of our friends.

If prayer is to be a true conversation between Jesus and us, then it is important that we not only talk but listen. There can never be a conversation when only one person is doing all the talking. And when the person we are conversing with is Jesus, then it makes sense that we should be doing a lot less talking and a lot more listening.

Listening is often the most difficult part of any relationship. The same is true of prayer. How can we listen to God when we cannot see him or hear him? How does God speak to us? How do I know that it is God speaking to me and not my imagination? There are no easy answers to any of these questions. In fact, it takes a lifetime of prayer and self-discipline to begin to understand them in any depth. But a good place to start is by reading the Bible and making it part of our prayer time. Whenever we read the Scriptures or hear them proclaimed at Mass, it is God himself who speaks to us. As we study the Bible and familiarize ourselves with it, we train our ear to recognize his voice. We become better able to distinguish when it is God who is speaking to our heart and when it is our own desires speaking to us. Making the Bible a part of our daily prayer life is essential to the growth of our friendship with Jesus.

There is no greater example of the desire Jesus has to have an intimate friendship with us than the Eucharist. At every Mass, we are Jesus' guests. He prepares a meal for us - the gift of his Body and Blood. When we receive communion, he welcomes us into his life, the life he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And we welcome him into our hearts. Just as we would prepare our homes to welcome Jesus if he were to visit, so we should prepare our hearts, because he is about to enter them in a very real way.

If we cherish his presence within us, welcome this divine guest with love and listen to him, then he will surely welcome us when we enter his eternal home in heaven.

(image by Judith Fritchman)

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