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Both Martha And Mary

This, my sisters, is what I would have us strive for—to offer our petitions and to practice prayer, not for our own enjoyment but to gain strength to serve God. Let us seek no fresh path; we should lose ourselves in ways of ease. It would be a strange thing to fancy we should gain these graces by any other road than that by which Jesus and all His Saints have gone before. Let us not dream of such a thing: believe me, both Martha and Mary must entertain Our Lord and keep Him as their Guest, nor must they be so inhospitable as to offer Him no food. How can Mary do this while she sits at His feet, if her sister does not help her?

His food is that in every possible way we should draw souls to Him so that they may be saved and may praise Him forever. You may offer two objections—first, that I said that Mary had chosen the better part, for she had already done Martha’s work by waiting on Our Lord, by washing His feet and by wiping them with her hair.

Do you think it was a small mortification for a woman of rank, as she was, to go through the street, perhaps by herself, for in her zeal she never thought of how she went? Then she entered a house where she was a stranger and had to bear the railing of the Pharisee and many other trials. It was strange to see such a woman as she had been thus publicly change her life. With a wicked nation like the Jews, the sight of her love for Our Lord Whom they hated so bitterly was enough to make them cast in her face her former life and taunt her with wanting to become a saint. Doubtless she must have changed her rich robes and all the rest. Considering how men talk now of people far less known than she was, what must have been said of her?

I assure you, sisters, she won the better part after many crosses and mortifications. Must not the mere sight of men’s hatred of her Master have been an intolerable trial? Then, think of what she endured afterwards at Our Lord’s death! I believe, myself, that she did not suffer martyrdom because she was already a martyr by grief at witnessing the crucifixion. Then what terrible pain His absence must have caused her during the long years afterwards! You see, she was not always enjoying contemplation at the feet of our Saviour!

Secondly, you may say that you have neither the power nor the means to lead souls to God; though you would willingly do so, you do not know how, as you can neither teach nor preach as did the Apostles. I have often written an answer to this objection though I cannot tell whether I have done so in connection with the Castle. However, as the difficulty probably often crosses your minds on account of the desires Our Lord gives you of serving Him, I will now speak of it again. I told you elsewhere how the devil frequently fills our thoughts with great schemes, so that instead of putting our hands to what work we can do to serve Our Lord, we may rest satisfied with wishing to perform impossibilities.

You can do much by prayer; and then, do not try to help the whole world, but principally your companions; this work will be all the better because you are the more bound to it. Do you think it is a trifling matter that your humility and mortification, your readiness to serve your sisters, your fervent charity towards them, and your love of God, should be as a fire to enkindle their zeal, and that you should constantly incite them to practice the other virtues? This would be a great work and one most pleasing to Our Lord: by thus doing all that is in your power, you would prove to His Majesty your willingness to do still more and He would reward you as if you had won Him many souls. Do you answer: “This would not be converting my sisters, for they are very good already?” What business is that of yours? If they were still better, the praise they render God would please Him more and their prayers would be more helpful to their neighbors.

In short, my sisters, I will conclude with this advice; do not build towers without a foundation, for Our Lord does not care so much for the importance of our works as for the love with which they are done. When we do all we can, His Majesty will enable us to do more every day. If we do not grow weary, but during the brief time this life lasts (and perhaps it will be shorter than any of you think) we give Our Lord every sacrifice we can, both interior and exterior, His Majesty will unite them with that He offered to His Father for us on the Cross so that they may be worth the value given them by our love, however mean the works themselves may be.

May it please His Majesty, my sisters and my daughters, that we may all meet together where we may praise Him forever, and may He give me grace to practice something of what I have taught you, by the merits of His Son, Who liveth and reigneth forever! Amen. I assure you that I am filled with confusion at myself and I beg you, for the sake of the same Lord, not to forget this poor sinner in your prayers.

This article is taken from a chapter in The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, which is available from TAN Books.

Click here to visit our podcast, The Commentaries: The Interior Castle hosted by Fr. Timothy Reid.



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