Sermon for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“It is not to be taken from her”.

Last week I had the great joy to stay at a Carthusian monastery of 40 nuns high up in the Austrian Alps.  Carthusian nuns or monks live the strictest of all lives for they live an enclosure which is almost total.  The sisters have a liturgy and style of worship which is extraordinarily beautiful and in a very real sense, takes you to Heaven.  My delight was that last Sunday the sisters asked me to celebrate Mass.  Initially I was a little bit anxious as to how I was to preach and what I was to say but the sisters said to me “Father, there is no need to preach, we will just meditate on the Word of God”.  As I heard these words a little bit of pride in me wanted to cry out, however, in truth what they were saying is exactly what we read of in the Gospel from the mouth of Jesus, “It is not to be taken from her”.  The Words of the Lord to Martha are strong and what he is saying is that her sister Mary, has something so precious and beautiful, that we should be ready to sell everything and to give away our possessions so as to possess it.   What is it?

It is that close, personal, intimate and most real relationship with Christ.  It is that relationship which will transform our lives and lead us away from preoccupations with the temporal, material, fleeting and unimportant into a deep personal union with Christ.  In truth, it takes us to Heaven and offers us that union with Christ, which is made possible and real when we are ready to contemplate and dwell on the Word of God.  In truth, it gives us indescribable joy.

“It is not to be taken from her”, is what our faith is all about.  Think for a moment of all our different religious actions, celebrations, living of the Sacraments, the life of prayer and the call to be with the poor.  All these are about us finding our way into that life giving relationship with Jesus Christ.  All is about coming to know and to be with Jesus.  Until we make that journey, we will be obsessed with the material, fleeting and passing in a word, we will be obsessed with everything that has nothing to do with God.

In the First Reading today we read of the meeting between Abraham and the three strangers at Mamre.  It is a meeting which is mystical and mysterious and tradition tells us that this was a meeting between Abraham and the three persons of the Trinity.  As the strangers left, they told Abraham that when they were to return next year, Sarah who was advanced in years and beyond the possibility of child-bearing, will have conceived and born a child.  What is happening to Abraham and indeed to us, is that God takes our desire to be with, know and to love him so that he may transform us with new life.  In so much as we are ready to be alone with God, and to be united in that relationship of prayer, then the consequence will be that we will receive new life.  In the Second Reading today, St Paul talks of “A rich glory of mystery…..hidden for centuries”, for what he is suggesting is that there is something that is being offered to us which is both beautiful and beyond our imagining, but will take us into the very heart of God.  God wishes to train us according to St Paul so that we may “Become perfect in Christ”.  Our relationship with Jesus is fundamentally about being transformed into Christ.

Those nuns in Austria had like Mary chosen the better path and “It is not to be taken from” them.  Their lives are spent with listening to God and meditating on his Word and in that they enjoy a precious relationship and so to be transformed into Christ.  Perhaps the question for us this Sunday is that do we desire, love it and hope for the same reality.  That precious relationship we nurture and form at Mass so let us be ready to desire it with our whole hearts.