Hymn to Saint Martha

O Dear Saint Martha! busy Saint!
By love's keen fervours over pressed,
Oh get us fervour not to faint
Until we reach our heavenly rest.

We too, like thee, since we have known
How sweet our blessed Lord could be,
Mourn o'er the years too quickly flown
And fain would hurry on like thee.

Christ looked with love into thy face;
His looks were spurs to spur thee on
How swiftly didst thou run thy race,
How gloriously thy race was won!

O dearest Jesus! in our need
Give us our Mother's burning heart:
They who on earth have Martha's speed,
In heaven shall meet with Mary's part.





St. Martha, Virgin
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

St. Martha, more than once mentioned in the Gospel, was born of illustrious parents. Her father was of Syria, her mother of Judaea, and after their death, she inherited their house and estate at Bethany. She exercised herself freely in good works, especially in those of charity, and was one of the first women who, by attending the instructions of Christ, and by His miracles, recognized in Him the true Messiah. From that hour her heart was filled with the most devoted love to the Lord, who, according to the Gospel, returned her pious affection. The conversion of her sister Magdalen, which has been related in the life of this Saint, was in a great measure her work, as she persuaded her to hear Christ's sermons. After Magdalen's conversion, she and Martha accompanied Christ from place to place, desiring not to lose any of His divine instructions. Frequently had Martha the grace to receive our Lord into her house, and to see Him sitting at her table.

One day, being so honored, she prepared, with her own hands, everything that she would set before our Saviour, anxious that He should be served well. Seeing that her sister Magdalen meanwhile sat quietly at the feet of Christ, without assisting her, she, mildly complaining, said to the Saviour: "Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? Speak to her, therefore, that she help me." Christ reproached her somewhat for her too great solicitude for temporal things, with these words, fraught with deep meaning: "Martha, Martha; thou art careful and art troubled about many things; but one thing is necessary; Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her." Martha humbly received this kind reproof, this wholesome lesson, and when Christ was at table with Lazarus and Magdalen, she served Him, thinking rightly that this was the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon her.

Shortly before the Passion of the Saviour, Lazarus, her brother, became dangerously sick. She immediately sent a messenger to Christ to announce this to Him, in the following words: "He whom thou lovest is sick." Both sisters thought this would be enough to induce Christ to come and heal him. But, as our Lord desired, by raising Lazarus from the dead, to give a still greater proof of His power, He came not until Lazarus was buried. Martha went to meet Him when she heard of His arrival, and said: "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But now, also, I know that whatever thou wilt ask of God, He will give it to Thee." Christ said to her: "Thy brother shall rise again." "I know," said Martha, "that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." "I am the resurrection and the life," said Christ; "he that believeth on Me, although he be dead, shall live; and every one that liveth and believeth in me, shall not die forever. Believest thou this?" She answered: "Yes, Lord, I believe that Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God, who art come into the world." When she had said this, she entered into her house and announced to her sister the arrival of Christ. Rising hastily, Mary went with her to Him. What further took place will be related in the life of St. Lazarus. It will be sufficient to say here, that our Saviour, deeply moved by the tears and prayers of the two sisters, called Lazarus again to life, who had been in his grave four days. The joy of Martha and Magdalen was beyond measure, and the expression of their gratitude touching and humble.

Nothing more is said of Martha in the Gospel, but it is not doubted that she was, with the other pious women, on Mount Calvary at the time of the Saviour's Passion, and later also present at His Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost. All her biographers agree in the fact that, in the persecution of the Christians, she was placed by the Jews, with her brother and sister, in a boat which had neither sail nor oar, and was cast adrift on the high sea to perish. But God was their pilot, and guided them to Marseilles, in France, where they safely landed.

Magdalen, some time later, went into a desert, where she led a penitential life for thirty years. Martha, however, after having converted many virgins to the Christian faith by her kind exhortations, and instilled into them a love of virginal chastity, selected a secluded place between Asignon and Arles, where she erected a dwelling. There she lived with her maid Marcella and several virgins, who desired, like herself, to spend their days far from the tumult of the world, in chastity and peace, and to lead a cloistral life; whence St. Martha is by many regarded, if not as the first founder, yet as a model of a religious life. She was a guide to all, and her example served as a rule to them whereby to regulate their conduct.

Thirty years she lived thus in great austerity, abstaining from meat and wine. She was devoted to prayer, and it is written of her, that she threw herself upon her knees to pray one hundred times during the day and as often during the night. Her virginal chastity she preserved until her death, the hour of which was revealed to her a year before she departed. A fever which seized her, and lasted until she died, was regarded by her as a means to become more like her Saviour and increase her merits. Hence she was always cheerful in her suffering, bearing it with angelic patience. Eight days before she died, she heard heavenly music, and saw the soul of her sister, accompanied by many angels, ascend to heaven, which not only filled her soul with divine joy, but also with the fervent desire soon to be re-united with Christ. The Saviour Himself deigned to appear to her, saying: "Come, beloved one; as thou hast received Me in thy terrestrial home, so will I receive thee now in My heavenly mansion." St. Martha was transported with joy, and the nearer the hour of her death approached, the more fervent became her prayers and her desire to be with God. Shortly before her end, she desired to be laid upon the ground, which was strewn with ashes, and after having given her last instructions to those under her, she raised her eyes to heaven and gave her virgin soul to the Almighty, while she pronounced the words her beloved Saviour had spoken: "Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." Her tomb has been glorified by God with many miracles, and is held in great veneration.


PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Without doubt, you think St. Martha greatly blessed because she had the high honor to receive our Lord into her house and to serve Him. But why do you not estimate your own much greater happiness? Who is He, whom you receive in Holy Communion, in a much more excellent manner, than Martha received Him? Is He not the same Jesus who went into her house? He comes more frequently to you--or is ready to do so--than He ever visited Martha. Ah! recognize this great blessing and use it to your salvation. May you also prepare yourself most assiduously to receive your Lord, and to serve Him well, in order that He may one day receive you into His kingdom. To receive Holy Communion is one of the most effectual means to gain salvation. "He that eateth this bread shall live for ever," says Christ. (John, vi.) Live, then, in this world, in sanctifying grace, and live in heaven, in the presence of the Almighty.

Martha lived an austere life during thirty years, prayed day and night, preserved her chastity, constantly practised good works, and suffered sickness with cheerful patience. Whoever lives thus, may well say at the end of his days: "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit." But whoever employs neither his mind, his body, nor his soul in the service of God, who gratifies every wish of the body and stains his soul with sin, without trying to purify it again, who is indolent in doing good works, who uses the members of the body, the faculties of the mind, more to offend God than to serve Him; who manifests no patience in sickness and trial, who detests penance and austerities; who seldom prays, and is unchaste; cannot truly say with confidence, in his last hour: "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit." For, how can he hope that God will receive into His hands a soul, which, during a whole lifetime, was rather in the hands of Satan than in those of the Almighty, a soul which lived more according to the will of Satan than the will of God; and, finally, a soul which gave not the body, that clothed it, to the service of the Most High?" He is too arrogant," writes St. Gregory of Nyssa, "who having, during his life, constantly warred against the Almighty by sin and vice, hopes, like another Moses, to die in the arms of the Lord." If you desire, therefore, at your last moment, to commend your soul into the hands of your Saviour with a well-founded hope that He will receive it, employ now your mind and all the faculties of your soul, in the service of your God, as Martha did.

To this effect is the admonition of St. Peter: "They shall commend their souls in good deeds to the faithful Creator." (I. Peter, iv.) If we commend now our mind, our soul to God with good deeds, we can commend it at the end of our lives to Him, with the certain hope of salvation. Now, while on this earth, we must serve God with soul and body; for God has promised eternal life to His servants. If you will not do this, the promise of God was not made for you. "Whoever does not fulfil the commandments of the Lord, vainly expects what the Lord has promised," says St. Chrysostom.




Prayer to St. Martha
as your Patron Saint


Saint Martha, whom I have chosen as my special patron, pray for me that I, too, may one day glorify the Blessed Trinity in heaven. Obtain for me your lively faith, that I may consider all persons, things, and events in the light of almighty God. Pray, that I may be generous in making sacrifices of temporal things to promote my eternal interests, as you so wisely did.

Set me on fire with a love for Jesus, that I may thirst for His sacraments and burn with zeal for the spread of His kingdom. By your powerful intercession, help me in the performance of my duties to God, myself and all the world.

Win for me the virtue of purity and a great confidence in the Blessed Virgin. Protect me this day, and every day of my life. Keep me from mortal sin. Obtain for me the grace of a happy death. Amen



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Saint Martha, Virgin
from the Liturgical Year, 1909


Magdalene this time was the first to meet our Lord. Scarce a week had elapsed since her glorious passage, when she repaid her sister's former kind office, and came in her turn saying: "The Beloved" is here and calleth for thee." And Jesus preventing her, appeared Himself and said: "Come, my hostess; come from exile, thou shalt be crowned (Raban. De vita B.M. Magd. et S. Marthae, xlvii)." Hostess of the Lord, then, is to be Martha's title of nobility in heaven, as it was her privileged name on earth.

Into whatever city or town you shall enter, said the Man-God to His disciples, inquire who in it is worthy, and there abide (St. Matt. x. II). Now St. Luke relates that as they went, our Lord Himself entered into a certain town, and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house (St. Luke x. 38). How could we give greater praise to Magdalene's sister than by bringing together these two texts of the holy Gospel?

This certain town, where she was found worthy to give Jesus a lodging, this village, says St. Bernard (Bern. Sermo 2 in Assumpt. Beatae Mariae Virginis), is our lowly earth, hidden like an obscure borough in the immensity of our Lord's possessions. The Son of God had come down from heaven to seek the lost sheep; He had come into the world He had made, and the world knew Him not; Israel, his own people, had not given Him so much as a stone whereon to lay His head, and had left Him in His thirst to beg water from the Samaritan. We, the Gentiles, whom he was thus seeking amid contradictions and fatigues, ought we not, like Him, to show our gratitude to her who, braving present unpopularity and future persecution, paid our debt to Him?

Glory, then, be to this daughter of Sion, of royal descent, who, faithful to the traditions of hospitality handed down from the patriarchs and early fathers, was blessed more than all of them in the exercise of this noble virtue! These ancestors of our faith, pilgrims themselves and without fixed habitation, knew more or less obscurely that the Desired of Israel and the Expectation of the nations was to appear as a wayfarer and a stranger on the earth; and they honoured the future Saviour in the person of every stranger that presented himself at their tent door; just as we, their sons, in the faith of the same promises now accomplished, honour Christ in the guest whom His goodness sends us. This relation between him that was to come and the pilgrim seeking shelter made hospitality the most honoured handmaid of divine charity. More than once did God show His approval by allowing Angels to be entertained in human form. If such heavenly visitations were an honour of which our earth was not worthy, how much greater was Martha's privilege in rendering hospitality to the Lord of Angels! If before the Coming of Christ it was a great thing to honour Him in those who prefigured Him, and if now to shelter and serve Him in His mystical members deserves an eternal reward, how much greater and more meritorious was it to receive in Person that Jesus, the very thought of whom gives to virtue its greatness and its merit. Again, as the Baptist excelled all the other Prophets by having pointed out as present the Messias whom they announced as future, so Martha, by having ministered to the Person of the Word made Flesh, ranks above all others who have ever exercised the works of mercy.

While Magdalene, then, keeps her better part at our Lord's feet, we must not think that Martha's lot is to be despised. As in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office (Rom. xii. 4), so each of us has a different work to perform in Christ, according to the grace we have received, whether it be to prophesy or to minister. And the Apostle explaining this diversity of vocations, says: I say, by the grace that is given me, to all that are among you, not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety, and according as God hath divided to every one the measure of faith (Rom. xii. 3). How many losses in souls, how many shipwrecks even, might be prevented by discretion, the guardian of doctrine and the mother of virtues.

"Whoever," says St. Gregory with his usual discernment, "gives himself entirely to God, must take care not to pour himself out wholly in works, but must stretch forward also to the heights of contemplation. Nevertheless, it is here very important to notice that there is a great variety of spiritual temperaments. One who could give himself peacefully to the contemplation of God, would be crushed by works, and fall; another, who would be kept in a good life by the ordinary occupations of men, would be mortally wounded by the sword of a contemplation above his powers: either for want of love to prevent repose from becoming torpor, or for want of fear to guard him against the illusions of pride or of the senses. He who would be perfect must, therefore, first accustom himself on the plain to the practice of the virtues, in order to ascend more securely to the heights, leaving behind every impulse of the senses which can only distract the mind from its purpose, every image whose outline cannot adapt itself to the figureless light he desires to behold. Action first then, contemplation last. The Gospel praises Mary, but does not blame Martha, because the merit of the active life is great, though that of contemplation is greater (Moral. in Job v. 26, passim.)"

If we would penetrate more deeply into the mystery of the two sisters, let us notice that, though the preference is given to Mary, nevertheless it is not in her house, nor in that of their brother Lazarus', but in Martha's house, that the Man-God takes up his abode with those he loves. Jesus, says St. John, loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus (St. John xi. 5). Lazarus, a figure of the penitents whom his all-powerful mercy daily calls from the death of sin to divine life; Mary, giving herself up even in this life to the occupation of the next; and Martha, who is here mentioned first as being the eldest, as first in order of time mystically, according to what St. Gregory says, and also as being the one upon whom the other two depend in that home of which she has the care.

Here we recognize a perfect type of the Church, wherein, with the devotedness of fraternal love, and under the eye of our heavenly Father, the active ministry takes the precedence, and holds the place of government over all who are drawn by grace to Jesus. We can understand the Son of God showing a preference for this blessed house; he was refreshed from the weariness of His journeys by the devoted hospitality He there received, but still more by the sight of so perfect an image of that Church for whose love He had come on earth.

Martha, then, understood by anticipation, that He Who holds the first place must be the servant, as the Son of Man came not to be ministered to, but to minister; and as, later on, the Vicar of Jesus, the Prince of Prelates in the holy Church, was to call himself the Servant of the servants of God. But in serving Jesus, as she served also with Him and for Him her brother and her sister, who can doubt that she had the greatest share in these promises of the Man-God: "He that ministers to me shall follow me, and where I am, there also shall my minister be, and my Father will honour him."

And that beautiful rule of ancient hospitality which created a link like that of relationship between the host and a guest once received, could not have been passed over by our Emmanuel on this occasion, since the Evangelist says: As many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God (St. John i. 12). And He Himself declares that whoever receives Him, receives also the Father Who sent Him.

The peace promised to every house deemed worthy of receiving the apostolic messengers, that peace which cannot be without the Spirit of adoption of sons, rested on Martha with surpassing fullness. The too human impetuosity she at first showed in her eager solicitude, had given our Lord an opportunity of showing His divine jealousy for the perfection of a soul so devoted and so pure. The sacred nearness of the King of peace stript her lively nature of the last remnants of restless anxiety; while her service grew even more active and was well pleasing to Him; her ardent faith in Christ, the Son of the living God, gave her the understanding of the one thing necessary, the better part which was one day to be hers. What a master of the spiritual life Jesus here showed Himself to be; what a model of discreet firmness, of patient sweetness, of heavenly wisdom in leading souls to the highest summits!

As He had counselled his disciples to remain in one house, the Man-God Himself, to the end of his earthly career, continually sought hospitality at Bethania: it was from thence He set out to redeem the world by his dolorous Passion; and when leaving this world, it was from Bethania that he ascended into heaven. Then did this dwelling, this paradise on earth, which had given shelter to God Himself, to His Virgin Mother, to the whole college of Apostles, seem too lonely to its inmates. Holy Church will tell us presently how the Spirit of Pentecost, in loving kindness to us Gentiles, led into Gaul this blessed family of our Lord's friends.

On the banks of the Rhone, Martha was still the same: full of motherly compassion for every misery, spending herself in deeds of kindness. Always surrounded by the poor, says the ancient historian of the two sisters, she fed them with tender care, with food which heaven abundantly supplied to her charity, while she herself, the only one she forgot, was contented with herbs; and as in the glorious past she had served the Head of the Church in Person, she now served Him in His members, and was full of loving kindness to all. Meantime she delighted in practices of penance, that would frighten us. Martyred thus a thousand times over, Martha with all the powers of her holy soul yearned for heaven. Her mind lost in God, she spent whole nights absorbed in prayer. Ever prostrate, she adored Him reigning gloriously in heaven, Whom she had seen without glory in her own house. Often, too, she would travel through towns and villages, announcing to the people Christ the Saviour.

Avignon and other cities of the province of Vienne were thus evangelized by her. She delivered Tarascon from the old serpent, who in the shape of a hideous monster, not content with tyrannizing over the souls of men, devoured even their bodies. It was here at Tarascon, in the midst of the community of virgins she had founded, that she heard our Lord inviting her to receive hospitality from Him in heaven, in return for that which she had given Him on earth. Here she still rests, protecting her people of Provence, and receiving strangers in memory of Jesus. The peace of the blessed, which seems to breathe from her noble image, fills the heart of the pilgrim as he kisses her apostolic feet; and coming up from the holy crypt to continue his journey in this land of exile, he carries away with him, like a perfume of his fatherland, the remembrance of her simple, touching epitaph: Sollicita Non Turbatur ; ever zealous, she is no longer troubled.


Martha was born of noble and wealthy parents, but she is still more illustrious for the hospitality she gave to Christ our Lord. After his Ascension into heaven, she was seized by the Jews, together with her brother and sister, Marcella her handmaid, and Maximin, one of the seventy-two disciples of our Lord, who had baptized the whole family, and many other Christians. They were put on board a ship without sails or oars, and left helpless on the open sea, exposed to certain shipwreck. But God guided the ship, and they all arrived safely at Marseilles.

This miracle, together with their preaching, brought the people of Marseilles, of Aix, and of the neighborhood to believe in Christ. Lazarus was made Bishop of Marseilles and Maximin of Aix. Magdalene, who was accustomed to devote herself to prayer and to sit at our Lord's feet, in order to enjoy the better part, which she had chosen, that is, contemplation of the joys of heaven, retired into a deserted cave on a very high mountain. There she lived for thirty years, separated from all human intercourse; and every day she was carried to heaven by the Angels to hear their songs of praise.

But Martha, after having won the love and admiration of the people of Marseilles by the sanctity of her life and her wonderful charity, withdrew in the company of several virtuous women to a spot remote from men, where she lived for a long time, greatly renowned for her piety and prudence. She foretold her death long before it occurred; and at length, famous for miracles, she passed to our Lord on the 4th of the Calends of August. Her body which lies at Tarascon is held in great veneration.


Prayer:

Now that, together with Magdalene, thou hast entered for ever into possession of the better part, thy place in heaven, O Martha, is very beautiful. For they that have ministered well, says St. Paul, shall purchase to themselves a good degree, and much confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. iii. 13). The same service which the deacons, here alluded to by the Apostle, performed for the Church, thou didst render to the Church's Head and Spouse; thou didst rule well thine, own house, which was a figure of that Church so dear to the Son of God. But God is not unjust, that He should forget your work and the love which you have shown in His name, you who have ministered and do minister to the saints (Heb. vi. 10). And the Saint of saints Himself, thy indebted guest, gave us to understand something of thy greatness, when, speaking merely of a faithful servant set over the family to distribute food in due season, He cried out: Blessed is that servant whom when his lord shall come, he shall find so doing. Amen I say to you, he shall place him over all his goods (St. Matth. xxiv. 46, 47). O Martha, the Church exults on this day, whereon our Lord found thee thus continuing to serve Him in the persons of those little ones in whom He bids us seek Him. The moment had come for Him to welcome thee eternally. Henceforth the Host most faithful of all to the laws of hospitality, makes thee sit at His table in His own house, and girding Himself, ministers to thee as thou didst minister to Him.

From the midst of thy peaceful rest, protect those who are now carrying on the interests of Christ on earth, in His mystical Body, which is the entire Church, and in His wearied and suffering members the poor and the afflicted. Bless and multiply the works of holy hospitality; may the vast field of mercy and charity yield ever-increasing harvests. May the zeal displayed by so many generous souls lose nothing of its praiseworthy activity; and for this end, O sister of Magdalene, teach us all as our Lord taught thee, to place the one thing necessary above all else, and to value at its true worth the better part. After the word spoken to thee, for our sake as well as thine own, whosoever would disturb Magdalene at the feet of Jesus, or forbid her to sit there, would deserve to have his works frustrated by offended heaven.





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