Martha, or the fullness of faith

In Bethany, not far from Jerusalem, lived Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Every July 29th, the Custody of the Holy Land goes to El-Azariya (in Arabic “the place of Lazarus”) to celebrated the solemnities of these three saints. First a Mass was celebrated privately in Lazarus’ tomb by Fra Marcelo Cichinelli. The Franciscan liturgy then offers the faithful a Eucharistic celebration in Bethany’s little church, with the Custodial Secretary, Fra Sergio Galdi, presiding.

In his preaching, Fra Sergio lingered on several words from the text of St. John (ch. 11): first, on the meaning of this family, or rather sibling group, because he did not mention their parents. Although the two sisters are often presented in opposition to each other, “they first of all illustrate the fraternity to which the Church invites us,” he explained, before going on to give an appreciation in depth of Martha’s attitude. When Jesus arrives at Bethany, she goes out to meet him. “Even though she had just lost her brother and her sister seems to be locked within her grief, Martha goes out to express her faith, thus showing with her attitude that she had understood well before the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah,” Fra Sergio explained. “She gives us here a beautiful example of progressing and growing toward complete faith.” Echoing Christ’s proclamation, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, Fra Sergio continued with a citation. “In the apocryphal gospel of Philipp, we can read that those who say that the Lord was first dead and then resurrected are in error.” This theophany gives Martha the opportunity to understand that everything belongs to God, even temporality. “We were already saved; in Jesus life came into the world. God is at work and now he is asking us to look at this world from a celestial perspective, and not the other way around,” he concluded. This idea was expressed in another way by the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, five centuries before Jesus, with the proverb “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

After generous refreshment provided by the friars of the Bethany friary, Michael Sarquah and Eliezer Wronski, the gospel was once again proclaimed before the tomb of Lazarus. The liturgy then brought the congregation to the Pater Noster monastery on the Mount of Olives. At the Pater, a special prayer intention was devoted to the Christians of Syria, Iraq and Palestine, who are experiencing trials of death and mourning, like the grief Martha and Mary. On this Tuesday July 29th, which is also holiday and day of prayer for our Muslim brethren, may Saint Francis, the example of Islamo-Christian dialogue, strengthen us in the hope of reconciliation and unity of the bruised and wounded Middle East.


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