St Margaret’s Message
In his homily for our parish Feast Day, the feast day of St Margaret Mary Alacoque, Father Hanly reveals the beautiful meaning of St Margaret’s message.
For our parish Feast Day, Father replaced the gospel for 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, with the gospel about Martha and Mary, as the story of Martha and Mary illustrates very well the thinking of St Margaret.
Today, as you all know, is our parish Feast Day.
But perhaps the name and the life of St Margaret is not as familiar to you as with all the other saints that we celebrate during the year.
And this is too bad, because she’s very, very important in the history of the Church. And what she came to do, and what her life came to mean, is an extraordinarily strong message that is echoed down all through our own times.
In summary, someone summed up her importance by saying: “Margaret aroused the Church to a realisation of God’s love, symbolised by the sacred heart of Jesus.”
She lived during the seventeenth century, the early part a time of great conflict.
There was the Reformation was already almost a hundred years old. And instead of bringing people together, it separated them.
And wars were fought on both sides and every side. There were wars not only between the Catholics and the Protestants, but within the Protestants, and the groups in the Catholics.
And it seemed like everyone was speaking for God. And the one thing when everybody speaks for God that happens is that God is not present.
So, men would put on their shields, (inaudible) “God wills it!” and go out to kill their brothers and sisters, because they spoke another language or had a different custom.
Margaret was a simple lady. Very difficult childhood, sickly, and then when she was about twenty-four, she joined a convent. It was the Sisters of the Visitation.
When I was a boy in Brooklyn, we used to have the Sisters of Visitation. They were the ones who didn’t teach at schools, but they went around looking for poor people to help. And they were very valuable for our parish, St Teresa’s.
Now Margaret, she took her life very simply, very humbly. She was almost overlooked. Except she had something within her heart, something fiery and fierce.
And while she was polite and careful and did everything that was wanted in the convent, there was something within her heart that suddenly sprang forth and people began to realise that she had a special gift.
And if you’ve lived in a community life, you can recognise it right away. It speaks to your heart and it is the voice of God. And this is what Margaret had.
Now, there were many in the convent who disagreed, and many who thought she was a fraud. And bishops and priests discussed the things that she said Jesus was wanting us to learn and to know.
And all this was true. But Margaret, humbly accepting everything, stayed true to the words of God that she found springing from her heart.
And it was a very simple message: if you want to know God, you must look at the heart of Jesus.
Because the heart of Jesus that suffers and dies for us, suffers and dies not to win a battle, not to be considered superior to everyone else, he dies because love demands it and he dies to tell us that God Himself offers his life out of love for each and every one of us.
And the sign and the symbol of this is the crucifix. And the sign and the symbol of this among us today is that we take for granted the sacred heart of Jesus, a heart that has only one strong feeling for the whole world: it’s a heart of love.
And this is why we have, in this church, once a month, First Friday Devotions. It’s to remind us that the heart of all religion, the heart of all belief, the heart of all Christians, at the heart of this is the heart of Jesus.
And we can only say one thing: when we love, we are like God; and when we do not love, we are far from his will and far from his understanding.
And from that time on, what began to be emphasised, it was always there, to be emphasized was love and service, love and service.
And that’s why this Gospel message is such a wonderful little message. That’s why I chose Year C rather than today’s regular Gospel. Because the little story of Martha and Mary illustrates very well what Margaret had in mind and what Margaret was trying to say was the will of Jesus: that we should come once again to regain love for God and love for each other.
The story is very simple. Jesus visits the house of Martha and Mary. He’s a very good friend of the family.
As you remember, they live in a house across the divide from the city of Jerusalem. And it is in Bethany. And if you go there, you can see the very house, or at least the sixth or seventh generation of what, where, certainly where the house is, but the house itself, and the church that was built there.
And there was the brother Lazarus, who you remember is the one that Jesus raised from the dead and in so doing brought the Pharisees and the scribes and the leaders of the opposition together to demand that he should die, because everyone was saying he raises the dead to new life.
Those who loved Jesus would say, “Yes.” Those who hated him would say, “This idea takes charge of all the world. We will no longer have the world as we know it and the world as we want it.”
Anyhow, Martha was busy about many things, and Mary, of course, both of them were entertaining Jesus, both of them were showing hospitality to Jesus.
And showing hospitality became a sort of a way that Christians began to express their love for God and for each other.
All during the Middle Ages, they would form these houses of hospitality which you can still find in our own little worlds. The houses of hospitality where pilgrims go, needy people go, people who have a mission in their life, moving across maybe one country into another, but with just faith in God.
And the little house of hospitality would be there to take them in and shelter them and care for them and give them the strength to go on their way.
Now, this goes all the way back to Abraham, who showed great hospitality to all those who ever came near him, and was rewarded by entertaining angels without him knowing it, and he was given the promise of a son.
But for Martha and Mary, apparently, Jesus was given certain hospitality as a pilgrim, but also as a very special person.
And when he came in to the house, Mary immediately dropped everything and sat down and listened to what he had to say.
Martha was busy about many things. She was doing all the work and she got angry at her sister and she said, “Lord, tell her to help me.”
And then Jesus said, “No, Mary has chosen the right part, the better part.”
And you wonder what he meant.
What he meant was, and it’s very clear from his own life, that hospitality is certainly helping others and going out to them and providing food and shelter and kindness. And it is a very, very important thing for Christians to remember. But Mary, Mary sat and she listened.
So, we have the two factors in Christian hospitality. One is love, one is service. If you have love without service, it’s empty. If you have service without love, it is cruelty.
Now Mary and Martha both loved Jesus. But Jesus was making a very important point. The point, of course, was that you must love and serve. You must do both.
I’ll tell you a story.
When I was in Ireland, I was visiting my Aunty. And my Aunty lived in this little village. But they were kind of the last of the great villages where people had lived sort of class lives. And she was the top class.
And she used to have, Aunty Peg her name was, used to have what they call high tea. High tea was where, tea is tea, but high tea is in the late afternoon, and you don’t just have tea and crumpets. What you do is you have a whole meal with great breads and all kinds of lovely things, fish and food and all of these things.
And Aunty Peg would have high tea every single Sunday. And she would invite all the people that should be at high tea. Of course, this would be the doctor and the priest and the more or less the fairly well off, the upper class people.
And so the peasants, who most of them at that time, this is the 1940s, most of the ordinary people were farmers, and they would not have a chance to get into the high tea.
And a slogan went around when they were judging somebody whether they were really valuable people, one of the farmers would say, “Well, it’ll be a long time before he ever gets invited to Aunty Peg’s tea.” You see, that was sort of, you judged your worth or not worth.
I was there, and I was from Brooklyn, and I found it fascinating. Everybody was talking, and everybody was entertaining each other, and everybody that was important had little stories to tell, and all the rest of it. But there was a huge emptiness, because you could tell nobody really cared about each other. They were at Aunty Peg’s high tea, and they were considered fancy people.
And so I caught the eye of a little man, and he said, “Are they driving you crazy?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Come with me.”
And he took me out, because it was my father’s village and I’d never been in there before. And he took me to all the places that my father loved: up on the hill and looking down, and the fishing, and being with the ordinary people, and the laughter. And he brought me into little homes that couldn’t afford high tea, but they took you to themselves and they said, “Ooh, I can tell you are your father’s son,” etc etc.
In about five minutes, I felt that I understood my father.
Now, this is because Aunty Peg was very high on service, but she was no place on love.
The same… Here is the trick now, here is the trick. Don’t feel bad if you are serving high teas and you don’t have a loving surround.
In Christian high teas, for want of another word, in Christian hospitality, there’s something very important to remember: you can tell true hospitality when the host becomes the guest, and the guest becomes the host.
Now look at the story.
There’s Martha, all good will, running around busy about so many things, busy about this and that and all the rest of it. Important: if there was no Martha, there’d be no meal, and everybody would go hungry. So Jesus wasn’t saying you shouldn’t be busy about many things.
But he was saying one thing is necessary and that was Mary made Jesus not a guest, but the host. Because she sat before him, and he spoke to her of the Kingdom of God, and the love of God, and the care of God, and things that she soaked into her heart like a sponge that was dry and now filled.
And, all of a sudden, the host was Jesus, and she was the one who came to be with him.
I’ll tell you another way that this works, now. Remember now, the host becomes the guest, and the guest becomes the host.
There’s a story about St Francis. I tell it a lot of times with little variations.
The story of St Francis when he was a young man and he had a white charging horse and his father put the greatest, beautiful, wondrous clothes on him, because his father was one who dealt in clothes and went off to Paris and brought back these wonderful kind of things to wear for him and he was spoilt.
And he would ride out on his horse in the morning and he’d come back. And every time he came back his father would say, “Francis, Francis, what did you see and what did you do?”
And so he rode out one morning, and he got to the edge of town, and he saw a beggar, a homely little beggar, with sores and everything. And he came back and his father said, “Francis, Francis, what did you see and what did you do?”
He said, “I saw a beggar and I felt sorry for him, so I threw him my purse with the money in it.”
And then, the next day, he rode out again. And his father, when he came home, said the same thing, “Francis, Francis, where have you been, what did you see and what did you do?”
“Well,” he said, “the beggar was still there, so I got off my horse this time and I walked over and I put the coins beside him and I asked him, I said to him, ‘Hello,’ and he said, ‘Hello,’ back. And then I got on my horse and came home.”
And then the third time he went out, this time he was a little bit more ready. And so when he came back his father said to him, “Francis, what did you see and what did you do?”
He said, “I saw the beggar, and I got down off my horse, and I brought the meal that I had prepared, the wine, the bread, the cheese, and we sat down and we ate it together. And then the little man said to me, ‘Francis, Francis, what did you see and what did you do?’ And then I knew that I was talking to Jesus the Lord and I recognised him in the breaking of the bread.”
You see, this is how the host, the host becomes the guest, and the guest becomes the host.
This is what Margaret, St Margaret, believed in. That when we serve, we recognise that we serve not just to make people feel comfortable, but to sit and listen to their stories, to make them feel at home, to make them feel loved and understood, to exchange in a dialogue that is worthy of Christians who share whatever they have with each other, be it food, or be it stories, or be it whatever they have.
And out of this is what changes the world. This is what makes Jesus not only a taker, but a giver. And it makes us not only givers, but takers as well.
And I think if St Margaret looked down at us she would kind of nod and say, “Yes. It’s not about God up in heaven and you down here. It’s about you and God sitting down, in any kind of situation, and sharing bread, and sharing wine, and sharing cheese, but, most of all, sharing each other’s life.”