Daily Reflection
October 7th, 2003
John O'Keefe
Theology Department
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Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary
Jonah 3:1-10
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 7-8
Luke 10:38-42

Why, I wonder, does the Memorial to Our Lady of the Rosary come packaged with readings such as these?  Jonah and penitent Nineveh, Mary and Martha, and a pious Catholic counting beads to the silent repetition of “Hail Mary” are images that defy easy connection.

The story from Luke is well known.  Jesus comes to the home of two sisters, and one of them, Mary, drops everything to sit at his feet. When sister Martha protests, Jesus advises Mary to keep sitting, seemingly insensitive to Martha’s plight.  Jesus’ entry into  this household and the advice he offers stands in marked contrast to the message of repentance preached by Jonah upon his coming to town.  The Ninevites are required to act, not sit.

The text from Luke has often been interpreted in the tradition as a figural indication of the superiority of the contemplative life over the active life.  Mary, according to this reading, is a type of the Monk who withdraws from the world to gaze directly upon the face of Christ.  Martha is the type of the layperson engaged with the cares and distractions of the world.  Clearly from this perspective the former is better than the latter.

Yet, as I read this text again in the light of Jonah, Psalm 130, and the Rosary, I am less satisfied than ever with the traditional reading.

The passage from Jonah and the excerpt from the psalm are both calls to repentance.  We are invited into this call to conversion and to apply to it our own lives.  Have we, like the people of Nineveh, heard the call of the prophet to reform and have we reformed?  Are we aware of the tremendous tolerance God has for our failure, as is the psalmist?  I imagine all of us have some growth to do here. 

Yet, if we reflect upon this call to repentance in the light of the call of Mary to contemplation, we discern that it is not that the call represents the superiority of the monastic contemplative way over the active way, but rather that contemplation ensures that we do not allow resentment and distraction (Martha) to cloud our perception of what the Lord would have us do.  None of us, no matter what our vocation, can long survive if we give up sitting at the feet of Christ.  Many monks have fallen victim to Martha’s plight and many layfolk have found Mary’s way.

Here, then, is the link to the Rosary: as a practice of meditation, it leads us to a deeper vision of Christ.  Hopefully, it also leads us to a deeper sense of what that vision requires.


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