Early in my marriage, I got in the habit of leaving my wife “to do” lists before heading off to work. After a while, I started getting creative and playful with the lists. One time, for example, the final item on the list was “Do something you enjoy.” Upon reading that item, she immediately wadded up the list and with obvious enjoyment tossed it in the wastebasket!
In the Gospel this coming Sunday, the gathered crowd asks Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” (Jn. 6:28). This is a very natural question. However, it does betray a “to do list” mentality. What tasks do we need to do to please God and accomplish His will on earth? Armed with such a list, we can start checking off items one by one.
Yet, in reply the Lord did not give us a laundry list of tasks, though surely there is much to do when it comes to evangelizing our world today. Rather, He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (Jn. 6:29). Of course, that is true, as without the Lord we can do nothing. We would be like branches disconnected from the life-giving vine, unable to bear fruit.
But even more, I think Our Lord is pointing to the primary importance of interiority, of developing a close personal relationship with Him in prayer and seeing in that relationship the vital source of living effective Christian lives. He is teaching us that who we are as children of God and beloved companions of the Lord Jesus is more important than what we do.
Interestingly, yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Martha. As Catholics, we try to balance in our lives of faith the active Martha and the contemplative Mary. Sometimes in the process Martha gets a bad rap. She’s anxious and worried about many things (Lk. 10:41), so at times we might picture her as a frantic busybody flitting about, doing everything on the to do list, while the serene Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, believing in “the one he sent.”
May we imitate the faith of St. Martha, who said, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 11:27). And, like St. Martha, we should express our faith in active works of charity, especially with regard to the poor.
As we do so, however, we must keep in mind the clear teaching of Scripture. Our Lord said that Mary chose the better part, the one necessary thing (Lk. 10:42). Our Lord is truly present at every Mass and in every tabernacle throughout the world. If we truly desire to be saints, to become the holy men and women God calls us to be, we do well–frequently and with much love and devotion–to return to the Source: Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord, the center of our faith. Not surprisingly, to follow up on His comment on doing the “works of God,” Jesus is about to embark upon His beautiful discourse on the Eucharist, which we will hear in the coming weeks.