St. Martha, Virgin
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.
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.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.