I have to admit that when I started to prepare my homily for today, I asked myself the same question I do every year about this feast. We celebrate St. Martha of Bethany, but there doesn’t seem to be a day on the Roman calendar for her sister, Mary. After doing some investigation on line, I found that before the revision of the liturgical calendar, Martha’s sister was identified as Mary Magdalene. However, since the revision of the calendar, Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus are all celebrated on July 29. Unfortunately, the texts for the liturgy have not yet caught up with that change, and only Martha is mentioned in the opening prayer.
The passage from John’s Gospel which we read today mentions all three of these people. Martha and Mary are depicted as women of faith who are grief-stricken over the death of their brother. While the Gospel says nothing of their marital status, since Martha and Mary still seem to be living with their brother, we can assume that they were not married. Lazarus was, therefore, their means of support. So their grief was not only about their loss of a brother, it would also have been a matter of concern regarding their future.
We have read this Gospel many times; I am sure that we are aware that after Martha’s exchange with Jesus, Mary comes to him with the same thoughts and the same words. Both of these women have come to place their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Both of them have a deeply personal relationship with Jesus. The tradition surrounding them tells us that after Jesus’ ascension, Martha, Mary and Lazarus all traveled to Gaul where they spread the Gospel and established a Christian community over which Lazarus presided. There are numerous other traditions regarding this trio, but all of them relate that this trio are examples of people who spread the Gospel guided by the apostles and the Holy Spirit. They stand before us as a family devoted to Jesus and the Gospel.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator