Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Faith

Brother Richard Brunner, SSP
As July draws to a close, I have two models of holiness in my thoughts. One is among the first Christian saints, Martha of Bethany, and the other a holy member of the Pauline Family I was blessed to know for the past decade and who died exactly a year ago yesterday, Brother Richard Brunner. When I first made my promise as a Pauline Cooperator, although I did not know him at all, he made a point to come over and welcome us into the Pauline Family. Brother Richard was both gracious and gregarious, a welcoming presence at all times. Like Saint Martha, he made great effort to make everyone feel welcomed at the various Pauline Family gatherings. Pictured here, his smile and openness project the welcoming character of his presence. I could almost see him in the kitchen–had he lived in Martha’s time–cheering and supporting her efforts in preparing for her guests.
Brother Richard’s biography describes him as “a man with a gentle spirit and great strength. He was loved by all those who were lucky enough to get to know him.” The biography went on to enumerate how Brother Richard contributed to the many aspects of the Society of Saint Paul’s worldwide media ministry in the over five decades since he made his first vows:
From 1981 to 1984 and again from 1989 to 1998 he was director of the Alba House Bookstores in the Southern Park and Eastwood Malls as well as the store on the congregation's property in Canfield. When stationed in Staten Island, NY, he participated in all aspects of the congregations book publishing ministry. He held in the course of his life many key administrative positions in the Society of St. Paul, including being general director of the Society in the United States from 2011-2012. At the time of his death he was director of the Society of St. Pauls Staten Island community. He helped promote and distribute millions of books, pamphlets and religious materials that deepened the faith, strengthened the spirituality and gave hope to countless people around the world.
Until now, I never connected Brother Richard with todays feast of Saint Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany. She is most often remembered as the woman who is corrected by Jesus in response to her complaint that her sister, Mary, should be helping her with preparations for the guests. However, the usual overall message of the passage is that there must be a balance between the practical and the intellectualthat we each are not just like Mary or like Martha, but both sisters at once, striving for a balanced life which integrates both the mundane and the spiritual.

Martha, A Woman of Faith
In John 11, Scripture depicts this practical woman as well as a woman of great faith. When Jesus meets Martha after the burial of Lazarus, their conversation is about faith and salvation. This contrasts with Jesus’ meeting a few minutes later with Mary, which takes on a more emotional character with little dialogue. In that heart-breaking scene, Jesus responds simply to Mary, asking only where her brother has been buried. Jesus does not get into the details. He simply shows her what he will do.
Mother Thecla at work.

Instead, Jesus has a detailed dialogue with Martha. In spite of her feelings of loss and grief, this practical woman responds concisely to the questions posed by Jesus and demonstrates through her words that she is a true woman of faith who has heard, understood, and internalized the Good News of the Lord. In this sense, Martha’s words and actions echo the words and actions of the pre-eminent woman of faith, Mary, Mother of the Lord and Queen of Apostles. 

Martha’s story fits especially well into Ordinary Time on the Church’s liturgical calendar. She is a woman of faith who focuses on the practical matters of life. She sees the work that needs to be done, and she does it! In this sense, she is a wonderful model for all Paulines in their media ministries.

As Paulines, we hear the Good News through contemplative prayer and Scripture study. We respond, in turn, to this God-given faith and understanding by allowing it to lead us to Jesus through our respective work in the media. Our founder, Blessed James Alberione, and his collaborator, Mother Thecla, provided the finest examples to us of industrious and spiritually balanced dedication to the tasks of salvation through the modern media.

Humbly Living the Pauline Charism 
In a recent article in the Pauline Discover Hope newsletter (July 17, 2015), Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, described her work as an editor in the following way:
“Blessed James Alberione, the founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, likened the editor’s work to the mission of Mary who edited God’s Word into our humanity. The editor helps an author bring his or her manuscript into the hands of today’s readers. Mary gave flesh and blood, breath and heartbeat to the Son of God. As an editor I help clothe the author’s word in today’s language and style; I guide the author through any modifications that will give breath to the work and a life that the reader will find in every word.

“At Pauline Books & Media, the work of an editor is truly a Gospel work. We are all about making the Word of God, clothed in many forms, available and accessible to those who receive it.”
Brother Richard contributed so much to this demanding Gospel work. Such ministries are rarely grandiose enterprises, but often routine, largely anonymous, sets of tasks–ordinary work in ordinary times. Yet, nothing short of the salvation of the world hangs in the balance of all this ordinary work. 

Closing Prayer
Jesus, Master, Way, Truth and Life: Enlighten our minds and hearts, and guide us to live a life of dedicated generosity and ever-increasing holiness.
Marie-Louise Handal has been a Pauline Cooperator for the past decade. She holds a Master’s Degree from St. Josephs Seminary, an M.S. in the Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and is a candidate for the S.T.L. from the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. She also holds a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from the New York Archdiocesan Center for Spiritual Development. Her professional work experience encompasses 20 years in international banking and finance, followed by a second career as a mathematics educator in Manhattan. Marie-Louise is a native New Yorker, born and raised in New York City.

1 comment:

Maryann Toth said...

Thank you, Marie-Louise for this wonderful article on the feast of St. Martha. It is all about balance. We need to be both Mary & Martha. Beautiful examples of women of faith who loved Christ.