(Editor’s note: Father Jeff Belger, priest director of the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, shared the following column he wrote for the Newman Center the week of July 11.)
This week I am out in California, helping the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) with their Summer Project. I’m here with Liz Foley, a member of our UI FOCUS missionary team and 28 other college students from around the country. As part of the Summer Project, the students are working here at one of the resorts in Napa Valley. In addition to working at the resort, they live in community and make daily Mass, prayer and discipleship a priority. I am amazed at the joy of the students matched up with their desire to serve. Halfway through the summer, they take three days off and go camping together.
When I arrived in California on Monday, I was picked up at the airport and brought to a campground an hour outside of Yosemite National Park. One of the first things I did after arriving at the campground was to celebrate Mass and holy hour for the students and missionaries. Whenever I have Mass outdoors, I am reminded of Pope John Paul II who often celebrated Mass with the young people he ministered to in Poland. Sometimes celebrating Mass outside of a church can be very distracting for the people attending. Sometimes their attention is on everything but what is happening in the Mass. We had two extremes of distraction. On Monday (July 11), the temperature outside was 99 degrees. I have never celebrated Mass in such a hot condition. Strangely, as I received the precious blood, I realized that it was the temperature of the human body. Profound, but still uncomfortable. On Tuesday, the temperature was much more reasonable, but we were inside Yosemite National Park. One of the most beautiful places on the planet. I had no anxieties about this group becoming distracted. Their attention and the joy of celebration was right where it needed to be.
As I am using this trip as part of my vacation, I will make a short segue to an important message from the Gospel for this weekend. Often, the Gospel passage of Martha and Mary is reduced to two aspects of the spiritual life: contemplation and service. Sometimes people get frustrated because it seems Jesus chastises Martha for her service. If you read the Gospel carefully, it is not the fact that she is serving that brings about the chastisement. It is the fact that she is distracted and anxious. Service and hospitality are especially important; however, they are not as important as listening to the voice of Christ as a disciple, which the posture of Mary — sitting at his feet shows.
Our culture celebrates the do-er. We celebrate the busy, hectic schedule that so many of us live with today. I think St. Francis de Sales was the one who said (I might be wrong) something to the effect that at the bare minimum, pray 30 minutes. You need 30 minutes of contemplation and meditation each day unless you’re busy, then you need a full hour.
Even ministry within the Church can lose its life and vigor, if we believe the lie that tells us, “I’m too busy to pray.”