Collect: O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saints and Blesseds:
Monday, July 29: St. Mary and Martha of Bethany
St. Mary and St. Martha, along with their brother Lazarus, welcomed Jesus into their home at Bethany outside of Jerusalem. And Scripture says that Jesus loved all three of them. In Luke 10:38-42, we have the famous story where Mary sits at Jesus’s feet, while Martha is serving. Interestingly, rather than this necessarily pitting the contemplative life against the active, this account shows how Jesus lifts up women. A woman sitting at the feet of a Rabbi was forbidden and Martha’s protest was not a matter of jealousy or annoyance, but of upholding cultural standards for a Rabbi. Jesus’s response is breathtaking: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” The other place we see Mary and Martha is in St. John’s Gospel, when Jesus weeps at Lazarus’s death and raises him from the dead.*
Tuesday, July 30: Blessed William Wilberforce
Born in 1759, William Wilberforce is known primarily for his persevering opposition to slavery, which resulted in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Born to an affluent family, Wilberforce went to Cambridge and met his dear friend for life, William Pitt. Pitt became Prime Minister at the age of 24, which influenced Wilberforce’s decision to serve in Parliament at age 21. At this same time, Wilberforce was influenced by Evangelical spirituality (during a time when the Church of England was very dead). Wilberforce said “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” He was part of a group of Evangelicals known as the “Clapham Sect” and helped to found the Bible Society. The slave trade was made illegal in 1807, but in 1833, an act of Parliament emancipated 800,000 slaves. Two days later, knowing this victory, Wilberforce died.
Wednesday, July 31: St. Joseph of Arimathea
St. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin. And, because of his influence, he was able to take custody of Jesus’s body after the crucifixion. St. Luke called him “a good man and righteous.” He buried Jesus in a new tomb, with a stone cover — his own tomb. This burial has been said to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, “I shall allot him a portion with the great” (53:12). While we know nothing else of St. Joseph from Scripture, legends abound concerning his life. One of the most famous is that Joseph was involved in the tin trade and took Jesus with him on a trip to Cornwall before Jesus began his public ministry. This legend is the basis for William Blake’s famous poem: “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen?” Tradition says that St. Joseph went back to England after Jesus’s death, carrying two silver cruets containing Christ’s blood and sweat. When he struck his staff into the ground, it grew into a hawthorn tree that bloomed each Christmas. Though cut down by one of Cromwell’s soldiers, a tree grown from its cutting stands today in Glastonbury.
* This excerpt from St. Augustine’s sermon about St. Mary and St. Martha is worth quoting at length:
“You dear Martha, if I may say so, are blessed for your good service; you are seeking the reward of your labors, namely, rest. For the moment you are preoccupied with the demands of service, feeding a mortal body, albeit a holy one. But when you reach your heavenly homeland, will you find a pilgrim to welcome, someone hungry to feed, someone thirsty to whom you may give a drink, someone ill whom you can visit, someone quarrelsome whom you could reconcile, a dead body to bury? Martha, none of these tasks will be there. But what will you find?
You will find what Mary chose. There we shall not have to feed other people: we shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will on that day be realized in its fullness. She was gathering the crumbs from a rich banquet, the Word of God. And do you wish to know what will happen when we arrive there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants: ‘Truly, I say to you, he will have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them himself.’ “