Are all Monks and Nuns considered "Mary", and all lay catholics considered "Martha"?

I’ve heard a lot of the story of Martha and Mary being symbolic of the two different kinds of Christians: Active and Contemplative. Is this the official church teaching on this, or is it just a man-made paralell. Active Christians should not get upset at the inaction of the contemplatives, because 1) they are choosing the “best” part. And 2) because in the story, Jesus picks up a broom and starts helping Martha. This possibly means that the actives can count on Christ to pick up the slack. Your insight would be most appreciated.

Dear doc,

The Church does not have an official interpretation of Luke 10:38-42. Traditionally, Mary has been seen to have acted in a contemplative way in that she stopped everything to sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen to Him. Nothing can take precedence over this because of who Jesus is. Jesus approved of her choice and did not respond to Martha’s plea for help. However, He did not say that Mary should never help Martha or that what Martha was doing was in any way wrong.

One does not have to be a monk or a nun to be a contemplative, although monastic life does offer supports to such prayer that are not as available in the world.

There is nothing in Scripture that states that Jesus picked up a broom and helped Martha. Nevertheless, Jesus had been a carpenter and His mother certainly labored in the way of housewives of the time. Even monks and nuns must do some work each day. The motto of the Benedictines is “Ora et labora, pray and work.”

All Christians are called to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him. He determines how much time he wants each of us to spend in such prayer by the vocation to which He has called us. Obviously, parents of young children will have a lot less time for this because of the demands of parenthood. In later life most people have more time for this. This is all according to His plan.

What is important here is that there is no dichotomy between Martha and Mary. The Church needs both.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit