In this wretched and toilsome life, it is essential that Martha be present in our house—that is to say, that our soul attend to physical activities. For as long as we have a need to eat and drink, we have a need to labor. As long as we are tempted by physical delights, we have a need to subdue the flesh with vigils, fasts, and manual labor: That is Martha’s part.
Yet Mary ought to be present in our soul—that is, spiritual activity. For we should not always be intent on physical pursuits but sometimes we should be at leisure and see how good and how sweet the Lord is, [we should] sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his word. By no means should you neglect Mary for the sake of Martha, nor again Martha for the sake of Mary. If you neglect Martha, who will feed Jesus? If you neglect Mary, what benefit will it be to you that Jesus entered your house since you will have tasted nothing of his sweetness?
These two activities were perfectly present in the Blessed Mary, our Lady. The fact that she clothed our Lord, that she fed him, that she carried him and fled with him into Egypt—all this pertains to physical activity. But that she treasured all these words, pondering them in her hears, that she meditated on his divinity, contemplated his power, and savored his sweetness—all this pertain to Mary. Accordingly, the Evangelist beautifully says: Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listened to his word.
Since, however, each of us must practice both these roles, we must surely do Martha’s task at certain times and at certain times Mary’s task.
Aelred of Rievaulx: The Liturgical Sermons, Sermon Nineteen: For the Assumption of Saint Mary, v. 20-21, 23, 28 (CF 58, pp, 269, 270, 272)