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Mary vs Martha – Part I of II

August 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Spiritual Life

Dear Father John, it has always been my nature to do, do do. I volunteer and serve whenever, wherever I can and have always found I felt closer to the Lord when doing this. As I grow older, there is a lack of connection in my spiritual life and simply serving. While I do not want to give up all the volunteer time, I do want to try and slow down in order to find that spiritual connection again. Where do I start? How do I slow down?

The Holy Spirit is, without a doubt, behind this question.

God Is Calling

You are feeling his nudge, his invitation, to deeper intimacy with God. You describe as a disconnection – or maybe a loose connection that you want to become tighter – between the many good things you do for God and your intimate friendship with God, your relationship with him. You have not lost a spiritual connection you used to have – as your question seems to put it. Rather, you have come to a point in your spiritual life where God is inviting you to another level, a deeper level of integration. The ideal you find yourself yearning after consists in having all your many good actions and activities flow more directly from your intimate experience of God’s love and goodness. Instead of having two parallel buckets in your life (intimacy with God, activities for God), you are feeling drawn towards a more integrated reality. You sense that your active life should be more of an overflow of your contemplative life, like a fountain that has two levels, with the top level filling up and overflowing into the bottom level, which in turn fills up and overflows. Right now, you are doing your activities and offering them to God. But your heart is telling you that God is interested in something besides what you do – he wants more of your heart, more of who you are: “Give me the gift of your heart…” (Proverbs 23:26).

Something to Look Forward To

As you deepen the contemplative dimension of your life, and connect more and more integrally to the active dimension of your life, you will be surprised with the results. Instead of finding yourself tired out (whether physically, psychologically, or both) by all your activity, your energy level will stay strong. Instead of being less “productive,” you will actually bear much more supernatural fruit than you could ever have imagined. This is logical. As God’s grace – God himself present and at work in our souls – becomes the primary agent of all we do, he is more readily able to compensate for all our natural limitations. This is why the lives of the saints show such a disproportionate ratio of activity to fruitfulness. Giving more space to God’s grace allows our contribution to his Kingdom to increase exponentially, though not always visible. So you have that to look forward to, if you are docile to the Holy Spirit’s nudging.

What can you do, then, to respond with docility to this inspiration? At least five things.

Escape with the Lord

First, retreats. You need to create space in your life where you can unplug and hear God’s voice. Taking half a day every month, and a full weekend or four days every year or every six months, to be alone with the Lord will help immensely. Our lives are noisy. They are busy. That’s the way things are. That’s the world we live in. We have to intentionally slow them down, on a regular basis. You can do some of these retreats on your own, but as a rule, it’s better to go on a directed retreat. You can look around for retreat centers, or ask around to find people who know of monthly mornings or evenings of reflection. The key is that the retreats should have plenty of silence built in to them. My own Order, for example, offers annual spiritual exercises (weekend silent retreats) for men and for women, along with couples’ retreats. You can look at dates here ( and here ( I invite our readers to share other retreat resources that they may know of. Even if it involves traveling, you need to start going on retreats on a regular basis.

Daily Chats

Second, daily mental prayer (Christian meditation). If you are already doing this, you need to go deeper. And if at all possible, increase the amount of time you dedicate to it. Mental prayer is a privileged spiritual exercise. It gives the Holy Spirit room to personalize all the truths of our faith, to apply them to your particular life and circumstances. There is no substitute for it. Growing in our mental prayer enhances in turn our vocal prayer and our liturgical prayer. It’s the secret weapon for consistent spiritual growth. If you want to freshen up your understanding on the do's and don't's of mental prayer, you may want to pick up a copy of A Guide to Christian Meditation, or re-read some of our posts on mental prayer, like this one (Sitting in Silence) and this one (How Do I Know God Is Talking?).

In our next post on this topic, we will discuss the last three examples of how to deepen our intimacy with God; through spiritual direction, daily spiritual reading, and Living the Lord’s Day as the Lord’s Day.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Becky Ward

    Great post Fr. John! Looking forward to part 2.

  • Peg

    This is interesting as I am at a point in my life where I offer equal time to contemplative prayer (which I LOVE) and actual service, but I don’t get the benefit of experiencing the never-ending energy that so many of our Saints experienced. Maybe because of medical issues (easy to accept) or more realisticly because of pride (hard to accept).
    Right now, my health is causing me much grief and pain, my professional life is a mess, and my church life is fractured in spite of my many attempts to bring peace. I can’t seem to figure out where I’m missing the boat. I feel like I’m swimming upstream with concrete blocks tied to my ankles.
    Still, I thank God daily for all these struggles because on one hand, I feel truly blessed by them (by way of the cross). On the other hand, I’m angry and not very happy with my situation at all. I don’t have a support system, and it seems every time I try to develop one the bottom falls out right when it should be coming together. Even this is a blessing though because it puts my focus directly on God. I can truly empathize with many of the emotions that Jesus must have felt in the Garden of Gethsemane.
    Now, before I put my head on my pillow at night, I thank God for these trials and I offer them up for the benefit of my family. I’ve also started to offer them up for my many critics and enemies. Not because I’m holy (althought I’m trying), but because I know it’s what God expects of me (“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others”). On the surface this may seem hypocritical, but I don’t think it is because I’m honoring God’s law. I’m also trying to do it with a cheerful heart, and hopefully soon my human side will get out of my way so the light of Christ can shine through.
    My hope is that one day I’ll be able to just smile and Love (even my enemies) with a sincere heart as God loves me. I’m working on being that “cheerful giver;” I just haven’t mastered it yet.
    Contemplation and specifically Adoration is where God helps. This is the part of my prayer life where He gently reminds me of the times in my life when I’m the one needing forgiveness and compassion from people that probably view me as their enemy (imagine that)!

    • Becky Ward

      At least you still have a sense of humor! 🙂
      You sound just like me a few years ago. Maybe this post can help you.

    • $1650412

      @ Peg, this is beautiful and encouraging. I want to tell you too, that I think, often, we have aspects of our cross that we kick against because we think we should be able to change this or that, or if people (especially those we might be able to influence or lead) would act according to what is clearly true or stated in Scripture or by the Church, so many things would be so much better- or less painful. I think it is a great challenge to accept the aspects of our situation that are the result of human frailty, weakness, blindness and sin (our own, or those of some who maybe ought to know better ;o)- and to really embrace that cross with all our hearts. All of these things are a grace as you have so clearly understood and I think there is great value in the discipline of obedience- out of that gorws humility, and from the stem and strength of humility comes the flower of joy, a deeper commitment and a the fruit of a purified love.

  • Jackie

    This must be a “God” thing as I was asking my online spiritual guide a similar question just yesterday. I have felt the nudge to go “deeper” into the water so to speak as well. I am involved in a prison ministry and have a fairly structured prayer life and scripture study but something seems missing. I feel God is calling me in some way. Thank you for this and I too look forward to your next article.

  • Rose

    I highly recommend the weekend spiritual exercises given by Miles Christi!!

    • Antonio

      I completely agree. I have found the MC spiritual exercises so enriching that I have already attended them annually for 5 years. My wife would say I am a different man after the first one. now she, my mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and 3 sisters-in-law have already attended them!
      At the same time I also recommend the weekend spiritual exercises lead by the Legionaries of Christ (LC). Both (MC and LC) are marvelous. Each has its own charisma and they complement each other… besides, having both gives you an excuse to go every 6 months (instead of each year) 🙂

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