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Mary vs Martha – Part II of II

August 27, 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?

In our first post, we discussed two ways we all can continue to do God’s work and still be able to deepen our intimacy with Him. This can be done by attending retreats and with daily mental prayer (Christian meditation). This post gives the final three examples.

No Lone Rangers

Third, spiritual direction. It is hard to find a spiritual director, but it is possible. God just likes to work in our lives through other human beings. This is his methodology. I won’t repeat all the advice we have given here about finding a spiritual director, I’ll just point you to some of our earlier posts – if you ask God to provide you with one and make a reasonable effort to find one, he won’t keep you waiting too long (or if he does, he will supply some kind of substitute). You may want to re-read some of these posts: Finding and Selecting a Spiritual Director; Who Should I Go To?; How Can I Determine if a Spiritual Director Is Faithful to the Church?

Mind Wash

Fourth, spiritual reading. Spiritual reading fills your mind with light. It consists of regular reading of solid books that explain what it means to be a Catholic Christian. When I say regular, I mean daily – reading for fifteen or twenty minutes every day. Simply reading about the great, wonderful reality of who we are as adopted Children of God. Reading about the experiences of our older brothers and sisters in the faith – the lives of the saints. Reading solid guidance about how to grow in prayer, in virtue, in intimacy with God. Reading about God himself – commentaries on Scripture, on the truths of our faith… You may want to join our Book Club, or at least browse through all the great books that have been reviewed and recommended on the site.

Every day, our minds are bombarded with ideas and images that contradict, subtly or not-so-subtly, our Catholic world view. We need to intentionally counteract this secular tsunami. (This post gives a more thorough explanation of spiritual reading). You don’t have to finish every book you start. Just make the effort, and you will start finding books that really resonate, and these will provide the Holy Spirit more opportunities to instruct and illuminate your mind and heart. As much as we are fans of the Internet, reading posts online is not the same as reading solid books. Books go deeper. They give you more to mull over, even to meditate on. Our minds and hearts need time to digest the amazing truths of our faith; reading books helps give us that time. If you don’t know where to start, pick up a copy of Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity. It will turn around the way you see the world!

God’s Time

Fifth, Sunday and the liturgical seasons. Start living them the way you know you should, but never have been able to so far. Live the Lord’s Day as the Lord’s Day, not just as the last day of the weekend. Live the liturgical seasons and feasts, preparing for them, decorating the house for them, having special meals for them. In your question, you mention a desire to “slow down.” I would venture to say that instead of just slowing down the pace of your life, you need to Christify it. You need to gradually transition your life so that your external activities, your family life and friendships, and above all your own mind and heart, are following the rhythms of God’s time, and that’s the liturgical year. Our society doesn’t do this and never has – at least, not in our lifetimes. And so, we have no concept of the difference it can make when we govern our time by God’s time, instead of trying to squeeze time for God into our secular schedules. I know, this is hard. It seems impossible to live Sunday well, without frenetic activity. But believe me, living Sunday well is the first and necessary step to re-dimensioning the frenetic activity. To get you started, you may want to re-read this earlier post on the Sunday Obligation.

Those are five things you can do to begin this new chapter in your spiritual life. If it seems overwhelming, don’t fret! Just identify one step you can take to begin, and take it. Then identify one more step, and take it. You don’t have to implement them all over night. The important thing is to realize that your restlessness is not just a natural discomfort. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit at work in your heart, drawing closer to you, and calling you to seek him more ardently, to know him more intimately, and to love him more passionately.

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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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  • LizEst

    One of the hallmarks of the authentic Christian life is balance, an absence of extremes. Because we are not God, we do not have the ability to focus in on one area (either Martha or Mary) without some part of our life becoming dis-ordered. So, we must follow Jesus’ example. Amidst all Christ’s preaching and healing, he still set aside time to get away, time to pray and worship and even to relax (remember the wedding at Cana and the many dinners he had with sinners). The Benedictine motto, “ora et labora” (pray and work), is a good one to follow. Religious communities dedicated to contemplation and prayer know
    that recreation is really cooperating with God in re-creation. Our respite from work doesn’t mean we set God aside. Rather, we can bring God into our Sunday rest by making the book we pick up a spiritual one, or by making our visits to friends and family spiritual ones, using these opportunities to bring God to others. A spiritual director can definitely be of assistance in developing a Christ-centered balance in our lives.

    • Becky Ward

      Liz, would you please explain what you mean by this statement?
      One of the hallmarks of the authentic Christian life is balance, an absence of extremes.

      I would agree with you that balance….in the proper context… important in our lives. However, Jesus’ answer to Martha certainly seems to contradict what you are saying here.

      As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside
      the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her. .” ” Luke 10:38-42

      Jesus was a radical…..and the saints that come to mind for me, do so exactly ‘because’ of the extremes in their lives…..they are often know as zealots and fanatics.Rather than try to balance our respective roles as both Martha and Mary, it seems that Jesus wants us to put Him first in our lives….knowing that once we do so……we will “Mary-ize” that parts of our life that require us to be ‘Martha’….thus, putting contemplation in action… complete order and compliance with God’s will. “..….but for God all things are possible.” MT 19:26

      I’m probably just missing the context that you were writing from. 🙂

      • LizEst

        Christ is forever the better part. There is no contradicting what Jesus said…nor is any intended. He is always number one.

        The balance comes in how we live our Christian life. We are always to live the vocation we are called to. It is for the contemplative religious to live as a contemplative religious, for the doctor to live as a doctor, for the priest to live as a priest, for the married man or woman to live as husband or wife, as mother or father, etc. Within the vocation the Lord has called us to, we are to live Christ focused and Christ centered lives. That includes prayer in the many varied forms it takes, including sitting at the feet of Jesus.

        When I talk about a life of balance, an absence of extremes, I mean that the authentic Christian life is not one of spending one’s every waking moment before the Blessed Sacrament, if one has a different vocation. Spending time before the Blessed Sacrament has much profit and is wonderful and honorable and recommended, but not to the extent that one neglects one’s family or obligations. Jesus had very strong words to say about such things, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, ‘Any support you might have had from me is qorban’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.” (Mark 7:9-13)

        What you call extreme, I call excellence. The saints did their jobs, they carried out their vocations, in the most excellent, virtuous and heroic way…but, not to the extreme that they forfeited their responsibilities toward God or neighbor. That’s what I mean. They did what they needed to do to accomplish God’s will but with heroic virtue, “goodness to a superlative degree, a degree that far surpasses the mere natural resources of the human person…[showing] itself in actions that are (1) promptly, easily, joyfully done; (2) even in difficult circumstances; (3) habitually, not just occasionally; (4) present actually, not just potentially; (5) found mingled with all the virutes [balance].” This is the “definitive criteria for determining in canonization processes the eminent perfection to which God calls us (Mt 5:48)” [Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. in his book “Authenticity” A Biblical Theology of Discernment, chapter 1].

        Dubay goes on to say in chap 5, “people who are much concerned with God speaking within tend to neglect clear duties without. ‘On judgment day,’ says our Carmelite guide [St. John of the Cross], ‘God will punish the faults and sins of many with whom He communed familiarly here below and to whom He imparted much light and power. For they neglected their obligations and trusted in their converse with Hm.’ 27 [“Ascent of Mount Carmel” book 2, chap. 22, no. 15; p. 185] John then illustrates his idea…Doing the Father’s will (Mt 7:21) is more important than receiving special favors from him…The Carmelite [St. John] explains how spiritual directors should guide people in faith, not in supposed special communications.”

        So, bottom line, prayer and time sitting at the feet of the Lord is essential to the Christian life. At some point, we have to take what we received at the Master’s feet into our everyday lives in order to be leaven for the world. No doubt, Mary did the same!

  • Phil Bras

    found spiritual delight in your blogs…hope to work with you in whatever capacity i can. – Fr. Randy from the Philippines. God bless fr. John.

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