In recent decades, we have seen Satan engage the world as never before. In all of human history we have never witnessed evil promoted so effectively, while virtue, character, and morals are roundly mocked and rejected. Meanwhile, it could be said that the Mystical Body — the Church — has never been so unprepared for and unengaged in the challenging mission of spiritual warfare. It is obvious that Satan’s forces are well trained and well organized, while ours clearly are not. At the very beginnings of our great nation, Sir Edmund Burke warned, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Recognizing the widespread spiritual lethargy of our times – the emergent detachment from the Divine Life – Pope John Paul II’s master plan for the new millennium was one that asked us to set aside our disconnected busyness, and to start fresh by contemplating the face of Christ. It is clear that the Holy Father was encouraging us to place our emphasis on reconnecting to the Divine Life of God, which is classically referred to as the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary.
The one thing necessary constitutes the essential foundation for the interior life and stems from the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42), where we first see that, amazingly, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was sitting right in their living room. Even so, Martha remains busy with the good and noble protocol of hospitality, while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, her eyes locked on His Holy Face, peering into His soul, hanging on His every word. Mary is actually in adoration, soaking in everything our Lord wants to give her. I like to say that she is “Mary-nating” — soaking in the gusher of God’s graces. Mary had come to understand what St. Augustine once said: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” Remarkable!
When Martha objects to Mary’s lack of activity, Jesus tells Martha that she remains anxious and upset about many things while Mary has chosen the better portion, the one thing necessary. Mary was the one who was making the guest truly feel welcomed, while Martha remained detached, going through the motions of the demands of protocol. God is light and love and truth Who brings order and meaning and serenity to our lives. While we remain disconnected from our Source, we remain easily agitated, frustrated, and feeble in our disordered and chaotic existence as we continue to walk in darkness.
The disconnection is seen, first and foremost, in the Martha-like indifference to the presence of the Divine in so many of our present-day liturgies, compared with a more Mary-like contemplative way of worshiping. Contemplative awe and veneration have always been the distinctive way Catholics worshiped, until recent decades. In awe and wonder, we would worship Him and soak in the supernatural graces necessary to stand firm against the tactics of the devil (Eph. 6:11) and to grow in the way of sanctity.
The consequence of the modern initiative to push for a very busy and more insouciant way of worshiping that is performance-oriented and man-centered has led to an epidemic of detachment from the Divine, facilitating the modern prevalence of spiritual sloth (indifference toward the Divine Life). Like Martha, God is “right there in our midst,” but we act as though He is not — or if He is, what’s the big deal? We have become the spiritually impotent.
This is why Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) stated that any real effort at renewal in the Church must begin with a new liturgical movement:
“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur (as though God were not there): in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us.”
In this ubiquitous spiritual warfare, we are being overpowered as we allow ourselves to become detached from our True Power Source, the only way to combat the supernatural powers of evil and grow in holiness. “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26) Spiritually speaking, the devil is doing all that he can to catch us isolated and unarmed on the battlefield — no spiritual armor, no spiritual weapons, and no comrades in the heavenly realm to fight alongside of us. In other words, the reason evil is promoted so effectively today is because we’re ignoring God’s offer of supernatural strength and power. We are, in essence, bringing a knife to a gunfight, and we are getting slaughtered!
The time is now to prepare an elite fighting force, surrendering to God and then allowing His grace to invade every aspect of our lives. “Grace,” wrote Thomas à Kempis, “is the mistress of truth, the light of the heart, the comforter of affliction, the banisher of sorrow, the expeller of fears, the matrix of devotion, the producer of tears. What am I without it but a piece of dry wood and an unprofitable stock, fit for nothing but to be cast away.”
Here are the three essential approaches for receiving the abundance of God’s grace, the unum necessarium:
The Gospels stories show how Jesus touched people in ways that made them question the direction of their lives. Some turned away because His challenge seemed to be too hard. But many others were so moved by His mission and ministry that they were compelled to search for a more perfect way of living and being. Where do you stand? Are you ready to put it all on the line? This means nothing less than to do what God is calling you, from the depths of your being, to do — to rouse yourself to action on behalf of the kingdom. Are you ready to say “yes” to the call to become His champion?
Originally published on August 11, 2014.
Fr. Richard M. Heilman is a priest of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin State Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus. He is a regular guest host on Relevant Radio’s The Inner Life, and is the founder of the Knights of Divine Mercy, which is an apostolate for Catholic men’s faith formation..
He is also he founder of the Ladies of Divine Mercy, which is an apostolate for Catholic women’s faith formation. He is the author of the Church Militant Field Manual and the Roman Catholic Man website, which are both dedicated to helping Catholics understand and train for their role in the mission of combating evil and rescuing the souls of our loved ones who have lost the precious gift of faith.