"Martha, Martha. You worry about so many things. Only one is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It will not be taken away from her." (~Luke 10: 41-42)
Traditionally, the Church tells us that this story is showing us the two sides of the spiritual life: Action and Contemplation.
Martha is busy serving her Lord. For centuries, the Church has educated the young, fed the hungry, clothed the naked and helped the poor. During the so-called "Dark Ages", rather than keeping knowledge hidden from the masses, as is sometimes commonly supposed, the Church preserved that knowledge through monks who painstakingly copied books of all kinds out by hand. Indeed, as Thomas Cahill asserts, the Church, "saved civilization."
In order to continue doing that, though, the Church needs to stand fast in Her teachings and not give in to the ways of the world. It needs to be a light for Christ in today's narcissistic darkness.
In this day of instant information, Christ's teaching is needed more than ever. There needs to be a voice for life, a voice for service, and a voice for Christ in the din of worldly voices that surround us every day. The Church can still "save civilization."
Service without contemplation and prayer, however, is like a "gong booming or a cymbal clashing" (1 Corinthians 13), which is why Jesus told Martha that Mary had "chosen the better part." Today, especially, modern man finds it hard to fathom that anyone, especially vibrant young people, would "waste" their lives praying in a convent or monastery. It does happen, though--increasingly so in recent years.
The orders who have focused only on action to the negation of prayer and study of Scripture and Church teachings are fast aging out of existence. The ones whose membership are booming are the ones who offer a true alternative to the world--an opportunity to give up everything for God and to serve His people through His Church. Young people are flocking to traditional orders as a way to counteract, through prayer, the despair and enui of modern civilization.
By living a life of prayer, these sisters, brothers and priests are not only doing us a great spiritual service, they are showing us how to live as Christians. They are providing us with spiritual role models and acting as teachers along our journey to Christ.
Both contemplation and action are necessary parts in our world today. Balance is essential. Let us follow the teaching of Saint Benedict.
Ora et Labora.
Prayer and work.