"For Mary has chosen the best part and it shall not be taken from her..."
"In the Gospel of St Luke
we read that Our Lord came to Martha's house
and while she set about at once to prepare his meal,
her sister Mary did nothing but sit at his feet.
She was so intent upon listening to him
that she paid no attention to what Martha was doing.
Now certainly Martha's chores were holy and important.
(Indeed, they are the works of the first degree of the active life.)
But Mary was unconcerned about them.
Neither did she notice our Lord's human bearing,
the beauty of his mortal body,
or the sweetness of his human voice and conversation,
although this would have been a holier and better work.
(It represents the second degree of the active life
and the first degreeof the contemplative life.)
But she forgot all of this
and was totally absorbed in the highest wisdom of God
concealed in the obscurity of his humanity.
Mary turned to Jesus with all the love of her heart,
unmoved by what she saw or heard spoken and done about her.
She sat there in perfect stillness with her heart's secret,
joyous love intent upon that cloud of unknowing
between her and her God.
For as I have said before,
there never has been and there never will be
a creature so pure
or so deeply immersed in the loving contemplation of God
who does not approach him in this life
through that lofty and marvellous cloud of unknowing
And it was to this very cloud that Mary
directed the hidden yearning of her loving heart.
Why? Because it is the best and holiest part
of the contemplative life possible to man
and she would not relinquish it for anything on earth.
Even when Martha complained to Jesus about her,
scolding him for not bidding her to get up and help with the work,
Mary remained there quite still and untroubled,
showing not the least resentment against Martha for her grumbling.
But this is not surprising really,
for she was utterly absorbed in another work,
all unknown to Martha,
and she did not have time to notice her sister or defend herself.
My friend, do you see
that this whole incident
concerning Jesus and the two sisters
was intended as a lesson
for the active and comtemplative
person of the Church in every age?
Mary represents the contemplative life
and all contemplative persons ought to model their lives on hers.
Martha represents the active life
and all active persons should take her as their guide. "
Thus it is written in the scriptures and explained to us in "The Cloud of Unknowing"
written by a monk giving instructions to his novices in comtemplative life in the 14th Century.
It seems that too little has been said about this aspect
of the meaning of Mary Magdalene's devotion to Our Lord. Whereas too much emphasis
has been on the material in recent times, especially of late,
and so we felt this should be redressed.
It has also been said that Mary Magdalene
has little or no recognition by our spiritual leaders
but this is far from the truth.
She is considered the epitome of true spirituality
and someone to emulate should we be considering the mystical path.
For it was she who saw the divine in her leader.
Where others saw the man, she saw God.
Should you wish to read "The Cloud of Unknowing" -
a beautiful piece, so lovingly written, both originally and in the translating,
our copy/edition (first printed in 1997 by Fount Paperbacks/HarperCollins Religious UK) is edited by William Johnston, SJ. and the Middle English text so beautifully translated by Laureen Grady, a Reno
Carmelite. There appears to be another later edition edited by William Johnston SJ, but having seen excerpts on-line, it is not the same as the copy I have. Another version worthy of mentioning, having briefly seen excerpts on-line is by Carmen Acevedo Butcher entitled "Cloud of Unknowing - A new translation" - this too is beautifully translated and is available at
Or you may view and download other versions free from CCELhere.
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