Mary’s Better Path Must Not Lead to a Rejection of the World
One of the most misunderstood and abused stories from Scripture relates to Sts Mary and Martha:
Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke10:38-42 RSV)
Because Jesus confirms the way of Mary, many people assume ill of Martha, forgetting that both of them are saints and Jesus even affirmed what Martha had done (Mary’s way was better, but not bad). More importantly, people carelessly look at the story and assume that Mary’s way is better merely because she is contemplative while Martha is active. When condemning the corporeal works of mercy, that is social justice, many heretics follow through with quietism. And if people challenge them on this, they point out that what is important is the salvation of souls, not bodies. This is far from what people are meant to get from the Scriptural text. Not only is such dualism a heresy, when looking to Scripture we can see this answer entirely misrepresents Mary. For Mary was not being approved because she went out and preached the Gospel for the salvation of souls. It was not because she was active, but because she was looking for self-glorification and recognition for what she did, that Martha is shown to follow a lesser good and had yet to achieve perfection. Mary’s way of love looked beyond herself and merely to Jesus — without expectation of reward or honor; that is why her way is the better way. The one who gives of the self in pure love without desire for honor, as St Bernard of Clairvaux points us, has achieved the peak of love; anything else, even if done in love, is less than what ought to be and is inferior because of it. And yet, we must remember that Martha’s way is good. Indeed, as the Desert Father Silvanus points out, Mary needed Martha and it is because of Martha that we can see and understand Mary.
The dualism which people bring out of this text is dangerous. It ignores the human person and divides them into a body and soul, ignoring that it is in their unity that a person is who they are meant to be:
On the anthropological question, the assembly reaffirmed the vision of the unity of the human person, ‘corpore et anima unus‘ (one in body and soul), rejecting any dualism or reductionism, either of the spiritualist or materialist type. Genuine respect for every human subject is based on his corporeal and spiritual identity, where corporeality is a component of the person who, through it, manifests and expresses himself (cf. Donum vitae, n. 3) along with the spiritual dimension in which the human person opens himself to God, finding in him the ultimate foundation for his dignity.
And so it is in their unity that we are to be saved. Matter is not to be disparaged, corporeal works of mercy are not to be mocked. Christ heals us body and soul, and not just the soul. The world is meant for salvation, not condemnation. The body is meant for salvation not rejection. False understandings of Christianity, often perpetuated by the anti-Christian intelligentsia, suggest otherwise — they keep misrepresenting the Christian faith as some sort of heavenly liberation from the body. This must be repudiated. Pavel Florensky expresses the Christian position against this anti-Christian representation of the intelligentsia well:
When the intelligentsia reproaches the church’s understanding of life with metaphysical dualism, it does not notice that it dumps the falsity of dualism from itself onto the Church. Meanwhile, patristic theology reveals with ultimate definitiveness the truth that eternal life is life not of the soul only but also of the body. Thus, according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, ‘he zōē autē ou tēs psuchēs esti monon, alla kai tou sōmatos.’ Not only the ‘soul of a Christian’ becomes a ‘coparticipant in the Divine nature.’ But so does the body. A man is united with God both in spirit and body, as Symeon the New Theologian says: ‘homo Deo spiritualiter coporaliterque unitur.’ And so on.
Those who would follow such an ideology are in error; if they try to encourage the faithful to fight against the Magisterium based upon this ideology, then they enter into a perilous state. They must be given a chance to recant their error; if they do not, they have fallen for heresy — for they then would be using a private interpretation of the faith to contend against the leaders of the Church, the Bishops.
St Thomas Aquinas presents to us the authentic relationship between soul and body as being that of form and matter — both are needed. Without the matter, the form would not be manifest. This is why the body which will be resurrected is the same which we have now:
The soul is, furthermore, united to the body as form to matter. Of course, every form has its determined matter, for there must be proportion between act and potency. Since, therefore, the soul is the same in species, it appears its matter must be the same in species. Therefore, the body will be the same in species after the resurrection as before. And so it has to consist of flesh and bones and other parts of this kind.
St. Bonaventure agrees. Indeed, if we are to be judged and rewarded, it must be as a unified person, one which exists by the undivided unity between soul and body:
Because justice necessarily requires that, as man, who deserves merit or demerit not in soul alone but in both soul and body, should be punished or rewarded in both, and because the reformation of grace requires that the whole body should be likened to Christ, the head, whose dead body had to arise since it was inseparably united to His divinity, and because the fulfillment of nature requires that man be reorganized in body and soul as matter and form which possess a mutual appetite and inclination, it follows that the resurrection will occur in the future by the exigency of the plan of nature, the infusion of grace, and the retribution of justice, for the whole universe must be governed according to these.
Of course, we must understand, as St Maximus properly points out, the soul and the body have their own virtues and their own vices:
Of the things given to us by God for our use some are in the soul, others in the body, and others are concerned with the body. Those in the soul, for example, are its powers, in the body are the organs of sense and the other members; and those which are concerned with the body are food, wealth, possessions, and so forth. Therefore, the good or evil use of these things or of those corresponding to them indicates whether we are virtuous or wicked.
This means we are to follow not only spiritual works of virtue, but bodily virtue as well. We must not confuse this as meaning there is a real division in the person between the two, between the soul and body. Being a soul without a body or a body without a soul would lead to a degenerate state for us, and it is because of this that the two are necessarily united now and in the resurrection. Death is a curse because it seeks to divide that which is to be united. St. Irenaeus, in his contention against the Gnostics and their seeking for the salvation of souls without bodies, explains:
Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modelled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit , man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God. Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the man, but certainly not the man; for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the spirit of the Father, and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was moulded after the image of God. For this reason does the apostle declare, We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, terming those persons perfect who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms spiritual, they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual. For if any one take away the substance of flesh, that is, of the handiwork [of God], and understand that which is purely spiritual, such then would not be a spiritual man but would be the spirit of a man, or the Spirit of God. But when the spirit here blended with the soul is united to [God’s] handiwork, the man is rendered spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and likeness of God. 
It is therefore the Christian understanding that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and this is found only when we are all that God made us out to be. Death destroys that image by dividing that which is not meant to be divided. Those who work for such division remain in the domain of death and practitioners of the culture of death. They promote the effects of sin and not of grace — they preach the degeneration of the fall and not the salvation wrought by Christ. This, of course, is understandable for those who are not Christian, and who follow the way of fallen nature, but for the Christian to continue to preach this is to say death is victorious after all. The world and all that is in it is saved through Christ and is shown to be of value, to be respected because of Christ’s work:
Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation. This does not mean, however, an absolute exaltation of all that is physical, for we know well the chaos which sin introduced into the harmony of the human being. The liturgy reveals that the body, through the mystery of the Cross, is in the process of transfiguration, pneumatization: on Mount Tabor Christ showed his body radiant, as the Father wants it to be again.
Cosmic reality also is summoned to give thanks because the whole universe is called to recapitulation in Christ the Lord. This concept expresses a balanced and marvelous teaching on the dignity, respect and purpose of creation and of the human body in particular. With the rejection of all dualism and every cult of pleasure as an end in itself, the body becomes a place made luminous by grace and thus fully human.
We must avoid every trivialization of the body; as many Gnostics of old used their rejection of the world to follow a path of licentiousness, so we can understand modern humanity with its licentiousness demonstrating the same unhealthy understanding of the body:
Today, the various forms of the erosion of marriage, such as free unions and “trial marriage”, and even pseudo-marriages between people of the same sex, are instead an expression of anarchic freedom that are wrongly made to pass as true human liberation. This pseudo-freedom is based on a trivialization of the body, which inevitably entails the trivialization of the person. Its premise is that the human being can do to himself or herself whatever he or she likes: thus, the body becomes a secondary thing that can be manipulated, from the human point of view, and used as one likes. Licentiousness, which passes for the discovery of the body and its value, is actually a dualism that makes the body despicable, placing it, so to speak, outside the person’s authentic being and dignity.
Only by affirming the body, by presenting it as good and a means by which we practice virtues can modern sexual errors be shown for what they are and rejected. Those who follow Gnostic dualism and reject the body for the sake of the mere salvation of the soul risk losing those own soul, because they deny the body, its virtues, but more importantly, because they deny the work of the incarnation.
Let us pray they come to their senses before it us to late.
 “Good are the ministrations done to the poor, and especially the due services and the religious offices done to the saints of God. For they are a payment, not a gift, as the Apostle says, ‘If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?’ Good are they, we exhort you to them, yea by the word of the Lord we build you up, ‘be not slow to entertain’ the saints. Sometimes, they who were not aware of it, by entertaining those whom they knew not, have entertained angels. These things are good; yet better is the thing which Mary hath chosen. For the one thing hath manifold trouble from necessity; the other hath sweetness from charity.” St. Augustine, Sermons On the New Testament Lessons, LIII.5 in NPNF1(6), 428.
St. Augustine explores this further in his next sermon on the same text:
“For what, do we imagine that Martha’s serving was blamed, whom the cares of hospitality have engaged, who had received the Lord Himself into her house? How could she be rightly blamed, who was gladdened by so great a guest? If this be true, let men give over their ministrations to the need; let them choose for themselves ‘the better part which shall not be taken from’ them; let them give themselves wholly to the word, let them long after the sweetness of doctrine; be occupied about the saving knowledge; let it be no care to them, what strangers in the street, who there is that wants bread, or clothing, or to be visited, to be redeemed, to be buried; let works of mercy cease, earnest heed be given to knowledge only. IF this be ‘the better part,’ why not all do this, when we have the Lord Himself for our defender in this behalf? For we do not fear in this matter, lest we should offered His justice, when we have the support of His judgment.
“And yet it is not so; but the Lord spake so it is. It is not as thou understandest; but it is as thou oughtest to understand it. So mark; ‘Thou art occupied about many things, when one thing is needful. Mary hath chosen the better part.’ Thou hast not chosen a bad part; but she a better. And how better? Because tho art ‘about many things’ she about ‘one thing.’ One is preferred to many. For one does not come from many, but many from one,” St. Augustine, Sermons On the New Testament Lessons, LIV.203 in NPNF1(6), 429.
 See The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 223.
 Pontifical Academy for Life, Concluding Remarks, 8th General Assembly, Feb 25-27, 2002 (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdlife/documents/rc_pa_acdlife_doc_20020227_final-doc_en.html).
 As Mary Timothy Prokes points out, looking to contemporary anthropology and the docetism which underlies it, it was the Gnostics who rejected the body and thought salvation was for the soul alone, separated from the body and liberated from it: “While the simulated and artificial pervade contemporary understandings of what it means to be embodied in the world, the attempt to escape bodily realities has not originated in the present age. Radical separation of matter and ‘spirit’ and the demeaning of body have recurred through past millennia. In early Christianity, Gnosticism in variant forms persuaded many that the God of the Old Testament, either out of evil intent or ignorance, had created the present material world and its miseries. Liberation from the body was the ideal set before its followers,” Mary Timothy Prokes, FSF, At the Interface: Theology and Virtual Reality (Tuscan, AZ: Fenestra Books, 2004), 27.
 Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth. Trans. Boris Jakim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 213.
 St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles IV: Salvation. Trans. Charles J. O’Neil (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), 321.
 St Bonaventure, Breviloquium. Trans. Erwin Esser Nemmers (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1946), 231.
 St Maximus the Confessor, “The Four Hundred Chapters on Love,” in Maximus the Confessor: Selected Writings. Trans. George C. Berthold (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985), 57.
 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies V.6 in ANF(1), 532.
 Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_02051995_orientale-lumen_en.html ).
 Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants in the Ecclesial Diocesan Convention of Rome, June 6, 2005 (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/june/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050606_convegno-famiglia_en.html).