How can we make prayer not just a priority, but top priority?
We all know the story of Mary and Martha. Jesus and his apostles came to visit the sisters in their home. Martha was busy playing hostess, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him. This annoyed Martha. She complained to the Lord:
’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’” (Luke 10:38-42).
Like us, Martha had many important things to attend to. She wanted to serve Jesus through her activities, a laudable goal. However, Jesus told her that her work was not necessary. The only thing she really needed was to spend time at his feet as Mary was doing. In other words, the only thing she really needed was prayer.
Let’s examine the passage more closely. Martha was anxious and troubled. She was so anxious about getting her task done well, she wanted to pull her sister away from prayer to help her. If she had instead spent some time at Jesus’ feet herself, she would have felt her anxiety melt away. She would have learned that prayer helps us put our lives in perspective.
Jesus was not anxious about his dinner. After all, he had fed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. He could supply all his needs and Martha’s as well. He did not need Martha to spend all day in the kitchen for him. A simple meal would have sufficed.
Martha did have one gift that only she could give Jesus. That gift was her heart. The “one thing needful” was the one thing that no one else in history could supply. Jesus reserved a place for Martha by his side. Until she set aside her important tasks, that seat would remain empty.
Jesus does not need our work, any more than he needed Martha’s. Whatever we need to get done, from executing a major contract to caring for the kids to preaching the Gospel, Jesus will provide time for, if only we will provide time for him. We need to invite him into our lives. If we make him the top priority, he will help us fulfill our duty.
The Catechism says, “Prayer is a vital necessity” (no. 2744). It goes on to proclaim, “Prayer and Christian life are inseparable, for they concern the same love and the same renunciation, proceeding from love; the same filial and loving conformity with the Father’s plan of love; the same transforming union in the Holy Spirit who conforms us more and more to Christ Jesus; the same love for all men, the love with which Jesus has loved us” (no 2745).
We cannot serve God faithfully without loving him fully. And we cannot love him fully without spending time at his feet in daily prayer.
Even Jesus went aside from his work of spreading the Good News to spend quiet time in prayer. His work was the most important of all. He was God the Son. Yet he always made time to pray. He showed us that prayer is truly the one thing necessary.