But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her (Lk. 10:41-42).
The one thing necessary, according to St. Augustine1, is just that: oneness.
It is the one thing necessary for eternal beatitude, for the journey towards it, as well as a sure test of our progress along the way.
“Here, O Israel: the Lord your God is one” (Deut 6:4). God is, in fact, oneness itself, and it is he that awaits a life’s race well run. He is not only one, in that he is without ‘peers,’ but also in that he is without composition.
To be without ‘peers’, means God is the only god. And this must be the case because if there was, let’s imagine, some other god, then the two would have to be distinguished in some way. For without distinction, the two would not be different. Yet, at the same time, if there is a difference between them, then one of these ‘gods’ must possess something which the other does not. Which, would of itself, would prove that the ‘god’ without this ‘something’ is imperfect, and therefore not God.
But God is not only one, in the sense that he is the only God, but also in that he is perfectly undivided within himself; even if we factor-in, the certain and revealed truth, that God is Tri-personal, as explained by the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God.” In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature” (CCC. #253).
If your head is spinning, it might not be a bad sign. After all, if God wasn’t mysterious, what kind of God would he be? A false one.
And since union with Him, who is perfect, bestows perfect beatitude, then oneness is truly the one thing necessary for our journey’s end, but what about the journey itself?
I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…(Jn. 17:20-21).
It’s curious to consider that in these last hours of Jesus’ life, as he prays for the wellbeing of his disciples, he does not ask the Father that, “they be good” or that, “they be holy” or that “they be safe” but interestingly enough, that ‘they be perfectly one’ (cf. Jn 17:23).
Jesus, what do you mean to tell us? I think, in part, that Jesus is saying that drawing close to God inevitably means drawing close to unity or oneness, both within and without us.
It means oneness within us because ‘the pure of heart shall see God,’ both as a heart purified of impurity as well as a heart pure through being thoroughly unmixed. A heart fixed on the one thing. The former makes for the latter, which is Christ’s primary concern, as we see in his mandate to one of the lawyers:
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment (Mt. 22:35-38).
Simply put, Jesus’ commandment is to love undividedly. He then immediately follows this commandment with one more, as if to refer next to a unity without, as He enjoins:
And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:39).
The second commandment is like the first because it is included within it. Our love is not divided between God and neighbor, as the first commandment would prohibit. Instead, our love of neighbor is carried out for the love of God, as He says:
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Mt. 25:40).
Or in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas,
Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God. Hence it is clear that it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love our neighbor (ST, II-II, Q.25, A.1).
It goes without saying, that all that the Catholic Church teaches on Faith and the Sacraments is, of course, also necessary to reach God. Yet, even here, we see a thorough oneness in faith and morals.
So if one is the goal, and oneness of heart is the means, what can we say about ourselves?
Looking in the Mirror
How one am I?
Are my thoughts, desires, and pursuits one?
Its commonplace to hope to be more or to be more good. But have we ever thought about being more one? For according to St. Thomas (affirming the findings of Plato) being, goodness, and oneness are actually a bundled deal. They are ‘convertible’ as he says:
And because good is convertible with being, as one is also; he (Plato) called God the absolute good, from whom all things are called good by way of participation (ST, I, Q.6, A.4).
Put bluntly, holiness and wholeness either exist together or not at all, which is not only substantiated by sound philosophy and scriptural analysis but even by majority vote, as another Dominican, Girolamo Savanarola argues,
Take any man, either of the faithful or even an infidel or barbarian, good or evil, great or of any disposition, if any of these hearing that there be a man of great holiness and goodness, and going to see him, finds someone dressed in fine clothing who eats extensively, who has a magnificent house and ornate room, who speaks in Ciceronian speech, and of the rest does not act or speak simply, immediately his soul is offended and in his heart and he says: “it does not seem to me that this man is as holy as men supposed” (On the Simplicity of Christian Life, Preface).
Simplicity, singleness, unity, or oneness both of heart and deed reveal to us something about ourselves: our likeness to God.
So how united is my interior life? How one am I with my family and colleagues? Do I count them as myself, as if of one body, all on one journey towards the One?
Let us take inventory. And instead of asking ourselves, “am I good?”, or “am I holy,” let us ask, possibly the more revealing concerning question: “am I one?’”
1. Sermon LIII on the NT
One response to “The One Thing Necessary”
Let us remember that the closer to oneness we get to God the closer we get to oneness with each other. The body of Christ is a living breathing organism and each member can’t function unless it is attached to the head.