‘Only one thing is necessary’

It’s Time to Return to What Is Most Essential: The Mass.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary” (Lk 10:41-42). It would be easy to imagine Christ saying this to us now, calling us away from our anxieties to sit at his feet, like Martha’s sister Mary. Jesus wants to give us the peace that we need in the midst of our anxiety about “many things.” By calling us into communion with him, Jesus shows us that He is the one thing that is necessary, the most essential thing in our lives. 

Anxiety may be understandable at this moment, but to face it God continues to remind us of what is ultimately most important. Because he didn’t make us for this world, he offers us a happiness that doesn’t depend on earthly peace and stability. Even in suffering, God “makes all things work together for the good for those who love” Him (Rom 8:28). On our own, we fall into anxiety but with Jesus we can face any difficulty: “It is I; do not be afraid” (Jn 6:20). Possessing the one thing necessary, we can say with Paul, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). 

We call the Eucharist the source and summit of our faith because through the supernatural life it bestows, we become truly alive. The early Christians realized this and were willing to risk everything just to go to Mass. This was incomprehensible to the Romans, leading one prosecutor to ask Christians on trial in Abitinae, North Africa why they did it. Sine Domenico, one of the martyrs answered, non possumus, that is, “without the Lord’s [Day], we cannot live.” The editor who wrote the account of their martyrdom commented, “O foolish question, as if someone could be a Christian without the Lord’s Day.” I recently heard someone express a similar notion: “I’d rather die with the sacraments than live without them.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah, writing from the Vatican, has recently called the entire Church, in his letter “Let Us Return to the Eucharist with Joy,” to return to Mass as quickly as possible. Quoting Jesus’ own words, he reminds us, “‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him’ (Jn 6:56). This physical contact with the Lord is vital, indispensable, irreplaceable. Once the concrete measures that can be taken to reduce the spread of the virus to a minimum have been identified and adopted, it is necessary that all resume their place in the assembly of brothers and sisters, rediscover the irreplaceable preciousness and beauty of the celebration of the liturgy, and invite and encourage again those brothers and sisters have been discouraged, frightened, absent or uninvolved for too long.” Living without the source of our supernatural life truly threatens the health of our souls and leaves a hole where God should reside in the center of our lives. 

Going to Mass has never been a matter of mere obligation. God gave us the commandments to guide us along the path of life. To be truly happy, we must recognize Him as God (the first commandment), truly honor and respect Him (the second commandment), and show our commitment to Him by setting aside time faithfully for worship (the third commandment). We do not simply go to Mass for ourselves. If this were true, we could easily fall into a consumerist mentality of seeking out only what pleases and serves us individually. We go to Mass out of justice and love: to thank God for all that He has given us; to honor Him for His greatness and goodness; and to place ourselves under His mercy and love. In celebrating the Lord’s Day, giving one day a week back to God, we find the rest that we need to live in true freedom by breaking out of slavery to work, distraction, and dependence upon material things. 

We can no longer take the Mass for granted; our old habits are no longer sufficient. We need to make a choice about what we find most essential. On February 12, 304, 49 men, women, and children gave their life for the Mass, which the Roman Empire had deemed illegal, in the town of Abitinae, North Africa. This is no mere historical event, as it provides an enduring witness to priority of God above all else. More recently, just a little down the Mediterranean coast in Libya, on February 15, 2015, 21 men (20 of them from Egypt and one from Ghana) also gave their life for Christ. Speaking of the death of the 20 men from his diocese, Metropolitan Pavnotios of Samalut related that “far from being intimidating, it gives us courage. It shous us the martyr’s heroic bravery, and the fact that they spent their last moments alive in prayer proves the strength of their faith” (Martin Mosebach, The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs, Plough, 2020). 

We may not be called to give our life for the Mass or for our faith, but we have found that the Mass requires more effort than in the past. It calls us not only to sacrifice in small ways, but to give our life to Christ and to accept him as most essential in our lives. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, facing “willful discrimination” in San Francisco, has led the charge in showing us how free exercise of religion has been eroded in our country. Under the banner of “We are essential: Free the Mass!” he explained:  “The highest law is love of God and love of neighbor, and that law has to take precedence over the human-made law of the state when government would ask us to turn our backs on God or our neighbor in need.” The witness of the martyrs remains pertinent, indeed. 

What is most essential in your life? What are you willing to do to preserve your right to worship God? We are now all faced with these questions. Jesus continues to invite us to sit at His feet and to remind us, “only one thing is necessary.” 

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”