The One Thing

One of my favorite comedies from the early 1990s was City Slickers, in which three middle-aged, troubled men–led by the character “Phil” played by Billy Crystal–find meaning through time spent on a cattle-driving vacation. One of the interesting subplots of the movie is the relationship between Phil and the mysterious “Curly” character, played by Jack Palance.

At one key moment, Curly revealed to Phil the “secret of life.” He said it”s “one thing, just one thing.” Of course Phil wanted to know what the ”one thing” was, and Curly replied, “That”s what you got to figure out.” 

On a natural level, Phil proceeds to figure out his priorities, leading him to reconnect with his family.

In the Gospel at Mass today, we received a similar message from Our Lord Himself. When Martha confronted Him because she was doing all the work while her sister Mary simply sat at His feet, Jesus responds:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk. 10:41-42).  

This reminds me of St. Paul”s missionary work in Athens (Acts 17:22 and following). He came upon an altar with an inscription, “to an unknown God.” St. Paul used this as a launching point for his evangelization there, as he said, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. . . .”

Here, we have a popular Hollywood movie that rightly points us to look for “the one thing” that will bring meaning and order and peace to our lives. This insight resonates with the hearts of all men and women.

Yet, that”s as far a movie without Christ can take us. While the characters in City Slickers are left to figure out for themselves “the one thing,” we can proclaim to them and to all those in the world that are yearning for meaning and order and peace that turning to Christ is definitively the one thing–not just for Curly or Phil or even Leon, but for all people at all times.

I think St. Augustine, who spent a lot of time looking for the one thing before latching onto it, says it best:

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”  

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