A true explanation of the Gospel passage: Mary has chosen the best part.
"Mary has chosen the best part." What does this mean? Whenever we speak of the best, we imply a good and a better. The best is the superlative degree. What then are the options from which Mary chose the best? They are not three ways of life since Holy Church only speaks of two, the active and the contemplative. No, the deeper meaning of the Gospel story from St. Luke which we have just considered is that Martha represents the active life and Mary the contemplative life, the first of which is absolutely necessary for salvation. So when a choice narrows down to two, one of them may not be called best.
Nevertheless, although the active and the contemplative are the two ways of life in Holy Church, yet within them, taken as a whole, there are three parts, three ascending stages. These we have already discussed, but I will briefly summarize them here. The first stage is the good and upright Christian life in which love is predominantly active in the corporal works of mercy. In the second, a person begins to meditate on spiritual truths regarding his own sinfulness, the Passion of Christ, and the joys of eternity. The first way is good but the second is better, for here the active and contemplative life begin to converge. The merge in a sort of spiritual kinship, becoming sisters like Martha and Mary. This is as far as an active person may advance in contemplation except for the occasional intervention of special grace. And to this middle ground a contemplative may return-but no further-to take up some activity. He should not do so, however, except on rare occasions and at the demand of great need.
In the third stage a person enters the dark cloud of unknowing where in secret and alone he enters the dark cloud of unknowing where in secret and alone he centers all his love on God. The first stage is good, the second is better, but the third is best of all. This is the best part belonging to Mary. It is surely obvious now why our Lord did not say to Martha, "Mary has chosen the best life." There are only two ways of life and, as I said, when a choice is only between two one may not be called best. But our Lord says, "Mary has chosen the best part and it shall not be taken from her." . . ." THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING Chapter 21