The desert is an altar on which, moment by moment, you bring the offering of yourself. For self–will is the obstacle that eternally stands between me and God. We decide that we are going to do such and such a thing. God comes along and says, “No, do this.” It’s a matter of doing what he wants, not because we are afraid of him, or afraid of dying, but because we are in love with him, and because we enter the poustinia to really do his will and not ours. The poustinia is there to form that attitude in you. The poustinik must finally understand that he has to become as empty as his God became for him.
There will come a moment when the offertory procession of man will touch the offertory procession of God. Then the poustinik can go anyplace. Then he doesn’t need to stay in the poustinia. Then he can pilgrim; he can stop being in one place. He has become so empty that he is simply one who carries God. Now all his ways are straight and plain, ready for the Lord to walk on. It is an awesome moment when a person realizes that, by the grace of God, this has taken place in him.
When we hear the parable of the seed, we should think of God becoming a seed in the womb of Mary. He was a good seed. His roots went deep. If ever we can come to dimly understand this mystery of God becoming a fetus, a child, a
youth, a man, we will begin to understand God’s love for us. Then we will begin to understand the emptiness which must take place in us, the depth of surrender of our will to God’s.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia
Reflection – There are times, I admit, when I am afflicted just a bit by doubt. Not doubt in God, the Church, Jesus, or faith in general. But there are times when I slip up a bit about Catherine Doherty, the woman who founded Madonna House, and to whose vision of life, God, faith, the Church, the Gospel I have dedicated myself. Is she really all that great? That is the question I occasionally ask myself.
And then I read something like the above passage and snap out of it. In a few short paragraphs—one small excerpt from one of her many books—Catherine goes to a depth of reflection on what the ways of God with man are and the ways of man towards God, and keeps us there, in simple everyday language that a child could understand, to a degree that few authors indeed are capable of doing.
It is important to realize that, while she writes the above words in the context of poustinia, a particular practice of life that may or may not be possible to the general reader, for Catherine ‘poustinia’ referred always and primarily to an interior reality, an inner experience of being. She learned the above spiritual attitudes, as she will go on to say tomorrow, not by spending days in a hermitage kneeling before a cross in silence and solitude. Rather, she learned it in the crucible of
Harlem with its sweltering
heat, endless noise, and 16 hour work days. Poustinia is not a question of log
cabins and the silence of the wilderness. It is a question of where our inner
being is being held.
Essentially, it is a question of whose will are we concerned with doing; ours or God’s? If it is God’s there is an interior drawing towards silence and stripping, emptying and listening, praying and fasting. If it is ours, we will run towards noise and distractions and entertainments and lots and lots of busyness inward and outward.
We live in a world of ‘busyness’ – everyone is busy, busy, busy, all the time. I don’t really buy it, you know. There are people whose lives are truly consumed with crushing work loads—parents raising young children, for example. But many people simply fill a great deal of their waking hours with noise and stimulation. It is not a matter of busyness but oddly enough of sloth.
It is sloth, defined in the spiritual manuals as a sadness regarding the spiritual good, then sends us spiraling off into workaholism and ceaseless activity and distraction. Because we want to do our will and are repelled at the prospect of doing God’s, we make ourselves very very busy, fill our days with noise and confusion, all to drown out the persistent voice of the One who loves us and calls us to life.
Well, only you know if that’s true for you to some respect. Only I know if it’s true for me to some respect. Or really, only God can really know how much we are avoiding him, how much we are seeking Him. Personally, I’m looking forward to five days of silence and prayer in retreat (starting Monday!) to find out just how full I am of myself, and perhaps to empty some of that nonsense out of me.
Because however we get there, that’s what we all need to do. Empty ourselves, so that God can fill us as He did Mary, so we can carry Christ to the world that is dying for lack of Him.