All along my journey, God gave me, I think, the gift of insight and foreknowledge concerning the Church. From day to day, I always seem to see a little bit of what the Church is presently undergoing and where she is headed. I always know that she will endure. I used to doubt this gift because it is very painful.
When those three young women and two young men came to join me in the early days of Toronto, when I had left my poustinia to start this lay apostolate, I realized then that we were living in troubled times. A stark economic depression was crippling the whole world. I always connected current events with the Church in the sense that my first reaction to news would be, “How is this going to affect the Church?” From my earliest days in the apostolate I said to myself, “We have to renew the Church.”
As I near the close, now, of these vignettes from my life, I want to review how the Lord took me by the hand and led me step by step, anticipating the needs of the Church. The first need was that of poverty. I knew that whatever we did as a little group, we must be beggars, because so many people in the Church were rich. I did not know, at that time, of the wealth of the Orders, but I surmised it. I sensed that St. Francis had the real answer before Brother Elias weakened his work by building all those monasteries. I felt that our apostolate too had to be Franciscan, but in a very modern Franciscan way, allowing for great freedom and with practically no structures.
In 1930 this was not the thing to do! It was rebellion. Only Archbishop Neil McNeil understood what I had in mind, and he covered me with the mantle of his office so that I was able to survive. I did survive, but I want you to know that I lived on the edge of a precipice. Eventually I was forced out of Toronto by public pressure. The words of Father Carr at that time still ring in my ears: “They hate you because you are doing what they should be doing.”
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Fragments of My Life
Reflection – As we go through this marvelous testimony of Catherine’s about her love for the Church and her deep vision of the Church and the Body and Bride of Christ, we see here that this depth of faith and of love does not, in fact, mean that we slide into a sort of passive acceptance of things just as they are, of Church life and culture just as it is.
Catherine knew very well what Pope Francis has been saying consistently to us these past months: a rich, comfortable, complacent Church cannot preach the Gospel. When we have everything we need in worldly terms, eat sumptuous meals day after day, live in a high degree of luxury and elegance, what message are we sending?
Catherine from an early point in her life—she was in her mid-30s when she began this apostolate—knew that there was a great need for evangelical poverty and simplicity to be renewed in the Church.
So what did she do? Write sarcastic little articles about the Pope and his Prada shoes? Gossip with her neighbors about Father’s new car or the nun’s swimming pool or the bishop’s wine cellar?
No. She sold all she possessed, gave it to the poor and moved into the slums of Toronto. In other words, she knew very well that she was the Church, just as much as Father, Sister, or Bishop. And if the Church needed to be poorer to preach the Gospel better, she would become poorer herself. This is a deep example for all of us. It is too easy to point fingers, lay blame, put the responsibility on this one or that one. In our modern internet world, any idiot with a blog (lookin’ in a mirror here, folks!) can mount the global soap box and propound on the endlessly fascinating subject of ‘who’s fault it is (not mine!)’.
It is all so easy and so tempting… and it leads nowhere, does nothing, accomplishes zilch. Catherine just got on with the task God had given her, and divested herself of worldly comfort and ease, and preached the Gospel with her life. That’s what love of the Church can do for us – it gets us to stop complaining and whining, and get on with the good task of loving, serving, and preaching with a happy heart. And that’s what the world needs from us who call ourselves Christian.