What we need in this world is a community of love. How do you make a community of love? Do you sit down and plan it? Do you raise money to buy it? Or induce it? How do you make a community of love? You just begin to love the person next to you in the subway, in this room.
And when I mean love, I mean to the annihilation of the word “I” in the sense of egotism, selfishness, etc. – meaning simply that you are concerned, or I am, with everybody but myself, to the very belly-button of my soul in my body, that at every moment of the day I am one who serves, because I am one who loves.
I don’t have to go to the confines of the earth, to Pakistan or Latin America or Africa. No! I have to love the man next door, the woman next door, that petulant child, that gossipy old woman, that unpleasant drunkard, that girl who is smoking marijuana with her boyfriend in the back of the high-school yard. And I must love them so that I really am ready to lay my life down for them.
Let us begin, very simply. We have to strip ourselves. We have to become poor – not in the sense only of material goods. For material poverty, voluntarily embraced, is kindergarten stuff.
I who am the proud specimen of humanity of the 20th Century, the atomic, technological age – the age where man stands like a giant against God’s creation – I must realize that I am a creature, that within the next two seconds I might have a heart-attack and God would look into my soul, and I would be face-to-face with Him. When I realize that I am a creature, meaning with all the poverty that this word theologically, philosophically, ontologically implies, in every sense of the word – what is a creature? A creature is, for instance, an insect, a mosquito that I slap. That mosquito thought maybe he had an atomic bomb too, against me. But it didn’t live long enough to find out.
Catherine Doherty, Unpublished Talk, July 14, 1965
Reflection – It’s been a while since I had much from Catherine Doherty on the blog, and I thought I would just share for a couple of days some of the goodies I shared with the seminarians in Long Island last week.
In the spirit of Pope Francis, I talked to them about poverty, but with the Madonna House angle of Catherine’s approach to it. That is, poverty at the service of love, poverty as stripping ourselves of whatever it is, be it attachment to possessions or attachment to getting one’s own way, that prevents us from loving ‘to the point of annihilation of self.’
The problem, in other words, is not ‘stuff’. The problem is ‘self’. Selfishness, self-will, caring more about protecting oneself and wrapping oneself up tight in a comfortable cloak of self-defense than one cares about… well, anything or anyone, frankly.
The truth is, though, most of us do use ‘stuff’ as wrapping paper for the soul, so to speak. Bubble wrap for the interior castle, and so the practice of some level of poverty, appropriate to our state of life and genuine need, is necessary to pop those bubbles. We need to get unwrapped, get a little bit naked, a little bit vulnerable, and for most of us in the acquisitive Western world, that implies having less than we currently have, getting dispossessed.
But it’s not about that – it’s about love. I think one of the most radical conclusions Catherine came to in her life was the very first sentence above: what we need in the world is a community of love. Not programs, not courses, not economic structures, not professional skills. All of those have value, but what the world needs today is community, and community requires love to the point of death.
Catherine was never one to throw out these statements and then wring her hands in helplessness at the enormity of the need. For example, she saw something wrong with how we treat the earth and grow food; so she started an apostolic farm here in Combermere. At least on these few acres, we will try to love the earth. She saw people hungry and cold on the streets of our rich cities, and gave them bowls of soup and a warm room. We still do this in a couple of our houses. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it does give this person a bowl of soup.
And so the world is cold, individualistic, alienating and what is needed is a community of love. Well, on these few acres here then, we try to have a community of love, and die a little in the trying. Maybe it’ll catch on.
That’s what MH is all about, fundamentally and entirely. To build that community and to pay whatever price is needed for it. To love one another and to give up whatever gets in the way of that loving. That’s our goal, anyhow, poor sinners that we are who fall short of it each day. But I believe ultimately it’s the only thing that will really help the world and the Church in its current need, and that anything else apart from this is ultimately futile. And so, for a few days anyhow, let’s see what Catherine has to say about poverty, love, and laying down our lives for one another.