I have often been put against a wall and, like St. Sebastian, filled with arrows of hate. I can tell you that they hurt. Many years of my life have passed that way. When I look back on my past, I marvel that I am alive today. But God’s grace is infinite; my mind is clear and my heart is open to him. I have to proclaim him!
Can anybody realize the torture, the pain, the sorrow of seeing so many who do not love him? If you are really in love with God, if he is your Absolute, then the pain becomes excruciating. And you must go, without ever resting, to impart the Good News. For this you have been created. For this you have been baptized and confirmed; for this the Eucharist is your food.
“Awake,” I would shout from immense towers; “Awake, Christians! This is the hour! This is the time! The world that we know is crumbling because we are selfish, self–centered. Can you understand this tremendous hunger? It is a hunger for God, the kind of hunger that tears you apart. All I want, all that I exist for, all I desire with my whole self is that God be loved. I cry bitter tears in the night because so many do not listen to him. He is God!
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Urodivoi
Reflection – I’ve been wanting to do a series from Catherine’s writings for a while on the blog, and last night as I poked around I remembered that I had a whole series of quotes from her book Urodivoi in my files.
‘Urodivoi’ are fools for Christ, a type of saint popular in Russian Christianity. In Russia they are people who feign mental illness, essentially living as ‘crazy street people’ as a path of atonement for the pride and vanity of the world, and as a path of identification with Christ who was ‘rich, but became poor for our sake’, and who ‘did not cling to his divinity, but emptied himself and became a slave.’
Russian hagiography is filled with examples of truly great saints of that mold, who often were blessed with all sorts of spiritual charisms: healing, words of knowledge, exorcism. The irony of their situation was that the very life they embraced as a path of humility and degradation would often end with them being celebrated and sought out as counselors and wonder-workers.
Urodivoi was almost the last book Catherine wrote. In it, as we will see in the posts ahead, she takes the idea of being a fool for Christ in the Russian sense and applies it freely to the call to live passionately, recklessly in love with God, and to do anything whatsoever to proclaim that love at any personal cost.
On a personal note, this was among the first books of Catherine that I read, when I was a mere lad of 19 in my first summer at Madonna House. I believe that the seeds of my own MH vocation were planted in that reading. I remember being a bit flummoxed by the book (it is a strange book, highly symbolic and without much linear development of ideas, and full of passages like the above, passionate anguished outpourings). I also remember thinking as I read it, “Boy, Jesus is really important to this woman! He’s worth suffering for! He’s worth living for! He must really matter.”
That’s about as far as I could get with it at age 19, and maybe that’s as far as we need to get. Jesus matters. He is worth living for, worth suffering for, worth loving with every bit of strength and passion we possess. He is important. And we live in a world where He is not important, where He is ignored, outright denied, made into a punch line or a political ploy or a dozen other things which He is not.
Or, worse yet, where He is met with an indifferent shrug, sometimes by those who claim to bear His name. Urodivoi was Catherine’s last ditch effort to break through that sort of indifference in particular. He is God; He became man, lived, suffered, died, and rose from the dead and this is the salvation of the world. He holds in his divine and human hands, pierced with nails, the answers to all our problems personal and social, the deep healing of our souls and the refashioning of our humanity into a community of love. And this is what the Church is meant to be, and yet so often fails, hampered by the mediocrity and indifference of its members and even its leaders.
When we see, even catch the slightest glimpse of, who Jesus is and what His true relationship is to the world and to ourselves, then the path of the fool for Christ makes perfect lucid sense. Of course we should dress in rags and sleep on the streets and eat crusts of moldy bread, if that is what He bids us do. Of course we should do anything and give up anything, if that is what He bids us do. Of course we should have simply no other concern but to do what He bids us do.
And of course our principal concern in life should be to proclaim this Jesus and His love by our own life of love and obedience. That is what He has bid us all to do, after all. And this is what Catherine means in her use of the word urodivoi, her own call and her call to us to live foolish lives spent for the Gospel.