Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Personal Touch

Arise — go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.
Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.
Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you.
Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.
Love... love... love, never counting the cost.
Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.
Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbour’s feet. Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you.
Pray always. I will be your rest.
The Little Mandate of Madonna House

Give it directly, personally to the poor. – Tuesdays we are going through these words that we here believe God gave to our foundress Catherine Doherty to be the guiding and essential spirit of our apostolate.

This phrase, which I touched on last week, bears further reflection. In particular, the word ‘personal’ defines so much of the MH approach to apostolic work. While we are not opposed to programs and projects, in our hearts we know that these are of little use if they are not imbued with the personal touch—warmth, friendship, hospitality of home and heart.

When Catherine began in Harlem, New York, the pastor asked her what her program was. She replied, quite honestly, the she didn’t have one. She would just go and meet the African-American people of Harlem one at a time, and go from there.

Another story she loved to tell was of the wealthy woman who was a benefactor of the apostolate. One time a poor family needed help at Christmas-time, and this woman took it on, sending them a lavish Christmas—food, presents, tree, decorations, everything. And it was all profoundly appreciated by the family. But… she sent it with her chauffeur. The woman herself never met the family, and they had no chance to thank her, she no chance to learn who they were and what they might have to offer her in return.

Catherine always stressed the love, charity, had to be given personally. And this conditions our whole MH approach to apostolic life. We run soup kitchens in Edmonton and Regina, and we live in the same building, right there in the same neighbourhood as the men and women we serve. And so it goes through all the houses of our apostolate.

But as always this is more than a physical arrangement or a specific technique. And it is never just about the obvious material poor, as much as they are always central in our concern. But there is a whole way of life implied in the lines ‘sell all you possess, give it personally to the poor.’

At every moment there is a person before me, who has at least some poverty somewhere in their person—we are all poor, in some way. At every moment, I ‘possess’ something, anyhow. A certain amount of energy, a certain amount of this or that thing, talent, time. And this first line of the Mandate bids me to take whatever I have and do whatever I need to do with it (symbolically, ‘sell it’), so as to give it directly to this person who is before me now. In concrete terms, it means doing a lot of listening to people, lots of careful attention to find out what the need may be. 

It may, often, simply be the need to be listened too—loneliness is one of the greatest poverties of our time. It may be something else—time spent, knowledge shared, food given. Some days we may have a whole three-course banquet to give people—‘Christmas with all the trimmings’—other days we may seem to only have a few crusts of bread. Regardless, we are to give it all.

It’s a whole way of life, not just something to practice for a little while. And a most challenging way of life, not one I would make any claims to doing especially well. But this is certainly what we want to do, try to do at MH – receive each person as a person, personally, and share with them whatever we have at any given time. Our experience has been that the fruits of this way of loving and serving go far beyond anything else we could do. Our firm belief is that this personal love and friendship is the only real way to communicate the Gospel in the world today.

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