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
Little, be always little. For those of you who are wondering where on earth Fr. Denis is, I am writing this in Victoria now, where I’m spending the last few days of my little apostolic trip out West. Back to Ontario and ‘normal’ life Thursday.
I have been going through the Little Mandate bit by bit for the past while now, and we have finally gotten past the first paragraph. Catherine always did say that the first paragraph was the essence of the matter; the rest is commentary on it – how to live it out.
Key to that living it out is the spiritual attitude of the second paragraph, specifically the attitude of ‘littleness’ we are looking at today. There is no question that this is a very hard thing to embrace, hard to really stay in this spot of spiritual littleness, spiritual childhood.
We want to be ‘big’. Pride in Latin and Greek and Hebrew means being above oneself, taking to oneself a bigger status, a higher place than one rightly occupies. And pride really is the deep wound of our humanity, expressed in so many ways. Pursuit of riches and power, dominant behaviours of various sorts, or the more hidden interior expressions of it—quiet assumptions of superiority, self-righteousness, incessant judgment of others.
All of it is the direct rejection of humility, which is the deep meaning of this second paragraph of the Mandate. It is the unanimous testimony of all the spiritual geniuses of Christianity that humility is the virtue at the very heart of the spiritual life, as understood in our Christian faith. To accept to be what one is—a creature, that is, one made by and absolutely dependent for being on Another, and so properly bound to obedience to that Other—is the utter need for any kind of progress in spiritual growth, any kind of real interior life in God.
The reason for this is so simple it hardly need explaining, does it? You don’t make children grow up to be adults by feeding them rocks and dirt. You don’t make a seed grow to be a tree by giving it roast beef and mashed potatoes. You don’t make a thing grow to the mature state it is meant to attain by ignoring the kind of thing it is. Living in the truth, on this most basic physiological level, is what makes life and growth possible.
And humility is thus the soil, the mother’s milk, of our healthy flourishing humanity because it is the truth. We are creatures. We are wholly dependent on God for existence and for ongoing life. We are meant to live in such a way as to be constantly receiving everything from Him who is Everything, meant to be an empty space filled by Fullness, a cup perpetually filled with strong wine, a womb perpetually made fruitful by the One who is the source of all fruitfulness.
If I can be a bit silly and paraphrase Taylor Swift here, we are meant to sing continually, “I’ve got a blank space, baby (Jesus), and you can write your name.” Littleness—accepting that this is so, and deliberately refusing to fill that blank space with all sorts of illiterate scrawls, empty boasts, lunatic ravings (those are our judgments of other people!), and the like—is our constant choice to be that empty canvas for God to paint on, that unsown field for God to plant in, that cup waiting to be filled with the precious Wine of God (which we know is not wine at all, but his very life's blood).
We are on the edge of Holy Week, and the immense mysteries of God are upon us, the vast frontiers of divine life and love revealed to us only in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. In the face of that immensity, we are best served by being a little blank, a little empty, a little… well, little. And in that littleness, receptive. And in that receptivity, come to be able to share in His Cross and join Him in loving the world into life and beauty again. It’s the only way to do it, and it requires from us deep humility and surrender to His will in our lives.