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
Be poor, childlike – It is time to resume the Tuesday stroll through the Little Mandate, the words given to Catherine Doherty as the essential spirit of Madonna House. Today we come to the last two words of the second paragraph, ‘be poor, childlike.’
Personally, I have always struggled a bit with the spirituality of childlikeness. Being the youngest child of a large family, I grew up chasing after my older siblings, and definitely internalized the belief that ‘bigger is better’, that being a grown-up is simply the way to be. Don’t they get to have all the fun?
At the same time, I don’t have a lot of natural ‘playfulness’ or whimsy—the approach to childlikeness one sometimes encounters that involves acting like a child (clown noses and frolicking and all that) does not get very far with me. Teasing and repartee aside, I am basically a serious person. I admit that those who know me personally may be snorting in derision right about now – ‘Teasing and repartee aside? What else is there, ever, with Fr. Denis?’ Hey, I’ve got layers, folks. Lots and lots of layers.
So I have always had to approach this childlike business from a serious standpoint. What does it mean to be ‘childlike’ in the spiritual sense, in the sense that naturally pairs it here with being ‘poor’? Catherine’s favourite prayer, which we print up on cards, was “Give me the heart of a child, and the awesome courage to live it out as an adult.”
Why awesome courage? What is it about being a child that requires awesome courage in an adult? That prayer is the key to this business, I would suggest. And what that key delivers up to us is the word ‘trust’.
It is the essence of spiritual ‘adulthood’ (not maturity) to seek to live life by one’s own terms, one’s own ideas, one’s own power. Children, by definition and irrespective of their virtues or lack thereof (they ain’t all angels, as any parent will assure us), cannot do that. A child is dependent; a child lives under the authority of and in a sense at the mercy of his mother and father or other guardian. A child is weak, poor, and must trust, for there is no other option.
It is one thing for a child, particularly a small child, to live that way. Natural, even, and it is a terrible sadness to see a child who has lost his trust of the adult world too early, due to some great calamity or abuse. But the Little Mandate is addressed to adults—adults who know what the world is like, know how perilous an affair life can be, know just how difficult it all is to make it in this world.
And… choose to live in that same place of trust, of dependence, of abandonment to the ideas, terms, dispositions, power of… Another. This is all one with the littleness and simplicity that immediately precedes it in the Mandate. To make room for God and to approach the demands of the Gospel directly, squarely and without compromise requires us to have this childlike spirit. And being adults with this spirit, it does require awesome courage from us, because we know just how much it will hurt us to open ourselves to that level of divine life and charity and Gospel values.
It is not a question of ‘send in the clowns’, this childlike affair. It is a question of ‘send in the Spirit’, Lord, and don’t hold anything back. Letting God have his way with us. Choosing to care for little else—nothing else, really—than that. That’s where it’s at, and that’s a pretty serious business, after all.
But joyful, too, and ultimately it is light and fun and a bit silly—finding out that we really are those children of God who can rest in His heart and not take ourselves too too seriously. And that’s the story of the Mandate, so far.