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.
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
Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me. Reading through the Little Mandate, we now come to this line about little things and doing them well. Too often people misunderstand this part of our spirit as being a sort of spiritualized ‘beautiful homes and gardens’ approach to life, sort of like Martha Stewart wearing a Pax-Caritas cross.
In fact, trained in the MH spirit and methods, the members of the community do in fact keep things pretty tidy and put a lot of work into making things not just tidy but beautiful. This is not out of some kind of house-proudness, but because we believe beauty ministers to the soul and communicates the beauty of God.
But this whole business of little things done well goes much deeper than that. First, a point of linguistics that is quite relevant: the terms ‘little’ and ‘big’ have precisely zero meaning except as comparisons. Elephants are big, but only as compared to most animals; compared to the Milky Way, they are small. Ants are small compared to us, but not compared to microbes. And so on and so forth—the words simply don’t mean anything except from within a field of reference.
So when Catherine talks about ‘little things’, what is her field of reference? Her field of reference is the Paschal Mystery—the Incarnation, Life, Suffering, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Sending of the Holy Spirit of the Second Person of the Trinity. That is the ‘thing’ against which she compares all other ‘things’, the one Big Thing that was done for her and for all. The entire cosmos made and remade in the enfleshment and descent to death and hades of the Son of God, reborn in his rising, and perpetually remade and reborn as His ascended humanity bestows the Spirit of God on the world.
In that context, the whole of a single human life is a little thing, no? And so there is the phrase Catherine loved to quote, “Lord, I throw my life at your feet, and sing and sing that I can give you such a little thing.” Someone pointed out at our directors’ meetings yesterday that we can say this because Jesus is continually throwing his life at our feet and singing and singing that He can give us everything.
So, in that context, as Catherine was always fond of pointing out, being the president of the United States is a ‘little thing’. And a little thing to be done well, at that. And that is the whole of it, really. We look at what Jesus has done well for us—saving us, loving us, forgiving us, healing us, constantly and unceasingly doing everything for us to bring us to eternal life and bliss with Him and the Father and the Spirit and all the saints in heaven.
And in that light, we look to see what we are to do, and the only thing we can do is to do the best job we can with the little tasks and works and duties of each moment. It may be the obvious ‘little things’ that we think of immediately—sweeping a floor, changing a diaper, washing a sink full of dishes. It may be things that don’t seem quite so little to us—reconciling with someone we have hurt or who has hurt us, listening to a troubled and burdened soul, drying the tears of a sorrowful one. Big projects that may to our limited human eyes seem quite consequential and ‘important’, and then the constant call to pick up another mess, clean up a dirty kitchen, scrub a toilet.
All are little things, because the only ‘big thing’ is that Christ has loved us and given us his life. But the great mystery of all this is that when we do that little thing as well as we can with great love, it becomes a big thing, because it becomes taken up into, a part of his own offering of love and life for the world-the mystery of our life as members of His Body the Church.
This line of the Mandate, which seems of all of them to be the most nitty gritty and business-like of them all, very practical, very much boots on the ground, is all of that, but opens the door to living out the whole of the Mandate in the very real and obvious circumstances of our life. So it’s a good thing God put those words into Catherine’s heart, right? Otherwise most of us wouldn’t have a clue where to start. We start by doing what is in front of us, as best we can, and continue the same way.