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.
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 hidden. With this line of the Mandate, we come to an aspect of MH spirituality and life that sometimes annoys our friends and supporters, and even ourselves on a bad day. This call to live a hidden life is so utterly counter-cultural in the North American scene.
In North America, bigger means better, and if you want to have an effect on things, you have to make a splash. You have to market, advertise, have publicity, generate buzz. This is not new in our culture, but the Internet and social media have made democratized and universalized the phenomenon and its attendant ethos.
It’s all about going viral now. And the people who ‘count’, the ones who make a difference, are the ones who capture the spotlight and command the big speaker’s fee, the celebrities, the big names.
To all of this, MH says, basically, ‘No thanks!’ Partly it is because we just don’t believe that that’s how it works. After all, in the words of Paul Simon “Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts,” and yet somehow the world doesn’t really change all that much from generation to generation. Making a big splash generates lots of noise and ripples, but does it really effect a sea change?
Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how often we get letters in MH from people basically saying the same thing: “I spent a week in your community in 1975. It has shaped my whole life, and I think about my time there and your way of life constantly.” Our life is so ordinary—in an hour’s time I will be kneeling on the floor of the chapel, waiting for Morning Prayer to start; then we have breakfast (oatmeal and yogurt… again!).
Then we go to work—today pretty much the whole community is working out at Cana Colony to get it ready for the families coming there. Lunch happens, and then Mass and supper and then various evening chores… and repeat tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…
An ordinary, simple life revolving around love of God (prayer, worship) and love of neighbor (humble service, hospitality and friendship). And it’s not all that different in our eighteen mission houses.
It is our firm but simple belief that it is that, and not generating buzz, that changes hearts, and that it is changing hearts that changes the world. We’re not opposed, exactly, to publicity—after all, I am writing this blog, we do publish books, and just made a series of videos about our MH life. It’s just that we know that the real action of our life is not there, but in the direct and basic choices we make (or alas, don’t make) to love and serve in the duty of the moment.
Mind you, our choice to ‘be hidden’ is not exactly based on everything that I just wrote. Fundamentally, it is a matter of obedience to God. He is the one who has ‘hidden’ MH—first by planting us in the Upper Ottawa Valley which is hard to get to (harder all the time as they keep cutting down bus service to rural areas in Canada), and second by keeping us a small and humble community. We are getting vocations, thanks be to God, but it seems that our incoming vocations, balanced with the deaths of our older members and the inevitable departures from the community, are just enough to keep us at a stasis of about 200 members.
Which is enough for us to live our MH life in all its glorious hidden ordinariness, which seems then to be exactly what God wants for us. We have also all had the experience here that, even when we do get a moment in the spotlight, when there is some brief moment of ‘publicity’ that comes our way, it a) doesn’t last; and b) doesn’t really matter. God has made it clear to us that MH’s real work and real effectiveness happens when nobody is looking at us and we ourselves don’t even know what’s going on. We’re as much hidden from ourselves as from anyone else.
Oh, it’s all so gloriously counter-cultural, such a wonderful contrast to the desperate quest for fame and fortune that dominates our world today. And it is the very pattern of Christianity, of course. Bethlehem, Nazareth, Golgotha, the empty tomb—who knew about these things? The world was saved, and the world continues to be transformed, not by power but by love, and love is an affair hidden deep in the soul of the human person.