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.
The Little Mandate of Madonna House
Pray always. I will be your rest. – And with this final line we come to the end of this little series of commentaries on the Little Mandate, the words God gave our foundress Catherine Doherty to be the guiding spirit of Madonna House.
I will freely confess that when it comes to this last line of the Mandate, I don’t really get what is being said here—we are all works in progress, and in my case the progress has not yet progressed to this beautiful place yet of experiencing either constant prayer or Christ being my rest. I am quite certain of the truth, beauty, and goodness of these words, but I haven’t yet reached the direct experience of them, not yet. Some day.
‘Rest’ is a big word for most people, I imagine. We are all a little tired. Nobody quite gets enough sleep. Nobody feels entirely well, entirely fresh and bouncy. Well, maybe some people do, and youth especially is known for its inexhaustible energy. But as one gets older… well, we get tired. Not sick, not miserable, not incapable of functioning—just a wee bit tired.
And so we look for a place of rest. I have my annual vacation coming up in a few weeks, and I’m not ashamed to say that I am deeply looking forward to it. I think the Lord in this line of the mandate is disclosing something to us about what it means to be at rest that takes us so far beyond this normal human level, though. For us, ‘rest’ is synonymous with ‘respite’. For God, ‘rest’ is synonymous with ‘consummation’. In other words, a being comes to a state of rest when it reaches its proper place, its home, its state of fulfillment.
Well, our proper place and home and fulfillment is not a week at the cottage sipping cocktails by the beach. Our home is the heart of God, and the heart of God is the wellspring of love in the world. ‘Pray always’, at a deep level, means the same thing as ‘love always’, since prayer is communion with God and God is Love.
Our rest, then, is found in our relationship with Him. He doesn’t say here, Pray always, and I will give you rest. He says that He will be our rest. And this takes us very deep indeed. As I finish this series on the Little Mandate, it is right and proper that the last sentence of the Mandate takes us where we really need to be taken.
Namely, to Jesus. Our life is about Jesus. It is for Him, from Him, and towards Him. He is the source of the ‘Arise – go!’, the command to movement that begins the journey of the Gospel life, and He is the destination to which we are heading, and He is the way itself of love and service in the world.
The Little Mandate of Madonna House is a 118-word revelation of the radical Christ-centred nature of Gospel life and love in this world. And it does come down to this ‘pray always’ business. If we are going to take up the cross of the poor, we have to pray always. If we are going to be little, simple, poor, childlike, we have to pray always. If we are going to preach the Gospel with our life, do little things exceedingly well for love, love without counting the cost, go into the marketplace, into the depths of men’s hearts, be a hidden light to the feet of our neighbour… we have to pray always.
We have to pray always because all of this is what Jesus does and who Jesus is for us, and our living of it is utterly impossible save by His constant intervention and help in our life. We can do nothing without Him; with Him, all things are possible.
‘Pray always’ does not mean hours spent in silent contemplation. It does mean a constant dialogue with God throughout our busy days. It does mean cultivating a habit of prayer, whereby in the midst of everything that fills our life we continually go to that place of rest—not a place of inactivity and torpor, but a place of fulfillment, consummation, intense activity of love and communion.