Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent - Season of the Treasure

Though holy doctors have uncovered many mysteries and wonders, and devout souls have understood them in this earthly condition of ours, yet the greater part still remains to be unfolded by them, and even to be understood by them.

We must then dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures; however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.

For this reason the apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training.

All these are lesser things, disposing the soul for the lofty sanctuary of the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ: this is the highest wisdom attainable in this life.

Would that men might come to see at least that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.
St John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle

Reflection – Twenty-eight years ago today, the founder of Madonna House Catherine de Hueck Doherty passed from this life to the life of eternity. It is a special day of joy and thanksgiving for us in MH, and remembrance. Usually we have one of our three annual days of recollection on this day; this year we decided to go small and simply have an evening where those who knew ‘the B’ (our communal nickname for her) can share their memories with us young uns.

Of course this is not a ‘liturgical’ day for us, as the Church rightly has yet to weigh in with an opinion about Catherine’s sanctity. But it happens that she died on the feast of St. John of the Cross, and I have always found the Office of Readings quoted above to be a most fitting office for her life and death.

Catherine ‘dug deeply’ into Christ. What a great image that is! There is always more, always another level, always a greater depth to attain, always more richness in the mystery of Christ than whatever we have currently found. It is a mine that will never be mined out, an inexhaustible treasure.

It seems to me that this is the secret of life – to know that this mine is real, and to know that it is available to us in the concrete circumstances of our lives. Catherine, for example, is great for this, since her life was so filled with many of the things that people’s lives contain.

She had a happy childhood, which was necessary for her, given what was to come. But this happy childhood, rather than making her spoiled and entitled, instilled in her a basic gratitude and buoyancy. She had an unhappy marriage, which ultimately became a nightmare of emotional and verbal abuse, infidelity, heartbreak. As she would later and uncharacteristically laconically say, ‘My husband Boris was not a well man.’ Rather than making her bitter and vengeful, it pulled her into deep forgiveness and humility of spirit, through the humiliation of a marriage breakdown in the 1930s.

Her son George was a handful, due to all the chaos of his family. He became a true ‘problem child’, a juvenile delinquent, getting into all sorts of bad trouble. At one point he ran away from home, riding the rails, and was robbed and almost beaten to death by a hobo. This brought Catherine to a deep and constant prayer and intercession – she was helpless to solve George’s problems and felt terribly guilty and dug deeply into Christ at every turn of that tortured road.

On and on it went: she was attacked in her apostolic work, suffered from whisper campaigns and crummy office politics. She was the subject of persecution, at one point a group of women sent a letter to every bishop, priest, and religious congregation in America, denouncing the ‘communist’ Baroness de Hueck. She did not become defensive or angry or rigid; she did not flounce off when things didn’t go her way; she didn’t become embittered against the Church (much of the opposition came from priests and nuns) or against society or against her own co-workers (alas, much opposition came from within). She forgave, prayed, and above all she just kept going. And there is much, much more I could say – at every turn and chapter of her life there were great difficulties; at every turn, she turned to Jesus.

I go into all this because I think we can think John of the Cross’ ‘digging into Christ’ is a question of holing up in a monastery with hours and hours given to us to pray and read Scripture and have all sorts of mystical experiences. It may be that… if that’s your vocation. But really, it is what we do with the raw material of our everyday life, and our choice to turn it all towards Him, towards prayer, towards mercy, towards fidelity.

That is the digging into Christ of the ordinary Christian in the world. And that’s what Catherine did, in my estimation. If she ever is canonized, she could rightly and properly be called ‘Catherine of the Cross.’ So happy ‘Catherine Day’ to you all for all of us at MH. May we all honor this good woman by bringing whatever this day holds for us to Our Lord Jesus Christ so we can mine the treasure of this day for its eternal splendor and beauty.

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