Monday, June 9, 2014

How I Came to Join Madonna House, Part Two

Yesterday was a glorious day in MH – three beautiful new staff workers with shiny new crosses, two making their final promises, numerous renewals, and lots and lots and lots of people here to witness and celebrate it all. I will talk at more length about this in a day or so.

Meanwhile, back to my own story, continued from yesterday. So I had received the word before I came here to listen to what everyone said to me, as God would speak to me in the voices of other people this time.

So I was all ears as I began my ‘month’ at MH, now into its 26th year. The first thing I heard of note was the Gospel at the first Mass I attended upon my arrival, on Monday afternoon. I always smile to myself when the 8th week of Ordinary Time rolls around each year and I hear those readings again, as these were the words that I heard at the crucial moment: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Jesus and the rich young man—the very same Gospel that moved powerfully in Catherine Doherty’s life when she was being led to found this vocation, fifty years previous, in Toronto.

So that rocked me back on my heels a bit. The Gospel the next day was on the same lines: “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields” (Mark 10: 21-30). So… OK. It appeared that I was on the right track.

The next thing I was hearing was a bit odd, actually. We have a rule in MH, pretty firmly observed, that we don’t ask our guests personal questions. MH is to be a safe place where people can just come and not be interrogated, pestered, labeled, and so forth. People often come to MH in difficult life circumstances and crises. So we just don’t pry into our guests’ lives outside MH – if they want to volunteer information, that’s up to them.

Well, for some strange reason (I suspect the Holy Spirit) that rule got thrown out the window as far as I was concerned on this visit. So many people said to me some variation of ‘Oh, it’s you again! You’re back. Ummm… why are you here again? Why do you keep coming? Good to see you… but why are you here?’ It was more funny than anything else, it was such a weird departure from normal MH form… and God was pushing on me through it. Why exactly did I keep coming back here?

Then we had a guest speaker at the men’s dorm for our Tuesday early night. She was the director of one of our mission houses, and a pioneer member of the apostolate. And she talked about… commitment! Vocation! The need to plant your feet firmly in one place, in one thing, out of which you could do all sorts of different things. As she waxed eloquent about the need to eventually settle down in life to one thing, one of the other guests asked her if that wasn’t playing it safe. She wheeled on him and said with some force, ‘That’s not playing it safe! You try it, mister!’

Then the housefather gave a little spiel on discernment. His approach was to look at something you want to do, and then ask yourself why you want to do it. If there was some shallow or silly reason for it, it was probably not from God. So that evening I was thinking about my fairly strong desire to join MH, and I began to apply that advice. Why did I want to join?

Was it the people, and how nice and lovely they were? I thought about that. No, not really. MH people are nice, but I had been around the place long enough to have seen the human frailty of the community. Was it the work? Definitely not. At that point, I was a layman with no thought of being anything else, and the laymen of MH do manual labor primarily. I don’t object to that, but at the same time I was and am a clumsy, hapless man on that front, and have little to no aptitude for it. So I was wanting to join a community where, as far as I could envision it, I would be fairly incompetent at what I would be asked to do, for the rest of my life. Was it the food? Uhhh, no. Definitely not the food. What was it, then? Could it be… God?

I still hadn’t seen my spiritual director yet. It was Wednesday evening that we sat down to talk. Wednesday, May 31, the feast of the Visitation. Blessed is she who believed… the Mighty One has done great things for me… He has lifted up the lowly. As I sat across from my spiritual director and we prayed for guidance and wisdom, the Holy Spirit quietly took the gloves off, took a deep breath, and wound up to deliver the blow, the words that would irrevocably change my life and launch me into the vocation He had planned for me. 

"So, Denis, what's happening?" I took a deep breath, and started to tell him.
To be continued