Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What Do You Preserve at All Costs?

Once I wrote a poem, Faites Vos Jeux, Messieurs, Mesdames, Faites Vos Jeux. It had something to do with a “croupier,” the guy who dishes out the cards in a casino. He was calling out to everybody to get on with the game because time was short. And I thought to myself, “Yes, how true.” Play your cards, friend, play your cards.

God deals strange cards. One card promises everything and leads to nothingness. The other promises nothing, in this world, except perhaps the kiss of Christ which is his pain and sorrow, and at the end promises joy. Strange cards, don’t you think so?

The pages [of my Bible] are really getting frayed! It says, “Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth where moth and rust destroy them and thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also” (Mt 6, 19-21).

That is really something I can understand well. It’s no problem for me to give away everything I have. That kind of poverty doesn’t bother me. In fact, I don’t even regret the things I give away. I’m only too happy to get rid of them.

Is that completely true? As a Catholic, as a believer, as a baptized person, is there in my heart something I don’t want to give away? You know, this sounds like I’m proud. Maybe I am. Or arrogant.

But there is another word that describes what I feel: self-satisfaction. You know that word very well. I look in my heart and I see that God has really detached me from everything. Family. Money. And now he is detaching me from the Apostolate that I’m supposed to have created at his bidding! It takes time to face that! But somehow, strangely enough, I’m facing it quite easily. It doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it would have a few years ago. Am I ready to give up the Apostolate? I think I am...

As I mediate on my old Gospel I realize what true treasures are. Yes, I do. My only tragedy is that I cannot pass that on to others. For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be.

Catherine Doherty, Gospel of a Poor Woman

Reflection – There was no blog yesterday due to a combination of a day-long power outage and a press of work commitments that prevented my being able to work around that outage.

It’s been a while since I did anything on the blog from Catherine Doherty, so I thought we’d go back to her for a few days. This book, long out of print, is Catherine’s free-wheeling commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, written when she was moving into the final phase of her life, the time of old age, physical decline, and the consequent dispossession of all that she still had as her own. This is what her reference to being detached from the Apostolate means—as her physical being diminished a slow and painful process of handing over Madonna House to the next generation of staff was underway.

In the book, she constantly connects this current state of affairs with her experience of grinding poverty and injustice in the 1920s and 30s, when she first came as a refugee from Russia to Canada and the United States. The Revolution had reduced her and her family from wealth to great poverty, and it was in that experience that she encountered Christ and plunged into faith and the Gospel at a great depth and at great cost. So she connects that foundational experience of her life with the current call to detach, to dispossess, to choose to be poor and little and humble in the reality of her present situation of aging, illness and the nearness of death.

And this applies to everyone, as of course every Gospel passage does. The treasure of life is not the treasures we store up here on earth, be they money and things, the work of our hands, relationships with those we love, even the work of God in our lives. All these are good things, but they are not ‘treasure’. Treasure is that which you preserve at all costs.

It is the great hidden treasure of the world, one that is hard to discover, hard to attain, and hard to hold on to, that our relationship with Jesus Christ is the one thing to preserve at all cost, the one thing that truly matters, and that this relationship is expressed by a flaming love of God and of neighbor, a profound spirit of obedience to His commandments, and a constant movement towards prayer and inner silence in his presence.

That is the treasure Catherine had well discovered and long cherished by the time she wrote this book, the treasure that it was her great pain to try to pass on to others, especially her beloved MH spiritual children, and the treasure that was to sustain her through the years that followed this book, as she entered her final illness and death with much suffering of body and mind. It was always about Jesus, for Jesus, in Jesus, and that is the simple truth of life for all of us who bear the name Christian and the invitation of God for all men and women everywhere.