Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Heart of My Heart, Heart of the Gospel

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.
Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.
Love... love... love, never counting the cost.
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

Going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me. We continue to spend our Tuesday’s going through the Little Mandate, the core words we believe God gave to Catherine Doherty our founder, which define our spirit and way of life.

Today we wrap up the first paragraph. Catherine has called this first paragraph the ‘heart of the Mandate’, and said that the rest of the Mandate is essentially commentary on it. I would say that these last words of the paragraph are the ‘heart of the heart’, then.

Certainly she experienced her original call as precisely that: she was to go and live in the slums of Toronto and be poor with her poor neighbours, to live as they lived and love and serve them in simple ordinary ways. She didn’t know much of anything beyond that, only that she was to do that thing, that after the selling of all she had, she was to go and be one with the poor, and in that, one with Jesus.

From the beginning, then, MH has been almost allergic, in terms of our own apostolic work, to anything partaking of professional social work or any other ‘professional’ model of service. Not for us the detached clinical objectivity of the therapist or case worker, the careful delineation between the ‘client’ and the ‘qualified expert’. We are not against that sort of thing in its right place—obviously psychiatrists and social workers need to be that way—but it is not for us, not at all.

We run soup kitchens… and we live in them. We teach catechism to children, mostly poor and disadvantaged, and live on the same street as they do, where they can run in and out of our house all day (and do). We have houses of prayer and listening—friendship houses, really—but present ourselves not as experts or spiritual directors (priests aside), but as, well, friends.

Running through all the apostolic works of MH is this thread of identification, of just living wherever the people we are serving live, and approaching them without any trappings of office or formalized arrangements. We are just people helping other people, and we’re all poor people trying to love one another, anyway.

Underneath how this line of the Mandate shapes the structure of our apostolate there is a truly profound spirituality, a whole vision of life and what it means to be human, what it means to be blessed and fully alive and in Christ, one with Him. I am always amazed—I suppose because my entire spiritual formation from the age of 19 has been at the feet of Catherine Doherty—at the purchase ‘prosperity Christianity’ has on people’s minds and hearts.

The idea that a really blessed and godly life will be a life where everything is rich, rich, rich—where you have lots of money, radiant good health, perfect emotional stability at all times, and a continually cheery disposition—this is entirely foreign to me. This is not how Jesus lived, and His is the one truly Godly life we know of, isn’t it?

He was a poor man, living and moving among the poor. How on earth do we his disciples expect that our lives should not be as His life was? This has always seemed utterly incomprehensible to me, this ‘prosperity Gospel’ form of Christianity, based on a highly selective reading of a few scriptures and a resolute ignoring of many hundreds of others.

Going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me. It is the experience of our own poverty, whether we are talking economic poverty, psychological poverty, poverty of aptitude, helplessness, whatever, not just experiencing that but knowing that this is the place we are to live as human beings, the place where our human limitations are keenly felt and cause us some degree of discomfort or distress, knowing that this is precisely where we enter the heart of the Gospel and thus the heart of Christ, and it is all tied up with our love and compassion for our neighbour—this is what real Christianity consists of.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ The kingdom of heaven is union with Christ, and the doorway to that union is the willing embrace of our own poverty, our own profound need in whatever form it manifests in our life, and our glad choice to live in that need, that poverty, and get on with the real business of life of loving those poor people the Lord has surrounded us with by his providence, a poor man or woman loving poor men and women, all poor together, and in that, all one with Him in His radiant glorified poverty, the Risen Body of the Crucified Saviour.


  1. Wow, I never thought of part of the Prosperity Gospel as being "perfect emotional stability at all times." Last night though, I remember thinking how I wanted to be like Christ--but I realized the particular _way_ I wanted to be like him was in his knowledge of all things, and therefore in his lack of confusion about what to do next! Of course there is no real poverty in that, and that image of him isn't accurate to what he goes through in the Garden and on the Cross. I'd willingly trade all the riches I have for perfect emotional stability (and a continually cheery disposition), but it looks like that wouldn't get me closer to the Kingdom of Heaven after all! I think that is actually very comforting.

    1. I find it immensely comforting, myself.

    2. (And I hope you're well! Assuming you're 'my' Anna O!)

    3. Preoccupied with emotional stability and more articulate writing than speaking? It could only be the Anna O that you know. I'm doing well, thanks!


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