Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Are We Supposed To Do About Baltimore?

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

Preach the Gospel with your life – without compromise – The Little Mandate, which we are going through piece meal on this blog on (most) Tuesdays, in fact came to Catherine Doherty in a similar piecemeal fashion. Word by word, phrase by phrase, over a long stretch of time; it was only at the end of the process that she put all of them together into the above order.

Today’s phrase—preach the Gospel with your life, without compromise—came differently from most of them. Catherine, while she was trying to discern what God was doing in her life, worked for the archdiocese of Toronto for a year. In the same period, she ran study groups out of her home, bringing people together to study the social encyclicals of the Church and to discuss social problems of the day. This was the 1930s, and there were no shortage of the latter.

Catherine recounts that often, at the end of a long discussion about this or that problem, this or that aspect of Catholic social teaching, she would find herself saying “The answer is simple—we have to preach the Gospel with our life!” When people would press her as to what that meant, she would say, “That means without compromising it!”

People would continue to press her as to how to do that, and that would lead us into next week’s blog post on the Mandate (stay tuned!). But I find it significant that at least this one line of the Mandate comes directly out of Catherine’s engagement with the deep social problems of her day—unemployment, social inequality, injustice, war and the threat of war, racism, and the like.

Sound familiar? Baltimore is burning as I write this. There are terrible problems afflicting the world, problems which seem intractable, unsolvable. It is hard to get even people of good will to even agree on what the problems are, what causes them and how to fix them. People of ill will are of course, part of the problem.

Is it enough to say that the answer is for you and me to preach the Gospel with our life, without compromise? To take what the Lord says to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and rather than thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it—do it? Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give your cloak, forgive your enemy, give to all without charge, love as He loved us?

This is Madonna House’s answer, this our response to the pain and violence and hatred and anger and injustice of the world. It is a daunting answer, and none of us in MH would ever claim that we do it in full. But we try, we do try.

Catherine’s spiritual director in the 1940s, Fr. Paul Furfey, once said to her in a letter that lots of people want to help the world in easy ways, but the easy ways do not work. Very few people are willing to do the hard things, the total commitment, the complete gift needed to make any real difference in the world, but those few have an influence that is disproportionate to themselves.

So when we see Baltimore burning, the Middle East bathed in blood, a massacre here, terror there, we can feel quite helpless. But we are not helpless. Take the Gospel of Jesus Christ and see where we can, where we must, put it into practice today, in the real situations of our real life. If every baptized person in the world did this, the whole place would be transformed in a week. So let’s you and I start doing it, and see where that takes us, why don’t we?


  1. One day, when i was broken down in Richmond Virginia I began reading and re-reading the 'little mandate'. I even had the time to count how many words were in it. Would you believe that there are 118. 118 powerful, live giving, live changing words, given to Catherine, for her and her spiritual children. and would you believe that today, the feast of St Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort is the 118th day of the year?
    Though darkness be at our door step, lets sing a Song of Victory. Psalm 118.


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