Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Where Life Gets Cold and Hard

Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.
Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you.
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

Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. This line of the mandate can at times cause a blank stare of incomprehension upon first hearing (or second, or third for that matter). Go into the… what? The where? Why?

In the original context of Catherine’s reception of the Mandate, it meant a very simple thing: she was to go back into the slums and live among the people she was serving. She was not to be some kind of professional do-gooder punching in and punching out a time clock, doing good works from 9 to 5, five days a week.

No, she was to live with the people she served, and so she did, in Toronto, Harlem, Chicago. It was this whole business of immersion into people’s lives, of presence where people are, being with them, being involved with them without that professional kind of distance coming into it so much.

But of course as years went by and the apostolate changed and shifted in mysterious and The marketplace is a symbol of that place where people live, but not the place where people love. Markets are places of buying and selling, where goods are evaluated and priced, bargained for and consumed, rejected or accepted as a cheap rip-off or a good deal. All of which is fine, when it is a car or a cucumber, an apple or, well, an Apple.

Not so great when it is human beings bought and sold, human integrity, human lives weighed in the balance and found worthy of ‘use’ or useless. You are worth so much of my time and energy… or not, as the case may be.

Marketplaces are fine places for moving goods and services around efficiently and in a cost-effective way. Not such great places to live in as the complete expression of our humanity. And in our fallen broken world, this is too much the case, too often, don’t you think? We buy and sell… affection, friendship, time, sex, respect and so many other personal goods. The currency may not be money (it usually isn’t) but it is cold hard cash regardless.

Cold and hard, and the more the marketplace is our world, the colder and harder it gets. And so MH strives to go into these places where human beings are, where human beings live, where life can get very cold and hard and make it a bit warmer, a bit more loving, a bit less acquisitive.

Catherine would much later speak about this line of the Mandate in its depths, and said:

What’s the marketplace? Is that the secular city? Is that the factual marketplace?... that is to say the urban inner city or is it the suburbia where all the supermarkets are? Or is it as we were invited to West Pakistan, a desert, factually a sandy desert? No. It’s simply the soul of man. The marketplace is the soul of man. The marketplace is the soul of man where man trades his soul either to God or to the Devil, or to the in-between. [It is a place of a] sort of indifference, complacency, where he sells hot wares and cold wares, which God tolerates, especially the cold. But fortunately or unfortunately we have to deal also with the tepid and that supermarket of the spiritual world, country, place, whatever you call it.

Going into the marketplace and staying with Jesus there means being acutely alive to every little movement of un-love, of buying and selling in the human soul (starting with our own soul, of course), of every reduction of person to thing, of every cooling and hardening trend in our own human lives and hearts and in the lives and hearts of those we are involved with.

And staying with Jesus in that (I’ll cover the last part of this paragraph next week). That is, living out our communion with Christ in such a way, such a proximity to ‘the marketplace’ in all the senses it can be understood, that it draws others to enter into it.

When guests leave MH after a long time, they often give a little thank you speech in the dining room. More often than not, they say something along the lines of “I have learned how to love here.” We don’t set out to teach people how to love; on any given day we may feel pretty incompetent to do so! 

But it seems like something mysteriously gets transmitted—at least, that’s what they tell us, over and over again. Our job is to stay with whoever God sends us. His job is to take it from there and radiate love into all the buying and selling of our poor broken humanity. And that’s what that line of the Mandate means, as far as I understand it.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Fr. Denis,
    I think your reflections on the Little Mandate are some of the best writing you have done. You are writing about the fullest charism of Madonna House and I guess when writing about something of that great an import, words will always fall short though they spur reflections in those who read them.
    You said "We don’t set out to teach people how to love; on any given day we may feel pretty incompetent to do so!" I chuckled at that, quite a bit actually because it is true. However there is a greater truth here I think and you touch on it. One meets God and is transformed, changed radically, never to be the same. The 'incompetent' way you live is how that happens.
    So it is not really incompetent at all. No - not at all. I did not learn how to love at MH - I encountered love and was consumed by it. I like to think of the Little Mandate as God's love letter to Catherine. And by God's great grace, to the community she founded.
    Kindest regards - John Lynch.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.