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.
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
Be a light to your neighbour’s feet. We are going through the Little Mandate, the core words of the Madonna House vocation and spirit, each Tuesday here on this blog. There is a lovely tension at this point in the Mandate—be hidden, be a light. Which is it?
Of course it is both, and when you think about it, lights are in fact ‘hidden’ things. A light that is properly placed and correctly calibrated does not draw attention to itself but to what it is illuminating. In a well lit room you don’t stare at the lamps and ceiling fixtures, but at the furnishings and the people. Lights are hidden, in that they exist not for themselves but for what they light.
I have a great love for this line of the Mandate in particular (not that I don’t love the whole of it, of course). It seems to capture exactly what it is we do around here so much—certainly it makes sense of the large majority of how I spend my time.
To shine a light on your neighbour’s feet—that is, to help illuminate the next little stretch of the path so that they can walk on it more easily—to me, that is the definition of what a spiritual director does, and that happens to be more and more my primary work in MH. It’s never about having enough light to shine forth for the next hundred miles of roadway, to provide all the answers and the big picture of life, the universe, and everything (42!), but simply helping the person discern the next few steps, the next little bit of the crooked winding path of God and man in the world.
Sometimes the path is so gnarled and tortuous all the light can do is show the way forward for the next day, sometimes there is a straight level stretch of road ahead and the light illumines quite a bit of road indeed (this is called ‘vocation discernment’).
Of course this line has a particular resonance for me and the work I do right now, but it is bigger than that. It seems to me that what shines a light for the feet of the other is authenticity, Christian witness, fidelity in little things, and personal love and hospitality. All of which is the very substance of our life in this community, and is utterly applicable to anyone’s life. We all are (or should be trying to be, anyhow) living out our faith in the small choices of our daily life—acts of service, forgiveness and kindness, prayers and humility. Nothing big and showy, pretty ordinary and even ‘blah’ most days.
But there is a quiet light shining forth from that, and it is a light on the feet of our neighbours. It is so important for all of us to take seriously the impact of our choices on those around us, and in particular of those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. If they see Christians wrangling and acrimonious, selfish and greedy, bitter and hateful, lazy and complacent, it doesn’t shed much light on the path for them, does it?
But the quiet hidden light shed by people who at least strive to go through their days loving and serving, praying and being merciful—this is what has the power to convert hearts and change the world. And it has been our consistent experience in MH for over 60 years that it is this, in fact, which has the most lasting and deep effect on the many people who have passed through here over the decades.
It is not the words we speak, not the homilies the priests preach, not the good teaching or brilliant exposition of faith and moral we present, but the quiet witness of a hidden life that convinces people of the truth of the Gospel.