SNEAK PEEK: Virtual Retreat with St Elizabeth of the Trinity

In the past couple of days the presentations and prayer guides are beginning to come in for our 3-hour virtual retreat led by Sr Martha and myself, following the guidance of St Elizabeth of the Trinity. This is the first of our Tabernacle of the Heart retreats. (The second will be on grieving through the lens of another woman mystic: Catherine of Siena.)

So I thought I’d just give you a sense of what’s to come, hoping you’d like to join us. The retreat will be next Saturday, November 14. We will hold the retreat twice on that day, once in the morning and once in the evening so people can choose the time best for them. Can’t come on that day but still interested. We’ll be sending everyone files for the retreat: video, audio, and text. So if you come, you’ll have them to go through again at your own pace. If you can’t be there in person, you can make a private retreat on a day of your choice. Now, to some of the wonderful things filling my inbox for the retreat!

Excerpted from one of Sr Martha’s talks:

Your own personal story is where God wants to be this Fall day in 2020…no where else. God is committed to you. Are YOU committed to you? The insights and the graces I need to move forward in life’s journey, those that you need TODAY, will unfold today. The other insights and graces you need down the line, will unfold at that time. Back to the gardener analogy…no gardener in her right mind would dump a swimming pool of water on a seed, walk away and say, OK, I’ve given it all that it needs for this year to grow! God doesn’t do that with us either. He is in a dynamic, active relationship with each one of us….and his grace, some call grace “his loving us,” will guide me on the journey as I come to that next step.

Each of us here has what she needs to make the journey of CHRIST alive in me today. We can be sure of it, because God is a good gardener and will not let His lilies, roses and violets go unwatered and unfertilized. No way…

Excerpted from one of the presentations of Jeannette de Beavuoir:

What Elizabeth longed for with all her soul was to seek the Trinity dwelling in the deepest sanctuary of her heart, to listen to that Mystery, the very essence of which is Divine Silence. For that she entered the cloister of Carmel, entered the exterior cloister of the walls. Once inside, she entered more deeply into the inner cloister of her heart to seek the indwelling Trinity which had invaded her soul from the first moment of baptism. She declared: “I am Elizabeth of the Trinity, that is, Elizabeth who disappears, who is lost, who lets herself be invaded by the Three.” One of her favorite Carmelite mottos was this one: “Alone with the great Alone.”

The ultimate goal of a Carmelite nun is not different from that of other Christians; it is the perfection of charity. It is, however—thanks to a special grace of God her specific vocation–as fully understood, the unique excellence of this end, of the greatness, purity, and tenderness of God, whom St Francis loved to call “the Beautiful.” She has known “the great love” of Ephesians 2:4 with which the Father has loved her freely, and understood that such love should be preferred to everyone else, love without measure until the total gift of self. A Carmelite could not imagine even for a moment that she no longer loved the one who has loved her so much that he gave himself for her; however, she also desires to respond with a greater love, with the gift of her life. The enclosure is therefore a choice of love, of the supreme love of a creature for her Creator.

Elizabeth was no doubt a saint of the cloister. But she is perhaps even more a saint for those of us who live outside of it….

Excerpted from the video by Sr. Kathryn:

Since your baptism the Trinity has dwelt within you. Your soul is a little heaven on earth. God never leaves you alone. Just as he waits for someone to visit him in the Eucharist, he waits for us to visit him within our own heart. “You will always find Him there, longing to do you good.”

So the question is, how do you enter your own heart.

I had been a person lost in my head…in my thoughts and rationalizations and plans for the future and stories about what was happening in the present. So much so that I lived many years ago with perpetual headaches.

The past and future exist only in our minds and thoughts. They are now in the hands of God, not in ours. When we are lost in them, we let slip through our fingers the only moments we can actually intentionally seize for the glory of God and the care of others and our own soul.

So the question is, how do we enter our heart? How do we stay in the present…

That’s just a taste… We’ll be bringing together the retreat this week and praying for all the retreatants in a very special way. If you feel St Elizabeth of the Trinity saying to you that she wishes to be your sister in the spiritual life, learn more about the retreat by clicking here. I hope we see you there!

Right now we may need to hit PAUSE

We were told numberless times going into Election Day that this election was the most important election of our lifetime. On this weekend after casting our votes, we’re still living on the adrenaline of heightened concerns, hopes, and emotions…

At this point for our emotional and spiritual health, we may want to hit PAUSE and remember that no matter what is decided in this election, God has a purpose that unfolds in history, a purpose that cannot be overturned.

There is no way for us to know how this will end, no real possibility of us figuring it out or of changing the outcome to what we think the final result should be. And even after all the results are in, there will be heated discussion and commentary on whether the results are accurate. Hope is the belief that we are held in the midst of this chaos. Hope is the belief that we are cared for most tenderly even if we cannot see in the way forward how God is leading us.

Today I invite you to let the dust settle and to soak in the sense of safety and trust that is the bedrock of Psalm 23.

The nonsense I’ve wasted my time on

I recently saw on my Facebook wall a quote which read: “The older you get, the more quiet you become. Life humbles you so deeply as you age. You realize how much nonsense you’ve wasted time on.”

Until we come to terms that life is a gradual, difficult, gloriously transformative undoing of everything we have built up for ourselves and of ourselves, it will continue to perplex and, in some cases, embitter us.

Just the other day I sat beside a priest friend, sharing my spiritual journey, my self-discoveries that were not that pretty. Of course, I had explanations ready at hand. I thought they added perspective. My friend said, “Those are just excuses. Everything you’re saying is just ego.”

Just ego…. The nonsense I’ve wasted time on.

We get caught up in our younger years in wildly exciting things, dreams for what we could do or be, determination to make improvements, change things, build things….

But life tends to lead us out of these sunshine beginnings into the stormy years of our undoing. Then back into sunshine, then onward to shadow….

The elders of the Jews who were tasked with rebuilding the house of God in Jerusalem, had been sent there from their captivity in exile in Babylon. The glories of the former Temple, all that Jerusalem had been for the Chosen People since King David, had been lost. They were beginning again, and anyone who has begun again to rebuild from the ashes knows that it is hard and discouraging work. To rebuild is to face the unknown, to construct in faith, to hope in God, to place ourselves under his mercy, to walk blindly along the paths marked out for us…at his bidding, for his glory, according to his plan.

In the Gospel, we can imagine Mary standing on the outside of the crowd that surrounded the house where her Son was preaching. With his words, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it,” Mary’s heart had to have skipped a beat. The relationship of mother-son that she had known since Jesus’ Bethlehem-birth had now to give way to something larger that she didn’t yet understand. These words, certainly a confirmation of her holiness, defined the moment when she realized definitively that her motherhood was not her own, that it never was meant to be her private joy. All that she had been in her mysterious and magnificent YES to the Father, was now public “property,” so to speak, for everyone else’s benefit. She had to move over to make room for us. I often think of what Mary must have been thinking and feeling as she turned and walked home that evening….

In our lives, we are led into progressively deeper poverty in which all we once knew as normal becomes shrouded in a future of uncertainty. We walk forward lighter, simpler, more quiet and humble, perhaps less significant. If this is happening to you rejoice. You are being led on the path of holiness which can only culminate in glory.

Tabernacle of the Heart: It is time…

“Your inward life is now sprouting, bringing forth fruit” (Sgs 4;13)

It is time.
It is time to forgive yourself…
It is time to forgive yourself for what you didn’t see.
What you didn’t understand…
What you couldn’t feel…

It is time to forgive yourself…
For the people you didn’t save…
What you didn’t become…
Who you didn’t save…
What you didn’t change…

It is time to discover the beauty of falling leaves…
Letting go…
Trusting transition…
Blessing the winter…
Hoping the spring…

It is time to rest…
In the silent spaces of sorrow and silence…
In the hurt and pain of wounds and shame…
In the broken and fragmented and lost…

It is time to believe…
In the inward spring…
The new life sprouting…
The blossoming and growing and ripening…

I find transitions challenging. Leaving the familiar behind puts me back in the fragile place where I wonder if I’m good enough… If I’ll make it… If anyone cares…

I’m sure no one can see the swirl of emotions and thoughts and general confusion that reigns within, sweeping away the secure self-image that just weeks before had been mine.

Transitions are difficult times of immense grace, severe gifts of mercy, gentle or drastic pruning that makes way for new blossoms that unexpectedly surprise us with new futures and joy.

I often will put myself “forehead to forehead” with Jesus in prayer—an image from the lay mystic Gabrielle Bossis in her popular spiritual classic He and I. Praying in this quiet, unreflective way that suspends all thought and straining opens my heart.

And during transitions, I need to open my heart. To believe that my Beloved One is at work within me. So one day recently I asked Jesus what he had to say to me regarding a transition I was in.

He said, “You silly willy….”

That absolutely got my attention!

“You silly willy. Your heart has been longing for more. You’ve been aching under the strain of all that has been your daily life. Here I am helping you out. So just go with the flow….”

The lightness of Jesus’ touch was exactly what I needed.

“Your inward life is now sprouting, bringing forth fruit.
What a beautiful paradise unfolds within you.
When I’m near you, I smell aromas of the finest spice,
For many clusters of my exquisite fruit
Now grow within your inner garden” (Sgs 4:13-14 TPT).

Transitions can be initiated by yourself or others. By your decisions for change and growth. By others’ decisions which may not take into account your needs. They can seem positive or negative. Hope-filled or disastrous. Be the beginning of something new or the disastrous end of something gratefully over. Tactfully orchestrated or bluntly dropped on you.

In the transition, in the threshold between what was and what will be, God is at work for you and within you. Outside my window the wind is caressing the trees. The leaves are almost singing as they rustle against one another. Those leaves did nothing to bring themselves into life. They are the fruit of the living tree. They sprouted from the ends of the twigs in the early spring, emerged into maturity, and are now getting ready to be released, to become the lovely shades of fall colors that are pushed along by the cold winds of the late autumn.

Friends, in whatever part of the cycle we find ourselves, we can be sure that we are part of the living Tree, the living Vine.

We receive…
Loved into being…
Nurtured into maturity…
Gently moved into the freedom of trusting the winter…

Bearing within us the cycle of hope…
of gentle winter and determined spring…
of releasing death and innocently new life…
of Calvary and the Garden of the Resurrection…

Live within the Tabernacle of your Heart where Jesus is always living… loving… giving… blessing….

Throw Yourself upon the Resources of God

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-68vh8-eb7ff5

When we nourish ourselves on the Word of God we gradually are able to see an unexpected, unearned future: new life, a new heart, a new future, a new relationship with God. The word of the Lord became a part of Ezekiel’s being when the prophet was told at his calling, “Eat the Scroll,” and it can become a part of our being as well. When we regularly digest God’s word, options become available to us that we couldn’t anticipate.

Credit: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Tabernacle of the Heart; To Dwell in the Glory of God

The Power of the Father, compelled by His love,
Descended and dwelt in a virgin womb.
St Ephrem

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)

Dwelt… Dwelt in a virgin womb. Dwelt among us.

Various words are used to describe the way God dwelt among us. It has been rendered: God tabernacled among us. God pitched his tent among us. The Revised English version translates this verse more literally this way: “And the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we gazed at his glory; glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The first time God pitched his tent among us is recorded in the book of Exodus. God had accompanied his people as they fled Egypt, dwelling among them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. For the Israelites who had spent 400 years in Egypt, culminating in the whole bitter fate of slavery, this new visible appearance of the presence of God to them must have been amazing. They had cried out for freedom and God had responded. And even more they hadn’t escaped Egypt like criminals breaking out of jail and on the run. No, the Lord was coming with them on the journey to the Promised Land.

In the wandering years as the Israelites made their way through the desert, Moses built at the Lord’s instruction a meeting tent outside the community. The tent-tabernacle-place of God’s dwelling was the center of the worship of Yahweh by the people of Israel from shortly after the exodus until it was replaced by Solomon’s temple around 960 BC. The tabernacle was filled with the glory of God. That glory was so radiant that when Moses left the meeting tent after having spoken with God, his face shone so brightly it had to be covered with a veil. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, remained in the tent.

Wouldn’t that be neat? To dwell in a space that was filled with the glory of God? To just stay there… Stay. Abide. Dwell.

God’s dwelling with the Israelites gave them a chance to dwell with him if they wanted. He was there. He was waiting.

When Solomon dedicated the Temple he had built, the glory of God filled it. “When Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the glorious presence of the LORD filled the Temple” (2 Chronicles 7:1).

However, right before the exile into Babylon about 400 years, Ezekiel saw in a vision the glory of the Lord leaving his place above the cherubim of the ark in the Holy of Holies and exiting the temple. The Lord was leaving Jerusalem, opening it up to the invasion of its enemies.

As the faithful remnant was taken into exile in Babylon, God went with them to protect them. He was with Daniel, Ezekiel, Esther and the other believing exiles wherever they were in foreign lands. God dwelt with them, pitched his tent, so to speak, wherever they were to protect them, never leaving them utterly abandoned.

600 years later, John writes that the glory of God has come back, has pitched his tent among us once again in the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephrem’s image is powerful: God was compelled by his love for us—his love for us was so great that he couldn’t resist the power of what his love wanted to do…. To descend and dwell in a virgin’s womb. The word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

When Jesus returned to heaven he left his glory on earth in the tabernacles of our Churches, where he continues to dwell. God had told Moses to fill a lamp with pure oil to burn perpetually in the Tabernacle or Meeting Tent to signify God’s presence. Today a sanctuary lamp continues to burn to signify that the Blessed Sacrament is presence, God’s glorious presence, the glory of God on earth.

God pitches his tent with you and me, wherever we are, wherever we need him. Longing to meet us, he hopes that we desire to meet him.

Teresa of Avila, reflecting on the state of her heart, this place where the Lord had pitched his tent, once prayed, “O my Lord, since it seems you have determined to save me, I beseech Your Majesty…don’t you think it would be good…if the inn where you have to dwell continually would not get so dirty?” Her famous book on mysticism The Interior Castle describes the lifelong spiritual journey by which we enter into seven mansions (also called dwelling places) which are stages to getting closer to God.

My heart wants to grow in hospitality toward this divine Loving Leader who wants to pitch his tent and abide with me. He who will go with me even in the humiliating and messy times of desert wandering and exile, who will speak with me and listen to me, who will pitch his tent in the tabernacle of my heart and fill me with the Spirit and the glory of God.

I want to be a Joshua who stays in the tent, surrounded with the glory of God, soaking in his presence, being transformed by it, loved and mentored and forgiven and recreated by it. And it is for this reason that I and so many seek out the Eucharist in the Mass and in adoration.

You are entirely a source of amazement,
From whatever side we may seek You:
You are close at hand, yet distant—
Who shall reach you?
St Ephrem, Faith 4:11

You are God’s precious child. Don’t let the Evil One convince you otherwise

One morning last week I noticed the last patch of daisies growing in the garden in the center of our backyard. While other flowers were drooping, the daisies were bravely hanging on to their vibrancy as the temperature began to drop. I grabbed my cellphone, snapped a picture, and sent it to my cousin with a few words, “I’m thinking of you.” It is a new ritual. As pink flamingos remind us even now of her older sister who died of pancreatic cancer several years ago, daisies are the secret connection that pulls up the smiling face of my cousin in my heart. Daisies are my “feel-good” flower that connect me to a dear person in my life.

There are other things that happen during the day to bring up memories that don’t lead to me “feeling good.” I live in a large community. When I walk into the cafeteria for dinner and the only place left to sit is to at a new table by myself, feelings of loneliness and rejection flood me, memories of grade-school experiences. I don’t know why those feelings are suddenly there again, but there they are.

No matter how many times I sit down at a new table and a sister jumps up to join me so I won’t be alone, something in me still trembles as I make my way to the empty table. Probably I’ll carry this fear of no one wanting to be with me all my life, and the simple act of sitting down at a meal, so easy for others, will always have a bit of this tension. Most days I can deal with it, but when the stakes are higher, at special celebratory meals with guests for instance, the anxiety is more acute.

Every life contains experiences that leave scars on us.

Some are small bruises like the one I just described, and some are tragic life-draining experiences that alter our lives in huge ways. Many times, we can deal with them, push them aside and carry on. But other times, like these pandemic days, it can just get to be too much.

So, as COVID-19 hangs on with the probability of a second wave, we sisters are thinking of any of you whose memories of the past threaten to derail your life-possibilities today.

When sights, and smells, and lockdowns, and losses, and life changes brought on by the pandemic and isolation are making you feel alone with the ghosts of your past.

When hearts are heavy because there is no one to walk with as you carry the pain of a memory of a miscarriage, or abortion, or divorce, or a loved one’s death, or sexual abuse.

When you feel lost and depressed and scared of the future.

I think the Evil One right now is having a heyday convincing us that no one cares, no one notices.

That we are alone with no one to help.

That we are crying and no one hears.

The courage to listen to your own heart and then to reach out for God is the first step to reclaiming your life.

When I walk into a full cafeteria I want to turn around, run, and hide. Yet when I read the books that have become my life-companions that calm my fear, and when I experience the kindness of someone who chooses to sit with me, the fear evaporates.

By constantly replacing my inward fearful stories with the words of Jesus, by listening to the wisdom of authors who show me again and again through their writing how God is holding me in my labyrinth of fear, I have the courage to believe I am God’s precious child, loved, wanted, dear to him. I have the courage to offer my love to others, instead of waiting to see if others want me around.

In this pandemic year 2020, our sorrows and life’s broken places become bigger, scarier, more present because of the uncertainty of what is going to happen to us. There is no way to turn the calendar back to 2019. 2020 won’t repeat itself, but 2021 is still a mystery for everyone. We keep expecting COVID-19 to end soon, so there is still that little hope that we don’t have to permanently modify our lives. The future, however, will in some way be different. And that “difference” will eventually become normal for us.

These weeks in the midst of the waiting and hoping for a vaccine, as we contemplate the mystery of what is to be, this time in which we are thinking of what our Christmas holidays will be like, is the time to reach out for help, to strengthen connections that will make the sorrows lighter and the memories less powerful, to find healing through courage and the tenacity of hope.

We have specially chosen a number of books on a variety of topics by quality authors who can walk with you on the way and point out to you the ways in which God is present in the sacred spaces of your pain. No matter what has happened in your life, you need to hear this message from God whispered in your heart:

“You are my precious child. You are loved. You matter. Nothing and no one can change my love for you. You deserve healing. Do not listen to the voices that say you are alone, no one cares, no one understands. People are there. Just reach out. A way through the darkness has been prepared for you. Begin to read, to pray, and to walk on that way. I love you. I love you. I love you. I can’t say it enough. I love you.”

Image credit: pixabay – S. Hermann & F. Richter

September 11 – Always Remember

This September 11 my Facebook is inundated with photos and stories and the determination that we “Never Forget”…

Never forget the terror attacks that took nearly 3,000 lives.

Never forget the lives we lost.

Never forget the courage of first responders who risked—and sacrificed—their lives to save those fleeing burning buildings.

Never forget the images that have burned themselves into our memories of that early September morning in 2001 when so much changed for our country.

This year as we celebrate Patriots Day we are also still reeling from the trauma of 2020 with no clear end in sight to everything tearing at the heart of our country. I feel God asking me to open my heart even further, to hold in the stillness of prayerful silence the darkness and pain so many are suffering in these months. To embrace in the refuge of my heart the never ending flow of people he wishes to direct to my spiritual hospitality.

How will we ever be able to forget 2020? Some of us are more directly suffering greater loss than others. Others are carrying the added burden of depression and anxiety which are become a mental health pandemic of their own.

We probably all wish we could close our eyes and pretend these things never happened. If only, magically, life could return to the way it was….

Instead, my Friends, let us walk forward, steadfastly, deeply grounded in God’s presence.

Here is a prayer from the book The Celtic Vision which helps me remember that God shields me with his all-encompassing love. His love is like a blanket that keeps me warm, safe, and close to him:

The compassing of God and His right hand
Be upon my form and upon my frame;
The compassing of the High King and the grace of the Trinity
Be upon me abiding ever eternally,
Be upon me abiding ever eternally.
May the compassing of the Three shield me in my means,
The compassing of the Three shield me this day,
The compassing of the Three shield me this night
From hate, from harm, from act, from ill,
From hate, from harm, from act, from ill.

Never forget…. And my heart cries out, “And always remember!”

Always remember that God is faithful.
Always remember that people are good.
Always remember that we can make a difference.
Always remember that a new day will come.

So today, let us pray:

Lord Jesus, Prince of peace,
we see our chaotic world today
with its anguish and fear.
We feel ourselves vulnerable
because we, too, are prisoners of the uncertainties
and difficulties of our history.
We raise our hands to you,
in this darkest of nights,
and entrust all humanity to you.
We are threatened by the storms of war,
but we want to remain unshaken
in the certainty that a new day will come;
because you, Lord, are always at work,
even when all is cold and dark around us.
Help us to think of peace, to hope in peace,
to live as persons of peace, and to build peace around us;
to promote a hospitable and welcoming culture,
and justice for the entire world.
Be with all those throughout the world
who suffer persecution for your name.
Give them courage in their adversities and strength to persevere in faith.
Enable us to nurture reconciliation and forgiveness,
so that peace may penetrate our thoughts and feelings,
making us credible signs of understanding and communion.
Lord, you conquered violence and death that we may live.
Help us become living icons of your love,
so that peace may truly be the home for all.

Amen

Prayer from Live Christ! Give Christ!

Tabernacle of the Heart III: “You are like a lily growing in the valley”

“I’m overshadowed by his love,
growing in the valley!”
“Yes, you are my darling companion.
You stand out from all the rest.
For though the curse of sin surrounds you,
still you remain as pure as a lily,
even more than all the others.” (Song of Songs 2:1-2 TPT)

The valley, in this passage, is that dark and sorrowed place where the curse of sin has run rampant as weeds taking over a garden.

I have had valleys in my life.

Valleys of illness. Valleys of weakness and limitation. Valleys of disappointment. Valleys of sin.

The Lover whispers to his Beloved in the Song of Songs:

“For though the curse of sin surrounds you,
still you remain as pure as a lily…
growing in the valley.”

In the deepest valleys of our life we remain united to Jesus, tabernacles of God’s abiding on earth. Even in the valleys of our failure and our sorrow, we are beautiful to him. Lilies.

Lilies are white, symbols of purity.

I wondered for years how I could be a lily when I knew I was no longer perfectly clean as on the day of my Baptism. Jesus knows that we will journey into the valley where we will be scratched by thorns, confused, lost, manipulated. We’ll make detours. Mistake weeds for flowers. Be bitten by insects. Fall in the heat of the valley.

We all carry within us the virus of the Fall.

We begin immature and self-centered as any child, and any neophyte in the spiritual life. As lilies of the valley we are small flowers, often hidden in the midst of the weeds of the valley. But not hidden to our Lover.

He can see us. He overshadows us with his love.
He knows our hearts.
He knows every part of the journey we’ve been on, and everything to come.
He knows that we depend on his love. That we can’t achieve anything on our own.
He reaches into the thorns to find us, his lilies, his companions.

The cross is the symbol of the valley, his arms outstretched and nailed to the wood show us the extent he will go to find and save us and claim us for himself.

He arrays us in beauty: “Observe how the lilies of the field grow” (Mt. 6:28).

Catherine Doherty, the founder of Madonna House Apostolate, is an example of living as the lily in the valley of failure and deep rejection. Catherine Kolyschkine was born in Nizhny-Novgorod, Russia, on August 15, 1896 to wealthy and deeply Christian parents. Raised in a devout aristocratic family, she grew up knowing that Christ lives in the poor, and that ordinary life is meant to be holy. Her father’s work enabled the family to travel extensively in Catherine’s youth. At the age of 15, she married her cousin, Boris de Hueck. Soon, the turmoil of World War I sent them both to the Russian front: Boris as an engineer, Catherine as a nurse.

The Russian Revolution destroyed the world as they knew it. Catherine and Boris became refugees, fleeing first to England, and then in 1921, to Canada, where their son George was born. In the following years she experienced grinding poverty as she laboured to support her ailing husband and child. After years of painful struggle, her marriage to Boris fell apart; later her marriage was annulled by the Church.

Catherine’s talent as a speaker was discovered by an agent from a lecture bureau. She began travelling across North America, and became a successful lecturer. Once again she became wealthy—but she was not at peace. The words of Christ pursued her relentlessly: “Sell all you possess, and come, follow Me.” On October 15, 1930 Catherine renewed a promise she had made to God during her ordeal in the revolution, and gave her life to Him. She marked this as the day of the beginning of her Apostolate. With the blessing of Archbishop Neil McNeil of Toronto, Catherine sold all her possessions and provided for her son, George. In the early 1930’s she went to live a hidden life in the slums of Toronto, desiring to console her beloved Lord as a lay apostle by being one with his poor.

As she implemented this radical Gospel way of life, young men and women came to join her. They called themselves Friendship House, and lived the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the members of Friendship House responded to the needs of the time.

Misunderstanding and calumny plagued Catherine all of her life. False but persistent rumours about her and the working of Friendship House forced its closing in 1936. Catherine left Toronto, feeling her work had failed. Through the seeming failure and great disappointments, she heard the voice of Christ beckoning her to share His suffering.

Soon after she left Toronto, Father John LaFarge, S.J., a well-known Civil Rights Movement leader in the U.S., invited Catherine to open a Friendship House in Harlem. In February, 1938, she accepted his request, and soon the Harlem Friendship House was bursting with activity. Catherine saw the beauty of the Black people and was horrified by the injustices being done to them. She travelled the country decrying racial discrimination against Blacks.

In the midst of widespread rejection and persecution, she found support from Cardinal Patrick Hayes and Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York. In Harlem, a small community formed around her, but again, her work ended in failure. Divisions developed among the staff of Friendship House and in January, 1947, they out-voted Catherine on points she considered essential to the apostolate. Seeing this as a rejection of her vision of Friendship House, she stepped down as Director General.

On May 17, 1947, Catherine came to Combermere, Ontario, Canada, with her second husband, American journalist Eddie Doherty, whom she had married in 1943. Catherine was shattered by the rejection of Friendship House and thought she had come to Ontario to retire. Instead, the most fruitful and lasting phase of her apostolic life was about to begin. As she was recovering from the trauma, Catherine began to serve those in need in the Combermere area, first as a nurse and then through neighbourly services. She and Eddie also established a newspaper, Restoration, and eventually began a training centre for the Catholic lay apostolate.

At a summer school of Catholic Action that Catherine organized in 1950, Fr. John Callahan came to teach. He was to become Catherine and Eddie’s spiritual director and the first priest member of Madonna House. Under his guidance, in February 1951, they made an act of consecration to Jesus through Mary, according to St. Louis de Montfort. Mary, Mother of the Church, became guide to their lives and to their apostolate.

Catherine’s lifelong passion to console Christ in others propelled her forward. Again young men and women asked to join her. Graces abounded. In October 1951, Catherine attended the first Lay Congress in Rome. The Papal Secretary, Msgr. Montini (later to become Pope Paul VI) encouraged Catherine and her followers to consider making a permanent commitment.

On April 7, 1954, those living in Combermere voted to embrace a permanent vocation with promises of poverty, chastity and obedience, and the community of Madonna House was established. The following year, Catherine and Eddie took a promise of chastity and lived celibate lives thereafter. From these offerings, an explosion of life took place and Madonna House grew. On June 8, 1960, Bishop William Smith of Pembroke offered the Church’s approval to the fledgling community at the blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere.

Catherine had a faith vision for the restoration of the Church and our modern culture at a time when the de-Christianization of the Western world was already well advanced. She brought the spiritual intuitions of the Christian East to North America. Lay men and women as well as priests came to Madonna House to live the life of a Christian family: the life of Nazareth. They begged for what they needed and gave the rest away. At the invitation of bishops, they opened houses in rural areas and cities in North and South America, Europe, Russia, Africa, and the West Indies.

I found this prayer of hers, doubtless written during a sleepless night, moving:

The night was dark. I lay awake. Does anyone understand the horror of dark nights, when all is quiet as if it were dead? I faced the past and shuddered; the future and shrank. Seventeen long years of pain and suffering, seventeen years of hell, and nobody knows! Indeed, I am a failure in all things—in married life, in motherhood, in any work for humanity.

Lord, as I think of all these failures, I wonder if by any chance it would be possible to find anyone who has made a bigger mess of life than I. I am sure not! Jesus, Master of all things, how do you stand such as I?

Oh, I am not complaining about my fate. How could I? For all that has come to me is well-deserved because I am such a sinner. My sins are always with me and before me, as are the graces I have lost. I often think of these graces. Are they lying there, crying, because I haven’t made use of them? Or have they been picked up by chance? Who will know the end of this mystery? Death alone will solve it.
— April 25, 1937

Brian Simmons in his book The Sacred Journey states that we are to be lilies not merely in a vase, but lilies among thorns: “when the curse of sin surrounds you.” Although we may not have experienced the type of failure that Catherine Doherty lived during her life, all of us have met rejection and felt we’ve made a mess of something in our life. We may cry out, “But, Lord, I am hurt as I walk among the thorns.”

The mystery of your heart will only reveal itself in time as your give yourself over to, as your align yourself with, the Divine Designs for your life that unfold even among the thorns. The lily of the field remains small and pure, simple and simply at the service of the One who knows and cares about its destiny and the way he will use her to be love in a world so desperately in need of his love.

Photo by Océane George on Unsplash

We are Mary’s beloved children and she won’t turn us away

As the summer slips into fall, we are experiencing more and more moments of uncertainty and fear. What will the rest of this year bring? To be honest, right now, we might feel afraid. The world is an uncertain place. We worry about the safety of those we love. And our emotions? Mine are on a roller coaster. I struggle with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, and that means that even in the best of times I experience radical emotional ups and downs—so you can imagine what I’m feeling now!

It’s not just me, though. Everyone knows what it’s like when we can’t seem to fit what’s happening in our lives into the previous plan we had for ourselves and others.

But with this new month, Our Lord is offering us comfort in the midst of our distress: he is putting our beings, our lives, our worries, everything into the loving arms of his Mother. September brings us beautiful Marian feasts, some of which aren’t very well-known. For instance, this past Tuesday we celebrated Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd. On September 8th we’ll celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On September 15th we mark the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. There are other Marian celebrations in these early days of September, including the Feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 12th, and Marian titles that are celebrated locally in cathedrals, monasteries, and cities, such as Our Lady of the Woods in Galloro (September 5th), and Our Lady of Good News in Sicily (September 16th).

Think about how a mother protects her child, soothes its brow, distracts it with songs of maternal love, enfolds it in caring. Our Mother will enfold us, all of us, in her special caring. Just as children run to their mothers to kiss their “boo-boos” away, so can we run to our Mother and pour out our fears, our pain, our distress. She will listen. She will care. We are her own beloved children and she will not turn us away.

The Feast of Mary’s Nativity and the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows are two twin celebrations that can bring comfort to us in these September days. Traditionally the seven sorrows of Mary are these:

  1. The prophecy of Simeon
  2. The flight into Egypt
  3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple
  4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross
  5. The crucifixion
  6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross
  7. The burial of Jesus

Each of these was a moment when Mary had to let go of her plans or any ideas she may have had of what she thought should be happening.  

Our “sorrows”—and there are many of them in these months of the pandemic and racial unrest—are similar. We think we know who we are and what God is asking us to do and we do our best to make that happen. And at the very moment when we feel sure, secure, pleased with ourselves, the plans break down, sometimes mercifully so.

Sometimes we may feel that when things are falling apart that we are falling apart, that our life is falling apart. But the call that God had given to Mary at her nativity, the joy of heaven at the birth of the one who would be the Mother of God, endured through the sorrows she bore in her life.

Our sorrows don’t change who we are.

They may be a moment of transition and transformation. We may grieve our loss and mourn through periods of desert journeying, but our sorrows do not negate the dream God had for us as we came forth from his creative Love, a dream he is bringing about in us even now. That is something important to remember.

From the celebration of Mary’s Nativity, we can remember that at our birth also  God’s pristine plans for our good and his delight are imprinted in our destiny. Again and again, we have to remind ourselves to let our plans go in order to let the eternally desired destiny willed by God for us to unfold.

Marian feast days come from a long and venerable tradition within the Church of honoring the Virgin Mary in her different ways of being with God, with Jesus, and with the world. Her love extends to all of us in all our ways.

If you are wondering what your life is meant to be—or that of someone else you care about—if carefully laid plans or self-images are falling apart, look back to the moment of creation and birth. The Trinity sang a song over you, has a plan for you, desired you, delights in you even now and will forever. The breaking apart of all we think should be is often the divine path back to the source of our own beauty, call, and happiness.

Holy Mary, help those in need.
Give strength to the weak,
comfort the sorrowful,
pray for God’s people.
May all who seek your help
experience your unfailing protection.
Amen.