A Vision of the Whole

The People of the Towel and WaterSelected text from The People of the Towel and the Water

The following text is taken from Catherine Doherty’s book, The People of the Towel and the Water, 2nd ed., published by Madonna House Publications in 1991.

A Vision of The Whole

The very essence of our vocation — so hidden, so humble, so glorious — is to love God passionately by loving others. God loved us first, that is what our faith is all about. We must respond to that love and love him back! Our houses should be hospices of love and service to others.

Love is a fire. It must spend itself in service. Service is the dry wood for the fire of love that makes it burst into a bonfire that reaches into eternity and burns there. We must be a flame in the darkness, a lamp to our neighbour’s feet, a place where he can warm himself, a place where he can see the face of God. It is to love, to burn, that we have come together! Our life is senseless if we are here for any other reason than loving—utterly, passionately, completely. The very word “love” implies sacrifice and surrender.

Our vocation is to do little things well for the love of God. This means monotonous things eternally repeated. But if we have the “vision of the whole” we will connect doing these little things, these monotonous things, with spiritual truths. The vision of the whole is that every task, routine or not, is of redeeming, supernatural value because we are united with Christ. But we must be recollected and stay aware of this truth.

God speaks to us, then, in the duty of every moment. We must ask our Lord to open our eyes so that we might see deeply the need of Christ and his pain in our fellow man. Then, seeing, we arise, no matter what the time or the cost, and we hasten to help, to console, to assuage, Christ’s pain in others.

As we love Christ in our neighbour, everywhere and always, he will draw us unto himself. For our vocation is to be contemplatives, to contemplate God in the depth of our souls. It is given to us to touch him, converse with him, serve him — in others. Christ always comes to us in others.

In proportion to our service and our faith, we will grow in love of Christ until the “I” in us is blotted out and each of us, utterly penetrated by Christ, will become one with him. God wants a totality of love from each of us. He calls himself the “Bridegroom.” What the Lord wants from us is surrender, a totality of surrender. To love God passionately is to die to self. We can only see “the vision of the whole” if we allow ourselves to be crucified on the other side of his cross. Our vision of the apostolate is the whole world as seen from the cross.
We must constantly seek to expand our vision. We must review the means to our goal and choose the ones that best fit our fast-changing times. Flexibility must be prepared for by observing, thinking, research, prayer, by “folding the wings of our intellect” and letting God tell us what he wishes our apostolate to be.

We must constantly try to read the signs of God for today and ask ourselves what they mean. At one time God may ask us to forget that we have a Ph.D. and to wash dishes. At another time he may ask us to use that talent. Scholars and scientists who pray as well as study can transform their “ivory towers” into upper rooms from which a great wind and tongues of fire can fall. Nothing is foreign to our apostolate but sin. Social action, political action—we do whatever is needed to restore the world of Christ.

But we must be careful not to evaluate ourselves and our apostolate on activity more than on spirit. We need to take care that we are not living in a deadly routine of work. Work is prayer, true. But we should not be satisfied simply with work accomplished. Action should be the fruit of the spirit. It should not be the essence that replaces the spirit. Our greatest contribution to all apostolates that we undertake is our being united to Christ inwardly, to contemplate him in the depths of our souls.

This “vision of the whole” is really staggering. Through the motley crowd that we are, filled as we are with all sorts of emotional and other wounds, the Lord wishes to restore his Church. Perhaps “restore” is too big a word. But nevertheless, it seems he is molding us, shaping us, healing us, blessing us, guiding us toward that end.

What Is A Community?

“I have built a dwelling for you to live in forever” (2 Chronicles 6,2). Further on it states: “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses placed in it and for it, where the Lord had made a covenant with the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. They are still there today.”

For some unaccountable reason, these words of scripture have pierced my heart. I suddenly realized that God indeed had built a dwelling place for all of us in which to live forever. He had, from the very beginning, established a community of love.

While reading and re-reading the Old Testament, one comes across constantly Yahweh’s invitation — proclamation — to love one another. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ — the Law of Love — is the essence of God’s house.

What is a Christian community? First and foremost it must be a community of Christian love, a community were members “communicate” with one another in the way that Christ has told us in the Gospel. On these two columns — the love of God and neighbour — the community is founded. This kind of communication requires an openness that transcends human understanding, especially in our present day when people feel so alienated from one another.

Members of a Christian community should be open to one another, know how to listen to one another, know when and how to speak. And each knows these things because each knows how to pray.

This is how communication reaches the dimension of love that God desires. We of Madonna House believe that a Christian community is a community of love brought together to glorify God, to serve our neighbour—in other words, banding together for reasons greater than any of its members.

How is this community to reach this stage in which the Law of Christ is really implemented in a totality of love of God and humanity that beggars the imagination? I repeat, it is by being open to one another, each trying to live the Gospel without compromise, each slowly shedding human respect as men shed garments, each slowly learning to accept injuries, persecution, gossip, etc., peacefully, then joyously, each constantly listening to the needs of the brethren within the community. Unless this Law of Christ is applied, the community will never grow into true Christian maturity.

Christian communities are called by the Lord to leaven the community of the world which Jesus bought for his Father. The words, “I have built a dwelling place for you to live together,” applies to the whole world. The ultimate reason for the forming of Christian communities is just this: to make mankind realize that the world is God’s dwelling place which he built for men; that life in this world is an entry into the kingdom of the eternal God!
How is anyone to achieve this miracle of grace? How can any Christian community — religious, lay, married, or single — achieve this life of pilgrimage, of prophecy, of openness, of listening to the hearts of men and to the Spirit, of making one’s life into an icon of the life of Christ? How can it be done?

The same answer comes again and again, unmistakable: through prayer. What is impossible to man is possible to God and man. Prayer brings together, in a mysterious way, the mystery of man and the mystery of God. Above all, there is a house to which man must go to replenish himself. To be filled with the strength of the Lord, he must go to the house of the Lord which is the Church. There he will participate in the Last Supper. There he will receive the Christ of passion and glory, of death and of resurrection. There he will enter into communion with Christ.

At that moment, men and God will be one. And at that moment God and man will establish a communication that will never end, a silent communication but infinitely powerful. This will enable men to communicate, in speech and in silence, with one another. Communion with God enriches communication with men to an exhilarating, incredible and fantastic degree.

Yes, a community is a group of persons who have joined together because they are in love with God and in love with men. They want to bring God to men and men to God. They can do it better together than alone. Together we have each other, can console each other, pray for each other, encourage each other.

But to be able to persevere in such a community, one must pray, really pray without ceasing. While making the Eucharistic sacrifice the center of one’s life, communication with God must continue constantly; otherwise, communication with men will cease. The ways and means of prayer of the members must be determined by each community. But prayer there must be. Otherwise there will be no communication and consequently no community.

Catherine Doherty, "A Vision of the Whole." In The People of the Towel and the Water. 2nd ed. (Combermere ON: Madonna House Publications, 1991), 18–24.

Copyright © 1991 Madonna House Publications. ISBN 0-921440-22-7

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