The Little Mandate

The Little Mandate

How The Little Mandate Came to Be

by Catherine Doherty

The staff members and priests of Madonna House were with me when I orally recorded this background of God's Little Mandate, which is here in written form. The Little Mandate was my original ‘constitution,’ the one I received from God, as it were. I kept it in my heart and have only one copy, written in pencil, which is as close to the original as I can remember.

The Biblical background of the Little Mandate is being written up by one of our priests. Or perhaps I should say that the Scriptures are being applied to it. However that is not the only reason my heart is moved to clarify how this Mandate came to be.

Some people seem to think that on one blessed day or evening or night, some angel or God or our Blessed Mother in some miraculous way dictated this thing to me. And that it came all of a piece, like a ‘Hail Mary’! Since that is far from being the case, I am telling how it came to be.

It is not easy to do, for it means turning my spiritual footsteps back into a painful past. All during my life, however, I have had a modicum of God's peace which grew with the years. I also have had the strange and very quiet joy of God that somehow lays in a cradle of pain. How great the joy and peace, only God knows.

At my birth my mother said to me, “You are born under the shadow of the cross.” She repeated those words to me when I was old enough to understand. Perhaps at the time she meant her giving birth to me in a Pullman car, which must have been a great cross to her. But they obviously were prophetic; the meaning of those words grows deeper by the day. Still, it is a blessing to be born under the shadow of the cross.

Some scenes of my childhood may show how and when this Little Mandate began. I am unable to give dates, years, and hence my age. I am just talking from the heart, and the scenes come on the screen of my memory like parts of a movie. They flash and are gone; they're clearly etched but fade quickly.

St. Francis and an Unfinished Pilgrimage

Let's go back to where I was a small child in kindergarten. Egypt, palm trees, a nun belonging to the Order of Our Lady of Zion and a big school at Ramleh, a suburb of Alexandria, Egypt. A statue of St. Francis in some kind of shrine, surrounded by bougainvillea or some other vivid red flowers. This is how it comes to me.

The young sister with rosy cheeks, in white religious garb, surrounded by us kindergarten kids, telling us the story of St. Francis. My running out and clapping my hands at St. Francis and saying, “I will be like you. I will be very poor, and the birds will eat out of my hands. And if anybody gives me bread, I will share it with the first poor child that I see on the road.” The picture fades.

Now I am a little older. The thought of God is somehow always with me. But don't get the picture that I am one of those children full of saintly thoughts! No. He is around. He is my playmate. I talk to him, play with him. But that is not all the time. I was a very mischievous child and always ‘in hot water’ of some sort.

This day, having read the story of a young woman going on a pilgrimage, I decided to go on a pilgrimage myself. So I collected a long black skirt from someplace (factually it wasn't long, but I was small and so it was long on me) and a big black shawl and an icon that I put on my dress. Off I went through the streets of Petrograd, looking devout, I suppose, and funny, for quite a few people turned to look at me.

I reached the outskirts of Petrograd that day and was on my way to a country road, when the police found me. I must have been conspicuous. Anyhow, I was returned to my parents. Nobody upbraided me. Father only said, “You should have asked permission of your mother and me, or at least you should have had the charity to leave a little note as to where you were going.” That ended the episode.

But in my mind it remained an unfinished business. Later, in my early twenties, the picture kept coming back, with the title, Unfinished Pilgrimage.

Poustinia (Artwork by Patrick Stewart)If You Save Me From This...

Next I see our family's little hunting lodge in Finland: Merri-Lokki, which in Finnish means Sea Gull. Early in the Revolution my husband Boris and I were locked inside it by the Communists and condemned to death by slow hunger. Some of the Finnish villagers at that time were Communist. All they left us were firewood and water, perhaps to prolong the agony.

We were very weak when we were eventually freed, after a battle between Communists and non-Communists not far from our house. I weighed 82 pounds. I had lost a lot of hair; there were bare spots the size of a 50-cent coin here and there on my head. I was swollen up, as people are when hunger lasts too long.

But before our release, there is this picture. I am weak, lying on the floor before the fireplace in Merri-Lokki. It is warm. I am dazed and probably dozing: half asleep, half awake, half alive, half dead. I say to God, “If you save me from this, in some way I will offer my life to you.” These pictures are links in a strange chain that God was forging which I did not realize at the time.

Then Canada, America, and terrible, grinding poverty, a sick husband, a child. I work at Eaton's department store in Toronto. Then my fare to New York is paid by Father McCabe. He knows how little I can make in Canada, with the returning soldiers from the First World War taking the best jobs (and their families, of course, being entitled to this). There I work in a laundry and other such places.

I am poor. I am perhaps poorer than St. Francis. As I look back, some connection is being established by God between the little girl, the beautiful convent school and its kindergarten class, the white nun, palms, red flowers and that little girl saying, “I'm going to be poor like you and the birds are going to eat out of my hands.”

No birds ate out of my hands in New York but I was terribly poor. I was hungry, but with a different hunger than in Merri-Lokki. There, nothing was available to eat. Here there was plenty of food but I had no money to buy it. The poverty of St. Francis was making love to me, though I wasn't aware of it.

A Cup of Tea in the Kitchen

Time marches on and the flashing pictures change. I am now an executive of the Leigh-Emmerick Lecture Bureau. I am making $20,000 a year and travelling to Europe. I have a governess for my son. I have a maid. I have a car. I have a nice apartment.

Everything seems to be going well, but it isn't. Marital difficulties arose in my life at the time. Suffice to say that I got a separation from ‘bed and board’ through the diocese of Montreal, where at the time the baron had his residence. Slowly this affair led to an annulment.

Then against a grey background that has only pictures of daily living, flashes suddenly another. I am in a lovely building in New York. The child is asleep, so is the governess; the maid who comes during the day is not there.

Suddenly I wake up from a very pleasant dream in my room and ‘out of the blue’ that room suddenly vanishes and I am back at Ma Murphy's boarding house. Three in a bed, six in a room, with only enough space between the beds for a wash stand holding an old-fashioned basin and pitcher. There are two chairs, an old dresser, and nails on the wall on which to hang our clothes. Laundresses do not have a big wardrobe.

So vivid, when I awoke, was this transition from my pleasant bedroom to Ma Murphy's boarding house, that I went to the kitchen, made myself a cup of tea without waking anyone, and started thinking. I remembered words which I had forgotten, my words to God when half dead, half alive, half awake, half asleep: I had promised to give my life to God in some manner.

At a certain point that night, while sitting with a cup of tea in the kitchen of my nice apartment in New York, a question came to me. Perhaps I asked it of myself: “Has God saved me from death in Russia so that I should return to bourgeois society, become rich again and give my soul a ‘middle-age spread’ and a lot of fat?” In truth the wording seemed to be: “Why have I saved you?” It came to me as if God were speaking to me and using the pronoun ‘I’. Can God speak to people through their thoughts?

There remains this picture of the kitchen and the tea; I can even see the pattern of the cup. There is the stark electric light illuminating the kitchen. Everything is vivid.

From that day on, a certain uneasiness entered my life. But don't get any erroneous ideas. I was going around having quite a few outings and dancing and having a good time. I was earning good money. I was travelling to Europe. Life seemed to be a bowl of cherries and except for my marital situation, which was developing into a personal tragedy, outwardly none of those cherries were sour.

Yet, like background music barely heard, the question asked in the kitchen was repeating itself. Barely heard, passing through my heart and mind and soul like a little shadow passes over the sun, to be forgotten the next instant.

A Strange Restlessness

However, from the very beginning of my days as a refugee I remembered that part of dedicating one's life to God is sharing one's goods with others. There are letters in our archives from the Russian colony in New York and Canada, in Montreal especially, that testify to the fact that I put a lot of money into needy hands and helped to build a Russian Church in Toronto.

In that sense perhaps my life was a little dedicated to God. Surely, the little girl who clapped her hands at St. Francis and promised that if she got bread she would share it, did actually do so. I didn't see then that another link was being forged; it was just the natural thing to do.

But a strange restlessness took hold of me. I threw myself into the social world. Through the Lecture Bureau I was dealing with celebrities and those who wanted celebrities. I knew all the ‘important people’ in America who were interested in culture; those in Junior Leagues and men's clubs. I was young, passably good-looking and had my own problems along those lines.

Another picture comes: I'm dancing with a very handsome gentleman, whom grandmother would say was “paying me violent court,” and having a lot of fun. Then in the midst of a dance, I really thought I heard Christ laugh. (I imagine my subconscious was girded to all the things that I'm trying to explain to you.)

It seemed that he laughed a beautiful laugh and said to me, “Do you think you can escape from me that way?” This startled me and I pleaded headache and had my friend bring me home. Can you imagine: upon arriving home and seeing his taxi depart, I went out and took another taxi to St. Peter's Church. It was always open as it served firemen, policemen, nurses and the like, and had Masses at night. There I prayed, because I was startled!

From that day on, this restlessness grew. For most of my life I had been a daily communicant but now I began to pray, which to me means reading the Gospel and meditating or contemplating. I began to go into private retreats at various convents. Still the restlessness increased.

Sobornost (Artwork by Patrick Stewart)Arise — go! Sell all you possess...

I was not very happy. I asked myself, “What is it?” and, as usual, opened the Bible to obtain the answer. The page fell open to: “Arise, go, sell all you possess, take up your cross and follow Me.” I closed the book and said, “This is all very fine for single people who have vocations to the priesthood or religious life, but it isn't for me. I have a son.”

My uneasiness increased. I cut back on my social activities. My dreams became recurrent and were filled with the poor with whom I had lived: the laundresses, waitresses, factory workers, and the slums, the boarding house of Ma Murphy.

I went to Graymoor Monastery. Father Paul, the founder, was absent and I talked to Mother Laurana. She thought I should be a nun. She said there were canon laws that would take care of my son. I never took to canon law! She made me sign an application to the convent; references to it are in our archives. I both did and did not feel that this was an answer to my restlessness and my searching, my dreams and my vigils.

So I kept going back to the Book, and a strange phenomenon happened. No matter when I opened the Bible, it fell open at the same sentence: “Arise, go, sell what you possess, give it to the poor and follow Me.” My Bible seemed to be jinxed.

To my friends I must have seemed peculiar at the time, because even at a party I would ask if they had a Bible or New Testament. Usually they had, and I would open it, thinking that perhaps my own book was rather set on that page. No matter whose Bible I took, and I even went to the public library and opened one there, it always opened at the same sentence.

There is such a thing as fear of the Lord, and this repetitious message made me think that he really meant business, but what kind of business? What did he want from me?

During those times I remembered the picture that had almost never left me at one point: Merri-Lokki, hunger, half dead, half alive, pain, half asleep, half awake before a good fire in the fireplace. And my promise, “If you get me out of here I shall give my life to you.” Was he telling me how to give my life to him?

Back to Mother Laurana. The next time I went to Graymoor, Father Paul was there and he laughed and jokingly said to Mother Lurana, “You are an intelligent woman, but that was a stupid thing to do. ” Then came a sentence that remained with me: “Catherine is predestined to do something else on her own.” Those words stayed with me. From the very depth of my memory came a scene I had completely forgotten, brought back by these words of Father Paul.

The Blessing of the Staretz

Boris and I had fought the Communists; that is to say, I was a nurse and he belonged to the British Royal Engineers in the Arctic, in Murmansk. During a lull in the fighting, we decided to make a pilgrimage to the Island of Solovky, of which we have a picture hanging on the wall in Madonna House.

It was an island on which was an immense monastery with a big church. There, even in the Arctic, the monks had made the island ‘bloom.’ Three staretzi, or very holy monks, lived there, as I recall.

It was a type of contemplative monastery that allowed the members to go into hermitages or poustinias. They were real poustiniks; they were priests who could offer Mass in the poustinias. Only once a month the poustiniks came together, to participate in the holy Liturgy at the monastery church. Then they went back to their hermitages in the wilderness, and wilderness it was.

As Russian abbots usually do, the abbot himself received us, hospitably, with water to wash our face and hands, for he couldn't wash our feet, since it was cold and we wore mukluks. Then he announced to us that we had come on a very wonderful and unusual day.

It was customary at this monastery, after a holy man had lived 30 years in the poustinia, for the abbot to recall him to begin living in community at the monastery. One of these wise and holy men had been recalled that very day, and the abbot told us we could visit him.

We entered a simple cell and on a bench was sitting a frail old man, whose silvery grey hair stood out, making a halo around his head. His grey straggly beard fell low on his chest. His lined cheeks were pink and in the blue eyes of this old man I saw the eyes of a child. We chatted awhile and then asked for his blessing. The first to be blessed was Boris. The staretz blessed him beautifully and wonderfully, but didn't say anything extraordinary.

When I knelt for the blessing, his hands on my head brought warmth to my whole body and my heart jumped with joy. I felt very happy. He lifted my chin, looked into my eyes and said, “Child, you are predestined by God to do great works for him. You will suffer much but don't be afraid. Follow where he leads. Go in his footsteps.” Then he blessed me with the usual long blessing.

We walked out of there, Boris and I. wondering what the words of this holy man to me meant. Can you imagine that I forgot them completely, and they only came back when Father Paul tore up my application to the convent of the holy Sisters of the Atonement? Such are the tricks that memory plays. Without my being aware, another link was forged.

Strannik (Artwork by Patrick Stewart)A Patchy Thing

Time went on and fear was replaced by awe. I recalled the girl who went on a pilgrimage but never finished it. There before me lay a pilgrimage of sorts, but unlike the first, this was an inner pilgrimage. I had to find out what it was that God wanted me to do. It got so that I couldn't sleep or eat very well and I had to do something.

In the meantime I was consulting priests about my restlessness, though not explaining things with the clarity I have now. One after another told me it was the temptation of the devil because my vocation was to care for my son George. I was mother and father to him. One suggested that I sprinkle my bed with holy water. I poured a whole quart of holy water on the bed and slept on the floor! Yet with all this, the uneasiness would not leave me.

Here I want to reiterate very clearly that this Little Mandate did not come to me dictated, or as a whole, but as I am telling it now. Get the picture: it could happen any place, any time, in the midst of a group, in my office, at lunch in a cafeteria. Suddenly a little light, a little added word would come to me. I used to write them down on scraps of paper, on the back of old envelopes, in some diary, maybe lost or forgotten now; though some of them are still here. It was a patchy thing.

When you are subjected over a period of years to that sort of fragmented communication, as if you take a piece of meat, hack off a piece and then another and another, what are you going to do? Make a stew or what? You don't know. The meat gets chopped into smaller pieces. The words all came that way, in the confusion and noise of traffic, amidst the life of the marketplace.

Today, looking back, I can say, grinning a little, that perhaps our Apostolate is in the marketplace and to the marketplace because God spoke to me in the marketplace! And He didn't speak in a nice continuous monologue but in patchy sentences, like dying people do. I have no other similes or ways of expressing it.

Added to that, my marital life was ebbing and flowing tragically. So all this was coming at me from God at that time when I was in my own little hell, shall we say. Words fail me to express this agony, this search, this pilgrimage, this restlessness that was almost a terror.

It was a pilgrimage of faith. God was giving me more faith or wishing to give me more faith. He was disturbing me and doing things utterly ‘hippie’ style, certainly not according to Hoyle's Book of Rules.

I've read all the books of the holy founders and foundresses. No, it was not clear like that! It was as if I were the man besieged by robbers, lying on some roadside or sidewalk, and God gave me the wine and oil of a little clarity. Or it was not yet clarity but his presence. At least the words soothed my wounds for awhile, until the pain of questing to make sense out of it came again.

God was pursuing me across the arches of time. In a sense, I wanted him off my back. I wanted to say, “Stop bothering me.” But every time these negative attitudes came into my heart some little word would come from somewhere. God in His mercy was giving me clarification.

I was continuing the pilgrimage of the little girl in Petrograd. It was as if he wanted me to understand and was helping me on that pilgrimage. He was helping me find the right way at the crossroads, helping me not to get off the narrow path, helping me.

Directly, Personally

Then those biblical words enlarged themselves. After the words, “Arise, go, sell all that you possess and give it to the poor,” the word “directly” came. I still had money, a salary, some bonds and stocks, and a car. I could have sold all this and given the cheque to the Propagation of the Faith, to the missions, even to the Welfare Department, in one swoop. But God in his mercy wanted to make me understand that I had to give it directly, personally.

I remembered that in Russia when the rich wanted to become a staretz (a holy, wise person) or a urodivoi (an intelligent person who becomes a beggar and assumes the face of an idiot to atone for the fact that Christ was called a fool), they gathered their money and distributed it directly to the poor, from hand to hand.

A friend of my father had done that. He had much money and turned it into gold and silver, went into the poor section and gave it away directly, from his hand into the hand of the poor.

Then came these words: “Take up My cross, their cross, and follow Me.” I understood that he identified his cross with the cross of the poor. Not that it helped me to make a decision, but it was a gift of God.

If I remember correctly, I was in a station waiting for a train when the words, “being one with them, one with Me” came to mind. The rhythm of the train was like background music to the words: “going to the poor, going to the poor, being poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me, one with Me.” They seem to be connected with the movement of the wheels of a train.

Clearly I had to go to the poor. I had to retrace my steps, now voluntarily, into a land into which I had been propelled by historic conditions. It was a land I did not enjoy and that I wanted very much to get out of, and did: the land of poverty, a grinding kind of poverty in the New World. I had achieved that goal. I had escaped this land. But now God asked me to go back voluntarily for his sake. He kept showing me, haltingly, where and to whom I had to go.

Being Poor, Being One With Them

All kinds of things began to happen simultaneously. I decided to resign from the Leigh-Emmerick Bureau: a stepping away from wealth. I would go back to Toronto and rent a house or maybe a few rooms and buy some furnishings. I would offer my services to Archbishop Neil McNeil, although I had no idea in what line they might be put to use. I was not ready to talk to him, though, about this whole upsetting thing.

The resignation from Leigh-Emmerick Lecture Bureau was not easy. At first I went to Montreal for awhile. There was the problem of appearing before the judge, something connected with the annulment. Emmerick followed me there and tried to get me to change my mind and come back.

But I was somehow firm in that idea. Because by now this whole spiritual thing was taking hold of me, this dialogue between God and me, or his monologue and my listening. But I did answer, so it could be called a dialogue.

Finally I made my way to Toronto. My son George was with me; he was 8 years old when I first talked to the Archbishop in 1929. I had given up a job with a big salary. I was obeying God's call, or beginning to, like a person gingerly putting their foot into a river to find out the temperature, before jumping in.

The archbishop gave me a job: he wanted a private survey of the inroads of communism. Having been away in New York, I was not very well known in the slums of Toronto and so was an anonymous face amongst the poor, although I knew high society, of course. The bishop paid me $50 dollars a month or a week, as I recall. I had a big lower apartment on Isabella Street and could rent rooms. George was going to school and I was doing the job of surveying.

I kept pondering over the first paragraph of the Mandate. By pondering I mean prayer, fasting, some vigils, but mostly trying to get into the depths of every word. What did the Spirit or the Lord himself through the Spirit really mean: “going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me”?

I was asking God to give me clear answers, and He very seldom does that, it seems, because he demands faith. But his mercy is so great that occasionally shafts of light come through.

Now at no time, not for an instant in all this agony of clarification, in this confusion, fear and pain, did I think of a group, or of being a foundress of anything! It never once crossed my mind. God kept absolute silence on that subject. Everything that transpired between him and me was on a personal basis, applying, as I saw it, to me alone. So I was seeking personal answers, never, I repeat, realizing a following.

Molchanie (Artwork by Patrick Stewart)Bethlehem and Nazareth

The next step was: “sell all that you possess.” I was in agony about that. It meant giving directly to the poor, being one with them, in the same place physically and geographically. Through being geographically and physically poor myself and with them, I would seemingly be one with Christ.

I was led to think about (in a sort of daydreaming state), of all places, Bethlehem and Nazareth. Since I was to return to the state of poverty, my only alternative would be to start at Bethlehem and allow this vocation to be born there.

What was Bethlehem in the context of this travail of my soul? It meant a cave. But if I were going to the modern poor, it meant the inner city, the ghetto, the slums. It meant I had to go and live in the poorest section of the city, on the same level as those who lived there. It meant that I should go back to menial, poorly paid jobs, becoming one with the poor and hence with Christ, by living exactly like them.

A tiny little accent of service intruded very simply into my living and loving and witnessing to Christ. For the little girl who clapped her hands before St. Francis and wanted to be poor like him, also had promised to share her bread with anyone she met. It occurred to me that I could do little things and thus give ‘bread’ to those I met.

If I worked as a waitress, for instance, during my hours off work I could gratuitously baby-sit or do a little housekeeping for poor, tired, sick mothers. I could nurse a little in a neighbourly way; not officially, lest my status be revealed and I be different from them. I envisioned myself doing what is called ‘neighbourly services,’ but as one of them, fully accepted, a poor working woman and doing these things.

That would be Bethlehem, the state of poverty. Factually I would be living in Nazareth, because that is what God, His mother and St. Joseph did. What little they had, they shared. They were not abjectly poor; they were working poor people. Mary must have baby-sat and nursed. Didn't she deliver a baby for her cousin Elizabeth?

Little — Be Always Little

One evening when I was meditating, I dropped into St. Basil's Church and these words came to me: “Little, be always little, simple, poor, childlike. “ At least I associate them with a church. They brought me joy. Of course, I had to be little! The Baby in Bethlehem was little and the type of vocation that was opening to me demanded littleness and simplicity.

Obviously, if I were to live in the slums as one of the people, nobody there must know that I was a baroness and was educated. To most of the people, I would be “Katie the Polack.” I have, as you know through the book Dear Bishop, which I wrote on another occasion when I went into the slums for the Church, a way of blending with the poor. My Russian accent was a tremendous help in this case.

It was not easy to be simple. I equated the word ‘simple’ with a true identification with the poor and therefore with leaving behind not only money and goods, but also my intellect. I could, of course, use public libraries but I couldn't have intellectual books in my room. I couldn't in any way betray this higher education, this more developed intellect, lest I alienate the poor from me.

To be simple is to go to the essence. I almost want to call it holy simplicity; it certainly is a gift of God. Nothing was yet clear. I was still the little girl in Russia trying to finish the pilgrimage she began. The inner me seemed to be journeying in a country without roads, or with many paths among which I didn't know which to choose.

Simplicity meant facing without rationalization the type of life I would have to undertake, and all its effects and results. I had to lay these out in utter simplicity, face them and say a fiat’ or ‘yes’ to them.

Who can always be little? A child. So therefore that sentence: “Little, be always little, simple, poor, childlike.” I had to be childlike in order to be simple and little. And because I was not a child, because I was a complex personality, I would have to become poor in another sense.

So at this point two ideas of poverty were working in my soul: one, physical and geographical; and one transcendent, very difficult to catch. I skirted around it like you skirt around a mystery, or skirt around a tower to find a door.

Being poor included inner poverty, a detachment from intellect. Not an abdication from thinking but an abdication from the tools of thinking: conversations, books, music. In the reality of daily living it meant accepting, for an indefinite amount of time — maybe a lifetime, the abdication of many things that appeared to be part of my personality and my needs. It meant a reliance on God exclusively.

I got glimpses through the Holy Spirit that it was a tremendously deep and difficult surrender that was asked of me. For I was not a little child. I was an intellectual and had other gifts. This demanded a giving over of one's inner self with a childlike trust.

That is why I coined this prayer, much later in my life: “Give me the heart of a child and the awesome courage to live it out.’ Now, ‘post-partum,’ I know what it takes to do that. But even then I knew it was going to be the most difficult task of what God was telling me.

My devotion to the Child of Bethlehem helped me. He had surrendered his intellect, his God-like intellect. He had become a child. Nobody knew who he was, inside of himself.

Because God became a baby and then a carpenter, I knew that I had to surrender my intellect in some way, according to my little ability in comparison to His. It couldn't be used as it would have been if I had lived according to my real state of life.

Preach the Gospel With Your Life

So time passed on. As I got more light on God's calling, the more scared and the less sure I became and the more I wanted advice from priests. How glad I was, in one way, when they said, “This is from the devil and don't pay any attention to it.”

What is very strange is that usually a priest's word soothes my soul. But not in this case. I listened to a lot of priests and in a way that I cannot transmit in words, I thought they were wrong. Now that created another tension. For who was I, a young woman, to stand up against all those good holy priests? Yet my soul was not at peace with their advice.

I was mulling over all these things while working on the survey of Communist infiltration amongst Catholics in Toronto that Archbishop McNeil had commissioned me to do. While doing the survey, I myself ‘infiltrated’ everywhere with what I call ‘the chit-chat apostolate'! The Archbishop eventually gave my 95-page report to Father Lamphier who used much of it on his Sunday radio program, the “Catholic Hour” of Toronto.

Meanwhile, in a quiet, inconspicuous way I began to give away all that I didn't need of the wardrobe I had accumulated from the days of New York. Then a few of the paintings, and a little of the furniture, still inconspicuously. I wasn't ready for anything else. I was giving of my surplus, not of my necessity. I was just beginning to implement the first part of this tumultuous vocation.

Then came these sentences: “Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit, He will lead you.” I had started an informal study club with six or seven interested people and we were studying the papal encyclicals, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. Quite unconsciously, I found myself repeating to the group, “Fundamentally, it all amounts to preaching the Gospel with your life: not only through your work but with your whole life.”

In those days I had very clearly in mind the old division between priests and laity. I almost meant that it was officially left to the priests to preach the Gospel through their words, through their mouths. That part was entrusted to them by God, enhanced by the sacrament of the priesthood which made them Teachers of the Word. They were doers also, but especially teachers, for when they spoke from the altar, Christ spoke.

Listen to the Spirit

People began to ask me what it meant to preach the Gospel with one's life, without compromise. I was Russian and had been brought up on the Bible, especially the New Testament, so I could apply it to this and that situation: economic, political and so on. I also turned to God and prayed.

Late one night I was home and again lying before a fireplace, much like in Russia. But this time I was very alive, not at all asleep and not hungry, except for knowledge: the type of knowledge one cannot get through books. I always believed that if you really want to know something about God, his will, or a mystery of the faith, you have to ask God very simply and then be passive. It will come.

Lying before this fireplace, I asked God to explain to me about this “Preach the Gospel with your life without compromise,” but mostly about the part ‘with your life,’ because it bothered me. In the passivity of the Spirit, I waited for an answer, for the Gospel says, “Ask and you shall receive.” I was sure that sooner or later I would receive it, because I asked it in the name of Jesus Christ and of the Father.

Clear like crystal, a thought came to me: “Listen to the Spirit, He will lead you.” Now, to a Russian, that's a perfect answer! Then I stopped thinking, for when such answers come it's best to fold the wings of one's intellect, accept them and rejoice and glorify God.

Time marched on and the whole deal was lying fallow. I was visiting the poor, going to the Communist's homes, talking to people who had become Communists from the Catholic faith, writing reports. My days were occupied.

In the evenings I had a social life, much less than in New York and directed more toward the spiritual. Through those study clubs, lots of people who were interested in God, or began to be, visited me and we talked. There was music and fun and movies, but everything was toning down. No one among my friends noticed the change very much.

So we come to the next sentence: “Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.” It came out of nowhere and fitted in.

Urodivoi (Artwork by Patrick Stewart)Love and a Life Offered for Priests

Then, “Love, love, love, never counting the cost.’ Well, love bothered me from childhood. Here an image or two comes to me. During those months and years my thoughts often returned to my fatherland, to the words of my father and mother, of the Russian priests and people. I read Russian books.

I recalled a scene from my childhood, in Egypt or India. I was in a convent school and was 11 or 12 years old. We were having a retreat given by a Jesuit priest and the last talk was on the priesthood. This holy Jesuit loved his confreres very much and in language understandable to the young, he was explaining what a priest is. He hinted at their loneliness and the need that priests have for prayers.

Then he said a very strange sentence, since he was addressing such a young group. He said, “When you grow up, one day some of you will even offer your lives for priests.” He probably meant religious life or contemplative life.

But with my literalness in regard to spiritual verities, I pondered this and asked permission to talk with the holy priest, since we were allowed a private interview. With my characteristic directness I said, “Father, why do I have to wait until I am grown up to offer my life for priests? I love priests. I want to offer my life now.”

He looked at me over his spectacles and said: “It will require a lot of love, of a certain type. Only people who love terribly much can really offer their life. You are a little too young to know about that kind of love.”

I replied simply, “Father, I want terribly much to offer my life. It is in my heart. I don't know about this type of love you are talking about (though I didn't say it that way; I was a polite girl). I don't understand many things, but I do love priests. I love God, I love priests, and priests are Jesus Christ. I want to offer my life for them now.”

He sat there thoughtfully and asked if I really understood a little, and meant it. I said yes. So he told me to kneel down and repeat a very simple formula: “I, Catherine, want to offer my life for priests. I am a young girl and I am doing it as a young girl can. Please accept my offering.” This isn't the exact wording but the essence.

One thing I know: in my soul I, Catherine Kolyschkine, aged 11 or 12, wanted to do it, with an inner feeling of great desire; and when I left I was joyous. I have never taken back this offering.

It brought me to think about love, the kind of love he was talking about. So I asked my mother about it: “How does one love God? How does one love priests?” She looked at me and smiled and said, “Infinitely. “ I asked, “What does it mean, that love is infinite?” She said, “Without end and without measure. “ Well, I couldn't go any further than that.

Another picture comes to me. I am at the sacrament of confession in Russia. The first question this old priest asks me is, “Child, how much do you love your enemies?” I was very puzzled. I didn't know I had enemies. So he said, “Maybe now you have none but in the future you will. Always examine your conscience as to how you love your enemies. For only if you love them well are you fulfilling God's commandment of love."

Here again the word love intrigued me, in an adolescent fashion. The love the Jesuit spoke of for priests, and the love for one's enemies, seemed awfully big. What my mother had said, “love without end,” seemed immense. In my early youth I had in these ways met the word ‘love.’ So when the sentence “Love without counting the cost” came, it seemed natural.

Utterly Public and Exceedingly Hidden

One day after Mass, like a bolt of lightning, came the sentence: “Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast; pray always, fast.” That was like a light in the dark and seemed to connect everything. The answer of the Spirit was there, telling me that I could only do this if I prayed and fasted. I felt joyous and unconfused. I relaxed.

I prayed more, and fasted. My soul began awakening to the fact that not everything had yet been clarified or understood. I went into a retreat and the last part of the Little Mandate came to me: “Be hidden, be a light to your neighbour's feet. Go without fears into the depth of men's hearts; I shall be with you. Pray always. I will be your rest.” Very dimly I understood. By going to my Bethlehem and Nazareth, identifying myself with the poor and living their life, living the Gospel without compromise, loving always and remaining little, I would be hidden as Christ was hidden in Nazareth. I considered Nazareth to be the center of my vocation. Only by being hidden would I be a light to my neighbour's feet in the slums.

But the part, “Go without fear into the depths of men's hearts, I shall be with you” I did not understand at all. It became clear to me only much later when I noticed that people invited me into the depths of their hearts each time I fearlessly went there. I must admit that these fears are taken away only by an outward or inward sign of the cross: lo and behold, I meet Christ.

Now all this was written down and I went to Archbishop Neil McNeil with this ‘mandate.’ He listened very carefully and said, “Yes, this is from God. You are called to the lay apostolate. I will bless it.” The ways of God appeared incomprehensible to me.

Later the archbishop said something which made me feel that he knew from the beginning that my vocation was not to be a loner in the slums, hidden in Nazareth for my span of life. Nor was I to have no preaching by word of mouth, lecturing or writing to do! Still, as I look now at my life, it is hidden. Yes, even yet it is both totally revealed, utterly public and exceedingly hidden.

Very humbly, and a little shyly, tremblingly, I give you this background. You see, it is not easy to take a lance and plunge it into one's own heart to show its beatings. It requires a sort of openness that I always speak about, so I have to live it. Though it is an agony, I feel my love must give this to you and not count the cost. I thank God and Our Lady and the Holy Spirit that I had the strength to say it. Alleluia!

The Little Mandate:

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 fears into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you.

Pray always. I will be your rest.

Related publications

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