I would like now to talk about God's Mandate, as I call it, those little half pages I wrote when I began the apostolate of Friendship House and Madonna House. I have laid down my life for that Mandate. It is our way of life and the spirit of the apostolate.
“Arise — go...” Let's take the word ‘arise.’ To me it always meant a total arising: psychological, intellectual, physical, spiritual. First, however, I must prostrate myself and pray for the courage to arise, for of myself I cannot. Only leaning on God, in faith, can one arise and follow Christ in this total sense.
“Little — be always little.” To be little means to take the last place and never seek the first. A person must die to self to become little! To be little is to know that you are dependent on others. It means to lean on God, to be one of the poor of the Gospel beatitudes. Littleness is knowledge of the fact that you are a creature, utterly dependent on God.
It is not easy to get away from the idea that you are running your own life. It is not easy to ‘fold the wings of your intellect’ again and again, and let God run your life, instead of feeling that you run it yourself.
Being little also means trusting him, not seeking the things that men seek but the kingdom of God. The strange paradox of Christ's words comes to pass as we seek his kingdom. By becoming little, we build that kingdom and he becomes big in us.
Now we come to the two words, “Be simple.” I would like to read you a poem I wrote:
You speak so easily of her they call simplicity.
But do you know the way to her?
It too, is simple, like herself.
Two beams that make a cross
are simple homey things,
to make of trees that grow abundantly.
Three nails so easily come by, so cheap, so simple.
A hammer, an old familiar tool, will do nicely too.
Now your hands and feet.
Simple, familiar parts of you.
You will find simplicity.
The way will be quite simple.
When wood, nails and you are one,
then she is yours.
Let us consider that poem. This is the essence of what old fashioned books call “dying to self.” Perhaps in our modern world we could say kenosis, for we are fond of foreign Hebrew and Greek words of the Bible, and the Greek word kenosis means “emptying of one's self.”
Christ emptied himself for love of us. Consider the Almighty, and stop at the word Almighty, which encompasses everything that God is: beauty, truth, all his attributes. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, descended into the womb of a woman as a seed. Do not try to apprehend or comprehend, but prostrate yourself before the most incomprehensible mystery of this tremendous love that God has shown.
There begins his passion: nine months in the womb of a woman, then birth, sucking at her breast, having his diapers changed, learning to walk. Learning to pray, a paradox of the first magnitude: God praying to himself, and learning how, as a man. Then the growing up process.
The few years of preaching unto the wind, one might say, because the priests, intellectuals of his time, were not simple. They were intensely complex and argued about the law with hair-splitting ability. But he would not allow them to because he was simple. His simplicity can be read, absorbed, understood and felt when you read the Gospel.
He goes to the essence and allows nothing to interfere with its simple message. But our century is not simple, and you and I, to become what he wants us to be, must undergo a kenosis. We must cease to rationalize the Gospel, as we try to do because it is dominated by the sign on the hill of the skull: the cross.
To be simple is to accept the essence of the message and not try to twist it or adapt it to our own ideas. To be simple we must desire to remain in the image of God. We must not be so complex that we make God into our image! Simplicity is dying to self, an emptying.
Let us continue on to “be childlike.” Children trust. I want to be trusting. I want to trust the untrustworthy like Christ did; in order to do so, I must be childlike. Only fools in this world trust the untrustworthy. I want to be a fool like that.
I want to be a child who has wonderment in his eyes. I want to be eternally in wonderment before God's love for me. I want to have childlike joy in my Lord and his creation. I want to be childlike as God was childlike, because he was a child.
Childlikeness is a quality of faith. It bridges abysses, gaps, falls, rivers and even oceans of differences between men. Adults who are childlike for the sake of Christ and of men, who trust everyone and everything with seeming foolishness, with eyes full of wonderment and a heart full of love, these the world will accept.
Now we go to: "Preach the Gospel with your life —without compromise." This means taking the Gospel to heart. How? Firstly, one knows the Gospel. Secondly, one encounters Christ who gave us this Gospel. Thirdly, one knows that one cannot live the Gospel without compromise nor preach it with one's life, unless one is poor, humble: childlike.
Only with Christ, through him and for him, by his grace and his sacraments, can we preach the Gospel with our life. That means we must open ourselves totally to God and in the quiet of our hearts encounter him. It means to be at peace with oneself and one's neighbour, and to pray always.
There are a thousand ways of praying always! The best way is to be aware of God, that he exists. The “Jesus Prayer” is one way, but only one among many. Awareness comes from love. Love is a Person: God. Christ himself is the ‘way’ of the Gospel, and will give us the strength to preach it without compromising.
“Listen to the Spirit” is the next sentence of the Mandate. We are back to openness of heart, of soul, of one's self; not only to God but to other persons, in whom the Spirit dwells. But it is especially important to open one's self directly to the Spirit.
For me that always meant simply kneeling down in my room, in a church, in any place in private and sometimes even in public, and simply saying, “Holy Spirit, I am lost. I don't know which crossroad to take. Help me.” I have never known the Holy Spirit to fail this direct contact with the Advocate, the Helper, the Teacher.
The next sentence is “Love... love... love, never counting the cost.” From personal experience I know that I have to be utterly poor to love that way. I must love with the love of God's heart! There are three accents to love. Love God, love yourself in the way that God wants, and then love your neighbour. At the Last Supper Christ says, “By this shall men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another as I have loved you.” He bids us to love with his heart.
“Go into the marketplace and stay with Me.” It might be any corner of the world. God says, “Come, I am everywhere, but I want you especially in the hearts of men because I am in them and they are in me, as all creation is in me, as the cosmos is in me. Come, I shall be there waiting for you.”
Then come the words “Pray, fast; pray always, fast.” Strangely, when the Catholic Church abolished most of her regulations for fasting (to make it easier for us weaklings and neurotics), to me God said, “Pray and fast. Pray and fast always.” Why?
It must be that the Lord wanted men to recall that without prayer and fasting they cannot reach God as easily as with them. By fasting we can, as St. Paul says, “make up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24)
Prayer and fasting are the lot of the poor. They fast without “fasting” since they do not have much to eat; and because they are hungry, they pray. Let us think about that, too.
Next comes “Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbour's feet.” Strange, paradoxical statements. When you seek hiddenness and not publicity, when you hide yourself in humility, poverty, simplicity and childlikeness, a flame comes over you and over your house: a light that you do not see but that God makes others see, to guide them.
Then we have “Go without fear into the depth of men's hearts. I shall be with you.” We are ordinary, humble lay people. God says to us, “Enter those hearts and listen. I shall be there waiting for you in them.”
We come to the last sentence, “Pray always. I will be your rest.” The Pauper who had nowhere to lay his head tells us that if we share his poverty, if we are little, simple and childlike, if we preach the Gospel with our life and listen to his Spirit, he, the Pauper, will become our rest. For we will be poor together, our God and us.