Pierced By Delight

by Jeremiah Barker, former MH working guest

Every year at the end of our spiritual formation program*, each of the men participating gives a short farewell speech. This year, the following, addressed to the Madonna House community, was one of them.

Eddie Doherty**, in his book A Cricket in My Heart, looking back on his departure from Chicago to the Canadian back bush, reflects: “Now I can see Our Lady of the Seven Swords getting into the train with us, riding with us through the beauty of the territory, as the old-fashioned narrow-gauge train meandered through beauty on its way to Barry’s Bay.”

Our Lady of the Swords got into the Model T Ford that was waiting for them at the Bay, and she arrived with them here at this “fishing shack” on the Madawaska.

She’s been here ever since. I’ve gotten to know her myself, and I’ve done so in getting to know you all in this community—in working with you, in chit-chatting with you, in celebrating the liturgy and the seasons, in hearing Scripture, in feasting and fasting.

Through this community, Our Lady of the Swords of Sorrow has given me a sword—the sword of delight. And the sword of delight, I’ve been learning here, has a sharp edge. That edge is called reverence.

Life here has placed in my heart the conviction that any sword that bears the name of “delight” but does not have this sharp edge of reverence is not truly delight, and it is incapable of penetrating the heart.

Only a delight that reveres what it delights in is a true delight.

Just prior to my coming to Madonna House, I was rather violently wielding the sword of false delight. Instead of allowing our Lord to pierce my heart with the sword of reverential delight, I seized upon its superficial imitation, and thrashing it about violently, I injured people I love, and left myself bruised and battered.

For the first few months here at Madonna House, the Gospel Acclamation on Sunday mornings was the bitterest part of my week. I simply could not sing the “alleluia,” haunted as I was by the wounds my self-indulgence had inflicted on others.

The Gospel was something I had lost the capacity to delight in. But even then, Our Lady of the Swords—through you—was already penetrating my heart with the sword of delight—a cool river to swim in, beautiful people to chit-chat with, holy work to pour myself into, a mystical liturgy to enwrap me in wonder, food and drink to enjoy, renunciations to embrace.

Here at the Training Center and at the Nazareth community of St Mary’s, you have taught me what makes it possible for this chaste delight to penetrate the heart, and how different that is from wielding the blunt sword of lust that does violence to all around.

The sharp edge of reverence that distinguishes the sword of delight from the sword of lust has carved out in this community a space for gentleness to grow, and it is carving out this same space in my heart. It is the space carved out in the heart of the poustinik***. Catherine Doherty writes that “the poustinik should have a gentle attitude toward himself, toward other people, and toward all God’s creation. “In other words,” she goes on, “the attitude of the poustinik is one of cosmic tenderness, a tenderness toward all God’s creatures.”

Pope Francis wrote a prophetic encyclical about this cosmic tenderness, Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home), and though this was something I already believed in ideologically before coming here, it took you in this community to wield for me the sword of delight and carve out in my own heart a space in which that fruit of the Holy Spirit—gentleness—could grow. You did it by the way you loved me and did not seize upon me as an object of mere use; you did it by the way you drew me toward your hearts, but did not swallow me up there. You did it by the way you deflected me towards the one upon whom your hearts are set—your lover Jesus Christ.

You carved out this space in my heart in simple ways—in the ways you affirmed me, in the ways you corrected me, in the ways you trained me, and in the ways you demonstrated what it is to be in love with the Lord. You did it in your chaste love for me, in the ways you abstain and in the ways you feast.

Thank you for being Madonna House, and for being receptive to my delight in you.

* A live-in program at MH Combermere for men discerning priesthood.

** Husband of Catherine Doherty, the founder of Madonna House

*** A person living a particular kind of contemplative life.