Posted March 04, 2009 in MH Edmonton AB:
The Key to Madonna House Spirituality

by Cheryl Ann Smith.

There I was, a brand new staff worker, standing on the threshold of Madonna House with my two suitcases, ready to take the train to my first assignment—Marian Centre Edmonton. Jean Fox, my director general, gave me her blessing. Then she whispered, "You haven’t met Rae Gene Neubig yet, but she’ll be waiting for you. Learn from her. She has the key to our way of life."

The key to our way of life! I could hardly wait to meet my new mentor. During my three-day journey to Edmonton, I kept wondering about Ray Gene. I pictured her as tall and ascetic looking—a saintly, prayerful woman who exuded peace and the presence of God. I even had a few extra hours to daydream, as snowstorms kept delaying our arrival.

Finally we pulled in about midnight. I tiptoed into my new dorm room, disappointed that I’d have to wait another day to meet the woman with the key to our life.

Suddenly a bedside lamp switched on and a rough, raspy voice drawled, "Well, look what the cat dragged in!" My jaw dropped. This was Rae Gene Neubig or "Nuje" as she was called. She was anything but ascetic-looking; her language was anything but pious; her cackle was anything but holy.

This woman? The key to our life? What on earth was Jean thinking of? I couldn’t help but laugh at this unusual and warm welcome, but holy?! The picture of an ideal staff worker?!

For the first year and a half of my stay in Marian Center Edmonton, I tried to figure out what Jean was trying to tell me. Rae Gene was a poor and broken woman. She struggled with a food addiction and several medical and emotional troubles; she couldn’t follow our schedule; and she didn’t fast and pray—at least that I could see.

She possessed a brilliant mind and an outrageous sense of humor, but that didn’t spell holiness in my book. At times I was scandalized by Nuje. At times I judged her. At times I pitied her for the deep-seated anguish that would periodically erupt in a primal cry.

It wasn’t until my last six months in Marian Centre that I began to understand. I had never heard Nuje speak badly of anyone, not even when she was not treated with dignity and respect. She always seemed ready and able to forgive.

Often I would turn to her for understanding and consolation, and I was not alone in this. Those with hurting hearts invariably found their way to her, whether it was women coming to our gift shop for a chat, or the men of the street. The word that Rae Gene lived was "mercy."

But there was still more for me to learn. One day when I was bemoaning my wretchedness and my inability to "do better," Rae Gene said, "I don’t worry about it. I am so poor and broken, that I have nothing to show for myself to God. I can only rely on his mercy. But I know He gives it."

Suddenly I knew the key Jean wanted me to grasp. Holiness or living our MH spirit to the full has little to do with merit and efforts. Sure, we need to desire a heart of love and a life poured out in service, but we really have nothing with which to commend ourselves to God.

All we can do is call out with the Publican in the parable (or Nuje), "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner."

As Jesus explained in the parable, it’s the one who does this who goes home at rights with God, not the one who believes his prayers and fasting make him righteous.

Our part is to be open and receive.

Rae Gene knew that all she had was the mercy of God. Knowing this is the key to our Madonna House way of life. Knowing this is the key to holiness.


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