Posted July 27, 2009:
She Lived the Little Way

by Fr. David May.

This article is adapted from the homily at the funeral Mass for Elsie Whitty. The scripture readings are Is 25:6-10, Ps 22/23, Mt 11:25-30

In 1953 Catherine Doherty was giving a conference for those who were about to make Promises. This is before Elsie came to Madonna House, but there’s something about it that has everything to do with today’s Gospel and the way the Lord worked in Elsie’s life. It is about surrender.

"Total surrender can only be made to God. The road to surrender is narrow and very steep. You will have to walk it with unshod feet. You have to leave all garments behind, and clothed only in will of mine, you must take the staff of simplicity, and eat only the bread of fidelity. The only cloak that covers thee is the cloak of charity.

"Then, as the road gets steeper and narrower, wounds will appear, seen or unseen. But love will drive up a soul to the heights, against all the cold, steep stone.

"And then, on top, from whence one can see the throne, even on this earth, the soul will know total surrender—unless it takes the other way, which can get it there as well.

"Which is the ‘little way’ of children. Then they must enter into the heart of God, and there be crushed till they be no more. Then he who was obedient to death will restore their heart to them, and then it won’t be theirs but his….

"Both ways are good. And he will tell to each, which to choose. But there is no surrender outside of them."

Catherine spoke about the "little way" of children, and the Gospel of this Mass speaks about the little ones who have received the great mysteries: I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever, and revealing them to mere children (Mt 11:25).

I had a feeling, as I was praying about this Mass and praying about Elsie, that her way is the second way, the "little way" of children, which, as we’ve heard, is just as deep and gets you just as far.

What are these things in the Gospel? I bless you, Father, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever. I’ve wondered for years: what are "these things"?

I noticed, in looking at this Gospel yet again last night that five times the Lord uses the word, "Father" in this section. Five times: I bless you, Father…. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleases you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father just as no one knows the Father except the Son.

So you know, if you’re a mere child, or if you’re an infant, as it’s sometimes translated, "Father" is a big word. It’s a very big word.

For little children in the spiritual life, "Father" is everything. It has been revealed that there is One who loves us with a tender, strong, caring love—and he is Father to his children. He loves his children, and he has a plan for them. And he is strong enough to take care of them. He has a whole cosmos in his hands.

When you know "Father," you have a peace and a joy that comes no other way. Only the little ones, apparently, can receive this revelation. We pray for that "littleness" that I think Elsie understood very well.

The other word that is in this section three times is "the Son": "Everything has been entrusted to Me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. The Father sent the Son.

If you’re little, this word, "Son" is also very big. The Son is the One sent by God the Father, to establish the kingdom. This kingdom comes every day. Every day the kingdom is being established.

We often have a very static idea of the work of God the Father. We have a saying, which I don’t think Elsie adhered to: "God is in his heaven"—which there’s some truth to, of course.

But for us Christians, God is on earth establishing his kingdom. For us, this kingdom is always coming. It’s always being given.

But if I’m "clever" in this sense the word is used in this Gospel story, then I’m always assessing whether or not that kingdom is coming. And I’m drawing my conclusions based on the evidence of my senses.

But not a little child! A little child knows something that I don’t know—if I’m clever. And that is: Yes, it’s coming. Perhaps in ways I don’t understand, but it’s coming, because it’s from my Father! He sent his Son. He’s always faithful. The kingdom is here. I have no doubt about that—if I am small, if I’m a child.

That means—and here’s a word not in this Gospel—be prepared for paradox. And mystery. It says that it is revealed. It has to be revealed; no one would know this unless it was revealed.

The kingdom comes as mystery and paradox. But it comes!

So, what does that mean when you’re working as a midwife on a little island in the Caribbean that the whole world has forgotten, except for those who are from that place? You’re up on a hill on that island, during the night, helping give birth to a baby and taking care of it. Is that that kingdom? Okay.

The kingdom is coming too, in Haifa in Israel where you’re working as a nurse. "The whole world is totally frustrated as to how peace can ever be brought there, but You want me to love and hold this one Arab woman’s hand when she is in labor? Okay."

"Whatever You ask, I’ll do—because the kingdom is coming. I believe that. And if I believe it, I can do whatever is asked of me. I’m not too worried about how it all holds together or about the statistics—ecclesial or otherwise. I’m not clever when it comes to statistics. I’m too taken up with what my Father is doing."

This is the joy of the Gospel. This is for the lowly and the humble of heart.

The Lord says something very interesting next, in this Gospel. He says, My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Mt 11:30) Have you ever questioned that line? Have you ever at least wondered what the Lord meant by that line? What is his yoke? In catechism classes, the ones who are quickest to answer usually say, "the cross" or something like that.

But I wonder if that’s the right answer. I wonder if that’s the answer Elsie would give.

Suppose that the Lord’s "yoke" is his Father’s will, his Father’s desire. Accent on his Father’s will.

Our accent, on the other hand, is very often the Father’s will. "Thy will be done." Versus: "Thy will be done."

There’s a lightness in that. I think that’s what Jesus may have meant. He was always with his Father. Whatever his Father asked, whatever it was—it could be anguish; it could be light and joyous—but it’s his Father’s communion! It’s life with his Father!

People who know this have a certain lightness. Because they’re with their Father, who is the One who, after all, is bringing the kingdom. Their life has an excitement about it, because there is a Father.

Sophisticated souls and bones don’t like that kind of talk. And to the extent I still have sophisticated bones, I say: "Huh. That’s not really the way life is. Life is tough. Life can be terrible. Life is difficult. Life is burdensome. Life is challenging. Life asks questions—unanswered." That’s true, if I’m like that.

But suppose I’m really with my Father. Then I can be bold. Then I can say, "Yes, I agree. Life is a feast. Life is a banquet. It is a time of rejoicing. It is a Eucharist. It is a lavish gift poured out."

It is that, because it’s from my Father! He doesn’t hold back. He’s extremely generous. He gives all. On this mountain the Lord Sabaoth will prepare for all peoples (Is 25:6). It’s a big banquet—a banquet of rich food of fine wines.

What a beautiful prophecy of the Eucharist, first of all, and of the eternal banquet, the eternal Eucharist, that we all hope to eventually partake of.

Elsie loved a banquet. Elsie loved to celebrate. I’m trying to suggest the deep roots of why she loved to celebrate. Not for a little relief from troubles, but as an expression of the joy that was within her.

God’s banquet is unique, though. What happens at this banquet, God’s banquet, God’s Eucharist, God’s gift of life? Death is swallowed up. Death is destroyed. The shroud enwrapping all nations is removed (Is 25:7). And shame is taken away. An interesting banquet! Unique! There’s a power in it, a power that brings its partakers from death to life!

This is the rich banquet that Elsie lived.

Here’s another beautiful thing: When you know life is a banquet, like Elsie knew it, you serve a banquet. In a sense, you become a banquet. You can give a lot, because you’re imbibing, and you want others to know the banquet.

How on earth does a Madonna House staff worker like Elsie—or anyone who loves in the way Elsie loved—communicate the victory of the kingdom through a cup of tea or coffee?

When she saw you, she’d say, "Oh, welcome!" And her eyes would light up. "So good to see you." And you knew she meant it. And so often when you told her something, she’d say, "Splendid!" "Wonderful!" And you knew she meant it.

Suddenly, in her presence, you felt yourself to be in the kingdom. And you wondered: how did that happen?

The little children know. And the hurting ones know—because they experience light reaching into the darkness. Through a cup of coffee. Or a hand held. Or one word—from that deep place which is united to the heart of Christ. "Wonderful!" Wonderful.


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