Posted October 06, 2010 in MH Washington DC:
Pebbles in Washington

by Cynthia Donnelly.

Our house in Washington has an unusual mandate from our bishop: to pray for the president of the United States, the American government, and the archbishop of Washington and to respond to the spiritual needs of the people in the Capitol Hill area.

Our house is on Capitol Hill, about 2½ blocks from the Capitol, the seat of Congress.

Praying for a government is a very interesting way to live, and you never know from one year to the next what God might ask you to do.

Oftentimes we have found that praying for the government can mean carrying the sins of that government. That can be very challenging because often it means working out the problems of the government in ourselves and in our own lives.

As I was praying about what to say in this talk*, the following scripture came to me:

Jesus said to his disciples, This is my commandment. Love one another as I have loved you (Jn 15:12).

In Madonna House, loving one another primarily means doing so within the house and forming a community of love.

A community of love! Doesn’t that sound nice? But what does that mean and how do you do it?

Well, when you combine building a community of love with praying for the United States government, you can have a rather interesting and challenging way of life.

Right now in the United States and particularly in Washington, things are very contentious. And the division seems to be getting bigger all the time.

The Democrats work against the Republicans, and the Republicans work against the Democrats, and they will not come together. If you know anything about American politics in the last year, you know that what I am saying is true.

And not only are these men and women unwilling or unable to work together, but they constantly blame one another: "It’s not my fault; it’s your fault. Or it’s his fault or their fault; I’m doing my job." It’s terrible how they talk about one another and to one another.

So this year in our house, God was asking us to go into our own hearts and really look at them and see the ways in which we, too, were not loving one another.

There are three of us here—three women. I had to look at my own heart and say, "When do I blame somebody else in the house for something? When do I blame Pat for my difficulty? When do I get angry at Maureen because she’s not doing what I think she should?"

I don’t know about you, you may not have these problems, but every once in a while when I’m sitting at the dinner table, I think, "I’m trying to be nice and I’m trying to build a community of love. If only she would do such and such."

So we in this house were called this year to go on an intense inner journey of conversion and repentance.

What does that mean to love one another? I’ve asked myself that a lot this year. And how do I love? How do I love somebody who is irritating me right at the moment she is doing so? How do I love somebody who isn’t doing what I think she should do?

She should do it not only because I’m the director, but because obviously my way is right! It just is!

About halfway through the year, I read a Desert Father story. I like to read the Desert Fathers stories because they have a way of not only showing human nature in a very gentle way, but also of broadening my perspective.

This is the story. A young man went to an abba, a spiritual father, and asked, "Abba, how do I live a good life?"

The abba answered, "Many years ago, there was a monastery with only three monks. One monk lived in silence and stillness and prayed all day long. One monk was sick and unable to work, but thanked God for everything. And the third monk spent his whole day serving whoever came to the monastery. All pleased God."

Hearing that story was a turning point for me, because the three of us women, Pat Probst, Maureen Ray, and myself, are very different from one another.

We come from different backgrounds, and we have very different personalities. We pray differently, we look at life differently, we enjoy different kinds of books, different kinds of movies, different ways of recreating.

Sometimes, one of the most challenging things in building a community of love or working in the government, is learning how to focus on the differences in a positive way—to appreciate the differences and to thank God for them.

It isn’t easy to let go of yourself, to die to yourself, so that you can learn to appreciate somebody else for who she is. No expectations, no hopes, no "maybe one day she’ll get better," "maybe one day she’ll be what I want her to be."

Building a community of love often forces us to look at our pride, our sinfulness, our negativity, and our doing this is really how we prayed for the government this year. And I think that we’ve been successful in some way.

I can’t say that the U.S. Government has changed very much, but our house has become more peaceful and joyful.

Another thing happened in our house this past year. People come to our house for poustinia, and they come to talk. They come for mornings of recollection and different things like that, but for some reason, this year our house got very quiet.

Some days the phone didn’t ring, the door bell didn’t ring, and nobody came.

When you’re living in a prayer house and that happens, you have to stop and ask: have we done something wrong, or is this something God is asking us to stand in?

I thought maybe we should go and drum up some business, so I wrote our directors general and asked for their reflection.

Fr. David said, "Isn’t it interesting that everything is whirling about you and all is high tech, people on cell phones, people texting, doing this and that, and God is asking you to be quiet."

Yes, our life in Washington is often totally opposite to what is whirling around us.

You’d think our life here on Capitol Hill would be very exciting and romantic, that we would have congressmen and women coming over, drinking tea at our kitchen table, and asking us for words of wisdom that would shape their vote.

But no, that doesn’t happen. We live in Nazareth. Inside our house on Capitol Hill is Nazareth. Maureen works in the kitchen and does maintenance. Pat does the laundry, and I do the office work. We say morning prayers and eat breakfast. We live a very ordinary, humble, simple life.

Catherine Doherty had a beautiful image in a letter to the staff—an image of David and Goliath. David slew Goliath with just one smooth stone. We are not David, she tells us. We are the little pebbles.

If we faithfully live the life to which we have been called, we are like those pebbles whom God can just pick up and use. He uses us to give kindness and compassion, to cut through a lie and speak a word of truth, to listen, and even just to be present to someone.

So, although we may not see a lot of results from our inner journey of repentance and conversion, I believe that what we have done this year is sit in this little stream on Capitol Hill, three little pebbles who are available to God whenever he wants to use us.

All this gives you a little bit of an idea of our life in MH Washington. Loving one another. Loving the people who come to our door. Loving our government—even when it is opposed to what we believe.

Jesus tells us to love one another. He doesn’t say love this side of the room and not that side of the room. Love people with curly hair and not those with straight hair. Love the Republicans and not the Democrats. He just says love one another as I have loved you.

This article was adapted from a talk given in May 2010 to the guests in MH Combermere telling them about MH Washington.


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