Posted July 13, 2011 in MH Washington DC:
A Light on Capitol Hill

by Msgr. Steve Rossetti, friend of MH Washington.

When we think about efficacy, what works, what is important in spreading the kingdom of God, we usually get caught up in worldly ideas, secular notions about power and success.

But consider the life of St. Therese, the Little Flower. She entered the Carmelites at age fifteen, lived there until she was twenty-four, and died of tuberculosis.

At Therese’s funeral, one of the old Sisters was asked to give a reflection on her life. "What can one say?" the Sister said. "She didn’t do anything. She scrubbed floors, she prayed, she was mistress of novices briefly. Under obedience, she wrote a short monograph, the story of her spiritual life."

Her life was very short and virtually invisible to the world, and yet for over a hundred years, she has been venerated by millions of people.

This is Washington D.C., the capital of the United States, the most powerful nation in the world. And if there is anything that this city suffers from, anything that it struggles with as its greatest temptation, anything that is its greatest weakness and sin, it is power.

We want success, power, public approval. We are constantly checking the polls. Do people support me, approve of me? Of my party? Of my candidate? Am I, are we, getting good headlines in the press, positive stories in the media? We measure ourselves and others by these criteria.

Cardinal Hickey, who used to be cardinal here, was a prince of a man in many ways. He was a prince of the Church, of course, as a cardinal, but he was also kind and dedicated. I found him to be very humble.

It was Cardinal Hickey who had the insight that what Capitol Hill needed was a place, not exactly a Carmelite monastery like St. Therese’s, but a place where people would pray, a place that would almost be invisible but would radiate the grace of God.

So he invited Madonna House to open a place in Washington. The directorate accepted the invitation, and when he spoke with Mary Kay Rowland, who was appointed its first director, she said they wanted to be in Anacostia, a poor neighborhood. They wanted to identify with the poor.

But the cardinal insisted that they be on Capitol Hill, where so many government buildings are, where the Capitol is, the place where Congress makes the laws. He wanted Madonna House to respond to the spiritual needs of the people who live and work there.

There is a kind of poverty on Capitol Hill, a spiritual poverty, a lack of the Word of God, a lack of humility, a need for God’s grace, the source of all efficacy.

I think we all have some of that kind of poverty. When we reflect on our sins, we usually examine ourselves on the ten commandments. Then most of us think to ourselves, at least initially: "Well, I keep all those; they are really basic. I am in a more advanced stage. Give me something tougher."

But I think we violate many of the ten commandments every day. The first, most particularly: I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.

God is God and we are not. But our daily sin is that we forget that all efficacy comes from God.

This is why, St. Therese, an insignificant girl living hidden in a Carmelite monastery for a mere nine years could become a doctor of the Church, a great saint whose influence down through the centuries we can only have an inkling of. She reminds us of this commandment, and she reminds us who God is.

Madonna House in Washington, too, is a reminder of the First Commandment. It is a reminder of what is important and what true power and success consist of. It is not found in people or in their praise. It is found in God. The more our lives are in harmony with God, the more efficacious our lives become.

I am thinking also of another young woman—one who seemed to have done even less than St. Therese. She was not a nun, and she was not in charge of any novices. She didn’t write anything at all, and we know little of what she thought and said.

Oh, we do have a few snippets from her life. She once said, Let it be done to me according to your word (Lk 1:38) and again Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5).

Where does the overwhelming sanctity of Our Blessed Mother come from? It must be from the fact that her hidden life was totally and completely in harmony with God. Through her, God’s graces flow most purely and directly.

We give thanks to God for thirty years of the hidden witness of Madonna House in Washington. We thank Cardinal Hickey for his vision, or rather, for God’s vision given through him.

We thank God for Mary Kay Rowland, Bonnie Staib, Cathy Mitchell and so many others who have staffed the house and prayed here. We thank God for the pastors who have generously supported their ministry, and for those who currently staff the house—Cynthia Donnelly, Maureen Ray, and Pat Probst.

They have prayed and continue to pray each day for all of us and this Hill. They have provided a poustinia, a desert where we could come and pray. They have reminded us where real power and success come from. They have been a hidden witness to the presence of God.

St. Therese said, "What matters is not great deeds but great love." May each of us learn to love much, to pray hard, and to remember that God is the one who makes all things possible.

— Adapted from the homily at the 30th anniversary Mass of MH Washington.


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