Posted September 20, 2012:
I Felt Like Giving Up

by Catherine Doherty.

This story is from Catherine’s days in Friendship House Harlem, a house she founded in a poor African-American section of New York City before she founded Madonna House.

It is time to get up. I don’t want to get up. Frankly, I really want to die.

My little room in Harlem contains so many things—a refrigerator that doesn’t work, a gas stove that does, a big sink like a laundry sink, a lamp in the middle of the ceiling swaying a little if there is a breeze. Alas, there is really very little breeze in my room.

But it is time to get up!

Slowly I do. Oh, I have a bathroom attached to my room, but in the summer the water is very hot and in the winter it is very cold. Now it is summer. I dress and I contemplate breakfast, which I shouldn’t do because I have to go to Mass.

Slowly and reluctantly, I go. I lock the door with several locks, as you always do in places where the poor live. I cross the street and there is the church. I walk into it, trying to avoid what appears to me like a thousand children playing on the street.

There are not enough streets for the children to play in. And the air is polluted, not only from the exhausts but also from all the smells that come from the East River.

But I guess I am used to it. I make my way through the children who greet me. According to the kids, if I pray to the Holy Spirit, he will give them the things they want—namely baseball bats and balls and things like that.

I doubt it’s my prayer. Mostly it is the goodness of the Knights of Columbus and other organizations who provide bats and balls, not me.

I enter the dim church. There are very few people. It looks deserted, or almost so. I look at the statue of Blessed Martin de Porres on the right and Our Lady on the left side. In the middle, the priest says Mass. I am just in time.

There are about five people in that big church. I kneel down and try to shake from me the terrible darkness that holds me tight, but I don’t seem to be able to do so.

Snatches of the Gospel, and of the Old Testament, keep coming vividly to my mind.

I do not want to leave the church. It is like a refuge of some sort, almost an escape. The priest is saying Mass. The Body and Blood of Christ is being offered for me as well as for the others. This is the time to believe. This is not the time for doubts, for non–surrender, for all the strange emotions that fill my soul.

I try to concentrate. The voices of the children grow louder than the words of the priest. I try to remember that Christ said to let the children come to him. He seemed not to mind their stridency, their questions, their bothering him.

You know how children are. They pull at your garment when they want your attention. They yell in one ear and whisper in another. Yes, that’s the way of children.

Again I find myself praying over so many doubts which occur to me outside the church door.

The poverty of those people is enough to make one cry. I remember carrying a mattress to an old lady. It was a heavy mattress but I was strong then. I was doubled up carrying it. Some boys stretched out their legs and I fell over them. I bruised myself.

They were the poor whom I had come to serve. Everything in me rebelled. Everything in me cried out, "Take the next train tonight and go back to Canada of the tall pines and the limpid waters."

Yes, I was shaken by doubts. Have you ever been shaken by doubts so that you wondered why you were even in a church? Well, that’s the way I was.

Then seemingly from a very great distance, almost as if from across a desert, I heard the words, "Take and eat, this is My Body." And then, from much closer, I clearly heard, "This is My Blood, the Blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

I walked up to the altar railing, I opened my mouth, and received my Love. Suddenly everything was changed. The church seemed filled with a lovely light, and I returned to my place.

The voices of the children were no longer strident. They became joyous, like the rushing waters in Canada.

As I came out of the church I saw them, a big forest of children, just like the forests of Canada, tall and slender. They were all laughing and surrounding me and everybody called me B, and I felt sort of proud and happy because of this appellation.

To these children, I was the bee that collected things for them, as a bee collects sweetness from the flowers.

My whole apostolate of Friendship House in Harlem suddenly became as sweet as honey from the comb.

Adapted from In the Furnace of Doubts, (2002), pp. 19-24, available from MH Publications



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