Madonna House

Stay-at-Home Evangelist?

by Fr. David May

Lately, I took to the roads. It meant missing writing this column once or twice, and a pile of work to do upon return. Was it restlessness? No. Was I tired of the woods and the water and the ways of Combermere? Not really.

By natural leaning, I am a stay-at-home evangelist, not the street-corner variety. But once in a while I travel out.

Lately, I took to the roads. It meant missing writing this column once or twice, and a pile of work to do upon return. Was it restlessness? No. Was I tired of the woods and the water and the ways of Combermere? Not really.

By natural leaning, I am a stay-at-home evangelist, not the street-corner variety. But once in a while I travel out.

Over the course of several weeks, it meant visits to Toronto, Vancouver, and Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.

Staff in Toronto and Whitehorse wanted retreats on the Jubilee Year of Mercy we are now celebrating, and so I gave them—one to MH Toronto and two in the Yukon—the first to MH staff and pastoral workers from around the diocese, and the second to parishioners from Whitehorse and elsewhere. (In these retreats, I highlighted different dimensions of the Year of Mercy.)

It seemed the right moment in the Spirit to do those retreats, as both places are in the midst of significant transition.

In Whitehorse, our priest on site, Fr. Kieran Kilcommons, has been serving for over a year as Apostolic Administrator (performing the work of a bishop until one can be appointed). This month, however, that will change with the ordination of Fr. Hector Vila as the new bishop of that diocese.

MH Toronto, founded in 1983, with Trudy Cortens as director till 2015, is now under the guidance of Cathy Mitchell.

Then the three directors general (Mark Schlingerman, Susanne Stubbs, and myself) made a visitation to MH Vancouver. It was the last we will be making as a threesome, as our third terms all expire in 2016, and new faces will soon be replacing ours. Praise God!

Finally, I returned home. When you live in a home like Madonna House, which is a kind of cross-roads where seekers of the Infinite meet, there is no shortage of “something to do.”

As I said earlier, by disposition, I am a stay-at-home evangelist. Stay-at-homes definitely take a back seat to street-corner, big conference, or even digital types when it comes to most reflections on evangelization, old or “new.”

I don’t want to be on Facebook or write a daily or weekly or any other kind of blog. Unlike Pope Francis, I don’t tweet on Twitter.

It takes a real hard push from the Holy Spirit to get me to travel, though once launched, I am willing. I have no books in mind begging to get written, and my calendar isn’t booked with speaking engagements until 2041, when I turn 90 if still on planet earth in the current non-resurrected body.

You might ask, well, what then are you doing? Are you on fire with love for Christ and his Gospel, or not? Do you have Good News to share, and if so, why aren’t you doing it? And if not, what is the purpose of this column, for starters, not to mention the title “evangelist”?

To which I would answer: Yes, Christ has burned his way into my heart to some degree of depth, even though I am far from totally given over even after so many years following him.

And yes, I long to share the One whom I love, to bear witness to him, to glorify him, to see others receiving him and glorifying him in turn with their lives. Everything I do and everything I am is part of that desire to proclaim Christ to the whole of creation.

However, while my Lord was burning his way into my heart, it was as the Christ ofNazareth that he did this.

To me this means that ordinary acts of love, prayer, and service, united to Christ, have divine scope in them, disguised as they are in ordinariness. No one I have ever read teaches this with as much passion or spiritual clarity as Catherine Doherty:

“And so you shall go through life, as sort of freak for many, many more years to come. And if you do, there will be a day when men will know you for what you are.

“And because you laid down your life day-by-day, minute-by-minute, second-by-second, in this duty of the moment, in your unalterable wills being united to the will of God, in laying your life down for your fellow men, unobtrusively, hiddenly, without any trumpets in the world, without any acclaim, the world will have another portion of God’s field restored to Him.

“In that proportion that you are these things, in that proportion it will be restored and in that proportion you shall become mighty against the darkness.” (Staff Letters, Vol. 2, #140, Sept. 19, 1963), unpublished

Once the truth of such words burns itself into your soul, there is a growing longing to be hidden with Christ in the guise of everyday living. It is a kind of protection against the ego subtly or not so subtly flourishing on the evangelical circuit.

There grows in you a healthy fear of being “known” as someone who is wise or dynamic or whatever else puffs up the ego.

In fact, there can come to you the somewhat paradoxical insight that you can do “more” for this suffering, ego-inflated world by hidden service devoid of human credit than by going forth and doing something tangible that is more apt to be rewarded and admired.

But whether called to go “out” or stay “in,” what is important is not whether one way is better than another, but to do whatever it is that Christ is asking.

Usually, he asks me to care for others right “at home.” “At home,” for me, means living at the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Combermere, who is forever drawing people to come to Nazareth to meet her Son Jesus and to receive healing.

These are the ones in front of me to be welcomed, fed, housed, and integrated into our way of life. They comprise of course the immediate “horizon” of life in Nazareth.

But these horizons also go way beyond our borders here to take in the whole suffering world.

Since Jesus Christ is the inner “shape” or reality of our life, the scope of all we do here is that of Christ’s own compassion. Even to clean a single cup well is to wipe the face of a suffering victim of war somewhere in the world and to pray for that person’s peace, restoration, and hope.

Can you fathom the joy of living in such a way, in the knowledge that all you are doing is of relevance to the body of Christ throughout the world?

Every moment of every day is an opportunity for the new evangelization, and who is to say which is more effective: the inspiring talk at a rally of thousands or a path shoveled with love by a brother early in the morning before anyone else had yet risen from bed?

Not only do those living close by benefit from the freshly shoveled path, but others far away, mysteriously, in ways largely unknown to us, also find comfort and help for the day’s journey through life.

St. Paul put it this way in his letter to the Colossians, 1:24ff:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church… . to them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory… .

For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me.

With the coming of Lent in this Year of Mercy, there is a special grace to be recommitted to the New Evangelization. Whether we are called to stay at home or hit the gospel trail in some way, Christ desires to be a flame in us, a cup of water for the thirsty, a shelter of peace in the day of distress.

Speak, Lord, your servants are listening!