Madonna House

The Church and I

by Catherine Doherty

This was probably written in the 1970s and the examples used are even older. But in its essence, it could have been written today.

I have always loved the Church. This is a very strange statement to make: All Christians should love the Church. But from earliest childhood I have had a deep, deep feeling for her.

When I was a child, it made no difference to me whether the church building was Orthodox or Roman Catholic. I also didn’t understand much about the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. It was the building itself that attracted me.

Time and again I would just walk in and sit down. Sometimes I collected flowers and strewed them in front of the iconostasis or the Holy Doors. In a Catholic church I used to climb the altar steps and lay flowers in front of what I called the “Little House.”

As I grew up I began to understand the Christian idea of the Church. I began to realize who and what the Church was.

I saw that the Church was the spotless Bride of Christ. I saw her clad in the king’s robes, beautiful and glorious. This vision stayed in my heart like a warm, consoling thought:

The Church was the spotless, shining, radiant bride of Christ. The Church was something holy, precious, something you should even give your life for.

In Canada, I discovered that the Church was the People of God. It took me a long time to understand that the People of God was the Mystical Body of Christ, and that Christ was the head of this body. Why didn’t I understand?

Because of sin, the terrible sins of the People of God, I was torn by a contradiction: this sinless bride of Christ was also the sinful bride of Christ.

How could that be? It took me a long time to understand a very simple thing—that Jesus came to reconcile us sinners with his Father.

As Dostoevsky wrote, “He loved man in his sin.” God had rescued man from his sin. The whole picture of the Church was now completed for me. I understood something else: The sin of one member of the Church was the sin of all, that is, if I sin, I affect the whole Church.

Life eventually became for me a throbbing pain. I was torn by the sins of others. I can’t explain it. I think I began to experience this when I experienced the ruins of church buildings.

I have seen more ruined churches perhaps than anyone else. I described how I saw them in Russia, in Spain, and in Germany. Many of them now have been restored, but I have never forgotten the “presence” I felt as a child, and how I experienced this presence even in a ruined church.

I saw people pray in ruined churches. They had caught a glimpse of what a church really was, and they turned toward him who even dwelt amidst the ruins.

From the very beginning of my apostolate, when I sold all that I had, God gave me a tremendous love for the Church and for priests. This Church cannot perish.

When you love the Church, you even love those in the Church who do evil. You know that over the centuries the Church has been ruined over and over again, and each time she has risen anew more splendid than ever.

God has given me an overpowering love for the Church. Call me a fool. I am a fool. I see Christ in the Church.

I always connected current events with the Church in the sense that my first reaction to news would be, “How is this going to affect the Church?” When I began the apostolate in Toronto, a stark economic depression was crippling the whole world.

Then came Hiroshima, the Bomb. I reviewed my history of the Church and of the world. I concluded: “There have never been times such as these.”

As usual, the Lord gave me some kind of insight as to the meaning of these events for the future. In my heart I knew that Hiroshima spelled chaos for the world. Compared to Hiroshima, the Tower of Babel was child’s play.

I began to watch people. What effect did Hiroshima have on them? Do you know what effect it had? It stirred up an incredible fear in people’s unconscious.

It stirred up a terrible anger against God and against the people who had created this chaos. Even those most unaware of the meaning of events knew that something had happened in the history of the world that had never happened before:

The Bomb. People began to doubt the power of God to control the world. It seemed that the devil had won. Once again it seemed that the Church too would be ruined. Once again someone had to lay down his life to prepare for the resurrection. I did. Many others did too.

Is it possible to bring you who read this into the very depths of my heart?

Is it possible for you to understand? Will I ever be able to put into words the pain in my heart over the suffering of the Church and of the world?

Can I ever show you the wounds in this heart of mine? I feel like saying to you, “Have you ever seen a sorrow like unto my sorrow?” Of course, this is presumptuous—but my sorrow was great, considering the smallness of my heart!

Yes, come into my heart, my friends, and enter my sea of pain for the Church, for the Holy Father, for priests, for the spotless bride of Christ, for the world. I have wept for them; now I place them in the hands of the Lord.

What is the final answer to this new barbarism which has entered the world? Once again, as in fact I did in those early days in Toronto, I prostrated myself, Russian style, on various dirty floors. I realize now, as I did then, that the Church needs prayer, for this is the time of the shaking of the foundations of the world.

My nights are once again vigils of God. Vigils are strange things, my friends. They come from God. He wakes you up and you become wide awake.

The hour of the night matters not. It was in a recent vigil that I understood that this is the time for prayer. Nothing else will do. Nothing else can stem the barbarism of a secular world busy worshiping itself and not caring about anything or anybody except its own satisfaction and gratification.

Once upon a time God wrote on a wall for a pagan king. “Mene, Tekel, Peres” It may be good to recall the interpretation of those words:

“God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians” (Dn 5:26–28).

Today, on the walls of every nation, one can see and read the anger of God. The anger of God is really his mercy. But he is angry at us for shoving him away, for throwing him out of our world, for flaunting his laws. His anger is falling now upon us in many ways, national disasters of all kinds.

His anger also reveals us to ourselves. We see how much we kill, how much we hate, how much we are willing to batter others just to get our own way. We step on the heads of others just to climb a little higher ourselves.

One night many years ago, realizing that prayer was needed, I entered my past. (I go to my past in order to discern the future.) Out of my past came the remembrance of the poustinia (a Russian word for desert).

I wrote a book about it. Poustinias have now spread all over the world. I hope they continue to do so. A poustinia is not a house of prayer, it is just a spot—a cabin, a room—where people can go to be alone for a day or so. If you wish to know more about it, I suggest you read my book.

I wrote Poustinia to call people to the desert of prayer where they can face themselves and experience a change of heart. In the poustinia, kenosis (the Greek word for “emptying”) takes place, a stripping of oneself, a burying of the “I.”

In the poustinia we begin to live more for the other as Christ taught us, loving in depth both those who love us and those who hate us. Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13).

Night followed night, vigil followed vigil. I began to understand that Christ was seeking the disintegration, not of the Church, which will survive, but of secularism, of paganism, of the hedonism which at this present moment dominates the world.

I began to understand that prayer is needed to counteract the spread of atheism which is slowly creeping over Portugal, Italy, France and England, countries that are becoming a prey to communism.

I saw the immense continent of Africa. I saw white people who professed to believe in a God who died for all mankind, living in apartheid. They needed prayer. Yes, what the world needed was the power of the poustinia.

Prayer is now the last resort. We have forgotten how to pray.

We have forgotten that there must be a time when we are silent so we can hear what God wants to say to us. Yes, my friends, we must pray. It must be the prayer of two people in love with each other who cease to talk. Their silence speaks. This is the kind of prayer that the poustinia will teach you.

Two people in love! When you are in love with God you will understand that he loved you first. You will enter into a deep and mysterious silence and in that silence become one with the Absolute. Sobornost! Your oneness with God will overflow to all your brothers and sisters.

My friends, this is the kind of prayer we need today. If you pray like this you will be overshadowed by the wings of a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit.

On those wings your prayer of silence will be lifted into the hands of “the Woman Wrapped in Silence,” and she will lay it at the feet of the Most Holy Trinity. The answer today to the salvation of mankind lies in prayer.

—Excerpted and adapted from Fragments of My Life, (2007), pp. 193-200, available from MH Publications