02 Feb When I Retire
by Catherine Doherty
People sometimes ask what I will do when I “retire.” Well, if I ever do, part of that time may be spent traveling. But it will be a particular kind of traveling, the traveling of a Russian hermit.
If I travel, with the permission of my spiritual director, it will be to get to a town or village or larger city, to go and pray for the people there.
What a stupid idea, to believe that my prayers, the prayers of a lone woman, can do anything for a city, a town or village! But then, I believe that prayer really changes things for the better, no matter who prays. Even when such an inadequate person as myself prays.
But for a Russian, prayer by itself is never enough. As my father used to say, “Lift both arms of prayer and penance to God.”
So, for me, it will mean going to Montreal, for instance, going into the poorest section, taking a little room and spending a week there on bread and tea, praying for the people of that city. Then I will return to Madonna House and my island.
I feel strongly these days that we Christians need solitude, silence, and contemplation. These are terribly, urgently needed, and they should be at the top of our priority list.
Doesn’t it say in the Scriptures, Pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17) and When you pray, go into your room and pray to your Father in secret (Mt 6:6)?
This, of course, means that one must enter into oneself and make a sanctuary there, for the secret place is the human heart. The life of prayer—its intensity, its depth, its rhythm—is a measure of our spiritual health and reveals us to ourselves.
Isn’t it the beginning of wisdom to know oneself? Scripture also says, Rising up long before daybreak, he went out and departed into a desert place, and there he prayed (Mk 1:35).
This signifies the concentration of a recollected and silent spirit. At this level, where man knows how to be silent, true prayer is found.
Yes, as I walk around my island, I look at it with new eyes and remember these words of Scripture and meditate on them.
I know, from years of my own experience, that interiorized prayer, silence and solitude can be had within oneself in the midst of the marketplace, amid its noise and clamor and frantic activity.
But I also know that, for me, the time has come to leave the market place and to bring into the light of day that which I have tried to interiorize throughout the years.
My heart is filled with gratitude to God that at long last I am able to taste the solitude, to know the stillness, to be able to pray within it for the world, but especially for the Church, for the priests I love so much, for the young people.
I am grateful that I will be able to put into practice a proverb of my people: “The house of a true hermit has no latch on the door.”
Why? Because no one prays for himself, not even a hermit. He exists for others. Whatever his prayers and mortifications, he must give them away, even as he must share the humble food that is his with any visitor who comes.
He does not belong to himself. He belongs to everyone, and so he must not only share his food, but his thoughts, the graces that God may give him, and above all, himself.
Yes, I am grateful to God for my solitude whereby I can give myself to the whole world.
From Welcome, Pilgrim, (1991), MH Publications, pp. 97-99, out of print
This was written many years before it was published, and as it turned out, Catherine was not able to have the time of retirement she desired.