Monday, February 13, 2012

Prayer – Hunger for Union with God

Catherine de Hueck Doherty in 1941

In the mid 1970's Father Austin Day read POUSTINIA by Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985). It was one of a handful of books he found so personally liberating that he used it in sermons for many months, and gave copies away to friends. He felt that POUSTINIA, which sought to give spiritual help to western Chrstians from the Russian tradition of the author’s childhood, was of unique value in helping us to integrate the different strands of spirituality we experience today. I shared his enthusiasm, and – still – every couple of years, I re-read my copy of POUSTINIA!

Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), the foundress of Madonna House in Combermere, Canada, is among those whose causes for “official” sainthood are being worked on at the moment in Rome

She survived — and her love of God was tested and grew — through two World Wars, the Russian Revolution, and the Great Depression. She knew the pain of a broken marriage and the struggles of single parenthood. She knew the privileged life of aristocratic wealth, as well as the grinding poverty and uncertainty of a refugee.

Through it all, her faith in God and her love for him remained intact and led her to work with the poor in small, humble ways, forsaking material comforts in order to do so. Her work in social justice in both Canada and the United States eventually led to the establishment of Friendship House, and later the community called Madonna House.

You can read about Catherine Doherty, and the present ministry of Madonna House HERE.

is a collection of meditations drawn from the range of Catherine’s down-to-earth and practical writings which provide deep insights on prayer and spiritual growth as well as homespun words of advice on everyday work and family life.

Nostalgic entries even recall Christmas and Easter customs from Catherine's childhood in the Old Russia of the czars. Go HERE to purchase a copy.

The following paragraphs on prayer are from this book:


Prayer is that hunger for union with God which never lets go of us. It beats into our blood with the very beat of our hearts. It is a thirst that can be quenched by nothing except God. It is as if one’s whole body is poised on tiptoe our hands stretching upward as if to touch the cosmos.

The act of praying, like the act of love, involves movement and effort. You don’t pray like a robot any more than you make love like one! Prayer is movement, stretching, seeking, holding, finding only to seek again, as in the Song of Songs, “I opened to my beloved, but he had turned his back and gone.”

Prayer is constant movement, and strangely enough, it is movement into oneself, where the Trinity dwells. That is why dispossession has to come from within, for the obstacles that separate us from God are never outside us. “What goes into the mouth does not make a man unclean.” (Matthew 15:17-20) Dispossession is like taking a broom to one’s inner being to clear out everything that keeps us from being united to God.

Prayer is walking up to an abyss, looking down, and being unable to see the bottom, for there is none. This is where faith comes in. You spend years balancing on the edge, almost jumping in, then retreating. Suddenly, at some given moment, the hunger becomes too great, and you jump, only to discover it’s no abyss, but only God and the depth of his love for you!

* * * * * * * * * *

The 1941 photo at the top of this post was taken by Thomas Merton, who first met Catherine when she spoke that year at St Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y. He had heard about her work in Friendship House (FH) when he lived in New York, but they had never met. After hearing her talk, he was inspired to ask if he could come to Harlem. Catherine said yes. He spent “[two] weeks of evenings,” as he put it, at Friendship House in Harlem. He met Catherine again later that same year at St. Bonaventure when she came for another talk.

The following passage is from SEVEN STORY MOUNTAIN (pages 342-343), in which Merton reflects on his first meeting with Catherine:

“The Baroness was born a Russian. She had been a young girl at the time of the October Revolution. She had seen half of her family shot, she had seen priests fall under the bullets of the Reds, and she had escaped from Russia the way it is done in the movies, but with all the misery and hardship which the movies do not show, and none of the glamour which is their specialty.

“The experiences she had gone through, instead of destroying her faith, intensified and deepened it until the Holy Ghost planted fortitude in the midst of her soul like an unshakable rock. I never saw anyone so calm, so certain, so peaceful in her absolute confidence in God.

“Catherine de Hueck is a person in every way big: and the bigness is not merely physical: it comes from the Holy Ghost dwelling constantly within her, and moving her in all that she does."


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