Monday, April 2, 2012

The Bible kept me sane - Catherine Doherty

Catherine Doherty in 1941

I have referred to Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), the foundress of Madonna House in Combermere, Canada, a number of times on this blog. She is among those whose causes for “official” sainthood are being worked on at the moment in Rome. 

Go HERE to find out more about her, or HERE to the Madonna House website. 

I was moved by the following short reflection of hers, which I think is particularly important early in Holy Week. More than at any other time of the year, this is when the Church's liturgy absolutely drenches us (especially those who are able to come to everything!) in life-giving Scripture. And that's a very good thing. We hear large slabs of the Bible read; we hear sermons on specific texts; we hear it sung and chanted hauntingly in all the special services as a backdrop to the spiritual journey of these days. This Holy Week let's allow the Scriptures - the Bible - to expand our spiritual horizons, to strengthen us in our suffering and grief, to encourage us in our struggles, and to increase our thanksgiving to Father God for his goodness. Catherine Doherty says:

I have been exposed to the Gospel (I should say the Bible) since childhood. My Father used to gather everybody together and read aloud the lesson of the day according to the Eastern Rite. 

Mother and all the servants would also gather to listen to the Holy Words. So the habit of referring to the Bible, but mostly to the Gospel, has been with me since childhood and has stayed with me until old age.

As I read more of the Holy Book with its incredible wealth, I realized more and more my own poverty. When, after the Russian Revolution, I was thrown on the shores of America, or I should say the new continent, the Bible was the only consolation that I had in various "brown rooms." 

I call them "brown rooms," those shabby boarding house rooms that I had to live in for quite a while. What else could I read at 111 Wabash Avenue in Chicago when all around me people were fornicating? What else could I read in the depths of the sorrows and pain into which the Lord plunged me? 

Yes, the Bible was a companion, a strange and unusual companion. I wonder if many people understand what it means. 

It is like a door opening. You can walk right into it, close it, and be in the midst of God’s heart. 

The Bible speaks of the New Covenant of love. When you are down and out and haven’t a friend in the world; when you stand on a corner of Broadway and 42nd Street in New York looking at people longingly, hoping that somebody would say "hello" to you—at times like these the Bible is your friend.

You go back to that brown room and what do you see? You see a door, you see a poustinia (a room of solitude and prayer). You go in, you lock the door, and the world is yours. 

Truly the Kingdom of God is yours. That Book really keeps you sane. It can make you holy, if you let it. Yes, it’s a strange book, the Bible. 

But I always read the Gospel first. The Gospel was like a voice, God speaking to me and I speaking to God, in all the brown rooms of the world that I had to live in. Yes, it was beautiful. But so lonely. 

You know something? This Book protects you. At least it protected me from the waters that you can see from Brooklyn Bridge. They were so enticing. 

And a page of that Book floated, it seemed, down before my eyes. And a voice spoke, and I left the bridge. If it hadn’t been for that Book, I don’t think I would have left the bridge or many other dangerous places, where near despair would have dragged me into suicide like the undertow of the sea. 

There is something about the words of that holy Book that are melodious and poetic. But, as I said, I am a poor woman. 

 —Adapted from The Gospel of a Poor Woman, (1992), pp. 9-10, Madonna House Publications, out of print.


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