Friday, June 6, 2014

Pentecost and Sobornost - thoughts of Catherine Doherty

The following is by the late Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), foundress of Madonna House in Combermere, Canada, whose cause for “official” sainthood is being considered 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.

Sobornost is really not a word but a concept. It is a dimension of God’s grace that is given to men, and for which they have hungered a long, long time.

There was a moment in the history of mankind when a certain group of people experienced that gift. That day was Pentecost, the day when God’s mercy and love came in the shape of tongues of fire, hovering over men’s heads, bringing them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, filling them with a deep understanding and a profound spiritual joy. The Holy Spirit came to unite them; for Jesus Christ, only a little while before, had been praying for this unity that he had with his Father.

The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost to begin this new dimension of unity, which alone would enable men to follow the narrow path laid out by Jesus Christ and to understand what sobornost really is. The Holy Spirit was consolidating — if that word is applicable to the Holy Trinity — the teachings of the Lord.

Here, on this great and holy day of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, their hearts were opened to the parables, to the words of Jesus: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do for me. “

The Beatitudes must have been illuminated by the tongues of fire. The apostles must have seen how the love that was filling them was meant to flower into loving God, loving oneself, loving one’s neighbor, loving one’s enemies, even to laying down one’s life for everyone.

Truly the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost brought light into the darkest corners of the apostles’ hearts, and showed them that it could be spread from one heart to another as they preached the Gospel and lived it.

Yes, it was a day in the history of mankind when this sobrania — the whole ‘gathering’ — was truly a unity between God and men. But in order to send the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus had to go through his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection.

We come, as I always think, from the head of God and we move to the heart of God. That should be our life, a life that understands eternity because it looks at itself — physical, emotional and spiritual — in faith and realizes (in faith, I repeat) that God has created us.

It realizes, too, that we have sinned against him in one way or another. As Jung, the great psychiatrist, concluded after examining a large number of patients, Genesis is right: there was some kind of grievous fault that man committed against a power greater than himself, a fault that has been named ‘original sin.’

By his incarnation, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ has taken upon himself our sins. By the institution of his sacraments — particularly Baptism — he has healed us of original sin. And he brought us into a beautiful union with God as it used to be before the fall.

Once again, a sobornost was established between God and man. But this time it was on a grand scale; for Jesus not only instituted the sacrament of Baptism, he made us understand that we are part of his Mystical Body. He explained that he is our head. And our sobornost lies in that realm, for if I am the hand of the Mystical Body, then I must be united to the Body.  Am I?

In recent years, this concept of the Mystical Body of Christ has begun to penetrate into people’s minds. Today we often use the term ‘people of God.’   To a Russian like myself, however, the word ‘body’ is more meaningful and understandable.  ‘Body’ and sobornost’ go together better.

Sobornost calls for a oneness in the Body of Christ.

It is a unity totally at one with him, and hence with the Father and Holy Spirit, as Christ must have been during his life on earth.

We must remember that — because we are Christians — we are never alone before God. We are always united with other human beings. We are an integral part of one another. What binds us together is love, and only love. For love is a Person. Love is God.

Sobornost is a strange manner of living. Sobornost is love in action.  If you really love, you serve each other. It means that you never think of yourself. You put yourself in the third place. God comes first; your neighbor is second; then yourself.

Yes, unity in action is love. In daily living, sobornost is a service towards everybody. In moments of need, it becomes a special type of service. The group — whether a community, a family, or a religious institution — gathers together, in unity and love, and decisions are made according to Christ’s teaching.

Let us contemplate this incredible mystery of the love of God, which brings us all together from where we started with Adam and Eve.

If we are not one with God, then we are nothing. Our life is sterile, and we wander in a desert of our own making. Unless we are connected with God, we are nothing! And we create our own hell right here on earth.

If we are one with God, then we are one with all human beings. Why aren’t we one with the whole of humanity? We are always going to psychiatrists to make ourselves ‘whole’ as we say. Whole for what?

It’s true that we are not whole. But why aren’t we? Because our relationship with one another is tragic. It is filled with fear. We say, “I’m afraid! “ But why do we say that? “Perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4: 18)

So why are we fearful? Why do any of us have fear? Because we are not united with God. Therefore, we cannot be united with our fellowman. Does that make sense?

St. Paul, in his beautiful hymn of love, brings us to a new concept of sobornost. He talks of people having all the gifts possible and imaginable.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and angels… if I have the gift of prophecy … if I have faith… if I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames…”   (I Cor. 13: 1–4)

But he ends very simply by saying that, if we have all these gifts but don’t have love or charity, all these gifts are useless.

Because of Christ’s incarnation, we have been re-admitted into the community of the Trinity, the Community of Love. But if we think we don’t need the Trinity or Jesus Christ, or think that we can make our own ‘god’, then chaos will reign in our hearts instead of love and community.

The secret of becoming a community is total involvement in the other. It is a total emptying of oneself so that each of us can say, “I live; now, not 1, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2: 20)

Then the Christian community will come into existence. Then, like the Holy Spirit who formed it, it will be a fire burning in our midst. And from this fire, sparks will kindle the whole earth!

So we come back to Pentecost. The Russians often refer to the Holy Spirit as ‘the Crimson Dove, the God of Love.’ He is the Advocate, the one who advocates a totality of love. He wants us to have a total love for God, and for man. Thus, in truth, we can create a sobornost.

Yes, sobornost calls for life on much higher planes and levels . . .


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