Sr. Margaret continues her series on desert spirituality, sharing snippets of her book awaiting publication.
“Though your restless heart may roam, God is all that you can long for, God is all God’s creature’s Home.” Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty
In my last blog post I introduced holy guides for our interior pilgrimage. Each of them expresses a contemporary spirituality of holiness in the ordinary through interior silence. In my next few blog posts I will present a fuller biography of all four.
Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty
Catherine Doherty, a Russian Baroness and founder of Madonna House, realized people were restlessly seeking a way to slow down and find God is their daily life. Her gift to us is Poustinia,  an Eastern Christian practice of desert time. “I wrote the book Poustinia to call people to the desert where they can face themselves and experience a change of heart,” she said. In poustinia kenosis 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.” Catherine expanded on the concept of taking time in a desert setting to the practice of a poustinia of the heart.Baptized Russian Orthodox, Catherine became a Roman Catholic. For this reason she is able to blend spiritual riches of the Christian East and West. Saint John Paul II encouraged the Church to breathe again with two lungs — its Eastern one and its Western one. Catherine understood the “difference between what the East means by mystical and what the West means. I think the East would call normal many things that the West might term mystical. If you are in the poustinia and God knocks on your door and speaks to you, that doesn’t sound mystical to me; it sounds quite normal. He said he would speak to us.”
Members of her Madonna House community are pilgrims in this world, proclaiming the second coming of Christ, when all things will be restored to him. Doherty describes her foundation in the language of ordinary holiness: “Madonna House is a very simple thing. It is an open door. It is a cup of tea or coffee, good and hot. It is an invitation to work for the common good. Madonna House is a house of hospitality. It is a place where people are received, not on their education, not on how wonderful they are as painters, or whatever they have to do; they are received simply as people. They are loved.”
Eastern Christians speak of a transformation so profound, so total that it is like living eternal life now, living the life of Christ. This is so amazing it is hard to believe.“God became human so that we can become God.” St. Athanasius
Catherine’s life journey took her through two World Wars, the Russian Revolution, and the Great Depression. These were for her a tragic consequence of Christian society’s failure to incarnate its faith. Suffering through a broken marriage and the struggles of single parenthood after a life of aristocratic wealth was challenging enough. Her status as refugee was accompanied by poverty. Instead of bitterness the uncertainties of life gave her a desire to serve the poor. This is when Catherine implemented a radical Gospel way of life for herself. Inspired by her example young men and women joined her. They called their gathering Friendship House. Together they lived the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. While Venerable Dorothy Day was establishing Catholic Worker Houses during the Great Depression, Friendship House also begged for food and clothing to share with those in need. They offered hospitality of the heart to all. Misunderstanding, calumny, and rumors forced Friendship House to close. During this time of darkness Catherine united her suffering to Christ. Once again a small community formed around her and once again the new Friendship House had to close.
Moving back to Canada unexpectedly became the most fruitful time of Catherine’s life. While she served the needs of people in Combermere a new apostolate, Madonna House, began to grow. People joined Catherine to embrace the life of Nazareth, to live simply, and to serve in love. “The primary work of the Apostolate is to love one another. … If we implement this law of love, if we cloth it with our flesh, we shall become a light to the world,” she said, “for the essence of our Apostolate is love—love for God poured out abundantly for others.” As the apostolate grew in the 1960s Catherine began sharing the Russian/Eastern concept of poustinia. “Let us live an ordinary life,” she encouraged her followers, “but, beloved, let us live it with a passionate love for God.”
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“This is my commandment: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12
 A poustinia is a small sparsely furnished cabin or room where one goes to pray and fast alone in the presence of God. The word poustinia has its origin in the Russian word for desert.
 Catherine Doherty, Fragments of My Life, Ave Maria Press, 204.
 Cf. Saint John Paul II, Ut Unim Sint, 54.
 Madonna House Biography of Catherine Doherty; http://www.madonnahouse.org/doherty/
Life of Catherine Doherty; http://www.catherinedoherty.org/life/
The hymn Spirit Seeking Light & Beauty was written by English Roman Catholic convert,Sacred Heart sister and educator Janet Erskine Stuart, Mother Janet Stuart RSCJ (1857 – 1914).
Copyright 2017 Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp