Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Think Monastic, Act Apostolic

Thomas Merton, it's safe to say, was obsessed with the monastic life, particularly prior to his entrance into a monastic order. I'm learning this as I read ever so slowly through The Seven Storey Mountain, a memoir of his early life. But as obsessed as he was with monasticism, he was moved more by activism--and by activism I mean people living out the integrity of the calling and convictions placed on them by God.

A prime example is Catherine de Hueck, who fled Russia during the Communist revolution that gave witness to the violent death of several of her family members. She wound up working in a laundry in Depression-era Harlem, where Communism was overtaking the church in the hearts and imaginations of the residents. Merton ceded the rights to his early journals to de Hueck in support of her mission, but here he simply stands back and offers his admiration; in so doing he paints a picture of responsible lay living for people of faith:

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.

When she was working in that laundry, down somewhere near Fourteenth Street, and sitting on the kerbstone eating her lunch with the other girls who worked there, the sense of her own particular vocation dawned upon her. It was the call to an apostolate, not new, but so old that it is as traditional as that of the first Christians: an apostolate of a laywoman in the world, among workers, herself a worker, and poor: an apostolate of personal contacts, of word and above all of example. There was to be nothing that savored of a religious Order, no special rule, no distinctive habit. She, and those who joined her, would simply be poor--there was no choice on that score, for they were that already--but they would embrace their poverty, and the life of the proletariat in all its misery and insecurity and dead, drab monotony. They would live and work in the slums, lose themselves in the huge anonymous mass of the forgotten and the derelict, for the only purpose of living the complete integral Christian life in that environment--loving those around them, sacrificing themselves for those around them, and spreading the Gospel and the truth of Christ most of all by being saints, by living in union with Him, by being full of His Holy Ghost, His charity.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Good stuff, David - thanks for posting, giving me something to chew on in my own "apostolate" type of living it out... thanks.