Whilst reading the Revd George Wilson’s paper ‘Clericalism: the Death of the Priesthood’ I happened upon an interesting anecdote which he related on page 10. (Main site page here.)

Catherine Doherty Madonna House site MH-sub-CDIt concerns the late Baroness Doherty and her instructions to a group from her Madonna House ministry who went to Africa. Catherine Doherty — a woman who is currently a candidate for canonisation in the Catholic Church — knew both extremes of life during the 20th century. Not only did she live from the Russian Revolution and through two world wars punctuated by the Great Depression, but she also personally experienced wealth, poverty, motherhood, a broken marriage and, finally, a return to normality in her life bolstered by faith in Jesus Christ.

These are the instructions she gave to a few members of her Madonna community destined for Africa. Fr Wilson relates the story (emphases mine):

I was very close to the Madonna House community up in Canada, the Baroness Doherty’s; it’s a lay group.  Some years ago they sent three of their members to Africa and the Baroness said to them, “Okay, you’re in Africa for three years.  I don’t want to hear that you have done anything for anybody.  You’re not there to do for anybody.”  Well, these three young people went out to Africa for three years; and they just found this unbearable: “We’re here for three years, and what have we done?  We didn’t feed the poor, we didn’t do anything.” When they left, a thousand people from the community came down to the riverside to send them off; and what the people said to them is, “You’re the only white people who ever loved us.  You lived our world.  You shared the same things.  You didn’t try to do for us.  You just were human with us.”  That’s love. 

This puts paid to all the myriad ecclesiastical ‘projects’ of all denominations which involve DOING.  Thank goodness God’s grace moved the Baroness to actually forbid her Madonna House members from engaging in semi-Pelagianism!

A thousand people equated not doing with love!

May we take a firm example from this!

That doesn’t mean we’re to sit back and neglect others. However, what Madonna House members fulfil is a mission which I suspect some of my readers in their ministries do as well. The Baroness stated:

What is Madonna House? Madonna House is a very simple thing. It is an open door. It is a cup of tea or coffee, good and hot

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.

Please note what she had to say about poverty, which she experienced first-hand:

one of the most pressing problems of modern people is not material deprivation, such as food and shelter, but rather loneliness and a need for someone to listen to them. Our prayer-listening houses do exactly that, over a friendly cup of tea or coffee.

Some of my readers involved in ministry — particularly to young people — will know that, but may the rest of us keep this in mind.

Sometimes love is best accomplished with a Martha and Mary approach: tea and sympathy, respectively. We don’t necessarily need to be part of a formal ministry to accomplish this everyday giving which may mean a lot to someone — much more than we think.