CHAMBERS OF HER HEART,
By Robert Wild
This second edition of Chambers is substantially the same as the first edition, with some updating, editions, and omissions. While still primarily addressed to the men entering our formation program to discern a priestly vocation, the book is essentially about how formation takes place in our community. The book would be relevant to any of our guests, men and women, spending time with us. In some of the changes in this edition I have tried to keep this wider audience in mind. My hope is that all of our guests will find it helpful.
Pope John Paul II delights in specifying the identity of the priest as one who acts “in the person of Christ.” Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House, had an extraordinary faith in this presence of Christ in the priest. Our century tends to emphasize the humanness – the Simon - of the priest. But Catherine always insisted that there was a Peter in each priest as well, and we must not confuse the two. By her teaching and personal example she tried to stir up in others a profound faith in this extraordinary presence of Christ in the priest. Aware that we cannot live without the divine life communicated to us through the priest, she was continually seeking ways to foster faith in, and vocations to, the holy priesthood.
At a certain point in the history of the community (to be related) she offered Madonna House as a place where men who were considering the priesthood might come to be better grounded in their own life with Christ, and receive encouragement and assistance in their search for God’s will. She was not alone in thinking that the seminary is often too academically orientated in its formation to the detriment of other human and spiritual qualities necessary for the future priest. (Church documents note this as well.) She thought that a prior immersion in a more comprehensive atmosphere which emphasized these necessary human and spiritual foundations might be beneficial in helping to form future priests.
Christopher Dawson, the great 20th century English convert and historian, in an article entitled “Education and the Crisis of Christian Culture” (Lumen Vitae, April, 1946), said in a few words what I mean by comprehensive, and what we believe Madonna House offers:
The present book (as mentioned above), while having an orientation towards prospective candidates for the priesthood, is much more a description of the Madonna House way of formation for the Christian life. Much of it would apply to both men and women coming to share our community experience. As directed to men trying to discern a priestly vocation, it would also have a message for seminarians themselves, and for those involved in seminary formation.
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the past century has seen the birth of perhaps two hundred or more new communities. The Church calls them ecclesial communities because the Spirit is seeking to reveal the many-faceted splendor of the Church’s life. The Second Vatican Council was seen as a new Pentecost, with the Church as its major emphasis. Through the raising up these communities the Holy Spirit is seeking to reveal the many ways the reality of the Church can be lived.
Madonna House is one of these new communities. Because of Catherine’s spiritual stature, and because we are one of the oldest of these communities (early 1930’s,Toronto), one of the greatest gifts she has to offer to these communities is precisely a profound vision of formation in the Christian life. Already some of these communities are using Catherine’s spirituality for their own formation programs. Thus, this book is offered not only for the formation of seminarians but for Christian formation wherever it is taking place. The essence of the “initiation into the mysteries” would be the same; the circumstances of transmission different.
For over 50 years we have been trying to live the genius of Catherine’s wisdom concerning Christian formation; and, as well, trying to share our experience with hundreds of young people coming to live with us. We know something about the inner world of modern youth, and what is required to help them begin a deep Christian transformation of that world. In his last book, Thomas Merton describes, from his own experience, the young person coming to the monastery. Here is one insightful view of the young, modern consciousness that needs transformation:
The modern child may in the beginning of his conscious life begin to show natural and spontaneous signs of spirituality. He may have imagination, originality, a simple and individual freshness of response to reality, and even a tendency to moments of thoughtful silence and absorption. But all these qualities are quickly destroyed by the fears, anxieties, and compulsions to conform that come at him from all directions. He becomes a yelling, brash, false little monster, brandishing a toy gun and dressed up like some character he has seen on television. His head is filled with inane slogans, songs, noises, explosions, statistics, brand names, menaces, ribaldries, and clichés. When he gets to school he learns to verbalize, to rationalize, to pose, to make faces like an advertisement, to need a car, and in short to go through life with an empty head, conforming to others like himself, in togetherness. (The Inner Experience, 128)
This may seem a bit harsh – certainly not flattering - and not applicable to all. The point is that the inner world of the modern young person is in need of a profound Christian transformation on all levels. To quote Dawson again from the same article: “Christian education was not only an initiation into the Christian community, it was also an initiation into another world, the unveiling of spiritual realities of which the natural man was unaware and which changed the meaning of existence.”
This book is an attempt to describe some of the concentric worlds in which Madonna House lives and which we offer for Christian formation. They are the worlds of the Church, Nazareth, and Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart through which Christ himself, and the trinitarian life, is communicated. It is about how we seek to communicate and unveil the sacred mysteries of these worlds and to give those who enter them a “good taste” of, yes, the kingdom of God and even of the world to come. The Christian tradition has a lot to say about formation, how to lead someone onto an authentic path of a change of life. This is a brief account of how our Madonna House way of life seeks to discipline the whole person so that he or she may begin to become a true disciple of Jesus.
September 8, Feast of Our Lady’s Birthday
Second Edition, 2004