"In fact, it is through our small sufferings that we are given a marvelous means of putting the vast expanse of suffering in the world to good use and making it fruitful. Nothing at a time like this is so sad as seeing the whole world going through such exceptional sufferings and going through it blindly.
However, these sufferings, just like our own, are divided up and apportioned to each person. So, it ias a great joy for us to know that by 'willing" each part of our small allotment of suffering we become the seeing eyes of the grieving, groping world.
Sometimes a single colored vase in a room can bring out all the objects of the same color that up to that moment went unnoticed. I find myself thinking that as he looks upon the world, God sees some small act of good will shining, and for its sake find the dreary passivity of the whole enterprise a sacrifice worthy of acceptance.
A small suffering freely accepted gives meaning and value to untold volumes of vast suffering throughout the world. Through it we help the world perform a valid penance.
Has it ever occurred to us--so fond of news as we are and so swift at interpreting it whether with joy or gloom--have we ever thought that the fact of botching a small amount of our daily suffering--whether it be by getting up with bad grace in the morning, by turning up our noses at insipid food, or simply by cursing the numbing cold--is of greater significance to thh real history of the world than the current disaster or victory reported over the radio?"
Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964) was a French convert and mystic who founded an experimental lay community dedicated to social justice and the works of mercy.
In her youth Delbrêl, an only child, was resolutely atheistic. After converting in 1924, she became engaged to a man who broke off their relationship to join the Dominicans. Then her father went blind. The experiences devastated her.
In 1933, she accepted the offer from a priest of a two-bedroom house in the largely Communist
Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine. Along with two other women,
she moved in shortly thereafter. Raspail, as their house was known, became a
hub of social and political activism with an emphasis on treating Christ in “the
least of these” with humility, verve, and humor.
The community befriended the Communists among whom they lived. Over the years, Raspail sheltered incorrigible drunks, borderline personalities, and families spilling over with children. Delbrê was dazzled by the notion that authentic freedom is grounded in Christ, and she also wrote of the Church’s failure to adequately love the outcast and the prisoner.
Though she resisted what she called “literature,” she constantly scribbled pamphlets, letters-to-the-editor, and tracts.
Her books include We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, The Little Monk, and The Joy of Believing. “When you finally discover that you are just one of the little people, don't conclude that this makes you special.” “The Gospel is not meant to be read by us, but to be received within us.”
She worked indefatigably during WWII to welcome refugees, arrange housing, console the traumatized. All the while she smoked like a fiend, wore salvaged pillbox hats decorated with fake flowers, and took abysmal care of her health.
In time, she traveled to
Switzerland, Scotland, Africa, Poland,
and Rome. She
resisted organizing Raspail as a “Pious Institute” with fixed rules and
regulations, as was decreed by the Vatican for lay organizations in
1947. She believed in “people without categories” and in a life without
Pope Francis has called the laity to “the outskirts of existence.” At the same time, “[The layperson] is to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit but from his everyday life.” Delbrêl is a wonderful exemplar. We, too, are called to “the outskirts” by living among people who have turned their backs on God. We, too, are called to sow hope in the alien and the stranger, whether or not they share our faith.
13, 1964, Delbrêl was working, as usual, at the battered desk from which
she ministered to her “tiny multitude.” A community member found her lifeless
body late that afternoon.
She wrote: “Each time that we are torn apart because we choose to be faithful to God’s faithfulness to us, we become as it were breaches in the world’s resistance.”