It’s a peculiar epitaph – “She loved the poor.”
These are the words on the cross that marks the grave of Catherine Doherty, a Catholic woman who founded the Madonna House apostolate, was a noted spiritual writer, and who died on this date in 1985.
Of all the things to have on a person’s grave, why does hers say this?
A quick search reveals that connection between her love for the poor borne out of her reflection on “The Reality of Christ’s Poverty” about which she said:
This evening I attended a brief talk by one of the students in my residence on the particularities of the Orthodox Church. It was an interesting overview and one of the things that caught my attention (because of the photos in his slideshow) was the feature of the clergy wearing black.
Doing a bit of research online afterwards, I found this explanation offered for it:
The color black indicates spiritual poverty – it is historically the easiest and cheapest color to dye fabric with. Moreover, black is a color of mourning and death for the priest, the symbolism is dying to oneself to rise and serve the Lord as well as giving witness of the Kingdom yet to come. Black is associated with sorrow but in the case of priestly robe this color has another symbolic meaning. A black cassock is to remind a priest that he ‘dies to the world’ every day and immerses in eternity. Blackness also symbolizes giving up bright colors and thus giving up what the world brings, its glittering, honors and entertainment. Also, as an Archpriest once pointed out to me, stains are readily visible on black, reminding the priest that he is held to a higher standard. His sins and failings will be more visible and judged harsher, than those of other people. In our very secular world, the wearing of the cassock continues to be a visible sign of belief and of the consecration of one’s life to the service of the Lord and His Church.
It is told that there was once a grandson who claimed that his grandfather had been a hidden saint.
In attesting to his grandfather’s virtue, the grandson recounted the honourable work that his grandfather would do, the hours that he committed to prayer and study, and that he would donate ten percent to the poor.
The listeners were not particularly impressed since these are characteristics of any righteous and observant Jew.
The grandson continued saying, “My grandfather would give a tenth of his profits to [charity] and he would give a tenth of his losses as well.”
Recently I was having dinner with a friend who spoke to me about Tadeusz Dajczer’s book The Gift of Faith.
My friend had found this among the most startling and edifying spiritual books he’d read. In particular, he had been struck by the inclusion of St. Bernadette’s “Testament of Gratitude.”
Written shortly before her death from illness at a young age, my friend initially thought this “testament” was rather sarcastic and facetious.