Madeleine Delbrel, My Model for the New Evangelization

Madeleine Delbrel, My Model for the New Evangelization March 17, 2015

I first met Madeleine in July 2009, inside the Magnificat magazine, and was immediately captivated. Today, she’s my bfsog (Best Friend Servant of God).

‘We, the ordinary people of the streets, know very well that as long as our own will is alive, we will not be able to love Christ definitively. We know that only obedience can root us in his death. We would envy our religious brothers and sisters if we too could not “die to ourselves” a little more each day.

‘However, for us the tiny circumstances of life are faithful “superiors.” They do not leave us alone for a moment; and the “yeses” we have to say to them follow continuously, one after the other.

‘When we surrender to them without resistance we find ourselves wonderfully liberated from ourselves. We float in Providence like a cork on the ocean waters…

‘From the moment we wake up these circumstances take hold of us. It is the telephone that rings; it is the key that won’t work, the bus that doesn’t arrive or arrives full, or doesn’t wait for us. It is the person sitting next to us who tkes up the whole seat; or the vibration of the loose window pane that drives us crazy.

‘It’s the daily routine, one chore that leads to another, some job we wouldn’t have chosen. It’s the weather and its changes – which is exquisite precisely because it is completely untainted by human doing. It’s being cold, or being hot; it’s the headache or the toothache. It’s the people we meet and the conversations they choose to start. It’s the rude man who nearly knocks us off the sidewalk. It’s the people who need to kill some time, and so they corner us.

‘For us, the ordinary people of the streets, obedience means bending to the ways of our times whenever they are not harmful…

‘When we live with others, obedience also means we set aside our own tastes and leave things in the place others have put them. In this way, life becomes an epic film in slow motion. It does not make our head spin. It does not take our breath away. Little by little, thread by thread, it eats away at the old man’s frame, which cannot be mended and must be made new from the ground up. When we thus become accustomed to giving up our will to so many tiny things, we will no longer find it hard, when the occasion presents itself, to do the will of our boss, our husband, or our parents.

‘And our hope is that death, too, will be easy’

Servant of God, Madeleine Delbrel
Madeleine Delbrel (+1964) was a French laywoman, writer, and mystic devoted to caring for the poor and to evangelizing culture.

I had never heard of Madeleine Delbrel, so I did some research, and a good review of her life can be found here.

But the relationship cooled (it was me, not her), and we parted ways until late 2014, when our paths crossed. It was providential, I’m sure. Not sure where it happened, or how, but I found this quote:

“It is the real presence of Christ in the poor man, when this is really believed and the poor man is known as a person, that can transform the encounter with him from a purely “social problem” into something essentially and authentically Christian.

“The poor must not be someone who is tolerated and put up with, but someone who is waited for and expected.”

So I purchased her book, “We, The Ordinary People of the Street”, and started reading.

Oh.My.Goodness. So awesome.

It is all at once challenging, compelling, and completely Catholic. Every line – every sentence – carries profound wisdom on radically living the Gospel. It’s not a book that gets read once – I’m finding it’ll require multiple readings so that it can take root. I may post excerpts from the book on occasion. She is the non-cloistered St Therese of Lizieux, demonstrating a little way in being Christ, and seeing Christ in everyone, regardless of circumstance, creed, or culture.

Her words from the meditation – finding sanctification in daily experiences – resonate.  She exhorts us to submit to life’s “superiors”, those inconveniences and interruptions that cross our paths. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the immeasurable amount of “wasted Grace” that trails behind me at the end of every day – Grace afforded through Baptism, the Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation and Marriage. It’s amazing how Grace is available every single second – yet I know I squander the majority of it. God, though, in His infinite love and mercy, continues to send that Grace. So as I read this meditation, it gently reminded me – well, maybe not so gently, but not in a reproving sort of way! – that God’s Grace is always accessible for every circumstance, and if I remember to tap into it, then in a small way, according to God’s perfect will, I am evangelizing the souls God set in my path. Which is daunting – we will “carry the terrifying force of Jesus’ gospel of love” to people who will persecute us for doing so – and yet it is also profoundly exciting, and ultimately eternally rewarding.

As evil events occur about us at an increasingly out-of-control pace, and as more people abandon the Gospel for a gospel of their own design, it’s incumbent we evangelize those around us in word and in deed. We can’t change our communities or parishes or the society all at once – only by one person at a time. We start where God has placed us – and one by one, through God’s abundant Grace, we can re-Christianize the world.

Christ started with twelve – twelve simple ordinary people of the street.

We’re the ordinary people of the street now. It’s our turn. Are we ready?


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  • Sherry

    That’s gorgeous! Thanks for sharing it. Wasted grace…how true. How rich we’d be if we wasted less of it.