By the time Venerable Madeleine Delbrêl was 20, she had converted to Catholicism from the strict atheism of her youth. Nine years later, in 1933, she was living as a missionary with two companions in Ivry, “the first Communist city and more or less the capital of Communism in France.” She decided to live in this community because she remembered the pain of not knowing God; her goal was not simply to evangelize them, but to befriend them. She lived there until she died in 1964.
Venerable Madeleine Delbrêl had an exceptional love for the Church and perceived that there was a profound link between Christ, the Church, and evangelization. “The work of the Church is the salvation of the world; the world cannot not be saved except by the Church.” In our current atmosphere of skepticism towards structures of authority and of the Church herself, she is a voice that reminds us how to love the Church, and how to bring Christ to the world in and through her.
Madeleine considered each person in the Church to be an essential part of the Church’s mission; there was no one who did not have a part to play. “We are not the Church unless we are the whole Church: each member belongs to the whole body.” Each person’s part was specific and vital: “And we are not the whole Church unless we are in precisely the place meant for us in the Church, which is the same as saying that we are precisely in our place in the world, where the Church is made present through us.”
These words are comforting and hopeful, but we always seem to struggle to find our purpose and direction. Delbrêl’s view is that we do not have to go crazy finding exotic projects: “Mission means doing the very work of Christ wherever we happen to be. We will not be the Church and salvation will not reach the ends of the earth unless we help save the people in the very situations in which we live.” These situations, these people where we live, have been entrusted to us. When we don’t take this mission seriously, the world suffers.
Her words profoundly challenge me. I am often dreaming of my next “important project,” but fail to see the people and the situations that are very truly before my eyes.