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The Christmas of the Poor or Our Lady of the Metro (1945)

On the platform of the Metro. The Blessed Virgin (she is holding her baby Jesus closely swaddled Already1,945 years have passed! And how like human beings they are… and how they suffer! And how I would like to comfort them with this one consolation, with this 1,945-year-old consolation, with this eternal consolation in which so few of them come to seek peace.

Always the same as in Bethlehem, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the given and the sold, the free and the imprisoned. And these unfortunates, all these wretches who do not recognize their consolation, and these poor happy ones, these falsely happy ones who do not want to be consoled.

And I feel against my heart my child who seems to want to leap towards them. Will he wrench open the doors of their hearts? Will they, these wretches, these falsely happy ones, open the doors of their hearts to be comforted, to learn that they are in need of mercy?

(To an absolutely upper class lady) Excuse me, Madame, I’m alone in Paris with my small child. Could you have us to stay tonight, which is Christmas?

The lady: I’m very sorry, my good woman, but this evening my whole family is coming to my house, my brothers, sisters, children and grandchildren. Everyone will have their share of the hearth, the goose and the happiness. God knows what an effort I have made to prepare it all. Go to Rue Cantagrel, get out at Tolbiac, tonight you will be warm.

The Blessed Virgin: God take pity on your happiness, my poor woman.

(To a very rich gentleman who certainly owns factories) Monsieur, please could you have me and my little child to stay with you for the night? We are alone in Paris.

The gentlemen, inclining his ear: What?

The Blessed Virgin: Please, could you... Idem?

The gentleman: What?

The Blessed Virgin: Idem.

The gentleman: That is strange, I’ve never been deaf and yet I can’t hear what this woman is saying to me.

The Blessed Virgin: May God take pity on you, poor man. Money has caused the ears of your heart to decay. Your heart has rotted away like the face of a leper. May the mercy that is born tonight heal and save you.

(To a very elegant young woman) Mademoiselle, have the kindness to offer us hospitality in your house, my child and me; we are alone in Paris tonight.

The young woman I shall be out this evening. I am never at home. How could I receive you? What is more, poor young thing, how could you have thought of having a baby in this day and age?

The Blessed Virgin: May God take pity on you, little woman without a home, little woman without children. How could he meet you if you are never at home? How would you know his love if you have never been a mother? They are all the same, all the same!

(To a very simple small woman) In that time the whole earth was like a loneliness and the countryside was waiting for what was to happen. And it was written: loneliness will be rejoicing and it will jump for joy and praise.

The woman: Who can ever speak of rejoicing in loneliness? Loneliness is everywhere. In a little while, we shall be squashed against each other in the metro carriage. We shall be lonelier than a man lost in the middle of the desert. In a little while, in the house where 300 of us live, no one will be a friend.

Our hearts are as if enclosed in concrete. No one thinks that they exist. Death brings loneliness to light. Love breaks loneliness once. It makes it a hundred times greater.

In work, loneliness; in youth, loneliness. I was a girl whom others always left out, a joyless girl, a motherless girl. I was a child without love. I shall be an old lady without children, lonely, still lonely, always lonely....

The Blessed Virgin: It is written: Pluck up your courage, waters will flow in the desert and torrents in solitude. The arid soil will turn into a lake and the dry land into a fountain of water, says the almighty Lord.

Tonight is Christmas; and the important visit of eternal love, of the eternal friend. Would you like, Madame, to spend the night with me so that we can receive him together?

(To a robust young man with clear eyes) At that time the shepherds were waiting for the One who would accept their offerings, all those sweet white things: their lambs, milk, butter, cream, cheese. They were bringing the best of all they had for the One who was about to come.

The robust young man: Will someone come one day to whom we can give what is good within us? Some ask us for our money, others for our work, yet others for our rage, others for obscene gestures and words, others for pranks. Who will ask us for our hearts? The heart is always forgotten and one gets fed up like a dog in his kennel waiting for his master to come home.

The Blessed Virgin: “I have loved you with eternal love and I have drawn you close to me”. Tonight it is Christmas. Tonight will be the important visit of eternal love, of eternal friendship. Young man, would you like to stay close to my child and me so that we can meet him together?

(To an old man) To the ends of the earth kings were already informed of the great news. It was written: “Because the darkness will cover the earth, and the shadows will cover the peoples, but the Lord will rise above you and in you will see his glory. The nations will walk in your light and kings in the splendour of your love”

The old man: Yes, the darkness covers the earth, yes, the sky is spangled with stars but what we are waiting for isn’t there. Yes, we know about many things, but in spite of all our discoveries which we have pursued with love so that the world might be more beautiful, so that the world might be a better place, human beings like naughty children have made terrible weapons and with them have changed the earth into a place of terror. Whenever will the star rise of the peaceful dominator of the earth to whom we shall give our treasures, such as gold, such as incense and myrrh, so that they at last serve for the universal good?

The Blessed Virgin: It is written: “The mountains receive peace for the people and the hills justice”. Christmas is tonight. And the important visit of eternal love, of eternal friendship. Monsieur, do you want to stay with us tonight so that we can receive it together? Let the innumerable beings who are lonely gather round us, let all those who have within them something good to give and do not know to whom come with us, the new magi, the wise in search of peace. Stay close to me, my friends, I have not shown you my child, soon you shall see him better.

Follow me: let us take the next metro train. Together we will get off at Porte d’Ivry, you know, Ivry the red, red is the colour of charity, it is the colour of love.

Together we shall go down the Rue de Paris, we shall stop at the old church which has illuminated Christmas Night for many centuries.

And there I shall show you my son. I shall show him to you as a child who is born but I will also show him to you as the Saviour of the world who for 2,000 years has been visiting the world continuously so that men and women may know him, so that they may love him and in loving him learn to love each other, as he himself loved them first.

I shall show him to you and you will be healed of your loneliness and will have a master and a guide.

And in returning to your homes, on the streets, in the world, in your turn you will teach all, you will cry to them and sing out the Good News: A child is born for us. We have been given a Saviour. Let us rejoice. And let us live in joy.

Letter to a vet (1954-1955)

Dear Sir,

In 50 years of life I have had the pleasure of receiving the care of 10 doctors. Among these I have had the opportunity to meet two doctors of human beings. They are unfortunately dead and I cannot hope to have a third opportunity. I know for certain that I have the character of a dog, the stubbornness of a mule and the temperament of a horse, whereas I am sure that on the contrary I am not a superman and am tired of being treated as such. This is why a veterinary surgeon seems to me to be better suited to my needs. I hope you will not refuse me your advice. And if, in the worst of cases, I should have maggots in my head, I should prefer to be treated with an insecticide rather than psychoanalysis.

Humour in love (1946)

Knowing what we are, it would be truly ridiculous

if we were not to retain a note of humour in our love. For we are truly comical figures.

However we are not prepared to laugh

at our own buffoonery.

Lord, I love you more than anything… usually...

but how much more than you, in this brief moment that is passing,

an English cigarette… or even an Italian one!

Lord, I give you my life, my whole life....

but not this tiny sliver of life,

these three minutes in which I am not so keen to go to work.

Lord, conquer cities for yourself, both France and the whole world, consume me for your kingdom… but…...

but do not listen to this insufferable creature

who is telling me for the umpteenth time of his petty troubles.

Yes, we are heroes of a comic opera, and

it would be normal that we be the first public of this comedy.

However the story does not end here.

When this comicality is found to be invaluable,

when we burst out laughing

summing up the process of our own lives,

the temptations creeps in of course to abandon ourselves

to the career of a clown in which after all we seem to be rather gifted.

we would be easily tempted to think that this has no great importance

and that beside

the sublime,

the strong,

and the holy

there is room

for clowns and buffoons

and that they are not at all displeasing to God.

It is not of course very exalting

but neither is it very tiring and it is also an advantage.

And then we must remember

that God did not create us for humour

but for this eternal and terrible love

with which he has always loved all that he created.

Therefore we must accept this love,

not to be its splendid and magnanimous companion

but the beneficiary,

dim-witted,

devoid of fascination,

without fundamental faithfulness.

and in this adventure of mercy

we are asked

to give all we can without reservations,

we are asked to laugh when this gift has failed,

sordid, impure,

but we are also asked

to marvel with tears of gratitude

and joy,

before this inexhaustible treasure

that flows to us from God’s heart.

At this crossroads of laughter and of joy

will be our indefectible peace!

Among Madeleine’s notes

No. 11 Rue Raspail, a working-class district of Paris: here, in 1935 together with a few companions, the mystic, poet and social worker Madeleine Del Delbrêl (1904-1964) set up her project of simple fraternal life in close contact with the women and men of the neighbourhood. It was a living Christian presence of a woman born a “radical and profound” atheist among the de-Christianized people of her time, a presence of faith, life and social demands” of a woman who, at the age of 20, converted to Catholicism (the convert, she once said, “is a person who discovers the marvellous good fortune that God is”). Delbrêl was one of the major spiritual figures of the 20th century. Her sense of humour – “I have been and I am dazzled by God”, she confided to several students three weeks before she died – was legendary. The excerpts we propose are from Umorismo nel amore, Meditazione e poesie (Gribaudi, 2011) [original French title: Humour dans l’Amour ; Méditations et Fantaisies ] which is a collection of extremely varied writings – notes, anecdotes, letters, poems, songs and short stories – preserved by Madeleine’s friends who were aware of the value of those words.

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