The Ministry of MagdaleneIt has long been known by those familiar with the Benedictine way of life that the principles embodied in the Holy Rule of St. Benedict can be used as a way both to build relationships and to repair lives that are broken. Indeed, Holy Father Benedict wrote his Rule at a time when he believed that the world had not only become fully corrupt, but was a terrible influence on the human soul. Benedict decided to try something new by taking men out of the carnal world and placing them together in communities bound together in prayer, penance, and the love of God and one another. Men came from every station in life in those days to be a part of Benedict's radical Christian vision of prayerful monastic communites built on faith in God and self-sustainment through care for one another.
Becca Stevens, who is the Anglican Episcopal Vicar at Vanderbilt, had the idea that at least some Benedictine principles (which have already been applied fully to women through the ancient work of St. Scholastica) could be used to bring women who have been victimized by sexual abuse, prostitution, and drugs-among other things-to a state of reconciliation and peace. The remarkable stories of the women of Nashville's Magdalene community are summarized in thw short volume Find Your Way Home: Words From the Street, Wisdom From the Heart-where some of the women tell their stories anonymously, each in a short vignette. What makes this method different is that the reader doesn't learn much about the personal lives of the women of Magdalene (that is not the intent of the book), but instead learns how the women were able to find the love of God through one another in this community, and through that love were able to discover that there can be more to their life than just drug abuse and exploitation.
One woman was drawn to the community through its hospitality. Members of Magdalene always gave her some chips and a drink whenever they saw her (hospitality is a bedrock principle of Benedictinism). Another woman discovered the love of God through laughter in the community, even after a tornado destroyed the gazebo in her community home. For another member of Magdalene, what finally broke her from the cycle of addiction and perpetual violence to herself was the fact that Magdalene never gave up on her despite a couple of serious relapses into the darker side of her life and past. For one dear lady, the black-robed judge who ordered her into the two year program at Magdalene is credited with helping to change the course of her life, although she did not know it at the time.
It is easy in our own day and age for even the most well-meaning and pious of Christians to forget that there are places in our cities and towns, and even in our countryside where those who society has cast aside live in darkness and fear, and often in violence and and even abuse. We often choose to block these places from our mind and our prayer and devotional life-but when Christ walked the earth, it was to those people and in those places that he first went to minister.
In the Catholic liturgical texts for Vespers on most Wednesdays, there is an optional intercession "for this city, for every city, and all those living in them." Even for those, it ought to be remembered, that society sometimes forgets. The Magdalene Community is actively showing that the principles of Christian community can help bring the love of God to the very people who most need to know and hear the message of His love and care for them.