musicians playing fiddles and a guitar

Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

 As I write this column, it is high summer, and so far, this one is what those of us from further south would call a “real” summer. That is, hot.

It has also been dry, so much so that the crops we were unable to irrigate were doing poorly—such as the hay. So we prayed. In fact, Fr. David May celebrated two votive Masses for rain. Shortly after this, we had a storm.

We needed even rain more than that, and for the next few days, on and off, it continued to rain. In fact, one guest who arrived at that time asked me if we always have that much rain!

This time frame can only be described as full and rich. Summer is that, surely, especially in a place where winter is so long. But here, the richness and fullness I’m talking about have come from so much more than the season.

First of all, in June, God gifted us with a wonderful four-day visit from the Montreal house of the French-speaking Jerusalem Community (the Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem), a new ecclesial community from France. Three priests, two brothers, one layman, and nine sisters came. Good thing we have big guest houses!

(The community was founded in Paris in 1975 by Fr. Pierre-Marie Delfieux, and their vocation is to provide an oasis of prayer, silence and peace in the desert of modern cities.)

Most of the group were from France but Guinea, Cape Verde, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, and Canada were also represented. One of the Canadians, Aimee, is a former working guest.

The prior and prioress had visited us about three years ago and hoped they could one day bring the whole group to stay with us partly to deepen their roots. There was an early connection with MH when Catherine talked to the community in Paris just a few years after their founding.

The Jerusalem Community is a young, vibrant community and their joy is palpable. Between them and us, notwithstanding the language barrier, there was an immediate bond, the kind only God can give, and it was a life-giving time for both communities.

We toured them everywhere and gave them talks, and they were enthusiastic about everything. They also met with some of our leaders.

Some of them know some English, and some of us know some French, and as we had meals together, we got to know each other. And through pamphlets and presentations, we learned about their community as well.

One highlight occurred on the evening of the feast of St. John the Baptist, a big day in the province of Quebec and a day that we also celebrate with the traditional bonfire.

As we were sitting around the bonfire, roasting marshmallows and singing on and off, someone asked the people from the Jerusalem Community to sing something, which they did in beautiful harmony.

Then we sang a song, then they did again, and we kept alternating. (We were surprised we could harmonize so well without books.) It was a time of beautiful oneness, a true gift from God.

At our Byzantine liturgy on Sunday, Fr. David May said we are now cousins, and later on their prioress invited us to visit them—though “not all of you at once!” We hated to see them go.

Life continued to be rich and full. At the farm the crops—and weeds—are growing, growing, growing, and at the Main House many visitors are coming—for our summer program, to the shops and museum and to Cana Colony. Fortunately, the renovations to the women’s guest dorm were finished in time.

Ah, yes, the summer program for young adults! Paul Moore and Gretchen Schaefer are the organizers, and Melanie Murphy is the activities coordinator.

The summer program offers what we offer working guests all year round: total immersion into our Catholic community—plus some extras. This year in accordance with the Year of Mercy, the theme is Mercy: The Bridge That Connects God With Man. The extras include talks by lay staff and priests and a variety of activities.

This year there have been so many activities—the activities director has been full of ideas—that I hardly know where to begin.

One highlight, for sure, was an evening of folk dancing, organized by Margarita Guerrero (who did the instructing) and Ralph Edelbrock, who was MC.

We learned and danced dances from Quebec, Croatia, Israel, Germany, Poland, Hawaii, Ghana, and the U.S. (the Virginia Reel). This was another time that God gave us joy.

There is, as usual, the Saturday Seminar, a time when visitors can ask questions to the directors general. Pope John Paul II said that people today want to hear personal witness, and a number of the questions bear this out.

For example: What helped you discern that this was your vocation? What did you do when you “hit the wall”? Tell us about your friendship with Jesus. What is it like living in a community that welcomes so many guests who are so varied and from so many cultures? There have also been a number of questions about prayer.

What other activities have there been? Evening farm bees of weeding and harvesting, hikes, a picnic, jam sessions, and a day of recollection whose theme was mercy. And there is more to come.

One unusual (for us) addition this year was—would you believe?—a 12-hole miniature golf course. Catherine always did say, “Nothing is foreign to the apostolate but sin.”

It was built by Michael Amaral and applicant Augustine Tardiff in their free time. Augustine did the fancier stuff—making challenges out of pipes, rocks, firewood, and pieces of lumber. Michael, who did landscaping before coming to MH, saw the possibilities that needed little or no additions in our rough, rocky ground.

One visitor of note was Bishop Denis Grondin, the new bishop of Rimouski, Quebec, where we have a house. He was a working guest for three months in 1976, and it was here in poustinia that God revealed to him his call to priesthood.

A group of staff, including Koreans Maria Park and Joo Eun Lee, drove an hour and a half to visit a Korean couple who are artisans. The husband is a potter and his wife does traditional Korean paper and fabric art. Their workshops were open for the weekend as part of a studio tour.

Speaking of pottery, Raandi King and Diana Breeze fired some of theirs, including two African talking drums, in a pit—and opened the pit and took them out during the picnic so whoever wished to could watch.

We heard a talk on euthanasia and assisted suicide by Alex Schadenberg, the head of the Anti-Euthanasia Coalition. He told us that the most important thing to do is what we are doing—giving love and support and community and a listening ear. Again and again, he has found that it is people who feel their lives have no meaning and/or that no one cares for them who are requesting to be killed.

We are proud of him; he is a former Cana kid. Well, that’s all the news for this time. May God bless you and keep your hearts in his peace.