20 Jan Combermere Diary (January 2016)
by Paulette Curran
November is a relatively uneventful time here—a short lull between the busy times of harvest and Advent. Even the colors are subdued. The brilliant autumn leaves have fallen, and browns, grays, and dark greens fill the landscape.
It’s been a lovely autumn—mild and sunny for the most part, and though by this time, mid-November, we usually have had some snow, so far we have only had a few flurries.
But already there are signs that Advent and Christmas are coming. We had an evening sugaring down, the boiling down of some of our maple syrup into maple sugar, which will be used in Christmas baking. The kitchen, which prepares many of the Christmas foods ahead of time, has already made the steamed puddings.
The cookie baking season has begun, the time when individual staff, guests, and applicants reserve oven space and spend an evening or so baking up a batch for Christmastime.
And this evening, the Advent liturgy classes for guests begin—the classes in which they learn about Advent and its customs, and present and take part in these customs.
As always three staff—one layman, one woman, and one priest—teach the class. This year they are Fr. Brian Christie, Frank Brick, and Doreen Dykers.
At the handicraft center, a big Advent project is taking place: the making of Christmas cards.
We have always had card-making classes, and some staff have always made their cards, but in the past, enough ready-made religious cards came in donation for our use. This is no longer the case.
So, a few years ago, the ever-resourceful head of the handicraft center, Anne Marie Murphy, begged for card-weight paper, made all sorts of materials—such as used cards and colored paper—available, and put up displays with ideas on how to make simple cards.
This year for those interested, Anne Marie also gave a class on simple card-making techniques, and for those who want to make more special cards, there have been Sunday afternoon classes.
Fr. David Linder gave a class on making cards with a material this area has in abundance—birch bark, Linda Owen, one on linocuts, and Anne Marie Murphy one on a technique called “iris paper folding.”
One other new-for-us paper-folding technique being used (though there was no class on it) is called “tea bag folding”—tea bag meaning the colorful paper cover that individual tea bags used to have and some still do.
(Someone gave us some of these covers, samples of cards decorated with this technique, and some how-to books on the subject.)
Or, for those of us who like things simple, we can just paste the picture from a used Christmas card on card-weight paper.
There was, of course, All Saints Day, one of these feasts we celebrate differently every year.
Well, not completely. We always have a visit from “the little saints,” neighbour children (accompanied by their parents), who instead of celebrating Halloween, celebrate All Saints Day.
They dress as saints, visit a few places (including us), and end with a party at the home of one of the families.
This year there seemed to be more really small children than usual. These little ones can usually only manage one or two shyly given clues to help us guess their saints. As you can imagine, we really enjoyed this event.
We celebrated the feast ourselves as well. Rae Stanley had us each bring a picture or statue and a quote of our favorite saint, and she put these all over the dining room. At St. Mary’s everyone dressed as saints.
Though it has been a relatively uneventful time in Madonna House, it has not been an uneventful time in the world—to say the obvious.
The many thousands of refugees and other migrants have been much on our minds and in our prayers, and now, less than a week after the Paris attack, so have the victims of that attack and their families and all of France.
We had a Taize-style Prayer Vigil for Refugees for which Veronica Dudych composed a song. “I was a stranger and you welcomed Me.”
At that vigil, Fr. David Linder summarized the message of the Catholic Bishops of Canada about the refugee crisis, and Mark Schlingerman read some of Catherine’s reflections on being a refugee.
A rosary followed, with each decade preceded by the reading of a short testimony by a refugee. The quote for the final decade was taken from the talk of Pope Francis at Lampedusa, Italy, after one of the tragic boat wrecks.
The tenth anniversary of the closing of MH Brazil occurred recently, and seven of the former staff there happened to be in Combermere at the time. This included visiting staff, Cristina Coutinho, who is Brazilian and is the new director of MH Belgium. So they had a gathering.
They reminisced (mostly in Portuguese), enjoyed a couple of typical Brazilian drinks and snacks, and signed a card for Fr. Heber S. de Lima, SJ, author of the book about Catherine which was instrumental in bringing MH to Brazil. He celebrated his 95th birthday this month.
Now here are some news in brief: St. Mary’s is studying the Synod on the Family. Four staff—Mary Davis, Ruth Siebenaler, Teresa Gehred, and Melanie Murphy—as part of their holidays, went camping in Algonquin Park, a provincial park not far from here.
Ten of Patrick Stewart’s oil paintings were displayed at a local gallery. Fr. Bob Wild spoke at the Sheptytsky Institute, a school of Eastern Catholic Studies in Ottawa, on “Can we hope that everyone will be saved?” a talk based on his new book, A Catholic Reading Guide to Universalism (Wipf & Stock Publ.).
God bless each of you and give you many graces in the new year.