Madonna House

Combermere Diary (March 2016)

by Paulette Curran

I don’t know the history of Mardi Gras and Carnival, but from what happens in the days before Lent in Madonna House, I think I can guess how they grew.

Of course, you have traditions which you follow every year. That’s the start. Then you want to have some fun before Lent begins. And then there’s that treat food in the cupboard which you don’t want to have around during Lent. So you have a special meal or get-together to eat it.

Our traditions? Having times for confession and a pancake supper on Shrove Tuesday. The last few years, we have also been having a pizza supper on the weekend before Ash Wednesday. And for many years, we have been having an annual “Pre-Lent Event,” composed mainly of humorous skits, some of them take-offs on our life.

Then this year, a couple of events unconnected with either Lent or Madonna House occurred which added to our celebrations: a play put on by Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, our local school of higher learning, and, on television, the Super Bowl.

This year, the Pre-Lent Event, organized and MCed by Neil Patterson and Lisa Diniz, included the following: a skit of guardian angels reporting on the spiritual progress of their charges (the women staff of St. Goupil’s)—played by their charges; the three Magi encountering the hassles of Customs and Immigration at the Canadian border; and a Russian chef with translator teaching Doreen Dykers, our farm cook, how to cook “turnip-turtle ambrosia.”

Our actors included not only angels but two birds: a real chicken from our farm and Andorra Howard dressed as a very fashionable wild turkey.

(Recently, there have been numerous sightings of a flock of wild turkeys—up to 20 of them—on St. Mary’s property.)

A Catholic community does not only have light-hearted fun just before Lent, but all year round. As Hilaire Belloc put it,

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,

There’s song and laughter and good red wine

At least I’ve always found it so,

Benedicamus Domino!

Accordingly, a couple of weeks before Lent, we had a lovely skating party.

Contrary to what I thought when I was growing up in a big city, you don’t just wait for a body of water to freeze and then just skate on it until it melts. An ice rink takes maintenance, and our generous men, mainly Darrin Prowse, do that work in their free time.

Back to the skating party. It was a perfect night for it: relatively mild with a full moon as well as luminaria (candles in sand in paper bags) providing light.

The younger folk (and some not so young) had games on the ice and time for just skating to music. The older folk and those who can’t skate (not many of those) watched the skating around a bonfire and passed cups of hot chocolate to the skaters.

What about working guests from tropical countries? Well, having learned a bit here, they were skating, too.

What else have we been doing? Praying, of course. Besides our usual prayer life, we had our annual day of recollection on the Feast of the Presentation, February 2nd and prayed for Christian unity during the Prayer of Unity Octave.

Some of our priests and lay people have given retreats. Fr. David Linder and Peter Gravelle gave the annual one for men in our diocese, and Fr. Denis Lemieux and Kathy McVady gave one for women in Ottawa.

Our priests have also given retreats to a couple of our field houses: Fr. Tom Zoeller to St. Joseph’s House and Fr. Denis Lemieux to Marian Centre Regina. Fr. David Linder gave a day of recollection to those living in the residence for our elderly and to their care-givers.

We also study: The applicants have their Friday afternoon class time and the guests their Wednesday morning class on the Catechism.

And as always just before and during Lent, the Friday afternoon staff study groups are in progress. Since we are free to choose our topics, they vary a lot. Most groups read and discuss a subject of choice, three of which this year are connected with the Year of Mercy.

Two unusual study groups are: one on play and childlikeness (its place in our faith life and practice of it as well) led by Melanie Murphy.

This next one, led by Helen Porthouse, is really unusual. Did you learn in grade school as I did, about the wonderful system of roads the ancient Romans built and how those roads were a huge factor in building and maintaining the empire?

Well, one study group, in which several people are participating, is building a groma, a simple surveying instrument invented by the Roman that enabled them to build straight roads. (You can look up groma online.)

Where is work in all this? Besides the fact that you don’t have a community of our size (of any size, actually) without a lot of work, work is deeply a part of our spirituality, one of the ways in which we live the Gospel.

The thing is, in terms of this column, most of our work is not “news.” There is, however, one thing that has affected some of the men’s work this winter: the unusually mild weather and the resulting small amount of snow. Little snow has made taking the cut logs out of the bush (forest) much more difficult.

On the plus side, the smaller quantity of snow has decreased the amount of time spent on snow-removal. On the minus side again, the fact that the temperatures have fluctuated above and below freezing has caused a lot of ice—and ice is much more difficult to deal with than snow. Among other things, it’s slippery and needs frequent sanding.

Well, I guess that’s the news for this month. Blessed Holy Week and Easter to all of you.