Fr Phil Thibodeau and Elizabeth Bassarear roll out dough for tortiere crusts

Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

As it does every year, it feels strange to be writing this column for the February issue for the time-frame covering Advent and Christmastime. But the practicalities of getting the paper to you necessitate our putting together the contents well ahead of time. So, here we go, back to early December.

This year Advent here had some added difficult situations.

St. Mary’s, which consists of about 40 people, is the smaller community within Madonna House Combermere. In recent months, it has been the site of hammering, drilling, and banging to make room for its older residents in a new living space. And then a number of their people-conveniences went out of commission.

The main elevator which should have been repaired by October is still not working as of this writing in January; it’s awaiting government inspection.

The small elevator between the main floor and the adjoining chapel was on the blink for nearly two weeks until a part finally came in. Even the recently installed chairlift between the chapel foyer and the second floor only functioned halfway up. Needless to say, all this has been very difficult for the people who can’t do stairs.

Moreover, the two new propane stoves did not work for two weeks, also because of a missing part. And the new gas dryer, which was already delayed several weeks because the licensed technician is down with the flu, is still out of commission after four weeks.

The cooks, headed by Lisa Diniz, had to make do with one small stove for 2 ½ weeks, and the laundress, Zoyla Grace, has figured out ways of drying without the drier.

All these things, obviously, have added work and stress to the lives of the people at St. Mary’s. But, on the positive side, they have put them in communion with those who suffer much greater inconveniences in other parts of the world.

The second thing is that Advent, the time during which we celebrate various feasts and prepare for Christmas—all of which requires much work—was the shortest it can possibly be.

We had a staff meeting to discuss what we could let go of for this year or at least simplify. One beautiful thing that happened at that meeting was that various people shared about how much our various customs and traditions mean to them, and meant to them when they first came.

What we ended up doing was following all our customs but simplifying some of them.

Julie Lynch, Augustine Tardiff, and Fr. Zach Romanowsky led the liturgy class, which teaches our guests about these seasons and our customs and traditions, mainly by having them organize and present some of these celebrations.

I’ll present just a few events or details of this year’s Advent.

Two craft classes were available: one on how to make cross-stitch cards and the other on how to make felted ornaments.

Evenings, on a volunteer basis, we baked cookies for Christmas, made and decorated St. Nicholas cookies for that feast, and rolled out pie crusts for the tortières (a French-Canadian Christmas meat pie).

We always go Christmas carolling in the area, but this year, I think for the first time, some of our neighbours carolled us!

Twenty-four members of the local Baklinski clan, carrying a lighted star according to the Polish custom, sang and gave us gifts of cookies and on slips of paper, a gift “from the Christ Child.”

These gifts included joy, peace, and hope and the best one of all “Himself” (Ted and Theresa Baklinski have fourteen grown children, and several of those live in the area with their families.)

And, of course, we celebrated our three major feasts during Advent: The Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the anniversary of Catherine’s death.

Then it was Christmas and the Christmas Season, and as Lent is a time for penance and repentance, Christmas is, of course, a time for rejoicing, no matter what is going on.

For Christ, who humbled himself to come to us as a baby is, as Fr. David Linder told us in his Christmas Vigil homily, our only source of hope: for our own sometimes impossible wounds and conditions, for our society in which Christ is hardly mentioned in the public square in a festive season named after him, and for refugees and people in war-torn countries.

This hope, he told us, was especially tangible in a town in Syria where Christians have returned and celebrated Christmas in their ISIS-devastated church and homes.

Here we celebrated in union with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world and for those who refuse to celebrate our Savior.

The refugees and trouble spots in the world are much in our thoughts and prayers these days, and on the table where for Christmas we always display dolls representing nations throughout the world, we added silhouettes of people, one to represent each trouble-spot.

Then, at our traditional holy hour on New Year’s Eve, we prayed, as we always do, a Litany of the Nations, in which we mentioned every nation of the world by name. But this time, at the suggestion of the liturgy class, we also each drew out of a bowl the name of a nation to pray for for the coming year.

During Christmas Week, we also reached out to the young people of Canada and the United States.

Two young adult movements —Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) (a Canadian Catholic student movement) and FOCUS, an American movement similar to CCO, have their major conferences during the students’ Christmas break. (The Canadian conference is called “Rise Up.”)

We had a booth and representatives at each conference, one in Ottawa and the other in Chicago, to connect with the young people and tell them about Madonna House.

Let me end with some important news about our community.

When you are a new community —as the Church sees it—and an unusual one like Madonna House, you can function and thrive within the heart of the Church, but it usually takes time, many years, before the Church gives you official recognition.

So, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2017, we had cause for rejoicing when our directors general announced that two decrees had been signed by the bishop of our diocese, Bishop Michael Mulhall.

The first one approves the new statutes (a supplement to a community’s constitution) for Madonna House as a “Public Association of the Faithful.”

The second approves the statutes of an entirely new “Public Clerical Association,” which establishes canonically an association of all our Madonna House priests within the Madonna House community.

Neither decree changes anything of significance in how we live. So why is this Good News?

For starters, our spirituality is now more embedded in a structure and language that the broader universal Church recognizes.

Moreover, the second decree is a necessary pre-requisite in our application for what is called “incardination,” which would mean that our priests would be directly under Madonna House rather than under the bishop of the diocese for which they were ordained.

These decrees are on the diocesan level only, but they are significant major steps towards our incardination under Rome.

May God grant each of you a grace-filled Lent.