by Fr. David May
On June 8, 1960, Bishop William J. Smith of Pembroke came to Combermere to bless the statue of Our Lady of Combermere — and the apostolate she came to protect. Catherine Doherty, Eddie Doherty, Fr. Callahan, Fr. Brière — all the pioneers — agree: that day was significant for Madonna House. From that moment on, an apostolate which had often been a question mark in many people's minds received some standing in the Church. The “atmosphere” was changed somehow, and a struggling little family in the Lord began to thrive.
Our Lady really is the “atmosphere” we breathe at Combermere. She is forming us in this training centre after the mysterious plan of her divine Son. Through the many rooms of Madonna House — our mission houses — she extends her healing presence to great numbers of people.
Yet the pulsing heart of Madonna House is Combermere. Our special Protectress is invoked under that title. By entering her heart we can discover anew the distinctive strokes of the Gospel that characterize the Madonna House way of life.
Everyone who sees the statue notices that Our Lady is running, arms open wide, to embrace her wounded children. Our way of life is first of all a radical acceptance of woundedness. All those who walk through our blue door to stay awhile are led by the Spirit to that point deep within the heart where they see the vast landscape of their need for God.
So immense is this vista, that it is usually terrifying to the beholder. To perceive our poverty is one thing. To know God present therein is something else again, not always evident to a fearful heart. Our Lady of Combermere helps us to be less afraid of that place within. Her smile bespeaks a profound sympathy and promises victory. Her arms envelop her children to dissolve away the fears. Her eyes assure us that the first Beatitude is true: Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Our heavenly mother teaches us to remain still in that place of seemingly immeasurable need. She who is called by some “the gate” gently convinces us that our poverty is really the portal to the abyss of mercy which is her Son's heart. It is precisely this Good News that Madonna House shares with its friends. At the very point of human woundedness flows the blood of Jesus himself, cleansing and making whole. When we are true to our vocation, we hang crucified to the tree of brokenness, trusting in silence that the light of resurrection is dawning.
Our Lady of Combermere came to Madonna House without much fanfare. To this day she remains hidden among the great pines that grace this part of Canada. Through this, she teaches us a second aspect of her Son's Gospel that he shares particularly with us: God's essential work takes place in silence. It is hidden from human eyes.
One of the great temptations we face in Madonna House is the thought that “nothing is happening.” Plunged into a “Nazareth” of menial jobs and prosaic concerns, we sometimes feel our minds crushed by the monotony and our wills checked by the demands of community life. This is how real faith is born in us — “out of the crucible,” as Catherine entitled one of her earlier books on training the lay apostolate.
It is when we experience a lack of accomplishment that God's work can begin to be fulfilled in us. As our eyes of faith gradually open, we see that nothing we do matters so much as who we are in the doing. God is eager to come into our contemporary world. But he awaits hearts great enough to allow him entry. A great heart is one that has graciously consented to be crushed small. “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted. Those whose spirit is crushed, he will save” (Psalm 34:19).
Our Lady of Combermere stands in silent witness to this truth. She coaxes her children to not run away from the crucible of “Nazareth.” She enlightens their understanding about the reality she grasps so well: to the extent that we die, Christ lives. The Mother imparts to her children her own all-consuming desire: that her Son live in our world today.
The statue stands poised on a tree stump. It is in perfect tension between repose and motion. By this, Our Lady is teaching us yet another Gospel truth. Even as they plunge into the concerns of everyday life, Christians are meant to abide in eternity.
This seems an impossibly idealized demand... until Our Lady's image gradually penetrates our hearts. Catherine's own special phrase to describe this experience is “poustinia of the heart.” Our Lady of Combermere is poustinia of the heart, in a visible form.
She is portrayed in intensity of movement. For no one today can ignore the plight of suffering brothers and sisters around the world. Our cities, our homes, our countries cry out for the presence of Christians. Yet the presence Christians bring is not simply their human concern. They bring Another's Presence, evident only in a peace the world cannot give.
Our Lady of Combermere is this image of peace that restless hearts long for. She reminds her children that only her eternal Son can bring us this peace, and that prayer is the key to its overflowing into our lives. Our Lady will teach us how to use this key if we let her.
To be part of Madonna House — as a staff-worker or as a “friend of the family” — is a matter of being a child. Our Lord suggests to us that we turn to Our Lady of Combermere as mother and guide. She holds within her heart the secrets to the healing of the Father's vineyard. No one who comes to her is ever turned away.
— from the 25th anniversary issue of our Restoration newspaper that was dedicated to Our Lady of Combermere.