Posted December 19, 2008 in Advent and Christmas, and in MH Ottawa ON, and in MH Regina SK, and in MH Washington DC:
Christmastime in the MH Houses

Here are some glimpses into Christmastime in three very different houses last year.

MH Washington

by Cynthia Donnelly.

Shortly after the event, one of our newest friends, her eyes bright and shining, said to me, "Thank you so much for inviting Mike and me to your Epiphany party."

Our Madonna House mandate calls us to respond to the spiritual poverty of all who come to our house. How do you relieve the anguish of isolation, anxiety, and depression that are so common these days? One thing we do is throw parties.

The gathering we host annually on December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, has become a favorite among our friends. This year, we had about twenty people for Mass, supper, and a gift from St. Nicholas: the name of someone at the event for whom to pray for the following year.

Fr. Denis Lemieux explained this custom and brought hilarity with a poem on St. Nicholas by Ogden Nash.

Our Christmas Day open house is another beloved gathering for many in Washington. It was filled with old and new friends. Maureen Ray, the newest staff worker in this house, has met many new people, and a number of them came to visit us for the first time at that Christmas gathering.

On the feast of the Epiphany, we hosted another large gathering of friends for Vespers and supper. This event has become so popular that our friends are inviting their friends to come.

Pat Probst made a hundred beautifully hand-painted Epiphany gifts for the evening—slips of paper on which are written such things as hope, generosity, peace, compassion, etc. One of these slips of paper is given to each person who comes.

This year, so many attended our Epiphany party that there was a moment when I wondered if we would have enough food. We did!

Throughout the Christmas season, along with these larger parties, we also had smaller, more intimate gatherings of friends for supper around the Christmas tree.

Our associate priest, Fr. John Burchat, who is studying in Washington, had a birthday within days of our friend Abbot Joseph Lee. So—you guessed it—we had another party!

On a more serious note, Walter and Angelina Steenstra, a leader in the pro-life movement, and one of her friends from Silent No More, stayed with us in January during the March for Life. (Silent No More is an organization of women who have regretted their abortions and who give talks educating people about the devastating results of abortion.).

On the day of the March for Life, around forty friends, young and old, passed through our blue door to warm up with a hot drink, good conversation, and laughter.

While we cooked, cleaned, decorated, and prepared for these gatherings, we prayed in the quiet of our hearts, in our chapel, and in the poustinia that Our Lord, who is Love, would touch the hearts and minds of our friends. Judging from their shining eyes and relaxed, smiling faces when they left, we know he did.

I am reminded of a line from Catherine Doherty’s diary in the 1930s about her first house, Friendship House Toronto: "I want this house to be a house of friends, a house of love."

That’s what we want for our house, too.

MH Ottawa

by Martha Shepherd.

This might be called "a no-news letter." So what’s the no news? Christmas decorations.

I’m sitting in our white, usually stripped-down-to-the-bare-essentials talking room, looking at the Christmas tree sparkling with colored lights, the deep red poinsettas, and the two-foot tall baroque-colored camel (part of our large nativity set).

There are other things in the room as well: dangling stars, red candles, an Advent calendar of famous nativity paintings, and three sheep with silly smiles and red bow ties. Every single thing is a gift, of course. The whole room is full of warmth and color, a kind of visual joy and laughter.

I found myself remembering being impressed long years ago when we read the history of Madonna House, by something Catherine said, something like, "Madonna House should always be characterized by warmth, color, and simplicity." This room right now is very much that.

In a few days we will pack it all up, and the room will return to its usual white spaciousness and visual silence. We will do this because, indelibly impressed upon both our minds is something else that Catherine said. "When setting up a poustinia house (a certain type of prayer house), no knickknacks, and whitewash everything."

So that’s what we do. We keep passing on the knickknacks that people give us, and we keep the walls white, despite the temptation of one of us (moi) to paint at least one wall crimson or gold or deep forest green.

But at Christmas and Easter, the house is legitimately full of color. For the length of these seasons we get to see what we believe is always there. Sitting here this morning I found myself thinking how well that expresses one of the tensions we work each day to maintain.

The no-news in our house is part of the daily welcome we offer people. "Come to our white-walled house where (hopefully) you will meet the Lord who fills our world with color. Come into the silence where (hopefully) you will hear the still, small voice the most beautiful Christmas carol only hints at."

Maintaining that and other necessary creative tensions is a hidden drama that leaves us easily bored by most movies, and therefore, I decided this morning: our no-news is newsworthy.

Marian Centre Regina

by David Guzman.

Regina is truly a blessed place. As a new staff worker here, I have found the relationships that have been forged over the years truly amazing. And just as I was in awe at the generosity of the people, Christmas came and I was totally overwhelmed by it.

Just about everyone coming to our back door was bearing gifts—the wealthy, the poor, the priests, Catholic Young Adults, the Myriam Family of the Prairies, the Sisters from Martha House, and many individual people and families.

Hams, turkeys, clothing, brand new winter socks and gloves for the Brothers Christopher (street people), it was unbelievable. We also received countless cards and letters with monetary donations.

Let me tell you a couple of Christmas vignettes about the heart of a child. We were preparing the paper bags for the sack lunches we would be giving the men on December 26th and 27th. I was working with Carla and her five-year-old daughter, Theresa, a most beautiful little girl.

We were gluing Christmas cards on the bags and every so often, Theresa would verbalize what she was feeling inside.

First she sighed, "I love the poor." Then a few minutes later, with more emotion, "I love God." Finally, most excitedly of all, "I love arts and crafts."

Christmas vignette number two: On the day after Christmas, we asked Lori and her children to pass out gifts to the men. Lori’s four year old daughter Emma, had a little problem with this. She felt she should be getting a gift.

Her mother gently explained that these men were poor and might not receive anything else for Christmas, and she had received a lot of gifts already.

This made sense to Emma, and she happily gave out each gift with a heartfelt "Merry Quissmass." You could tell the men were quite touched.

The next day, when we phoned to thank the family for their help, Lori reported that the experience had touched Emma. That night she asked, "Mommy, can the poor move in and live with us?" I think this Christmas they had moved in—into her heart.


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