Posted February 12, 2010 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (February 2010)

by Paulette Curran.

"Is it tiring or is it life-giving?" a friend of mine asked. I was telling her on the phone about our Advent. "Both," I said.

Advent in a February newspaper? Well, this is a news column and, as I write this in mid-December, our life these days for the most part, is Advent.

In Madonna House, as in many places, this is one of the busiest times of year—especially for what I call "the feastday-related departments": the kitchen (of course), the sacristy, the handicraft department (decorating), the library (which does displays), the cleaning department, the schola (choir), etc.

Just about everybody has extra work. The laundry, for example, (tables cloths, extra chapel linens), and the men who cut down Christmas trees and branches, maintain a cleared area in an inlet for a skating rink, deal with snow removal, etc., etc.

Factually, most of us are involved in one way or another in Christmas baking, wreath-making, decorating, cleaning, preparing Advent celebrations, etc., etc., etc.

There are a number of evening events—you could call them work bees. These include sugaring down (making maple syrup into maple sugar), tortilla-making (for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), and making St. Nicholas cookies. These are generally pleasant times of working together.

Evening is also the time for Christmas baking—a variety of baked goods from our various ethnic backgrounds as well as cookies for Christmas-time desserts.

There’s a kind of flow, a kind of momentum to Advent. You go, go, go, and suddenly you stop and celebrate a feast.

Is it tiring? For sure. Is it life-giving? You bet it is—though if you happen to be having a hard time for whatever reason, the life-giving part may not seem to happen.

But these are not the reasons we live Advent and Christmas as we do. We do it to celebrate the fact that God himself came to earth as a helpless baby to save us.

For the guests who are experiencing Advent at Madonna House for the first time, it is generally a wonderful time. They get, not only an experience of how a Catholic culture celebrates and lives the liturgical life, but many ideas on what they can do in their families when they leave here.

Every year the guests have a liturgy class in which they learn about Advent and the feasts of Advent by presenting these feasts to the community: giving explanations, putting on skits, making decorations, etc., etc., etc.. This year the class was led by Lisa Diniz, Fr. Louis Labrecque, and David Thomas.

On St. Nicholas Day the liturgy class put on a clever skit (including an atheistic bus driver) about St. Nicholas, and we ate St. Nicholas cookies and were each given the name of someone present to pray for during the coming year.

The celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe was lovely. It began with singing mañanitas (morning songs), a period of prayerful silence interspersed with songs to Our Mother before the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the chapel.

At breakfast time, on a slip of paper we each received a word, a sentence from the words of Our Lady to Juan Diego and lit a candle to Our Mother. In the evening, we had a Mass with Spanish music, Mexican supper, and a fiesta (organized by Andorra Howard).

The fiesta included "saints" who came down from heaven to help us with our party, a presentation of the story of the apparition, a lovely telling of the story by an elderly Juan Diego (Charlie Cavanaugh) to a pilgrim (Scott Eagan), songs (some of them prayers to Our Lady), and dancing.

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at MH is a joyous fusion of childlike fun and prayer to our heavenly Mother.

Another thing that happens during Advent is short, one-Sunday afternoon only (usually) craft classes for Christmas-type crafts for whoever wishes to learn them.

This year the handicraft department offered classes on how to make a type of three dimensional star-shaped Christmas card, Tamari balls (a Japanese craft), and tin figures for a nativity set.

Even Advent needs its Sabbath rest, and in the midst of everything, no matter how busy we are, we take two days to rest and pray and get centered on the meaning of all the celebrations:

December 8th , the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we celebrate like an "extra Sunday" plus, and December 14th, the anniversary of the death of our foundress, Catherine Doherty, we have a Day of Recollection.

Catherine, coming as she did from the deeply religious culture of pre-revolutionary Russia, taught us to celebrate the way a Catholic culture celebrates. These celebrations are one of our ways of proclaiming the ultimate triumph of the Light over darkness.

Christmas, by its very nature, does this. No wonder the forces of darkness want to destroy the very word, "Christmas."

This year Advent contained one more celebration. We celebrated the 60th anniversary of priesthood of Fr. Tom Rowland with a Mass and a Sunday afternoon reception. Fr. Tom radiated quiet joy and I would say this was the atmosphere of the day. Also childlike simplicity.

Fr. Tom loves airplanes, and so, the organizers of the reception took that as their theme. At the reception paper was available to make paper airplanes (yes, the kind you probably used to fly in school when the teacher wasn’t looking). We made them and used them to write our messages to Fr. Tom.

And he himself brought in a small radio-controlled helicopter and flew it for us. He said he’s often meditated on the obedience of that little helicopter. It does whatever he "tells" it, and as such it’s been an example to him of how he should obey God.

Finally, here’s some news in brief: We hosted eight resident assistants from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, a local Catholic post-secondary school, for part of a day. They had a time of prayer and a talk by Fr. Paul Burchat, their chaplain (and our MH priest).

Marie Thérèse McLaughlin, who has made a CD of lullabies, gave a talk about them in nearby Barry’s Bay. Peter Bullen led us in an evening of Taizé prayer. The laymen had a day of recollection, and the priests had a study day. The National Post, a major national Canadian newspaper, had an article about Catherine’s Cause.

Helen Hodson, who gives Ignatian retreats, gave one to Fr. Bill McGrattan, who made one here before. This one is in preparation for his being ordained auxiliary bishop of Toronto. One of his duties will be the responsibility for the new communities there (including MH Toronto).

Blessed Lent to each of you.

"With your human eyes you see a priest; many times, more than one priest. Like today. You see a chapel filled with people dressed in their very best. You see and hear a special ceremony taking place. What a wonderful human experience!

"But with your eyes of faith…you see Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, once slain and now gloriously alive, doing at this altar what he continuously does in heaven…. You see a crowd of baptized members of the Body of Christ washed in his Blood gathered around the altar. You see the angels and saints of heaven joining in this heavenly Liturgy."

Fr. Tom Rowland, Mass of the 60th Anniversary of His Priesthood


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