Posted March 23, 2010 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (March 2010)

by Paulette Curran.

I suggest you consider this month’s "Combermere Diary" a wee respite from the atmosphere of Lent in some of the rest of this newspaper. For the main happening this past while was Christmas and the Christmas season.

As always, after the intensity of Advent, we celebrated the Christmas Season with liturgies, music, carols and other songs, food, decorations, and recreation of various kinds.

We visited with one another over long do-it-yourself breakfasts, ice skated, hiked, skied, went tubing and sledding at the farm, played cards and board games, did jigsaw puzzles, etc., etc., etc.

Our suppers were festive and included desserts and presentations of songs, stories, and musical pieces from some of the nations represented by the staff and guests here at the time.

One of these nations was Australia. Two young men from there had been traveling across Canada and decided to stay for a few months in Madonna House. They delighted us with the Australian version of "Jingle Bells" and made lamingtons (small chocolate-covered cakes which they’d never made before coming here).

We also had three different versions (all very funny) of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Other performances included music on the Celtic harp, two Ukrainian songs, and the reading of a Christmas story by staff worker, Steve Héroux, who wrote it himself.

Several people made new decorations to add to our old ones: three crèche sets by Patti Birdsong (a woodcarver one of whose specialties is crèches), Janet Bourdet, and Eliana Ribeiro das Chagas, and a large stained glass angel by Julie Coxe.

Every year we follow certain customs—such as caroling in the local area, open houses at the farm and at St. Joseph’s House, a holy hour on New Year’s Eve, in which we pray for every nation on the earth by name and several Epiphany customs.

The Epiphany customs include the Byzantine Rite blessing of the waters and the throwing of a cross into the river, three pennies in the bread (whoever gets them makes a holy hour for the community), the blessing of the lintels, and the giving of Epiphany gifts (a virtue or something similar written on a slip of paper).

Most of our customs were introduced by Catherine, and they come from all over the world. Others have been added over the years, and sometimes there are first-time events.

First time events this year were these: Fr. Robert Johnson said a Tridentine Rite Mass in Latin. (He says one every month for those who are interested at a parish in Barry’s Bay, a nearby town.) And we had a Korean supper.

Yes, on the Feast of the Epiphany, our visitors from the East brought us a gift. Twelve Korean staff and guests cooked us a delicious Korean supper.

Not only the meal itself, but what surrounded it had a wonderful atmosphere. One of its joys occurred if you happened to walk through the kitchen in the afternoon. The Koreans were working so beautifully together, and they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

This year, too, as a backdrop to all of this celebration, God decorated the world. A couple of days before Christmas the temperature hovered around the freezing point, going slightly up and down, somehow creating the perfect conditions for forming and keeping snow at its most beautiful.

First some rough, soft ice formed on the trees; then wet snow fell and adhered to it. So, whereas the wind usually blows the snow off the trees fairly quickly, it could not do so with this snow. Result: more than two weeks of sparkling ice and snow covered trees which made everything look enchanted.

And now in mid-January, most of the snow is off the trees, and we are back to ordinary time.

January has had one major event (so far)—a visitation of St. Mary’s community by our directors general.

St. Mary’s is a separate household within MH Combermere, a community consisting of 30 to 40 members at any given time. All sleep and have Mass there, though some work at the main compound.

For them it was a time of being with the directors, a time of sharing together through talks, individually, and in small groups about their life, the vision of their house, and the spirituality of Madonna House.

It was like a retreat in some ways and a time of becoming more deeply one. Everyone I asked about it said it was wonderful.

Occasionally, one of our working guests has a special skill to share with us. One such was a poustinik from India, a former copy writer, that is, a writer of ads. As such, she also gave training workshops and wrote a best-selling book on the subject.

While here, she gave a short workshop to those working in our publications department and to the editor of this newspaper (me).

We also share our skills with others. The sister of one of our applicants, Veronica Ferri, spent a day learning from our archives department. She was recently hired to work with the archives of the cathedral in our diocese of Pembroke.

Now here’s some news in brief: Fr. Murray Kuemper is teaching the encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, to the men of the spiritual formation program (those discerning priesthood), and Fr. Paul Burchat is teaching catechism to the guests. Helen Hodson gave Ignatian retreats in western Canada (Vancouver, Victoria, and the Yukon).

Two priests associated with us have recently been made bishops: Fr. Bill McGrattan and Msgr. Don Bolen.

Fr. McGrattan made an Ignatian retreat here directed by Helen Hodson. Then six months later, after he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Toronto, he returned to make his pre-ordination retreat, again Ignatian and again with Helen Hodson.

Msgr. Don Bolen, one of our associate priests, was appointed bishop of Saskatoon. He will be ordained on March 25.

As you can see in Milestones, another of our associate priests, Fr. Sam Craig of Washington D.C., died of cancer. The staff of our Washington house attended his funeral.

Here in Madonna House whether it is Christmastime, Ordinary time, or Lent, the liturgical seasons are inextricably woven with the big and small events, not only of our individual and communal lives and the lives of our friends and associates, but of the world as well.

These days the tragedy of the people of Haiti are much on our minds and hearts and in our prayers.

May the rest of Lent be a time of graces and blessings for each of you.


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