Posted May 05, 2010 in New Millennium:
Under the Mantle of Our Lady of Combermere

by Fr. David May.

Some years ago, a group of about sixty Inuit young adults made their way to Combermere from the Canadian territory of Nunavut in Canada’s Far North. They were from the diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay and had been attending a conference in Ottawa. They arrived at Madonna House on a beautiful summer’s day.

Some years ago, a group of about sixty Inuit young adults made their way to Combermere from the Canadian territory of Nunavut in Canada’s Far North. They were from the diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay and had been attending a conference in Ottawa. They arrived at Madonna House on a beautiful summer’s day.

After the group visited Our Lady of the Woods Chapel with its Byzantine/Russian design, our plan was to divide them into smaller contingents of about twenty, which would each be given a tour of MH before we all attended Mass together at St. Mary’s chapel later in the afternoon.

There were to be three principal "stations" on the tour where another staff member would be posted to welcome them: Catherine Doherty’s cabin, St. Raphael’s handicraft center, and the statue of Our Lady of Combermere. I was posted at the last of these three stops.

When the first group arrived at the statue, I told them the story of Our Lady of Combermere: the surprisingly rapid way we had received approval from Rome and from Pembroke to erect the statue as a site of public veneration in 1960; the promise of Bishop William Smith that great graces would flow from Combermere under the auspices of Our Lady; a story or two I had heard illustrating the truth of that prediction.

I also pointed out to them the tenderness and compassion in her face, and her arms outstretched to embrace and to console in an understanding way her struggling children, especially the poorest of the poor.

I shared with them how those of us living here often find ourselves visiting her and seeking the help we need for another day.

Then I invited them to share with Our Lady any intentions or prayers they were moved to say. Then I said I would bless with holy oil anyone who wished at the conclusion of their visit.

What happened next was a time of deep tenderness and faith between Our Lady and her children from the North. A number of them poured out their hearts to her, begging her help, healing, and understanding. Several burst into tears.

One or two asked what was happening, as they had never before experienced a Presence like this one. It seemed like a flood of grace was being released, and then, when the time was up, I blessed them with holy oil and they moved on to their next stop on the tour.

Although this outpouring of emotion and faith was a little unusual, on reflecting upon what had transpired, I realized that what I had witnessed that afternoon was like a curtain parting to show what is happening constantly in Combermere, where we live, as we like to repeat, under the mantle of Our Lady of Combermere.

What do we mean by that expression, "under the mantle of Our Lady of Combermere"? It is an attempt to describe something like the air we breathe, something so all pervasive that we hardly notice it. Yet in moments of reflection, we cherish the gift.

There is a presence here, a tender, mothering presence, at the heart of our lives as disciples of her Son. It does not intrude. It does not force anything, but rather lingers as an invitation.

This presence melts fear away and enables one to discover, perhaps for the first time, the nature of divine stillness, what Catherine called from her Russian tradition, molchanie, or "silence."

This presence of Mary’s silence, captured so beautifully in her statue, is perhaps her greatest gift to us. There is in it an attentiveness, a vigilance that is extremely focused on God’s every wish, receptive to the slightest movement of the Holy Spirit.

But also, one touches in that stillness a listening heart where we can pour out our pain, torment, troubles, worries and fears.

Nothing seems to disturb that peaceful stillness. It is vast enough to receive a world full of pain and suffering, which Our Lady surely did as she beheld her Son’s crucifixion.

Her arms, too, are open to receive, and it is the receptivity of her welcome that draws out the poison of bitterness we sometimes carry, and replaces it with the oil of mercy, tenderness and hope.

It is Our Lady of Combermere who shapes and fashions "her" apostolate, that is, Madonna House. Whether this is learned at her statue, or in the prayerful recollection of her presence, she teaches us who know her and love her to become in some way as she is.

Thus, there is no understanding the Madonna House spirit without knowing Our Lady of Combermere. And, strange as this might seem, there is little comprehension of Our Lady of Combermere without meeting her "family," through which her Son desires to pour out the oil of mercy on the wounds of humanity today.

At one point in her teaching us about our vocation, Catherine told us that "Mary is the Apostolate." What an intriguing statement that is! What exactly does it mean?

We have people in our MH family at all sorts of tasks, ranging from fixing furnaces to making beet salads, from praying 24 hours in poustinia to working a 24-hour stretch to harvest the honey, from listening to someone pour out their troubles, to pouring oneself out planting and tending a flower garden. What does it mean to say that Mary is all this?

Very simply, Our Lady lived an ordinary life (to all appearances) as she bore within herself the most extraordinary grace (union with the Son of God made flesh). And Madonna House, if true to its Nazareth spirit, is ordinary life lived in extraordinary union with the Son of God in every day existence.

Everything is seen as an extension of his touch, his service, his love, his offering. It is Our Lady of Combermere who teaches us this truth and assures us of its validity when we are tempted to think that much of our sweat and toil is for naught. And who amongst us is not so tempted in the face of the unending and unglamorous demands of everyday living?

We need the assurance of a Mother’s heart to keep believing in the splendor of the everyday, where the Kingdom is somehow given in a cup of tea offered with love, a bolt properly tightened, a child’s tear wiped away, or a suffering silently embraced.

These truths about Our Lady of Combermere are not something we keep for ourselves in Madonna House. Through her solicitude, and through our fidelity to the vocation, we are eager to share the mercy of Christ revealed by his Mother under this title.

After all, she is not only an icon of stillness, but also one of movement. Her statue reveals her running to meet her children, with all the urgency of that day long ago when she hurried to greet Elizabeth and offer her assistance in the last months of her cousin’s pregnancy.

That joyful meeting with our neighbor is very much at the heart of the Madonna House vocation.

We celebrate the Visitation on May 31st, a time of year in our part of the world where spring is finally showing forth its green mantle of new life and promise. It is a gentle, joyous time of year.

About a week later, we celebrate Our Lady of Combermere on June 8, the anniversary of the blessing of the statue, as if to say: The winter is past. The snows are over and gone. The flowers have appeared on the earth (cf Song of Songs 2:11-12).

This is the promise and the urgent message of hope that in all seasons the disciple of Christ, with Our Lady, hastens to bring to the world.

At every moment, in the face of all our trials, God our Father is making all things new in his Kingdom. Our Lady of Combermere is a sign of this truth, and in the gifts she brings, she is a sacrament of restoration and the promise of the Day when all things shall indeed be made new in her Son, Jesus Christ.


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