Restoration

Restoration

Posted June 03, 2010 in Word Made Flesh:
How Mary Won Me Over

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

On Sunday, June 5, 1960, I offered my first Mass as a priest in my home town in the U.S.A. Meanwhile, the Madonna House family in Canada was busy preparing for the official blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere by Bishop William Smith which was to take place the following Wednesday, June 8, 1960.

I didn’t know Madonna House then, so little did I know how those two events would come together in my life.

On Sunday, June 5, 1960, I offered my first Mass as a priest in my home town in the U.S.A. Meanwhile, the Madonna House family in Canada was busy preparing for the official blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere by Bishop William Smith which was to take place the following Wednesday, June 8, 1960.

I didn’t know Madonna House then, so little did I know how those two events would come together in my life.

The first time I visited Madonna House in 1964, thank God I was probably too self-righteous and arrogant to suspect that the place and its spirituality had anything to do with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

How dense can you be, Fr. Pat? Madonna House!

I know. But if I had suspected, I never would have come, because I had had my fill of "Mary freaks."

You know the kind: if you crawled to them after a severe accident with the bones in your arms and legs broken and exposed, before they even thought of medical assistance, they had to witness to the latest private revelation of Mary. You just had to pray this prayer to Our Lady of the Broken Bones for 26 days without interruption and all would be well. (It was never that atrocious, but I think you know what I mean.)

At that time, I had not yet met anyone for whom their relationship (devotion) to Mary was as real as life and for whom Mary was at the heart of everything and you knew it, without being suffocated or drowned by it. I never met anyone like that until I came to Madonna House.

During my early visits to MH, I thought I sensed a couple of Mary freaks around the place, but they didn’t bother me, so I didn’t bother them.

As for Our Lady of Combermere, I could just wander over to the statue, back in the trees, away from everything, at my leisure. Sometimes I would just sit there before what I at first considered to be a rather unartistic and unacceptable image of Mary.

There were no dazzling healings or miracles while I was there. But more importantly, I felt no pressure, no imperative, no coercion between us. She wasn’t warning me that I would be lost in the Days of Darkness to come if I didn’t do this or that.

It was nice just to be around this Lady without any of what I would have considered "weird religious stuff" going on. It was just she and I together in the silence.

That was the quiet beginning of my Marian devotion in which she was all dressed up as Our Lady of Combermere.

But The Lady was not inactive in my life when I came to visit in Her house. The priest I eventually chose to be my spiritual director, Father Emile Brière, turned out to be a Mary freak in my book. Wouldn’t you know it! But The Lady knew exactly what she was doing.

She was giving me her special friend who was to teach me that what I often judged as fanaticism is in fact the blessed intensity of someone’s love for Mary and her love for them. And so it was with Fr. B, as we called him.

As the expression goes, the proof would be in the pudding. Could he really hear me without reading me through his own intense private devotion?

When he and I walked and talked together, I slowly began to realize that he really did hear what was happening in my life because when he responded, he talked about my life and not Mary’s.

Yet, almost always on our walks, we ended up at the statue of Our Lady of Combermere. Clever, Fr. B. Very clever.

He would go up and embrace the statue. I would stand back in silence. Embracing statues was not my thing.

He never pushed, and he never said a word. We would leave the statue and go back to everyday life, but the lesson did not fall on deaf ears. I had never witnessed that kind of Marian devotion before.

Here was someone who was just himself with Mary, however freaky it looked to me, and someone who kept inviting me back to her house to be myself and let her do the rest.

Even to this very moment, I don’t think I realized the immense gift Our Lady of Combermere was offering me through one of her very favorite and most faithful sons, Fr. Emile-Marie Brière. For it was with him that I began to acquire a devotion to Mary.

It was here in Combermere, in all my woundedness and pain, in all my arrogance and self-righteousness that I was taught to just live in Mary’s house. "Just live here," Fr. B would say, "and she will do the rest."

And believe me, the emphasis in Combermere is on live: get up, make your bed, cook the food, do the dishes, cut the wood, shovel the manure, answer the phone, greet the guests. Live!

There was no emphasis on miracles, healings, apparitions, overt witness to Mary, multiple novenas or pilgrimages to the statue of Our Lady of Combermere (though people come from far and wide to her statue every day where there are more healings and miracles than we know of).

But what I came to see was that Mary herself had created this place, Madonna House. She had built it on the foundation of Catherine’s heroic life and heroic faith in order to teach us something about Life and Faith.

Here in Combermere Mary wants to teach us that we have to go to Nazareth, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally if we want to live with hope and joy in the midst of this crazy world. Why Nazareth? Because it was there that Mary and Joseph taught the Son of God how to live in the flesh!

Taught the Son of God! I know. I had to think about that one, too, for a long time on my many trips to and from Combermere before the idea would even begin to fit into my tiny heart, let alone my puny mind: Mary and Joseph taught the Son of God how to live everyday, ordinary life totally and completely with all its joy and sorrow, all its pain and purpose.

And that is precisely what Mary teaches in Combermere, Ontario. She teaches us how to live Life, with all its warts and wonders, as a living, breathing child of God in Jesus Christ.

Devotions and apparitions, if they are true devotions and apparitions, are about how to live Life by Faith.

In any or all the apparitions, Mary may indeed be warning us against those things which are turning the world to Death and Darkness. But in that warning, she is reminding us that we must give the witness of heroic life lived by heroic faith in whatever circumstance or place we live, just as she and Joseph did in Nazareth with the Son of God.

In fact, I think Our Lady of Combermere is all about heroic life lived by heroic faith in Nazareth. And as the Lady who covers the whole Ottawa Valley with the mantle of her love, she simply leads people back to Nazareth to find her Son in the everyday, ordinary, mundane, difficult life which each has been given.

Nazareth was Mary’s gift to Catherine, and Nazareth was Catherine’s gift to us. Nazareth was Fr. B’s gift to me. And Nazareth is our gift to all of you all over the world.

She loves you all very much wherever you are. Love her by living your simple life heroically and with heroic faith in the spirit of Nazareth wherever you are. She will do the rest.

Believe me, you will not be without surprises with Our Lady of Combermere in your house and in your heart.

You know what you are beginning to sound like, Fr. Pat?

Yeah, I know, a Mary freak! But let’s keep it between ourselves, OK?

 

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