Posted March 14, 2011:
A Poustinik Visits MH

by June Valladares.

In 1981, the author, a highly successful copywriter in Mumbai, India, quit her job in response to the Lord’s call. In 1985, she chanced upon Catherine Doherty’s spiritual classic, Poustinia—and it changed her life.

She converted her small house in Pune (formerly Poona) into a poustinia and proceeded to live an adapted form of the poustinik way of life.

Twenty-four years later, after never having had the slightest desire to do so, she felt moved to connect with the roots of what she was living.

Over a year ago, I left India, and went to Madonna House Combermere, where I stayed for two and a half months.

When I returned home, even though things were going well, I felt totally out of sorts. It was some time before I realized that my heart was not with me. I had left it behind in a remote forest at the feet of Our Lady of Combermere.

No wonder I was restless. I had gone to heaven, and now I had landed back on earth with a hard thud. So many experiences, emotions, reasonings, intuitions, and insights were crowding my mind and spirit.

I had promised Paulette, the editor, an article for Restoration, which I thought I would dash off shortly after I returned home. But my spirit had plunged so deeply into some hitherto unexplored ocean of silence that I simply couldn’t find the words.

So here I am writing more than a year later.

You must be wondering when I will get to the point and tell you about Madonna House instead of going on and on about me. Well, that’s part of being Indian; we are easily distracted. But I shall focus.

These are some of the things that struck me. They are in no particular order of importance, since, to my mind, everything is important.

The Value of a Minute:

Madonna House is run like a spiritual boot camp, and rightly so. But I was 61 years old at the time, and it was hard for me to keep up. I kept praying under my breath, "Lord, don’t give me more than I can endure."

I came to understand more fully the sacrament of the present moment, the duty of the moment, and discovered anew Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s book, Abandonment to Divine Providence.

This was a very valuable teaching for me. In India we are totally prodigal of time. Except when it comes to business and making money, and then people can act very fast.

But usually, we are a slow-moving race, especially in small towns like Pune. In my poustinia, life is very relaxed; there is no stress at all. Indeed, I considered stress and strain to be not of God.

But in Madonna House, I found that one can be active, vigorous, productive, disciplined, organized and on time—without stress.

Time and timing are God’s, and each minute will present us with its value.

The Value of Priests and the Liturgy:

Having only recently returned to full participation in the Catholic Church after 40 years away from it, it was wonderful to be re-introduced to the liturgy throughout the Advent-Christmas Season, which is such a splendiferous, coniferous time in Madonna House.

How I loved all the lights, music, snow, bells, singing, food and wine, crèches, sparkles, and other beautiful little things and also the liturgy classes with Fr. Louis Labrecque!

I hadn’t had much acquaintance with priests and nuns. Hence it was a pleasure to meet the young men in the spiritual formation program who were discerning their vocations. Two of them have since decided to enter the seminary.

Fr. Francis Boland was the first real-life poustinik I spoke to, and it gives me goose bumps to think I have sat down at meals with the same Fr. Robert Pelton who wrote the introduction to the book, Poustinia, the book that changed my life.

And thanks to Catherine’s books (Dear Father and Dear Seminarian), and the Christly humility and compassion I encountered in my spiritual director, Fr. Denis Lemieux, I now have a burden of prayer for all priests—especially those with the charism of spiritual direction.

The Value of Poustinia:

While I was in Madonna House, I avoided going to the poustinia till practically the last minute, because I was afraid of mice. Then when I finally went, I slept most of the day. Yet the Lord gave me a word, "silence," and the same word was given to me as an Epiphany gift. Silence.

This was one of the greatest confirmations of the poustinik life I have been trying to lead since I read Catherine’s famous book for the first time.

Moreover, since I was accustomed to silence and solitude, I was able while in MH to hear the messages the Lord and his Mother, and Catherine, too, were sending out to me.

And all my prayers were answered—immediately if needed.

Linda Lambeth showed me what being a poustinik is all about. I cannot thank her enough.

The Value of Community:

What delighted me most about the MH staff workers, especially the women, was that I could begin a sentence with one of them and end it with another of them without fear of being misunderstood. This was really touching.

I very much liked the men staff workers I spoke with as well, but I did not have much to do with them; as men and women work separately.

The Value of Catherine:

Funny thing: for 25 years I concentrated on the book, Poustinia, but I had no curiosity at all about its author, Catherine.

It was a wonderful gift to hear firsthand about her through the Madonna House people who knew her, and through her other books, (while at MH, I read as much as I could, given the limited time), and through praying to her—which I do now quite a lot. I am convinced she is a saint for our times.

The Value of Outdoor Jons:

Madonna House made me aware of my blind spot—poverty. Living in India, one tends to become inured to the poor "who are always with us" and in a sense, we have insulated ourselves against this pain.

Each time I visited an outdoor jon, I was brought up sharply against the MH concept of their being "beggars for the Lord." It’s an expression I felt uneasy with, as it conjured up visions of the destitute, crippled beggars of India.

Only when I realized that Madonna House was begging for the Lord, as a sort of penance to identify with the poor throughout the world, did I begin to appreciate Madonna House’s using water sparingly, the orange crate bedside tables, the cardboard boxes under the beds, the meat only once a week, and the limits on computer time, phone calls, television viewing, etc.

All this made me reflect more deeply on the spirit of poverty, on my own life of semi-renunciation, and how Our Lord is happy to receive whatever we choose to give him—whether from our abundance or, like the poor widow in the Bible, our all.

Let me conclude by saying that the Holy Spirit is not bound by cultural differences. Neither is he fazed by numbers. He can work as serenely with one little poustinik living alone in a small house, as with 150 assorted men, women, guests and priests scattered over several acres.

Today, one year down the road, I still feel so happy and privileged to have met everyone at Madonna House and to have shared your blessed lives for even a short period.


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