by Paulette Curran.
I am writing news of the past month towards the end of Advent, when most of the news is about our Advent celebrations.
So, in the midst of articles about fasting and the Lenten effort, why not just relax and enjoy this wee dip into another liturgical season?
Advent in Madonna House is a very rich time—very God–centered, very beautiful, and very busy. For you cannot have the beauty and joy of celebration without a lot of effort of various kinds: planning, cooking, baking, practicing skits and music, decorating, running off song sheets, etc., etc., etc.
But, oh how utterly worthwhile this work is! Living the seasons of the Church and celebrating its feasts is a big part of living and proclaiming the Gospel.
This is true whether the season is Advent or Lent, Christmastime or Easter time, and whether you are receiving ashes on your forehead and making Stations of the Cross or decorating a Christmas tree, or even just wishing someone, "Merry Christmas."
(The forces of darkness know this. Why else would they put so much effort into first secularizing and then attempting to eliminate Christmas altogether?)
For the working guests, Advent is often a particularly rich part of their stay in Madonna House. Things are set up to put them at the heart of the preparations and celebrations, and the time is often very graced.
The guests have an Advent liturgy class—this year led by Fr. Blair Bernard, David Guzman, and Margarita Guerrero. In that class, they learned about Advent and the feasts within it, and they helped make the feasts happen.
They gathered greens and made the Advent wreath, presented the life of St. Nicholas on St. Nicholas Day in a skit, baked the St. Nicholas cookies, and along with the rest of the house, made tortillas for our Mexican supper on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. etc., etc.
In so doing, they learned ways of nurturing their faith—customs and traditions they can bring into their families, current and future.
The rest of us, too, of course, took part. Whoever could—guests, staff, and applicants alike—made cookies in the evenings, which we will enjoy over the twelve days of Christmas.
Sara Matthews and Miriam Story (an applicant), were the organizers and resource people for cookie baking this year.
Moreover, we all attended Advent and Christmas music practices, heard Advent spiritual reading after lunch, and heard the readings and sang beautiful Advent songs at Mass.
We also decorated; especially those in the handicraft department, but everyone else, too.
The bread baker, Andorra Howard, made Christmas breads and buns, and the kitchen cooked ahead—such dishes as tourtières (a traditional French Canadian Christmas meat pie) and Christmas puddings.
Have we ever told you about our traveling decorations? Throughout Advent, three tall wooden Wise Men were moved closer and closer to the island chapel, and at St. Mary’s, a wooden St. Joseph, Mary, and donkey journeyed along the river closer and closer to St. Mary’s building.
We celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception like a Sunday, and several guests made their Act of Consecration to Our Lady according to St. Louis de Montfort on that day.
And the anniversary of Catherine’s death on December 14th, we celebrated with a day of recollection and a Russian supper. The day of recollection is always a much-appreciated time of rest and silence in the midst of the busyness.
And then there was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th—a wonderful fusion of prayer to Our Lady and just plain fun.
We began the day early in the morning (after gathering for hot chocolate) by processing to the island chapel to sing before a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was then placed under the altar surrounded by vigil lights and artificial roses. There we sang mañanitas (Mexican morning song) to her.
After morning prayer, we processed her back to the main dining room where she was displayed in a place of honor, and where we each placed a lighted taper before her.
At Mass, we sang the hymns and parts of the Mass in Spanish, and then we had a Mexican supper.
As always the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe was presented, and always it is done differently. This year, it was done simply and originally: the three directors general played the parts of Our Lady, Juan Diego, and the bishop, while Maureen Ray narrated.
In the evening, we had a dance. One of the staff, David Guzman, who had once worked as a radio disc jockey, did just that for this event, which was begun in a unique way (for us). David and guest, Lizette Trevino, led us all in a Mexican wedding march.
We did a variety of dances including polkas, line dances, and dances to the music of the past few decades.
There were also performances of two traditional dances, a sharing of their culture by those who taught them. One from the Philippines, the stick dance, was taught by Victoria Fausto, and the other from Peru was taught by working guest, Patricia Gill.
Both for those who danced all night and those who mostly watched, it was a very enjoyable event.
What else was going on? Well, one day, by the front door, we were greeted by two tall snowmen, one of them wearing skis, and about a dozen little ones sitting along the fence. They were made by some of our guests.
Some of us attended an Advent-Christmas concert at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, our local college-level school. The staff of the handicraft department went to Ottawa to attend a craft fair.
Finally, a very lovely thing: the bishop of our diocese, Bishop Michael Mulhall, was the special guest of the applicants at one of their Friday afternoon study times.
He joined them for their afternoon tea and gave them a class on some aspects of Church history, which apparently was excellent. He also celebrated Mass for them.
Blessed, grace-filled Lent to each of you.
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