Posted November 20, 2013 in MH Krasnoyarsk, Russia, and in MH Resteigne, Belgium:
A Taste of Pentecost

by Fr. David Linder, retreat master.

Something powerful unfolded recently amidst the quiet hills of the south of Belgium. There our mission house hosted a retreat for seven of our friends from Russia. They named it "Projet Russe."

It was certainly more than a retreat because it offered a fuller experience of our Madonna House life with its normal schedule of work, prayer, meals, recreation, and family spirit. That alone would have made it blessed, but the Lord had something greater in mind.

In the Bible, God frequently chose little, insignificant things and people to accomplish his purposes. As Catherine used to remind us, it often doesn’t require much, just "five smooth stones," for example, the ones David used to slay Goliath.

What did the Lord wish to unfold in such a humble, rural setting, amidst only a handful of people? Two answers leap out of my heart: a taste of Pentecost and a circle of life and love.


First: a taste of Pentecost. In Pope Francis’ talk to the New Communities on the eve of Pentecost in Rome, he used a biblical comparison that delighted my heart. He stated that true evangelization begins when, instead of our calculations and strategic plans, we "let the Lord guide us."

He used the example of Peter snoozing on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house (Acts 10) when he received a vision of something inconceivable for the Jew: a new and universal direction for the Gospel. Simultaneously, the cohort from Cornelius’ house arrived, led by the Spirit, to spirit Peter off to the house of this Gentile. The rest is history: an unexpected Pentecost for the Gentiles.

So too, resting in our "duty of the moment," our apostolate was awakened a year ago by a request from our Russian friends for a retreat that would help them stay connected to God in their daily lives. Now, that is something Madonna House does well.

And since this was God’s idea and not any plan of ours, the Holy Spirit did the rest. As Pope Francis said in that same address, "Letting ourselves be led by Jesus leads to the surprises of Jesus."

The first "Pentecost" dimension was a diversity remarkable for such a small gathering. Staff included, six nations were represented and as many languages. And of course there were the diversities Madonna House already had: men/women, East/West, and lay/clergy.

The retreatants were from vastly separated areas of their country. Of the seven, one was Orthodox, two Evangelical Protestant, and the remaining four, Catholic. Thus there was an ecumenical dimension to the gathering as well. Amidst the diversity a profound unity grew, totally a gift of the Spirit.

Praying liturgy, whether Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours, was a mini-Pentecost of sorts. Often I was moved to tears. After prayer a number of the participants would comment on the peace.

English, Russian, and French were used equally at all the liturgies. There was no language shared by most that we could resort to, save the language of love. Love was the bond that brought unity. We all came with open hearts to love and serve each other. And the Lord was lavish.

Because of the joy, unity, and peace when we prayed, I sensed that a healing went out from this retreat for the whole Church—a wave of the Spirit, unifying, small, but powerful. This was one of the "surprises of Jesus."

Another dimension of the retreat the Lord highlighted in my heart is what I call the circle of life and love. This is more about Madonna House specifically.

After Catherine escaped from Russia—the Revolution forcing her to leave—she was, sad to say, never to return to the native land she loved so dearly. That is until 1993, when through three of her spiritual children, the community she founded opened its first mission in Russia.

Catherine had come from Russia bringing spiritual treasures to the West. Now those treasures and more began to be returned to her native land.

A year ago, a Russian friend of ours in Siberia, floored when confronted by a spiritual heritage she thought was lost forever, likened this process to a big tree:

"It was planted in Russia but then it was cut off and completely destroyed. Except that one branch was brought to Canada and planted there. Now the seeds of this new tree are being brought back to Russia.

"It is a miracle. It is a mystery I don’t understand, but I feel joy and happiness when I see it. I can compare it to a feeling you have when you meet a relative for the first time. You never saw him before but suddenly you feel love; you feel that you are connected in your soul."

Well, that cuts both ways. Our Russian friends are not just sensing the return of a part of their patrimony, but we, too, feel that connection deep within, a connection that is inexplicable except through the bridge of Catherine de Hueck Doherty.

During this eight-day experience, it was never a matter of "those who had much to impart" giving to those "hungry to receive" as in a typical retreat.

Joanne Dionne, director of our house in Resteigne, Belgium, realized that from the first moment of encounter with our friends from Russia; instead of being the one who officially welcomed (and desired to welcome), she felt swept up by their welcoming love.

And so it went the entire retreat; it became an exchange of life and love. We all had treasures "to bring to the table." We all gave and received—every one of us.

It took Miriam Stulberg, speaking from her long experience in Russia, to acknowledge that it has been like this since the beginnings in Magadan. "We have always," she said, "received so much from the Russians."

This circle of life and love experienced in Magadan, we brought back to North America, and it enriched the Church here. Then after we left Magadan, we brought to another part of Russia—Krasnoyarsk, Siberia—our rich Madonna House spiritual inheritance, a blend of East and West. There, too, it is being received, not as an intruder, but as a familiar son.

The circle of life and love between Madonna House and Russia continues. The mutual exchange of gifts is not meant to stop; it is really just getting started. And if this retreat is any gauge, if we let the Lord lead us, we should expect abundant fruits and more "surprises of Jesus."


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