Posted June 10, 2014 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (May-June 2014)

by Paulette Curran.

This year, we had a long, cold spring. The maple syrup season was two weeks late, and well into April, there was still lots of snow. Even now, at the end of that month, there are still some piles and patches of it around.

Oh, yes, there were the usual signs of spring: The crocuses appeared—sometimes surrounded by snow. And the robins came; I saw one sheltering on a small patch of bare ground looking confused.

Up at the farm, new lambs and calves were born, and there were many very sunny, though mostly cold, days. And, of course, the days were lengthening.

Liturgically, it was Lent. It’s hard to describe Lent at Madonna House. The Church gives us beautiful liturgies, and we at MH add on other ways of creating a Lenten atmosphere.

The music, after-diner spiritual reading, and Stations of the Cross are part of it, as well as our individual Lenten penances and practices. And Lent, of course, happens within as well, as God leads each of us on an individual journey, often in ways we did not expect.

On the practical level, too, we prepared for Easter. For example, Andorra Howard and helpers made the koolitch (Russian Easter bread) and the kitchen made the paska (a sweet Russian cottage cheese dish symbolizing Christ).

We celebrated the feasts within Lent: the Annunciation, St. Joseph’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and this Lent, we had another cause for rejoicing: Pope Francis canonized two more Canadian saints—Marie de l’Incarnation and Bishop François de Laval.

The following Sunday, Fr. Louis Labrecque, who is responsible for the maple syrup operation, invited everyone to come to the sugar shack and to bring their musical instruments.

People often drop in at the sugar shack on Sunday afternoons while it is in operation, but this gathering was special. It was the first really good sap run of the year, there was music, and Fr. Louis placed the sugar shack, the sap collecting, and the boiling down into the hands of the two new saints.

Someone heard that a day of making pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs, had been declared as a prayer for Ukraine. We were making pysanky all during Lent, so, of course, we joined in.

It is believed that making pysanky pushes back the darkness and that if people ever stop making them, evil will overcome the world.

One evening, Paul Moore, who is Eastern Rite, led the Lenten prayer of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. We prayed it in union with all the Orthodox whose prayer it is.

Lent is a time of retreats and days of recollection, and some of the priests and lay people gave them in various parishes in Ontario. Some here made retreats as well.

Then suddenly it was Holy Week. For us, as for many people, it is a time of squeezing in essential work between the profound Holy Week services and our other Holy Week activities.

For those in "feast-day-related" work departments—the kitchen, the handicraft, (in charge of decorating), the sacristy, hospitality, cleaning, and the schola (or choir)—it is an especially intense time.

On the eve of Palm Sunday, we had our Easter music practice—a lovely foretaste of Easter. (The practice for Holy Week was the week before.)

Then it was Palm Sunday, complete with a procession with cedar branches, which we use instead of palms.

On Tuesday, most of our priests, the members of the spiritual formation program (for men discerning priesthood) and the second year-applicants set out for the Chrism Mass in Pembroke, 60 miles away.

Some of the priests didn’t make it. It was snowing, a wet, icy snow, all morning, which resulted in a traffic tie-up at a hill not far away.

That evening, we had a penance service.

On Wednesday evening, we dyed and painted Easter eggs. (One of our priests said it’s the only craft he does all year.)

On Holy Thursday at lunchtime spiritual reading, we listened to the tape of Catherine’s classic talk on the priesthood. And for supper, we had our traditional "Supper of the Lamb," which includes among other things a celebration of priesthood and our priests and a reading of Christ’s farewell discourse at the Last Supper.

All week, Easter visitors kept arriving.

After the Holy Thursday supper, the Holy Week services became the center of our days. Who can take it all in? You could meditate for a year on its readings alone.

Then suddenly it was Easter: and who can describe this feast of feasts?

We can only celebrate it: in the magnificent Easter Vigil and other Eastertime liturgies, in Russian Easter foods (paska and koolitch), in our feastday clothes, in decorations, (including pysanky) in music and songs which proclaim over and over Alleluia and Christ is risen, and in festive suppers.

Yes, Easter. Here is what Fr. Denis Lemieux said about it in his homily at the Easter Vigil:

"The joy of Easter is that salvation, mercy, has come to us. We can resign from trying to be perfect. We can resign from the Board of Directors of the Universe. Salvation has been freely given; there is nothing left to earn."

For Easter, we have three days off—through Easter Tuesday. We made our own breakfasts including foods we rarely have—such as bacon and sausage—and relaxed and recreated in various ways.

These days, like the three days off at Christmas, have a unique flavor, a unique feeling of celebration and relaxation, and they are a wonderful time for visiting with one another.

Even these days were not without events. On Easter Tuesday, Fr. Robert Johnson celebrated an optional Mass using the extraordinary form (a Latin Mass). The first-year applicants and a few others left for their holidays, which included experience at one of our mission houses, a different one for each of them.

The four men of the spiritual formation program gave their farewell speeches as their program ended. Six men from St. Augustine’s Seminary arrived for a retreat with Fr. Tom Rowland.

One of the staff had hip replacement surgery on Easter Tuesday. And, on Easter Monday, Aliz Trombitas won the when-will-the-snow go-contest. On April 21st, the snow from the apple orchard in front of the main house was finally completely gone.

What else happened?

Staff taught classes. Fr. Denis Lemieux taught a weeklong 19-hour intensive course, "Introduction to Liturgy," at the St. Therese Institute in Bruno, Saskatchewan, and our schola (choir) director, Veronica Dudych, gave a class at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy on liturgical singing.

Our directors general traveled to Europe—on visitation at MH Belgium and to Rome on community business.

Frs. Peter West and Chris Morales, from Human Life International’s mission branch, visited bringing a huge pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa which they are taking across the U.S. and Canada.

Mamie Legris, our oldest member, both in age and years in the apostolate, celebrated her 98th birthday. Charlotte and Carol Timinski gave a workshop on how to make felted hats to some of the members of our handicraft department. Deirdre Burch’s paintings were displayed and sold at our local hospital.

The adoration chapel is being renovated. More about this next month.

Now, along with the universal Church, we are rejoicing at the canonization of our two popes.

Blessed month of Our Lady!


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