family celebrating with cake and lit candles

The Story of a Cana Family

by Teresa Hiebert

With God, every moment is the moment of beginning again.

Catherine Doherty

***

The year was 2008, and it felt like our family life was unraveling. It was happening as a slow losing of hope, like a slow dying, where you kind of know you’re dying but it really doesn’t matter because it doesn’t even hurt anymore.

The turn-around started at a school parent council meeting when the principal brought out the book Poustinia by Catherine Doherty. I borrowed it and flipped through it. There was a spark there, a little spark.

When I got home, I went through the book more carefully and checked out the Madonna House website. That’s where I came across information about a family camp, something called “Cana Colony.”

It was in the middle of nowhere, at a lake in a place called Combermere, Ontario. It sounded so beautiful, like a great getaway—for just me and my husband and our kids. No extended family, no one from school, no friends, no interruptions. Just us . . . just us. It sounded too good to be true.

How were we going to get the money to get there? I thought of all the air miles we had accumulated; all those years of Safeway shopping, diapers, formula, and groceries. So I brought up the idea with my husband.

I’m sure he thought at first that I was crazy. We were going to use all our air miles to fly to Ontario, just to pitch a tent and go camping in the backwoods where there are outhouses and, except for the cook shack, no running water. We had never gone tenting with all our children before. And our youngest, our twins, were only five.

I am a nurse in ICU (Intensive Care Unit.) I do shift work—weekends, holidays. My husband is a refrigeration mechanic, who works a normal 9 to 5 and is on call after hours and weekends. For many years, when the kids were little, we only ever had one weekend off together as a family.

Cana was an enormous change from home. It was great just being us; a mom, a dad, and kids. No phones ringing, no pagers going off, no shift work, no code blues—just nature and the sacraments and nuclear families and each other. And our kids had a lot of simple playtime with other kids.

And just eating all our meals together! I’d never realized how apart we were until we started being together that week at Cana.

We met so many other families at Cana, families from all different places—all the way from New York and the Maritimes to the prairies.

We shared so many stories, so many encounters. It was families evangelizing families—sitting around campfires, doing dishes and camp chores together, at parent sessions and at the lake. We shared our hearts, our pains, our successes, our failures.

When I had arrived at Cana, my heart was close to being a heart of stone. While I was there, it cracked, just a little.

It’s not a bad thing to realize that you’re broken, though it’s painful. I was starting to feel again.

Cana was a beautiful turning point for us as a family.

When we got back home, we started to change some little things. Our meals were one big change; we prioritized eating together. We also started turning to each other more.

One other big thing we had learned at Cana was how to guard our family from outside influences, how to protect our Nazareth, how to be in the world, but to still be ourselves in Christ, and not to lose sight of our faith or each other.

2012. Cana was easier for us this time because we kind of knew what to expect. Outhouses and water buckets, and everything simple again: Christ in the little things.

Of course, there were different families with us this time, and our children were older. And my main grace was different this time.

I picked up one of the Madonna House books—Kiss of Christ by Catherine Doherty (now republished as Beginning Again). It looked short, and seemed like it would be an easy read. Sure enough, it flowed as if Catherine herself was talking to me. The “kiss of Christ” was confession, and Catherine talked about how important confession is.

I hadn’t been to confession since I was pregnant with our first child—ten years before.

When Catherine talked about the seal of confession and how a priest would choose execution rather than breaking it, it hit something deep in me.

I had had a very bad experience at confession as a teenager. I didn’t know that I should have reported it to the bishop. I didn’t know.

I stopped reading; I couldn’t read any more. There was a big lump in my heart and it was ready to explode.

So I marched over to our Cana priest. (Every Cana has a priest there 24/7, including daily Eucharist, parent sessions, evening prayers, and the ongoing availability of confessions/counseling.)

We sat down, and I started sharing my story—and how this book by Catherine had opened everything wide up . . . wide open . . . raw.

Well, that turned into an hour and a half-long whirlwind of discussion, confession, revelation, and healing. It was so beautiful. It was pure Holy Spirit, grace, healing. It was the most beautiful confession possible in the whole world.

A huge spiritual weight came off me. Jesus was in the midst of it, and that was huge. That was so huge . . . because I had totally given up on such a beautiful sacrament.

I know my family could sense the change in me. I’d started to lose that edge of bitterness and anger; I started to soften. Some of that stone in my heart was melting.

Eventually, I forgave that priest from so long ago. He wasn’t immune from the devil either.

Another gem that Catherine Doherty shared in that book is the importance of priests. We cannot have sacraments without priests, and that we really, really need to pray for priests. They’re human too. And no matter who the priest is, no matter how sinful he is, when he is ministering the sacraments, he is Christ. In those moments he is Christ!

It was different driving home. It was the same road, but I noticed the sunrises and sunsets more. And when it rained and the water would hit the windshield, and the wipers would be going, it was like I could feel those raindrops on me. I could feel them soaking in. I could feel them washing me clean.

As I started going to confession more, and with my heart, not with a list, my family started going more—sometimes with resistance, sometimes with enthusiasm, sometimes by request. This second Cana was a Cana of great grace and mercy.

2014, our third Cana experience: (I was still exuberant from my pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe in February, so there was a concomitant ripple effect on our family from that!) It was beautiful watching our children, now older, blossoming—watching them help and bond with the younger children.

It was more of a challenge this time to set aside our electronic devices. (We were better after the first couple days.) We reflected a lot on how much our little family had been transformed over the years, had been nourished and grown.

A beautiful new book was out at this time, published by Madonna House, Nazareth Family Spirituality, taken from Catherine Doherty’s talks and writings about family.

This time we discerned a call to give back, to share with others, what had been shared with us at Cana.

It was not long before the way to do this was made known to us. We belong to the Ukrainian Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, and our bishop asked us to begin a Madonna House style-Cana Colony in Saskatchewan where we live.

So to make a long story short, we became part of a group who, after much prayer and many discussions and meetings, founded a Cana Colony.

Our first Cana session was held in August 2015 for the organizers of the camp. It was a blessed week of training, learning and orientation.

Along with time for recreational activities, we had daily Divine Liturgies (Eastern Rite Masses) right on the campsite, parent sessions with the priest every afternoon, and a prayer service every evening.

We shared mealtimes, stories and encounters. We evangelized each other; and we inspired each other.

We took many pictures, drew diagrams, and took notes to help organize for a full complement of families for the following summer.

The dates for the Saskatchewan Cana this year are August 7-13, 2016. Though it will be very close to that time when you receive this paper, it’s possible there will still be room or a cancellation. You can find out by emailing ucfamilylifeoffice@sasktel.net  We are also planning to have the camp in 2017, from August 13-19. Registration for that session will begin this coming January.

Information and a video link are posted on the Cana page at www.skeparchy.org/familyandlife