Madonna House

We Beg to Differ

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

We all know the bad news, right? Read about it every day, at least if we choose to? You know what I mean by bad news: divorce statistics, infidelity statistics, the very meaning of the word “family” being changed by judicial fiat (in Canada, at least) seemingly on a semi-annual basis.

We all know, too, the “bad news” that doesn’t easily fit into news stories or statistics: the deep confusion we see all around us about roles, values, meaning, the general loss of a moral compass. The sexually active teens, the rampant abuse of alcohol and drugs, the epidemic of eating disorders, abuse of all kinds.

We all know about, and know personally of (and may also have experienced), conflict-ridden homes, marriages, lives.

We all know that stuff. Readers of Restoration also know that we don’t usually write much about the “bad news” in this newspaper. People sometimes wonder why not? Is Madonna House out of touch? Are we in denial?

Do we not know/not care/have nothing to say about the manifest and manifold woes of our modern world, especially in regards to family life? Stuck out in the “back bush” of Ontario, have we retreated from the problems of the world into some kind of idyllic paradise of our own making?

(This last question is only asked by people who have never been here. Madonna House is a nice place and even has some lovely gardens, but it’s not quite Eden.)

We choose not to write much or focus on the bad stuff, not because we’re in denial or sticking our heads in the sand of the Madawaska River.

We’re all of us from that same modern world that you are from, and we have experienced the same traumas and bear the same wounds that everyone else bears because of them.

But our choice, a choice deliberately and carefully made, is this: instead of decrying the evils and bemoaning the wrongs of modernity, we choose to look up. To see and to try to live and communicate a positive vision of what life should be.

Our apostolate, which was born in the misery of the Depression and has battled on many fronts the assaults on human dignity and justice of the 20th and 21st centuries has always struggled to speak, from the very heart of human pain and brokenness, a word of hope, humanity, and healing.

Fifty-six years ago, Pope Pius XII asked Catherine Doherty to include families in this word of healing and hope, to “remember the family in her apostolate.” For the last fifty years, Madonna House has answered that papal request through Cana Colony.

So what is Cana? It is seven cabins, two spaces for tents, two cookhouses, one chapel. A lake, a beach, a sand pit, a swing set. Seven to nine families come for a week—a new group every week—for six weeks.

They eat, they swim, they fish, they pray, they play. They attend daily Mass and they listen to one daily conference.

Like the rest of Madonna House, Cana is so very ordinary, so very little, so very much raising the question: this is your answer to the broken, wounded, battle-scarred, weary, lost world? This is your word of hope? A sand box? A fish? A meal?

To which challenge we say, simply, yes.

Like the rest of Madonna House, Cana is one small subdivision of Nazareth. In other words, it is a little corner of ordinary, simple, earthy, human reality, a little corner of light and order, which is a response to the darkness and disorder of our times.

I’m reminded of a book written by a friend of ours, Mary Jo Leddy, a book entitledSay to the Darkness, We Beg to Differ. Cana, like the rest of Madonna House, is us saying, “We beg to differ.”

Families come. They have a week that in many respects is like a typical camp experience with a few prayers added.

Each family lives in close quarters in its one-room cabins, and all the families together share the limited cooking and washing up facilities. In this way, through the limitations of space and the simplicity of life, community is helped to happen.

So much of the “bad news” of our world is rooted in the loss of community. We don’t know each other; we don’t look at each other; we don’t talk to each other. Even within families, this can happen, and certainly it is the norm in modern urban and suburban life. So many human tragedies arise from this, so much confusion and darkness.

At Cana, as in all of Madonna House, we say, “We beg to differ.” So of course, Cana has to be small. How else can I see you or you see me? How else can we get to know each other?

Of course, Cana has to be simple and ordinary and poor: our lives are simple and ordinary, and we human beings are poor, whether we know it or not. We can only meet the Lord and receive his healing love where we are and as we are.

Cana is also, as the families will attest, a place of beauty, peace, safety, and joy, a graceful respite from the tensions and stresses of their usual lives. But this is not, as some might think and occasionally say, a flight from the “real world.”

This is the real world. Life is beautiful, because God made it so. Peace and joy arethe Father’s gifts to us. And as for safety, do we believe we are in the hands of the Good Shepherd or don’t we? In other words, do we believe the Gospel or not? Our lives are safe—even if the world blows up and everything is lost.

At Cana, families enter reality. They experience the truth of life, of love, of their vocation. They need this (we all do) because the bad news can crush us down. Evil always makes a big show of it, a big noise. Evil grabs the headlines, always.

At Cana, as in the rest of Madonna House, good news comes on a well-cast fishing line, at a campfire, over a cup of coffee, in a dried tear. We beg to differ with the darkness by building a sand castle with a four-year-old or tossing a Frisbee with a twelve-year-old. We beg to differ, sharing a well-cooked meal, laughing over a silly joke, roasting a marshmallow.

Above all, we beg to differ with the darkness as we wrap all our days, our nights, our own darkness and light, in the love of Our Lord lavished on us in the Mass and place them into the hands of his Mother at the evening rosary.

While others may shine the good news and “beg to differ” with the darkness in other good and necessary ways, at MH this is our answer.

Nazareth. Community. Family.