Combermere Diary

by Cynthia Donnelly

As usual, because of the practicalities of getting out this newspaper, we are giving you December news in February.

December 8th was a beautiful Advent day. The snow was a brilliant white and the sky an azure blue—a perfect day for the Feast of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.

As always, we celebrated it with a day off and a festive Mass and supper. In his homily, Fr. Denis told us he that he had received a strong sense of Our Lady’s love for us.

We celebrate a number of feasts in Advent. December 6th was the feast of St Nicholas. He (a guest dressed in bishop’s robes) arrived bringing gifts, the gift of the name of someone in the community to pray for this coming year.

Then we journeyed through a week of feasts. We celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe with mananitas (early morning songs to celebrate a person), Mexican food and music, and an evening fiesta. Next was St Lucy and her symbols of light and hope.

Then there was December 14th, Catherine Doherty’s 35th anniversary of falling asleep in the Lord, an anniversary which we marked as we do each year, with a day of recollection—a day of prayer and rest in the midst of the busyness of Christmas preparations—and a Russian supper.

Advent is also a time of sending Christmas cards and here at Madonna House, the ones we send are mostly either donated or home-made. To help us make them, our handicraft center gave a few Sunday afternoon classes to whoever were interested.

Jean Doucet taught how to make embroidered cards, and Joanne Weisbeck, embossed ones. Fr. David Linder showed us how to make birch-bark cards, and Amy Barnes, linocut ones.

Ruth Siebenaler taught a class how to make felted sheep ornaments.

In past Combermere diaries for Advent, we have often told you in detail about our wonderful customs, but this year, my mind has turned to the other side of Advent: Advent as a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord—a time to reflect on our life and how we are living it.

When I read over the events of the past few weeks, it occurred to me that, along with Advent, the Lord has been providing us with other opportunities to prepare our hearts for his coming.

The pandemic, for example, is a call to look at how we are living. Some of you have told us this. You said you’ve been asking yourselves: what is most important thing in your life? What is essential? What do you desire most? We have been asking ourselves these questions as well.

Over the past year or so, our directors general initiated meetings of small groups divided according to age, as an opportunity for each of us to look at our life and see how we are living it.

The first of these meetings were for those over 80, the last and most recent one, for people in their 70s. The meetings of those in the younger decades were in between. These meetings have brought forth a time of reflection, prayer and deep sharing.

Another opportunity led us to look at how we are living our promise of poverty. In September, we gathered to mail out our bi-annual begging letter. Now, we are gathering in after-supper bees to write thank you notes to you for your generosity to us.

Our annual financial report is another way that we open our hearts, that we ask ourselves how well we are living our promise of poverty. We always need to ask: are we good stewards of what has been given to us? Mary McGoff, who is in charge of our office, led us through this meeting with diligence and humour.

Does God ever surprise you? Do you ever wonder what you should do? What is God’s will for you? Well, we struggle with that too.

In our begging letter last year, we told you about our plans to build an addition to our existing house. We asked your assistance, and you responded generously. Yet, it was a step in faith: was this God’s will for us?

There have been little signs. One day, for example, out of the blue, one of our local contractors said to us, “You have to do this. You are going to need this addition!”

I asked Peter Gravelle who is in charge of this building project to give us an update. Here’s what he wrote:

“Since the last time we gave you an update, a lot of work has been done. We have basically finished all the dry wall in the interior. This means the hanging of the drywall, the mudding, which is the covering of the screws, and levelling the seams between the sheets. The painting is all done and looks great thanks to the work of Darrin Prowse and Alec Bonacci.”

“We have a new walk-in cooler/freezer as well as the exhaust fan over the gas range. We are now moving on to the finishing of the window casing and hanging the doors. The building is starting to look like home.”

In my opinion, it is beautiful! The addition blends gracefully with the exterior of our old house. So, it is with hearts full of gratitude that we thank you, dear friends, for your help in this step of faith we felt called to make.

Fr Murray Kuemper gave us a talk on the Church’s teaching on socialism. We learned what socialism is and what it is not and what the popes from Leo XIII in the 19th century to the present have called the Church to do. The Gospel of Jesus calls us to care for the poor, to act justly towards one another and to love as he loved us.

Very quickly, Christmas was almost upon us. The haunting melodies of the O Antiphons led us into the final stages of preparation for the feast. The men cut greens and Christmas trees to grace our buildings, and we made wreathes, decorated, cooked, and baked. The smell of Christmas cookies baking filled the evening air.

Then it was Christmas. For the first time ever, there were no Christmas visitors—either staying with us or dropping in for short visits—and instead of one Mass with all of us, there were three so that we could social distance. But outside of that, we were blessed to be able to celebrate the day and season in various ways.

At the same time, dear friends, we were and are so aware that some of you had to celebrate this Christmas alone and that many were not able to go to church and receive the Eucharist on this holiest of days. We remembered you in our daily Mass intentions and other prayer.

Then on December 26th, we awoke to learn that Theresa Marsey, who had been gradually dying, had died during the night.

In one way or another, the cross is never far from the crib.

And now, skipping ahead to another liturgical season, we wish a blessed, grace-filled Lent to each of you.