Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

When you receive this paper, it will be February, and Lent will be on the horizon. But, due to the practicalities of putting out this newspaper, I am writing this column in the midst of the Christmas Season.

And since we deeply live the liturgical seasons, much of our news this month is Advent or Christmas-related. So in the bleakness of February (for those of you who have winter), relax and enjoy this wee taste of the festive season.

Advent, when it is lived, is a wonderful season. What a pity that in so many places, it is kind of slid over and gets lost in too-early a celebration of Christmas.

Advent is the season of waiting, of expectation, of hunger for God. “Come, come!” “O Come Divine Messiah,” “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.” Here at Madonna House, these words are sung over and over, at the daily lighting of the Advent wreath, at prayers, and at Mass.

All lead us to enter more deeply into our hearts, to touch the longing in them for light, for God himself, in ourselves and in the world.

At the same time, for us as for probably most of you, it is a very busy season. For celebrating and preparing to celebrate takes work.

There is food to prepare for Christmastime: white buns, tortières (French-Canadian Christmas meat pies), fruit cake, etc., etc. And cookies, lots of cookies.

The kitchen does not bake cookies; all of us do. Every evening in Advent, people can be seen baking, baking, baking—alone, in pairs, familiar cookies and kinds from our various ethnic backgrounds. Since cookies are a rarity here, they are a big treat during the Christmas Season.

We also celebrate the feast days within Advent. One of the weeks, four of them came one after the other: the Immaculate Conception, the anniversary of Catherine’s death, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Lucy.

During Advent, our working guests have a liturgy class, and through it they learn about Advent and its feasts.

By taking part in the preparations and celebrations through decoration, song, explanation, and presentation, they learn ways of celebrating the season and the feasts within it. This year the class was led by Maria Kim, Frank Brick, and Fr. Kieran Kilcommons.

As I said, much work goes into these celebrations, and throughout Advent, the kitchen, the handicraft department (which is responsible for decorations), the sacristy and the schola especially have much to do.

Then suddenly, it was Christmas. The decorations are beautiful; wreaths, lights, and crêches are seemingly everywhere. St. Mary’s with its high ceiling has a magnificent tree, and there are trees other places as well. The bush crew, the men chopping trees for lumber and firewood, keep an eye out all year for suitable trees.

And there was, as always in our dining room, a display of dolls representing nations all over the world. These dolls, most of them dressed in a homey way, are a wonderful reminder that everyone, in whatever nation, is our brother or sister in the Mystical Body of Christ.

Christmas Day was, among other things, a day of Masses. For Christmas is the traditional day for three Masses.

We had the Vigil Mass, of course, followed by a collation. Some of us stayed up for the Dawn or Shepherd’s Mass.

Then on Christmas Day, there was a noon Mass and if you wished, you could also attend an Extra-ordinary From Latin Mass, which Fr. Robert Johnson said at a parish in nearby Barry’s Bay.

Plus you could and can throughout the twelve days of Christmas, pray before life-size Infants in the chapels at the main house and St. Mary’s. You can even pick them up and hold them.

Christmas and the two days following were as usual free days. We visited, played board games and cards, watched movies, hiked, went tubing, ice skated, played hockey, etc., etc. On Boxing Day, December 26th, the farm had an open house.

In the evenings, we had Masses and festive suppers with entertainment (music, songs, poems, stories) provided by whoever volunteered to do so.

And this entertainment, and the cookies, and the decorations and the Christmas carols will continue for all twelve days of Christmas.

It is Catherine Doherty who taught us how to celebrate the way it was done in Catholic cultures.

The reality of the feast, in Christmas the fact that Christ was born to save us, is paramount and the cause of our joy. And it is this joy that is expressed in various ways: songs, decorations, food, etc. At a truly Catholic celebration, in some mysterious way, the religious and “secular” celebrations are one.

But not all our news is Advent-Christmas-related. Here are some other news.

The construction of our addition continues. It’s not so easy to see the changes now that the walls around the first floor are up, but you can look through the spaces that will be windows and our brothers have thoughtfully provided a peep-hole in the main house basement.

Where are things at now? The main floor stud walls have gone up defining the shape of the addition. On top of the walls, the second story floor was added using pre-engineered joists. The concrete basement floor was then poured in two separate pourings.

The last thing the contractors did before the Christmas holidays was to build the half-walls for the second floor. It is now ready for the roofing trusses to go on, first thing in the new year.

As most of you know, we live entirely by donations, a way of life that requires faith. The Lord certainly provides for us.

One day Larry Klein, the director general of laymen, had to decide whether or not to purchase two things that were needed at St. Mary’s. Even though these things cost a lot of money, he gave the go-ahead. That very afternoon, two checks arrived in the mail, two checks that added up to exactly the amount that had been spent!

A few of us have traveled. Our directors general made visitations to Marian Centre Regina, MH Vancouver, and Victoria, British Columbia, where two of our staff live.

Three of us—Mike Huffman, Raandi King and Ruth Siebenaler—visited a Bruderhof community in New York State. The Bruderhof is an Anabaptist community which has houses across the world. Like Madonna House, they live a simple life in intentional community. We have had a few contacts with them over the years.

Three of us—Victoria Fausto, Nicholas Parrott, and Fr. Kieran Kilcommons—attended Rise-Up, the major conference of CCO, a Canadian Catholic Student Movement. This is for us a way of connecting with university students and letting them know about Madonna House.

Here’s some wee News in Brief: Darrin Prowse milled 3400 board feet of lumber from our trees. Because of an early spell of cold weather, we had our ice rink the earliest ever: November 17th.

That’s all the news for this time. Blessed, grace-filled Lent to each of you.