Combermere Diary

by Susheila Horwitz

April, when winter has lost its deadening grip, its power melted away by the sun.

April 2020, the time of Easter. In this part of the world where spring comes late, the Church calendar and the physical world are more in sync when Easter, too, comes late.

At some time during April—the last patches of snow will melt, the grass will begin to grow, the buds begin to swell, and the new lambs will be jumping joyously straight up into the air.

The rhythm of life in the country is so different from that in the city. In winter, besides snow-removal, our men spent many hours cutting down trees, chopping them, and splitting them into the size needed for our stoves and furnaces.

This year, the bush crew produced 200 cords of wood. (A cord is a stack of firewood 4 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long.)

Construction continues on the addition to the main house. Working in the cold and snow, the workers from the local firm, Zuracon, have added the roof connecting the addition to the main house. The steel roofing has now gone up as well as some of the inside walls. The contractors are very much on schedule.

Our three directors general are a busy lot. They went on two visitations in February: one to Madonna House Ottawa, the other to our farm, St. Benedict’s Acres. (A visitation is a time of the directors and staff of that house listening to the Spirit together.)

All over the earth, people are travelling more and more. Some even make it up to this fairly remote area of Canada. Fr. Rodrigo Jovita Ubaldo and Danilo Cortez came from Brazil for three weeks. Both are longtime friends from when we had a mission house in Natal, Brazil. Fr. Jean-Marie Vincent, another old friend, came from Paris for a week.

We continue to be blessed with a slow but steady stream of young Korean guests. Besides Koreans, our working guests have included a woman from Chile and one from England.

Our staff, too, is more and more international. The housemother for the women guests, Ana Sofia Corona Gaxiola, is from Mexico.

To help us keep in touch with the pulse of today’s world, we have had various talks and speakers. Staff worker Andorra Howard gave a wonderful presentation at spiritual reading at St. Mary’s about human trafficking, this highly profitable but evil practice going on in our world.

In February we remembered Black History Month with displays and the movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a classic which shows in the fictional life story of a slave, the terrible suffering African-Americans have endured.

At the end of February, one of our neighbors gave us a talk and slide show about polar bears. Yes, polar bears! James Kushny spent 30 years working in the Canadian Arctic as a research scientist at Churchill, Manitoba, a place known for its polar bears. He’s a specialist in large mammals.

Staff have gone out to give retreats. Fr. David Linder and Philomena Lim gave a retreat to about 60 women in Ottawa, and Fr. Denis Lemieux and Philomena gave the women’s diocesan retreat.

As many of you know, though we are a Latin Rite community, we had a Russian foundress, and our spirituality and liturgies include much from the Eastern Rite. We see ourselves as a bridge between the East and West.

One example of this is that we celebrate the Byzantine Divine Liturgy monthly. Lately we have often had Byzantine Vespers on the Saturdays before the liturgy. Fr. Michael Weitl, who is bi-ritual, has been celebrating it. Not only has he been trained in the Eastern Rite, but he also has a beautiful singing voice, which helps so much with a sung liturgy.

While we are on the subject of worship, we had a day of recollection for the World Day for Consecrated Life.

That day, Fr. David May gave us a talk about the De Montfort Act of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. It was after Catherine and Eddie Doherty made this Consecration in 1951 that Madonna House really started to flourish, and ever since then staff and whichever guests wish to have continued to make it as well.

On the Saturday before Ash Wednesday we had our Pre-Lent Event. This is an evening of skits, funny skits. It’s a way of lightening up, of laughing at ourselves, before Lent begins.

In one of the skits, the women from our largest dormitory dressed up as bugs. (Did you know that we live in dormitories?) The bugs were having their yearly meeting to plan their work of making problems at Madonna House.

This area has more than enough types of pesky bugs for everyone to have a part. They included a black fly, deer fly, mosquito, flu bug, and computer bug, to name just some of them.

Another skit featured the elevator at St. Mary’s. We would prefer an elevator that wasn’t skit material; one that just quietly and dependably carried its passengers from one floor to another. But the elevator at St. Mary’s often breaks down and so provided material for a wonderful skit.

In our orchards, Ruth Siebenaler and Michael Amaral have been pruning the apple trees. When they begin, the snow is still on the ground and they have to do it on snow shoes!

Over the years, Mary Davis and Ruth have planted many, many apple trees in several different orchards. Of course, not all lived long enough to produce. This past year we had an exceptional crop. There were so many apples we were eating them into February. This must be a record for us.

For Ontario’s Family Day on Feb. 17th, we had a skating party. There was hockey, a free skate, games, and during intermission, the skaters could try the Virginia Reel, a square dance usually not done on skates. A full moon added to the ambiance.

Lastly, as is our custom, every Friday afternoon during Lent, we staff take time to study something together in small groups. It is also a time for us to share and to get to know each other better.

This year, the range of options is very wide and includes several groups which are looking at the crisis in the current world through Christian lens, including through the writings of Catherine Doherty. These topics include: The Plight of Refugees Today in the Light of Catherine’s Experience, Hunger for God and Oneness in a Digital Age, Christian Anthropology, and Nazareth and Poustinia as Ways of Changing a Secular Culture. Other topics include basic carpentry, the Jesus Prayer, and Scripture.

Blessed Easter and Easter Season to all of you. We look forward to spring and summer in this little vineyard of the Lord.