The Hope Book

by Susanne Stubbs

Fr. Emile Brière, a deceased Madonna House priest, used to keep what he called a Hope Book. In it he collected stories from people whose prayers were answered or who had received significant graces from God. Some of the stories seem like miracles.

He would re-read these accounts to remind himself that God had acted, and so his hope would be renewed.

I sometimes ask myself what I would put in my Hope Book. I think the story of how I received my vocation would always be at the top of any list I would make.

This story begins with a car trip with a friend. She and I had studied French together, and we wanted to hear the language spoken. So we decided to travel to Quebec. We had been told that a visit there would be like a visit to Europe.

We were certainly footloose and fancy free. We were young, single, and though employed, had few obligations in life. We were enjoying immensely our late summer vacation to the north.

When we reached Montreal, however, a wind blew us west—a wind of the Spirit. Each of us had heard separately of something interesting going on in a small village in Ontario.

There was a lay community there—not a religious order—about which we knew very little. We had heard that these people grew herbs, baked their own delicious bread, and had cabins in the woods where one could go and pray. And there were bears in those woods!

On a whim, or probably a divine intuition, we took a detour from our planned route and drove west for five hours to Madonna House, Combermere, to spend one day and two nights.

Though many things seemed strange to me during that stay, I sensed a presence of God just in the atmosphere. As the Irish say, it was a thin place, a place where the veil between heaven and earth is very thin. I wanted to return.

Return I did, a year later. I planned to stay a month; I stayed for life.

Until today, if I ever doubt the power of the Holy Spirit, I need only to remember the power of the push he gave me to stay put, here, in this community.

The recollection of this moment reminds me again and again of what God can do, even when we are not expecting him to do anything or wanting him to do anything.

In the twinkling of an eye, literally, the direction of my life changed. I was offered the pearl of great price on a golden platter, and I was given the grace to reach out and accept the gift.

No natural or even supernatural attraction on my part led me to this vocation. The lesson: God is not deterred by our weaknesses or deficiencies or inattention. He is a God of mercy. He can act, anywhere and at any time—and he does.

I believe God gives us big pushes through the Spirit at the moment we need them. If they are sudden or dramatic, we can remember them better, and our hope is thereby renewed for ourselves and for others. For we know that if he acted in such a real way in the past, he can act again.

It’s also helpful to remember how God acted in the lives of others as well as in our own. In some of our Madonna House missions we live in the midst of great spiritual poverty—weakness of faith, indifference, poor church attendance. It is difficult for some of us to persevere in the face of such apathy.

Recently, in one of these missions, one of our members was surprised to meet a young man in his late teens who inexplicably and without any family support had come to believe and find happiness in the heart of the Church. Something mysterious had attracted him.

Simply meeting him gave immediate hope to our member. This too is a story for a Hope Book.

Through it, our member saw how God can act in a life, move into a heart, with amazing grace. She saw that God can renew the Church this way, his way, one person at a time.

Our foundress Catherine loved little signs or plaques that reminded us to believe and trust. One of her favorites read, “Expect a miracle!”

I pray to live in that expectant hope.