‘So what do you do in Madonna House in the winter?’ This question is asked at times, not to be confused with the much deeper and more central question, ‘What are you people doing there, period?’Winter is, in Combermere, a somewhat quieter season, what with the blankets of snow covering every outside surface.
It has been a quiet week in MH, truly, so I thought I would give some space to just what we do here in a typical winter week. I looked around the dining room on Sunday at supper (the day we’re all more or less here) – we had set 16 tables of six people each. Along with the six tables set at our St. Mary’s household down the road, that makes for 130 people (more or less) living here right now.
Around twenty of those are our live-in guests, a permanent feature of our life. That’s actually on the low end, number-wise, and can easily be twice as many. From all over the world, and ranging from 19-35 normally, although older people can certainly come here as guests, too, they are here for any number of reasons: vocation discernment, spiritual renewal, formation, a life crisis, inner healing. We don’t ask them why they’re here; we just receive them into our life and invite them to stay so long as they are willing to live it.
So that’s 130 people to feed, launder and generally physically provide for. The farm meanwhile, while it is in a slightly lower gear than the busy summer months, does continue its work. Cows need milking, and the milk needs to be pasteurized and made into cheese, yogurt, butter. The animals need food, water, bedding, and the machines need tending.
A major farm job in the winter is the managing of our fire wood and lumber – the ‘bush crew’ are out felling trees, bucking them up and transporting them to landings. It takes two years for firewood to be suitable for burning, so a great deal of organization and logistics goes into this job. Almost all of our buildings (and we've got a lot of buildings - think small village!) are either primarily or largely heated by wood, as it is by far the cheapest fuel source, although labor intensive.
Meanwhile, much ‘indoor’ work goes on in the winter that cannot be gotten to otherwise. The carpenters are refurbishing one of the listening rooms used by the priests for spiritual direction, while the librarians and handicraft people attend to the many details of their work that have piled up through the in the busy summer and fall months of growing and harvesting.
And there is much ongoing constant work in hidden corners—the office staff pay the bills and keep the books, the nurses tend our sick and elderly, MH Publications works away getting the word out. And so it goes…
We had a clothes sorting bee on Monday. MH lives by donations, both the cash that is vital for our operating expenses and goods of all sorts. We have a large building dedicated to the Infant of Prague where donations are received, and periodically everyone who can, gathers to sort them. Much of the clothing is distributed locally or passed on to other organizations – we keep only a tiny percentage of it for our own clothing needs.
The library and others have put up quite an extensive display highlighting the issue of human trafficking, child soldiers, and modern day slavery. The US bishops have asked for this week to be a time of prayer, atonement, and awareness raising for this issue, so we are doing our little bit. It has stimulated discussion, questions, study. We had a good discussion at spiritual reading one day about the call to atone for these overwhelming evils and social injustices, and how fidelity to our way of life here, little and ordinary as it may seem, is precisely the atonement God is asking of us continually.
And so that’s about it for this week in MH – truly an ordinary sort of wintery week here, but not without its grace and beauty. May your week be likewise, and bring you the joy of the Gospel in its wake.