This week in Madonna House was far from ordinary. Of course the week revolved largely around the events on Sunday—June 8, the feast of Pentecost coinciding this year with the anniversary of the blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere (unofficially and strictly non-liturgically known here as the ‘feast’ of OLC), on which day the members of MH make, renew temporarily, or make forever their promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
‘For the glory of God, and because I desire with my whole heart to respond to the call of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel with my life, I, N., promise with the help of Our Lady to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience for…’ The words rang out eleven times in our chapel, as three made their first promises and received the MH cross, six made two year renewals, and two made final promises to live this life ‘forever’.
It is my policy on the blog to not mention names of MH people, so I won’t go into who they all were. But friends and family of the promisers came to join us from all over the place—Italy, Washington, Arizona, and points nearer. The chapel was packed with a most diverse group of ‘friends we hadn’t met yet’, who stayed for a reception afterwards.
Those are the bare facts of the event; it is truly hard to convey the emotions and the inner spirit of the day. We journey very closely with one another in this community, and watching a beloved brother or sister standing up to commit to this life, be it the first plunge into those waters, a renewal, or for life, is deeply touching. To see anyone commit to anything in the world today is deeply touching. And MH, even though I consider it to be the most beautiful and wonderful vocation in the world (natch!), is truly a very small, hidden, mysterious place, few in number and very ordinary and humble in its approach to evangelical life. It is awesome to see people who have great personal gifts and could, truly, do other things with their lives throw their lot in with the rest of us in the way of Nazareth love and service.
So that was Sunday. It was also Pentecost, and so we had at supper that night the traditional distribution of Pentecost gifts and fruits. This is a custom we started I don’t know when—ages ago—of making up little ‘gifts’ cut out in the form of a flame or a dove or some such thing, with one of the seven gifts of the spirit written on one side, and one of the fruits on the other. We draw a gift from the basket, and consider it to be a word from the Holy Spirit for the year. This year, for example, I got ‘knowledge and peace’.
Beyond that major event, I guess the other big event was the annual work bee to set up our Cana Colony, the camp we run for families each summer. This is the one MH work we do that actually has a papal mandate. When Catherine was in Rome back in 1951, she had a private audience with Pope Pius XII, an event that she did not anticipate and that left her rather in a daze. He blessed her work, and her, suggested to her that the nascent MH community make the very promises we now have, and before she left implored her to do something for families.
That ‘something’ has evolved over time into a six-week summer camp where up to nine families can come each week for a time of combined vacation and retreat. There is Mass each day, a conference, an MH priest on hand for reconciliation or counsel, and otherwise lots of time just to be together with other families and recreate together as a family. The setting is rustic, but not primitive, and very beautiful. It is a popular apostolate, and the waiting list each year is long.
In fact, this year we decided to build an extra cabin to accommodate the growing numbers of families applying. We had always had two spaces for tenters, but we find that fewer and fewer people are up for the challenge of camping as a family for a week, and as a result it was rare to fill up both those spaces. Building an eighth cabin and still leaving a single space for camping will allow us to operate the camp at its maximum capacity.
So on Tuesday almost the entire community went out to Cana to scrub, scrub, scrub every inch of it and all the equipment, to repair and paint and generally get the place in sparkling order, in preparation for the camp’s opening in two weeks. Cana is a great joy and delight for us, and I personally am sure that the papal blessing upon it (unique among all the works of MH) is responsible for what a fruitful and beautiful apostolate it has been over the decades.
The other event that brought us great joy this week is that the renovations we have been doing in the upstairs chapel, the original chapel of MH, which necessitated the removal of the Blessed Sacrament from it, are largely completed, and we now have Jesus back with us in the tabernacle. The chapel has been considerably beautified, with the tabernacle moved to the center, a new altar, a new reredos, and lovely statues of Mary and Joseph. It is so good to have our chapel back – we all missed it, which I guess is a good thing!
Beyond that, MH is a hopping place—the farm is in full swing with the gardens especially, the men are doing a wide range of outdoor maintenance projects, the food processing has begun with the first harvest of the rhubarb, and everywhere you look there are people, work, energy, and action. We are an apostolate in motion, never more so than in the short Canadian summer months. Good thing the Holy Spirit showed up when He did – not a moment too soon.
And that’s what happened this week in MH.