This week in Madonna House has definitely marked the beginning of ‘real’ summer here. The weather has been summer heat, Canadian-style, which I realize makes our more southern friends laugh a bit (it got up to a whopping 90F one day!), and genuinely gorgeous.
But in MH, it is not the weather that makes the summer (it actually has turned cool again the past two days). There is one factor alone that really constitutes the summer ambiance in our community, and that factor is people.
There are people here year-round, and our guest dorms are rarely empty, but in the summer it takes on a whole new velocity. The guest list registers three or four people arriving every day this week, and the same again next week, as people come to take part in our summer program which begins this evening.
What is the MH summer program, you ask? Well, I’m glad you did! Every year for five weeks we structure our normal MH life of ora et labora, prayer and work and community life, around a theme which unites the teachings given and the spiritual presentation of the week. There is always an overarching theme for the five weeks as a whole, then each week has its own proper theme. This year our theme is ‘Path of Life, Fullness of Joy in God’s Presence,’ quoting Psalm 15, and the first week’s theme is ‘Show Me, God: Finding God in Beauty, Truth, and Goodness’.
Different MH lay staff will give teachings or witness talks connected to the theme of the week, the priest’s take turns giving a class on Wednesday evenings, there will be fun activities like a square dance, a picnic, a bonfire, or spiritual activities like a day of recollection, a Taize style prayer service, or a walking pilgrimage to a nearby shrine.
Every Saturday the three directors general of MH—Fr. David May, Susanne Stubbs, and Mark Schlingerman—hold the Saturday Evening Seminar, a free-wheeling Q&A session with the guests where people can ask anything they want about God, the Church, the spiritual life, vocation, etc. This is an especially popular activity, as you just never know what’s going to come up.
All of this is happening, of course, in addition to the regular MH life which goes into high gear around this time with the farm work and other things. These other things also bring many people here. Cana started this week, with the first group of seven families wrapping up their week of vacation-retreat this morning. An important element of that week is the parents’ visit to MH on Tuesday, when they have a chance to meet the community that runs the camp. A large crew goes out every Saturday afternoon to clean the place in preparation for the next group of families, who arrive tomorrow.
With the end of the school year we are definitely in ‘holiday season’ up this way, which means the population of the Combermere area triples or quadruples. The constant sound of motor boats and jet skis on the river, the blasting of music late into the night at the local bar, the actual presence of more than one car on the road at a given time (Ottawa Valley gridlock, we call that)—all of this is the summer scene in this cottage country.
This means the gift shops get very busy indeed, and tours of our main center become a twice or thrice-daily event. I was asking one of our gift shop staff how it was going, and she said business is booming and it is a challenge to keep the shelves stocked with items. As I have mentioned previously on this blog, all of the proceeds of our shops go to missions in the developing world, so this is a great thing.
All of which means that you can hardly turn around in MH these days without seeing a ‘friend you haven’t met yet’, and hospitality is the first and urgent priority of all our lives these days.
Meanwhile, what else happened? We had a violent storm on Tuesday that knocked out power for most of the day. The worst of it was to the north and east of here, where micro-bursts did a fair bit of damage knocking down trees.
An interesting ongoing event that I haven’t mentioned is that our local mission house which serves the area, St. Joseph’s House, is undergoing massive renovations in their living quarters. This has meant the six staff who live down there have moved out and are living in a local unused rectory about ten kilometers away, and commuting in each day to run the clothing room, rummage sale and the rest of their rather voluminous apostolic work. While it has been no small adjustment and demand on the flexibility and generosity of the St. Joe’s staff, they are happy to have the much-needed work done on their house.
So that’s what happened here this week, at least as much as I know about! Know that as we go about our busy, busy lives this time of year, we offer it all up in prayer for the world and for all of you.