This week in Madonna House was another relatively quiet one. The flu continues to be the dominant feature in our community life—I don’t know if this year’s version of it has reached you wherever you live, but it is a tenacious one this year, hanging on for two to three weeks. So far nobody here has had any of the more serious complications that can attend it (it can run to pneumonia, apparently), but we are keeping a close eye on our elderly members for whom it poses a real danger.
Anyhow, all that has made for a smaller, quieter life for us here. It has also been a week of severe cold (it is -30 C as I write this), pushing us all to a more inside way of life. We are living a life down to the basics of things—three meals on the table, laundry getting done and the house kept clean, wood boxes kept filled and paths shovelled, cows milked, animals fed.
There is some fun in the midst of it all, though. Our men keep a skating rink maintained in a little swampy area just off the main house grounds. The current on the river is too strong for safe skating, but this area is safe and big enough to accommodate quite a crowd of people, big enough for hockey games, even, and many an evening and a Sunday afternoon sees a crowd out there. Often, local children and teens will join us for the fun, and it is a nice way to be together as a family and with our friends and neighbours.
Perhaps one of the defining features of our life right now, sickness and extreme cold aside, is the unusual scarcity of guests staying with us right now. This used to be the norm in MH—tons of guests would be with us in the summer, and then the winter would be just us. But more recent years have seen substantial numbers of guests wintering over with us, and so it is a little unsettling for us that we have (I believe) something like four men and five women staying with us right now, and nobody in particular on the horizon. Having nine people living in your house with you as guests may sound like a lot to most people, but for us it’s pretty empty, actually. We can easily accommodate five times that number, and have.
Hey – any young adults out there at a loose end this winter? Want a spiritual adventure? Want to give some time to God? Come to Madonna House! Our live-in guest program has been a most fruitful experience for the thousands who have taken part in it, many of whom tell us that it changed their life, showed them the face of love, gave them faith and hope and a vision of how to live the Gospel they could carry with them. So… (and I don’t say this just because we kind of miss having lots of guests, although we sure do—they bring so much life to us), come one, come all.
What do guests do at MH? It is unusual, even now with all sorts of new communities and apostolates in the Church. We simply welcome guests to be in the community, living the same life we live, completely inserted into our MH way of life. They have their own dormitories, with a houseparent to oversee their time with us. But other than that, they pray with us, eat with us, work alongside us, recreate with us. With very few exceptions (once in a while, the MH staff have a meeting, or some such thing), they live what we live, to an unusual degree.
It has been our experience that our MH way of life has a powerful impact on people. Whether it is the greater depth of silence (we have restrictions on the use of technology that we ask our guests to abide by), the regular rhythm of ‘ora et labora’, prayer and work, the constancy of liturgical prayer twice a day, the availability of priests for spiritual direction, the exposure to simple manual labor and the learning of new skills, not to mention being absorbed into the real work of MH, which is to build each day a community of love and service, compassion and care—whatever it is, our guests find our way of life to be transformative and life-giving. So… all are welcome, so long as you are healthy enough to manage here!
Meanwhile, in this quiet and rather ordinary workaday time of year, please know that we are all praying deeply for the world in our troubled days, for peace, for wisdom, for love to show forth the victory that we know Love has already achieved for us. May God bless you, in whatever your days hold for you.