Life, death, and everything in between—such was this week in Madonna House. I haven’t actually written this column for some weeks now. In recent weeks life in MH has been fine, but pretty basic and ordinary, and to be honest I just couldn’t think of anything to say about it. There are only so many times you can write ‘the-farm-is-busy-and-we-are-planting-our-crops’ in a row before it starts to sound a little monotonous, even if the work itself is absorbing.
Well, this week was filled with all sorts of things that are anything but basic and ordinary. Sunday last was Corpus Christi, and we had our annual Eucharistic procession from St. Mary’s chapel to Our Lady of the Woods. We have been doing this for years now—in fact it holds a special meaning for me since I arrived at MH to stay on that feast day and actually arrived during the procession. My life has been one long walk with Jesus ever since.
We are joined in this procession by our friends and neighbours in this Valley, and it seems to get bigger every year. We are surrounded by many young families, and some not so young, and so there is always a great aspect of community and joy in this event. Little girls carry baskets of flower petals that they scatter at the feet of the Lord as he passes in His Eucharistic body, while we pray the rosary and pause at Our Lady of Combermere mid-route for Benediction.
Of course it was even bigger than usual this year because the date was June 7, and the following day was our MH Promise Day, the anniversary of the dedication of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere. Many family and friends of the eight people making first and final promises had already arrived.
So we had a cookout supper that evening. This year many of our guests were from Nova Scotia, as two making first promises were from there. Where Maritimers are, there is always music, and so an impromptu ceilidh happened in the basement that evening.
The next day, of course, was Promises Day, and a beautiful day it was. Bishop Mulhall came to celebrate the Mass, and stayed around quite a while for the reception afterwards. There were a great many people with us to celebrate the day and witness four make their first promises in MH and receive the Pax-Caritas cross which is the symbol of our vocation, four make final promises for life, and three others make temporary renewals (another three renewed their promises in our mission houses).
What is there to say about such things? Nothing, and everything. Later we gathered at Our Lady of Combermere once again to pray the rosary there, followed by a festive, joyful supper.
So we received four new members on Monday… and bid farewell to one member on Friday. Josephine Halfman, one of our pioneer staff, had been quite sick for some time, and had been sinking in the past week or so. In the early hours of Friday, the feast of the Sacred Heart, she peacefully slipped away. So we are now preparing for the funeral rites—the wake on Sunday evening, the funeral on Monday.
It does all connect, of course. Final perseverance is the goal of our promises. We pledge our lives to God, and the Pax-Caritas cross we receive is the sign of that pledge; Josephine will be buried with her cross.
In the meantime, there is indeed much ordinary life going on in the midst of it all, and lots of hard work. It takes a lot of sweat and muscle to keep this place going. The farm is very busy, of course, with planting and field work at full steam. The carpenters are building an extension to the farm house, providing much needed extra living space for the farmers. We have a few more guests than we’ve had in recent months, but our dorms are far from full still (hey – any young people looking for an apostolic adventure? Come to MH this summer!).
And so life (our new vocations), death (RIP, Josephine) and everything in between (at the moment, a whole lotta work!) has been ours this week. There is great joy in it all, and great love. And great prayer, for all of you and for the whole world which stands in such need of it right now.