This week in Madonna House we were, like the rest of the world, very much taken up with the terrible events in Paris on Friday. We used to have a house in Paris, and one of our women staff is actually from Paris, so there were personal connections with this tragic event. We are all united in prayer for the world, and especially for the world leaders who have the genuinely difficult job of wise response to these events.
In MH we express our prayer primarily by our fidelity to the duty of the moment, those tasks the Lord puts in front of us at any time. On that front, it was a fairly ordinary kind of week around here. Guests continue to arrive and the house continues to be a lively place in the evenings.
We always have a contingent of guests from South Korea, and at the moment there are seven of them, which is quite a crowd, really. Four of them are seminarians here for an experience of apostolic community life, and they went one evening to visit the first year applicants of the Companions of the Cross, a community of priests from Ottawa who have a formation house just up the road from us.
Christmas is coming, hard as that is to believe given our warm weather. And Christmas means baking. With a family to feed as big as ours, the kitchen has to prepare quite a bit ahead of time and freeze it. The Christmas puddings were baked this week, then, the first of many large Christmas food projects ahead of us.
One evening anyone who wanted gathered in the kitchen for a sugaring off. This is the process of making granulated sugar from maple syrup. It is a fascinating process. The syrup is first heated to a certain temperature, then is moved onto cooling racks where it sits undisturbed for twenty minutes. At this stage of the cooling, seed crystals have formed in the syrup, and the sugar maker begins to stir it, slowly.
This makes crystallization happen – crystals make crystals – and so the plot, and the syrup, thickens. At a certain point, when the syrup can no longer be stirred easily, when it looks like a large quantity of wet (and very hot) sand, it is distributed around to whoever has come to help, who begin to pound and sift it, to break up the clumps and allow the water to evaporate off. We’re making a lot of sugar, so this takes as many hands to help as are available. The finished product is a fine granulated sugar which we will then use for the Christmas baking to come.
So, come to MH and learn how to make sugar. And yes, you can try this at home! Christmas preparations also happened in St. Raphael’s, our handicraft center, which continues to offer classes on creative card making each Sunday. Last week was lino cut cards; this week it is birchbark cards. Our MH gift shop is actually two shops—the main one which tends to offer the more high end collectibles, art, and crafts and the ‘small shop’ which offers more discounted items. This time of year the small shop becomes a ‘Christmas shop’, supply all your holiday season needs—decorations, crèche sets, and so forth.
Classes for our guests and applicants (those preparing to join MH) continue, myself teaching the guests the Fundamentals of the Spiritual Life, a wide variety of people teaching the applicants various aspects of our MH life and spirit. Right now they are learning about liturgy from various angles, and Scripture—what Catherine always called the two pillars upon which the apostolate rests.
We have begun a new book for our post-lunch spiritual reading, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, on the history of the Divine Mercy devotion. I recommend it highly, especially with the Year of Mercy just around the corner.
As always, I sense that there is a great deal going on here that I fail to capture each week – this is a very impressionistic column on this blog, not a comprehensive historical record. Really, everyone is so hard working and busy here, there is much going on that I just don’t observe.
But in the midst of it… Paris, Beirut, Syria… we are very aware of the world at this time and are offering all of it for all those suffering everywhere. Let us unite in praying for peace and healing for all peoples and nations and creeds.