This week in Madonna House was another week of festivity, as we continued our way through the twelve days of Christmas. Last Sunday we celebrated Ephiphany; today we wrap up the season with the Byzantine celebration of the Theophany.
We have a multiplicity of customs for both these feasts. On Epiphany we have the ‘kings’ bread’, a sweet bread for brunch shaped like a crown. In three of the loaves a coin has been hidden, and over the course of brunch three people find the coins. They are the ‘kings’ of the feast, but of course in typical MH style we flip that on its head. Their kingship is expressed by their service to the community, and so each of them is to spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament praying for the rest of us.
At supper there are two customs. First, chalk is blessed and our door lintels inscribed as follows: 20 + C + B + M + 16. The year, interspersed with what are either the initials of the three wise men Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, or perhaps the Latin words for ‘Christ, bless this house’.
The symbolism is that the Magi set out on a journey which led them to find the Lord. Every time we pass through a door we are going on a ‘journey’, even if it is just from one room to another, and so we pray that all our journeys this year become pilgrimages bringing us closer to Christ. The custom is of German and Polish origin.
At supper also the kings show up in person (three of our men guests dressed in sumptuous royal robes and crowns) to bring us gifts from the Christ child. These gifts are words that we really do believe to be words from God to us for the year. For myself, it is amazing how often my Epiphany gift really is a meaningful word of God to me. This year I got ‘radiance’.
So that is Epiphany, and I will tell you all about our Theophany customs next week. Otherwise it is the typical post-Christmas season—working our way doggedly through the left overs and the supply of cookies we all worked so hard to bake, and enjoying the decorations which we leave up until after today’s feast.
Our numbers are depleted, both as quite a few guests left after New Years, but also as a wicked flu is making its way through the community. Fortunately it is a ‘low’ time of year in terms of work needs—right now it is just a matter of keeping food on the table, wood in the stoves, and clean clothes on our backs.
Winter came, finally, with our first real cold temperatures of the year. Monday it was – 30C. Mind you, it is pouring rain as I write this, but that is supposed to change dramatically tonight. Get your ice skates on – the world is about to turn into a giant rink!
Now with all this beautiful liturgical stuff, the biggest event of the week was in another venue entirely. And that is that, after twelve years of generous and faithful service, Mark Schlingerman concluded his term as director general of the MH lay men. Larry Klein began his four-year term on Wednesday, with Patrick Stewart filling his shoes as the local director of the men at the training center. If you have a spare prayer or two, you could pray for these three men as it is a major time of transition for each of them personally and for the whole laymen’s branch of MH.
Beyond that, the work has been as I said, pretty much maintenance of the place. The men have been much taken up with ‘winter’ – snow shoveling, plowing, dealing with the thaw of the last two days (flooding is always a danger when this happens), and keeping the wood sheds filled. We have a small ice rink just by the main house in a swampy area. The weather has not cooperated so far to make it work as a rink, but the current melting and subsequent freezing should put it back aright. Ice skating and hockey are favorite winter recreation here.
Beyond that, hard to know what else is going on! Please know that in the midst of all our celebrating and the ordinary life of work and prayer that intersperses it, our world and each one of you is in our prayers continually. As Ordinary Time begins tomorrow, let us walk confidently through those doors, and find the Christ child awaiting us wherever our footsteps bear us this year.