Sunday, June 8, 2014

How I Came to Join Madonna House, Part One

Happy Pentecost Sunday! May the Spirit descend upon you, wherever you are, and meet you in the deepest needs and aspirations of your hearts, to give divine guidance and strength to them.

In MH this year, Pentecost Sunday coincides with the anniversary of the blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere. That might not sound like a big deal, but what it means is that today is Promises Day in MH, when new members make their first promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience and receive the MH Pax-Caritas cross, thus becoming part of our community in full, others renew those promises for two year periods, and others yet make their final promises, for life.

The community is jam-packed right now with the family and friends of our firsts and finalists in particular, and a great air of excitement and joyful suspense is electrifying the air today. As one of our holy elder priests likes to say, when you get Our Lady and the Holy Spirit in the same place, big things tend to happen… like, for example, the Incarnation. So we expect big things of God for our younger members today.

All of this has put me, unexpectedly, into an uncharacteristically reminiscent mood. I’m usually too busy with today to give much thought for yesterday or tomorrow for that matter. But on retreat last week I recalled that it was 25 years ago that I became an applicant at MH (23 years since my own first promises, so no jubilee good wishes just yet). And it’s a bit of a story, really, probably the best and clearest example in my own life of the Holy Spirit intervening in a powerful way to get me where I needed to get.

I had first come to MH three years previously. I was 19 years old, a bit of a waif when I first got here. I had been in seminary for two years, following upon a dramatic religious awakening a year before that (yes, I started good and young on this path, a story for another day). Seminary had been difficult, mostly due to my youth and lack of maturity, and I was pretty bruised and battered when I got here. I had a head full of theology and a heart pretty empty of faith, hope, and love. A sad little boy, trying to figure out what the heck was the good of anything.

MH saved my life that first summer, doing for me what it has done for so many people. It gave me a vision of Gospel life that I could truly claim as my own and choose to live from, and a deep sense of the beauty and goodness of God and of Jesus Christ that has never left me for a single moment since. At the end of the summer I consecrated myself to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary like a good little guest at MH does, on August 15, 1986… never knowing just what Mary might do with me once I put myself in her hands in that way.

I left, thinking never to return… and ended up returning the next summer, now 20. That summer I felt walking into MH for a second time that I had come home, that MH was truly my home, and not just a great place that had helped me out. That of course opened the question of vocation. But I couldn’t act on it at that point; I had debts needing to be paid off, and so I went and worked for a couple of years, and did some much needed growing up in the meantime.

The sense of call to the MH vocation grew and solidified in those years… and so did my various involvements in my home town of Alexandria. I was caring for my dying grandmother, working part time with developmentally handicapped adults, keeping house for my parents, and had multiple parish involvements. Life was good, but my aim was always towards this crazy community in the Upper Ottawa Valley that beckoned me from a distance.

So on May 28, 1989, the solemnity of Corpus Christi, debts all paid off, I walked through the by now familiar doors of Madonna House, intending to stay for a month this time, and maybe think about extending my stay and joining at some undetermined future date. Ten days later I would be received as an applicant.

I had received a word in prayer before my arrival to listen carefully to everything that was said to me, as God would speak to me through other people in this time. So I was all ears, vigilant, waiting to hear the word of God.

I arrived late afternoon, just in time to join this community of people walking in solemn procession behind the Eucharistic presence of the Lord in a monstrance of gold, the annual Corpus Christi procession.

I joined this group, walking behind Jesus, and in that fitting way began the week that would change my life forever and set me on a different kind of procession, one which has not ended yet nor shows any sign of doing so.
To be continued