This week in Madonna House the dominant event was the annual retreat gathering of the MH associate clergy. I'm pretty sure I've not mentioned this aspect of the community of the blog before, that we have associate clerical members. So, what's that about?
In the late 1950s a priest named Joseph Raya came here, a Lebanese Melkite, much against his will by some friends of his who knew Catherine and MH. When he arrived he was taken aback by the sight of our Pax-Caritas cross. It seems he had long envisioned just such a cross, with the equivalent words in Arabic. He also fell in love with the community and its spirituality, but he was quite sure that he was called to remain a parish priest in Alabama where he was then assigned.
It is to the credit of Fr. John Callahan, the first MH priest and director of the priests, that he discerned on the spot that we were to have an associate priesthood. He took off his own Pax-Caritas cross and immediately placed it around the neck of Fr. Raya (who later on became Archbishop Raya in the Holy Land, and there's a whole lot to be said about his life in and with MH that is a story for another day).
And so the associate priesthood, later expanded to include permanent deacons, was born. These are ordained men who identify with MH spirituality and desire to live it in their ministries and lives. They make promises as we do, but as associates, and strive to live the spirit of the Little Mandate to the best of their abilities in their home dioceses.
For our part, we pray for them, welcome them as true members of our community when they come to visit, and host this annual retreat for them at the end of September. I'm not quite sure about the current number of associates but I know it's over 100, including several bishops and deacons. This year for the retreat we had a smaller number than usual, perhaps about a dozen priests and five deacons with their wives (who, while technically not associates, we cherish as beloved friends).
The format is much what one would expect - a daily conference, liturgy in common, lots of time for prayer and quiet. MH is such a relational community that we don't seem to go much for 'silence' in retreats, so there is also lots of time for visiting and sharing of life and enjoying one another's company. Our theme this year, taking the cue from Pope Francis, was 'The Joy of the Gospel' and we looked at that from various angles pertaining to ordained ministry.
The existence of a associate clergy in MH is somewhat of a mystery in the proper sense of that word. These men come here, they love us and we love them, and then they go out into the world to exercise their priestly or diaconal service, and the full extent of what we mean to them and they mean to us is largely hidden from all of us. Many of our associate priests over the years have said to us that they don't think they would have persevered in the priesthood without their association with MH. But it is all very hidden, very undramatic, very ordinary, as most of the really important and beautiful things in life are.
Otherwise this week, we remain a small family, with a light sprinkling of guests only. I understand that is going to change in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, the harvest is coming in. Apple juicing was the big job of the week at the farm, and our farm manager informed me yesterday that our yield this year will be comparable to last year's bumper crop.
While I was away, the potatoes were harvested, and it was a good year for them. This is truly one of our staple crops, so we all breathe a sigh of relief when they do well. Living off the land as we do, we simply do not take food for granted.
There was another 'harvest' of sorts while I was on holidays that I should mention. We have four new applicants! Two men and two women began the 21-month process of discernment and formation in the MH apostolate. They join the four who are in their second year of applicancy, moving (God-willing) towards making their first promises this coming June. It is always a moment of joy and wonder when young people decide to throw in their lot with us and offer their lives to God in this humble but very beautiful way. While it is against blog policy for me to mention their names, please keep our applicants in your prayers.
That's about it - as always, I know there is lots going on in the community that I don't hear about until afterwards if at all, but that's what I noticed this week. Keep us all in your prayers, and know that we are praying for all of you and for the world.