Saturday, January 2, 2016

These Weeks in Madonna House - December 20-January 2

Well, I'm back! I thought I would resume blogging for 2016 with a recap of what all has gone on in MH the last couple weeks of 2015. It has been a very packed and rich time, indeed.

Of course when this column was last posted, Fr. Pat McNulty had just died, and we had not had the funeral yet. So that is where I begin. Fr. Pat was a big man; it was a biiiiiiiig funeral. One sibling, his wife and son were able to come up from Indiana, along with some close friends of Fr. Pat's from his home diocese. Quite a few Pembroke diocesan priests came--Fr. Pat was very much out there in the diocese all his years in Combermere, and was both well known and well respected. He had a real gift for supportive friendship with his brother priests.

And many, many local people came. For a man who was a poustinik, Fr. Pat got around a lot, and made friends everywhere he went. He had a remarkable ability to connect with just about anyone on a personal level and forge solid bonds of affection and regard with just about anyone, regardless of their religion or lack thereof or just about anything else. So they came... in large numbers, they came.

Funerals at MH are quite different than funerals elsewhere, so I have been told. There is mourning and grieving, of course. But there is also a lot of faith in the promises of Christ, in resurrection and eternal life. And lots of warmth and affection for the body of the deceased person - we do believe in the resurrection of the body, so we treat the person with great reverence and care in their final journey to the grave.

Fr. David Linder had the wake service, with Fr. Blair Bernard doing the eulogy. Fr. David May had the funeral. All three of them, in their own ways, paid great tribute to this great man who truly was a unique presence in MH and a gift to our community these many years. A festive reception and (later) supper followed. Another MH tradition -- the memory night, where we share stories about the person -- is waiting until some time in the new year.

Meanwhile, all of this put us severely behind the eight ball in terms of Christmas preparations. MH is a do-it-yourself community, and so all of the funeral work from the preparing of large platters of meats and vegetables for the reception to digging the grave was done by ourselves. We don't hire caterers. And so, we only had a few days for all the last preparations for Christmas.

We wait until the week before Christmas to do the decorating, so that was the major push. And we did decorate, lavishly, beautifully. Lights everywhere, the whole dining room transfigured by strings of lights throughout it, and of course an immense Christmas tree dominating the room. We did simplify one traditional decoration, the international doll table. This very old custom in MH is meant to symbolize the Mystical Body of Christ--men and women of all nations gathered together by the Christ child. It is a large collection, and a lot of work and time to put up. So this year they simply put out the dolls from countries that have dominated the news lately, countries that are in special need of prayer--Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, various countries of Africa--along with the flags of other countries that we did not have dolls for.

It was all hands on deck, though, in those days before Christmas, especially for the kitchen and the decorators. But we pulled it off, and so had a beautiful, lovely Christmas time. Midnight Mass began with the 'posadas' - a custom derived from the Mexican Americans we serve in Arizona, where at the end of the carolling before Mass a group go outside the chapel and 'are' Mary and Joseph knocking at the door seeking entry. We are the innkeepers inside the chapel and initially rebuff them, but finally repent and open the doors of the chapel to allow them in, baby Jesus in arms, who is then enthroned in the manger. And from there, Midnight Mass begins.

What to say about the next days? Feasting, feasting, and more feasting! We take a few days off both at Christmas and New Year's, with a relaxed schedule. People can get up when they want, make their own breakfast in the kitchen as they like it, when they like it, and as often as they like it. And there is free time, lots of it, to visit, to rest, to go on hikes, to cross country ski (well, eventually, when the snow finally arrived a couple days ago!), or to skate (well, not yet, as the conditions are not yet there for our little ice rink).

We have singing and other entertainments at supper - just about anyone can get up and do anything, so long as it's Christmas-related. Musical talent is preferred, but not strictly required! And of course the meals have been prodigies of delight, delicious food coming forth from the kitchen in a seeming unending stream (although I sense we will be back to plainer fare shortly...). For those wondering, my butter tarts turned out quite nicely, and I have been asked for the recipe several times.

Three of our people went to the CCO Rise-Up in Montreal, this wonderful celebration of young faith and mission that is organized by that great group, with a 'table' for our MH apostolate. They came back yesterday, tired but happy from the experience.

Beyond that, it's hard to know what to say. Of course lots of guests arrived to share all of the above with us, new friends and old both. And the liturgies each day have wonderfully unpacked the whole depths of the Christmas mystery, as we journeyed with Stephen, the Holy Family, the Holy Innocents... and on to Epiphany tomorrow, of which I will write next week!

But that's about it for now, I guess. From our community and from this poor little blogger, we do wish you a very happy and blessed New Year, and may all of us in 2016 seek the Lord and spend our days in His presence and love. Regular blogging will resume on my normal schedule Wednesday.

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