Monday, July 31, 2006

Madonna House (part 1)


I had the opportunity to visit with a friend, what can really only be described as a commune called Madonna House

Madonna House consists of men and women, including a number of priests, who live prayerful lives together as celibates. They grow their own food, including eggs,meat, milk and cheese according to principles (which as I read them sound like organic farming!) laid down by their foundress, Catherine de Hueck Doherty. They also sell books and donated items to raise money for their own missions.

Catherine's cause for sainthood is being examined and promoted by those in Madonna House, and others.

MH is also a Catholic community.

There are many MH communities throughout North America and around the world, but the first one was the one I saw yesterday.

I had been here before, but I only saw what visitors usually see. A quick tour of the main house, the museum, the bookstore and the used goods store. Yesterday was a treat as I went with a friend who had spent a year there. I got to see some areas not usually seen by visitors.

First, we drove out to the farm. As we droved I realized that MH covered a lot more territory than I'd realized, even though I"ve been there on at least two other occasions.

We were given a tour of the farm. I patted horses for the first time in years. I saw their Ayreshire and Holstein dairy cattle. I saw the sheep and their 'guard llama' named Dudley.

One wonders if the name 'Dudley Llama' was one of several puns I caught as we toured the various farm buildings. The buildings are named for various saints. The farm buildings definitely show a sense of humour. The walk in freezer was called St. Isadore (try saying that with a long 'I'). The hay barn was called St. Timothy. St. Lawrence O'toole I need to tell you? I even noticed an icon of the Transfiguration in the cheese making room of the dairy. I didn't have the nerve to ask if it was a commentary on what happened to the milk.

Farming techniques are really only recently starting to be mechanized. Scythes are still used to cut long grass and hay. Hay tongs still hung in the barn. The foundress believed that by employing simple, non-mehanized techniques, the people would be prepared for any conditions they may encounter as they were sent on missions.

The little chapel on the farm was lovely. The altar was handmade by residents of MH. I suspect the cover on the Tabernacle was also a local creation. Icons were seen almost everywhere and reflect the strong influence the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church had on Catherine Doherty, who was born in Russia.

We went back toward the main house before the peanut butter cookies, being baked by one of the farm residents, were ready. My friend had an appointment. On the way, we picked up another friend of hers and I got a tantalizing and brief look at the archives for MH. In a community where toilet facilities do not include running water (although they are immaculate), the archives had climate control, and alarm system, and a very professional and up-to-date looking set of mobile shelving.

A book that caught my interest in the computer room was called "The Mass of the Future". It was copywritten in 1947! I would love to get a chance to read it!

After dropping the friend off at the staff house, which is a school converted to dormitories, we proceeded to my friends appointment. While she went in, I was to sit at the lakeside in one of the wooden chairs (I avoided the Muskoka chairs as I wasn't sure I'd be able to climb out of them!) under the shade of several trees. I had been given a copy of "Apostolic Farming" by Catherine Doherty as I said good-bye to those we met at the farm. I proceeded to read the little book and enjoy the coolness of the breeze.

I knew from experience that MH residents are very quick to notice visitors. They guard their privacy carefully and visitors paths are guided. I had been coached by my friend as to what to say if anyone approached me in her absence.

Well, the hour passed, and the only notice anyone appeared to take in me was an elderly lady who walked by and waved in my direction...and kept going.

At this point, I'd better leave off for now and put my family to bed. I will finish this tomorrow!

God Bless

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Redemptive Suffering

Hello again;

Perhaps it's because of a phase of life I find myself in, but the Church's teaching on redemptive suffering is coming to mind a lot lately.

Although I know I've had the symptoms for some time, it has been within the past two weeks that I've had a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. As I understand it, this is not degenerative, but it will come and go, posing some challenges to daily existance as it does so.

In the past, I have met Christians of the Protestant variety who seem to believe that if one is truly saved, truly redeemed and truly believes in Jesus and His healing power, one will not suffer physical pain or illness.

This is not a scriptural notion. It is certainly not the teaching of the Catholic Church.

We are a fallen people. We have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. Because of sin, our own and those of our first parents, Adam and Eve, we are subject to such inconveniences as illness.

Catholics believe that illness can be put to work for our own good and the good of others. We call this redemptive suffering.

St. Paul tells us that he dealt with a chronic condition. Scripture tells us that Timothy did, too. Surely if simple faith in Jesus' ability to heal were sufficient to effect a cure, these Godly men would have been the first beneficiaries of such a miracle. They weren't, yet Jairus' daughter, who may not have ever heard of Jesus, was brought back from the dead...because of her father's faith.

When we are suffering in some way (and it does not have to be an illness of body, or even physical pain. Mental pain will do, too) we can "offer it up". We can add it to the suffering Jesus endured on the cross. Why would we do this? Well, St. Paul says in Colossians "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church".

This can be seen as a very bold statement, but there it is. How is it that Christ's sacrifice is somehow incomplete?

As I understand it, this lack of completion is due to the ongoing nature of Christ's sacrifice. I mentioned in an earlier post the difference between Kairos time and Chronos time. Chronos time is what we know so well; Time that goes in a straight line and does not repeat. Kairos time is God's time. He can see all of past present and future at once. So Jesus is suffering now, in the same sacrifice He made over 2000 years ago. We join with His sacrifice when we offer Him the use of our afflictions.

This can be to various effects. Pain may be offered in reparation for ones own sin. It can be offered for someone one knows. It may be offered for the general 'pool' of redemptive sacrifice and therefore benefit someone in Purgatory or someone not yet born. How suffering is used is up to God (although I suppose he may take suggestions!). Only occasionally does God reveal the use of a particular person's pain.

Knowing that our pain may have a role in someone's salvation does make it possible to rejoice in our suffering, however major or minor it may be.

God, I ask you to give me the grace to bear my discomfort with dignity and joy. When it is your will that this pain be taken from me, give me the wisdom never to forget what it meant!

God Bless

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Hello again!

My husband and I were out with our two youngest children last evening. We were picking wild blueberries.

Imagine! In the 21st century, is is still possible to get food for free. And organic food at that.

The blueberries are abundant this year. I have been told of a woman who over two days has picked 25 quarts of them!

Things such as this are a gift of God. We do nothing to prepare gifts like this. They are just given to us. All we need to do is to find them.

I do not think most people are aware of Divine Providence. What is it?

Divine Providence is how God cares for us. If we let Him.

I have a good friend who made the decision (in conjunction with his wife!) at his marriage, to keep the family God would give him entirely on Divine Providence. He and his wife would later consecrate their family to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

What did this mean? It meant that the couple and later their family would rely totally on God for their needs. Imagine! No salary. No regular income.

Could you do it?

I do not think everyone is called to this kind of radical faith, but I think we can be awed by this sort of trust. We might even be rather impressed by how well it worked! My friend's wife died a few years ago and I did not meet her. I have heard many a tale of their life together.

This family had a music ministry. They travelled quite widely within Canada and even internationally, as a family and as a couple after the family was grown.

A large part of this sort of trust in God's providence is humility. God works through other people. Peoples' kindness and generosity, and the family's own creativity is how the family raised four faith filled children. But the family had to be willing to accept the gifts they were given, or to rely on their own talents to 'barter' for something they needed. How many are too proud, even when they are in need only temporarily, to ask for or accept help?

How does this differ from a sort of unofficial welfare?

As I see it, the basic difference is that this is a consecrated lifestyle. The couple made the decision after much prayer and spiritual direction. It was not done to enable a slotheful lifestyle. One way of looking at it is that it was partly done to allow others to do God's work.

Was it entirely easy? From what I hear, there were more than few difficult times. The key was trust and prayer. They had what they needed.

Those of us who do not feel we are called to this rather radical sort of trust also need to examine our lives. Are we certain we are not being called to this sort of example? If we are sure it is not for us, how can we train ourselves to rely on Divine Providence in our own 'ordinary' lives?

There are many ways to do this. First make sure you are 'prayed up' as some Protestant friends of mine would say. Stay in touch with your Father...and your Mother, Mary. She knows all about trust, as she relied on God to get her through what was, after all, the very unusual situation of her pregnancy by a Heavenly Father. She also knew about the practical bits of running a household on very little.

Look at your lifestyle. Are you working as much or more for 'wants' rather than 'needs'? Perhaps your children would rather have your time to play a game at home than the skating lesson you work extra time to pay for. Are you trusting God with your fertility, allowing to be born the children He thinks you should have? If you are part of a couple which has decided at some point to permanently end your fertility, are you being called to reverse this? Or can you make some other sort of reparation, such as assisting a large family in some way? Adopting a child? When you have a decision to make, do you even call on God for input?

If you are a single person, are you collecting things you can't 'take with you' when you die? Is there time and money you could spend on a worthy cause rather than on collecting the latest gadget or trendiest wardrobe item?

So how did I get here from picking blueberries? Free material gifts, like food, are from God, whether we go and find them in the woods or someone gives them to us. It's something to remember.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Politics and Abuse

Hi Folks

It is a surprise to few, I can imagine, that 'church' and 'politics' often appear together.

I have never belonged to a parish that did not have 'politics'. I have often wondered why...even as I frequently found myself in the middle of the fray.

As Christians...I think any Christian, not just a Catholic Christian, we are to seek holiness. We do this by imitating Christ to the best of our abilities.

I suppose part of the issue is that we all have different abilities! Also, we do not have the benefit of Divine Nature...we've only been given a human one.

People all have their own ideas of how things should go. How should the Mass look? What should the music sound like? What does the choir wear? The altar servers? Boys? Girls? Albs? Cassocks? What should we serve after Mass? Do we serve anything? What do we do with children during Mass?

And so we begin the politics. Someone figures he or she has the ear of the pastor. Or perhaps one just figures they can influence the pastor in a preferred direction. A strong willed soul starts speaking for a group (often not enumerated!) it "WE want this...WE don't like that". Who are we?

Perhaps the busy people in the parish become clickish and don't really invite others to enter their ranks. Perhaps a particular minister is unnapproachable and kind of runs his or her own show.

I have a fantasy of a parish led by a strong, confident priest with lots of energy and lots of time on his hands (remember, I did say this was a fantasy) who can see that all the workers in the parish are trained in the philosophy of ministry, and then well trained in their particular ministry. Further in this fantasy are workers who wish to learn, and who respect authority....SCREECH!

Okay, perhaps I"m delusional. Authority? What authority?

Now we get into the area of abuses...

One of the wonderful things about the Catholic Church, particularly those of us who thrive on active parish work, is that we have authority to fall back on. The way I see it, the Vatican writes documents, the Bishops read them, adapt what they are permitted to adapt, pass the info on to the priests, who use this information and pass relevent parts on to the lay ministry. No, I"m not really delusional...really.

Here's the reality check...I've never seen this happen as it should. Currently, I volunteer in a small parish in a military 'diocese'. This diocese has somehow managed to entrench many practices which are not in accord with the expressed guidelines from on high. Wow. Talk of politics!

When you have members of such a diocese who educate themselves in writings from Rome, or even writings from the national group of Bishops (who, unfortunately are not always to be relied upon to enforce what Rome requires) in such a diocese or parish, you have a recipe for much anguish.

I am one who firmly believes that if there is any possible way to follow Vatican mandates, they should be followed. In a military environment, occasionally some things are not possible. But is a parish in a small city really a military environment? It's not "in theatre" or "in the field" even if we are affiliated with the military. So do the rubber rules given to the military really apply?

When once I enumerated some of the odd practices of our parish to an email group, I got a reply from someone in Boston who said even in her notorious city, what I related sounded very bad.

I have been accused at times of trying to push my 'opinion'. I will state categorically that my opinion, when it comes to Vatican mandates, does not matter. Neither does a given priest's opinion. This relieves us of much responsibility. We are told how things should be. All we need to do is to make it happen.

It is unfortunate, (now, this IS my opinion) that in liturgy, we don't have too many binding documents. This leaves a lot of room for creativity...and strife.

I suspect that under Pope Benedict XVI we will be given a little more guidance. Currently, the Pope is making his taste in liturgical music known. Some of us are cheering. But it's pretty hard to reverse 40 years of musical freedom. I"m not sure if it can even be reigned in. As much as I'd love to be singing it, I cannot envision a Mass in our parish being chanted in the Gregorian fashion. Understand please, I am not calling for a Tridentine (from the Council of Trent...priest facing the same way as the people) Mass. The current Mass done in a reverent fashion is wonderful too.

How many know that we laypeople are supposed to be able to recite or chant the Ordinary of the Mass (those parts which are the same from week to week) in Latin? Where do I get this information? From the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium! Yes, folks...Vatican 2.

Yet I grew up being told that Latin was forbidden in the diocese in which I lived.

People are people and where two or more get together, opinions will be in the midst. So where is room for Jesus, who promises to be there?

But I am absolutely certain that by following the instructions we do have, we are submitting to an authority, the Church, which is a good thing. We will also have a lot fewer arguments.

So, hierarchy, how about helping the laity out with this?

God Bless

Monday, July 10, 2006

Lectio Divina


Over the past few weeks, the seminarian who is working in our chapel this summer has started and leads us in what is called Lectio Divina.

All of us involved at the beginning were unfamiliar with LD, other than the name. I am under the impression that there may be other forms of it, but here I will tell you what we do.

Lectio Divina means "divine reading". A thumbnail of the technique would be to say that we s-l-o-w things down, in particular scripture reading, and repeat it s-l-o-w-l-y a few times, and then meditate and contemplate. This was a common practice among the Desert Fathers, I am told.

I have a terrible time slowing and quieting my mind. Three things I MUST not do before bed if I wish to have a good sleep are to have a fight with someone, drink coffee, read liturgy books (no, I'm not kidding). I'm told by a friend that I have a mind like a terrier. Once it clamps on to something, it doesn't let it go.

So, I thought LD would be difficult for me on that count.

Five of us, including the seminarian, were at the first meeting. We had already been sent a teaching on LD so we would have an idea how we would proceed. We were also instructed that the Gospel reading for the following Sunday would be used as the scripture reading.

The teaching laid out the plan: Scripture would be read slowly three times by one person. Then there would be a meditation. This took the form of a reading about the passage by a well-known writer. This was also read at about half the speed one would normally read aloud. The next division was to pray. Then we contemplate.

For the purposes of group LD, one person had a watch. A quiet bell was rung when we changed 'modes' at 10 minute intervals.

This is how it worked out. We met and the two of us who would be reading aloud were assigned our reading. We started with five minutes of silence. We then recited the Lord's Prayer at a pace to match breathing. After this, we begin.

All is utterly silent except for the reader and the bell (or drinking glass and teaspoon, as in our case!).

I discovered that is is rather difficult to read aloud at half speed! Try it sometime.

During the 10 minute 'prayer' segment, we try to "hear" God speak to our hearts as we think about the Gospel we have just heard. We may also feel called to share the prayer aloud. During the contemplation segment, we think about God. Some get some rather suprising insights at this time.

When one is very familiar with Scripture, one may also have other pertinent scripture readings come to mind. One may just say the number of the reading aloud (assuming you can find the reading when you want it!) and the others may look it up and read it to themselves.

After this is all over, we usually sit around for a few minutes in a stupour and as we 'wake up' (no one has ever fallen asleep...really) we discuss what may have happened. Questions about the procedure may be asked.

I was surprised at how easily I could quiet my mind the first time. I did find, however, that toward the end of the 40 minutes I kept having to reign my mind back in as it started to plan the following day.

It's been a little more difficult since. I do not do it daily on my own, which might help.

Praying LD on ones own allows a little more flexibility. The seminarian says he tends to skip the 2nd and 3rd step and goes straight to contemplation. Each segment can be as long or short as one wishes.

I'm not sure how we'll keep this up after 'our' seminarian leaves. I do hope someone takes it over!

God Bless

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Good Afternoon

I had the pleasure of sharing my morning with three young people of my aquaintance. We met for Morning Prayer (part of the Liturgy of the Hours) and then went for breakfast at a local restaurant.

One of these people is a young man who entered the Church this year. The mastermind, as I understood it anyway, was another young man who is currently studying to be a priest. The third is a young woman who is in university.

It is always a joy to share faith stories with people. To see young people so focussed and themselves joy-filled is 'over the top'.

I have to add here that two of these people are less than half my age. I am forced to think of where I was at their ages. I am impressed by all of them.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is pretty much second nature to all of us. The Second Vatican Council strongly encouraged lay people to take up this practice. It is slowly growing, but still rather scarce among the laity. Clergy and those in consecrated life are required to pray at least some of the hours by virtue of their vocation.

I"m not sure I'd even HEARD of the LOH when I was in my 20s! So it was very neat to just sit and pray together. We were, literally, all on the same page!

Do not be put off by stories of empty seminaries and bad behaviour in the Church.

Bad things do happen...everywhere. I agree that the Church should be held to a higher standard, but it's still made up of sinners. This can include spectacular sinners.

But the seminaries and convents in faithful dioceses are starting to fill up again. Many are already full to over-flowing. Now that the bad stuff has been brought to light, it can be dealt with, and is being dealt with.

The Church has gone through and survived bad spells in the past. These times tend to produce great Saints.

I'd say the future is bright.

The future is bright.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Over the past few days, there have been several articles having to do with liturgy which have come to my attention.

These articles are coming from high places. People like the Pope and his assistants are spending a lot of time thinking about the fundamentals of liturgy.

The 'forbidden' word Latin has been mentioned a few times. One article reminded us that Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) did not call for a total abandonment of Latin. In fact, while mentioning that the vernacular language may be used, it tells us that all Catholics should know the Ordinary (Parts of the Mass, such as the Gloria and the Holy Holy) and common prayers in Latin.

I remember the day I first read this part of SC. It was almost like a blow. As a teen in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, I was told that the Archbishop had banned the use of Latin. I do not wish to speak ill of the dead. In truth I do not know if Archbishop Carney actually said that. It didn't matter. No Latin was ever used.

I had studied Latin for a couple of years in a Catholic school. It did not frighten me, as it seems to do to others. I wanted to hear it in Mass. I can't tell you why. I'd never heard it before!

It was through the miracle of the internet that I met a woman (Hi B!) who started to teach me about REAL liturgy...and it was through her, indirectly, that I began to read CS.

Some of my friends thought this woman had created a monster. Perhaps she did. My hunger for good liturgy often overrode my good manners. I began to learn, to teach (whether people wanted to hear it or not) and to demand liturgy as the Church REALLY teaches it.

I am originally a music minister although I am currently only loosely associated with a choir. It never really leaves you, though. So the other article that is foremost in my mind caught my interest.

Pope Benedict has reinstated a music director in Rome who was removed from his position during the time of Pope John Paul II. This music director is very much of the traditional school of Catholic Music. Latin again...polyphony...chant.

So are we going to finally get some rules with regard to liturgical music? One can surely hope. One of my larger 'thorns' with regards to liturgical (or pseudo-liturgical) music is that so much of the published vernacular music is just not very good. There is so much of praising the created (us!) rather than the creator. So much is not singable by your average pew-sitter.

A little tangent here. One of the liturgical mantras is 'participation'. The entire congregation should sing. But much music is too high, too complicated, or changed too frequently. To be fair, much classical liturgical music is not singable by the congregation at large. So where does this leave us?

I think current liturgical thought should re-evaluate the idea that everyone should sing everything. Okay, they don't really say that, but it is surely implied! Some music can legitimately be a 'shut-up and listen' piece. (I borrowed that phrase from someone on an email list I belong to. Sorry, don't remember whom.)

As it stands now, a whole lot of new vernacular music for the Ordinary of the Mass is going to have to be written or adapted to accomodate changes in the Sacramentary. Even if an existing piece can be adapted, will the setting (tune) suit the newly reverent words? Of course those fortunate enough to still be familiar with Latin settings will likely find their learning curve much less steep!

Gloria tibi Domino!