This week in Madonna House there is no question what the main event was. We had our annual retreat with our associate clergy this week, and it was the major focus of life here, certainly for the priests’ branch of MH, but for everyone else, too.
The associates are ordained bishops, priests, and deacons who feel a spiritual kinship with MH and its way of life but who are not called to join us as full-time members. They make the same promises we do and are given the MH pax-caritas cross. Currently we have about 150 associates all over the world, some of whom we see frequently, some of whom we never see, but all of whom are genuinely part of the MH community.
The yearly retreat draws a small percentage of that total. This year we had one bishop, 17 priests, five deacons and four of their wives. The theme was Contemplating the Face of Mercy: An Extraordinary Jubilee. Fr. David May gave a conference on Pope Francis’ vision of this year of mercy, I gave a conference on mercy in the writings of Catherine Doherty. Fr. Brian Christie gave a conference on this theme in the writings of one our priests, Fr. Patrick McNulty.
As an aside, those of you who know MH may have heard that Fr. Pat has been quite sick, and in fact close to death. He was indeed very close to death, and amusingly when we were planning the meetings this year it seemed a certainty that he would not be still among us for them, and hence the conference based on his writings.
Well, you can’t keep a good man down, I guess, as Fr. Pat has bounced back to an almost miraculous degree, and is still very much alive and with us. He is still quite ill, and in a wheelchair, and is suffering from various diseases that are terminal, but for the meantime he is otherwise his usual self, full of jokes and spirit. He tactfully and modestly decided to skip the conference that would be about him, though.
Anyhow, back to the associates! Besides conferences, there was a holy hour, and lots of time for them to simply be present and visit with each other and the community, a meeting with our directors general, and of course festive Masses each day. For us in MH, the annual associates’ meetings is a good reminder of just how broad and far the spirit of MH has extended, and just how fruitful it has proven to be in the life of the Church.
Beyond that principal event, it was harvest time as usual on the farm. The rutabagas were brought in, a smaller harvest than usual, but not terribly so. Apple juicing was the main order of the week for the food processors. This is quite an operation—a wood chipper is used to pulverize the apples, which are then put into a press to have the juice extracted.
There is quite a science to that, as the whole idea is to maximize the surface area to volume ratio. Layers of sacking are used to achieve this, and the result is that every drop of juice is removed from the pulp, which itself is used for animal feed. Nothing goes to waste in MH! The juice is then pasteurized and sealed in jars for long-term storage. We also had one day where our neighbors could come to press their own apples, a long-time tradition in the valley.
The other big event of the week was the mailing of our semi-annual begging letter, which occurred yesterday evening. MH is a community of beggars--that is, we have no means of sustenance except the charity of our benefactors, which has sustained us for over sixty years now. The bulk of this charity comes in response to these letters, 12000 of them, sent in the fall and in the spring. MH does not have corporate sponsors and we certainly don't accept government funding--it is very much a grass-roots funded operation, and it is an ongoing miracle of charity that we are here and doing all we do. Thank you very much, everyone who supports us financially.
Other than that, we are in a good solid bit of ordinary time here. The weather has been decidedly autumnal, and in the priest house where I live we finally broke down and lit the wood stove yesterday. Our guest numbers, which have been small, were boosted yesterday by the arrival of four Korean seminarians here for a two-month immersion in apostolic community life, part of their priestly formation. And there is a small but steady trickle of guests arriving for long-term stays, a normal feature of this time of year. Unlike the summer, when young people come through for a week or two as part of their summer vacations, the ones who come at this time of year are generally coming for a longer experience of our life. It is good to have them with us.
As I write this, the entire world outside my window has just exploded with light, the most beautiful sunrise flooding the landscape, and our back yard is filled with deer grazing. From which I conclude (illogically!) that it’s going to be a good day. And I wish you all a good day, and assure you of our prayers for all of you and the whole world.