Chambers of Her Heart,
Madonna House & Priestly Formation


Chapter 5 Chapter 3 Contents List

          A Christian community can be described from a number of perspectives, sacred order being one of the most comprehensive. All of creation lives in this divine milieu. Within this circle is another circle. It is described very well by a great contemporary Russian staretz whom I had the honor to meet, Archimandrite Sophrony:

          Our Fathers in the Church and the apostles who taught us to honour the true God, were well aware that, though the life of the Divine Spirit excels all earthly institutions, this same Spirit still constructs for Himself a dwelling place of a tangible nature to serve as a vessel for the preservation of His gifts. This habitation of the Holy Spirit is the Church, which through centuries of tempest and violence has watched over the precious treasure of Truth as revealed by God. (His Life Is Mine, 22)

          The Church is our true divine milieu, and the rest of this book will be describing this “habitation of the Holy Spirit” from various points of view.

          We can now ask, from a Christian perspective, what does the Lord primarily wish to communicate through this sacred order of the Church? Light? Peace? Strength? Yes, all of these, but with a particular accent,  due to our fallenness and our need for help in a radical way. The life-giving power which flows to us from sacred order within the Church is healing, salvation. While consciously you may be coming to Madonna House to discern your vocation, on a deeper level, perhaps only consciously perceived by you, the Lord has brought you here to make you more whole, to heal you, to continue his work of saving you.

          In his book On the threshold of Hope the Holy  Father remarked that a few generations ago young people joined religious communities to become nurses, missionaries, teachers, and so. Now, he said, they are seeking to become persons. In a Christian sense, this is another way of saying they are seeking wholeness. You may not even think of it as seeking salvation, but this is what you are seeking!

          While the Lord may be drawing you here to discern the next step in your life’s pilgrimage, he is also, most assuredly, seeking to deepen his relationship with you, so that you will be better prepared for whatever his will for you may be. At the deepest level you are seeking to become a better person in Christ, more whole, more alive, more free.

          There is an extraordinary amount of literature today on healing. In many ways (as we shall see) this is the modern word for salvation. So, you are seeking more healing for yourself. The more you can be healed of some of your wounds, the better you will be able to see God’s will for you. Otherwise, your wounds and sins will hinder your ability to correctly hear God’s voice.

          “How can a Christian community heal people?” a priest once asked a psychiatrist. “Let them be loved by as many people as possible,” he replied. This is as succinct a summary of Catherine’s vision as it is possible to give. To sum up at the very beginning everything I will be trying to say in this Chapter: we try to mediate to people God’s love for them; we try to love them ourselves according to the Gospel; we hope that they will finally love themselves as children of God, made in his image and likeness. Then, fortified and reassured by this love, they will be able to love others more. God will then show them how to spend their lives doing this.

          Catherine’s endless theme was that God has loved us infinitely, and we are called to love him back out of gratitude. This is the meaning of life. We are healed, saved, by God’s love. Then, when we know this love of God for us in a living way, we can freely respond to it. The source and essence of all healing is to have restored the loving relationship of the child to our loving Father. “Sacred order” is one broad framework for the context of achieving this relationship. Now we must speak more specifically about how to live within this order, how to receive the healing and salvific power streaming from this order.

          First, some distinctions and clarifications.

          This may not need to be said – but it certainly needs a strong emphasis – the community/Church does not heal: God heals. Also, healing does not take place automatically, magically: healing takes place when the person responds to God’s loving action.  It’s been said that “healing comes from inner resources. Mainstream medicine creates certain conditions under which healing becomes possible again” (Lerner).

          So too, the community is an ecclesiola, a little Church. As such it is a sacramental reality through which God heals. Madonna House seeks both to create the conditions through which God can act, and, very importantly, provide an atmosphere where the person can trust enough to respond.

          Instead of the word “healing” I will be using the much more traditional and Christian term salvation. The word “salvation” certainly carries within it the reality of healing. The English word “salve” used for healing a wound even sounds healing. I prefer the word “salvation” because the dis-ease, the predicament in which we are personally, and in which every age finds itself, requires something more than is conveyed by the word “healing.” We need to be rescued, delivered – in short, saved. At the deepest level, this is what the Lord is trying to do for us through sacred order.

          If someone was drowning, thrown a life-preserver, and pulled to the safety of a boat, we would not say that the drowning person was “healed.” Our human condition after the fall is something of even greater magnitude: we were separated from God and could not bridge the immense chasm between him and us. We had to be rescued, found, because we were lost; we were saved from an impossible situation. Our total human condition before Christ is more akin to that drowning person.

          Chesterton said “we are all survivors of a golden ship that has gone down.” And St. Peter Chrysologus uses the same image when speaking of the dove at the baptism of Christ: “A dove announced to Noah that the flood had disappeared from the earth; so now a dove is to reveal that the world’s shipwreck is at an end forever.” After we have been hauled back into the boat by Christ, then begins a process of drying off, and being given warm clothes, food, rest. These can be more described as healing, as long as we remember that we have first received the great gift of rescue and deliverance.

          This analogy of drowning is helpful also in that, aware of our helpless condition, we want to be saved, and are willing reach out and hold on to our rescuer. Salvation/healing does not take place without our co-operation. Neither can it be, in our Christian understanding of God’s action, a mere technique or method for working out our own cure. This is the peculiarly North American temptation and delusion: self-salvation. We are constitutional Pelagians, people who put too much emphasis on our own power to save ourselves. North America has become a veritable supermarket which offers countless spiritual technologies for “helping oneself” to salvation.

          A technology, basically, is a cause and effect relationship: I do A and B and –presto! – C happens. In contrast, Christian healing is based on the premise that God offers light and strength – a grace, a gift – that must then be accepted by the person. Our community is not a technique for healing: it is a place where we seek to live in such a way that we may be apt instruments – media - through which the Lord can manifest his grace. It is a healing atmosphere, a “divine milieu,” for the Lord to use as he wills. I will be using “healing,” then, in its deeper religious significance of salvation, given ultimately by God. A great Sufi master said: “Keep your eyes on the wound, for that’s where the light comes from. But never believe you are healing yourself.”

          To integrate into one apt image all the multi-faceted avenues of healing that occur in Madonna House, and that you will experience here, I will use that of the Word of God. The Lord said, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28). If Christians really heard the Word of God and acted upon it, healing would follow.

          Madonna House seeks to create an atmosphere where one can grow sufficiently in faith to enable that person to entrust himself or herself to the Word. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “Christian faith means understanding our existence as a response to the Word, the Logos, that sustains and maintains all things. It means affirming the fact that the meaningfulness that we do not create but can only receive has already been given to us. The words I believe could virtually be translated here as ‘I give myself over to.’” (Introduction To Christianity, 47).

          Christian faith has three dimensions: believing in the existence of the Word (that God exists); believing that he has communicated his will to us (that God has spoken and communicated definite truths to us); and entrusting ourselves to this life-giving Lord (faith as trust, the gift of self). Madonna House seeks to manifest the existence of the Word in all his ecclesial fullness, and to create a trusting environment where one can give oneself to the Word’s loving action.

          The monastic tradition sees the monastery as a way of preparing people to better hear the Word of God. Thus, the various aspects of our way of life are simultaneously media for communicating the Word of God, as well as disciplines that prepare people to be docile to receive the Word. What good would it be to know God’s will without being able to do it? The goal is to know God’s will, and to enable people to freely respond to it. The community seeks to make the Word of God present so it can be heard with the heart and lived out in each person’s life; to expose people to all the ways the Word wishes to address them; to help them recognize God’s voice (which is different from the clamour of their own desires and inner voices; to guide them through their struggles with their own resistances and spiritual deafness.

          In Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the word “obey” really means to “listen,” in the sense of doing what you hear. (The Chinese have a saying: If you know the truth and don’t do it, you don’t know it.) As children we all heard at times our mom or dad say –when they told us to do something and we didn’t do it – “Robert (and they always used our proper name at those times!) didn’t you HEAR what I said?” We knew what they meant by this very emphasized word: we heard with our physical ears what they said, but we didn’t do anything. The biblical meaning of obey is to hear and act in one motion of the whole person.

          Significantly, Jesus never uses the word “obey” in reference to his own accomplishment of the Father’s will. He uses much more profound images such as, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 4:34). Like the prophet Ezekiel (3:1-3) who ate the scroll of the Word, Jesus feeds upon his Father’s will as the body consumes food. (In the Middle Ages people even swallowed tiny pieces of paper with the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel on it. They believed that even eating the written word was another little sacrament for healing.)

          The Word must first of all be made accessible – “How can they believe if they have not heard” (Rom 10:14). Then, the person must be open to accept the Word as true: this is to eat it. It is then digested through all the ways by which we “work out our salvation,” that is, gradually assimilate the Word into our spiritual system. In this way the Word becomes our food – the divine energy by which we make decisions, are nourished, and healed of all the anti-words we have ingested.

          Origen said that the Father spoke only one word – Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was Christ.” While we are called to a relationship with each Person of the Trinity, Christ in a special sense is the Way to the Father. All authentic Christian spirituality is precisely Christocentric, leading to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus became flesh and blood so that we could “see him with our eyes and touch him with our hands” (1 John 1:1).

          Every aspect of creation is a word of God: “God spoke and it was made.” Every flower, animal, tree, is a word of God. All of creation should remind us of God, and more specifically of Jesus. We try to make everything in our way of life reflect Christ and become an icon of his presence and love.

          I was teaching a class once at Madonna House, trying to explain that you could define reality from different points of view – scientifically, poetically, and so on. I asked the question, “What is the sun, really?” At that moment Catherine came into the room. Someone said, “Ask her.” So, rather hesitantly, wondering what she would say – always quite unpredictable – I said, “Catherine, what is the sun, really?” She said immediately, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s a symbol for Christ, the Son of God,” and she walked out of the room.

          I will understand “word” therefore not only – and perhaps not even primarily – in a verbal sense, but as any manifestation which mediates the presence of Jesus Christ – word, book, icon, act of service, liturgy, friendship, the community itself.

          And, an integrative theme in this whole discussion about healing, is suffering or the cross. Although the Word of God often comforts and consoles, the Lord basically is calling us out of the slavery of sin into the freedom and light of the children of God. This freedom and light cannot be achieved without suffering. Life is not about the avoidance of suffering. A doctor told a patient who had broken her arm and had just had the cast removed, that she must exercise it now: “It will hurt but it won’t hurt you.” He meant that it will be painful moving the still weak arm, but it is not an indication of sickness but of health being restored.

          Many aspects of our being have been broken, but the Word re-sets the break. Then we must exercise our new self. “It will hurt but it won’t hurt us.” Healing/salvation is not about “feeling good.” It’s about letting go of all the things that are not really part of our true self in God.

          Much of the healing at Madonna House affects people in  very subtle ways of which they are hardly aware. As I grow older I realize more how, as a child growing up in an almost totally Catholic world, I was affected by devotions, serving at Mass, home lenten customs, even before self-reflection became conscious. (On a recent visit to the Church where I was baptized, I made special note of the paintings and statues that would have affected me as a child.)

          I call this a Catholic symbolic universe that was communicating Christ to me. The devotional life communicated him in one way; the teaching of the faith in another; the faith-life of my parents (my father went to Mass every day) still another. It was a sacred universe, a place for everything and everything in its place. One way of speaking about Madonna House would be to describe it as a whole universe of symbolic meaning. That universe is the Church.

          Our spirits and psyches require symbols to mediate to us the meaning of God, the struggle between good and evil, the mystery of life and death, and our place in this vast drama of life. “Primitive peoples” (as we call them) had their mythologies, and our ages of faith had the Christian universe of liturgy, faith, and doctrine which structured the whole world in which our ancestors lived.

          Christians and Catholics who come to us may have had some of this exposure to a Christian universe, but often they are starved for real food from the table of life-giving symbols. (Many have been warped by harmful symbols.) Often they are not in a vital relationship with the sacraments and truths of the Church which mediate the healing presence of Christ to their minds and hearts. An essential part of the healing process of Madonna House is to make the Church a life-giving, beautiful sacramental universe, and to un-block peoples’ access to the very means of healing.

          In this context, the liturgical year is central. (Chapter 9) As we celebrate each aspect of the mystery of Christ, he is present to communicate to our spirit that very same meaning, strength, and life that he possesses. Thus, during Advent, we increase our longing for Christ to come into our lives and into the world; at Christmas we are filled with wonder at the Father’s gift of his Son; during Lent we admit our need for conversion and repentance; at Easter we realize that we have already risen with Christ and are on the other side of death; at the Ascension we are overwhelmed with the realization that, as St. Paul says, we are already at the Father’s right hand; at Pentecost we thank God for the gift of the very same Spirit who is the mutual love between him and the Son.

          While these feasts are celebrated in every Catholic parish, at Madonna House there is an all-pervasiveness of liturgical customs and symbols which gives the liturgy an added richness. This immersion in sacred time of the liturgical world is one the greatest sources of healing in our community.

          Every day there is the eucharistic liturgy, and an hour of the divine office (psalms, hymns and readings). We encourage people to use their bodies by bowing, lifting their hands, reverently making the sign of the cross, to express the inner attitude of devotion. There is exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for most of the day, and people are encouraged to take a time slot.

          In a Christian view of the human person, adoration is the most profound act of which we are capable; therefore it is the most healing. Adoring God daily is a healing for the deep spirit. Because of the centrality of liturgy, some instruction is given, especially on the relationship between liturgy and life.

          A frequent comment people make after they’ve been here for a while is, “I feel I’ve come home.” It is not simply a matter of encountering a welcoming community which fills the gap of a perhaps inadequate home and impersonal city life. That too. But on a deeper level they are experiencing something else - their spirits are at home. Their spirits, which previously have only encountered bits and pieces of the Christian symbolic universe, or been immersed in anti-Christian symbolic worlds, now find themselves being bathed in an integrated world of faith.  Much healing takes place on this level in most subtle, profound, subliminal, and often unconscious ways.

          The great Western Church Father, Tertullian, said that the soul is naturally Christian. I would go one step further and say it is naturally ecclesial, that is, in need not just of a vague Christianity but thirsting for the full life of the Church – the saints, the sacraments, the truths of the Creed. No doubt, this is really what Tertullian meant in the third century.

          Significantly, the first word Jesus spoke in his public life was not about his Father’s love, or the nature of the kingdom. It was a word of conversion: “Repent and believe the Gospel.” People must be made aware of their need for healing and salvation, and be open to conversion, to change. One of the greatest diseases of the modern world is that people no longer even experience the need for salvation, or for God. The community as a whole calls to conversion in countless ways. One of Catherine’s favorite sayings from the Gospel was, “Friend, come up higher.”

          Jesus is a very loving and attractive personality. It was the poor people who constantly sought him. His call to conversion was not frightening except to those who didn’t wish to be converted. So, too, our community tries to present the Word speaking with love. Especially is this necessary today when so many of our young people have been wounded and abused, coming from dysfunctional families. They will not be able to open up to the Word unless they hear it spoken and presented with love.

          We believe very much in challenging one another to grow. We have come together to call one another to holiness and love. We should be glad to know how to reach these goals. Thus, permeating our way of life is a call to change, to not stay where we are, to move, to grow. But it is done in a context of love so that people can hear this word as a genuine desire for their growth, and not simply as another group of adults trying to “shape them up.”

          For many people, conversion often means the need for forgiveness. Is not this the greatest healing? Psychiatrists have been telling us for years that the basic problem is guilt. Jesus came, after all, to take away our sins. The sacrament of reconciliation is available to people here on a daily basis. The lifting of guilt from the soul is a giant step towards healing. People also need to be freed from “false guilt and shame,” from the “feeling guilty” for things that were done to them.

          Through the Word of the Gospel, and hopefully through the healing that has taken place in the community, young people are led to believe in the possibility of healing. Otherwise it will be useless to open oneself up. A discernible pattern emerges.

          First, they often arrive with a façade that “they’re okay” (knowing, of course, that they’re not); secondly, they begin to take baby steps at revealing themselves; thirdly, they admit their wounds and/or sins; fourthly, they ask for help. Through this process a person becomes open to the healing that is available. As another former pre-sem put it:

          I can’t explain the spiritual growth I have experienced over the past year. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. I was told, `Just live the life,’ and that’s what I did. All I can say is that when I came here I was trying to act holy. Well, I found out I’m not. I don’t know why, but that seems like the key. I found out what I am not, and a little bit, maybe just the beginning of an inkling of who God is. (Tomas Morrell)

          Besides the supportive love of the community, another important factor assists this opening up: people see that the  members of the community are wounded also.

          One rainy day I was showing a visiting priest our island chapel. As we entered he saw that our roof was leaking. “Oh, thank God!” he said, “Madonna House has leaky roofs. I deal with them all the time. I was afraid the place would be perfect.”

          If you’re imperfect, and you have to live with all perfect people, well, that can be a really heavy trip! If you visit us only for an afternoon, you may be under the illusion that we are perfect. If you stay for a few days you will begin to have doubts. If you spend a few months with us you will see our leaky selves, even if we try to hide them from you. Actually, because we allow our own wounds to be visible, people are then encouraged to hope that they too will be accepted when they reveal their wounds.

          We were created by God who is Love to live according to his plan of love by doing his will. The first break in this plan was in the area of the mind: the devil inserted the idea that you can’t really trust God. “Why did God say,” and so on. We accepted this false notion instead of trusting in what God had said.

          One aspect of salvation is concerned with the re-formation of the mind – the evangelization of the mind, as the Pope says – so that it can discern and desire the truth, that is, God’s self-revelation, his plan for us.

          In a verbal sense, truth is communicated in the daily homilies at Mass, at spiritual reading after lunch each day, in lectures during both summer and winter. Madonna house has an excellent library and an array of newspapers and periodicals on a wide variety of topics.

          On a more individual basis, the word is communicated in spiritual direction, for which priests are available. As directors, they seek to teach people how to pray, how to discern the movements of the Holy Spirit in their own hearts; and they encourage people to respond. Though not professional psychologists, by their training they are able to deal with ordinary psychological difficulties.

          When the subject of healing comes up we think of people going to a counsellor and getting help in their emotional and psychological difficulties. In the community, however, at various levels, counselling takes place through the elders, directors, those responsible for various departments and activities; and also through other members of the community by their example and conversation. On an informal basis, words of life can be spoken at table, in the dorms, while travelling or working or playing together. But our basic "word,” you might say, is the community of love. Christianity is not first of all a doctrine but a new way of living together. (In the Acts of the Apostles the Christian community was simply called the Way.) The example of others trying to love and serve is one of the greatest means of instruction.

          Catherine believed very much in the importance of teaching, counselling, and intellectual knowledge. But, in the best of the Christian tradition, both East and West, she insisted that there was another kind of knowledge which comes from one’s relationship with the Holy Spirit, who can and does speak in the depths of the heart. Jesus said the Spirit would “bring to your minds everything I have said to you.”

          We do not simply want to know what God said to others: we want him to speak to us as well. Although we need help to discern the voice of God, it is at the heart of our faith that God communicates directly with each one of us. For this we need silence.(Chapter 6)

          Madonna House does not have any rules about silence. We try and foster a spirit of silence. The source of this is a silent heart. We have, on the grounds of Madonna House, about twenty-five or thirty places – cabins, rooms – called poustinias. (Poustinia is the Russian word for desert.) People can go there for a day of prayer and fasting, to be alone with the Alone. Many go for one day every week. The poustinia experience is an integral part of our life, and for the guests as well. Over a period of time, the rhythm of silence and community life creates a silent inner place, a “poustinia of the heart,” where other noises are silenced, and the heart can hear the Word, the voice of the Beloved. (His voice is different from all other voices.) The poustinias have been an immense help in opening us up to hear the Word. To quote Tomas Morrell again: “My best experience was feeling the silence and the presence of God in the poustinia.”

          After our first parents acted upon the lie of the devil in the Garden, something tragic happened to our total ability to be able to live in the harmony of our relationship with God. And this led to disharmony with others. Brothers began killing brothers. Salvation, then, must be concerned with re-establishing loving relationships with others.

          We believe that much healing can take place in loving service to others. Although the needs of the individual are a consideration, I would say that the emphasis is on going out of ourselves and seeking first the good of others. We express this by saying, “I am third” – God is first, my neighbor second. (A guest once read this maxim on a sign here and said, “What does that mean, I am tired?”

          While the individual has legitimate needs, and we try to meet these needs within limits, the final healing can only come about by looking away from the self in self-forgetfulness, and by becoming absorbed in loving others. (In this context, perhaps we should not speak of individuals (a modern term implying separateness, but persons, who can only be fulfilled in communion with other persons.) The healthy person is not primarily concerned with health but with living: health is for life, not life for health.

          The community is composed of men and women. This allows us to learn how to relate to the opposite sex in an atmosphere that is not charged with sexual games. We have our human frailties, of course. But many young people tell us that this is their first ordinary life opportunity to relate socially to the opposite sex in a familial atmosphere, as brothers and sisters in the Lord. The complementarity of the sexes is a daily occurrence, where men and women can share their gifts, wisdom, and experiences with one another.

          In responding to my question to community members concerning what is on their hearts for the pre-sems, one woman wrote: “Humility through Mary, so they are open, gentle, and sensitive to the feminine in themselves and in women.”

          Young people who have had poor relationships with mom or dad often find in an older man or woman here an elder with whom they can work through some of their parental deprivations.

          Historical and family rootlessness is one of the diseases of the modern world. We don’t know our ethnic roots; and with the rise of broken families, young people often have no real sense of family relations and history. Often, in Madonna House, people get a taste of a family with a history, traditions and anniversaries. It frequently happens that they begin, often for the first time in their lives, to explore their own ethnic roots and family history. They are now proud to be Celtic or Polish or German. This discovery of their personal roots is also a source of healing, of self-knowledge.

          Many other evils followed from the fragmentation of the self due to our disorientation from God. It led people to build and make things which did not reflect the loving presence of God. (For instance, the Tower of Babel.) But in a good sense, making things is one way we share in God’s creativity: we call it culture. “Salvation” is also concerned with refashioning the world around us so that it reflects, and doesn’t obstruct, the truth of God’s order.

          I mentioned that Catherine’s motto was, “To restore all things in Christ.” The community she founded, therefore, really seeks to restore all the dimensions of the human person, including the cultural environment. She meant it to be a microcosm of a Catholic culture that addresses the various levels of the physical atmosphere in which we live.

          “Work” was once defined as “love made visible.” We apply this definition to all kinds of work –art, writing, carpentry, farming, cooking – any and all ways that the hands can provide service and fashion beauty. And what is fashioned is meant to reflect the Christian vision of reality.

          Many young people come here with a very distorted notion of work: “You work to make money to buy things you want so you can be happy.” This, in a nutshell, is the “capitalist dream.” Work is a drudgery you have to go through to obtain something else. Such a notion makes the daily life of most people quite boring, frustrating, and meaningless, because they are working most of the day to get something else. But often their work is only a means for something else - and often a drudgery kind of means - so they can really live at home with their families.

          But, “in the beginning” we were gardeners, and work was part of our harmonious life with God – a pleasure and an expression of our co-creativity with him. Thus, we consider teaching people how to cook, wash clothes, chop wood, plant and harvest, clean and sew, fix cars and file cards, as very much part of the healing process.

          Dr. Karl Menninger once said that love and work are the two strong foundation stones of life. Work is tackled and taught at Madonna House as an act of love. No honest work is demeaning or boring or meaningless. There is no moving up a scale from “menial” work to “better” or “more exalted” types of white collar work - where you don’t get your hands so dirty, or don’t get so tired.

          No, we are not interested in upward mobility, as in the secular world, but in “downward spiritual mobility,” that is, delighting in the most humble of services for one another, as Jesus did in washing the feet of his disciples. (I’m sure he also washed dishes.) To serve is to reign, as the Pope says. We see all work as service, however humble it may be.

          “Beauty” is also a key element in our Madonna House way of life, and consequently an important ingredient in the healing process. The late and great theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, considered the restoration of beauty to theology as his lifetime goal. The truth must also sing as well as be intellectually true and accurate.

          Jesus, the Church, our faith, the Creed, the Gospel, should all be wonderfully attractive. (According to Dorothy Sayers, one of the Seven Deadly Virtues of Christianity is dullness.) “Beauty,” said Plato, “is the splendor of truth.” Without beauty truth does not attain its full expression or appeal. Beauty must be united with truth for its healing power to be fully effective.

          To foster this dimension of beauty we have an “arts and crafts” department, where people are encouraged to learn how to create beauty. It’s a joy to hear the exclamation of delight when young people bring you their first creations. (I wove a basket once which was a bit lopsided. I showed it to Catherine and she put it on as a hat!) All work is a form of art. Young people are often – not always! – delighted with themselves in learning how to make soap, tap maple trees, or cook a stew. It is healing to make something with your own hands. Modern medicine is “discovering” that using one’s hands to make something is therapeutic. They call it “Occupation Therapy”!

          We have a farm. Healing takes place through renewed contact with animals and the earth. Gospel imagery comes alive when one is weeding, planting, and harvesting. Nature is alive. God’s healing presence is experienced by touching animate creation in its myriad forms.

          The community experience, therefore, is very nitty-gritty, very practical. It is real life and not theory. There is not a great deal of time for dwelling on the self in a harmful, self- absorbing kind of way. In this real experience of life the self is put in touch with all levels of its being. And through love the doors are opened to restoration.

          Madonna House is a total way of life that seeks to be a community of love, “seeks to love people in as many ways as possible.” We seek, mostly, to be channels of God’s love, and to love others with a strong, Gospel love, a love in spirit and in truth. The wounds of people are addressed on countless conscious and subconscious levels. We of the community seek to make the Word of God -–Christ – present to people, and to help and challenge them to respond freely.

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Chapter 5 Chapter 4 Contents List