If the Lord Does Not Build the Playhouse

July 02, 2022

Bro. Brian Poulin

Saturday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Although I’m familiar enough with Scripture to paraphrase an awful lot and make plentiful obscure allusions, I’ve never been a great one for citing chapter and verse. One exception to this general limitation of mine is 2 Peter 2: 22, thanks in no small part to it’s frequent invocation by my novice master, Bro. Rob Clark: “[…] the dog returns to the site of it’s own vomit.” Keep reading the same verse though, and a similarly earthy proverb presents itself: “[…] the washed sow returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

It had been three years since my previous visit to Magnificat Farm outside of Jackson, KY. At that time, I was with a group of volunteers from a delightful cross-section of our Marist family in the USA, including Marist Young Adults, adult Lay Marists, Marist Brothers, family, and friends, as together we slogged up the muddy hill, hauling lumber to build a beautifully simple A-frame chapel. Yes, it’s been three years since that trip, and probably two since I managed to get the last remnants of mud out of my ears.

Last week I was back on that farm as part of another short-term community, consisting of Bros. Dave Cooney, Michael Telewah, and myself, together with our hosts, the Van Cleef family—Ellen, Joshua, and Baby Joy. It was truly remarkable to be among a group of Marist Brothers staying with a Lay Marist community (family) and supporting a Lay Marist ministry. This was not a case of role reversal however, so much as one of role fulfilment, as Marists of Champagnat throughout the world continue our journey of communion and mutual belonging. It’s gratifying as well to see this young Marist presence in Appalachia continue to take shape, knowing that it will presumably remain a vital place of mission and hospitality for years to come.

Another thing that remains is the mud on the exposed beams of the chapel interior. And if long-dried mud remains on this lumber, then so must some residue from the sweat poured out by us volunteers three years ago. Through our labor, we not only left a mark, but even a little bit of ourselves. And the mud on those beams is a holy reminder of the sanctity of our work done in love.

The occasion for our visit this time around was once again a service trip, but at the risk of splitting hairs, I would suggest it would be better described as a mission trip. I say this, because more so than in any other such experience, the main impact of the week was not the tasks accomplished but rather the encounter with God who we met in community, nature, and people simply doing their best to get by. The work we did made some things easier for Josh and Ellen and one project brought some welcome joy to young children being raised by their grandparents up in the hills. Nonetheless, the work seemed to mainly provide an opportunity to bring us together as a group and bring us into contact with others.

The only work we did “off-site” was the afore-mentioned project for those children in the hills. We three Marist Brothers, only 200 years removed from the building of the Hermitage, did all we could to successfully assemble an admittedly complex 5-foot tall playhouse from a kit of intricate parts and an arcane instruction manual. This is the kind of task that ends friendships and marriages. Nonetheless, we managed to contain our frustrations with the construction (and each other!) while getting to know those we were trying to help. Like home-cooking, if it hadn’t been done with an ample dose of love, it just wouldn’t have come out right.

If the Lord hadn’t built that house, or laid out the whole blessed experience for us, our efforts would have truly been in vain.


This month’s ‘ear candy’ is a classic from Kentucky. It seems a fitting way to celebrate the too frequently overlooked dignity of the struggling rural poor, some of whom we got to meet last week. The ‘brain food’ is an account of our Pope once again urging the Church to go out and encounter those with whom we might not ordinarily cross paths.

Ear Candy: “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn

Brain Food: “Pope at Pallium Mass: Church Must Go out to 'Meet the World'” by Junno Arocho Esteves

Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!