Category Archives: musing

Music and Musings on the Communion of Saints

Lately, I’ve been musing a lot on how we are connected with each other. In Christianity there is a concept known as “The Communion of Saints.” The premise is that when we join together in Holy Communion, we share this moment with the Mystical Body of Christ, and with those who have lived in the past, those living in the present, and those in the future, and that we pray for each other.

In the Apostle’s Creed, which is present in many main stream churches, the following lines are recited:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

Yet, I don’t think it is something we think about a whole lot.

And sadly, because of the difference in Catholic and Protestant understandings on the sacrament of communion, as well as the judgmental attitude of some of those in power, not all are welcome to receive at the table. Recently, there have been numerous articles about people being turned away from the altar because of political persuasion, or because of whom they love, or for simply not being “Practicing Catholics in Good Standing With the Church”

While theologically, I understand the complex arguments over whether the Eucharist has it been transformed from humble bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, which is a term called transubstantiation; or is the Eucharist a symbol and remembrance of that day. I know what I believe personally, but how or why is it my business about what someone else believes? Yet in any church, any tradition, since the upper room, whenever Christians have gathered to share the cup and break the bread, they have followed the words of Jesus, “Do this, in memory of me” Yes, that is it. No matter what else we believe and profess, we are to be remembering Jesus.

There have been thousands of gallons of ink spilled on these distinctions, and my simplification may be from theology 101, and while there are reasons and strong beliefs around these distinctions, the thing is this: “Joe Schmoe in the pew doesn’t know, and doesn’t care.” If you asked many Catholics if they believed in Real Presence answers would be varied. Sadly, I can’t count the number of weddings or funerals or Sundays, where family members have been upset, because they have been told they cannot receive communion. I have seen weddings where people actually printed the rules for who may and may not receive in the worship aid! And then we wonder why folks are walking away from organized religion altogether, or seeking solace in communities that they find more welcoming to those in second marriages, LGBTQ members, or many other situations.

Now, believe it or not, delving into Eucharistic theology was not my purpose for writing today. My real purpose was to say this: I truly believe that Eucharist is only one of many ways we can experience this “Communion of the Saints,” this joining with those in the past, present and future. I think there are many others, so please indulge me.

The next liturgical example would be the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church. This is prayer in perpetual motion. Somewhere, someone is always reciting morning prayer or vespers, or one of the minor hours. For example, when we pray the Divine Office, we may be praying a happy psalm when we are feeling sad, or an angry psalm when we are rejoicing. But as we gather in that sacred rhythm, we are praying for someone elsewhere in the world who needs that psalm right now. It is not about me sitting on the rocker in my bedroom praying the hours, or the religious community gathered in their chapel. It becomes a part of a prayer much larger, much greater. As the Vatican II Document Sacrosanctum Concilium said in paragraph 99, “the divine office is the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body publicly praising God. ”

When I pray a psalm, or a sacred scripture, I can often recall another time that I have prayed that, and to remember what was happening at that time in my life, or what the scripture spoke to me then. The Word of God is never stagnant though. While that past experience may affect my prayer and interpretation of that reading today, I’ve been touched and shaped by new information and experiences since that time, and it may be saying something different and fresh to me today. Or it may be an amusing reminder, come back to teach me yet again, e.g. one of my favorite lines out of Psalm 32:8 “Be not like horse and mule, unintelligent, needing bridle and bit, or else they will not approach you.” (Grail Translation) whenever i see that I muse, reminding myself not to be so darned stubborn and thickheaded. And usually God and I have a little laugh about it. “Oh am I doing it again?” “Yes, Jilsy, you are.”

But there are many other ways that we commune with those who have gone before us. I’m not speaking of Ouija boards or visiting a psychic or a medium. Family members regularly go to gravesides to remember their loved ones. For me, cooking is often a way to “be” with my Mom, who has been gone for many years. Similarly, others go to special places, or engage in activities to remember loved ones.

But the most obvious thing that I can think of is the power of music. For those with dementia, music is one of the ways that people can be reached, and that often creates moments of clarity. Music therapy is also a way to help those who are in hospice find relief from pain . We all have had the experience of listening to a song on the radio, and being transformed back to the high school prom, or some other great life event. Music has a power to reach across time.

And this is where the concept of Communion of the Saints comes to mind. One of my favorite examples of this is the song “One Spirit, One Church” by Kevin Keil and Maryanne Quinlivan. In that hymn, the composers have combined “Come, Holy Ghost” which is a 7th century text, set to an 18th Century melody, LAMBILLOTTE, and then combined with a 20th Century refrain “We are a Pilgrim People.” So when we sing that hymn we are singing with those of the past, as well as those singing it today.

That is just one of thousands of examples. Every Advent we sing “O Come, Emmanuel” The verses of this song are taken from the 5th Century prayers of the Church which are different names for God. “O Key of David,” “O Emmanuel,” They were translated to English by John Mason Neale in 1861,

This year, as I was preparing for Christmas liturgies, I was doing my geek girl, and reveling at some of these details. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” was first published in 1599. I marvel at this simple tune surviving over 400 years. Nowadays, it is so simple to transcribe music with Finale or another program, and to make recordings of songs and put them up on many formats. To think that songs like “Lo, how a rose” and others have survived this long speaks of their beauty and power.

The other morning when we sang “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” for the liturgy I was transported back to when I was 18. I sang that song in Europe with “The Montana Youth Choir.” Then, when I was at Sacred Heart Monastery, that hymn was the opening of Vespers on Christmas Eve. For many years I directed the choir at Saint Frances Cabrini singing this same song.

When we prayed Taizé on New Years, we heard scriptures proclaimed in six languages, uniting us with people around the world, and prayed and sang the chants from the community that have been shared by millions. Again, as I sang them that night, I felt like I was also singing them with the Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery, or the Benedictines in Winnipeg, where I first went to a workshop with a brother from the Taize community. I also remembered Sylvia in Virgina, and all of my friends who joined in making music at Saint Frances Cabrini. And as Sisters helped me tear down afterwards, I recalled those who were kind enough to stay afterwards and help me put things away when I was at the parish and so tired I could barely walk.

One could say, “O these are just examples of ways that music has touched you through your life. ” and indeed, that would be true. But I think it is much more powerful than that. When we start to sing along with “Journey” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” we are transformed. We are much younger, and we are once again invincible. We have not yet been broken down by the difficulties of life. Recently I played at a local club, and as a group of Sisters and friends sang along with me to Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days” we were all transformed. When I get a group of friends singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” or my gospel medely, a similar thing happens.

Music, Sacred or secular has the power to move us and to take us to places we have been in our past, or places we would like to go. It has the power to reunite friends and family whether we are separated by distance, or by death. Music has the power to transform us. Music has the power to heal us. And in that way, it is much like the Eucharist. When we share it and celebrate it, we become more than we are without it.

Healing Prayer for Sexual Abuse

I wrote this several years ago as part of a healing prayer service for sexual abuse.   Besides being a wound from my own childhood,  I believe speaking out openly and honestly about it has allowed me to help others and to heal.

The larger prayer service was published in a now defunct liturgy magazine, and won an award from the American and Canadian Catholic Press Association.

PDF FORM Healing Prayer Service for Abuse CELEBRATE March April 2007

Excerpts from Psalm  55      


Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication. Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint.

There are many reasons why abuse may remain hidden.  An abuser may manipulate, bribe, coerce or threaten a child to prevent them from telling anyone about the abuse. Depending on their age and stage of development, a child may not be able to communicate what has happened to them, or they may fear they will not be believed. They may be convinced that the abuse is their fault and, if they tell anyone about it, they will be punished. They may fear that they or the abuser will be removed from the home, or suffer other consequences. They may feel ashamed and want to keep the abuse (and related family problems) secret to avoid being stigmatized or have their sexual identity questioned.[i]

My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.

 It may sound strange, but people sometimes have trouble recognizing that they are being abused. For example, Sometimes people have been abused but don’t think of it that way. Recognizing abuse may be especially difficult for someone who has lived with it for many years. A person might think that it’s just the way things are and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. People who are abused might mistakenly think they bring it on themselves by misbehaving or by not living up to someone’s expectations.[ii]

And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.’

One study on women’s abuse related: “Family friends and acquaintances compose the largest group of perpetrators (28 percent), followed by such relatives as uncles and cousins (18 percent), stepfathers (12 percent), male siblings (10 percent), biological fathers (10 percent), boyfriends of the child’s mother (9 percent), grandfathers and stepgrandfathers (7 percent), and strangers (4 percent).”  The researcher was struck by the fact that 10 percent were biological fathers and only 4 percent were strangers.  “Which means,” he said, “86 percent of the perpetrators were known to the family, but were someone other than the child’s father.” [iii]

It is not enemies who taunt me— I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me— I could hide from them.

“Like in the general population, child sex abuse in the Catholic Church appears to be committed by men close to the children they allegedly abuse, many appear to use grooming tactics to entice children into complying with the abuse, and the abuse occurs in the home of the alleged abuser or victim,”[iv]

 But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng.

 about the same incidence of abuse occurs among all the socio-economic classes.  “about 85 percent of the offenders [of child sexual abuse] are family members, babysitters, neighbors, family friends or relatives.  About one in six child molesters are other children.”[v]

But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice.

Sexual abuse is especially complicated because of the power differential between the adult and child, because of the negotiations that must occur between adult and child, and because the child has no way to assimilate the experience into a mature understanding of intimacy. Regardless of the child’s behavior or reactions, it is the responsibility of the adult not to engage in sexual acts with children. Sexual abuse is never the child’s fault.

Sexual abusers can be:

parents, siblings, or other relatives, childcare professionals

clergy, teachers, or athletic coaches,   neighbors or friends   strangers [vi]

He will redeem me unharmed  from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. God, who is enthroned from of old,  will hear, and will humble them— because they do not change, and do not fear God.

Girls and boys are affected differently by abuse. Compared to boys, girls are more likely to internalize their response to violence, and experience, for example, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, low self-esteem and psychological disorders. Boys are more likely to externalize their response to violence, displaying, for example, increased aggression, delinquency and spousal abuse.[vii]

My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.

We are all born innocent. Due to sexual abuse or subsequent sexual behavior, you may erroneously believe that you are bad, damaged goods, an object for someone else’s use. Let the past be past, and give yourself a healthy start. You are not strapped to the negative labels an offender may have called you or to the way you saw yourself as a result of the abuse. Now you have choice and can assert your true self with others. Old labels will disappear as you stop believing them and stop acting in ways that reinforce them.[viii]

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

[i]  Child Abuse Factsheet: Department of Justice Canada

[ii] Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

[iii]   Sexual Abuse In Social Context: Catholic Clergy and Other Abusers  citing works of  (Wade F. Horn, “Common-sense article about abuse,” Washington Times, February 6, 2001, p. E1.)

[iv] American Catholic  article on Clergy Sex Abuse, Citing the John Jay Report (

[v]  Sexual Abuse In Social Context: Catholic Clergy and Other Abusers  citing works of  (Dr. Garth A. Rattray,  “Child Month and Paedophilia,” The Gleaner, May 14, 2002.)

[vi]  Help Guide  Child Abuse

[vii]  Child Abuse Factsheet: Department of Justice Canada

[viii]  Sexual Healing  by Wendy Maltz

This compilation of Psalm 55 and facts ©2006 Jill Maria Murdy. It may be used freely as a means of helping others heal.  It is a portion of a larger prayer service that was originally held at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, West Bend, WI. 53095.



Father’s Day ~ In Praise of Godly Men

Chapter 44 of the Book of Sirach speaks on Godly Men, and reminds me very much of my Father, Patrick Murdy.

Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors, each in his own time:

Stalwart men, solidly established and at peace in their own estates–

Their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants;

Sirach 44: 1, 6, 11

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I’d like to pay homage to my Dad on Father’s Day.  Thankfully he is still in the Land of the Living, and I spoke to him yesterday.   But I’d like to share more about him, to give praise to this Godly man right now.

Sr. Renee Branigan once taught me that when you write or make a speech you “Tell people what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.”    So with that advice, here are a few things you should know about Dad.     He is a simple and wise man.  That simple wisdom of Dad’s is something I treasure.

Do it right, enjoy yourself while you are at it,   have coffee with friends, share a meal and a joke or two, enjoy the beauty around you,  give to your parish – both your time and efforts and your check; give to your community, think twice before you speak, do what it takes to develop patience.


Pat Murdy RiveratThis picture of Pat the Riverat says a lot about him as a man, and as a father.

My Dad is, and always has been an amazing man.   He grew up on the banks of the Powder River in  Eastern Montana.   His family was very poor, and his Father Lloyd Murdy was often away for months at a time working on other ranches.  Dad learned to be self sufficient at an early age, working at paper routes and then in a clothing store.

When he was in high school, his parents were going to make him drop out to go to work.  Dad insisted on staying in school, and took his Junior and Senior years by correspondence; working by day and studying into the evenings.  In the end he graduated from Custer County High School in 1948.  It was not long after that that he entered the Marine Corps.

Picture 083On one of his first trips home from basic training on leave, this green young kid from the styx got taken advantage of by someone near the bus station who was doing a scam.   He arrived in Montana hungry and  with just a few cents in his pocket.  But he learned a lesson from that experience and no one’s fool after that.

My Mom and Dad met accompanying another couple on a date. They were both seeing other people but there was obviously a strong attraction between them.   He went to Korea and she continued in nursing school and they wrote back and forth. He served with the  1st Medical Battalion and was an ambulance/truck driver.   His unit was at the Ichon landing.    After the war they were married.   Dad went to work for the seismograph crew, and Mother was a nurse so they traveled with his work.

When they came to Chinook, Montana, Bob Inman was the first person they met (Bob and Dad have both told me this J)  They worked in the area, and the seismograph crew was going to be moving on, but didn’t know if they’d have a job for Dad in the new location as he was low man on the totem pole.   Mother was working  for Doc Leeds,  so Dad took a position as a grease monkey at  Taylor Motors.   But Mom and Dr. Leeds had other ideas, and they convinced Dad to go back to school for  lab/x-ray training.

They moved to Great Falls for that.     A great deal of the radiology training was with Dr. Pectkevich (whose son John Misha Petkevich became an Olympic skater) Dr. Petkevich had trouble with his eyes, so would play ping pong with Dad in the evenings while quizzing him.   Dad taught me to play ping pong years later. We would play at St. Gabriel’s or the back of the old Eagles.  It was a fun time with him.
scan0006 My Folks both knew a lot of sorrow in their lives.   Their first child Timothy James, lived but a very short time, undergoing surgery and many treatments before hand.  Dad happened to do the bloodwork that showed his Father Lloyd Murdy had cancer, and the tests showing Mom’s Mother, Walburga Maria Schmidt had Leukemia.   By the time they were 32, they’d each lost a parent and a child, and had four children under the age of seven.   That is a lot for anyone to handle.  But those are some of the things that began to temper his quiet, deep faith.

Dad was always an insightful and compassionate man.  In the winters, he taught himself Spanish by listening to records.  Chinook is sugarbeet country, and there were many crews of migrant workers to tend to them.   They would come into the clinic, and not be able to communicate.   Dad took it upon himself to learn the Spanish.   In 1970, in Chinook, MT,  THAT was a big deal.  It was a different world, and the concept of being bilingual or providing for all was not even being spoken of.

Dad was always a hard worker.  Full time at the clinic, then doing household projects, or formica and handy man projects for other people.  He sold Fuller Brush products for a number of years; basically doing whatever it took to feed and clothe a large family.   When we were younger, Dad was not always the most patient man.     He learned to tie flies as an evening activity in an effort to teach himself patience.    His flies are still talked about in Chinook.  He sold them at the local hardware store.   A few years back someone came up to us at lunch and said, “Pat, you still owe me a bunch of wooly worms!”

Going fishing with Dad was a wonderful time.  Often it was loading up the car after work on a weeknight and heading out to Ross’s Reservoir for a bit, or to the FFF fish for fun club.   He and the guys did cowcreek each year too.  When I called Dad yesterday to wish him a happy Father’s Day,  he and his grandson Hunter were out in the street.  He was teaching Hunter to cast a fly rod.  They were catching some mighty fine rocks!

When I was a very small child, Ron Popeil’s “Pocket Fisherman” was the hot item of the year.  I had my heart set on one and got it for Christmas.   When we went out fishing that spring,  Dad kept laughing at my “Mickey Mouse Outfit….”   However, I caught more fish that day then I ever had so couldn’t rub it in too much.

When it came to fishing and working in the yard, I loved my time with my Dad just as much as the boys did.   When I go home to this day, we often get a one day license and go out.     Dad taught us an important lesson very early on.   Going fishing and catching fish  were two different things, and it really didn’t matter if you did both!    Going fishing was getting away, and relaxing and being quiet, and appreciating nature, and being attentive to the environment around you.

That’s how you knew where to stand on the creek bank so your body didn’t cast a shadow, or how to watch the water for that fish nibbling on a bug so you could cast out towards it.   You breathed in, you saw and you existed.

Picture 033Similarly, Dad taught many young men similar lessons as a scout leader.   This quiet man who absolutely hated to be in front of a  crowd learned to get up and do it for the sake of his kids and many others.    He had many a story to tell about the tenderfoots who didn’t prepare their meals and backpacks right out at Cow Creek, or the kid who ended up with a blister on his hike for not heeding advice.  While Dad has a very playful time, when it came to learning and teaching he was all business and commanded a great deal of respect.

While with the scouts, Dad began to canoe the Missouri River.    He and Ray Reid took down tons of Scout groups.    Their first trip was lead by another individual, and kids got spread out way too far up and down the river.    Dad and Ray decided never again.    They got these red and green felt hats.     Dad and the red hat were lead.  You stopped, never going past the lead canoe,  and Ray was green for go. You always stayed ahead of the canoe.       Dad still has that felt hat.   In the early 70’s brother Jim got a hold of it and sewed a groovy band of trim on it though.   Somehow even that is fitting.

I remember our first family trip with cousins and many other relatives. It was a wonderful time, even though we had some horrid weather to contend with.  Through the years Dad took well over a hundred river trips, scouts, 4 H kids, family reunions,  and many other private parties.

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He told me the story of taking the church altar boys down the river.   In the white rocks, he pulled all the canoes together out in the calm waters on a beautiful sunny day.  He told those kids, “Sometimes in your life you will be tested, and you may sit and church and wonder what it is all about….. but if you EVER wonder if there is a God, just look around you now.   Remember this beauty. Remember this moment. Remember this day!”

The thing about Dad was,   when you do something you do it right, whether that be the way you clean the hedge or thatch the lawn, or the way you load a canoe.   A half assed approach just wouldn’t do.   He is always methodical and thoughtful in the way he works.   While I learned his work ethic, and to stay with a project however long it takes to complete it, I’m a bit more like my mother in a scattered, creative approach to my life.

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But just yesterday, I used the footstool dad made me when I was little.  It has been repainted numerous times, from the pink with a decal, to yellow, to the gold that matches my kitchen now.  It was well built and has stood the test of time.

In a small town clinic, the hours can be pretty sporadic.  Some weeks he was putting in 60 hours, and some weeks there were not as many hours.  It becomes hard to live like that.   At the age of 57, Dad made a huge change, and went to work for Blaine County as the head of the maintenance department.

It was probably the best decision he ever made.   He worked full time until he was 75, and still works one day a week there.      In that time he has mentored many young men in another way, teaching them work ethics, and communication skills.  He also had a wonderful with the women in the offices and doing their special projects, and finally being able to go have coffee with the guys.  He felt blessed to be able to work and still does.

Picture 102Perhaps my favorite image of my Mother and Father was the two of them dancing.   They were lighter than air when they waltzed, and when they did the polka they were suddenly twenty years younger.  I remember as a teenager when they started going ‘out’ again; and I was waiting up for them.  Very strange.   But they were very happy then.

Sadly, Mother’s dance card ran out at the age of sixty.    Her death was a painful thing for all of us, but devastating for my Dad.    I remember calling him once and asking  “How are you doing?”   He said, in his silly humorous way of deflecting pain, (which I’ve inherited) “Oh I’m making all sorts of new lady friends. There is Mrs. Campbell, and Mrs. Dinty Moore, and Mrs. Paul’s…”   Fortunately though, he did make a new friend.

He and Donna Neibauer found each other.  She’d been widowed since we were in high school, as Neil passed away at a Father-Son basketball game.   I played guitar for his funeral and the Highliners sang “Peace is Flowing Like a River” and other songs.   Jody and Joel were classmates,  Tom and I,  and Jamie was a year younger.  We’d know their family all our life through church and school and life.

Picture 020How blessed those two have had twenty years together.    I can’t say it wasn’t difficult in the beginning, because my heart was still grieving Mother’s death.  He wrote me a letter once that said something like this:  “Jill-babe, you know the heart is an amazing thing.   You think you love someone with all your heart, and that there is not room for anything or anyone else.  And then you find out that it expands.”  His heart had expanded with the capacity to love again.   Donna has always done a wonderful job of trying to make us feel welcome and family, and I’m grateful that she and Dad have each other.   Together, we have all walked through a number of moments of joy and pain which have melded us as a family.

That simple wisdom of Dad’s is something I treasure.

Do it right, enjoy yourself while you are at it,   have coffee with friends, share a meal and a joke or two, enjoy the beauty around you, give to your parish – both your time and efforts and your check; give to your community, think twice before you speak, do what it takes to develop patience. 


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You’ve Got to Smell the Lilacs While They Are In Bloom

Prologue:  Lilacs change very quickly, and in that sense, the post is almost past its time.  I started it and was not able to finish my thoughts until now.  I’ve actually been working on this post off and on or a week and a half.  And yet, because of that, it is important I finish it. 


I’m in a musing mode, so this is a reflection on an episode that happened over twenty years ago, along with the events of this week, and the common thread running through them all.  Lilacs.  Life. Living.

In the spring of 1991, I was a young Benedictine Sister.   I was going to school full time at Dickinson State University, and lived in a small house three blocks from the school with a couple of my  Sisters.  It was very convenient. I could pray in the morning, go to classes, come home for dinner and prayers with the Sisters and go back and hit the practice rooms at night.   It was also twenty miles from Sacred Heart Monastery, so I could return quickly and frequently.

So, I was combining university life as a music major , monastic life, and daily living like preparing meals, shopping for groceries, mowing the lawn, and taking care of the garden. It was a wonderful time.  Then the phone rings on the evening of May 20, 1991. It is my Mother.  She says, “Hey Jill Maria, what do you have going this week?  I have my garden all in, and have a bunch of extra tomato plants.  I’m thinking of bringing them over.”

I said, “Our Sister Josephine died, today, and we will have her funeral,  but other than that I’m free.”   Mom said, “Oh, I would like to go to that.  I am coming over.  It will be good to see you.”

Now, that is all well and good, but let me put it in perspective.  Mother lived eight hours away in Chinook, Montana; and I was in Dickinson/Richardton, North Dakota.   So for Mom to pick up and say,  “I’m going to drive eight hours to bring you a few tomato plants….” and to do so in the middle of the week without taking my Dad on the road trip was all a little bit unusual.

a_yellow_butterfly_on_my_lilac_bush.previewWell, she came, and it was gorgeous Spring weather.   She got out of the car and hugged me, saying  “You’ve got to smell the lilacs while they’re in bloom.”  Fine…. and I  happy to see Mom.  But it was still all a bit strange. We had coffee and a good time and planted the tomatoes.

That night we went to Sister Josephine’s Wake.   Now, Josie was from Hershey Pennsylvania, and always had a bit of candy to give, especially to “the Fathers,”  so that night we passed out Hershey’s Candy Bars to everyone after the service.   The next day we buried Sister Josephine.   It is a short walk from Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel to the cemetery where we laid Sister with all her old friends.   On the way we sang  “Jesus Remember Me,”   and “Surrexit Christus”   as the casket was lowering in the ground.   It was a beautiful, fresh day, with lilacs and spring, and resurrection, and hope.  We were laying to rest a Sister who lived a long full life.

Throughout her days with me, Mom kept remarking in a sing song voice,  “You’ve got to smell the lilacs while they are in bloom!”   She left, I smiled, and didn’t think too much about it, getting back to life as usual.     That week I got a letter from Ma saying  “Thank you for being there for me.”  It was an unusual statement, and I could of just taken it as meaning she had a good time, but it began to  niggle away inside me….   I started praying hard for Mom, and dreaming about her.   In retrospect, I am pretty sure she already knew she was sick, and that she was somehow sharing it with me.  I think that experience of the joyful, playful funeral gave her an important piece that she needed at that time.

Life went on.  The lilacs faded.  Summer came and we had glorious tomatoes.   That October, I got a call from Dad on a Monday night telling me,  “Your Dear Mother is quite ill.”     They found cancer, and were doing biopsies.  On Friday, I talked to the Folks again.  Mother told me herself they were estimating she had six months.

My whole family was together for Thanksgiving that year.  It was the last time we were ever all together at 700 Minnesota.   Usually, when Mom cooked, you stayed out of the way, and let her, because you couldn’t do it as well or as fast as she could, but this year was different .  She wanted me by her side.

There is a moment in the Catholic Mass called the Anamnesis, or remembering, during the institution narrative, as Jesus tells the disciples  “Do this in memory of me. ”   For me, that last Thanksgiving was an anamnetic experience.    Mother would tell me,  “Remember, we always put the cranberries in this red dish.”   “Remember, this plate came from your brother.”     “Remember…..”   I always remember.

Mother died March 20, 1992.  That spring, I looked out at the garden, remembered her tomato plants and the lilacs, and wept.   I don’t think I could smell the lilacs that year.   I wanted nothing to do with the garden.  None of the other Sisters had time so it sat dormant.

I graduated from DSU,  and made my final profession of vows that summer.   I was no longer living at the Dickinson house.    So imagine my surprise when my dear friend Sister Brigid called me, saying, “Come by the house, I’ve got something to show you.”    We prayed together and had coffee and talked, and she said,   “Lets take a walk out back.”    There in the garden were tomato plants.  They had reseeded themselves.    How amazing that life is.   There again was a simple but beautiful example of the resurrection. Mother was teaching me, showing me.


Fast forward a few years to 2002.  As much as I loved the Sisters and the monastic lifestyle, it was becoming apparent that for a number of personal reasons, I needed to make a change, so I  made the difficult decision to leave Sacred Heart Monastery.  I entered a three year leave of absence, called exclaustration. During this time, I could return to religious life, or make a decision to sever my formal ties with the community.

It was a challenging time.   I was starting a new ministry as director of music and liturgy in a large parish.   It was a huge transition.   I worked hard and there was a lot to learn, a lot to wrap my head around.  I was living in a simple apartment most of the year.    But basically, I was 40, and starting over from scratch.   In the spring of 2003, I decided it was time to buy a house.    If I decided to return to the Monastery, I could always sell it.     If not, well then, the best way to get equity was to purchase property.  (LOL  remember it was 2003, not 2013!!!)

The market was hot.  I placed offers on a couple homes and didn’t get them.   Then my Realtor said, “there is this place on Hilltop I want you to check out.”   Hmmm… I read the add for the place in the paper, and it was not at all what I was thinking of, and the front looked kind of blah.   But I dutifully went to check it out one Sunday afternoon.   Ironically, the selling Realtor had a flat tire, and never showed, but by the time I drove up the lovely meandering street to the top  I was charmed by the street and the neighborhood.

866018779_ee6d568da6_zI  had not seen the inside of the place yet, but there was this great little brass sign out front that said, “On this site in 1897, nothing happened.”   It tickled me so much, I knew I was home.     A few days later when we could reschedule a private viewing, my Realtor was grinning from ear to ear.  She’d walked through the house and already “knew” it was for me.  The flat ranch layout was wonderfully kind on bad knees.  An older couple had the house first, so there handicapped rails and many other extras. So many of the features were things I didn’t know I was looking for, but were perfect when I saw them.

We made the offer and the process started.   A friend of mine had helped me find my mortgage, and worked for the bank whom I got it through.   However he  chose to come to the signing as my friend and support, rather than in a professional bank position.  I was nervous and extremely emotional.   As another old friend would say, I was weepy with “boogery t-shirts.”   I used my friend’s handkerchief, and don’t know if I ever returned it to him.

Throughout the proceedings I kept thinking,  “Dear God, am I doing the right thing?  Should I be buying this house?  Oh, I wish I could talk to Mom.”    I talked to Dad, and Aunt Donna was a great help, but I was still missing Mom.  After I signed the papers on the house, and I was given the keys, the friend from the bank came with me to do my first walk through.  I opened the kitchen double doors and walked out  onto the patio, and breathed, and cried.
There, filling the air, filling the yard was a large lilac bush in full bloom.  Mother was with me.  Smiling and blessing me.    It was such a wonderful gift.      I smiled and laughed and cried some more and breathed it in, thinking ” You’ve got to smell the lilacs while they are in bloom.”


This spring 2013 has been strange on many levels.   The weather has done a number on just about everybody’s psyche.  Rain, snow, storms have created many natural disasters, and there have been many violent man made disasters this year, including school shootings and bombings.  In April I turned 50.  This is supposed to be a milestone, but I’m not sure about that yet.  Actually, I am.  I am sure that I am grateful, and that life is not to be taken for granted.   I am reminded of the shortness of the span of the lilac in so many ways.

In my family, my Mother was 60 going on 25 when she died.  My Grandmother was 52, my Uncle, 49, and another Aunt at 63.  My Cousin passed away at 30.   So there is definitely a history of that demon cancer.  However my Grandfather was in his 90’s when he died, and  another Uncle led a good full life, so I’m not being a woman of doom.    I just am reminded that one cannot take life for granted.

In my work at the parish, I deal with life and death on a regular basis, as  we see weddings, baptisms, first communions, confirmations,  and funerals.   The cycle continues on and on.  But our source of hope and salvation is in that, in the Resurrection.

Ecclesiastes tells us:

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,

vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

What profit have we from all the toil

which we toil at under the sun?

One generation departs and another generation comes,

but the world forever stays.

Yet, there are times when simply speaking, “it ain’t easy.” Within the last  two weeks, there have been six deaths within the parish, including a dear old friend, and a man in his 50’s.  Three friends lost their Mothers on or near Mother’s day, and I attended two of those funerals.   And it was the first anniversary of a sweet friend’s Father, who died a senseless death right before Memorial day last year.

Today, my Dad called, telling me that my  Step-Sister Jody died after a three year  battle with pancreatic cancer. May she rest in peace.  It is ironic to me that I work with funerals and families all the time, and yet feel so helpless to help my own family so far away. So  what can I do?  Pray.

All in all, it leaves me in a place of wonder, recognizing that God is God, and I am not.  There are many things I’ll never be able to understand, and there is probably no scripture, no hymn, no poem, no image that can change that.   There are may things I cannot fathom or comprehend.    This is when I must just turn it over to God and ask  him to increase my faith.

But this is when I must combine the wisdom of Rosemarie and the wisdom of Quoeleth…”What profit have we from all the toil?”  “You’ve got to smell the lilacs while the are in bloom.”   There are seasons and times when we definitely need to toil and to toil hard, but I need to remember to smell the lilacs, or the roses, or the crocuses; or listen to the chickadee, robin, cardinal, loon;   look at the sunrise, sunset, stars, clouds, and moon.

If I do not take the time to be grateful for all life, and to put it all in perspective,  then I am of no good to anyone else, and no good to myself.  I’m no longer serving and praising God if I’m slaving or murmuring.   None of us knows if we will live another day, another year, or another thirty years.    There are chronic illnesses, debilitating diseases, and  unfathomable accidents.  We may waste away slowly,  or be gone in the blink of an eye.   But it is life!  So hang on, live it, and be grateful.

Thank you to all those who have gone before me, and for the  wisdom you have taught me. I pray that I may always live my life fully, gratefully.  

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,

Let Perpetual Light shine upon them. 

May they rest in peace.  AMEN.