Our Chapel at All Saints

And all the company of heaven…..While folks in Catonsville were rushing off to work or school this morning, the Sisters on the Hilltop were quietly singing praises to God and to St Michael, St Gabriel and St Raphael Archangels.


St. Gabriel at St. Gabriel’s Retreat House

“Angels and ministers, spirits of grace,             Friends of the children, beholding God’s face,   Moving light thought to us through the beyond,
Molded in beauty and free from our bond!”

Percy Dearmer’s old hymn rings out in our Chapel…

“Messengers clad in the swiftness of light,
Subtle as flame, and creative in might,
Helmed with the truth and with charity shod,
Wielding the wind of the purpose of God!”

We are not thinking here of diaphanous creatures fluttering around on little wings. Cute as that might be, what help would such creatures be? When I need an angel, I want a mighty being in war helmet and battle array, “wielding the wind of the purpose of God.” St Michael the warrior fits this requirement. Of course I may need St. Gabriel, the messenger of God or St Raphael, the guide and perhaps the gentlest of these subtle beings.

There is also a 4th Archangel – Uriel – meaning “God is my light.” He seems to me to be representing the silence of eternity. Thought to be the angel of God’s Presence mentioned in Isaiah 63:9, perhaps he is an awesome silent presence who stands guard at the entrance of God’s Temple – our Churches. Think about that next time you walk into church!  [Uriel appears in the book of Esdras and was recognized by Pope St Gregory the Great.]

So there you have it. I can’t include a photo of these on the blog – not a real one, that is. Perhaps I have met one and so have you – unawares. We pray for their assistance and that: “We too shall join you as comrades in grace….”

From the Anglican tradition, a prayer for our time:

“Oh holy Saint Uriel, intercede for us that our hearts may burn with the fire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Assist us in co-operating with the graces of our confirmation that the gifts of the
Holy Spirit may bear much fruit in our souls.
Obtain for us the grace to use the sword of truth to pare away all that is not in conformity to the most adorable Will of God in our lives, that we may fully participate in the army of the Church. Amen”


St. Uriel Archangel

Monarch Butterfly Update: I Saw It! I Saw It!

If you read the earlier blog on Monarch butterfly watch, you would have some idea how I have been trying to help monarch butterflies hatch for years.  Some years ago I became very much aware of a decrease in butterfly population.  The trend unfortunately remains the same and I see fewer of them every year.

So my butterfly garden continues, trying to counteract even a little bit.  While I was away in August this summer, one or more mama butterflies visited and deposited probably over three dozen eggs on milkweed.  I took two dozen monarch eggs or caterpillars into a screened-in area for protection as their survival rate out in the wild is very poor.  Twenty-four is not a large number really, because some years ago I was able to help over forty.

Feeding and cleaning up the mess they make, the wonder of their transformation and the joy of witnessing their first flight, pulls me into this every year.  It is truly an experience I would like everyone to have.  It is awesome.

Over and over I have watched a monarch caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a beautiful translucent green chrysalis adorned with golden dots.  The process is dramatic—almost like birthing a child.  It is a hard work.

Then after ten days to two weeks, the translucent green gem becomes a black and orange little bag that visibly contains a monarch butterfly in upside down position.  I have wanted to see The Moment this little encased monarch breaks out of the shell, but I had never been able to until September 11, 2015.

Well, after many years and many chrysalises, I hit the right moment this day.  At my twentieth (or whatever) trip to the chrysalis contraption I saw a couple of legs sticking out of the little cocoon.  I held my breath.  In a split second, the rest of the butterfly flipped down out of the encasement as the legs firmly held onto the now torn empty shell.  Wow!IMG_0363 A

It was at 11:08 AM.  By 11:15 AM, the wings expanded to the full size although still very weak and unusable.   By 2:30 PM, it was gone, off to Mexico!  IMG_0352 AIMG_0378 AIMG_0369 AIMG_0368

The whole process of butterfly transformation is so much beyond human comprehension. Scientists have found out a few things about them, but even Einstein’s brain cannot create it.  Looking up at a new monarch butterfly riding up into the immense blue sky, who cannot see a flash of divine beauty and unfathomable mystery of creation?  Here on earth everything is veiled.  But someday we will see it all.

In the meantime twenty monarch butterflies have left our protection and begun their arduous journey to Mexico.  We lost three caterpillars in the process, but the last one of the class of 2015 looks healthy and bides her time in the little cocoon.  When she, or he,leaves, I too will be an empty nester—until next year.

Grace and Glory

Back in the 90’s, the Community offered a weekend retreat at our St. Gabriel’s Retreat House called, Grace and Glory.  It was very popular and with good reason.  Sr. Barbara Ann, our resident naturalist, would commandeer our guests through a weekend focused on the beauty of nature by leading short and long hikes, during which she would identify plants and critters, all the while peppering everyone with spiritual insights she had gleaned from her years of digging in the dirt and taking care of whatever wildlife found their way into our Convent.  Our retreatants loved every minute of the weekend.  Even falling in the creek did not seem to dampen their spirits.     IMG_0508

In thinking about Sr. Barbara Ann and those weekends, I was reminded of my own experience of walking with Sister through the woods.

Honestly, you can go on a quick walk with her and before you have taken 20 steps she will have already found something to be excited about.  She might spy a hummingbird’s nest, a Jack-in-the-Pulpit, grab a handful of
ferns to draw, and then exclaim over some Lady Slippers.  I would have walked right past all of these treasures noticing only the rocks, the trees, bushes, logs and so forth.  Not that I wasn’t looking, I was.  But a lot of nature’s gems passed me by or maybe it was the other way around.  So why couldn’t I “see” what she saw?

The answer became clear to me only after many such walks with Sister.  Walks during which I watched and listened as she pointed out signs and secrets.  Slowly but surely I began to learn “to see” by paying attention to the signs along the forest paths.

Our spiritual life is very much a matter of “what you see is what you get”.  So often God seems hidden from us, like the Lady Slippers on a forest path, in the ordinariness of our daily life,  but He really isn’t hidden.  We simply don’t always have eyes “to see”. Just as I needed Sr. Barbara Ann to help me learn the signs which would lead me to one of nature’s gems, so we need the “signs” given to us through the Word of God, the Sacraments, our Priests and Pastors, and other seasoned Christians to not only help lead us to God, Himself, our greatest treasure, but to help to keep us on the right path in the first place.IMG_0190 A



What time is it? Is it time for Vespers? Must not be; the chapel bell has not been rung. Oops, Sister rang the chapel bell late, because the clock was slow. Well, we go to service when the bell rings. Hum.

On the Hilltop the time – for everyone – is determined by the chapel clock. I mean EVERYONE!! You want to be sure to set you watch by that clock if you stay around here for long.

Can such a small thing rule our lives, as it were? Yes indeed. But it can be culture shock for the new person or evoke a groan from the time challenged person. Where I came from, before entering nun-land, time tended to be somewhat fluid. “Noon” meant any time around the middle of the day give or take 15 or 20 minutes. No doubt you have heard of Greenwich Mean Time…..but never of All Saints Time.

The Chapel Clock sits on its own little shelf of honor. When I first came the clock was an ancient and perhaps original General Electric job. It must have weighed 4 lbs. You could have fought off a terrorist with it. Well, at least done some damage. It eventually died beyond repair; while I don’t recall the date it must be written down somewhere.

Anyhow, the Mother at the time decided to remove Chapel time from the clutches of the whims of an electric clock so she did some homework and procured an ATOMIC clock. It was not radioactive although it raised some sisterly eyebrows at the time. It was RADIO CONTROLLED so no Sister needed to fiddle with it. Convent time became standard. But then, well, you guessed it, the atomic clock died. Oh my. It fell the lot of another Mother to appoint another Sister to get another clock. This one is battery operated but must be hand set. So, at last, we have returned to All Saints Mean Time.

Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the forerunners of the current clock. Do you take pictures of your clock? These pictures are blurred which may say something about how we think about “time”!




Our Lady of Czestochowa

There are a few things we all, every one of us experience in life – besides death and taxes!  One of them is “sorrows.”  Today we celebrate Our Lady of Sorrows as she stands beside the Cross of her Son, our Savior, and also as she sheds her tears over our fallen world.

I remember – quite a few years ago – that the long Retreat before Profession [making vows] was filled with a lot of material concerning the Cross and bearing one’s cross and such matters.  After a while this began to annoy me!  (Remember, I was young.)  I was preparing for one of the happiest days of my life – a wedding day really.  Why all this talk about suffering, bearing the cross, walking the Via Dolorosa?  Maybe it was a bit overdone – and even more, maybe it was wasted wisdom on one so young.  Anyhow, I know better now!

I have since buried my mother, my father, a close cousin, not to mention a number of dear Sisters in community; I have seen some ups and downs and illness, and a few unexpected twists in the road.  Yesterday we celebrated the triumph of the Cross, today we celebrate the fruits of the Cross.  We give thanks for our Mother given to us in the midst of agony to show us how true Love is born.  “Behold your Mother.”  Christianity does not offer easy answers to the sorrows of life; it does offer us a Mother to help us bear them.  Blessed Mary bears with us, bears us up, leads us along, always to her Son, the Beloved.  Let us follow!  Holy Mary, Pray For Us!



The Rood Screen All Saints

On this Holy Cross Day, a touch of our history!  The motto of our Founding Mother was engraved on a ring she wore all her life:  Crux in corde: cor in cruce which is translated as “The Cross in the heart: the heart in the Cross”

St Louis de Montfort wrote: “Never the Cross without Jesus, or Jesus without the Cross.”  He reminds us that there is special worship due and given only to His Cross and that the veneration of all relics of the saints will end at the judgement except for the Cross.  De Montfort writes, “He will command the chief Seraphim and Cherubim to collect from every part of the world all the particles of the true Cross.  By his loving omnipotence he will re-unite them so well that the whole Cross will be re-formed, the very Cross on which he died.  He will have his Cross borne in triumph by angels joyfully singing its praises.”

Isn’t that a lovely thought!  We have on our Chapel Altar today a little relic of the True Cross.  It has papers and all.  I suppose  the only test as to whether it is “true” will come on that last day.  If it disappears, it was the REAL thing!

All joking aside, this is a special ancient feast day for Christians of the East and West.  It also marks a sort of changing of gears in the liturgical life of the Church just as it marks a changing season.  This is the day to remember that any personal “cross” we may have is a small sliver of His Cross and is a special gift from our Lord.  In the last day, we too, like the bits of the True Cross will be pulled together by the holy angels and go in procession gloriously into our Father’s House.

Icon of crucifixion


Our Lady of All Saints

Our Lady of All Saints

Do you know this lovely medieval hymn? It was set to a simple melody by Paul Cross (Justin Mulcahy, CP) in the later 20th century. We sing it sometimes on Saturdays in “Ordinary Time” and are rather fond of it. The words are public domain. They go in part like this:

Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heavenly Way.
Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine,
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine.

And so on. My favorite verses, if favorites are possible:

Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood,
Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord.

Mary is called “Queen of Saints” because she leads the way for us. In our own way we too are meant to be the chalice and the temple. Is that a tall order? Yes, and yet really quite simple. Every time we receive Holy Communion, what happens? We become chalices or vessels carrying the sacred Presence; we become temples of the Lord of the Temple. This gift from our God doesn’t happen so we can feel pious! The Lord of the Temple wants us to go out from the altar rail and, in the words of Pope Francis, CHANGE THE WORLD!! Mary did that in the world of her daily life; so must the Christian in the realm of daily life, world without end.

Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest.
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest.

(Pictured above is the old painting by an All Saints Sister which hangs in our Chapel. It is signed +CR 1902 with the word “fecit“.  My photograph does not do it justice!)


DSCN1225 Wouldn’t it be a nice life…..nothin’ to do…..

The little guys who found my 37 gallon pond think they have the life.  In a way they do!  They appreciate everything about it, apparently, because there are at least 9 of them.  The fact that there is a “green” water “problem” is – well, not a problem for them.  They live in the present moment.  Do they know it is September?  Do they know what is coming?  Probably not.  Do they worry?  Certainly not.  I could learn something from them.  Only thing is, I want to be on THE Rock – Jesus Christ – in THE Pond, the Church.  Lucky for me I’ve got those things too.  As for these frogs – they like their September days on a rock!


It’s Monarch Butterfly Time!

Sr. Margaret is our resident Butterfly enthusiast.  She is especially fond of the Monarch and over the years has perfected a little garden in the front of Chapel filled with all the plants she knows will attract Monarchs, in addition to other butterflies as well.  Each year she carefully harvests the caterpillars from her garden and transfers them to a “nursery” set up in the screened Novitiate summer house.  Sometimes the caterpillars will turn into a chrysalis right on the leaves they have been busy munching.  Other times, they manage to crawl away and we will find them hanging from the the wood supports.  Those who attach to leaves are removed with their leaf and clipped to a funny looking contraption she devised and has placed on the Mother’s porch.  As the season progresses, the contraption turns into a chrysalis tree with many little green ornaments.  Very pretty to look at and easy to monitor.        IMG_0753 AA

For a few days, I have been watching one of the chrysalises which had turned very dark. This morning I could see the fully formed Monarch and I knew it was time.  I have yet to see a Monarch emerge, so today was my best chance.  I sat down and waited and read and looked and waited and read and looked.  There was no way I was going to miss seeing this happen.

Well, I missed it.  I looked away and when I looked back the Monarch was out, getting a foothold, and just beginning to pump its wings.  It happened in the blink of an eye.

IMG_0751 AA     IMG_0752 AA

Fortunately there are more chrysalises hanging on the tree so I still have more chances. Let’s hope I don’t blow the next one.  It all reminds me of the warning we read in Scripture to keep watch for we know neither the day nor the hour.


a_003Late summer could be called the ‘Season of the Spider.’  From cobwebs on otherwise clean windowsills to the beautiful orb weaving spider webs in our gardens, we’ve all got them.  Some years ago I had an industrious spider build her complex, messy web in the open light fixture over my bed.  Every morning there would be a mess up there.  It was unsightly.  I finally got a step ladder and cleaned it all up!  That night little gnats bit on me.  For a few days I had other things to think about thus leaving Mrs Spider alone.  She got back in business and I realized the gnats were not on me at night…..She had them.  Well, I called a truce.  I had a little web of work and prayer to weave each day.  She also had a daily contribution.  Peace was restored.  Lesson?  Enjoy your local spider!

[Photo by Mark Hollis of Catonsville]