I can remember the Sun slicing through the gigantic, three-feet thick, sandstone window openings of our Second Theology class in Sacramental Theology on the first floor of Major Theology section at Saint Meinrad School of Theology. At the blackboard was the late Father Aiden Kavanaugh, O.S.B., writing down the words, “Mrs. Murphy,” on the blackboard. In 1963, not knowing what I did not know, much less what I should know about theology, I was just trying to stay awake on the warm Spring day in Southern Indiana. At the time, I remember thinking that his explanation of Mrs. Murphy did not make sense. Father Adrian told us to remember that liturgy was about the human heart being able to approach the unapproachable mystery of Faith through using the senses and common human experiences to share what we can share about Word and Sacrament.
Those who were fortunate to hear Father Aiden, recognize that he thought in terms of compound, complex sentences, but his keen insights into the human condition began to formulate how the Sacred informs meaning in each of us in very different ways.
Now, I am merely a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, lucky to comment about life around me and certainly not an eloquent apologist for any approach to liturgics. In this book, Mrs. Murphy looms large as an archetype of us all, an Adam and Eve for relations with the Sacred. Let me use a quote from Fr. Aidan to give you a sense of his eloquent thinking.
“The liturgical assembly is thus a theological corporation and each of its members a theologian. . . . Mrs. Murphy and her pastor are primary theologians whose discourse in faith is carried on not by concepts and propositions nearly so much as in the vastly complex vocabulary of experiences had, prayers said, sights seen, smells smelled, words said and heard and responded to, emotions controlled and released, sins committed and repented, children born and loved ones buried, and in many other ways no one can count or always account for.” (On Liturgical Theology, Chapter 7)
If I understand Father Aidan’s thinking even remotely, it is that the local church is established by Christ to enable its members to communicate and give glory to a God we cannot see, to make sense out of everyday struggles and trials with those we do see, and to find meaning and purpose with a world gone mad with its importance. By loving our neighbor as our self, within the sacramental and non-sacramental context of the local assembly, the Mystery of Faith, we find purpose, pure energy with the source of all reality, and how to love with all our hearts, our minds, and our strength. God will not leave any of us stranded or without food to sustain us on our journey. If our purpose is to be with God…Forever, then the invisible God needs some way to communicate with those who call him Lord and give them food for the journey and the ability to make all things new, over and over. The context in which we find what we need to make sense out of all of this is the local church, linked by heritage and practice to the Apostles. It is the way to touch the invisible God in our midst; it is the way we claim our adoption as God’s sons and daughters.
I think I am beginning to get what Father Aidan was proposing with the archetypal character of Mrs. Murphy, much like Genesis did with Adam and Eve. What has bothered me all these years, up to five years ago, was the concept of Mrs. Murphy. How can an old woman sit in the back of church and know more than all the theologians and clerics combined? I say five years ago because that was the time I was accepted as a novice Lay Cistercian. With the emphasis on contemplation and Lectio Divina, I found that I gradually morphed into Mrs. Murphy, at least I fancy that I did. I wasn’t worried that I had to comprehend the Mystery of Faith, only that I could approach it in humility and wait. I began to think less of knowing and more of loving through doing. As part of doing, I wrote down all my thoughts about Mrs. Murphy in 54 books and a blog to keep my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) fresh and relevant to my relationship with the Sacred. Information, Knowledge, and Science is not the end purpose of life, as St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., described in his famous quote about everything he knew about God was so much straw.
Knowledge unlocks the door to the heart, the place where no one wants to look. It is my sitting on a park bench in the dead of Winter, waiting for Christ to come by, straining to see him trudging about the bend with his pet Yellow Lab, in the hope that he will sit down next to me.
Mrs. Murphy is that every-person who has profound simplicity, the simplicity of a human approaching that which the human mind cannot control or grasp, but the human heart can partially capture. We get a glimpse of divine reality, like looking through a foggy glass. For Mrs. Murphy, and now for me, I am satisfied that Christ is my mediator between the Sacred and the world in which I live. With Christ, I access the Mystery of Faith through silence, solitude, work, prayer, in the context of my two communities of Faith. I am grateful and blessed that Father Aidan planted the seed, I watered it, but it is Christ who gives the issue. And what an issue it is.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology