by Fr. Tom Zoeller.
On January 23, 2011, when Marg was driving Joan to the bus station to begin her holidays, both were killed in a car accident.
Death is always a mystery, and when it is as sudden and as unexpected as Marg’s and Joan’s, it is even more so. But life itself is a mystery and death is a part of that. And experiencing the death of a loved one is always an invitation to move more deeply into faith, into a God whom we know but do not know, at the same time.
One of my first thoughts after we received the news of the deaths of Marg and Joan was about how much we know one another and how much we don’t know one another. Here at Madonna House, where we live with each other, there is still so much about each person that is hidden from us.
There is so much about their past, for example, the past that shaped and formed them, that we do not know. Our life here is lived so much in the here and now.
So I’ll begin with a few facts about the past. Both Joan and Marg came from Ontario—Marg from Toronto and Joan from Whitby, just east of Toronto. Marg had four brothers and a sister; Joan had seven sisters.
Before coming to Madonna House, Joan worked as an artist and art teacher; Marg did accounting and nursing. Joan came to us in the late ‘60s and Marg in the late ‘80s.
Here at Madonna House, Joan spent a few years in the handicraft department and then went to Israel and France to study icon painting. Since then, for 38 years, she has been a poustinik and iconographer.
Marg, on the other hand, did a variety of things, both here and in our houses in the Yukon and Regina. She was currently working in our archives department.
The past and the present are blended in who a person is, and the work of God goes on continually in their hearts and lives. Some of this we see; most of it remains hidden from us.
I asked myself what our two sisters had in common. One thing was that neither one of them was "flashy,"—someone you’d notice much.
In fact, each was hidden, each in her own way. Joan was physically hidden—living in poustinia. Marg, though living in the midst of the nitty-gritty life of the community, was hidden by her silence and her quiet ways.
Both our sisters were, for the most part, silent women. Both were shy, but their silence was not empty, not sterile. Often silence can be protective. It surrounds the inner integrity, the inner uniqueness of a person, and that protection, that womb if you will, is a place of growth and nurturing. Much was going on in that silence.
I don’t know how many of us would have sensed that in the silence of our sisters, Joan and Marg. So much of the time, what we mainly see in one another is the everydayness, the humanness, the difficulties we have in relating to one another.
And I don’t know how consciously either of them knew the value of her silence or had begun to understand it.
I think our two sisters were contemplatives. Each in her own way, spent time alone—Joan more obviously so in her poustinia and art studio. But Marg, too, had a love for solitude and prayer.
And both knew pain and struggle and hurt and darkness, and God worked in those, too.
Our sisters didn’t run away—not in the long run anyway. They remained faithful and the hand of God worked. You can’t live in Madonna House for twenty or forty years, you can’t remain as faithful as you can, without God doing something inside.
The quote that we have on Marg’s memorial card is: I have glorified you on earth and finished the work that you gave me to do (Jn 17:4).
On Joan’s card is: O the depth of the wisdom of God! How unsearchable his judgments and how inscrutable his ways (Rom 11:33)!
Their dying when they did, as shocking as it was to us, was within God. Nothing happens that he does not allow. The saying on Joan’s card says it all.
Even though we might not understand, we can trust and believe that God worked in their dying as well as in their living. And in some way, perhaps, he was preparing them for death.
Just before Joan died, she was working on a beautiful icon, a triptych of the Resurrection. Was that a word from God about her own life and how it was soon to end—God preparing her for her own resurrection?
And as I look back on the last 2 1/2 years of Marg’s life—I was her spiritual director after Fr. Sharkey—I can see that she was happy here.
A few years ago, she had taken a leave of absence and had wondered about this Madonna House life. But she came back and grew and became settled here. She was now rooted in this life, wanting to love and serve and live it fully.
The last number of months, sessions of spiritual direction got further and further apart. She had made a deeper surrender, and something was very peaceful in her.
I’d like to end with a quote from a poem Catherine wrote and which Marg read in a presentation at Christmastime:
"We do not know when my heart and I will find the last strange ladder that will bring us to final ecstasy and death that starts a life of endless and eternal delight."
I pray that Joan and Marg are now enjoying that eternal delight.
—Excerpted and adapted from the wake homily.
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