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You can pre-order a copy of my reflections for Advent and Christmas 2020-21, Waiting in Joyful Hope, from Liturgical Press here.


"Michelle Francl is the guide the world needs... with her help, we can find the mystery in the quantum structure of a burning atom, the human meaning of dirty dishes, or the poetic history of dust on a desk..." - Dr. Kimberly Belcher, Prof. of Liturgical Studies, Notre Dame University

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Hildegarde of Bingen: A Practical Mystic
IHM Conference Center
12 January 2021

The Weight of Water


"The small brown bottle has been sitting, unopened, on my desk for several weeks. I should just crack the seal and down the contents. But I can’t quite bring myself to do it. After 40 years as a chemist, I can’t bring myself to drink something that comes in a reagent bottle, no matter how curious I am — or my students are — to see if I can taste any difference between heavy water and distilled water.

It began in February’s doldrums. We had discussed isotopic dilution in my honours general chemistry class, but just as class ended a hand shot up, “What would happen if you made your tea with heavy water?”, “Nothing much, I imagine. I shouldn’t even notice.” But I had to admit, I was unsure of exactly what happened if you drank far more than that and promised to find out. The answer turned out to involve three mice, two dozen goldfish, and a handful of Nobel Prize winners experimenting on themselves, not to mention purported applications to interstellar travel and the elixir of life."

See the full article in the March 2019 issue of Nature Chemistry to read my exploration of the history of heavy water and chemists' sometimes unconventional relationship with it.

Mary Magdalene  


"St. Augustine called Mary Magdalene "the apostle to the apostles" because she was sent from the garden to tell the apostles the good news. Magdala means tower in Aramaic and I find the image of Mary the Tower as a complement to Peter the Rock a potent one. The Church may be built on the rock of Peter, but Mary of Magdala ignited it with these words, "I have seen the Lord.”

Every time I hear this Gospel I wonder what happened to Mary Magdalene next.  Medieval legends say she retreated to pray in a cave in France, where she was fed by angels.  The Orthodox Christian tradition places her with Mary, the Mother of God, in Ephesus.

“Go” Jesus told Mary Magdalene in the garden. I doubt Jesus meant for her to take a walk and deliver his message to the disciples, and then vanish.  Poreuou, the Greek word translated in today’s Gospel as “go,” carries the sense of heading out on a journey. Its ultimate root is “pierced through.”  It is a call to re-order your life’s direction, to push a message out into the world despite barriers and with a piercing clarity. Go out, Jesus demands of Mary Magdalene, I want you to proclaim again and again, “I have seen the risen Lord.”

So I doubt Mary Magdalene stopped proclaiming the Good News when the disciples laughed at what they thought nonsense, to quietly retire to a cave or a small house in Ephesus. I imagine her so aflame with the Gospel that wherever she went and whoever she met she could not help but deliver the message for all ages to come, “I have seen the risen Lord.”  And I cannot imagine that Christ expects me to do anything less. "


© 2020 by Michelle Francl-Donnay.

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