About Me

My photo
Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, December 29, 2006

What I Know for Sure

Here we are about to embark on a New Year. Do we care? I think we do. We care enough to pause and reflect and watch shows about lists of people who died this year and the like. We at least think about making some resolutions to break. Or we think about how we're not going to bother making resolutions since we always break them. One or the other, if only because everyone will ask.

I'm thinking about what I know for sure.

Of course, Jesus died for my sins, an hour in Purgatory is worth sixty earth years, and the Pope is infallible.

I'm not talking about those things.

I'm talking about things like singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" all the way through when you wash your hands, otherwise your hands are not really clean. I mentioned this the other day and some readers told me they tell people to sing the "Alphabet Song". They went so far as to say they thought it was better because it may be a little longer.

Here's what I know for sure. Those two songs are exactly the same length because....brace yourselves....they are the SAME SONG. Seriously, wake up people.

So is "Baa, Baa Black Sheep", but before the nit-pickers show up, to make it long enough you have to repeat the beginning of that one at the end again, up to the 'three bags full" part.

One of my readers suggested saying the "Hail Mary" while washing hands. Fine. But say two. Better yet, an Act of Contrition. Remember, an hour in Purgatory is worth sixty earth years.

I only know a few things for sure. Those three songs are the same song. Aloe vera works better on burns than anything else ever and one more thing: If you blow your nose in a cotton hankie, you can blow it seven thousand times in a row and it will never get sore. I was told this amazing fact by a woman who was at one time my mother's next door neighbor, Bert. Bert gave me this gem when she was eighty years old and ironically, by the time Bert left us for her heavenly reward of cottony clouds, she had no nose to speak of due to skin cancer from her youthful days as a tennis star before the age of sun block. Anyhow, Bert told me somberly that your nose will always get sore when blowing in tissue, because no matter how much lotion they stick in it, you are still blowing your nose on hunks of wood.

I spent years testing Bert's theory. It's no theory. I know for sure that if you blow your nose in cotton, it will never get sore.

Bert, by the way, lived to be 108 years old. After she died I have since been fascinated with the idea that she had told me her useful information 28 years ago...when she was 80. If only I had thought to ask her what she knew for sure, besides the hankie thing.

Many people now days are loath to use a cotton hankie because they want to throw their germs away on the Kleenex. Fine. Have a sore nose. I will use a cotton hankie, have a comfortable nose and wash my hands while singing one of three songs that have the same tune and are the same length. I will end with an Act of Contrition in case my germs were spread before I got to a faucet.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Nose to the Grindstone

Back to the grind.

As much of a Christmas maniac as I am, my very favorite day is the day after Christmas. It is my only day off all year. School is out. Leftovers abound. There is candy laying around.

These things are also true of the day after Thanksgiving, but I don't take that day off. And although there are plenty of leftovers and some pie the day after Thanksgiving, the day after Christmas has one more perk: there is always something to play with.

Mrs. Morris gave me a laminating machine. I don't know what I'll laminate. But look out, I'll be laminating everything. You could be next.

Mrs. Andrews gave us some plastic boxes in which to store our saint medals. Sister St. Aloysius busied herself sorting.

Sister Mary Fiacre ate See's Candy from Mrs. Gott. I haven't checked to see how much she got through. If there's anything left I'll laminate it.

We had a lovely Christmas day looking at the twinkling lights and listening to the children sing at Mass. The eighth grade boys get to do the bass "puddly pum" part of "The Little Drummer Boy" and they are very proud because their voices have changed. Some of them, anyhow. Some are still Vienna Boys Choir material for another year or so. At any rate it's about the only time of year the eighth grade boys are enjoyable. The rest of the year their company perpetually attains penance rating. "For your penance, hang around the eighth grade boys for a couple of hours."

I also received a 'gag' gift. I am well known for asking people who leave the room with no explanation and shortly return if they have washed their hands. Some anonymous person left me one of those "EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS" placards with a note that said "from Teddy". I suspect it was Sister St. Aloysius. Teddy doesn't have any money. Teddy took the day off, too. Here he is under the tree.

By the way, when you wash your hands while you've left the room for a short time, you should sing "Twinkle, twinkle little star" while you do it. The whole song, not just that one phrase, otherwise you're hands will not really be clean. This is for all you people who slide their hands under the faucet for two seconds....'twinkle, twinkle'....you're out of there. This will not do.

Today we are all back at our routines with a few added responsibilities, like watering the 2 million poinsettias that are placed around the altar without getting water on the carpet. We are taking Sister Mary Fiacre with us to the church and parking her next to the manger scene. I think she scared a poor old lady who imagined she was one of the wise men for a second there. That woman should have realized it's not time for the wise men yet.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone! Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Nine lords are leaping, eight maids are milking, seven swans are swimming, six geese are laying....

There were seven geese but we're having one for dinner!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Prison Break

I normally don't see television during the day, but Sister St. Aloysius leaves the TV on a lot for Sister Mary Fiacre to keep her amused. If I see anything that is on during the day it is because, for reasons known only to her, Sister St. Aloysius has taped something for me.

This week she taped Martha Stewart's new program which is on every morning. Martha Stewart is the only person I've ever encountered who is as excited about Christmas as I am...any person over age seven, I should say. She is excited in a way that is..........disturbing.

Years ago I saw her Christmas spectacular...special would not be a special enough word. She had her whole extended family pounding tin, gluing glitter, gathering twigs to tie together and glue glitter on and poke into styrofoam to make giant wreaths, building a gigantic gingerbread house out of actual gingerbread and then making spun sugar for the window glass. And that was just the decorating part. There was also a home made gift part that included making those buckwheat pillows and cut work cards and tatting. Tin snips were involved. There was also a cooking part in which she mentioned that years ago she challenged her daughter, who was a child at the time, to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie, the poor kid, although the child managed to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie at some point.

It went on an on. I felt really sorry for her family, I recall. And of course, I felt inadequate, which I think is Martha's Stewart's ultimate goal in life: to make everyone else feel inadequate.

To be fair to me, where I grew up elves did all that stuff, working all week behind the sheets over the living room doorways, including making the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

Anyhow, the reason Sister St. Aloysius taped this particular episode is that Mrs. Stewart was going to show her creche. You have to know it wasn't going to come in a box from K-Mart (yet).
You have to assume that Mrs. Stewart would have made her own creche out of heaven knows what....twigs, coffee cans, molded sand with each grain counted for numeralogical significance....maybe she tatted them.

They were ceramic. Kind of dull, really. Beautiful ceramic work! Dull color. Brown like weak tea with milk in it. The whole thing, each piece, all that ooky brown. It was huge. It took up a whole table. For example, she had made each wise man AND each camel. No wise man ON a camel to save time.

It's turns out she should have tried to save some time.

Because the thing that was oddly disturbing about the whole scene was how she introduced it. "I made this while I was at blah-de blah, " she said cheerily. We didn't really catch the name, assuming it was some exotic vacation spot or ceramics sanctuary where only people like Mrs. Stewart are welcomed.

It soon became clear she was talking about prison. She made the whole thing while she was in prison. If she had said "in" instead of "at" we may have figured it out more quickly. As it was our jaws were dropping. The studio audience giggled uncomfortably.

Now, I don't necessarily think Mrs. Stewart should hang her head in shame about her jail bird past. She did her time. Some people believe she was scape goated. Whatever.

It took me several days to figure out why the whole thing disturbed me.

Two things: I didn't care for the creche. It looked like it was made from food and any minute we would be asked to bite the heads off the shepherds. Mrs. Stewart's mother was in the audience and when Mrs. Stewart asked her mother, "What do you think, Mom?" Her mother made a face like she had just smelled the mouse Teddy left under the night stand last summer.


Mrs. Stewart got special treatment to make the unattractive creche. Telling us that the giant Nativity set took many hours to make, she happily explained that at the Big House they were only allowed one hour a week to do ceramics and she had 'begged' for more time in the ceramics room because she was an expert ceramicist. She must have known, even then, that she needed to time to make the big thing to put on her show and later sell knock- offs of it at K-Mart.

Some prison. Although I'm sure Mrs. Stewart has learned her lesson, which is the whole point. Still, if I tell a student to go stand in the corner, I don't give him fun project to do while he's there. I want him to think about his sin. And if he doesn't think about his sin, I at least want him to be bored and miserable enough to not do whatever it was ever again. If he comes out of there with a giant ceramic creche, complete with sheep and cows and palm trees (yes, there were palm trees but they were not ceramic) I've done something terribly wrong.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

CoinStar Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like a CoinStar Christmas! Today we went through all the coats and cushions for change. Back when I lived in Chicago coats and sweaters were always good to cough up a buck or two that had been languishing in a pocket since last winter. We had a clothes dryer once that broke down. When the repair man came he took of the bottom front of it...who knew that came off?...and cleaned out the impossibly clogged up lint trap. It yielded two whole potholders, a sock, some guitar picks (we had a hootenanny nun residing with us at that place), a hankie, a rosary, a laminated holy card of St. Gertrude the patron saint of rats and cats, and $125. You read that right. One hundred and twenty-five dollars. The dryer paid for it's own repair and bought dinner for five. Nun dinner....we eat like birds...except for Sister Mary Fiacre. She would eat like a whale left to her own devices.

Here on the West Coast we don't have all the winter gear going on to hide money from ourselves. We found a dollar in one sweater and some change here and there. Discouraging.

We have a plan.

We're going to take all the money we can round up and go to the grocery store. We'll buy a gift certificate or two...depending on what we manage to round up and we'll push ourselves in front of some family that can use a little help with the grocery money, which is just about any family if we choose the right store. Everyone will let us cut in. Nun perks. We have them saved up for just this occasion. Usually we let everyone go ahead of us. It drives people crazy to not let us go ahead of them and it drives us crazy to go ahead of anybody. The whole shopping event makes for some great Purgatory sacrifices all around. Especially when we have a truck load of coupons. You could really get some souls out of Purgatory is you are behind us on coupon shopping day. But we'll try to let you get ahead of us.

Where was I?

Right. We cut ahead of some family, our hearts pounding, and we give the gift certificate to the checker and tell her to use it for the family behind us, please. Then we high tail it out of there before anyone's the wiser. Which means we can't take Sister Mary Fiacre with us.

We can hardly wait. Like the singing chipmunks.

So the challenge is on to find more change. We've put some money aside here and there so all is not lost. We were just hoping the house was hiding some more loot. We haven't looked behind things yet or under things...or in the front of the dryer, now that I know that thing comes off..or shaken Sister Mary Fiacre by her ankles. We won't really do that. We don't really go to the CoinStar machine with the change, either. How lazy do you have to be not to count your own change? We want the family to have the money, not the executives of CoinStar.

Who would have thought that would catch on anyhow? Some smart cookie actually guessed that people would become so lazy they would pay a machine to count their change for them. If someone had come to me with that idea I would have told them it was the stupidest idea I'd ever heard, especially since I would also assume that people who are gathering up their change need every dime. Oh well. Shows you what I know. (Besides the fact that Jesus died for our sins.)

You are free, dear readers, to steal our plan and implement yourselves. We'd love to hear from you if you do. Don't get caught!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Secrets of Nuns Revealed

I don't get very far in the newspaper
on any given day. I start with the obituaries, as I have mentioned, then I read the editorial section, which gives me a pretty good overview of what's going on. Then I start in with the front page to we know what to pray for. I never have to read very far for that!

So it's unusual that I would get deep enough into the newspaper to stumble across the story of how some scientists took a bunch of college students and blinded folded them and muffed their ears, then put down a scent of chocolate something or another and made them get down on all fours and track the scent like a bunch of bloodhounds. Turns out, they were very good at it. Very good indeed. No one failed, even when the course zig zagged or split. Turns out the students all used the same technique a bloodhound does, moving their heads back and forth across the scent path. (Their ears and the folds of their faces did not help them. Maybe when they get older. You know your ears keep growing. Some of you know all about the folds.)

I would have liked to have seen that!

The scientists came to the conclusion that if people have to use their noses like a bloodhound they can. They need both nostrils to do it. If one is blocked up, people can't find a bird in a barrel. Nothing tastes good either, if you can't smell it. The test subjects couldn't tell beef from chicken. Everything didn't even taste like chicken. Finally!

This information might come in handy if you have a wedding to pay for. If you can just think of a way to block the guests noses before the reception, you could save a bundle serving up hash shaped like fillet mignon. No one would be the wiser.

I wish someone had a video tape of those students tracking the scent through the weeds on all fours! Boy, would I love to see that!

Don't start complaining about scientific research and the money that is wasted! The Army paid for it. They want to figure out how the nose works so they can make a robot nose to sniff out land mines. At least that's what they said. Who knows what they want to sniff out, really?

By the way, the bloodhound was invented by St. Hubert, that patron saint of hunters and metalworkers. St. Hubert was an avid hunter. One day while hunting he heard a voice tell him hunting was a big fat waste of time when there were souls to be saved. A deer appeared in the woods with a crucifix between it's antlers. St. Hubert took the message seriously. He was especially good at talking pagans into melting down their idols, which is why he is the patron saint of metal workers. And some where in there he invented bloodhounds, who are especially good at tracking because they store scents in the folds of their faces, giving peach faced college students a run for their money.

You should personally be happy about this research because it will answer an age old question about how Sister knew you were talking even though her back was turned.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

the Light of the World

I am in a quandary
about our Christmas lights. In my Christmas mania, I always want to have the decorations up during the week before Christmas, especially the lights, so I can enjoy them as the holiday approaches.

This is, of course, exactly the wrong thing to do. What I want and what needs to happen are almost always at odds. I can handle it. I'm a nun.

It's fine for you and your children if you want to light your house like a UFO just landed for the entire month of December, but for me, a person who has a moral obligation to guide, I must restrain myself.

The whole point of having lights at all at Christmas time is because Jesus is the light of the world. And the whole point of having Christmas in December instead of the springtime when He was actually born is to show the Light coming back into the world.

The Church now believes that Jesus was born in the spring because the shepherds were out in the fields with their flocks. Rumor has it the shepherds don't do that in the winter. Also, people wouldn't have been asked to travel for a census in the winter. Unless they were trying to get rid of a few people so they wouldn't have to count so high.

And I don't think I'm telling you there is no Santa Claus when I mention that there was a big old pagan holiday that the early Christians glommed onto to keep the flock happy. The History Channel let fly with that little bomb years ago. It's okay. It was a stupendously good idea. Folding the pagan holiday into a Christian one brought us a lot of Christmas goodies like the tree and the yule log. It all worked out beautifully for everyone since the timing had the wonderful symbolic meaning of the shortest darkest days giving way to longer days again.

That was a smooth move.

So it is just wrong to put our Christmas lights on before the big day, which leaves me only a week of Christmas lights as I can't handle having the Christmas decorations around until the Epiphany. By then everything just looks so saggy, the opposite of what it all stands for.

Sister St. Aloysius and I keep up the manage scene, both at home and at the Church until the Magi arrive. We have to watch out that no one does anything to the Church Nativity scene. Every since I saw that episode of Dragnet where the Baby Jesus is stolen from the church and Joe Friday is so disgusted but it turns out it's a young Mexican boy who asked the Baby Jesus for a wagon for Christmas and got the wagon and took the Baby Jesus out for a ride, I have been nervous about people disturbing the manger scene. You don't know what people will do these days. I saw in the news just today that someone took the light up Baby Jesus out of an old man's front yard manger scene and replaced it with a beer can. Ho. Ho. Ho. How funny will it be when they are burning in Purgatory, I wonder?

Sister St. Aloysius does like to keep adding sheep the whole time at home. We can't do that in the church. The sheep are too big. Anyway it's very symbolic, but I think she just likes the sheep. After New Year's extra sheep are about all I can deal with.

I will have to content myself with driving around a bit at night to take in the lights. I especially enjoy those houses which are decorated to within an inch of their lives, a phenomena I call "wretched excess". My favorite are the people who go stark raving mad and put up an entire lit up manger scene AND the light up Nutcracker with a Santa on the roof AND Christmas stars AND snowmen AND anything else they could find on e-bay that has a light bulb inside it. With music. Don't tell Al Gore that they are over their Co2 limit or whatever that is.

I don't mind that some of it is 'secular'. Nothing is secular at Christmas. Why do we buy gifts? Because the shepherds and the wise men bought gifts. Why do we have a tree? Because it's an evergreen tree that shows that Jesus is always with us. The Nutcracker was a Christmas gift, a tradition that celebrates Jesus. Santa having a Coke is just a saint who enjoys a soft drink now and again. It's all good. With an angel on top.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Feast of St. Lucy

Last year Sister St. Aloysius started wearing those drug store eyeglasses so she could read the paper and ever since, every day, we have to look for her eyeglasses. We tried putting them on a chain around her neck, like normal people, but she gets them tangled in everything, in particular the seat belt in the car. We lost several pairs before we realized that every time she clicked the button to release the seat belt the glasses went flying. We found them on Sister Mary Fiacre in the back seat. Not on her face. That would have been really comical, in a sad way.

Most of the time when the eyeglasses are "lost" they are on Sister St. Aloysius' head, because she only needs them to read, unlike me. I become Ray Charles without my glasses. She flips them up there and then flips them back down like she's welding or something. The "they're on top of your head" phenomena happens so much that she's finally learned just to check the top of her head when her eyeglasses are MIA.

So you can imagine my amusement when she powered through the house yesterday looking for her eyeglasses again. I could see them plainly. I asked her if she checked on her head and she said of course she did it's the first place she checks. She was looking over the top of them. They were right on her face. I didn't say anything. I figured she'd find them eventually.

Today is the feast day of St. Lucy, patron saint of eye problems and drug store glasses. St. Lucy was a holy girl who wanted to remain chaste but her mother promised her to a local pagan boy. St. Lucy wanted to show the boy she was serious about her vows of chastity and her Christian faith so she cured him of some internal bleeding problem he was having. He let her go on the marriage situation but turned her in to the authorities on the Christian thing.

It seems the vow of chastity really ranckled the pagans. They are forever torturing young chaste girls: St. Agnes, St Agatha, St. Barbara, St. Dymphna...the list is endless. They have their own category, "Virgin Martyrs".

Lucy was no exception. The pagans tried to throw her into a brothel, but her feet stuck to the floor. They tried to burn her but the fire wouldn't touch her. Finally, they stabbed her in the throat with a big sword. That always works.

I've always wondered about that. Since the sword always works when other methods fail, why didn't the virgin martyrs throats turn to stone? St. Agnes' hair miraculously grew to cover her, there was the girl who miraculously grew a beard, St. Cecelia survived being steamed to death in her own sauna...St. Lucy could not be moved even by oxen. Why not a suddenly really hard neck? Oh well. Hence the 'martyr' part.

Anyhow, somewhere in there St. Lucy lost her eyes. There are various versions of how this occurred. In one, it's just part of the torture. But some versions have Lucy plucking them out herself when her erstwhile fiance resurfaces. He admires her beautiful eyes so she gives them to him. I think Vincent Van Gogh had the same idea with his ear.

As a result, St. Lucy is depicted in art holding a small plate with her eyeballs on it and down through the ages as the story was forgotten many people didn't realize what was on the plate and, when reproducing the art, painted olives on the plate.

St. Lucy is the saint of which the gondeliers sing: "Santa Lucia! (don't eat the olives!)"

In Scandinavia St. Lucy's feast day is the big kick off to Christmas, since "lucy" means "light". The youngest girl dresses in a white dress with a red sash (virgin/martyr) and a lingonberry head wreath and wakes the family up with a tray of coffee and St. Lucy cats, a kind of pastry.

I thought maybe Ikea would have jumped on this, since candles are a huge part of the St. Lucy celebration, but they ignore it all together. After all the "Happy Holidays" fuss at Walmart, I should think Ikea would jump on the 'we love Christmas' bandwagon and crack out St. Lucy, claiming her as their own, even though she was Italian.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Nun Math

More from our readers:
I was wondering (and too lazy to read all the previous posts and comments...), to what order do you belong? What can you tell me about your community? Is it just the three of you?
Also (and this is part of the reason for the above questions, the other part being curiosity), please pray for me. I'm trying to figure out what the Man wants me to do (we're thinking convent, but He's not been really clear about the details yet). :)
Thanks and God bless.

If you are too lazy to read all the other posts, perhaps the religious life is not for you. Just a thought.

I try to void answering personal questions as we don't want people trying to track us down and give us money. (We could use money, really. We barely make ends meet. But believe me, there are people who need it more so if you're moved to charity, find some people who really need it.)

But I'd like to tell you a little about how we came to be in the situation we find ourselves on behalf of the world of nuns, such as it is. We are typical.

We are a teaching order but our numbers are dwindling so there are not enough of us to go around. Our little Catholic school had two nuns, Sister Mary Fiacre and I, and when I came here Sister Mary Fiacre was well into her seventies. We live in a little house. It has a tiny deck and garden, which is like paradise to us.

One year, maybe five years after I showed up, all of the children in Sister Mary Fiacre's class failed math. She taught seventh and eighth graders. Their grades weren't too swift in other subjects either, but the math was particularly glaring. Sister Mary Fiacre 'retired' from teaching and while she was still able, worked around the school doing whatever. She was always great fun during the holiday preparations of any kind, from preparing the little ones for first Communion
( I guess that's not a holiday...I think of it as a holiday, just as stressful but with a great pay off....) or Crowning the May Queen or whatever.

That lasted for about three years and then she was just too dotty to leave alone with the children. She went on 'house' duty.

Meanwhile her replacement showed up. Sister St. Aloysius fresh from the convent, anxious to get to work and a genuis (seriously) at math, took on the seventh and eight grade in math to repair the damage done by the of the end of Sister Mary Fiacre's teaching career and the seventh grade for her everyday class.

Sister St. Aloysius had spent her summers in think tanks and universities when she wasn't in school herself. The band of brothers and gaggle of girls that comprises the seventh and eighth grades were.....a change of pace....for her. Like going from librarian to cage match, like going from bird watching to aerial dog fights, like a honey bee in a hornet's nest.

Sweet, sweet children.

She managed to get through a year of that. The next year she only taught math. The next year we decided we needed her to watch out for Sister Mary Fiacre and when Sister Mary Fiacre started to stay at home, so did Sister St. Aloysius. I'm not sure she can so much as enter the school. Even if the children are singing "Silent Night". She knows they don't mean it.

So that's the deal. The three of us live on my teaching salary.

Our situation is not uncommon.

Today in America there are approximately 80,000 nuns (if we round up and not down). Only about 6000 of us are under age 70. Most of the other 76,000 do not receive Social Security because we never paid into it. There were always young nuns to care for the elderly ones and always lots of young nuns compared to the number of old. No more. Do I need Sister St. Aloysius to come over and tell what these numbers really mean?

It means send a check to the order that taught you. Right now.

It means the three of us live in this house together on my teaching salary and we take care of Sister Mary Fiacre ourselves. My best hope is that after Sister Mary Fiacre is gone, one day I'll just fall over dead, no muss no fuss, and Sister St. Aloysius' brain, what's left of it by then, can go back to it's full function.

Did you know, Dear Reader, that you can go online and be a virtual nun? Obviously recruitment into the religious life needs all the help it can get so many orders have websites that allow you to play nun on line, and then go for a visit for the real thing to help you decide! I'm not joking!

I think we should go down to the mall and park ourselves next to the Marines. Think they would share a space? Let us put up a card table?

Friday, December 08, 2006

At least when I do my St. Nicholaus day 'thing' here at home, I don't have to run anywhere or make anybody else run anywhere. Sister St. Aloysius and Sister Mary Fiacre know it's me so I can save my heart rate in case I should have to flee terrorists on an orange alert day. I make a little something for them and try to leave it somewhere that will surprise them during their day.

I started out doing it the old fashioned way, getting up just a little earlier or waiting until they were asleep the night before and putting a gift in their shoes. That worked great until we got Teddy. Then they got a pile of ripped up something or another next to their shoes mixed in with hairballs. The kind that come from inside the cat.

Now I have to be more cagey like some old cop who knows the crooks routines so he can find them when he needs to shake them down for information.

Sister Mary Fiacre is easy. Her routine never varies and if I don't put it right under her nose, she'll miss it altogether anyhow. I can just drop it in her lap. Talk about not knocking and running! She's so distracted by something dropping in her lap, she forgets all about me. I could light myself on fire.

Last year, knowing her love of marshmellows, I made little marshmellow snowmen, but she ate the sequins I used for eyes when she shoveled them in her mouth. I tried using M& M's but they fell off, so I can't even make the marshmellows into anything. Life has a way of dwindling down to some very basic things when you're old. I did dye this year's marshmellow's with food coloring so they were festive. It's the thought that counts.

I could have just put them in her lap. She would have been so excited by the marshmellows that she would have forgotten my existence instantly, as I mentioned. I tried to think of a way to have some element of surprise and wonder.

So I went behind her and lobbed them over her shoulder one at a time, so to her they just kept appearing. I sang "Thirty-Two Feet and Eight Little Tails" while I did it. That's such a cheery song. Great fun for all.

The first one startled her quite a bit. Maybe the fact that it was red threw her. Not for long, though. I waited until she was completely finished with it before I lobbed the next one. Great fun. The whole event took at least twenty minutes.

Teddy got one that bounced out but he never ate it. He just spent about a half an hour killing it. It wasn't very festive looking when he was done with it.

But Sister St. Aloysius was a real challenge. You never know what she's going to do, just when you think you've got her pegged. Will she say her rosary in the garden because it's cold out there and she wants to offer it up? Or will she say her rosary in the bathroom so she can concentrate?
That type of thing.

So it turned out that she had a plan to go dust in the church. So I put her gift, which is a glow in the dark rosary, so she can spot it when it's her turn to get up in the middle of the night with Sister Mary Fiacre, in her cleaning pail so she'll find it at some point while she's cleaning. What know one told me is that Mrs. Morris is meeting her there.

Of course Mrs. Morris found the rosary. Now probably thinks Sister St. Aloysius is just a careless nun, dropping her rosaries in cleaning buckets and Sister St. Aloysius doesn't know what a rosary that isn't hers or any one else's is doing in there. I don't want to make her feel bad that she blew my surprise. Sister St. Aloysius gave Sister Mary Fiacre the rosary. Sister St. Aloysius must think I forgot all about St. Nicholaus day. For once. Maybe she's relieved.

Next year I will have to be more clever.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I'm so sorry I wasn't able to give everyone a heads up about yesterday, St. Nicholaus day! I was too busy celebrating.

I am a Christmas maniac. St. Nicholaus day is like the opening kick-off for me.

Yes, I feel a little guilty that the beginning of Advent doesn't give me the same jolt. What can I say? That "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel" song is dreary. It has the words "captive" and "exile" and "mourns" in it. I know it also has the word 'rejoice' in it, but only after that dreary tune and the words "captive" and "mourns".

I come from a long line of Christmas maniacs.

When I was a little girl my mother would put a sheet up over the door of the living room for an entire week. The room was off limits, we lived in the kitchen. It was very, very exciting. In later years we actually watched television in the kitchen during that week! Unheard of!

Why did she brick up the living room? Because Santa was in there! Not every second, but according to her, on and off all week, getting things ready. And boy oh boy on Christmas morning it looked like Santa and his elves had been in there all week.

But before that, on December 6th, weeks before the room was sealed off, in the dusk of evening and never quite when we expected it even though we had waited all day for it, a thundering pounding came on the front door. No matter how fast we ran, we could never catch the elf or St. Nick out there. But there would be a small gift for each of us there in the porch light.

I know there are some sour people out there, who probably love the song "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel", who would argue that children should not be putting their faith in Santa and elves and toys in the moonlight.

To them I say, leave me alone and go sing to your Gregorian Chant records.

Here's what I got out of my maniac Christmas family's shenanigans: they loved us enough to do all that to make a magical time for us.

So as an adult I have to pass that on. Nothing could stop me.

Although...when I was a young nun and had a room full of wiggling seven year olds and I asked them if they weren't excited that it was nearly St. Nicholaus day and got blank stares because the tradition apparently had died out or they weren't all Germans like the people in the town where I grew up, I took it upon myself to give them the thrill.

For several days I mentioned that St. Nick would come and pound on our classroom door on December the 6th and leave a treat for everyone.

On the big day I reminded them several times that at some point we might hear a loud knock on our classroom door and if we ran fast enough maybe we could catch that jolly old elf, St. Nick. There would be candy!

I had procured a box of Tootsie Roll Pops to stick out there. They're so cheery and colorful. There was enough so the children could take some home to their St. Nicholaus deprived siblings (all nine or ten of them). I had arranged for an eighth grade boy leave the box and pound on the door and high tail it out of there. It didn't occur to me that he wouldn't have had to run at all but just stroll nonchalantly by. He probably got a charge out of being able to run in the halls. Just this once.

Anyhow, it all went off without a hitch. I waited until the day was almost over so there wouldn't be candy chaos. We didn't know about sugar highs back then, but we weren't stupid. They can't eat candy in school. If they start eating candy in school what's next? Crack cocaine and New Math, that's what. I would slide St. Nick in just before it was time to say their Act of Contrition before school's end. Maybe we would even skip the Act of Contrition today! We could start with one tomorrow!

So there came the big pounding at the door and I think I said something like, "Oh children! It's St. Nick! Run! Run to catch him!" It took me a second to realize that not only had no one budged, they were sitting there with their eyes like saucers, not in childish wonder, but in mortal terror that if they ran to the door they would see an elf.

It had never occurred to me as a child that if I actually saw the elf that that would be really scary, although it makes perfect sense to me now. If I saw an elf I would be terrified. Really, wouldn't you be? Think about it. Yeesh.

( I don't think I've ever mentioned it here, but I have a fear of the Good Year Blimp and the St. Louis Arch. To me, seeing both of those things are like seeing an elf.)

There they sat. I ran to the door and looked for the elf. The eighth grader had made a clean get away, God love him. The second graders sat firm.

"Look, children! The elf has been here!" I oozed. I thought they could still catch on to some of the magic if they could at least see the box that had been left there by the magical scary person. But I quickly surmised that they were terrified enough that the elf might be lurking in the doorway of the first graders room and jump out at them if they came over to look.

So I dragged the box in. They enjoyed the candy. I hope all the extras they took actually went home to their siblings and not as a stash to keep in their school bags to eat later while they worked on New Math.

I never did that again.

But I do it here and to whomever I can get away with doing it to every year. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Well, I hope you're all happy that you've given me a three day long headache. I know I am. Woo- hoo! It has occurred to me to start drinking so I would have some fun before I have a three day long headache. I do love a nip in the eggnog.

Perhaps I can explain the sin and suffering on the cross connection if we walk through the events that caused sin to be taken away but why we still suffer for the reparation of sins. I thought I had done a bang up job of it already but apparently not.

Before I begin, if you are not a Catholic and you persist in the notion that if it's not in the scripture it's not real, or you just read the Bible on your own and this is what you've come up with for what it all means, you're wrong. If you are Catholic and this is what you think, go be a Lutheran. I hear they have great coffee klatches in the church basement.

Here's what happened:

Jesus dies on the cross. The gates of Heaven, which had been closed since the sin of Adam ("Adam" which actually means 'mankind'), are opened.

In fact, while Jesus was dead--and he was really dead--he went to Hell. It wasn't actually Hell, like where Satan lives, it was the Limbo of the Fathers, because before Jesus died on the cross nobody could go to heaven. The gates were closed. Jesus went and got Noah and Abraham and Moses and took them all to heaven.

I've always wondered what happened to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nothing good, I imagine.

Then Limbo was closed. It closed because it was empty. Then it reopened again for all the little unbaptized babies and the Aborigines. Then it closed again in 1969. It's gone now, like drive-in movie theaters and rotary phones. Gone for good. There are some people who still argue that there must be a Limbo. Tell them to stop it.

I'll tell them: Knock it off.

So Jesus made it possible for everyone to go to heaven by dying for all our sins. He opened the gates of heaven.

It is up to you to actually put on your shoes and walk in there.

If that wasn't the case then there really wouldn't be a Purgatory, or a hell for that matter, or a need for confession or Last Rites...oh wait...we don't call it that any more do we? Scared the pants off too many old folks on the brink, maybe actually pushed them off the brink.....
I think of it as going through Customs, but they don't call it that either. Now they call it "Anointing of the Sick", so there's some hope there that you might get better.

If this isn't the case you can throw out your scapular and use your rosary to tie the bread bag shut.

I'll give up my habit since there's no use for me. I'll dump Sister Mary Fiacre into the drink, since Jesus already paid for that sin, and Sister St. Aloysius and I will take all the money out of the St. Vincent de Paul box in the back of the church since it's on Jesus' sin dime and go to Vegas. Sister St. Aloysius is a genius mathametician--did I ever tell you that?-- and should be great at card counting and odds and the like. And gambling isn't even really a sin. We'll drink and smoke and wear mini-skirts, which might actually KILL someone who saw me in that. But who cares. Jesus loves me. He passed through customs for me 2000 years ago.

Two things you really need to remember:
1. Don't go digging around in the Bible on your own. Why?

What did the angels say to the shepherds when they came to tell them Jesus had been born? Most people would answer, "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men."

Easy Breezy Lemon Squeezy.

But that's not what they said. That's what Luther changed it into.

What the angels actually said was , "Peace on Earth to Men of Good Will." (To men who will put their shoes and socks on and start walking toward that open gate.)

2. There are things that we can't understand. They are called, "Sacred Mysteries".

"Sacred Mystery" is Catholic for "Let it Go."

Either let it go, or...hope you like coffee.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sin Tax

More questions for our dear readers:

From Toltec:
I am confused about all the suffering by different parties (saints, living church members, the dead in purgatory, etc.) as reparation for sin. How does the suffering of Jesus figure into all this?

Yep. This is why I didn't want to open this can of worms. Before I try to answer let me give you some advice. Offer up your suffering and let heaven sort it out. Think of it like giving money to a giant charity or political party. You send it in and they figure out how to use it. Except in heaven 95% of your suffering won't go to pay staff members and rent an office.

As for your question, I'm assuming what you mean here, what you are poking at but don't have the nerve to say outright, is, "Didn't Jesus already pay for all of the sins of the world by dying on the cross? Isn't the debt paid in full?" (so I can just go my merry way and go to heaven no matter what I do because I believe Jesus already paid for my sins....nice try....)

And the simple answer is, just the one debt of Original Sin. The rest of the sins are owned at operated by the individuals who commit them, giving new meaning to the idea of 'sin tax.'

The actual answer is much more complex and will give us all a headache that we can then offer up. I can feel my jaw tensing already. Hooray!

Let's take a trip to the world of suffering, suffering saints and Jesus on the cross. What fun.

First we have suffering in general, which is inescapable here on Earth. You don't even have to leave your house. You can crack your head on the upper self while dusting the lower one. You can get a massive shock after taking the clothes out of the dryer and touching the on switch to the computer. You can trip over the cat, drop your entire lunch all over the floor and down the front of yourself while the cat manages to dig it's claws into the back of your heal in a panic. Later you will find a hairball that didn't come from the outside of the cat. You can fully expect more of the same tomorrow.

Offer this stuff up for the souls in Purgatory. Maybe heaven will cash it in for the reparation of sin, but I doubt it. If for some reason this doesn't sit right with you, don't offer it up for the souls in Purgatory or anything else. But let it all go anyhow because if you can suffer the small things with grace you will be more capable to suffer what life really has in store for you with more strength. Even the Buddhists get that.

Then we have real suffering: nasty disease, getting cut in half by a train, sucked up in a tornado and dropped on your head so you don't remember your family any more (although some would welcome that opportunity for it's own sake). Here's where you can do some real good for the souls in Purgatory, which, by the way has everything to do with the reparation of sins.

Moving on, the suffering of the saints which includes what we just talked about but which also has a whole other dimension. You really don't hear too much discussion about this, so I'm a little reticent to bring it up. I'm just going to say it and then we're just going to move on, okay? Sometimes the saints punished themselves for thinking about (and so they would stop thinking about)...sex. It seems there was often an ongoing battle. I think it's why they invented hair shirts.

There I've said it. Now let's drop it.

Meanwhile, your stigmata saints so identify with the suffering of Jesus on the cross that they manifest the wounds, which is not fun.

Here comes the headache part: It's not like, I sin over here, and Padre Pio suffers over there (although it is EXACTLY like that). It's more like Padre Pio identifies with the sacrifice Jesus made and wants to emulate Him as closely as possible. Jesus loves me so much he suffered and died for me. I sin ( over and over, in fact). I have some punishment coming. Padre Pio loves me like Jesus does and would like to trade places with me and take my punishment for whatever I have coming, and like Jesus, would like to suffer and die for my sins. Padre Pio's prayers are answered and he is allowed to do just that. Isn't that nice?

Say thank you. I never see Padre Pio listed in the drippy lists of things we are thankful for at Thanksgiving.

If the whole thing still bothers you, forget it. You don't have to offer up your sufferings. We strongly suggest you do, but you can skip it, Lazy.

But to me that seems like those people who drive everywhere when they could walk. Two blocks to the 7/11. A block to mail a letter. There's no law about driving everywhere but, come on. Walk. And as long as your walking you could do yourself a favor and carry those little hand weights or a couple of cans of tomato juice (which is heavier than any other kind of juice, even the juice blends). Since you're walking you might as well add strength.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I feel a headache coming on. Here's today's can of worms, brought to us by our readers:

From KatDee:
(regarding St. Rose of Lima) But it always seemed to me that rubbing one's face with pepper and wearing a crown of thorns was self-aggrandizing; as if to say, "Look how holy I am! I'm suffering!"; after all, didn't Jesus say the hypocrites do as much? And aren't our bodies a gift from God that we're supposed to take good care of?

The thing is, KatDee, the saints weren't self-aggrandizing. They were very, very sneaky about their suffering. They wore spikes under their clothes and tried not to limp so no one would know they had tuberculosis in their hips.

St. Rose of Lima was aware that if her beauty caused boys to have...bad thoughts...she was causing them to sin, which by the way, is a sin on her. Somebody needs to explain this to Brittany Spears, post haste. I bring this up when I'd rather soak my brain in Palmolive dish soap than even mention it, because it's pertinent to our other two questions:

from Mikala:
I think I remember a saint who wrote that it is possible to live out some of your purgatory before death...I can't remember exactly who, maybe St. Catherine? Is this called being a penitent? or a "victim soul"?

from Alexa:
I think being a "victim soul" is for OTHER peoples' time in purgatory, not your own...but correct me if I'm wrong - and I'm sure Sister will.

I have a sense that God doesn't deal with measuring out much except justice.

I forgot all about "victim souls". I suppose it's good to be reminded, but it really can be a head spinner. Here goes.

I'm not so sure you can 'live out' some of your own purgatory time. It may be that some saint had some mystic message that said as much, but we may ignore anyone's personal revelations at our own discretion. I do believe that if you've had to suffer your whole life and you've managed to do that and offered it up and maintained a rosy disposition when you spent your life the color of unbleached flour, maybe you are spared the suffering of purgatory. But it's not my call. who knows what you were thinking behind your grin.

It's perfectly legitimate to offer up your prayers and sufferings for yourself for when you get to purgatory. That's part of the doctrine of indulgences. (Indulgences give you time off of your purgatory sentence, although since purgatory is outside of time there is no time in purgatory.)

Personally, it bugs me. It's like eating a hoagie in front of a starving man. The only excuse I can think of for racking up a boatload of indulgences to be used exclusively for yourself would be that you somehow believe there will be no Catholics left to pray you out of there after you're dead. I realize that everyone always believes that the world has never been worse than it is right now, and so must end at any moment, but history has proven them wrong.

Next point: a penitent is anyone who is doing penance, anyone who is sorry for their sins. Me, for example. All practicing Catholics. Probably Michael Richards. Obviously not Britney Spears.

The victim soul is a person chosen by God to suffer for the reparation of sins. That would definitely be all the saints who had the stigmata.

For some reason I think we often overlook the fact that the stigmata, while symbolic of the wounds of Christ on the cross, is in no way symbolic to the stigmatist. Bleeding painful puncture wounds are not symbolic if you have them.

So we have Padre Pio suffering for the sins of Brittany Spears, so to speak. Francis of Assisi taking on Ted Haggert's ilk.

The question that remains for me is this: does the victim soul choose back? Does the victim soul have to have the stigmata to be a victim soul? No, I don't think he does. He just has to be chosen by God to suffer. So....if the person has endless bad health, some awful disease, paralysis, whatever... can the person then 'become' a victim soul by offering it all up for the reparation of sin?

I imagine that the title 'victim soul' is a title like 'genius' in that you don't get to call yourself one. But you could certainly shoot for it.

But get this straight: we're not talking about when your feet hurt while you're standing too long in the gift wrap line. We're talking about getting cut in half by a train and living to tell the tale.

It does all give me a headache, as the whole idea of reparation gives me a headache because there is so much to repair and I worry about who crunches the numbers on this and if there's any hope of it ever coming out even.

I guess I'll do my bit and skip the Tylenol. Maybe make some brownies.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I received this question from a reader, Kasia:

Sister, please tell me more about this "offering up"...

I understand the theory. But I don't think I fully understand the mechanics of it.

Let's say I'm working our front desk, and I'm waiting for my co-worker to relieve me for lunch. I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, and I want to get off the desk before the phone rings AGAIN. (Just theoretically, of course!) She's taking her sweet time, and I'm getting more and more frustrated and uncomfortable. So I think, "Offer it up." Have I offered it up if I'm still irritated? What if the irritation goes away as soon as I start offering it up? Did it count?

Dear Kasia,

This is a gigantic question, right up there with how many prunes are too many. (Are three enough? Are six too many?) Great saints have grappled with it, great leaders have grappled with the saints grappling with it. You can't offer up your suffering if you're not suffering.

St. Rose of Lima wore a crown of thorns she made for herself out of metal spikes and she slept in the family's garden shed. Her superiors tried to stop her from punishing herself too much. She covered the crown in flowers. The minute anyone's back was turned, POW! She was rubbing her face with pepper.

St. Catherine of Sienna only slept 2 hours a night and consumed only the host.

St. Therese the Little Flower slept with a wool blanket in the summer and no blanket in the winter. Among other things.

Besides being saints, what did they all have in common? They seem to have not been crabby during all of this, which seems to have worried them to ever new heights of self inflicted misery. And...

They died really young.

Of course, it was the old days and medical field isn't what it is now. But come on. No food, no warmth, too much warmth, infections with no antibiotics? And no one is praying that God will cure them. They weren't Christian Scientists.

This sort of behavior is discouraged these days. But I think your question had to be at the root of their sacrificial enterprises. They obviously never thought they were doing enough.

So how do we sort this out without ending up in the ICU? Or the looney bin?

By getting into the spirit of the thing!

1. Buck up! The souls in Purgatory are suffering way worse than you, pretty much no matter
what's going on. When I slammed my toe into the bathroom door and it was knocked sideways I had to howl, yes, but I also had to think, "well, I'm not also on fire." Hungry? Thirsty? Try Purgatory.

2. Stop whining. The souls in Purgatory are in abject misery. They're on fire. One hour seems like sixty years. Some of them appear to mystic saints and beg for prayers to release them.

But they're very happy. They already have the Heaven stamp of approval. They are not going to slip through a crack in the Purgatory floor and drop into Hell. Take a tip from them.

3. A gift...like a sacrifice for a soul in Purgatory...is no good if it's given begrudgingly. You don't give your old Aunt Sadie a wad of wrapping paper with no tape, slung around a box of melted chocolate and say with you lower lip out, "here's your gift." Buck up, stop whining and dig up some enthusiasm.

Technically, in answer to your question, it does still count if you're still irritated and it does still count if the irritation goes away. It's a win win for the Church Suffering. I vote for "irritation goes away"as the actual goal here. Not the physical irritation. The bad attitude.

You may fail, but trying really, really counts here.

And for the record, while you're sitting there hungry and thirsty waiting for the pokey co-worker, I hope the phone DOES ring again and that you have to put on the most dulcet of your tones. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they have a big problem that you have to solve?

And while we're on the subject of you at your desk...stop judging your co-worker. She may be 'taking her sweet time' or she might be off offering up sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory while the Xerox spits out 300 half printed sheets in the middle of a paper jam.

Maybe it would help if the whole situation had a gimmick, like "It's a Wonderful Life" where a bell would ring when a soul went out of Purgatory. I think we can go with a bell. Angels aren't dead people, so no bells are ringing for anyone getting wings.

A loud buzzer might be even better. It's annoying.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mary Circles France

There was a method in my madness bringing up Catherine Laboure the day before her feast day. (Happy Feast Day Catherine! We're jealous!)

Now that you are aware of her story and the story behind the medal, I want to run this by you. This is a theory I read a few years back and it caused me to stew in my own juice ever since.

I'm not sure if I've discussed before that Mary's visits so often have a political bend to them. Fatima, for example, was a warning about what was going on with Communism and Russia. At Lourdes, Our Lady confirmed the long held doctrine that Mary was conceived without sin. The church has always maintained that Mary was conceived without sin but it wasn't officially dogma until Vatican I and there was a big fight over doing that. So Mary coming along and introducing herself by saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception" was quite a big deal. It confirmed another decision made at Vatican I: Papal Infallibility. The Church was always infallible, but the Pope was not personally infallible until Vatican I and then it became retroactive for all the Popes, even the teenage ones and the Borgias.

Mary is no slouch.

Here's a little more background for this theory: Mary appeared to Catherine in 1830, warning (she must have been reading the papers) that France was about to be in hot water again. The clergy came under attack in the very same month. The rise in popularity of the Miraculous Medal was in no small part due to the fact that Catholics were driven to hide their faith.

So here's the theory. Mary circled France to save the world because France was the source of all the evils of the 20th century.

I know a lot of people are thrilled to hear this.

I'm not thrilled. I don't care much for it when a whole bunch of people, like an entire country, are blamed for the evil of the world. You can't blame Great Britain for the Beatles. You can't blame America for "Girls Gone Wild". On second thought, maybe you can.....


The idea here is that the French Revolution spawned Deism, an idea that glorifies man and human reason, which led to Rationalism, which gave birth to secularism in the US and Communism in Russia.

So let's not argue that right now. (Because I think we can argue that, since the American Revolution inspired the French Revolution. The American Revolution had some things to do with economy and religious suppression and the British....who gave the world the Beatles.....)

Here's the part of the theory that spins my top: Mary circles France.

She starts in Paris with St. Catherine Laboure to pour out her grace to everyone because, boy, are they going to need it. She next appears in LaSallette in 1846. Two years later all hell breaks loose. Karl Marx writes the Communist Manifesto, the Pope had to flee Rome, there were riots in London and as if that wasn't enough, the Potato Famine!

So Mary stops in at Lourdes in 1858 and asks that everyone do penance and say the rosary. The Franco Prussian war starts in 1871 and Paris falls. Luckily Mary comes to Pontmain where the peasant children of the day (I can't think that Mary ever appeared to any non-peasants) report that Mary increases in size when they pray the rosary. Eleven days later the war ended.

At Pontmain Mary has 43 stars surrounding her. (Stars from the sky, not Mary Pickford and Judy Garland.) They signify the 43 years France has to get it's act together. Instead France secularizes the schools. So 43 years later the First World War began. Russia's fledgling democracy is overtaken by Stalin 3 years later.

Mary dips down to Portugal and appears in Fatima in 1917. Apparently no one ever prays enough and we have WWII, so Mary goes to Medjugorie. In 1981.

You can see this theory is just falling apart like reasons to invade Iraq. Although I must admit to you when I first read it I was sucked in. I had wanted to do a presentation about the whole thing while on my next speaking engagement, because I love talking about Mary's help for the world. I got out a big map of France so I could show her path, circling the country.

I was undaunted by not being able to find LaSalette or Pontmain on the map. They are teeny places. Perhaps France would like us to forget they exist. When I finally managed to find them, guess what? Those places are by no stretch of the imagination in a circle. If Mary was trying to create a circle she only managed to zig zag around France like Matt Talbot after he sold his shoes for a bottle of booze.

I was so disappointed.

I was even sort of okay, when I read the theory, of the dip into Portugal. It's not that far from France. Really...

But Medjugorie is really problematic. Not only is it way way out of the 'circle', it's more than 60 years later. The icing on the cake is that Medjugorie was recently officially dubbed not worthy of veneration or belief. The church official deciders decided that Mary just wouldn't have to repeat herself that much as what has gone on at Medjugorie. I concur.

What a shame. It would have made such a great presentation. I could have made a giant felt banner with a map of France and little felt Mary cutouts and a little Stalin head.

Back to the drawing board.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Prettied up for her holy card.

The Real Deal.

We're gearing up for one of our very favorite feast days, right on the heels of St. Catherine of Alexandria! Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Catherine Laboure. Oh, how we love her! She sat with her head on Our Lady's lap!

I think we're a little jealous.

I always love entering the world of Mary's visits to our pathetic planet. As many times as she's come around to chat with us, not that many of her visits are...believable... at least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned.

I mentioned before that right off the bat we're going to dump the grilled cheese sandwiches, tree trunks and melted chocolate. Those things give us tension in our jaws and necks. Bishops grind their teeth. I think I had a nightmare about the melted chocolate. We couldn't clean Mary off the stove. In the dream, my old high school principle showed up to tell me the chocolate wasn't Mary and I felt really stupid because I already knew that. Typical of my many waking encounters with Sister Mary Arthen.

If Mary shows up in your back yard, the church will investigate thoroughly, and let everyone know if the situation is worthy of our belief.

If is is deemed worthy, mind you, you still don't have to believe it. You can if you want to.

If the church doesn't recognize the Mary visit, you are asked to stop showing everyone the tree bark or underbelly of your turtle. But no one actually does stop you.

St. Catherine Laboure was awakened one night by a small child. Odd, as she was in the convent. The child told her she was to get into the chapel right away. Catherine didn't want to go, because one isn't allowed to just wander around the convent all night. Think how scary that could be! But the child told her to get in there.

When Catherine arrived in the chapel in the middle of the night it was lit up like the Chicago fire. Mary came in and sat in a chair. Catherine and Mary talked and Catherine rest her hands on Mary's lap.

This happened a number of times. Mary showed Catherine a vision of a medal that Mary wanted Catherine to have made. Not an easy thing for a nun in a convent to accomplish. Catherine told her confessor (she never told any one else about any of this, ever), who treated the whole situation like so much melted chocolate.

Eventually he gave in and had a few of the medals made. They immediately became extremely popular. So many people had miracles happen to them while venerating the Mary of the medal that the medal became known as "The Miraculous Medal". Sales skyrocketed.

Now, if you think about it, unlike Fatima or Lourdes, the picture of Mary on the Miraculous Medal is a self portrait by Mary. Her other self portrait would be the one she painted for Juan Diego in Mexico, known as "Our Lady of Guadalupe", although Guadalupe has nothing to do with it. I guess Juan Diego had a heavy accent and the bishop, with his clenched teeth and tense jaw, didn't quite understand what Juan was saying.

It's a fabulous self portrait. Grace flows in streams of light from her hands. She stands on top of the world, crushing the head of the serpent under her foot.

St. Catherine took the secret of her to her deathbed in 1876 but did make a full account of the events before she departed. Her body was exhumed in 1933 and was incorrupt. Her heart, a couple of ribs, her kneecaps and her hands were removed.

I have to say, the kneecaps is a new one on me. It is very common to remove the heart of a saint and ribs, because you have a few, make for a good source for relics. Her hands were removed because they touched Mary. Her body, now under glass has wax hands and her actually hands are back at the convent along with the chair in which Mary sat. (It had been the Mother Superior's chair....considering Catherine never told anyone what when on in the chair, imagine how the Mother Superior must have felt when she found out, like Papa Bear, who had been sitting in her chair.) I'm guessing the kneecaps went because she knelt at Mary's feet while Mary sat in the chair? I'd like to have been at the meeting where they decided that one. Italians must have been involved.

Like most Mary visionaries, Catherine was a bit of a dim bulb, so there is hope for all of us to some day have a heavenly visit.

And the Miraculous Medal is still doing it's work. It's now the official patron of motorcyclists. I think they scrape their knees a lot.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

On Again Off Again

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Or not.

St. Catherine is one of those saints who was booted off the calendar in 1969 due to the fact that she didn't exist.

Or she did.

She was put back on the calendar in 2002.

So today you can honor her, or not. We won't encourage you. But we won't ask you to stop.

St. Catherine is not one of those saints like St. Christopher who flat out didn't exist. She likely did exist, it's just that her story is made up.

Embellished, let's say.

If you read the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, a Greek philosopher woman, you'd swear you're reading the story of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Beautiful, smart, pure as the driven snow, great speaker and teacher, killed for stating her beliefs.

St. Catherine however is preaching Christianity. Her converts are promptly killed and Catherine is thrown into jail. But now she is so famous that the Empress and her enclave visit her in jail and are converted, so they have to be promptly killed. Now Catherine is really in the soup. She is to be put to death on the wheel but when she touches it the wheel breaks. Sometimes it even explodes and kills bystanders. So they chop off her head.

(This is a common occurrence among the holy martyrs, the evil super villain torture fails due to some miracle, and then off with their heads. The beheading always works eventually. I say eventually because at least two saints finished what they had to say before they died, sans heads. St. Genesius, a pagan actor, was starring in a play mocking baptism when he suddenly saw the light and started preaching. To shut him up they chopped off his head, but he kept talking. What can I say, the show must go on. And St. Denis was beheaded in a nasty part of town so he picked up his head and walked to a nicer area and died there.)

Then the angels carry the body of St. Catherine to Mount Sinai. I guess they took her head as well. In art, she's in one piece again. I can tell you for a fact this never happened. Somebody would have seen it and made a comment.

St. Catherine's feast day was a huge big deal for a very long time. It was a Holy Day of Obligation in some places. Her popularity and her superpowers caused her patronages to grow. she is the patron saint of: wheels and wheel rights, students, teachers, unmarried girls, fireworks, people who work with wheels, like spinners and potters, archivists, lawyers, dying people, knife grinders and sharpeners, philosophers, preachers, stenographers, nurses, theologians, millers, mechanics, secretaries, people on juries and scholars.
And apologists...there are a lot of those these days.
In some places there is a bread called St. Catherine's Wigs (which has nothing to do with hair, wigs are a type of bun) that is made and eaten by maidens and spinsters who are looking for a suitable husband. They would say this:

"Sweet Saint Catherine, send me a husband,
A good one, I pray;
But arn a one better than narn a one.
O Saint Catherine, give me your aid!
Grant that I may never die an old maid!"

I think if one part rhymes the whole thing should rhyme, but that's just me.

Meanwhile St. Catherine herself was married. She married the Baby Jesus in a mystical marriage presided over by the Blessed Mother.

You may think I'm confusing her with St. Catherine of Sienna, but I'm not. St. Catherine of Sienna was also married to the Baby Jesus in a mystical marriage presided over by the Blessed Mother. It's mystical, so calm down.

St. Catherine is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, who also got the boot in 1969. The Fourteen Holy Helpers were invented ..not the saints, the list...to help victims of the Black Plague. Or more to the point, people who were not victims of the Black Plague yet. The Fourteen Holy Helpers are not to be confused with the fourteen most helpful saints, a sort of saintly top ten list. St. Catherine is in the top 14 list as well.

And for a girl who didn't exist but did, she sure gets around. She was one of the saints who counseled St. Joan of Arc.

It's up to you how you want to handle the St. Catherine situation. Here's my beef: St. Christopher is really, really just a story and yet he is still plastered everywhere, on medals and visors, on prayer cards and keychains. Even non-Catholic surfers wear him while they hang ten.

Good luck finding a St. Catherine of Alexandria anything.

St Catherine's Wigs (Not Hair)

You can make them. Or not.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I always start my day
with the obituaries. It's not because I'm morbid or I'm looking for my friends or to see if I've died. It's actually because the obituaries are so full of life, full of wonderful stories.

Yesterday, the King of the Hobos passed away. This thrilled me no end. Not that the King of the Hobos died, but the chance to explore why I feel guilty for getting such a bang out of hobos.

Nuns are all about discipline and rules. Hobos break all of society's rules AND they hop on trains and ride for free. That's stealing. Hobos are antithetical to nuns. Of course we love all our fellow men, but I feel I should be bugged by hobos. They seem like people I should be praying for to reform their wicked ways.

But with names like Scoop Shovel Scotty, Slow Motion Shorty, and Skeet Simmons....

"Dear Lord, I pray for your servant, Scoop Shovel..." I'm smiling already.

Hopping trains can't be a very big sin, as we don't care too much about property unless it's on a grand scale. Think Ken Lay. And even then... you can't take it with you. Still, all those mooched lifts add up to quite a pile of obviously unrepentant sin. But it's all so romantic.

The hobos themselves are very careful to make the distinction that they are not tramps and bums. During his life the King of the Hobos explained that he rode the rails and "worked to support" his "hobo lifestyle." He mused that it was like going on a camping trip and never returning. He said that hobos, who are not bums or tramps (because they work for a living just like everyone else, except not at all like everyone else), have to know how to live off the land, know what's poisonous, know how to catch game without weapons. In recent years a hobo had to "practically be a pharmacist" since the trains had so many terrible bio-hazards on them. You can't hop a toxic train.

Nobody knows where the word "hobo" comes from. Sister St. Aloysius thinks it's from the word "Bohemian", but that can't be right. Then they'd be "bohos". Maybe I wouldn't like them so much if they were called bohos. Hobo even sounds like fun. Heartwarming, non-sinful fun.

What is more heartwarming than a bearded toothless hobo, saying, "Thank ye, ma'am" for the meal you made him after he fixed the garage door opener? So American.....unless the hobo was in Romania. I guess then he'd be King of the Gypsies. And he'd play a violin instead of that twangey thing you hold in your teeth. And his bandana would be on his head instead of holding his belongings. And he really would be a boho.

The hobos, minus all the train sinning, remind me of Jesus and the apostles and the saints, going from town to town, only the apostles and the saints really did beg. The King of the Hobos would call them bums, at least according to the hobo creed. We have to point out to the King of the Hobos ( if he wasn't dead) that the Christ the King brought people back from the dead, healed the sick, changed water into wine, and fed the masses. Exhausting. I'd like to see the King of the Hobos manage that. The King of the Hobos was a brick layer when he wasn't sinning on the rails.

I think deep down I know that the true sin of the hobo is the gigantic selfishness. Sure a hobo isn't hurting anyone. But he's sure not helping anyone either, except for fixing the garage door opener. You'd have to have an enormous amount of energy to live as a hobo, but all that energy is only for yourself. What a waste of industriousness.

But so colorful.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I've been pleased to find that some readers have put links to the 'convent' here on their blogs and that some people have seen fit to actually quote some of my ramblings. I'll have to do penance later.

In one such mention, the blogger noticed that although the title is "Ask Sister Mary Martha", there usually aren't questions being asked.

True enough. When I began I thought I would simply be flooded which questions as I am when I do speaking engagements (I do that sometimes and I am absolutely flooded with questions) and that I would never have to think about what I might address on any given day here in cyberspace. But that didn't happen. I have no problem yammering away anyhow.

I do like to read the blogs of others, especially those of my readers and I ran across this one (Sunday Nov. 19). I think she touches on some very interesting points about money and church and I'll leave you all to ponder on your own about all of that.

But near the end there in her essay are a series of questions I feel I must answer.

I tried to simply put the answers in her comments section, but nothing happened when I clicked there, so I'm putting the questions and the answers here. They are questions I've been asked many times and I am happy to have the opportunity to answer them once again.

"As far as worship goes, why do I need to be in a building for an hour or so, with a bunch of other people, sitting on hard wooden benches, singing what someone else has decided will be my musical praise for the day? Why does it have to be Sunday morning? Why can't I be praying and singing my heart out in the car alone and call it my worship? Why can't I be at home, alone, and call it Worship? Why can't my tithe be what I sent to the family who's house burned down?"

1. Why do I have to be in a building for an hour or so ...

God made an entire world for you. A very beautiful one except in cases of mudslides... and the Badlands and the Sahara desert, but we love diversity. Even the stuff we're not too happy about like spiders and alligators are part of the eco-system to keep things looking pretty. An hour is not too much to ask to pay attention.

2. .....with a bunch of other people.....

And in heaven you'll be all by yourself? Singing in your heavenmobile car? People who can't get along with each other IN CHURCH are just about my biggest pet peeve. This includes you "Vatican II ruined my Latin Mass" crowd. Guess what? If a Hootenanny Mass is someone's idea of happiness, which it obviously is, there's going to be some Hootenannying going on in heaven. Unless heaven is segregated into a bunch of people mumbling praise to God in Latin and a bunch of them singing Kumbyah, or however you spell that, we better learn to get along. Being insipid is not a sin. Guitars and bongos will be welcome.

And it doesn't end there. How on earth can we expect the Sunni's and Shiites to get it together when we're arguing over whether or not it should just be a handshake for the "handshake of peace" and finding a new parish when the one we're going to gets a little too huggy. Get a grip, people. Or a hug. I promise you it's not that bad.

And what's with the notion that anyone that isn't you is a 'bunch of other people'. So much for 'the least of my brothers'. Heaven forbid we should hang out with that bunch.

3. ..sitting on hard wooden benches...

Well, any Catholic worth his holy cards knows the answer to this one, so let's all say it together shall we, "Jesus suffered for your sins". Offer it up. Don't you dare bring a cushion. In fact, sit there for an extra hour to make up for the fact that you didn't want to sit there.

By the way, many churches now have padded benches, or padding on their benches. I can't argue with this either, but only because the congregations are so old. I know we have to sit Sister Mary Fiacre on bunch of pillows all the time to keep her old bones from hurting her all day. Perhaps there should still be an unpadded section, especially for the children.

4.... singing what someone else has decided will be my musical praise for the day?

See answers to 1. and 3. Maybe you can put your special song requests in the suggestion box for next SUNDAY MORNING.

5. Why does it have to be Sunday morning? It doesn't. It can be Saturday evening or Sunday at 5 pm. But it used to be only Sunday morning because it's one of the Ten Commandments which everyone would know if they would just stick them up in front of the court houses.

I'm being sarcastic now, forgive me. I don't believe the Ten Commandments should be in front of court houses for two reasons: The court house isn't God's house and almost none of the Ten Commandments are against the law if you break them. God may throw you into hell, but no one is going to throw you into jail. Ironic.

Anyhow, it used to be that Sunday was everyone's day off and a special day for God and now it's
'special day' at the Target and the car wash. And the whole idea of having a day off that everyone had off and could worship together is pretty much whole idea of the community of faith. See answer to #6.

Yes, there are monks and hermits. But they're busy praying for the rest of us to be able to put up with each other.

6. Why can't I be praying and singing my heart out in the car alone and call it my worship? You can. But a whole bunch of people doing anything together has a lot more power than anyone doing anything alone. That's why soccer games are so dangerous and why there are peace marches.

7. Why can't I be at home, alone, and call it Worship? You can. But, see answer to 6.

8. Why can't my tithe be what I sent to the family who's house burned down? Go for it. I really don't see a problem here. You're not Donald Trump so you have decisions to make about how you can best use what money you have. It's admirable that you'd give your money to a bunch of other people.

Of course, I have to put in a plug to jump over to the Catholic church. You will be greeted with a handshake or a hug as soon as everyone stops arguing about how loud the organ was, how the host should be distributed, in what language the Mass should be, how Father dresses when he's not saying Mass, where the screaming babies should be kept .....