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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.