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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Power of Christ Compels You

We've been discussing short problem solving prayers all week and I have to admit I'm a little bent out of shape over the Guardian Angel prayer.

"Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen."

I have always loved the Guardian Angel prayer. It's a beautiful simple prayer, easy for a child to remember. Moreover, it helps a child remember that he has a Guardian Angel always watching over him. We like this.

Every single person has a guardian angel watching over them 24/7. It's the guardian angel's job to keep you out of trouble and keep you from harm.

We're not sure how this works, what with free will and all. Your guardian angel must keep you safe from all harm that is not God's will. If the bus is coming and God wants you to get hit by the bus, your angel will have to watch to watch helplessly from the curb.

Otherwise the angel (who is not a he or she!) is on the case.

One of readers has expressed that her children say this as a bedtime prayer and mentioned that the children pray to their guardian angels. I reminded her that we never pray to anyone but God. Or Jesus. Jesus is God, so no problem either way. The idea that the children were not supposed to pray to their guardian angels, when this is clearly what they are doing, perplexed her.

It is perplexing.

Here's how it works:

The Ground Rules:

1. We never pray to anyone but God.

2. When we "pray to" Mary and the saints we aren't really praying to them, we are asking them to intercede for us. It is exactly the same as asking me to pray for you, or you to pray for me. Period.

My I take a moment to express how my teeth start to grind and my hair hurts when I'm told by some separated brethren, nose pointed upward, that they only pray to God and that we are wrong to pray for the intercession of anyone. I will never believe that these people don't go around asking other people to pray for them, silly things. They will ask for MY intercession, but to ask for Jesus' mom's intercession is silly? Okay, that makes sense, poor crazy thing.

Back to the problem at hand. It may seem like we're praying to St. Anthony when we ask him to find the keys but we know we're asking him to ask God to help us. The saints are helpless, really.

So that's really the deal with the Guardian Angel prayer, too.

But...not really...

"Ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide...." That's confusing.

We must understand that when we say 'ever this day be at my side' we have to have somewhere in our consciousness that what we really mean is 'on God's behalf' or 'as is God's will'.

"to light and guard to rule and guide"...according to God's will, with the power of God.

It's a real hair splitter.

But we're Catholic. We love nothing more than to split hairs. We can do it standing on our heads.

Perhaps it's a good idea for the children to get used to that at a very early age.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Boniface, full of grace

The saintly poems are still coming in. Our latest entry is St. Boniface for a parking space.

"Boniface, Boniface, help me find a parking space."

The problem here is how one pronounces 'Boniface'. In my home town we have a St. Boniface parish and everyone there (in the Midwest) pronounces his name "Bon- a -fuss". That makes the prayer not work out at all. One of our readers suggests that in that case he would be helpful in making the bus come more quickly.

"Bon a fuss, Bon a fuss, hurry up and send a bus."

I suppose.

I question what in the world St. Boniface, the inventor of the Christmas tree, has to do with parking or buses. We could maybe decide on Pope St. Boniface. I believe he got booted out of Rome for a while and was eventually reinstated....parked.

It's a stretch.

Our St. Boniface parish is based on the German saint, or saint to the Germans. The town I grew up in is so German that it doesn't matter if you aren't German. If you live there you are German by osmosis, you will squeegee the lawn, you will scrub your sidewalks and you will save the twist ties off the bread wrappers in the butter tubs that you've also saved. It makes sense we'd have a St. Boniface parish.

St. Boniface converted the Germans by cutting down Thor's Tree. I'm sure when he did it the German's sucked all the oxygen out of the sky to hold their breath as they waited for Thor's wrath to strike Boniface down. Of course, there is no Thor, so nothing happened and the German's converted. It seems that Boniface continued cutting down pagan trees of note throughout his career and somewhere in there invented the Christmas tree out of them.

Calm down. We know many people used the evergreen as a winter symbol of life and hope for hundreds of years before that, blah, blah, blah.....Boniface was the first to actually make a Christmas tree out of it.

But there just is no parking in there. Oh well, if St. Boniface works for you, who am I to judge?

I have to draw the line on the Mary parking prayer, though.

"Hail Mary, full of grace, help me find a parking space."


The Hail Mary is too old, too beautiful a prayer to be parodied into a parking couplet.

I remember reading about the history of the prayer. It was quite a while ago so I'm doing this from memory. Here goes.

The first part of the prayer, of course, is from the New Testament. "Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with Thee" are the words of the archangel Gabriel when he came to ask Mary to have Jesus.

"Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" are the words of Aunt Elizabeth to Mary when she came to visit. Aunt Elizabeth was pregnant with Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist. Of course, he wasn't John the Baptist then. He was just cousin John. Soon to be cousin John.

So that was the whole prayer for quite some time. Eventually "Jesus" was added to the end of it. "The fruit of thy womb, Jesus" , that way no one is confused.

And that was all there was to it until the 4th century (I think) when there was big fat heresy that maybe Jesus wasn't divine, or maybe he wasn't born divine, but sort of grew into his divinity. There was a big fight over this silly notion and when the truth won out the happy people took the streets shouting, "Holy Mary, Mother of God!" which they could now say with impunity. What a day that must have been.

So that was the whole prayer.

But then....after all of that....and as long as you have her attention...you may as well ask for something..... sooo.....

"Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."


So we know we're done.

And that's how we got the "Hail Mary". The rosary, yes. Parking?


Friday, January 26, 2007

Saint poems

The saintly poetry contest is on! Our readers have offered us the Mother Cabrini prayer to fix cars:
"Mother Cabrini,
Mother Cabrini,
come down from your cloud
and fix my machini!"

It sounds a little off kilter and demanding to me, but there you are. The meter doesn't sound right to me somehow.

"Mother Cabrini,
put down your martini,
come down from your cloud

and fix my machini! "

Works a little better for me, but clearly not perfect.

There is also a Mother Cabrini prayer for parking cars:

"Mother Cabrini,
stop eating linguini,
please find a spot
for my little machini."

I made up the linguini part.

This begs the question, why Mother Cabrini, of all people?

To start with, she was remarkably well traveled. She established major hospitals in New York, Chicago and Seattle as well as schools and orphanages all over the world.

She certainly had the tenacity of a car salesman.

I think, though, that her helpful hand with car situations has to do with the fact that one famous story about her involves a ride in a fancy car. It seems she had a dream of a house on top of a hill. It was so wonderful she wanted to put an orphanage up there.

Can I just stop and say, how many people would see a great house on the top of a hill, in a dream or otherwise, and think "orphanage"? Really, not many. Not Aaron Spelling, or Mel Gibson or Nancy Reagan, not Michael Jordan, not Johnny or Ed...really...not many.

So the next day Mother Cabrini and some of her sisters were walking along and Mother Cabrini flagged down a chauffeur driven limosine for a ride. The limo passenger, a rich lady, was happy to give the sisters a lift. During the ride Mother Cabrini spoke about the house on the hill in her dream. When they got to the convent the lady asked for a glass of water. She said this:

"Mother Cabrini, that house you dreamed of is mine, I own it. I never thought of parting with it, but if I may be allowed to enter your Holy House for a moment and receive a glass of water in the name of the Lord, your little orphans shall have their home with my blessing."

She was a very wordy rich woman. Anyhow that's how Mother Cabrini got her orphanage is Seattle. Apparently Mother Cabrini is happy to help you get where you're going, too.

But hold your horses! There is another parking saint! The Little Flower offered to continue helping in her little way from heaven.

"Little Flower, Little Flower, send me some of your parking power."

These poems all seem to have the 'say the name of the saint twice' thing in common. I guess you want to make sure you get their attention.

You could try, "Little Flower, don't be dour" or "Little Flower, erase my glower..."

I can't imagine what the Little Flower, who never went anywhere in her life, never rode in a car and lived in a cloister has to do with parking. Unless you figure that once she got into the convent she was pretty much parked there. It doesn't really fly for me.

Neither Mother Cabrini nor the Little Flower are incorrupt, by the way. But the Little Flower did go on a world tour a few years back, finally traveling all over the world the way she would have liked, being a missionary. Sigh.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tony, Tony come around....

One of our readers reminded us of a prayer to St. Ann. I've already mentioned to said reader that I don't care for the prayer:

"Dear St. Ann, send me a man, as fast as you can. "

You don't need St. Ann to have that prayer answered. You just need a bar stool and a sinful skirt. You don't even need to bring your purse.

And the meter of the 'poem' is off. That's the other reason I don't care for it. And if that isn't enough, St. Ann is the patron saint for grandmothers, not man hunters.

The terrible prayer to St. Ann reminded me of another Catholic ritual, praying to St. Anthony when you lose something, which always works.

"Tony, Tony, please come down, our keys are lost and can't be found." Or something like that.

I never speak to St. Anthony that informally, but I do speak to him very often. I can't tell you how many times we've leaned over Sister Mary Fiacre, moving her around or reaching for something near her, and dropped our eyeglasses, our car keys, pens, religious medals and scapulars, early June peas, wallets, change, her lower teeth, prescription medicines, important mail....among other things....into the folds of her clothing and under her lap blanket in her wheelchair. Sister Mary Fiacre can't tell us she's sitting on the remote, but St. Anthony can.

St. Anthony was a studious fellow who read everything he could get his hands on. One day everyone gathered for an important lecture but the lecturer was a no show. St. Anthony was asked to stall for a few minutes and gave an amazing speech. From that point on he was a premiere speaker and teacher.

The reason St. Anthony was such a fabulous speaker: he had a photographic memory. He could regurgitate everything he ever read. That's also reason he can remember where you put your keys.

We have his tongue. We also have his esophagus. Some saints are incorrupt. We know that because the first step to being canonized is to have your body exhumed to make sure it's you in the tomb. It's not at all unusual to find saints looking fresh as a rose ( and often smelling like one) many many years after their death. St. Rita is incorrupt, along with St. John Vianney (who just looks great!) St. Bernadette, even Pope John XXIII, to name a few. St. Anthony wasn't, but his tongue and his esophagus were. His tongue is in this fancy jar.

We were saved by St. Anthony just today. Our plumbing blew up yet again and although we have that under control our wash machine had had enough. RIP, Maytag. We were blessed to have a washer in the house, what with Sister Mary Fiacre. Enough said about that.

So we headed to the laundromat, which is wonderfully close by, Sister Mary Fiacre in tow. She likes to watch anything moving, so the big side loading washers and the giant dryers are very entertaining for her.

But the 412 quarters we brought weren't enough and since we didn't bring the car we had nothing to dig through to find a couple more. We prayed to St. Anthony and dug through Sister Mary Fiacre. We found two quarters, a part of an orange peel and a nine volt battery.


Monday, January 22, 2007

No Voodoo Zone

Yesterday I felt bad because I failed to give all the single gals a heads up about the Feast of St. Agnes. Today I feel bad because I talked about the whole thing.

One of my readers was concerned that the separated brethren, who already have enough fodder (in their minds) to think that Catholics are a bunch of wackos, will point to the egg eating magic dream eve of St. Agnes and say, "I told you so!"

I think my reader makes a very good point. By the time you've picked up a garter belt and traveled to another town and are singing your way through sewing your right stocking onto your left garter belt, we, over here at Catholicism, are looking a little foolish.

That's not good. The Catholic Church is not foolish.

So let me ease your mind a bit.

To begin with let's mind our own garden and not worry too much about what the separated brethren are doing over there in separate land. So what if they have a problem with fasting all day and eating a salty egg before bedtime to dream of your intended? They have a problem with the Blessed Mother and Transubstantiation, too! Go ahead and enjoy your egg. You're probably starving after fasting all day.

Furthermore, let's make a clear distinction between faith and superstition.

When you have a little statue of the Infant of Prague in your home, and you honor the lessons of the Child Jesus and how He was cared for from birth in His home with His family and then you pray for financial stability (stability being the operative word here, we're not talking about lottery jackpots or a heavy payout from the Colts beating the Patriots), that's faith.

When you stick a statue of the Infant of Prague up on your refrigerator amongst the cereal boxes and vitamins and that bottle of Metamucil because your old Aunt Theresy told you if you have a statue of the Infant of Prague in your house you will never want financially, that's superstition.

Get the difference?

So I don't have a problem with someone praying for the intercession of St. Agnes while they fast all day. I hope that girl is thinking about what kind of man she really needs...a good Catholic one...and what marriage is really all about....raising Catholic children...while she fasts all day. I would hope that by the time she bites into that egg she will really have thought things through.

Dreams aren't superstitions. Ask St. Joseph. The Holy Family would never had made it out of Bethlehem if not for his dreams.

Poor St. Joseph, the wacko.

Maybe, the travel/stocking method is a bit much....but really, if it all causes you to extend your thinking while you shop and travel and sing and sew...all the better. No wonder you get a kiss to boot!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I am so very sorry for all you single gals. I really meant to get here and get you ready for the Feast of St. Agnes today and, as usual, I am a day late and a dollar short.

In order to have dreamed about who your intended will be, you needed to fast all day yesterday and then eat and a hard boiled egg with salt before bedtime.

I didn't need to tell you about the Feast of St. Agnes...I needed to tell you about the EVE of the Feast of St. Agnes.

Please accept my apology.

For future reference (next year) you'll be ready with your egg. Of course, you might be married by then. Let's hope not. If you haven't even met your intended yet, it probably isn't wise to get married that fast, especially if you haven't been blessed with a dream from St. Agnes point out the right fellow.

I've never quite understood why St. Agnes is so helpful to women who are husband hunting.
St. Agnes was martyred precisely because she didn't want to get married. She was supposed to marry a Roman prelate and refused, wanting to maintain both her Christianity and her chastity. It was nothing personal. She didn't want to marry anybody.

There is no question she is a saint to be revered. One of the requisites for sainthood is extraordinary virtue. When Agnes shunned the marriage she was shamed by being paraded through the streets naked and tossed into a brothel. Luckily, her hair miraculously grew and covered her. Even after that the prelate had the nerve to bother her in the brothel and was struck blind.

Or dead. It's an old story, so the details are a little soft.

But Agnes, saintly girl that she was, restored his sight.

Or his life. Whichever it was that he lost in the first place.

Then she was martyred. One can't help being struck by her remarkable bravery. She was twelve years old.

Still, her story has absolutely nothing to do with finding a husband and just about everything to do with avoiding one. Apparently, besides being really brave she is also very broadminded.

So now you know....for next year. If you don't like eggs there are a couple of other methods.

You can take a sprig of rosemary and a sprig of thyme, sprinkle each three times with water, and put one in each shoe. Then put one shoe with its sprig on one side of the bed and the other one on the other side of the bed while you say this:

"St. Agnes, that's to lovers kind,
Come, ease the trouble of my mind."

Doesn't it seem to you that St. Agnes would be more helpful to people who struggle with chastity? Oh well.

Or you can take a row of pins, pull them out one by one, and stick them in your sleeve, while singing a Pater Noster (Our Father). This will involve some sacrifice on your part, because it will mean a trip to the fabric store, or the craft store. My shoulders come up around my ears just thinking about it.

If you like to travel you can try this method: spend the night in another town. (Please avoid the local bars! You may meet a man there, but he will NOT be anyone you want to dream about, let alone marry!) Before going to bed, take your right stocking and knit it to the garter from the stocking on your left leg, singing as you do so. Then lie on your back in bed with your hands under your head. With this method, not only do you dream of your intended, he'll actually kiss you in the dream.

The problem with this last method, as far as I can tell, is that the only place you can get a garter these days is the type of place in which you should never be caught dead. St. Agnes would be the last person to approve, no matter how kind she is.

If you are determined to find your intended this year, all is not lost. St. Valentine's day is just around the corner. There is some method with bay leaves you can use. I'll find out and get back to you...this time with time to spare.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ordinary Days

You would think, since I haven't been here for several days, things must be hopping and popping...or we had had a crisis.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Church in her wisdom has declared this "Ordinary Time" and it is just that.

A thousand years ago, when we had sixty kids in a classroom and the entire faculty was comprised of nuns and I had a roomful of wiggling second graders every year all of whom were making their First Confessions and First Holy Communions that year (a huge responsibility for me) there were no ordinary days.

Every single day there was a crisis. The poorest kid with the thickest glasses falls in the Chicago sludge and gravel that used to be the pure driven snow and totals his lens. A white faced child appears at my desk and when she opens her mouth to say, "Sister, I feel sick," no words come out. What does come out a few minutes later is that sawdust stuff from the janitor's closet. In those days the convent was across the street and I could run over there and change while an eighth grader watched the class as they remained on their 'best behavior." Play ground fights, classroom fights during recess when it's too cold to go outside, sending people to Mother Superior, having to tell parents their second graders are being recruited for Satan's army by the third graders....

And then there was the school itself. The furnace was built during the Civil War by the rebel army in a clever ploy to secretly freeze the population in the North to death. I made that up. It was made by a Chicago company during the Jurassic period. It was Chicago. You boil. You freeze. The kids sitting by the radiators were roasting like St. Lawrence and the kids on the other side of the room sat in Siberia.

We never knew what was going to blow up or break down. The mimeograph machine, the announcement speaker, the front door, the woman who made the lunches...anything could go at any time.

One afternoon I encountered the fifth grade nun (one of three...that's how many kids we had back then!) slumped over her desk. The class was at recess. Sister Marillia had thrown in the towel, from the look of her.

"Sister Marillia!" I said. "Are you alright?"

"The mimeograph machine is down," she said. "I was going to test them all afternoon. Now I have two hours to fill."

It was tempting to point out to her that the mimeograph was always down at least once per day and that her situation was due to poor planning on her part to not have given herself enough lead time to copy the tests. But the specter of an afternoon of 40 some odd fifth graders with time to kill overwhelmed me, too. I swooned on her behalf.

I figured I better high tail it out of there before the class returned and I was sucked into the vortex.

"Sister," I said to her, "you just have to look at it like this: this is just today's dilemma. Every day we have some kind of dilemma to deal with. This one is yours today. It's just today's dilemma. Expect one every day. It's always a surprise."

Somehow, this seemed to cheer her up. "Sing," I told her. "That always goes over well. Or teach them to say a proper rosary. Nobody gets that right."

Which is true...it's no wonder that the separated brethren are baffled by the rosary, which to them looks like a lot of rattling and mumbling and which, unfortunately, is exactly right on the mark a lot of the time. But I digress.

After years of no ordinary days, I must admit that I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. I thought it had last night when at 9:30 there came a pounding on the door. For a moment there I thought the pagan babies had finally found us. But it was the neighbor lady. She smelled gas in her house and her gas meter was making strange noises. She needed the emergency number for the Gas Company. Her day's dilemma. Not ours. Nothing has exploded so everything must have worked out.

These have been ordinary days, thank the Lord.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bad Hair Day

As soon as I put scissors to hair, we knew our plan had failed. We had to go to Sam's club.

Let me back up a second to explain how our fool proof plan went South. We had imagined that if our home made hair cut failed it would just be an opportunity of humility for Sister St. Aloysius.

There is a difference between humility and running around looking like a serial killer in a veil.

It was humbling to find that out.

We had quite a discussion about ourselves there for a moment. We're not here to look cute and give everyone a warm smile from their nostalgic past. We are working women, dedicated to Jesus and His church. We don't need style or beauty.

But we do need credibility. And that hunk that came out of the front of Sister St. Aloysius' hair....

...we tried to cover it up, or comb it away, but when I looked at her I found my eyes drifting toward the top of her head the way one's eyes do, with a will of their own, when one encounters a gentleman with some dead animal on his head that he seems to think looks like a full head of hair.

We couldn't just drop everything and go, which was good. If I had any doubts that we could somehow get away with what I had done to her they were erased each and every time I looked at her. Eventually it was very difficult not to laugh. No credibility for you, Sister St. Aloysius!

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was last Saturday. I cut my Sister's hair in such a way that she looked liked a Fighting Seebee with the Axe Murderer's Special. Then I laughed at her all day."

We finally got to Fantastic Sam's late in the afternoon, a busy Friday.

We cause a bit of a buzz sometimes. I think there might have been some wrangling amongst the hair stylists about who would have the honor, or the chore, or the impossible task that had become Sister St. Aloysius. All eyes were upon us, that's for sure.

Sister St. Aloysius had the wherewithall to leave her veil at home to avoid the uncomfortable moment of removing it at the Sam's Club. If not for her shoes, a dead give away, she could have been some lady I was accompanying to her hair cut. So it occurred to me that I might make whoever worked on her very nervous, as though they might do such a horrible job that this poor woman brought a nun along to stand next to her and pray for success.

I try not to draw attention to myself, which in a habit is just about impossible. After my donnybrooks at the bank and the fabric store (...and others.....) I don't have a good track record at keeping a low profile. So I tried to find a spot where I could sit quietly until Sister St. Aloysius was done. There wasn't too much hair left to cut, so it couldn't take long.

One of the young gentlemen who is employed there took it upon himself to yabber at me and try to get me things to drink. I thought a "thank you, no" would do the trick but he was persistent. He had something sticking out of his nose on the side, something stapled into his eyebrow and tattoos all over his arms.

He peppered me with questions: was Sister St. Aloysius a nun, too? Is the habit hot? uncomfortable? Are they more of us? Did I need a haircut?

"Young man, " I finally said to him. "Let me ask you something."

"Oh yes, sister! Anything at all!"

"Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? At the end of time when your soul is reunited with your body, what is God going to have to say when he sees that after he gave you this perfect body, you took it and poked it full of holes and doodled all over it?"

I don't think he had the slightest inkling of what I was talking about.

At least the police weren't being called.

Sister St. Aloysius looks okay. Her credibility is intact. She won't need a haircut for quite some time.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Nun Bangs

One of the perks of being a nun is never having a bad hair day. It's just one of those things I never have to think about for one second which gives me more time to pray for sinners (other than myself...I'm hoping the sinners I'm praying for are praying for me or I'm really going be in the soup).

Suddenly, Sister St. Aloysius wants me to cut her hair. She wants to save the $6 from Fantastic Sam's or Sam's Club or wherever she has been going. She does the short veil thing with those little bangs. Nun bangs.

Here's a hot tip for all those Catholics out there who are disconcerted that clerics and religious don't always dress in a recognizable cleric or religious outfit for you. I suspect, from conversations I've had with such people, that the real issue is that they might be speaking to a member of the clergy, etc. and not realize it and say something or do something untoward. To them I say, behave yourself all the time and you won't have to worry about it. God and his army will thank you.

That wasn't the hot tip yet. That was some friendly advice.

I get a little cranky with all this judgment about what nuns wear. I wear the old habit, myself. In some way, it is a fashion choice, that is, a choice so I never have to think about fashion, my hair, do I have a clean blouse? , etc.

But I certainly don't begrudge nuns who are not in a full habit.

The original nuns were dressed like the people around them, only in the matching colors of their order. All women were all covered up and wore veils and head wrappings. The wimple was common in biblical times and popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. Nuns adopted the style at that time to make them inconspicuous in the world. Nuns who worked out in the world were not trying to separate themselves from other people, they were in fact trying to blend in, but they wore a uniform, so to speak. They just never ever updated the uniform.

Here is a painting of a typical English noblewoman....now just imagine her in black and white. Or brown and white with a brown scapular. Voila! She's suited up and ready to serve.

In fact, take a look at this medieval servant.
Not a nun. Just a serving wench. If she were transported by time to the present everyone would think she was a nun.

Demanding that nun wear a full habit is demanding that nuns remain stuck in time. Demanding that nuns wear a full habit is like asking a member of the military to wear a uniform from the Hundred Years War, or a nurse to dress like Florence Nightingale. Remember her? She, and all nurses, wore veils. I don't hear anyone fussing that nurses should be wearing veils.

Here's the hot tip: How to Spot a Nun.

1. Nun bangs.

2.Bad looking flat shoes from Payless or Sears.

If the nun is old she may look slightly disheveled after years of wearing a habit and suddenly having to worry about tucking in her blouse all day. In fact, I can't think of a time when speaking to an old nun in 'modern' garb (her denim shift from 1978) that I didn't notice something that I wanted to reach out and fix. I remember following a nun in a shift type thing all around her amazing homeless shelter. She feeds 700 people per day! Her top button on the back was undone. I really wanted to fix it for her.

I don't think I have any business cutting Sister St. Aloysius' hair. I think I'll make a botch of it. The good news is that, as a nun, she won't care. It's a win/win for her. If I actually pull it off, she looks decent. If it turns out I'm terrible at it and she ends up looking like Albert Einstein, she can practice humility, even more than usual. That's why nuns cut off their hair in the first place, after all. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Christmas Overload

I know Christmas is over, but some of the Christmas legends annoy me. A faithful reader has put forth a vague memory of the "Christmas Spider", a German legend, which for me is right up there with the Christmas Pickle and the Little Drummer Boy.

The Little Drummer Boy has going for it the thought that something like that could have happened. Far-fetched, given the time and place and the state of music and drumming, but as there was music and drumming way back then it's at least possible.

The Christmas Pickle, has going for it the thought that St. Nicholas was a saint and therefore may have worked this miracle, implausible though it may be.

But the Christmas Spider....what's the matter with these Germans anyhow?

I shouldn't complain. They are Christmas maniacs, as am I.

So to compare: the Little Drummer Boy is a boy lad who shows up with the shepherds at the first Christmas and has no gift to give the new Baby. The Little Drummer Boy plays a 'tune' on his drum as a gift. It's a pretty long song with a drum solo that is not played on a drum but sung by men singing "pum puddley pum". With straight faces. It's a touching Christmas story. The Baby Jesus smiles.

Don't they always say that when babies that young smile, it's gas? Oh well, not this time.

I realize the Little Drummer Boy is not a legend, but a song. I believe the story has just about achieved legend status. I like the song. I don't like seeing the Little Drummer Boy standing around the manger in statue form.

The Christmas pickle is a little harder to follow and a little Sweeney Toddish. An evil innkeeper chops up two or three boys and pickles them in the pickle barrel. I don't believe there is an explanation for this crime. At least Sweeney Todd had a motive. St. Nicholas arrives and frees the boys who emerge unharmed. So the Germans.........yes, them again............hide a glass pickle ornament in the tree and the child that finds it either wins a prize or gets good fortune for the year. (I told you it was hard to follow.)

We don't care for this. Good fortune is just another way of saying Good Luck. We'll go with holy cards. I have three Christmas pickles for my tree. Being green, they are quite hard to find. We let visitors find them over and over and give out holy cards. What fun!

The Christmas Spider tops them all. In this story, Mama has cleaned the house all spic and span the way only a German woman can.

Let me just stop for a moment here and say, I am German. My family is German. The small town I grew up in is so German that even if you're not German, you become German by osmosis. These people scrub the pavement in front of their houses, get down on their hands and knees and dust each corner of each stair in the house then go outside and sweegy the tree limbs.

Back in our story, the spiders go hide in the attic from Mama's broom but they are sad to miss all the Christmas fun and not see the tree, so on Christmas eve they sneak down to the parlor. This is all the idea of the Elder Spider, by the way, in case you want to stage a play about it. Down they go.

According to this story, spiders don't see very well, so in order to get a good look at the tree, they climb all over it, covering it in webs. When the Christ Child arrives for His Christmas visit (I know, this is a new one on me, too, even with all those old Germans in the house). He is dismayed to see how the spiders have pretty much ruined the tree. He is sad the children will be disappointed but He doesn't want to hurt the spiders' feelings because He loves them, too. He touches the webs and they turn to silver.

And that's why we have TINSEL.

Can you stand it?

This is where I have to get off the boat. Can we just stick a little closer to the New Testament? We've already fudged the story of the Men from the East left and right. The King James Bible has changed the all important statement made by the angels to the shepherds from "Peace on Earth to men of good will" to the cushy gushy feel goody, "Peace on Earth good will toward men" as though we have no responsibility in the matter... can we please draw the line at the Christmas Spider?

I'll gladly vacuum up the Christmas spider and jettison him and his family across the street to the McMansion and not even feel guilty. They're Episcopalians over there. They'll love it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

All Creatures Great and Small

This entry may be a little tough on some of you so I'm giving you a little heads up here.

Our house is full of spiders.

I'll give some you time to decide whether or not to read on. If you are feeling anxious, you might pray to St. Felix of Nola, who was protected from being killed during one of the many persecutions by a spider who covered his hiding place with a quickly spun web.

That could happen here any minute. I wish it would. At least, I wish the spiders would just web up the kitchen and we could skip doing the dishes. I have been trying for weeks to get the laborers across the street putting a third story on the McMansion to pop over and brick up the kitchen but they don't speak English and I don't speak Spanish.

I have not....I'm joking.

If St. Felix hasn't helped you yet, stop here.

We have about a zillion of those Daddy Long Legs spiders all over the house. We have many other types of spiders around but not in any great numbers. We rarely see the other types of spiders, who are much better at hiding themselves.

These big Daddies just don't care who sees them. They loll around everywhere.

I let them live here on purpose.

I remember being told as a girl that "spiders are good luck." Now as Catholics we are not allowed to believe in "luck." God has a plan for you. He's didn't make a plan saying, "She'll be called to do this but only if she's lucky." "Hope this soul comes my way! Good Luck Mr. Soul! Hate to think you'd have rotten luck and burn in Hell!" The three leaf clover is a symbol of the Holy Trinity. The four leaf clover is a clover that has an extra leaf.

I let the spiders thrive because I think they eat the termites. I hope they do anyhow. They are our only hope to keep this house standing. Daddy Long Legs spiders are voracious eaters, I've read, and as these seem to be thriving with nothing whatsoever in their webs, I can only conclude they are thriving on the termites. Otherwise during the next big wind we'll find ourselves like Pig One and Pig Two. Pig Three has not built any house of bricks. She's fantastically old and in a wheel chair.

There is a limit to how many spiders we can deal with, though, so today, after discovering a bite on Sister Mary Fiacre, I decided to vacuum them up. This is a regular cycle. I usually wait until I myself have a bite or two. Bugs love really pale people, so although I may look like a bloodhound, I have the skin of Nosferatu. The bugs always come for me first. If I'm getting chewed it's only a matter of time before we are all bitten up. We can't let the spiders eat Sister Mary Fiacre.

I feel terrible sucking them all up, I really do. All God's creatures, great and small...eat each other all the time, so I guess I shouldn't feel bad.

And they'll be back.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Nuns Having Fun

One of the ladies who works at the Catholic Charity brought us a new calendar. I believe the title is "Nuns Having Fun".

We do have fun.

Then we feel guilty about it.

Just kidding.

Although I think our idea of fun might be hugely different than that of the average citizen. I have a real ball cracking out the Murphy's Oil Soap and working on the swirls and curls of wood in the pulpit. Our church used to have one of those tall wooden, ornately carved pulpits. After Vatican II they chopped off the top...you know where the priest stands for the sermon like the basket on a hot air balloon, only made of wood...and kept that. I can't imagine what they did with the 'stem'.

There is something off-putting about this calendar, though, and it took me a while to put my finger on it. (It took me a while to find someplace to hang it, too...it's big.) I don't begrudge the nuns having fun. These nuns actually are having fun. There are a bunch of them on a roller coaster. A few of them are ice skating. One is in a tree swing, swinging. A group is playing soccer. One group appears to be at some sort of fashion show. It's a nice fashion show, too, the model is wearing sensible shoes, her arms are covered, her hemline is just below the knee...she is even wearing a hat. Would that people still dressed this way for Mass! Don't get me started!

In fact there is only one picture in the calendar that is off-putting in and of itself. There are two nuns playing "Twister". Twister Sisters. That is wrong on so many levels.

It took me an entire week of staring at the calendar there on the coffee table awaiting it's home for the year to figure out why it was bothering me: when nuns have fun doing things that 'normal' people do and someone takes a picture of it, the whole exercise is all about nuns being 'cute'.

Not cute because they are attractive girls wearing veils.

Cute because, "Oh look! It's nuns on a hayride!" "The sisters are fishing!" "Wait a minute! That drummer is a nun!"

Very unfortunate.

Being a nun means not drawing attention to yourself and to put yourself before others, to serve the church militant, of which we are a part. It doesn't mean we can't have fun on a hayride or may not have fun on a hayride (although I have never for the life of me been able to determine what is fun about a hayride). And there's nothing we can do about it if someone snaps a picture of us having fun on a hayride, if anyone of us is actually enjoying being on the back of a hay wagon going slowly around on a farm (I'd rather polish the pulpit...twice). And there's nothing we can do about it if someone makes a calendar out of it or sticks the picture in the Catholic Monitor. Why would they do that? Because we're so darn cute.

Heaven Help Us.

At least I have the satisfaction of knowing I'll never be pictured doing anything and looking cute. Everyday I look more and more like a bloodhound, especially in dim light. If someone snapped me on a hayride I'd just look like they were taking me out to hunt down a fugitive from a chain gang.

Heaven Help Me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Epiphany epiphany

Today we are dusting off the Three Kings for the final act of the manger scene. We have our own set at home and the giant set at the church.

In recent years I've had trouble figuring out what to call them. They weren't kings, really. We don't know how many of them actually showed up. Technically, all we know is they were men from the east.

I'm not even going with 'wise'.

Here we have an nasty king Herod, known for his paranoia and cruelty. He actually killed his own sons to stay in power, prompting the Romans to say it would be safer to be Herod's hogs (kosher) than Herod's sons. And what do these 'wise men' do? They show up at the castle asking where they might find the new king.


So Herod says to them, "Well, when you find him come back and let me know so I can go pay him homage, too."


The fellows from the east smell a rat....finally....and take a different route home to duck Herod. But Herod already has enough information to take care of things on his own. He orders all male children under the age of two slaughtered.

(The Feast of the Holy Innocents which has passed already, by the way, is out of chronological order. Just another reminder to calm down about being too literal when nosing around in the Bible on your own.)

We know they weren't kings. The New Testament doesn't say kings. It doesn't even say there were three of them. It says wise men from the east.

Okay....it does say 'wise'. Although there is another reason this is a little problematic. Historians agree that they were most likely astrologers. Astrology was the most important science of the day, so an astrologer would have been considered to be a very wise man indeed.

In the Catholic church astrology is a sin. I can't think why astrology wouldn't have been a sin then either. No one has addressed this problem as far as I can tell.

How did we end up with three? Most people chalk it up to the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

But I have a more complex theory and I'm not just pulling it out of my veil.

You may recall that for many years plays and theater were just non-existent because all of that was considered sinful. The only theater that was allowed was Catholic church related so all of that energy went into creating spectacular Passion plays that told the whole life of Christ.

In those plays there were as many as twelve men from the east arriving at the manger.

Here's another thing....they didn't come to the manger. The New Testament clearly states that they saw the "child" at His "house".

Anyhow, the Passion plays had twelve men to represent the twelve tribes. (Which is also misguided since the whole point of having these fellows show up is to show that Jesus is for everyone, not just the Jews. The men from the east are gentiles.)

Now twelve people on stage on camels just takes up a ton of room. So the numbers dwindles over the years to three, each with a gift to bring. Pah rumpa pum pum.

We're dealing with actors here, so "King One, King Two and King Three" is not going to make them happy.

"Where am I from?" "How did I hook up with these other two?" "What's my motivation?"

"Okay....you're Balthasar and you'll be...um...Melchior and you can be..."

"I'll be Gaspar! That's my grandpa's name!"


I think that's the way it went. I think that's also how we ended up with a black one, an old one and the other guy. Actors.

We'll dust them off, just the same and look to the big picture. Men from the east fulfilled an ancient prophecy. Both the lowly shepards and the most educated men of the day paid homage to the new king that came for everyone.

Without their gifts none of us would get any Christmas presents.

And we'll call them guests from out of town.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hello 2007

Happy New Year!
We didn't stay up for the shouting and gunfire to welcome in the new year. It's always seemed silly to me vow to do better next year all the while drinking and blowing horns.

And you can do better any time. Most certainly you'll make better choices as to what to do better about if you are sober.

We did wish each other a happy new year here at the house. I certainly have my doubts about what the new year might bring for Sister Mary Fiacre although she seems to just plug along and we soldier on with her.

About two months ago I really thought she was on her way out. Two things happened. She lost her appetite, which is her most robust quality, and all of the sudden Teddy was her best friend.

I know everyone thinks their cat is so special and only their cat does this wonderful/interesting/ cute thing. But the truth is cats are pretty much all the same give or take a small idiosyncrasy. For example, I knew a cat long ago who would come and stay with us for a while and then disappear for months or years and then turn up again. And each time it came back it brought us a gift. A dead mouse, a tomato. That's unusual. But other than that, even that cat did what all cats do.

One of the things that all cats do is pick a place to sleep, which is their main occupation. They'll sleep in that spot for a quite some time and then abandon that spot for a new spot. Teddy only has one consistent spot, the hood of the car. He'll sit on my lap, he'll sit with Sister St. Aloysius, but he never ever sits anywhere near Sister Mary Fiacre. My theory is that he doesn't like the wheelchair. But then he doesn't sit with her in the Lazy Boy, either.

So when she lost her appetite AND Teddy adopted her lap, I feared for the worse.

Let me explain that for quite a while I spent most of my free time at a nursing home. I would still be doing that if my own home hadn't become a mini-nursing home. There was a cat at this nursing home that always seemed to know who breathing their last and would sit on that person's bed until they passed and then leave. I started calling the priest for Last Rites when I saw that cat take up it's vigil. Wait...we don't call it "Last Rites" anymore...too scary...now it's the "Anointing of the Sick", so people feel a little better about the whole thing. We never brought it to the attention of the residents, who loved the cat, for fear they would shoo him away with their walkers if they found out.

So all of the sudden, Teddy took up residence with Sister Mary Fiacre. As soon as she was in place, wheels locked, or transferred to the Lazy Boy, up he came and there he stayed. Sister Mary Fiacre always looked startled for a moment and then the two of them sat until she was moved again or until bedtime. Teddy always goes out at night, but come morning there he would be again with Sister Mary Fiacre. It would have been really sweet if it hadn't been so frightening. I decided if he followed her to bed any night I would call the priest.

Sister Mary Fiacre, it turns out, had a low grade infection that caused the dip in her appetite and Teddy...was just being a cat. His spot changed to the back of the couch and then to in front of the bathroom door. For the time being it's under the tree, which will stop abruptly on Jan. 7th unless he makes his next switch before then.

We had a lovely supper last night and Sister Mary Fiacre ate like a rhinoceros. Teddy went outside for his evening of patrolling the perimeters and hood sitting.

All is well for the start of 2007.