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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

O. J. Logic

If you're visiting with a Catholic family member, and that family member openly (and rather proudly) admits to committing a number of mortal sins on a regular basis and then says something like, "I need my sins to get me through life, so they are just venial sins, not mortal sins for me..." -- are you obliged to attempt some gently worded correction? And when that family member expects to go to Mass with you on Sunday, are you obliged to suggest that you both go to confession beforehand? And if that family member says, "I don't go to confession, because I can't stand the guilt trip," and then goes to church with you and your small children on Sunday, are you obliged to suggest that maybe that family member ought to refrain from receiving the Eucharist?

I guess what I am asking is, aren't we supposed to look out for the souls of our loved ones and help each other achieve holiness? And when do we add action (speaking up) to our passive efforts (prayer, having Masses said for the person, etc.)?

I can't figure out why people don't apply this thinking, "I know the Church says this is a sin, but I don't think it's a sin, at least not for me, so it's not a sin for me," to other areas of their lives.

"Yes, Officer, I realize the light was red, but as I didn't see any other cars coming, I realized that I could cross the intersection safely. Isn't that what the lights are for, to make sure we don't run into each other? Mission accomplished."

"No, Professor, I found "The House of Seven Gables" boring and repetitious so I decided to read the last Harry Potter book instead. The point of the assignment was to see if I can write a critical analysis of a fictional work, so we're good, right?"

"I was here at work instead of home on my behind, so, even though you've noticed that I'm playing poker on my monitor here, you still have to pay me. I'm here if you need me."

Can you imagine trying to get away with that? Why does God have to put up with this idiocy? Oh, right. Loving and merciful.

Geez Louise.

I think of it as O.J. Logic. I believe Mr. O.J. Simpson truly believes he is innocent of any crime. Here's how the logid works. Mr. Simpson believes that his wife deserved to be killed (and that other man just got in the way). Since she deserved to be killed he didn't do anything wrong when he killed here and is therefore innocent.

Let's go hog wild and apply the same logic to the laws of physics, that way when this person hits the brakes on their car while going 60mph wearing no seat belt they won't go through the windshield because while other bodies in motion remain in motion, theirs does not.

So the question is, what do we do about it? I do think one should point out, without engaging in the argument, that the Ten Commmandments and the laws of the Church are either God's laws or they or not. This person seems to be interested in being a Catholic which means following the tenets of the faith, not the tenents of what Joe Schmoe cobbles together for himself and his comfort level.

Send him to me. I'll box his ears, make him stand in the corner, kneel on dried peas, wash his mouth out with soap, put his nose in a circle on the blackboard, clap erases together and write a thousand times, "I will not make up my religion." Whatever it takes.

As for Communion, we do not have the Communion Rail Police, or mortal sin counters. There is no chemical available in the Communion line that points out that something is not right like there is for swimming pools. We all know the deal, but we're just going to have to let it go and mind our own beeswax.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I Sold My Shoes

Our situation here is not good, so I'm only up for a few soft balls, when indeed we have some corkscrews and spitballs waiting in the wings. This person is looking for a patron saint for a chronic and worsening burden. When I'm ancient and babbling, I'll be babbling about who is the patron saint for what.

I'm not asking for the burden to go away, but I'd just like to know if there was a particular patron Saint for people who just need to borrow a little strength so they can carry on - like a New Testament version of Samson or something?

You could try asking for the burden to go away. I'd pick a person who is awaiting a miracle for their canonization and ask for their intercession. What's the downside? I'm partial to the Blessed Brother Andre, late of Montreal, a believer in miracles himself, and to Venerable Matt Talbot, the fantastically amazing drunk who turned his own life around on a dime (although he did have trouble giving up smoking, as he lived before the day of the nicotene patch, acupunture and hypnosis).

I can't remember if I've told you about Matt Talbot before, so bear with me if I repeat myself. I've been hanging around with even more amazingly old people than usual and I'm picking up their habits. I'm beginning to like mushy food, for example. I'm also driving very slowly for no reason.

Matt Talbot was an Irishman with a bunch of brothers and a saintly mother. He started drinking at age 12. He became a roaring drunk. He drank away his paycheck every week. He sold his shoes for booze.

(My old friend Sister Mary Arthen, nee Flossie, used to sing a little ditty that went "I sold my shoes....for a bottle of booze" whenever she played the Adagio from
Beethoven's Pathetique. There's a part of that where those words fit perfectly.)

Finally, after a pathetic afternoon of standing outside the bar begging for someone to buy him a beer (and being ignored because everyone was so sick of buying him beer) he slumped home to his saintly mother and told her he was going to give up the sauce. She warned him that it would be very difficult. HIs struggle was horrendous. He always said that losing the cigarettes was much worse.

Mr. Talbot lived a long life and helped many other people get on the wagon. He died one day walking to Mass, dropped dead in the street.

I thought I read somewhere that his guidelines formed the basis of what we now know as AA, but I always thought AA was someone else's idea. I'll have to look that up. I do know that there are places called "Matt Talbot House" all around the world. I'll bet the people at the Matt Talbot Houses smoke like stacks and drink coffee like it's going out of style, if you know what I mean.

And I also know that he is patiently waiting for his miracles. Clearly the man had strength to deal with a chronic problem. This is where you come in!

If that doesn't float your boat, you can go for the Archangel Gabriel. The name Gabriel means "Strength of God". Works for me!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Garden of Gethsemane

Nothing to do with this post but I was talking with my 12 year old son about vocations today. Among others things,I told him that I had read online about a nun who at first became a nun because she thought she was too ugly to get married. (I hope I am remembering that story properly.) He asked me if I meant that "nun with the blog" since he reads your blog over my shoulder sometimes. When I told him yes, he said, "I've seen her picture; she's not ugly."

I believe the work I used was 'homely'. Your poor boy. Have you had his eyes checked?

Last year we also had a question about taking Sundays off from our Lenten sacrifices. This being Sunday, I thought we should tackle this one:

I have a question. If you say you are going to give something up for Lent and then go ahead and do it a few times anyway (i.e. eat a brownie, or watch TV), is that a sin? Or is that just a mess-up and you start over more strongly commited the next day (like on a diet)? Does one need to take it to confession if they knowingly failed in giving something up perfectly? If they made a fully concious choice to give in to the temptation?

I would so love to tell you, "yes, that's a sin."

But it's just not. This is one of those golden moments when a nun could get away with making it up that it is a sin, too! If you were in second grade I would be so tempted!

But it's just not a sin. Sin is when you veer off God's path. When you decide to give up something for Lent, it really doesn't have anything to do with what God wants. It's to help you join in the suffering of Christ. In as much as I'm sure God wants you to join in the suffering of Christ, you are merely volunteering to do so during Lent. It's really about you and working on your spiritual character.

Imagine you made a plan with a friend of yours that you were going to do something nice for her that she liked. Weed her garden, say, or take her to breakfast. And you tell her, "I'm coming over today to week your garden! I'm coming over today to take you to breadfast!"

And then you don't show up.

Does it matter why?

Sure it does! If you found the children trying to make papier mache masks by lathering papier mache onto their faces and that baby's mouth is glued shut and after you get that off you discover that the papier mache has glued the seven year old's eyes shut and nothing will get them open again and you have to take him to the emergency room ande that's why you couldn't get over to your friend's house, that would be okay.

If your mother slipped on an icy patch and sommersaulted or went end over tea kettle or simply filled the air with arms and legs for a moment there before landing in a heap over by the mail box and you had to go check on her, that would be okay.

But if you just over slept and then made a quick phone call and got stuck while your
Aunt Marg yammers at you about your Aunt Rose and her colonoscopy and then you were taken in by something on the tube for a minute there about a kidnapping victim and suddenly it was lunch time and the whole morning was shot...not so much.

I think your friend would be very disappointed. And hungry.

Could you start in again tomorrow and do it?

Sure you could!

Better that than just say to yourself, "Oh well." I'll bet your friend would feel fine about that, too.

When I was a (homely) child I was fascinated with the story of the apostles in a food stupor from their Passover dinner in the Garden of Gethsemane, unable to wait up with Jesus at this crucial time, even though he begged them. "What is WRONG with those people," I thought. "I would never do that!"

Ha! I've done at least that! I've also glued children's eyes shut and had to go check on old ladies who have sommmersaulted down their driveways and gotten distracted by the problems of others and whether or not kidnapping victims have been found. I've fallen asleep while the whole convent prays the rosary. I dozed off standing up with a mop.

The least we can do is make a simple promise and try to keep it for a few weeks and not get distracted and try to stay awake with Jesus. In heaven's name, make a real effort. Pretend you're in the Garden of Gethsemane if you have to! Stay alert!

And get that kid's eyes looked after!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nuu Nuu Land

Here's two comments we must address:

When we sold my parents' house after their deaths, I put Miraculous Medals in inconspicuous places. I also put a rosary high on one of the shelves in my Dad's tool shed. A protestant minister bought the house. I keep looking for his name in the list of RCIA catechumens.

I do have a question... is it wrong to treat these metals like charms? I'm thinking of the protestant minister who bought the house of the above poster. Wouldn't he be scandalized to find medals planted like talismans around the house? (And, what do you think of the practice of burying statues of St. Joseph in order to sell a house?) I thought that it was the devotion to Mary that was directly inspired by the medal that worked miracles... not the object, itself.

However, I never knew it was a sin to believe in luck. Do you mean it's a sin to believe that some things happen randomly and you may be the recipient of a happy accident, such as a winning raffle ticket?

Ugh. It makes sense that we'd have this conversation right after we've also discussed the endless denominations and what everyone believes and doesn't believe and why many people think Catholics are crazy.

You have to admit, at least to yourself, that if someone told you when they sold their house that they left lucky pennies everywhere for the new recieptients, you'd just think it was kind of sad.

I'm not suggesting that the Miraculous Medal IS a lucky charm. What I am suggesting is that you be very careful about treating it as one. A charm is a thing that contains power in and of itself. Sacramentals are not charms. They are reminders. They help us focus.

And speaking of luck, yes, it is a sin to believe in luck. To believe in luck is to believe that God is just leaving us to the wind, some of us to randomly experience good fortune. Doubly random as sometimes we do pray and get Him involved in our fortune and some times we just say, "Good Luck!" Face it, the root word for 'good' is God, as in 'good-bye' really meaning "God be with you", but we are not invoking God's help when we say good luck. Not if we are being honest with ourselves.

I have the flu. Can you tell?

Leaving medals all over the place may be well intentioned, but, cut it out. It really seems as though you think the medal has some sort of power on it's own when you do that. Surely you can see how confusing that is.

If that isn't enough for you, keep in mind that the Blessed Mother asked that the Miraculous Medal be worn. Of course, that's before it was actually called the Miraculous Medal. But we knew what she meant. It's okay to carry it, too. But once you start stashing it...I think we're heading out to nuu-nuu land.

As far as I know, there is only one sacramental that is can be left behind to do it's work and it's still not because it's a charm. The Green Scapular is meant to heal the sick and call the fallen away back to the Church. You can give it to the person and they can say the prayer on it. OR...and this is the good part...if they won't take it and say the prayer on it, you can leave it in their nightstand or slip it into their purse and YOU say the prayer on it and it will still call them back to the Church. It's Stealth Catholism.

As for burying St. Joseph. I've talked about this practise before.

I need fluids.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Miraculous Motoring

I am in RCIA right now. A friend just gave me three miraculous medals. I want to wear one, and am trying to decide what to do with the other two. Any suggestions?

Lucky you! Although, believing in luck is a sin.

I love the Miraculous Medal. We really can't talk about it enough. Let's go over some of it's finer points. But first, a re-cap:

St. Catherine LaBoure, a remarkably homely novice of the Daughters of Charity (always prettied up considerably for her Holy Card) was awakened in the middle of the night by a child. This little angel told Catherine to head over to the chapel, which Catherine found awash in light. Our Blessed Mother paid Catherine a visit and while Catherine rested her head and hands on Our Lady's knee, the BVM asked Catherine to make a medal with the image of the Immaculate Conception, graces pouring from her hands, on it.

All St. Catherine could do was urge her confessor to have the medals made. Our Lady had showed Catherine a vision of both the front and the back of the medal, so there was no guess work involved. St. Catherine's confessor was dubious, but eventually coughed up a few medals which went like hot cakes. In a short time, thousands of medals had blanketed France, the many miracles attributed to them earned the title, "The Miraculous Medal".

That's the story, in a nutshell. St. Catherine's incorrupt body is still with us, although she is not with her hands. Her hands are in another room with the chair on which Our Lady sat.

Here's my favorite part of the story that no one really mentions: The Miraculous Medal is a self-portrait of Our Lady! So is the tilma on which we see the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe! We have two self portraits of Mary!

So what will you do with your extra Mary self portraits?

If you're going to be wearing one, you hardly need all three, even in your wallet or on your keychain. Someone must be needing one!

If I were you,I would give one other medal to someone who is having a difficult time practising their Catholic faith. The Miraculous Medal saved France. In 1830, Mary warned Catherine that the Church was about to come under attack. Jesuits were made illegal. Christianity was no longer to be taught in schools. The popularity of the Miraculous Medal turned back the tide. I'm sure Mary is not about to stop helping with that now.

I would give the other one to a motorcyclist. Another little known fact about the Miracualous Medal is that Mary in this form is the patron saint of those who are foolhardy enough to ride motorcyles. I've never seen a reason given, but I can venture a guess. It's a miracle if you survive a motorcycle accident. That must be the reason.

You could kill two birds with one stone by finding yourself a "Hell's Angel", I should think.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Always Room for Jell-O

When I was younger I used to take unofficial, impromptu polls. I wondered if there was anyone who just couldn't stand Jell-O. I had never seen anyone refuse Jell-O because they absolutely could not abide eating it, the way someone might gag at the idea of eating cottage cheese or cavier or mussels. I've never seen someone get that look on their face that a child might have if you tried to feed him a fish with it's head still on when facing down a dish of Jell-O. In my poll, I didn't find anyone who actually could not stomach Jell-O, although I did find several people who would rather not eat it, and that had to do with the consistency of it and not the taste.

I also did a poll to find out if I could find any women who did not like pasta. During that poll I discovered that women like pasta better than men and I didn't find any women who didn't like pasta.

More recently, I started asking non-Catholics of all denominations what exactly are the tenets of their faith. What makes a Methodist a Methodist and not a Baptist, what makes a Lutheran not a Methodist, because I really don't know and I can't seem to find any answers. This was an impromptu questioning, but I asked at least 25 people of a number of different denominations and I didn't get one answer from any of them. Not one. I got a few answers about why the person had chosen a particular congregation. (It was close by, they liked the minister's sermon's, that sort of thing.) Nothing more. I'm still on the case, if anyone cares to enlighten me.

Our question today was asked a few days ago when we were talking about just praying to Jesus and ignoring Mary and the saints.
I get a hoot out of your blog, though I'm protestant. Today I couldn't resist disagreeing with your father. Not to say that there aren't arrogant Protestants...there are and I am one of them at least part of the time (and perhaps now). But most of us, when we insist on talking only to Jesus, do not intend arrogance. We are simply repeating what our church taught us from birth. I've often seen Catholic submission to the magisterium characterized as proper humility...wouldn't the same fidelity to church teaching also be humility in a protestant? (I realize you must in the end regard our position as error.)

What a nice person! Isn't this a nice way to have a discussion?

Since Protestantism sprang from the mind of Martin Luther (and King Henry the VIII), I decided to find out why Martin Luther dumped Mary and the saints. I knew that in general, Luther's whole idea was to get the corrupt clergy out of the picture, clearing a path between you and Jesus. I imagined Mary and the Saints just got plowed under along with the sellers of indulgences when this antiseptic road to Jesus was paved. If you don't need a priest, you certainly don't need Good King Wenceslaus. Imagine my surprise to find this type of thing:

"One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God. " (Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521)

"Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of us all.
If Christ be ours . . . all that he has must be ours,
and His Mother also must be ours."
-- Martin Luther, 1529

We're not in 100% agreement. Mary IS something for the sake of herself...she is the Immaculate Conception. But she is something for the sake of herself because of Christ. Mary does wish that we come through her to God. Given what Luther actually has to say about Mary, it seems to me that all that stands between a Protestant and Mary is the misunderstanding that anyone is praying to her. For the 40 zillionth time, we are asking her to pray for us, the same way I may ask you to pray for me. She is the Mother of us all. Don't you ask your Mother to pray for you? I do. A mother's prayers are very special.

Aren't they?

I have to wonder if the whole notion of dumping Mary and the saints simply took on a life of it's own, as Protestantism tried to draw distinctions between THEM and US. It certainly seems to be a bone of contention. People get so cranky about it, in my experience. Amazing, as Mary is such a sweet person. What is there to be so grumpy about?

A perfect segue to this question:

Dear Sister Mary Martha:

What do you think is the appropriate response for someone snottily saying, "I'll pray for you!" when in a disagreement? I was thinking a sincere, "Thank you, I can sure use them." But, you're pretty clever and maybe you have something better?

I think your response is just fine. Here are some more ideas:

1. Please start now.

2. OH! Thank you! Let me get you a list of petitions!

3. I'll pray for you, too. A lot.

Friday, February 15, 2008

And Now You Know

Thank you for answering my question on the Eucharist. But if I can pester you just a little bit... Why is it so bad for another believing Christian to share in the body and blood? It's the WHY I don't understand. You do such a lovely job of explaining the church that I'd adore your take on it. But don't worry, I'll go celebrate mass with my own kind tomorrow and restrict my time in catholic churches to the Nicene creed and few prayers extra prayers for the unity of the 'one holy catholic and apostolic Church'.

The original question was if the reader, a non-Catholic, could take Communion at the Catholic Mass. I think it was Ash Wednesday, oh, so long ago last week. I found a really great Catholic answers site that had a very good explanation and I was going to save us all some time by posting the link. Now I can't find it.

I wonder if I should pray for the intercession of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost items, since it was something I had and lost, or should I look to St. Isidore the patron saint of the internets?

Rather than pester either of them, I'll try to reiterate the answer, which was in dialogue form.

Why can't I go to Communion during your Mass?

You can't, because we're not sure you understand what's really going on here. It's not a symbolic lunch time with Christians, it's the actual Body and Blood of Christ. It's a really, really big deal called Transubstantiation, only the priest can do it, and unless you understand it and believe it, showing up for it is not advised.

On top of that, you have to be prepared. You can't show up with a mortal sin on your soul, for example. Neither can I.

Oh, please, I haven't been living under a rock. Not only do I understand Transubstantiation, I believe it, too.

That's nice. I can't think why you wouldn't want to go ahead and convert, in that case, especially if your denomination only believes in some version of a symbolic body and blood of Christ. (And surely you realize that only a priest can change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, so whatever is going on at the altar over there in your denomination is not Transubstantiation.) That's where you really lose me, but that's off topic for the moment. I believe you, you believe it. But many, I would venture to say, the majority, of non-Catholics do not. So we ask you not to partake for your own good, since we can't have a belief checker in the Communion line for all the non-Catholics and it's grave sin to cavalierly dance up to the rail to be part of the 'party'.

That was the answer on the site I lost. I thought it was a good answer.

Well, almost a good answer. The truth is, one could argue that we don't have a sin checker for Catholics who may have mortal sins or their souls, either. I would only hope that any Catholic would know better than to try that, landing them in double mortal sin status. Nobody would be that big of a goofus.

And since we don't have a belief checker or a sin checker, people who don't know any better could be following along in line and receiving Communion. Since they don't know any better, it's not a sin. If they know better and are doing it anyhow, it's a big fat sin.

But now you do know, so it is. And speaking of "once you know it's a sin, it's a sin if you do it", I fell upon this site that will help everybody get through Lent without sinning, at least where fasting and abstinence are concerned. (I know there are myriad other sins with which you could busy yourself.) Meat, no meat, what's a fast, what's abstinence; it's all here, spelled out so clearly, with a big picture of Jesus to contemplate while you get it together.

Please pay extra special attention to number SIX, which explains that when you don't fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, you commit a mortal sin. And now that you know that, guess what? If you didn't know that last week for Ash Wednesday, you're off the hook. But as of now, you are on notice for Good Friday and from now on.

So, get it together.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In Between Cookies

Happy St. Valentine's Day! Be sure and put that SAINT in front of your greetings today, while you are eating heart shaped cookies and cupcakes and those little tiny candy things with words on them.

SAINT Valentine.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Sr. MM, instead of giving up something for lent perhaps you could watch that soap every day. It sounds penitential enough! And in defense of the nuns for their rotten fact checking - I suspect they are in the same boat as most mothers (at least the teaching nuns) and have answered too many questions. Once I have reached my limit I just make up the answers and they get more and more absurd. It's the brains defense mechanism.

I'm happy to report that my mother is very much improved and I will be returning home next week. I'm sure I will have some penitential hunks of time on the way, between having to leave and what happens when I return. Sometimes I think perhaps if we had Sister St. Aloysius' eyes checked, the house would be in better shape. Maybe I'll just take off my own glasses and have a nap.

Meanwhile, I am watching that soap opera every day. Yesterday the main Irish Catholic family's mother (not the mooder that dropped dead) was strolling around in the park with the man she had had an affair with years ago, a union that produced a son that she apparently passed off as her Irish Catholics husband's until one day the son, who was a cop, was about to shoot his real father, who is a wealthy criminal mastermind of some type, and the Irish Catholic mother had to shout, "Don't shoot him! He's your father!" No one was happy.

We can all relate.

As painful as it was to hear this story, it was made all the more cringy bad by the fact that it was all being told to the couple's grand daughter, who was chirpily asking how her father came to be. She was hanging on every word of the sordid tale like the child in "Princess Bride". At least she was not a child, this girl. I'm not sure what happened to her, if she was in a prison camp or something, to be so thin. I'll have to ask my mother what happened to her.

WHAT AM I SAYING!!!???? I don't want to know. The rest of the soap opera family is on an airplane that is about to crash because it is "February sweeps", according to my mother, so hopefully they'll all be gone by the end of the week, into the briny deep, as they are now over the Atlantic Ocean.

I had to comment about this reader's other comment:
...And in defense of the nuns for their rotten fact checking - I suspect they are in the same boat as most mothers (at least the teaching nuns) and have answered too many questions. Once I have reached my limit I just make up the answers...

But it's not that simple. It would be one thing if the nun just blew her cork and told the kids that lions live in the park and that's why they shouldn't walk there at night. That wouldn't be good, but the kids would be safer. The problem comes in when the nun is telling the kids about the tenets of the Catholic Church and blows her cork and makes things up.

1. Parents who give their children up to the clergy or religious life get a free pass to heaven.

I would have sworn that was true.

2. Your Confirmation name is the name you'll be called in heaven.

This one makes some sense to me. But it's made up.

3. Animals do not go to heaven.
I stand by this one along with St. Thomas Aquinas, but the Church is actually mute on the subject.

The list goes on.

I understand how it happens.

I've often heard people complain that the Catholic Church has so many rules and so many things to remember. But the Church doesn't sit around making up rules for the fun of it. We just have to answer so many questions.

We used to get this type of thing:
"Sister, I have to fast before Communion. Say I am playing with a blade of grass bewteen my thumbs, making it into a whistle and I accidently swallow it and then I go to Communion. Is that a sin?"

Do you think the Church has a Canon Law for the accidental swallowing of grass whistles before Communion? Should I just put my fingers in my ears and sing, "La! La! La! La!" until you go away?

No. I have to come up with an answer. There is an answer. (Hint: sin is about intent.)

But if I snap and give you an absurd answer (Jesus loves grass whistles, why, when He was a child He often played with grass whistles and was thinking about them on Palm Sunday, like Orson Wells at the end of "Citizen Kane"), how can you tell that answer from when I tell you it is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday? Purgatory for me.

Some of you may have noticed that from time to time a nun simply disappeared from her post without explanation. Maybe you heard vague whispers that she went 'back to the Motherhouse'. Sometimes she would return with equal mystery. I can tell you, that nun had had to deal with one too many grass whistles. Or Tuberculosis. One of the two.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Urns and Mary Burns

I was in a quandry as to what to give up for Lent. I've more or less given up everything as it is, under my present circumstances (although things are improving and thanks for your prayers!).

At least there is the opportunity to share in Christ's suffering. I've been watching my mother's soap opera with her as I am sitting with her day and night. That would be plenty of suffering, right there (the soap opera part), but the main family on the soap opera is supposed to be a group of Catholics. Sometimes there are some pretend Irish Catholics on there with very bad, very tortured accents. One of the characters was a nun, but went the way of Audrey Hepburn and then some, having an affair with a married man and then pretending to throw herself off a cliff ( a festival of mortal sin), only to resurface scores of years later to announce that one of the other characters is her long lost son. "I'm yer moodder." Thankfully for all of us, she dropped dead after her announcement.

Now I know how Jesus feels watching us all sinning away every day.

OK, here's a dumb question for you. I've recently heard that cremation is ok, but not encouraged for Catholics because of the resurrection of the dead. But I can't follow this line of thought for a number of reasons, one of which is that if being all in one piece and in one place mattered, saints wouldn't be in little pieces in altars. (Another is that I just think God can cope. And bodies mostly turn to dust after a while anyway, a system God devised...) Anyway, can you explain this to me? It came up in a course on Grief today, and I was puzzled.
Thanks so much.

I think I may have covered this once before, but we'll just run through it again quickly. The Catholic Church did not used to allow cremation because of the Resurrection of the Dead. (That means at the end of time, you will be reunited with your body...which is a good reason to keep yourself in shape.) But then the Church decided that it was okay, since you turn to dust anyhow. Fast dust (cremation), slow dust, it's all dust. It will be up to God to sort out all that dust. I'm not sure why it's not encouraged. My personal feeling is that is just residual discomfort because it was not allowed.

However, there is a case where cremation would be a mortal sin. That's when you have yourself cremated to say "Nyah! Nyah!" to the Church and show how much you don't believe in the Resurrection of the Dead one way or the other. "Ha!" you are thinking, "resurrect THIS!" That would be a mortal sin.

You said Catholics are not bound to venerate the saints, only highly encouraged. Does that go for the Blessed Virgin too? What about the talk of her being the "Mediatrix"?

Let me clarify. Catholics are obliged to honor the saints and Mary, in the same way that we would be called to honor anyone who possesses heroic virtue. You can't dishonor the saints and Mary.

But you don't have to pray for anyone's intercession. The reason I make that distinction is to comfort all those people who insist on only talking to Jesus. My father used to say, "stupid with an attitude". I would say, proud to be missing the boat on asking heroes to pray for you. Nonetheless, as a Catholic, you can skip asking for the intercession of Mary and the saints. As stupid as that is.

The Mary thing is particularly vexing. Here's what I have to say about the idea that ignoring Mary is a smart move:

So. You only talk to Jesus. Good for you. Let me get this straight. Tomorrow you are invited to a party and Jesus is going to be there. You get to this party and you talk to Jesus and it's just wonderful. You sit down on the couch with your plate of cheese and crackers and, lo and behold, next to you on the couch is Mary, with her plate of olives with pimento. You say nothing to her? You just sit there staring ahead eating your cheese? Wouldn't you be fascinated to get to talk with Jesus' mother? Seriously, wouldn't you? If Jesus wanted to sit on the couch too, would you just shove Mary aside? And what if she said to you, "is there anything else you'd like me to say to Jesus for you?", your reply would be, "no, I'll just talk to Jesus myself"?

And what do you think Jesus would think if you were so rude to his mother at the party?

What did we learn from the story of Jesus changing the water to wine? You might
remember that He didn't want to bother with the whole mess. He particularly didn't want to let the Messiah cat out of the bag yet. But when His mother asked Him to do something, He did it. Moral of the story: Jesus listens to His mother.

Don't be stupid. Ask her to pray for you. She's yer moodder!

I'm not touching the Mediatrix explanation with a ten foot pole...at least today...because it is difficult for many people to understand at all and will only make those people who still can't get the simple explanation (that we have to say until our faces turn blue) that we don't pray TO Mary just all the more stupified.

I have a question. Is it possible to "miss" one's vocation? To feel called to Holy Orders, for example, but through stubbornness, fear, lack of trust, or ignorance, choose another path that wasn't God's design for us?

Well sure. That's what free will is all about. Mary could have said no. Joseph could have taken a powder. There are plenty of saints who avoided God like the plague for as long as they could. Surely there are people who lived as, say, St. Augustine did, party animal that he was (he is the patron saint of beer) and never had a St. Monica to cry and pray them into the priesthood and just partied on. St. John of God lived the life of a regular fruit cake until he finally found God in the looney bin. I think he still resisted for a while after that. He sold holy cards, but he didn't believe anything. That's why he's the patron saint of greeting card makers. There are people whose parents wouldn't let them join the convent or the priesthood. Too bad for those parents. We were always told that giving a child to the priesthood or the convent was a free ticket to heaven.

I think that's still true. I'd better look it up and make sure it's not another
"nun story" (sans Audrey Hepburn).

Okay. I looked it up. Let's just say, there are some nuns spending quite a bit of time in Purgatory just for their rotten fact checking. I'm shaking my head. I hate to think of all the things I've passed on with my rotten fact checking. It seems I uncover a new one every day.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Animal Brain

WE had a couple of comments about the 'monastic community' the other day. Seeing how it's Lent and all and we are looking for some suffering (I hope), I thought perhaps we should wade in.

How do you and Sister St. Aloysius decide how to allocate chores, if that is not too personal a question. (You mentioned once how annoying it was that she hadn't cleaned the stove in a long while.) Even among groups who don't live as a community, it's a problem that some people feel put upon.

Not so much annoying. Shocking would be the word I would choose.

Everyone feels put upon. Our society encourages it. We like to 'vent'. It's supposed to be healthy.

I don't think it's particularly healthy. I think it would be more healthy to stop being so put upon. Not having your needs met? "Drop some needs." I heard a comedian say that once. Good advice.

To figure out the chores, we divided the house up by rooms, and since she cooks (we decided on that because I am a terrible cook...I suppose we could have me cook and offer it up, but we have to keep up our strength) she did the kitchen. Until the stove debacle. Then we re-worked a couple of things. I've never encountered a nun who didn't do her chores. I've encountered some who were terrible at some given task. The only time there is a problem is when someone who is terrible at a task thinks they are great at it. Then one must decide between expediance and diplomacy. We're not all Andy of Mayberry, tricking people into doing the right thing.

The other thing I sensed was that there was too much "make nice face" going on. The one mother spoke as if she was worn out from always being "on duty" -- cheerful and selfless and whatever -- with no time to just vent and complain and be crabby because the "walls were too thin." Check me on this, Sister, but one can't just *pretend* to make nice in communal living. One actually has to BE nice.

I'm with you on this, but we all know it's not that easy. I think you actually do have to pretend to be nice sometimes, with the hope of the niceness sticking. You have to be able to open the email, delete the badness and forward on the niceness.

That was a bad analogy. Pffftt.

You have to let the badness hit you, like when a line drive blows straight back and beans the pitcher in the forehead. You must shake it off and throw the next pitch, like the line drive never happened.

You can't sit around thinking about how, "if I'm all loving and nice all the time, the irritating person will eventually see that THEY are the irriating one and come around and be nice finally." It's not your job to make other people into nice people. It's just your job to keep being a nice person, no matter what. Throw the next pitch. That's why the nuns always told you to "mind your own garden."

Here's a fun story. St. Therese the Little Flower and another nun were mopping the floor when the other nun carelessly flung the wet mop water right into St. Therese's face. Hot, wet, filthy water. And as nasty as that would be to have happen to you, imagine it while wearing a habit with a stiff veil and all that. (Trust me, she's not going to excuse herself and go get her other big stiff veil. She's going to wear that wet gooey one until it dries or until bedtime, whichever comes first.)

What does St. Therese do? Nothing. (I'm sure she wrote it down later in her Little Book of Suffering to add it up for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.)The question is: Did she feel like screaming, "Watch what you're doing with that mop, you idiot?"
We'll never know.

I vote yes.

Here's why. People are also mammals. We have nerve endings that send signals to our brains when things that are hot, wet, sudden and filthy smack us in the face. The brain screams, "Don't let that happen again!"

Did you know, for example, that the real reason for gaper's block is not that everyone has a morbid curiosity? The real reason is that your mammal brain is hard wired to protect you from harm and so when something is out of the ordinary, your brain wants you take note. You may have to run, or fight. An accident is out of the ordinary. Your brain will want to take note.

So for a moment, when we have our toes stepped on, or our egos, for a moment there we may want to scream, "Watch it, you idiot!"
It's what we do in the next moment that counts. You may well have to grit your teeth into a smiling grimace and make "nice face" while you drop the need to comment on the other person's lack of brains, common sense, empathy, sense of direction or hand-eye co-ordination.

If you do it enough, you will get past the need to pretend to be nice and you will actually just be nice.

Unless you are Audrey Hepburn in "A Nun's Story". Then you'll just be aggravated
that you can't go do whatever you want to do and you'll put on your party clothes and walk out the door.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Take No Shoes

Okay, so it's Ash Wednesday. I've never seen anyone with a cross of ashes on their head, like that girl in the picture. The priest does make a cross on the forehead with the ashes, but it just always comes out looking like a big smudge.

Since we're embarking on Lent, my favorite time of year (except for my Christmas mania) and we're giving up things (at least, I hope we're giving up things) it turns out to be a good day to talk about this story, finally. I hope you've had a chance to give it the once over. The reader that brought it to my attention asked me what I thought about it. I have some thoughts.

If you're too weak from fasting to go read the story, I'll give it to you in a nutshell. Three couples (I think it was three) and their children decided to go live the monastic life, i.e. live frugally and give everything else to the community around them. They also wanted to become more active in helping those around them in the community in any other way they could find.


They found it difficult.


The first problem they had was the paring down. How much is too much? How little is too little? They had problems splitting up the chores and became aggravated with each other when some people shirked their duties. They had problems finding anyone to help in the community.

To me the whole thing boiled down to this one sentence: They had difficulty deciding how many bottles of salad dressing they should have.

Flag on the Field! Bottles? Meaning you have a choice of several different kinds of salad dressing for your monastic lifesytle?

The next time I have to hear about how crazy it is that priest can't marry and raise a family and be a priest, I'm going to blow up this aritcle and mount it onto foambroad and march around and around with it on a big sandwich board around my neck.

What is a monastery? It's a place where individuals go for a comtemplative life of solitary prayer. "But there are a bunch of monks in a monastery!" you say. Yes, there are. That's because it is SO hard to do, you need some support of other people who are doing it, too.

The first monks were hermits. They lived alone in the desert. Some of them lost their marbles. They started living a little closer to one another for support and eventually they just started living in communities. But the monks don't live in dormatories. They each have a cell.

And what's in the cell? Why, three bottles of salad dressing, of course.

Now you see why I think it boils down to that sentence?

A bed, a blanket, a prayerbook, a crucifix. Maybe a chair. Probably not.

No salad dressing at all. Not even one bottle of low fat vinegrette.

And! NO CHILDREN! Not even a little skinny one that only likes to eat dry oatmeal and hard bread.

Okay, so these people in the article are not Catholic monks and they are taking liberties with the word monastery. Let's give them that.

But I do think they would be helped greatly if they simply looked to a different model of community living, like a kibbutz or a commune or something. And someone has to sit them down and tell them that shirking their agreed to duties is not an option. We have ways of dealing with shirkers in our community lifestyle. For example:

Sister Mary Didn't Sweep the Floor will do better tomorrow.

Here's another tip: if you want to pare down your lifestyle, take some good advice from oh, say, Jesus, and pare it down to nothing. Take no shoes, no purse. Take no leather couch and no salad dressing.

I do applaud these people for their effort, and they are finding ways to help in their community now. I'm not sure I like having children involved. I'm not sure I would like the children not to be involved.

What they're doing is a little dangerous. But Jesus was a little dangerous, in what He asks of us. Loving one's enemies isn't for the feint of heart.

Neither is community living.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Relically Speaking

I really wanted to talk about this today. I guess I'll give you another chance to peruse it for yourselves. Meanwhile, as I have been on a roller coaster rider with my mother, who is one day better and the next day worse and the next day better again and still in the hospital (but maybe getting out today), we'll just hit a few soft balls.

Another question from a protestant. Tomorrow is Ash-wednesday, in our protestant tradition the receiving of the ash cross on the forehead is not a custom. But I would very much like to receive it as a sign of entering Lent, a time of concentration on God. Would it be allright for me to receive the ashcross in the catholic church. ( Of course without taking part in the Eucharist.)

I don't see a problem with this, although, if you're that interested in the way the Catholic Church does things.....you might want to think about.....doing things that way all the time? You realize that, in a sense, you will be posing as a Catholic all day tomorrow?

In Quebec, there's a big shrine to the famous mother-daughter dream team, Sts. Anne and Mary, and they have tiny chunks of both of them on display.
(Mary's looks like a finger bone, but the piece of St. Anne is literally a "chunk" - just a little square of indescernable body part!) The last time I went there I was in the 7th or 8th grade, and I was amazed that the church could keep track of something so tiny for thousands of years, while I was "lose" my homework assignments somewhere between the bus stop and home.

Whoa Nelly!

This is upsetting. I can't imagine why a Catholic Church would claim to have the
relics of St. Anne and Mary. To begin with, St. Anne...we don't even know her name, really. We don't know one single thing about her. What has been passed down about her mostly comes from Gospels that were tossed out of the New Testament and for good reason, like the Killer Baby Jesus stories. We know Mary had a mother. That is all we know. Well, maybe not all....we know she was a good mother, because look how well she did with Mary. Then, on the other hand, Mary, being free from sin, technically could have had Britney Spears as a mother and still turned out fine. Sacred Tradition venerates Ann as the saintly mother of Mary. Works for me! The idea that anyone has a 'chunk' of her is utterly absurd.

But MARY RELICS!!!! WHAT!!???? It is the Dogma of the Catholic Church (which means this is something the Church says is absolutely true, unlike, say, whether or not dogs go to heaven) that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. Her whole body went to heaven and I imagine the dress she was wearing at the time. Unless she had a hair cut right before she left, there ARE NO RELICS.

No first class relics, at any rate, unless she had had a recent manicure or a haircut. There are three types of relics:
1. First Class Relics: an actual piece of the person.
2. Second Class Relics: an object the person touched or used, like her hairbrush or her shoes or her handbag.
3.Third Class Relics: an object touched to a first class relic. For example, you touch your hankie to the bone of a saint. The hankie is now a third class relic.

Explaining that will make answering this question a snap!

Where did you hear that people are not supposed to possess relics? I ask because I have a second class relic of Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac that my friend received during a trip to Europe.
His biography: http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/sainta66.htm
If I'm not supposed to have it I will find a church to which to donate it. I do keep it in a small home altar.

I'll bet you actually have a third class relic there. I really didn't make this up, I promise.

Regular people used to possess first class relics. Now the Church doesn't want that to happen anymore. For one thing, it's a really big fat sin (simony) to sell relics, which is what was going on, even though it was often disguised as a 'donation'. It didn't pass the smell test, a lot of the time, so the Church just put an end to it.

The Vicarate of Rome is in charge of the relics. If a Cathlic Church needs a relic, for the altar maybe, the priest would write a request to the Vicarate in Rome to obtain a first class relic. You might be able to obtain one for yourself, but you'd better have a pretty compelling reason.

I'm not sure quite where the Church stands on possessing second class relics. My guess would be that if you've come by it naturally, like you were Mother Teresa's Super Cuts barber and you kept the comb you used on her, no problem. But once you try to sell it on ebay=problem. I don't think the Church would be much more happy about peole buying and selling and collecting second class relics than She is about first class relics.

But third class relics are NO PROBLEM. You can have oodles of them. I would encourage it! Not the oodles part. I don't know why you'd what oodles, really. That sounds like a collection.

I don't have a problem with having a collection of third class relics, per se. It's just that once you start collecting, where's the veneration? Collecting something tends to be about the pursuit of objects. The saints are not Beanie Babies.

Watch it!

My husband and I are expecting our second child soon. We have a name picked out for both genders (one being straight out of scripture) but one is a variation on a ancient Roman god's. There is a saint with this name that we have found who has noble attributes, but it has been after the fact. My husband thinks that since the child will have a Christian middle name the first name doesn't matter so much in that respect. I still worry that we should go ahead and make sure both names are fully Christian. Does the Church have a view on this? What are your personal feelings?

You can name your child Blotsnefad, if you like. There is no law that says you have to give your child a Christian name, let alone a saint's name. It is simply a practice that is encouraged for a couple or reasons: (I love making little lists!)
1. We feel it surely gives the child the automatic intercession of the saint or saints.
2. As the child gets older it's a helpful way to introduce the child to the teachings of the church (what's a saint? how do you get to heaven? what is that light around those heads in those paintings?).
3. We hope that as the child grows he can choose the emulate the saint and call on the saint for intercession.

So you can see why if you name your child Blotsnefad, we become a little depressed. But, we can handle it.

We've been treating very old pews to bring out the luster of the wood. There is an ordination coming up. Right now the pews feel sticky from the 'glo' treatment, anybody have a remedy?

We never use anything but Murphy's Oil Soap. Cleans and polishes. I don't know why they don't tap us for their commercials.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Gone Tomorrow, Hair Today

To read today's post, you're going to have to scroll down under the top post "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow". I made some notes on Saturday, so the Blogger site here has pretended that I wrote and posted it on Saturday.

I think I'll keep doing this. I could get younger and younger.

Look for today's post: Saints Preserved by Us.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Hi Sister,
This is a question rather than a comment so sorry it's in the wrong spot (I couldn't find the right spot but am not deterred!)
I'm a postulant (non-habit-wearing benedictine congregation) and, as I approach novitiate, am thinking about shaving my head. Can you tell me about why Sisters do/did that? and what do you reckon about me doing it? I'm a thoroughly modern girl and not sure where this impulse is coming from but am exploring the question.
Thanks heaps! Sarah
p.s. I am on a timeframe with novitiate 4ish months away... no pressure, but if you happen to get a chance I'd love an answer soonish! With gratitude and prayers for you & the community, Sarah

It wasn't so much that they shaved their heads, Sarah..although they may have. The gist of the no hair nun thing was that they chopped off all their hair. They often just chopped it any old which way, as short as they could and the reason was very simple.

Women back then didn't have a closet full of clothes and a pair of shoes to match each outfit. The average woman had maybe three dresses. That's why you see so many women wearing some sort of apron on top of whatever they were wearing, because the dress had to last. It wasn't very easy to wash the dress.

I know when you watch "Meet Me in St. Louis" it seems like Judy Garland has a different pretty colorful dress on every day....well, in fact she does....but it just wasn't really like that for the average woman until the turn of the century and the industrial age getting into full swing.

But we know that women from the dawn of time have been interested in looking smart. Is that too archaic a word for us today? Looking sharp, looking good, showing off the old assests.

So what does a women with one dress for everyday and a few aprons to keep it clean have to work with? What can she do to set herself apart to look attractive? Her hair. ( I think I have a picture somewhere of St. Therese the Little Flower's hair after it was shorn--a better word for what happens--because her father kept it because it was so beautiful. Yes, here it is.)

That's how cutting off all your hair in the most ghastly, freakish way with dull scissors became a way to show our humility before God, to give up the worldly. I don't mean it was a ghastly, freakish thing to do. I mean it was purposefully done in the most chopped up, lopped off fashion one could muster.

When you join the army and go off to boot camp, you have your head shaved. The reason for that is to prevent head lice. There is no other reason. But it does serve another purpose. It rather levels everyone, having the same bad haircut.

The same is true of nuns. Now we all enter the life of the convent with nothing to show off, all with the same atrocious hair cut. Glory Be!

I'm not sure why you'd actually want to shave your head, unless your entire head will be covered by a veil. If you're going for the short veil look, or the no veil deal, it's possible that your shaved head will have the opposite effect, drawing attention to yourself. It's possible people will think you're a Buddhist nun. Buddhist nuns shave their heads and keep them shaved. Oh wait! I see you mentioned it's a no veil thing. Well.....maybe you should start with a really bad hair cut. Sister St. Aloysius goes to Fantastic Sam's. Super Cuts is pretty terrible, too. What do you want for $6?

Not that you should concern yourself too much with what everyone thinks. There's your answer about why nuns have no hair. The rest is between you and God.