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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mystery Saints

Sr. Mary Martha, I was hoping you could help me identify these saints (you're good at this). My parish has very nice paintings for the Stations of the Cross. I noticed there were these two children with halos in some of the stations. They appear about the time Simon helps carry the cross and are no longer in the picture when Jesus is nailed to the Cross. They're carrying shovels or spades. Who are these saints?

Who knows? Some artist had some idea about what symbols he wanted in the paintings. I've never seen any haloed children in any depiction of the Stations of the Cross, so it's not some common thing that we're all supposed to 'get'.

I think they're angels. Here is why: there can't be any saints yet. Saints are people who have died and gone to heaven. Since during the Stations of the Cross the gates of Heaven are not open yet, there can't be any little children saints to come down and dig a garden or whatever they were planning with those shovels. Not any child saints could exist yet, not even the Holy Innocents, who would have landed in the Limbo of the Fathers.

Everyone who died before Jesus opened the gates of Heaven went to the Limbo of the Fathers. Unless they went to Hell. I think if they were headed to Hell, they went straight the Hell. I'm not sure about that, but that seems like the expedient thing to do. Certainly all the good people went to the Limbo of the Fathers. Then, when Jesus died on the cross and before He rose on Easter, He went to the Limbo of the Fathers and let everyone out. The Limbo of the Fathers closed.

Then Limbo was re-opened for the unbaptized babies and the Aborigines. I was under the impression that Limbo was closed for good after Vatican II, but it seems the jury is still out on that one. The official word is that the Church "hopes" Limbo is closed for good and that God in his mercy has accepted the little unbaptized babies (and the Aborigines and dead Native Americans who lived before the North American Martyrs tried to save them) into heaven. We just don't know.

And I just don't know who those children could be if they are not angels.

The bigger mystery, in my opinion, is what on earth they are doing with those shovels! Surely they aren't going to help dig the hole in which to place the cross! Perhaps they are, since Jesus' death and Resurrection is very important and must be accomplished.

I wouldn't put it past some artist to stick some child saints in there, even though they couldn't really exist yet. Here's a painting called "The Triumph of the Holy Innocents" in which the blessed children are having a fun time accompanying the Holy Family on their flight to Egypt. I'll bet not one of them asked, "Are we there yet?"

Or perhaps the artist had a fever at the time in which he painted that panel in your church. You might want to just try and track him down and ask.


babybreederbabe said...

Oh, dear! They're absolutely not angels, Sister. They're children, about 10-12 years old, and they're dressed in the same sort of clothes as the other people. They sorta have open shirts/loose tunics that show their shoulders and I think it would be obvious if there were wings. The paintings are done in a pretty realistic narrative style. (Actually, they're the nicest Stations of the Cross I've ever seen. They musta cost a bundle.)

As for their not being any saints, yet... Mary and John have halos when they're depicted in the series. I didn't think to check if St. Veronica does, though.

The shovels are what really threw me, too. I mean, I coulda assumed that they're just some sympathetic pious onlookers if it weren't for the shovels. You know, I think I'll have to ask the priest.

Unless somebody else knows what I'm talking about! I know there have been other times the comments here have cleared up "Who Is That Saint?" for me!

Sister Mary Martha said...

Pull yourself together! Angels are often depicted without wings. In the Old Testament they show up all the time having lunch and looking like regular people.

Mary and John often have halos because they are holy...that is their 'aura' of holiness that they have even in this life. In art it's to help show who they are...it is meant to show that this person is St. John, not John Doe.

Debbie said...

"Surely they aren't going to help dig the hole in which to place the cross! "

Oh, I wish I knew a way to LOL louder!

RainbowMom said...

Are you really a nun? That is soo cool! :D

Anonymous said...

"Forgive me Father, I don't recycle."
What is with the list released from the Vatican where environment abuse is a mortal sin?

Anonymous said...

I don't know what the shovels mean but my guess is that the children are Alexander and Rufus, who are identified as the children of Simon of Cyrene in Mark 15:21.
And, anonymous, for a more accurate account of the "new sins" story, go to Catholic World News http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=57130. A good rule of thumb is, always take secular news stories about "the Vatican" with a very large grain of salt. Terentia

Cyn said...

Hi Sister, I am participating in what is called a Small Lenten Faith Group. We meet once a week during Lent and we follow a catholic publication called "Quest, A Reflection Booklet for Small Christian Communities". Three questions from today's discussion: 1)Was the Holy Spirit "alive & well" in the Old Testament? 2)To receive communion, must we believe that the host is literally "the body of Christ" (a priest related this to one of our group saying the host IS the body of Christ and is literally interpreted as "gnawing" (gross!) on the body of Christ) or is the host meant to represent the body of Christ? And finally, 3)Once we receive communion, is it true that we don't have to genuflect before the altar when we leave because Christ is now in us? If so, how long does that last? Hope you will shed some light for us. Thanks!

La Bibliotecaria Laura said...

They have to be Alexander and Rufus. I think it is making a statement that if children witness their parents helping Christ carry His Cross, it will only put them on the path to holiness...

Sister, a Fresh Scapular question here:
I have a beautifully made Scapular that I dearly love. However, it says on it, "Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire."

Now I've come to learn that this statement was inserted into Carmelite documents without permission--it is essentially a forgery. So is it okay to wear the scapular, even if it has an incorrect statement?

Thank you, Sisiter!

Matthew said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha,

Could you explain St Anthony of Padua and the images and stautes of him carrying the infant Jesus? I've heard a number of stories--Did an apparition of the infant Jesus appear to him? Is is merely a metaphor or analogy? Is it deeper symbolism? I was asked this the other day since I feel a certain bond to the saint and didnt know for sure. Im sure there are other interesting stories about the "Evangelical Doctor" please enlighten me!

married2ajoseph said...

OK.... the shovels or spades would be because they'd been out working in the fields! Not sure why they're depicted as holy, but at least I've got an idea of who they are!

matthew, I think somebody else walked in on St. Anthony and saw him holding the infant Jesus.

Yellowhammer said...

Dear Sister,

I promise not to ask a stupid question this time :)

I was just reading that bit you said about the Limbo of Our Fathers - I always mistake it for Purgatory. Anyway, I think some folks did take the express route to heaven, like Moses and Elijah (on his flaming chariot). I just remembered because a few weeks ago the Gospel was about the apostles having a vision of Jesus being flanked by Moses and Elijah up in the mountains.

Re: Stations of the Cross, I think St. Veronica is also traditionally depicted in one - but isn't St. Veronica (true icon) just a 'legendary saint'?

In any case, my question has to do with Dante. Did he actually get the whole Heaven, Hell and Purgatory bit right? Or was he borrowing a lot from Greek mythology and the current events of that day?

Thanks Sister and I hope everything's great at your end.

Anonymous said...

Cyn: Sister will have better answers, but for now, 1) See http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Faith/1998-01-02/trinity.html
2) See The Catechism of The Catholic Church, paragraphs 1355 and 1357-1358 (these are available online)
3) Yes, you still genuflect any time the Blessed Sacrament is in the tabernacle, and you still bow to the altar when the Blessed Sacrament is reserved elsewhere (for example, in a separate adoration chapel).

Hope this helps. Your group should probably pitch in together and get a copy of the Catechism.


Anonymous said...

In regard to St. Anthony, when I was little I used to think that he was Baby Jesus' babysitter.

antonina said...

cyn: of course you MUST believe the host to be the true body of blood of Christ! The Eucharist, this mystery of God's Infinite Love for us is central and fundamental to our Catholic faith. The Western Church has always believed it, the Eastern Church has always believed it. It is a Truth of the Faith, a defining article, a necessary truth for salvation. Why would you want to gnaw on a symbol anyway, what good would it do?

Matthew: St. Anthony, among the myriad of miraculous events in his short life on earth, was favored with an apparition of the child Jesus. Tradition says it happened while he was working on his cycle of Easter Sermons. The place of the apparition is now a beautiful sanctuary at Camposampiero, just outside of Padua. He spent his last days there. If you want to know anything else about St Anthony (that's knowable :-) just ask, he's my dearest friend and protector.

matthew said...

Dear Antonina--
Thank you so much for your response. that is beautiful. Are his sermons still available in print? Is there any information on the apparition-possibly a tie into why Our Lord appeared as the Infant Jesus to him?

Is the tomb of St Anthony located in Camposampiero then?

Thank you again.


Cyn said...

Thanks Bill for the references. I have forwarded the links to my group. Cyn