About Me

My photo
Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I've been thinking about telling you my mother's story. Then the local paper trumped me and printed it themselves. My mother was raised by nuns in an orphanage. As a result, nothing that anyone every says about the clergy or religious causes me the slightest pause. Well, almost never. You have all heard me say many times, that nuns are wrong all the time. That sometimes we actually make things up. That nuns, back the the days of classroom crowded with sixty children in the baby boom, and back in my mother's school days, didn't receive a particularly great education.

I haven't mentioned brutality.

I have been thinking about it for a long time.

Then I got this question:

I am actively looking for help. I need a patron saint for my daughter's college roommate. This is a beautiful child who was raised by a mother (very loose use of the word) who verbally, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically abused her. I am desperate to find a novena and saints I can appeal to for this young woman. Anybody, PLEASE, who can guide me in this........

My mother has that list, too, but you can add "physically" to it. My mother will help you. Not because she is a saint in heaven. Because her patron saint is Mary the Mother of Jesus. One of our other readers suggested you turn to Mary, as well she put it, "Get out the big guns."

My mother's particular "Mary" is Our Lady of Perpetual Help. You're probably familiar with the painting from which this devotion is derived.

No one actually knows much about its origins. Our Lady of Perpetual Help is painted on wood. It is Byzantine in style and is supposed to have been painted in the thirteenth century. Who painted it? No one knows.

It represents The Blessed Mother holding the Child Jesus who has been frightened by The Archangels Michael and Gabriel as they present before Him the instruments of His Passion. What's up with that? I'm not sure why they would want to do that, but it does remind me that if the Archangels Michael and Gabriel can go around scaring the Baby Jesus and get away with it, I shouldn't hold a grudge against some old uneducated nuns. Anyhow, the Child Jesus has run so quickly to His mother that one of His shoes has come off. She is comforting Him.

But she is looking at us.

Over the figures in the picture are some Greek letters, abbreviations of the words “Mother of God,” “Jesus Christ,” “Archangel Michael,”and “Archangel Gabriel”
respectively. I imagine that is so we don't get confused or pretend it isn't really the head angels that are scaring Jesus right out of His shoes, right in front of His mother.

The painting was brought to Rome in the fifteen century, where it was
revered until the French invaded Rome in 1812. It disappeared for forty years until it was found in the oratory of the Augustinian Fathers. Perhaps some Augustinian Father had it in his closet for safekeeping for a while. Pope Pius IX took a personal interest in the painting and ordered it open once again for public veneration. It now resides in St. Alphonsus Church in Rome.

I can't tell you that Our Lady of Perpetual Help is the reason my mother survived her brutal childhood. There are a few reasons, not the least of which being that my mother is a remarkable tenacious person. But I can tell you that always in times of doubt, stress, fear and troubles, she has turned to this devotion. I always light a candle to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in any church I find myself, in my mother's behalf.

To this I would add the prayer she says to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, The Memorare.

Remember, oh most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who implored thy help or sought they intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly to thee oh Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate,despise not my petition, but in thy mercy hear, and answer me. Amen.

Parse those words. Please.

I would tell you my mother's story, but now, thanks to an article in her local paper, I don't have to. She can tell you herself. I'll put the article up later, as I have to take out some names for my own sake.

I will tell you in advance that there were two reactions to the story. Shock, from the people who weren't there and satisfaction from the people who were. "It's a story that should have been told a long time ago," as one of her contemporaries there said when he called her to say, "I can match you story for story."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fun With Jesus

"'To each his own," said the old lady as she kissed the cow."

Another of my mother's famous sayings. She has approximately 695 angels in her house. She may have 600 or so actual angels, but that 's not what I'm taking about. I mean she has angel statues. The only rule, to begin with, was that it was a 'pretty' angel, not a glumpy looking wooden thing made out of old thread spools or petrified marshmellows. Now there are two rules. Any incoming angels have to be both pretty and 'unusual'. Truth be told, some of the new 'unusual' ones are not very pretty, but they are interesting enough to get past the pretty requirements.

While I enjoy her angel collection, I would never want to do that much dusting. I do enough pew dusting to not want to add any more dusting to my life. Although, with Sister Nicholas around, I could bring home the Sistene Chapel, and everything would be categorized and squeaky clean, not to mention rearranged, every week.

Today's question:
I think you should check out this Jesus puppet:

what are your thoughts? Is it sacrilegious? I think it's cute.

I can understand why you think it's cute. You must have been raised in the Muppet generation. When the Muppets came along, my mother was irritated that anyone would spend any time watching those ugly puppets. Most people think they are cute.

For me, the problem is not whether or not the Jesus puppet is cute.

The problem I am having is what happens when you actually 'play' with the Jesus puppet. That's where things are going to go horribly wrong.

1. You are going to have to say things Jesus said. While that is a good thing, I don't think it's really going to happen. It's going to be hard for you to 'play' with Jesus and not editorialize, paraphrase, modernize, add slang, etc. Who knows what claptrap you'll end up with.

2. You'll have to come up with some kind of puppet voice for Jesus. What will you do? A low voice? A high voice? Maybe you'll throw in an accent. Whatever you do, it will double the effect of the editorializing, paraphrasing, modernizing, slang, etc.

The idea of that thing flapping its puppet jaws with some puppet voice and trying to be Jesus just makes my cottage cheese go large curd.

Why do we feel the need to make Jesus cute, or our pal? I have a hunch about why. The things He had to say were radical, often offensive, to the people to which He was speaking. The things He asked us to do are just about impossibly difficult. Love your enemies. Has He never heard of 9-11? Apparently not.

Better to have Him out on the soccer field or all soft and felty on your hand, clapping His cardboard mouth up and down so the little kids know He's their buddy.

The "sports Jesus" line has always offended my, by the way. Just who's side is Jesus on here? Is the other kid a little Lutheran or something?

I understand the impetus to get Jesus out of the church and into your life in some immediate, relevant way. Poor old Jesus, His words and teachings are just not enough. He has to play golf.

But to each his own. Some of us like kissing cows.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

uh oh

Oh dear.

Although I am always tickled pink to find Catholic clergy and religious with their noses to the fund raising for a worthy cause grindstone, especially in these days when the really good work they do is buried under the weight of the sins of a few, this is not the news I wanted to hear.

"Catholic Priest Floats Away on Party Balloons."

Oh dear.

It seems Father Carli, down there in Brazil, was trying to raise money for a spiritual truck stop. That was a really good idea. Sometimes the truckers there have to wait for hours and hours at the docks for their shipments to come in and load. What a lovely thought that the men could spend that time in prayer! Better than many of the alternatives. Very many. Of the alternatives.

But, to raise this money, Father Carli decided to try to break the world's record of the longest flight with party balloons tied to a chair. I'm not clear on just how this was going to raise money. Maybe people were involved in a pool as to where he would land, or just taking bets on whether the balloons would lift him or not.

Father Carli zoomed into the sky in his party balloon chair, disappeared into the clouds and has yet to be found. He wasn't totally hair brained. He had one of those tracking devices like you have in your SUV, a thermal suit, a floaty chair. I hope he had lunch. His chances are good, as the water is really warm right now.

We're praying for the intercession of St. Anthony.

Today's question:
Is there a patron saint for people trying to lose weight? I could use all the help I can get...
Thank you and God bless!

Sure there is! There are two ways you can go.

A fat saint: Thomas Aquinas. More than one priest that I know, when they want to
answer the question "how fat was he?", will answer with, "as fat as Thomas Aquinas." Although I have heard that St. Thomas had some sort of unfortunate glandular issue that caused him much suffering, the fact is he was fat. Very fat. Famously fat. He cut a semi circle in the dining table so he could sit closer.

"Fatty fatty two by four,
can't get through the kitchen door. "
One of my mother's favorite poems.

Here's another:
Here lies the body of Anna,
done to death by a banana.
It wasn't the fruit that made her go,
but the skin of the thing that laid her low.

Or my all time favorite:
Of all the dumb surprises,
there's none that can compare,
with stepping in the darkness
on a step that isn't there.

You have to think about that one for a second.

I digress.

So...Thomas Aquinas, who was called, "The Dumb Ox" in school and who became a Doctor of the Church, in fact, one of the greatest Doctors of the Church ever, would be a good way to go.

Or you could go in the other direction, a really thin saint, with St. Catherine of Sienna. She had to have been very thin. It has been said that she survived for long periods of time with only the Host to sustain her. She didn't sleep much either.

And she didn't live very long.

But for sticking to a diet, who could be better? And on top of that, she is a Doctor of the Church as well! There are only three woman who have that title, two Theresa's (St. Theresa the Little Flower and Teresa of Avila) and Catherine.

Hope this helps!

And for Father Carli, instead of the usual, "Holy Tony come on down, something's lost and can't be found", we're going with this prayer, written shortly after the death of St. Anthony, by one of his contemporaries, Julian of Spires:

The sea obeys and fetters break
And lifeless limbs thou dost restore
While treasures lost are found again
When young or old thine aid implore.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Conversion Immersion

Remember last year, after I was gone for awhile and the garden became an overgrown mess? We found Jimmy Hoffa.

I think this year I might just unearth the Holy Grail. Jimmy Hoffa has been using it somewhere under the morning glory.

This year, the morning glory became so intense that after it grew all over the back trellis which makes up our 'privacy fence', it actually became so heavy that it knocked the trellis down and cracked it in half. The whole thing must go.

Meanwhile, no sunbathing for us!

As if.

While I send Sister Nicholas out to look for a machete (she won't have to look far, this is LA), here is today's reader question:

Sister, can you recommend a novena to say for a specific person's conversion?

What do you mean by "conversion"? Do you mean convert to Catholicism? Or the conversion of sin.

There are dozens and dozens of novenas for the conversion of sin. St. Francis of Assisi is always a good pick. You don't even need to crack out a novena, the Rosary is all over the conversion of sin. Our Lady of Fatima, Medjugorje, Our Lady of LaSalette...all about the conversion of sin.

I'm guessing you mean the conversion of someone to Catholicism. You'd also don't need to crack out a novena for this intention. You can get the Green Scapluar, which is used for two things: sick people and conversion.

Here's how it works. You get your hands on a Green Scapular and you give it to the person you are trying to convert. Tell your friend to say the prayer on the Scapular and it will call bim to the Church. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

But here's the great part. If the person won't say the prayer on there, you just stick the Green Scapular in her purse or his backpack while he or she is not looking and YOU say the prayer on there and it will still call them to the Church anyhow. It's like stealth Catholicism!

Of course, a novena could be quicker, depending on how you go about it. A novena is a nine day, or nine week, or nine month prayer, depending on how you work it. You could go for nine days, or every Friday for a nine weeks, or First Fridays for nine months.

How good is your memory? You don't want to lose track. Nine days is your best bet if you are a little dotty.

Just about any saint will do for your novena. St. Cecelia has a specific conversion
novena. But you could go with, say, St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, if your friend is pathetically hopeless, or St. Dismas if your pal is downright criminal.

You remember St. Dismas. He's the thief on the other cross at Calgary, usually only known as 'the Good Thief'. Someone made up a lovely back story for Dismas, along with his name, which is also totally made up. It seems that back when the Holy Family was fleeing Herod because of the stupid move of the 'wise' men who tipped him off that there was a new king around, robbers set upon them on the way to Egypt. One of the robbers talked the other robbers into letting the family pass unscathed. This, of course, was Dismas.

Lovely story.

Totally made up.

Still..there was a thief on the cross at Calvary, whatever his name was and whatever the rest of his life was like, who is most definitely in heaven (since Jesus actually said to him, "Today you shall be with Me in heaven.") which makes him a saint, which means you can ask him to pray for the conversion of whoever it is you want to help.

My point is that you could go with a saint that might be a good patron for your friend, as any saint would be thrilled to help out with a conversion.

I'd go with a two pronged attack, Green Scapular and novena. You might just get your friend to convert and pick up some stragglers that didn't even know they were thinking about it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Floats Your Boat

Everyone wants to know if I'm all atwitter because the Pope is here. Actually, they wanted to know if I was atwitter because the Pope was coming, and I never answered the question.

I'm not at all atwitter about the Pope, truth be told. Granted, I've watched every second of it on TV and read every story about it. But I would do that anyway, concerning the Pope, no matter where he is.

I'm sure it's very exciting for those who can get out to see him go by in the Popemobile or get tickets to the Mass and whatnot. But for me, it's the same as any other day, Popewise.

The music certainly was lovely, wasn't it? Some blabber on CNN mentioned that the Pope wants to have traditional music in the hope that people hearing it, in some cases for the first time, will glom on to it. Let's hope along with the Pope.

Because just today I was thinking, "Just who is Michael, and why are we so happy about his boat? What sister? Michael's sister? A nun is in the boat? Or just sister as in 'brotha'?" The only reason that song was ever popular was because any person who just picked up a guitar for the first time could play it. Okay...the second time he picked up the guitar. But by the third time, anybody could be a virtuoso at playing "Michael Row the Boat Ashore."


Here's another question:
Dear Sister Mary Martha,

I have been wondering if the religious life is my calling.
However, I don't think I can give up riding horses. It is one of my real passions. I help other people with their horses if they can't ride (epileptic girl who had brain surgery, has a horse can't ride it).
I jump and am going to start showing.
I don't think I could give that up.

Would I be able to run and play soccer too? Could I take trips to the library to read new books if I couldn't buy them? Can you take trips to see your family?

Look, there are nuns.

And there is Mary Tyler Moore as a nun. I think she played football with Elvis while wearing nine pounds of mascara on her false eyelashes and being a nun.

I'm not sure why you want to be a nun. You'll be too busy praying all the time and doing whatever your job is to ride horses, play soccer and go home for Easter break. And your passion has to be Jesus. End of story.

It actually is possible, however, to be a nun and go on doing those things. It depends on the order you join. You'll have to do some research. There are orders these days where you are pretty much on your own. You have to find a place to live and get yourself a job. I don't know why you couldn't ride a horse and bounce a ball off your head while you're at it.

St. Rose of Lima joined her local order and then lived in her own back yard in a gazebo type lean to or something that her brother built for her.

When I joined, the whole concept was obedience. You had to be willing to drop everything, including your own name, never ever see a single member of your family every again, and go wherever they sent you and do whatever they told you. If it was decided you weren't too bright, you were a 'house' nun and you cooked and cleaned. If you had something on the ball you might be a teacher or a nurse, depending on what your order was up to. Or you might just cook and clean anyhow. No complaining. (Or you'll end up like Audrey Hepburn with your nun suit hanging on a hook while you walk out the door.)

Now days, like other married women may, nuns keep their names and often choose their own career paths. They take sabbaticals and leaves of absences. They retire and struggle on their own.

I have yet to see a nun with a hyphenated name, like Sister Eileen Johnson-Christ.

I think I've seen just about everything else. I personally know a nun who is a masseuse.

So I don't think horse ride is out of the question.

I'm still not sure where the nun part comes in there, with your busy riding other people's idle horses, jumping, horse shows, library, soccer and visiting schedule.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Nature of God

Readers have weighed in on the squirrels. Apparently I am wrong that squirrels never ever find their nuts. Just another thing a nun is wrong about. I should write a book, "Things Nuns Told You Were True That Are Not True". Followed by this sequel, "Bad Advice from Nuns".

Anyhow, one reader summed up the whole story for us:
Ah, nature -- this is our area of expertise!

The nut-burying behavior is called caching.

Gray squirrels bury nuts and often forget them, which helps trees with dispersal.

Red squirrels, on the other hand, store their nuts in piles on the ground, in hollow trees, or even in rain gutters. This system makes the nuts dry out so new plants won't grow from them.

When the squirrels do bother to retrieve their buried stores, they do so by sense of smell. Proof: squirrels go straight to the burial spot; they don't have to dig around aimlessly. Some evidence suggests that squirrels actually mark their buried nuts with a tracking scent when they do the burying.

Regardless of the squirrels' motives, the fact remains that this behavior has in fact been retained for a very long time. This means that even if we humans can't make sense of it, there has to be some energetic advantage for the squirrels, otherwise they simply wouldn't bother. One of the first and foremost rules of ecology: an organism will not invest more energy in a behavior or adaptation than the energy it can obtain from the behavior or adaptation. Except humans...but that's a different story entirely.

This last part is what I was trying to say.

Except for humans, indeed. I have hidden my toothbrush, but I cannot locate the toothpaste. Maybe I should look in the petunias. By the way, those squirrels that my neighbor, Earl, fed never ever came back for those peanuts. I know that because I am still finding them and Earl passed away several years ago. Perhaps the squirrel simply did not care for peanuts in the shell and did not want to hurt Earl's feelings.

On the other hand, the squirrels cared not a fig for our feelings or the feelings of our petunias.

Another reader said:
Squirrels are God's way of reminding man that we really lucked out when He created us in His image and likeness.

Indeed. We do have inexplicable behavior in common with God. I've never been able to figure out why God created us. What's in it for Him? God also invested more energy in a behavior (creating us) than the energy that can be gained from that behavior (having to deal with us every second). He must have days where He just says to Himself, "Oh, what was I thinking!" Case in point, the Maury Povich show. I happened to see two seconds of that while trying to find which channel is airing tonight's debate. The show itself lasts quite a bit longer than two seconds and must make God want to bury a few nuts and forget where He left them. But He never does.

Meanwhile, I'm left to pray for the intercession of St. Anthony, to find the toothpaste...and a lot of other things that are no longer where they used to be.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Look! I found the keyboard! Sister Nicholas has rearranged the entire house. Unfortunately, her mind doesn't work the way most people's mind's work, organizationally speaking. I have a feeling that by next week, she will have re-rearranged everything again, so I haven't really bothered to try to figure out where everything is. I did hide my toothbrush.

I have a question for you, dear readers. Why do squirrels hide nuts? They never find them again. I know this to be the case. Our neighbor was feeding a little squirrel peanuts in the shells and this squirrel took most of the nuts and buried them in our flower pots (making a terrible mess). He never came back for his nuts. Neither did the neighbor.

For a long time my mother was feeding the squirrels. Her squirrels randomly dug up her surprise lily bulbs and reburied them willy nilly in the neighbor's yard. Now the neighbor's have beautiful surprise lilies and my mother does not.

I understand how nature works. I get that by burying nuts and seeds the squirrels may be propagating various plants.

But that isn't quite how nature works. It doesn't work that way if there is nothing in it for the squirrel.

Take my worm farm. (Please!) The worms eat leaves and garbage and leave behind....really great fertilizer. If I didn't have them contained in my little fertilizer work camp, they would be doing the same thing in the ground and they would be aerating the soil to boot. The fact that worms have to live the way they do is good for everyone, including the worms.

But these squirrels never ever find their nuts again. Not ever. There has to be something in it for the squirrel for the squirrel to be doing it. Squirrels aren't going around thinking, "HA! That Dorothy is a surprise lily hog! We'll just see about that! This neighbor yard here is ghastly looking. Let's take Dorothy's surprise lilies over there." Or, "These stupid nuns only plant petunias. Don't they realize there needs to be more peanut plants in the world?"

No. The squirrels, I think, are squirreling away their nuts for future consumption and they never ever remember where they buried a single one. Not one. Not ever.

So my question is: Why do squirrels bury nuts? Or more specifically, what's in it for them?

This has been bothering me for quite some time.

I don't know what made me think to ask about it now.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Shall We Dance?

Where does the time go?

I'm still here in the Midwest. Soon I'll return to my station. Everything here is different. Everything there will be different.

The second I get home, Sister St. Aloysius is taking off for a think tank. She does this every so often. She'll be away for six weeks.
Let me tell you a story. When I was a girl, I used to like to play in my aunt's barn. We had a giant thick rope that hung from the very top of the barn, through the hole up to the hayloft, down to the barn floor. We tied it in a big loop. There was a large coil of rope left on the ground. One kid would stand in the loop and the other kid would grab the end of the rope and pull it across the length of the barn. The kid standing in the loop would be just about parallel to the floor. Then the kid pulling the rope would let go and the kid in the loop would swing really high, back and forth across the barn.

What a riot!

My friend was in standing in the loop and I pulled the rope across the barn and let go. Just as I let go, I looked down and saw that the whole rest of the rope coil on the ground was wrapped around my ankle. But it was too late. I hollered for her to stop, but the rope came taut around my leg and jerked me across the barn.

I was actually mad at her for not stopping, as if there were any way that she could have stopped. I was the one that stood in the coil like a dope. I had to control myself and my inane resentment.

So Sister St. Aloysius is swinging off to the think tank and my ankle is in the coil with Sister Nicholas.

Did I mention I still have a scar around my ankle from the rope burn?

Ah well. We get used to even the most unacceptable situations. (Unless we are Paddy the Papist.) I was used to our little household and it's eccentricities and now I will have to adjust to a new set of foibles, surprises and habits. It should be interesting as Sister St. Aloysius and I have become a well oiled, if somewhat cockamamie, machine.

For example, getting Sister Mary Fiacre in and out of her wheel chair was our own personal science project. We park her wheelchair at just the right angle to the easy chair. Then we lean her forward. Then we heft her out of the chair by grabbing her belt and spinning her around into the chair. She sort of lands with a plop, but the job gets done.

There was a time not so long ago that she could take a step or two, so we could actually stand her up and hold onto her while she turned around. But now her feet really don't leave the floor so much, so when we went to pivot her into the chair, Sister St. Aloysius became alarmed that her ankle would snap, since her feet didn't move and the rest of her body was now facing the opposite direction. She came up with the fabulous plan to stick a bread bag under Sister Mary Fiacre's pivot foot. It did the trick! Her foot slid right around! Genius! Now we always make sure we have our plastic grocery bag or bread bag everywhere we go.

Someone was trying to talk us into having a reusable bag to take shopping. It was too tedious to try to explain that we need a steady supply of the plastic ones and it has nothing to do with the environment.

I suppose it's my way of carrying on my father's legacy of being personally responsible for global warming.

Anyhow, our whole day is like that, every day. Our prayers and readings, moving
Sister Mary Fiacre around and seeing to her, more prayers and chores, more Sister Mary Fiacre hefting. I feel a little like Fred Astaire without Ginger Rogers.

Thanks so much, everyone, for your prayers and compassion.

I'm ready to get back into the swing of things. Sort of.

Any questions?