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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Falling in the Fall


Sister Mary Martha where are you? I miss reading your blog. Are those 7th graders keeping you too busy?

Did I stop writing my blog? I thought I was still here. I guess I haven't been keeping up.

I can't blame the 7th graders. I blame the fall, which includes not only the 7th graders, but getting ready for winter in the garden and the house. Not that we have much of a winter, but we may get some rain and the roof leaks. Sister St. Aloysius used to be able to climb onto the wall and use the tree to get onto the roof and affix a tarp up there. The tarp blows off each year by late spring or tears to pieces in the wind, so we have to put a new one on each year. Now the tree is gone. I guess she'll have to stand on my shoulders or something. The tarp does keep us dry.

The really scary thing is that when the roof does leak in the kitchen, it leaks down through the light sockets. Yikes! We don't want to get zapped and think we see Mary in the refrigerator.

Which brings me to today's question:

Sister, you often have said that we are not required to believe in the private revelations of individuals. It has long bothered me that St Paul's vision on the road to Damascus was a private revelation and yet he is considered a father of the church, something like 13 of his epistles are in the bible. And yet, Paul never met Jesus in life, and was frequently at odds with the apostles *who were there with Jesus*. I think this is behind the protestant argument that Catholics are not Christians: so much of Catholic teaching is based on the teaching of Paul, rather than Jesus. It was private revelation!

I wouldn't worry about it. Jesus didn't say that much to Paul. Paul isn't telling us in his epistles things that Jesus said to him.

Remember what happened here. Paul was riding around persecuting the first Christians. He took part in martyring the first martyr, St. Stephen. St. Paul held the coats for the people who were stoning St. Stephen to death so they could have better range of motion for their stone throwing.

And then one day, according to Paul, Jesus knocked Paul off his horse and while Paul laid on the ground wondering what hit him, Jesus said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Paul's name used to be Saul.

Then Saul/Paul was blind for a bit and when he finally figured out what was going on and accepted Jesus, Paul/Saul got his sight back.

Unlike Fatima, or Lourdes or Sister Margaret Mary who had a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and started that devotion, no instructions were given, no words of wisdom. Just a thump in the head from Jesus. A kick in the pants.

Jesus never even asked Saul to change his name to Paul. Paul had to learn and figure everything else out for himself, which he did, superbly. Jesus didn't reveal anything to Paul except Himself.

The Church Fathers saw fit to include Paul's letters and thoughts in the New Testament.

I think everyone has some kind of unformed thought that Jesus lived, died, rose and ascended and then four guys sat down and wrote about it and some people gathered up letters that the early disciples wrote and then we have the New Testament. As though somehow it was just there in a few years. Or that God got out His big gold pen and wrote a book and handed it to St. Peter.

But that's not what happened. The New Testament was not finished in the form in which we know it during St. Peter's life time. The New Testament didn't come together until the fourth century when the early church Fathers sat down and decided what would be in and what would be out, like Heidi Klum on Project Runway. Their choices were not frivolous. There was much arguing and debate. They were guided by God as the Church always is guided by God.

And that's the part you have to remember. Paul's writings are in the New Testament as guided by God. The Catholic Church is God's Big Gold Pen.

Here's something you might think about: I think this is behind the protestant argument that Catholics are not Christians: so much of Catholic teaching is based on the teaching of Paul, rather than Jesus.

Actually, the protestants base virtually all of their arguments on the teachings of St. Paul. Martin Luther certainly did.

So you can relax about St. Paul. He's my favorite patron saint for people who want to turn their lives around.

Ain't that a kick in the head?


Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall



What a terrible week!
We're holding onto our habits for all the people who will be affected by the financial meltdown. I'm sure it will affect every single person in ways we haven't even guessed. I'm watching with consternation the transfer of power that is taking place as result. Am I the only person noticing this? I think we just became a socialist republic. Overnight. Oh well.

It's enough to drive us to drink. Happily for Catholics, we can drink. Drinking can be a sin, but it is not a sin in itself. It's one of those slippery slope sins. We've discussed the issue before.

Which brings me to today's question from a reader:

Dear Sister, do you know of a particular saint with whom one might ask for a little extra help with a loved one with problems in not being able to see how alcohol problems are usurping life? (Other than that of going straight to the source of strength, or BVM and her Motherliness?)

The BVM is no slouch. I wouldn't hesitate to contact her and ask her to pray for you.

But there is a patron saint for drinking. Technically, he's not a saint yet. He's venerable. That means he's waiting for a couple of miracles to be attributed to him. One miracle and he becomes Blessed. Two and he's a saint.

Venerable means that he lived a life of heroic virtue, and is worthy of our veneration.


I'm speaking of the Venerable Matt Talbot. He didn't start out leading a life of heroic virtue, or any other kind of virtue, as far as I can tell. Matt was a roaring drunk.

He lived in Ireland and he came from a large family of brothers. Nine, if memory serves. I'm sure everyone had a few suds on any given day, but Matt was in a class by himself. His sainted mother prayed for him. His friends shook their heads. He couldn't hold down a job.

As a result he eventually couldn't buy his own beer. He sold his shoes for a bottle of booze. He got people to buy drinks for him. Perhaps Matt was not a friendly happy drunk, because at some point, people refused to buy him even one more drink. He found himself standing outside of a bar, begging for someone to buy him a drink and when no one would, he had an epiphany.

He went home and told his sainted mother that he would not be drinking anymore ever again. His mother told him it would be very, very hard.

It was very, very hard. There was no AA back then. Matt had to figure things out for himself. He prayed a lot.

There are three things that stand out in my mind about the Venerable Matt Talbot.

The first is that, although he said that giving up drinking was enormously difficult, he often said that quitting smoking was much harder! It must be, because I've seen people leaving AA meetings, or taking a break during AA meetings, and they are all out there smoking like stacks. One addiction at a time, I guess.

The second is that Matt Talbot started a whole movement to help people with alcohol addiction. It has been very successful and there are Matt Talbot houses all over the world.

The third is my favorite. Matt Talbot was rewarded in this life with a happy death. He was walking down the street on his way to Mass and he fell over dead. I really think that's the best thing that can happen to you, deathwise. "Drop dead" is not really a bad thing to wish on someone. The alternatives are much worse. It's hard on the family, but for you, it's the easiest way as long you you are actually dead before you hit the ground so you don't hit you head really hard in the last moment of your life.

I hope this helps. No one is hopeless.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Perfect Role Model


One of our readers asked what happened to our patron saint finder that I used to have on my sidebar. It was from the Aquinas Bookstore. I don't know what happened to it. I don't recall taking it off. Perhaps I did. I often don't recall what I did with things. Thank goodness St. Anthony is so very reliable.

Anyhow, I tried to put that patron saint finder back on and it just isn't working. I've contacted the Aquinas bookstore, but I haven't heard back from them yet. Patron saint for patience? We don't know, we can't find the saint finder.

I think all saints are the patron saints of patience (except maybe St. Peter), hence the term "the patience of a saint."


Dear Sister, Thank you so much for your blog! I love visiting here. Someone oughta give you a book contract -- the best writers always combine wit with their wisdom as you do. I have a simple question for you. One of those "please help me find just the right patron saint" questions. I run a blog for teens called No Question Left Behind. Actually, it started out as a book but that's a long story.

Anyway, I'd like put the blog under the patronage of a special saint but can't decide on who exactly. There are so many good saints for teens and also for apologetics. Here's what the blog is all about -- it's a question and answer format (which I know you can relate too!). I collected 200 questions from teens about the Church and about everyday teen life. Then I put together a team of teens and young-20s to answer the questions from a Catholic worldview. It's so much better for teens to hear answers from their peers than from old fogeys like me. (Though I should note that we do link to your blog as you are just way too cool.) We're continuing to take questions (the email addy is in the sidebar of the blog) so the blog should have a long future ahead.

The url is: www.noquestionleftbehind.blogspot.com I'd like to ask for prayers for the teens who send us questions, our readers, and the team members who answer the questions. Once the teens and I decide on a patron, we'll use the opportunity to promote devotion to our saint through the blog.

Sorry, it took me so long to get back to you on this. A saint popped right into my mind, so I wanted to think it over and make sure I wasn't just being lazy.

In the interest of not being lazy, I'll tell you my second choice first. St. Raphael, the patron saint of young people leaving home for the first time. The archangel Raphael had to run all over the place with Tobias, guiding him and protecting him and even helping him land a wife. That really seems like a perfect patron saint for your blog, doesn't it? Raphael is also the patron saint of young love, which I know from experience is high on the list of things teens think about.

And he's an angel, which makes him a wonderful personal guardian angel.

But he's not my first choice.

I'd go with St. Augustine because he really had some spiritual lockers that needed to be cleaned out. He jazzed around all over the place studying and promoting heresies while his sainted mother Monica (St. Monica, the patron saint of mothers of teens...that ought to tell you something right there) moaned and cried and wrung her hands and prayed back home.

St. Augustine is the patron saint of beer. He was a party animal, by his own accounts.

He was what is now commonly called a "baby daddy", meaning he had a child out of wedlock. He dumped that girl and took up with another, dumped her when he became engaged, and then took up with a new girl. ( He took up with the new girl after he became engaged to an underaged girl. He had the new girl while he was waiting for the underage girl to be old enough to marry.) Thus his famous prayer: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."

Some prayer.

"Yet" finally arrived, though. His mother lived to see the day when he became a priest and then she dropped dead.

After all of that, St. Augustine is one of the most important saints of all time. He became a model of chastity and discipline. He founded the Augustinian Order. (Ironically, Martin Luther was an Augustinian!) He is a Doctor of the Church.

The whole point of a patron saint is finding a saint who maybe has had some of the same trials you have. I'll admit that some of them are a bit of a stretch. St. Sebastian is the patron saint of pin makers because he was shot full of arrows. I'm not making that up.

But St. Augustine...really, what didn't that guy do? Murder, I guess. Somehow he navigated his way through it all and came out a saint. Let's hope your teens do half as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Trick or Trash



Our readers have been sending in wonderful Halloween costume ideas:


I once wore a brown trash bag with "Hershey" in white letters taped to it and had an aluminum foil hershey's kiss twisted hat. It was quick, inexpensive and required no sewing!


Great idea! I suggested to Sister St. Aloysius that she dress the children as trash. Just cut arm and leg holes in a trash bag and tie the bag up around the neck with the head sticking out. Stuff the bag with old newspapers. You could make a milk carton hat!

She does not care for the idea of dressing children as trash. I think everyone is too sensitive these days.

Meanwhile our Nun So Beautiful Non Contest is going very well. And thanks to Sheila for the wonderful name!

Hi, Sister! I'm definitely going to submit photos for this contest. I just wanted to warn you that you'll probably want to write the e-mail address on your blog post a little differently; spammers troll websites and blogs looking for e-mail addresses and then flood them with junk.

You mean there isn't a guy in Kenya who needs me to hold his money for him so he needs my bank account number? Uh-oh. I was hoping to use the money to buy a really cheap Rolex. Another dream dashed. It would have all worked out because so many people have emailed about debt relief.

I can't wait to see some photos! Sister who is a Saint for financial help?

The Infant of Prague.


You may have noticed that our poll results have our contest ending (by one vote!) on September 30th. At least many people were willing to admit that they are lazy procrastinators.

I am a lazy procrastinator, how did you know? Is it a sin to procrastinate? I've always wondered.

Procrastination is one of those murky areas, sin-wise. It falls into the bad habit category. Bad habits are not sins. Unless they become sins. For example, you can smoke. It's a stupid bad stinky habit, but it doesn't make the sin list. But if you smoke like the Little Engine That Could finally making it to the top of the emphysima hill, you've probably crossed the line into ruining the wonderful body God gave you. Gambling is not a sin. Gambling until you lose your house is a sin. (Somebody tell Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. Who are they? Do they know each other? Doesn't one of them make great candy?)

At the point where you've put off cleaning your house so long you can't find the baby, maybe you've crossed the line.

On the other hand, don't confuse procrastination with prioritizing.

What if you're sitting around sending me nun pictures when you should be trying to find the baby? That isn't good. By the way, if you've dressed the baby like a bag of trash, he will be even harder to find in your messy house.

Laziness, on the other hand, is always a sin. It's right on the Big List, better known as the Seven Deadly Sins. Sloth.

Ring a bell?

But don't confuse prioritizing with laziness. There are only so many hours in a day. Though it's never mentioned in the New Testament, I'm pretty sure Jesus slept. He was probably like Thomas Edison, though, and didn't sleep much.

Thomas Edison only slept for an hour or two every so often and even then he just laid on a table in the workroom or something. I envy him.

Envy is a sin.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cutting Table



Our yearly dilemma, the sewing of Halloween costumes, is sniffing at our heels. Here's the actual dilemma. Sister St. Aloysius actually loves to sew (although you'd never know that from the sounds that come from the actual sewing area). She doesn't really mind making Halloween costumes. On the other hand, the whole thing can become quite overwhelming ,so she isn't really inclined to stick up a sign on the porch that says, "Need a costume? Just knock!"

However, people who need costumes don't really think about what they might need to do to procure one this soon. The fabric store moratorium begins Oct. 1.

And on top of that, little kids who need costumes, who are the most fun to work for anyhow, will change their little minds four hundred times between now and the night before Halloween.

I have made the suggestion that Sister St. Aloysius gather all her fabric scraps and just make a list of costumes she can make available. "Ghost" will be at the top of the list because we have lots of old linen and pillow cases.

She thinks ghost costumes are dangerous because the kid can't see out of the eyeholes and will get hit by a car. I say children are overprotected these days. Who lets their kid trick or treat alone these days anyhow? Those kids don't have to see anything but their candy bag and the door bell.

We could make halos for the ghosts and they could be very generic saints.

I'll admit, I'm squirming. I always end up in the middle of the Halloween costume debacle. Last year was relatively peaceful, even though I had to creep around in that creepy store looking for baby rick rack.



I know! We'll dye all the linens black and everyone can go as nuns! Then we'll take their pictures and enter them in the Nun So Beautiful Non Contest. Even the boys.

A reader suggested that as a title: Nun So Beautiful. Great, huh? nunworld@yahoo.com

Friday, September 12, 2008

Brother Martin

I'm glad we've been thinking about how beautiful everyone is! My goodness, isn't that what Jesus was trying to tell us? I think it is.

Take a deep breath. Here's today's question:


Someone who wears her St. Dymphna medal all the time said...

Sister, I am in need of advice.
I was somewhat recently (about a year and three months ago) diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 (that is, with less severe mania) and while drugs and therapy have helped me out a lot I find that I cannot understand how to go on with the rest of my life.


Everyone of us lives with the possibility that our life will fall apart, from unforeseen disease, economic or environmental catstrophe or an accident. Because I know that there is no way to know which of these or whether any of these will affect my life, I do not worry about them unduly and take reasonable precautions. However, I know that my life will fall apart again at least one more time (and probably more) because of the bipolar disorder. It would be extremely unrealistic to expect anything else.


I have already gone through the plunge into depression and the slow crawl back up to normalcy and reliability several times and I am still in my mid-twenties. I never worried about how it would affect my life in the future before being diagnosed as bipolar because I had always been diagnosed as having major (unipolar) depression, an illness that one has good chances of eventually overcoming and much better chances of keeping under reasonable control. Thus, I thought that at some point it would leave my life. I had even had a few years in a row without a major episode of depression and had come to think that it had, indeed, gone from me.


But bipolar disorder never goes away and now that I know that I am stuck with it for the rest of my life (and I am sure that this is the correct diagnosis) I don't know how to carry on. I feel as though I have no hope of a future, that I will be forever mired in work for which I am not suited but which will be the only kind I can get with such a spotty work history. I have been rejected romantically specifically because of this disease more than once, although this does not bother me too much. It just feels as though all the gifts and talents that God has given me are being cancelled out, negated and smothered by this disease. I don't feel that I can ever be of good use to anyone. This is compounded by the fact that many people who would take a heart attack or diabetes seriously and with sympathy and concern recoil with disgust and ill-will from someone suffering from the extremes of mental illness.


It is a great relief to know the nature of my illness but knowing that nature I find I am stuck and no longer know how to put one foot in front of the other, or how to hope.


It is easy to say snap out of it, everyone has stumbling blocks (and they do) but I am genuinely lost, even if it is only my own stupidity and unknowing that are the cause of it. I cannot find my place in God's world, I do not know how to be of use and I'm scared. What should I do to try to figure this out?

I won't be able to figure it out. Unlike Dr. Laura, I know when I'm in over my head.

So I marched my giant shoes down to the rectory to talk to Brother Martin. Brother Martin works there at the rectory doing whatever needs to be done on any given day. Some days he's not there. He actually is there. He lives there. Some days he just can't do much of anything.

He has the same diagnosis that you do. Bipolar disorder type 2. I asked him how he copes. He explained to me how his anxiety can begin a downward spiral at the drop of a hat.

I told him I've always admired how he soldiers on, given what he has to surmount, sometimes just to get through breakfast.

I told him that I believe that courage is what we call it when we are afraid, but continue on anyhow. A person can't be called brave if he isn't afraid. Brother Martin seems very brave to me. What makes him so brave?

Brother Martin said that all he can do is his best with what God has given him that day. Sometimes just getting out of bed and eating a bowl of soup is his best. Some days he paints the entire rectory and the gazebo.

He wanted you to know that it's important not to be so hard on yourself when God doesn't give you so much on some days. Just concentrate on what God has given you today, not what he's going to give you, or not going to give you, tomorrow. And do your best with it, whatever it is.

I don't think Brother Martin realized that he is showing anyone how to be brave, or what it really means to believe that God loves you, but he is doing just that. He is fulfilling his mission as a Brother, just by coping with his illness.

I hope this helps you in some small way.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Quality of Mercy


Maybe I should have gone for the cloister. Oh, for the cell and the silence!

It's that time of year when we have to gear up to fund raise for the school, the church, the convent, the retired nuns, the poor, the homeless. I'm sure we'll be having some flood victims any second.

I don't mind telling you it's out of my 'comfort zone'. Not because I have to run around begging for money, but because somewhere in there, in order to hang onto the money we have or to wrangle more money out of people for worthy causes, sometimes I have to be cute.

I never go straight for cute. I really can't abide the whole 'cute nun' thing. Sometimes cuteness is thrust upon me.

I will confess to you, that being a nun has gotten me off the hook financially more than once. No one likes to take money from a nun. Once, as a nun, one realizes this, it becomes very difficult not to 'work' it. It's not like I'm batting my eyelashes and twirling my hair. I can't get to my hair to twirl it anyhow.

It's ever so slightly more subtle. The officer pulls the nun over for rolling through the stop sign rather than coming to a full stop. The nun is rattled. No one likes to be pulled over. The nun can't really afford to pay a moving violation ticket. The officer doesn't realize the perp is a nun until he is up to her car window. The nun can see he's suddenly rattled.

Rattled nun + rattled cop = off with a warning. If the nun says, "Bless you, officer" at the end, the officer leaves feeling aglow.

The nun wonders whether or not she 'worked it'.

Nuns and clergy solicit help in this way all the time. I'm sure you've been on the receiving end of it. Remember that movie "Lilies of the Field"? That nun quietly manipulates that poor man into building an entire church. If that nun didn't 'work' it, there would be no movie. Or church.

Is that a bad thing? I guess not. I'm not comfortable with it. The question remains how far do we go?

Hi, sister! I absolutely adore your blog and have to tell everyone about it (usually two or three times)! I have a question for you that I feel would be very apt considering your vows. How much is too much to have in the eyes of God? I mean, I'm a middle class American, with all the trimmings that go with; I cannot stand the thought of starving children, homeless people, and other worthy causes worldwide, and although I do give to solicitors in the mail and at church, I can't help but feel that God is still very upset with me, with all of us, for not doing more. Is it okay to be living a comfortable life while people are dying? And yet I don't feel there's much I can do, as those people aren't actually within my direct reach. What do you feel we should be doing? The spiritual and corporal words of mercy spell it out fairly well, but to what practical extent? My husband feels that with a family of 8, we can't do anything drastic and St. Francis-like, which I agree with; however I do feel that something's missing. No one obviously needs so many things as we have, and interestingly, usually all of our belongings only serve to clutter up our lives and take time to clean! Any thoughts? Thank you for your inspiring and hilarious blog- I look forward to it daily! God Bless you! -Martha Mary (seriously).

I can tell you one thing. If you collect something, stop. Once people know you collect something, that's what you'll get as gifts and that's a big help to people shopping for you.

It's not an easy question. No easy answer. Your children have to be fed and educated. You have to stay healthy.

Here's what you're missing, I think, a little. It isn't always about money. You're not talking about finances, really. You're talking about mercy.

Mercy is free. The Corporal Works of Mercy are called the Corporal WORKS of Mercy, not the Corporal Bucks of Mercy. Drag out that list and make it a check list of what you need to do this week. You can leave 'bury the dead' off, unless your cat killed a bird or something. Then again, you could see who is being buried in your parish this week and go help out with the luncheon or sing in the choir or usher or something.

People do need help within your reach.

I'm sure our reader will have lots to say about this.

Don't forget to send in those nun pictures! nunworld@yahoo.com


Meanwhile, the tree man has just finished fixing our window. I have to run out and pay him. Maybe if I bat my eyelashes he'll knock a couple of bucks off his price. Probably not. I'll just look like a blinking bloodhound.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Dumb Nun

I am so excited! I have just heard from one of my favorite authors! If I was living in a fantasy world, I would entertain myself with the idea that one of my favorite authors actually reads my little essays.

I'm sure what actually happened is that Kevin Orlin Johnson got a "Google Alert" that his name was mentioned and he came here to read what I had to say and was horrified.

Uh-oh. The nun strikes again!

This is Kevin Orlin Johnson, author of Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations, and the Telling of the Beads. No such passage occurs in my book, to the best of my knowledge! Please either cite the page number or remove this false reference! Thanks!

I hope Mr. Johnson will accept my swooning apology. He's referring to yesterday's post about the term "Knock Wood" coming from the persecution of Irish Catholics. I thought I had read it in his book.

That book, "Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations, and the Telling of the Beads" is just the best book you can read about the rosary. It's informative and inspiring. It is a truly wonderful guide to meditating on the mysteries of the rosary, in down to earth very human terms. He really gets across the whole idea of the rosary: a look at the life of Jesus through the eyes of His Mother.



Once when I was traveling by plane, I was seated next to a woman who was praying the rosary because she was afraid of flying. I really think she felt as though if she put her rosary down the plane would crash. I was glad she was saying the rosary, but I felt sorry for her being so scared, so I started talking to her about this book. I happened to have it on me, and that's how I ended up giving away the first copy I had. I had it right in my bag there to give to her. Well...not right in my bag. It was in the overhead bin and I had to trouble everyone to wrestle it out.

I bought another copy, because I wanted to have the book as a reference. He has in there a fabulous history of the "Hail Mary". I wanted to read it over and over.

OR maybe he didn't have that in there....Lord have mercy.

Anyhow, I gave that copy away, too, so I can't check. That copy went to one of our 'separated brethren', one of those people who just has to go on and on about Catholics 'worshiping' Mary and statues and all of that craziness that makes me so tired. I threw the book at him.

I didn't throw it. But the book had quite an effect on him, because he's since only asked sensible questions.

Good work Kevin Orlin Johnson!

The question remains. Where did I read that story? I'm going out on a limb here. I think it must have been in "A Concise History of the Catholic Church" by Thomas Bokenkotter. That's a great book, too. I was reading it around the same time I originally read the rosary book, so maybe that's why I was confused.



Or maybe I'm simply a confused old....is there a female word for 'codger'?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Knock Wood Over


We've had a scary couple of days. We had to have a tree removed. The tree was in a tiny walkway on the side of the house with our windows and the neighbor's windows all around. It was a giant rubber tree, which always sort of made me laugh from my years in the Midwest where people have a little rubber plant on their desk and struggle to keep it alive. Ours was a full two stories high and growing.

I can't tell you how may times we've attempted to cut this tree down. It grew back bigger every time, just like when the Mexican women shave their baby sons' heads so they'll have thick hair. It was weighing on the roof and knocking over the wall.

I had to have a talk with Jose, who came with another man to cut it down, about the proximity of all the windows. I forgot to mention the roof. Jose parked his truck in the front of the house and dragged tree parts across the roof and threw them off the roof and into his truck. Our roof can't really bear the weight of Jose and his friend and tree parts. I could stand in the hallway and watch the roof bend with each step. I made Jose promise to walk along the wall seams. And to watch out for all the windows. Eventually the whole shebang was so scary, we took Sister Mary Fiacre and the three of us stood cowering outside on the deck, pretending we didn't hear the cracking, crunching, thumping and chain saws. Not a good day for contemplative prayer.

Jose was very nice, though. He's coming back Monday to fix the window. He had gotten all the way through the job with the last of the stump flipped over as they were picking it up to remove it and bashed in the window.

I should have knocked wood:

Sister, Could you elaborate on the "knock wood" tradition coming from the rosary? Never heard that before, and love those kinds of stories!


I could elaborate on that, but I would probably be wrong. Again.

I had read in a book that I like very much, The Rosary, by Kevin Orlin Johnson, that the term "knock wood" came about during the English persecution of the Irish Catholics. The Irish had to hide everything. Practicing Catholicism was illegal, priests were hauled off and killed.

FOOTNOTE: I READ THIS SOMEWHERE, BUT IT IS NOT IN KEVIN ORLIN JOHNSON'S BOOK. SEE SEPT. 6 POST!

So people hid to practice Catholic devotions. If someone was coming and there was danger of being caught the faithful would rattle their rosaries as a warning sound. There you have it. "Knocking wood" actually caused good 'luck'.

As I said, this information was in one of my favorite books. I can't think that it had a footnote as to where the author came up with this information. I can't go look at the book because if I have a copy, I always give it away. I can't find any reference to Irish Catholics rattling their rosaries anywhere else.

It's a great story, isn't it?


Although, I did find a source that said knocking on wood for luck had something to do with some ancient game of tag (with a tree as 'home base'),many sources at least agree that knocking wood has something to do with being Catholic. The tradition dates all the way back to the Emperor Constantine (who made it illegal to be pagan), lover of the Cross that he was. People would touch or tap the Cross as it made its way through processions.



I also found this:
A Jewish version traces the origin to the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century. At the time, persecuted Jews fled to synagogues built of wood, and they devised a coded knock to gain admission. Since this practice spared countless lives, it became common to "knock on wood" for good luck.

Unpleasant. Happily, Pope John Paul II apologized for the Inquisition a while back.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

And Also...

Sister Mary Martha's Guide to the Paranormal
additional notes from the Peanut Gallery

Isn't there a legend that St. Columbcille tamed the Loch Ness Monster?

Yes, there is. In fact, the story of St. Columba or St. Columbcille in the 8th century is the first known sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie had his or her jaws around someone and St. Columba told the monster to let go and step off, as they say these days. The monster zoomed back 'as if pulled by ropes'.


Perhaps the monster is indeed fake and a giant puppet and it zoomed back because it actually was being pulled by ropes.

You know, the Loch Ness Monster is never ever depicted as anything but benign with the exception of this story, so apparently St. Columba had quite an effect. Kind of like that wolf that St. Francis of Assisi befriended. I believe that it was a thousand years before anyone saw Nessie again at all.

Thank you for this list - very helpful - where would yoga fit into this list - for or against. Can the exercises be separated from the meditation on Hindu Gods? I once had a dream that the enemy was trying to possess me through my breath but it could have been something I ate for supper!

Yoga...is not paranormal.

It's making me tired just to think about answering this.


Yoga is a form of meditation and really doesn't have anything to do with thinking about Hindu deities. The idea with yoga is to use the pose to link the mind and body while meditating. So far so good.

Here comes the tricky part. To actually be doing yoga ( the discipline) correctly, you would be freeing you mind of thought in order to achieve enlightenment.

You could be a Catholic doing yoga only if you don't do it right. When we meditate, we're trying to fill our minds up, not empty them out. We're not trying to achieve enlightenment.

It's really good exercise and breathing, though. Very good for you! But a big fat problem if it leads you to explore Eastern Religions. Then it would be a near occasion of sin and maybe you should just go swim laps or something.

Be wary of the Tarot, Ouija board, etc. "good intention" gambit. That is, someone will say they don't intend to use these for occult practices, so it's ok. For example, I was talking with someone who kept Tarot cards because he liked the pretty pictures, and it was ok because he was not using them for divination and that he does not believe they have power anyway. I replied it does not matter because things have objective meaning independent of our intentions. Tarot cards have an inextricable connection to the occult/new age practice, and no amount of equivocation by changing the name or comparing it to a regular deck of playing cards can change that. Thus, Catholics should no more run around with these things than a married man should keep pretty pictures of ex-girlfriends on his bedroom dresser.

Oh...I don't know. Fine. Yes, those cards do stand for something. Objects do stand for things, if they don't, you can toss your St. Anthony key chain. (But you'll lose your keys!)

But honestly...it really upsets me that people give these objects power. They actually don't have any more power than a deck of playing cards. That is why we don't believe in them. They don't have the power to predict the future.

If a person really doesn't use them or believe in them and just likes the pretty pictures, the worst case scenario is simply the near occasion of sin that one day they will decide, out of the blue, that they want to go tell fortunes or talk to the devil or something. This guy that likes the pretty pictures isn't running around with anything...is he? Does he carry a purse?

That reminds me! I forgot an important category:

Lucky stuff. Rabbits feet, gym shoes, four leaf clovers, blowing on the dice, all off limits. We don't believe in luck so having a lucky anything is a no.
You maybe can knock wood. Maybe. That would only work if you're not knocking on wood for luck but knocking on wood as a sort of little prayer, giving where the very idea of knocking on wood originated. I'll admit to doing that. I probably shouldn't do it in front of anyone, as it might confuse someone. Then on the other hand it might give me the chance to explain about the rosary. Iffy.

And speaking of scandal:

Different subject...how about the Catholic school teacher on that Big Brother show? What kind of trouble is he in for lying his way through a game hoping to win half a million dollars? Lying is a venial sin right? So a trip to confession and tithe ten percent back to the church and he's good right? Just curious on your opinion.

That's the absolute rock bottom definition of scandal: making something look like it's okay when it's not.

First of all, we're Catholic. We don't care about money.

Secondly, a sleazy reality show, if you ask me, is a sin in itself, as it calls upon the viewer to use the pain and humiliation of others as entertainment. Just because a lion is actually eating anyone before our eyes doesn't make watching torment an okay thing to do.

Third, the very fact that you had to ask this question means the scandal has occurred. Lying is a venial sin. St. Augustine....or was it St. Thomas Aquinas...said that lying was the worst sin, venialness not withstanding. And since when is it okay to go around thinking, "I'll go ahead and commit this sin and then get rid of it in confession later and do some penance." Your soul is not some dress that you can wash over and over again. Trust me, if you have to wash it that often, the color is going to fade and the seams will start to give and the edges will fray.

So it's not just one sin going on. It's lying, scandal, greed and making other people watch reality TV. And it's all a double sin because he's making it all seem okay. Big Brother is not the only one watching.

Maybe Dan, age 24, is not a school teacher who is Catholic. Maybe he's a Catholic School teacher and he's not Catholic. Hey, it happens.

On a lighter note: The nun pictures are flying in! Oh we have some wonderful pictures! Thank you all for your "entries".

Monday, September 01, 2008

Back to Paranormal



Dagnabit! We weren't paying attention and the deadline for the Blogger's Choice Awards has passed. I suppose we should be thrilled at coming in fourth in our category. Ask that forty year old woman who swam in the Olympics about that. We were only a few votes out of third and I know if I had brought it to people's attention...

Jesus hates a competitive nun.

That's not true. Jesus doesn't hate anyone, no matter what it says on protest signs seen at funerals.

OH, well. We have our exciting nun non contest! It still has no name. Names, anyone?

And it's time to get back to business. Today is a great day to start back in, what with back to school back to work, summer ending, etc. I realize that we have questions backed up to the moon, but I had to start in with this one because it's so....much.

Is it a sin to believe in the paranormal? Are things like Bigfoot and Atlantis and the Loch Ness Monster frowned upon by the church? What about angel sightings and so-called demonic posessions? Is it wrong to pursue a curiosity about such topics? I'm a huge x-files fan, and, when I'm not praying for the speedy recovery of Mr. David Duchovny, I like to ponder all those spooky topics addressed in the show. However, as a Catholic, I want to make sure I'm not crossing some kind of line. My belief in the paranormal is nowhere near as deep or as full as my belief in the Gospels - I almost use the word 'belief' in the wrong context - but I want to make sure that my - shall we say "interest" - in such topics isn't leading me down the wrong path or making me unpleasing in the eyes of God.

"Paranormal" is certainly a big umbrella. Is the idea that there is some kind of lost civilization underwater somewhere really paranormal? If it is, I think that the idea that we might someday find Noah's Ark would also fall into the category.

Believing in things we can't see, or didn't witness, like Jesus rising from the dead, is also called "faith".

I don't think we can make a big blanket judgment of what we can and can't believe, things that would fall into the paranormal category, so I thought if I made a list of things that are okay, things that are off limits and things that are iffy and try to explain why, you can use it as a guide.

Sister Mary Martha's Guide to the Paranormal


Bigfoot: Go for it. I think you're being a little silly, ignoring the fact that just a few years ago the guy that made up Big Foot died and his family finally told everyone that he made it up, but who am I to judge? Believing that there is some sort of giant stinky cave man roaming the various wilderness areas shouldn't shake your faith in God's message of Salvation. If you find him, try to get him to go to Mass.

Loch Ness Monster: Sure, why not. I have always hoped there actually is a Loch Ness Monster. Wouldn't that be fun?

Angels: Yes. There are angels.


Angel sightings: Iffy, but not overly dangerous. For one thing, it could be the devil trying to fool you. You just never know. I would worry about you if you thought an angel was telling you what to do. If the angel did something wonderful and benevolent, like lifting your car off you after it flipped over on top of you, fine. And always keep in mind that we are never ever asked to believe in the personal revelations of others, not even Fatima and Lourdes.

Demonic possessions: Yes! You betcha! The Catholic Church teaches that the devil is real and he is working very hard to get you. Do you have to believe that the kid down the street who is spewing green slime and swearing is possessed by the devil? Not really. We definitely want to take that kid to a doctor first. I've talked about this before.

Ghosts: Yes and No. Yes, to the idea that there could be ghosts. No, to you and any sort of relationship with specters. The Catholic Church does believe that, as people do go on living after they die, there could be 'ghosts'. But we don't want you going anywhere near any of them, because it really could be the devil impersonating your dear Aunt Sadie and he will be really, really tricky about it, like in the Exorcist when the devil turned into the priest's mother and sat on the end of the bed crying, "Dimmy! Dimmy!" If a ghost shows up, even if she's your Grandma, close your ears and hum.

Ouija boards: No. The Church says no. I personally believe that the Ouija board is simply a hunk of fiber board and a hunk of plastic and that you spell out things yourself because that's how the human mind and body work together. When I was about 12, back in the Ice Age, my friends and I asked the Ouija board when the world was going to end, because as I often say, everyone always thinks they are living in the end times. The Ouija board told us when the world was going to end. So scary! The Church doesn't you messing around with the Ouija board in case the devil uses it to contact you, but also because any kind of 'forecasting' is off limits.

So..

Crystal Balls, Astrology, I Ching, Tarot Cards: NO. God's plan is not in Aries conjunct Gemini and the devil could be leading you astray through your silly beliefs.

Luck: No. God has a plan. It isn't luck.

Aliens from Space: Sure. The Catholic Church thinks there probably are aliens from space. We hope they are Catholic, or we are really going to have to re institute the Pagan Baby campaign.

You also can't believe in anything that contradicts Church doctrine, like finding the bones of Mary and the Jesus family.

I think I've covered the major fringe subjects here. If you understand what's dangerous and why, you should be fine.

Ask yourself:

1. Does this conflict with the teachings of the Cathlolic Church:

2. Does this make me doubt my faith?

3. Could this really be the tricky, tricky devil trying to steal my soul?

If the answer to any of the these questions is "yes", then this is not for you. If, for example, you believing that there is a big hairy stinky half man sort of creature in the woods behind your house makes you think God must have made some sort of creation mistake or that because this thing is so like a monkey and so like a man, it must mean that monkeys and man are equal in God's eyes and we need to bring monkeys into the Church and save their souls, then you need to drop your thinking about Big Foot ever again.

The world ended back on October 12 1986 by the way, according to the Ouija board, and we all missed it. Unless now we are all living in ....The Matrix......