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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Hello Sister, I love your blog! I have a question related to this angel thing. You know how in the movie "Ghost", the Patrick Swayze character died, but stayed on earth to accomplish a task? I'm pretty sure the Catholic church teaches that that is not possible, right? People that have died don't come back to earth and influence or protect or do things. I ask this because of an angel experience that we had in our family -- my son was seriously injured, and before the paramedics came, he said that he saw a crowd of people surrounding him, but in reality there was no one there. I think he was being surrounded by angels, protecting him. Part of me would like to think that my father-in-law, who was a crusty old Marine who passed away years before, was one of those beings, protecting his grandson until help came. What does the Catholic church teach on this? And do they address the whole 'believing in ghosts' thing?

Yes and no. Let's just not get carried away. The Catholic Church doesn't officially say one word about what people call ghosts. Except the Holy Ghost. The Church does talk quite a bit about Him. But people do come back and talk with us, at least according to several saints who had dead people show up and beg the saints to pray for them because they were having a rough time of it in Purgatory.

I should say these dead folks came to visit future saints, as actual saints are all also dead people who are in heaven. At any rate there are quite a number of future saints who, while they were alive on earth, had souls from Purgatory show up at their door.

"When I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament on the Feast of Corpus Christi a person enveloped in fire suddenly stood before me. From the pitiable state the soul was in I knew it was in Purgatory and I wept bitterly" - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Sometimes it seems as though our future saint was having a vision of Purgatory and sometimes it seems as though the souls came a knockin'. I believe it was St. Catherine of Genoa who had been at the death bed of some poor devil who appeared to her after he died begging her to pray for him in Purgatory. He was suffering so much, he said, he had been there sixty years. "Sorry, buddy," she had to say, "you've only been dead an hour."


We believe that dead people are either in Heaven or Hell or Purgatory. They aren't roaming
around looking like a mist doing the same thing over and over again or trying to find 'the light' or waiting for someone to give them a boot into the next world. They're not stuck in between worlds rattling chains or showing people how awful Christmas is going to be next year, or trying to help their poor little widow find their killer.

What the Catholic Church does teach about seeing dead people is that if you see one, ignore it, even if it's your beloved Auntie Tilly, because it's probably not Auntie Tilly, it's probably the devil dressed as Auntie Tilly. If you can't ignore it because it's throwing things off your shelf or carving it's initials on your mid-section, call a priest, even if your Auntie Tilly was known to throw things.

I'm sure your son saw angels. Anyhow, you said that a bunch of people gathered. So your father-in law would have had to actually bring a few of his Marine buddies along with him. Sempre Fi does not need to extend into the afterlife.

When the children of Fatima were talking with Our Lady, there was a 14 year old girl who had died and the children asked after her, if she would go to Heaven. Our Blessed Mother assured the children that the girl was indeed going to Heaven, but that the girl would be in Purgatory until the end of the world. While it is we hope that by now our prayers have freed the child, it is possible that she is still there, as Fatima was not so long ago.

And if some 14 year old peasant child from Fatima is in Purgatory until the end of the world, I can't think that the Marines, given what they do when they're on leave, have skated straight to Heaven. We hope they have all gone to their reward, but let's be realistic. When your son saw these people gathered around, were any of them on fire?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Gee Whiz

Dear Sister, I am an avid follower of your blog. I recently lamented the lack of singing in my local church and decided that I would make more effort to sing hymns to my two young boys during the week. My sister, who lives in another state and only attends Mass at Christmas, asked why I don't try going to another Christian church - she looked in the phone book and found there were any number of nearby alternatives. I know she is only trying to help, but as I am godmother to her daughters, I would really appreciate your assistance in explaining to her why this is an important issue and not a good idea. I don't really have the 'why' clear in my own mind, so I would love to hear your opinion. Thank you very much! God bless :)

Of course, the easiest solution to your problem would be to never, ever complain about anything that happens at your parish during Mass ever again. That way she won't have to offer you any advice about church.

Thank goodness you are the Godmother to her daughters and not the other way around.

You could just go with the old "the Catholic church is the One True Church founded by Jesus Christ while he was alive on earth" line.

You could ask her if she ever would choose to have Cheeze Whiz when she can have actual cheese. She might get some kind of clue from that.

If you really want to explain to her in depth why there is such a big difference between the Catholic Church and the separated brethren you could buy her a copy of "Protestantism for Dummies". Make it clear that you are not calling her a dummy. I have that book myself. Buy yourself a copy, too and then you can tell her that you have a copy too, and you won't be lying.

It's a sin to lie.

I would be tempted to simply tell her that I prefer to go to the Catholic Church and the Mass that Jesus Himself established and not a fourth generation, watered down, make it up as you go along, figure out for yourself what Jesus might have meant, leave out seven whole books of the Bible and change the wording in the New Testament to fit your ideas denomination.

But if she doesn't read the "Dummies" book, she won't know what you mean by that.

Meanwhile I would spend some time mailing her daughters fun Catholic stuff. Holy cards and glow in the dark rosaries, that sort of thing. Hopefully, your sister will have to try to explain the items to them.

Maybe you should also buy her a copy of "Catholicism for Dummies." I have that book, too!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

School Marmalade

One would think that since we are in Ordinary Time now, it would be a great time to get our ducks in a row. I don't even know where our ducks are to line them up. We never did get that tarp on the roof. Thankfully, it has hardly rained, but that's not a good thing, really. Our garden is an overgrown mess again. That crazy morning glory has taken over both sides of the house.

I had a friend who used to say, "Every time you see a light at the end of the tunnel, they build a new tunnel."

There has been one great stride. Our plumbing, which is a constant struggle that often ends in a hallway full of raw sewage, is working better than ever, thanks to this clever device. It is an air plunger that shoots an air bomb through the pipes. It worked when we were at our wit's end. Even after a plumber had walked on the scary roof and snaked the drain the tub wasn't normal. It took so long for the tub to drain, no matter how fast we tried to shower, that we had to change our schedules around the tub drain time.

Now the tub is on Ordinary Time, too. We don't even know how to behave.

What is your take on public/parochial/Christian/homeschooling? I'd like to know a nun's official view. We're struggling to find the best education for our children and public school just isn't cutting it. Private is good, but on one, not very substantial, income it's daunting trying to find a place we can afford. Based on the tuition scales I keep telling my husband we need to have another child and convert in order to afford it.

I have said before that I think you are right out of your cotton pickin' mind to want to homeschool. Since you asked.

First, you have children of all ages. An actual teacher in a classroom only has to deal with one set of physical, social, psychological and educational needs. Everyone is learning to add or everyone is learning algebra. Everyone is learning to share or everyone is wondering about their first kiss.

At home, you may be learning to add, learning shapes, changing a diaper, surfing the internet, choosing appropriate reading material, reading it all yourself first for all six grade levels, or seven grade levels or however many school age children you have, burping the baby, American history, world history, growing an avocado tree with toothpicks in a paper cup, geometry, long division, cutting shapes out of construction paper, geography and trying to stop the baby from running out of the house naked.

And you still have to be the mom.

And you have to teach them all about Jesus and the Catholic Church.

Your home must be a little like the Italian plate act. You remember that. Some guy has a whole
line of poles and he takes a plate and puts it on top of the first pole and spins it and then he puts a plate on top of the second pole and spins it and the third and so on. By the time he gets to the fourth or fifth plate on the fourth or fifth pole, the first plate is slowing down enough that he has to dash back there and give it a good spin and then run back to the seventh pole and put another plate on and then he has to run back to the second and third poles and give them a spin and then back over to the sixth pole and spin that again and put on a new plate and then run back...

Welcome to home schooling!

Where did all the teaching nuns go? I don't know. They must be with our ducks somewhere.

My hat's off to homeschoolers. I wouldn't want to do it. I would much rather have a room of thirty kids or more all doing the same thing, except for that one kid who won't sit down no matter what I do (I'll just make him the window monitor and he can open and close the windows all day and grow up to be the school janitor). Children herd very well once you teach them how to make a straight line. Ducks have nothing on a roomful of second graders.

Since there aren't any nuns to herd your children into the fold anymore, it does seem to me that homeschooling is your best option, God help you. It's very noble of you to even consider taking it on.

There is a very special place in heaven for you, I'm sure. It's very quiet. All the chairs are comfortable and someone else makes all the dinners and brings them over to you. You are never tired and there is no dust, no clutter and no one's nose is running.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Do I Know?

Being a nun is a balancing act. On the one hand, a nun is non-secular. The whole point of religious vows is to step back from earthly pleasures to be more harmonious with God and His plan, God not being particularly earthly. Nuns gather together to live that life in a convent because it is a difficult way to live and one has a better chance of succeeding if there are other people with the exact same goal. A convent or a monastery is nothing if not a 'support group'.

On the other hand, depending on the order, many religious people have to go wading right into the secular world to work with the sick and educate children and feed the poor and pretty much just roll up their long black sleeves wherever they are needed. Like FEMA or the Red Cross for the body and soul, but with no money.

It doesn't sound like it would be too big of a problem, once a person is aligned closely with God in the convent, to get out there and work using those guidelines. Taking a person's temperature and getting them a tray of food has nothing to do with the state of their soul.

Of course, it often has everything to do with the state of their soul. A person's ability to heal and live a happy life and have a nice family and a decent place to live can have everything to do with the state of one's soul.

That's not a simple thing. If I find you on the street all filthy and mumbling to yourself, I can't just jump in front of you and say, "Love Jesus and all will be well." It simply isn't true. You might be crazy and not able to tell the difference between Jesus and the other voices in your head.

In order to actually be a religious, I have to also immerse myself in the secular in many ways if for no other reason than to have some inkling of understanding of what people are up against and how they are affected by it psychologically and all that sort of thing.

I do still have that one step back. More than one step back, really, which sometimes allows me to see the forest and the trees. Still, sometimes the things people ask me about! How would I know? I'm a nun.
if widowed young and unable to have more children....is a marriage for companionship, security and father for existing children looked upon with favor? question comes after reading this weeks' bulletin statement on Marriage and its sexual implications... i guess what i'm really asking is..can i get remarried to have sex even if it is not to create new life?

Actually, I do know the answer to this.

I have a feeling, though, that you didn't ask what you meant to ask.

The answer to the question you did ask is NO. Having sex is not a reason to marry anyone at anytime, not even if you are 21 and as fertile as a rabbit. Sorry to be so blunt. Maybe I need a little retreat or something.

The answer to the first part of your question, which is what I think you meant to ask about, is a resounding yes. Marriage is first and foremost a vocation in which the two people involved are each others helpmates to heaven.

It's like your own little convent! Your little support group, but with only two people! What a deal!

Children that need a father! What a calling! Excellent vocational choice!

Here's where the "I'm a nun, why are you asking me?" part kicks in. Sex is an important part of marriage because of the intimacy factor. As long as you are open to let God choose what's going to go on with children as a result of it, everything is hunky dorey.

I won't be expounding on that, except I would like to add that sex is an important part of marriage until it isn't, which might happen, too. A married couple still has all of those other things: a support group of two, a person who is trying to make sure you get to heaven, companionship, love, maybe some financial help, a shoulder to cry on and somebody who has been around long enough to know not to talk to you when you have that look on your face. Or to hug you because you have that look on your face.

Even a nun can figure that out.

Meanwhile, I have one other piece of advice for you. Find the shift key. Just because you text all the time is no excuse for being lazy. How much effort does it take to capitalize things that are supposed to be in capital letters? It's just a tiny movement of the pinkie, in heaven's name!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Someone asked me yesterday if those were my pants in the picture from my last post. No. I am at all times pantsless. If I did have pants they would be black and decidedly unfancy.

Those are lovely pants, though. I agree.

Sister -- I have a patron saint-matching request. I joined a wonderful religious community ten years ago and remained there a year until health problems forced me to leave. I was heart-broken at leaving and dealt with a lot of grief for a year or two. Since then I have come to accept that year as a gift that will prepare me in special ways for whatever else God has planned for me. I'm very happy at the thought that I might have a married vocation.

BUT, I've come to realize recently that I am still coping with a lot of anger at God for what felt like abandonment and betrayal after I left everything for Him. I have had uninterrupted spiritual dryness since I left, and a few priests have suggested that this deep hurt may be the cause. I want to draw close to God, but He's the source of the pain. It's like being in a marriage with someone you still love but can't bear to look at because of an affair.

I'm going to start spiritual direction specifically for help with this, but I'd like all the help I can get! Is there a saint who would be a good fit? People have suggested various saints who have gone through the dark night of the soul, but when I read their stories, I feel some resentment at the grace they had to still believe confidently that God loved them in spite of His apparent abandonment. I don't feel that.

On a related topic, St. Teresa of Calcutta always said to "show a smiling face to Jesus" whatever you might be feeling. I feel more like yelling at Him, but I feel guilty and a bit scared when I do, like it's blasphemous. I'd rather be honest with Him, though. What do you think? Is it okay to haul off and "give Him what for"?

I am so confused. It seems to me that the first part of your statement about looking forward to a vocation of marriage and seeing this all as a gift from God is just not true. Let's get to the facts. You are still mad that you didn't get the life you wanted and feel God abandoned you.

Pay attention. God did not abandon you. You said you had to leave ten years ago for health reasons.

You are still alive

You have no reason to give God "what for". He has reason to give you "what for".

Here is another thing that is not true:
People have suggested various saints who have gone through the dark night of the soul, but when I read their stories, I feel some resentment at the grace they had to still believe confidently that God loved them in spite of His apparent abandonment.

At some point they believed that God loved them in spite of His apparent abandonment, but the fact that they felt abandoned indicates that they didn't go around feeling like this much of the time. They felt despair. Which is a sin, which is a further estrangement from God because God never abandons anyone. What a mess. That's why it's called a "Dark Night of the Soul" and not "free floating anxiety" or some "ups and downs in the faith department."

I'm not trying to minimize your pain. I just think you have it all backwards. You shouldn't be asking yourself to forgive God. You should be asking God to forgive you. He gave you some gifts that you don't seem to want. That's not His fault. The gifts are there. They arrive every day. You just keep marking them 'return to sender'.

Open them.

So! The patron saint! St. Paul.

I always think of him as the patron saint of doing a total 180. The patron saint of going full throttle in the wrong direction and then spinning right around and going pedal to the metal the other way. He couldn't have been more wrong in his direction when he was spun around. He couldn't have been more right after he picked himself up again.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear

I'm in the market for some new slippers. I go through them very quickly because I always have to have something on my feet here in the house and my big nun shoes are hard on the hard wood floors. I must wear something on my feet because otherwise I break my little toe over and over again. I have broken my little toe on both feet a total of six times, once every summer for three years running, the last time was in the fall and was the very worst. Does God want me to have my toes broken? Do I owe Him a little something and it's my toes rather than my kneecaps? Is my guardian angel under orders to hold his ears and hum during all of this?

I don't know how that works.

We have some follow up questions and comments on our angels and our check books.

Speaking of angels, my best friend asked me a question and I still don't fully understand the answer. We know that God protects us, right? So then why do we need guardian angels if we have Him?

It's God's Will. God can do anything He wants, including delegate. Here is what we do know: Every single person has a guardian angel watching over them 24/7. It's your guardian angel's job to keep you out of trouble and keep you from harm.

I'm not sure how this works, what with free will and all. I'll have to chalk that one up to "It's a Sacred Mystery"*. It seems to mean that your guardian angel keeps you safe from all harm that is not God's will. If God wants you to get hit by the bus, your angel has to watch helplessly from the curb.

Otherwise the angel is on the case. Here is a good illustration of how this all works from a reader named Lawrence:

When I was about 4 years old... this would have been in the early 1950's... my Mom and Pop took us to a local creek for the afternoon. My Aunt Mary and Uncle Buddy came along with us. I was the youngest child, and was playing by myself near the edge of the creek, but only about 20 feet away from my parents and my Aunt and Uncle, who were all sitting around a small campfire talking. I took a notion to walk out into the creek and did so, and promptly stepped off into a deeper part of the creek and sank out of sight. I still remember the silence and beauty of that strange underwater world as I sank down to the bottom of the stream. The very next thing that happened was a large hand reached down and grabbed me, and pulled me out, and I began to wail and cry. It was my Uncle Buddy who had saved me, and after that he often told what had happened. They had all been sitting around the campfire talking when he heard a voice say "LOOK!" and he looked up just in time to see me go under. No one else heard anything. Had an Angel not warned him and had he not seen me, and acted, I would surely have drowned.

If only Uncle Buddy would tell us if the voice was male or female, you'd know a little more about your guardian angel, Lawrence.

Most of my readers
disagreed with me about the Mary checks being a bad idea. I am not easily swayed, but I am on the fence. Their argument, simply, is that it never hurts to hand somebody something with Mary on it in the hope that the person receiving whatever it is will maybe inquire about the image. That would allow you to stick your big foot in the door and say a few words about Mary.

So far so good. Certainly I am all about sacramentals.

A sacramental is anything that reminds you of Jesus, or of God, or that you need to pray or sacrifice or head out to Mass or hang a sacramental picture of Jesus in your house to remind you of prayer, God, sacrifice, Mass.....

I just think there is a limit to where we stick Mary and what we do with her image. Perhaps it's a matter of taste. I don't care for rosaries hanging from car mirrors, but many people tell me they keep the rosary there and use it during traffic jams and such. That's good. Especially since they could be spending that time in utterly useless texting.

Unless they are texting someone to remind them to say a rosary.

I kind of like the little plastic Mary or Jesus statues that have a peel off bottom so you can stick them wherever you like, car included. I encourage St. Joseph real estate kits for the home seller. A glow in the dark rosary is great for sleepless nights. I must have some sort of cognitive dissonance going on.

But at the point where we extinguish our cigarette butts on Jesus, I'm done. The Mary checks are just about there for me. Jesus flipped over the tables at the Temple because of the money changers out there and the idea of His Mother on a check just seems to push the boundaries of taste.

Don't feel bad if you ran right out and got yourself some Mary checks. I'm sure your heart is in the right place.

There's no accounting for taste. You can tell that by my shoes.

* "Sacred Mystery" is a Catholic term that means "just let it go."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Angel Girl Talk

I think I may have mentioned that my mother, who is about to turn 88, has a huge collection of angels. As a child she was deprived of ever having a doll, so she always had a fascination with pretty dolls. She still can't abide 'ugly' toys, so it's just as well she doesn't get out so much to see what's on the market these days. At any rate, my theory is that she really couldn't get away with having dolls as an adult, so she went into the angel collection thing. Her home is dripping with angels. She still has two rules about what angels make the cut:

1. They have to be pretty.
2. If they are not pretty, they have to be very unusual. She has, for example, a little wooden one made of carved spools.

Even that one is obviously a girl. I never really thought about it before, but I believe they are all girls, those angels. I didn't think about it at all until I got this question a few days ago:

I have a question for you. I once had someone tell me that it is against church theology to portray angels as female because there are no instances of angels appearing to man as female, only male. Like God, he said, they are to be referred in the masculine. Is this true? And if so...why? What's the big deal? Angels are spirits with no gender, so does it really matter if they are male or female?

We've heard lots of things about angels. Most of those things are speculative. We know there are angels. We know they work for God and live in heaven and interact with us here on earth. Here's what the Catholic Church officially says about angels.

You may notice not word one about gender or portrayal, so whoever told you that was...speculating. If it is against the Church theology to portray angels as female, then the Catholic cemeteries have a lot of unpleasant work ahead of them asking families to remove these things.

I'll bet the angel on top of your tree is a girl angel.

... because there are no instances of angels appearing to man as female, only male.

Except in Zachariah 5:9 where two winged women come out of the sky and haul off some evil in a box. Unless there is yet another type of being in heaven heretofore unmentioned, they had to have been angels. Otherwise we'll have to believe that there are all male angels in heaven and, inexplicably, two winged women.

I'll be more than happy to pile on the angel gender speculation. Do angels have a gender? The ones listed by name do, unless someone misspelled Gabriel's name and left off two "l's" and and "e". Are there female angels? At least two.
Aren't angels supposed to be genderless because Jesus mentioned that we won't have sex in heaven because we'll all be like the angels? No, that just means we won't have sex in heaven. (Which is why when people ask me, "Isn't it difficult to be celibate?", I reply, "No, it is just like being in heaven.")

Perhaps it just seems as though the angels are all male because we always use masculine pronouns to describe them. That could be simply because it used to be proper and excepted grammar, and understood as such, that when talking in a general way about any group, we would use only masculine pronouns, as in "if your child isn't eating his dinner, don't offer him french fries instead." These days we laboriously say, " his or her dinner, don't offer him or her french fries instead."

We also offer french fries instead.

Oh! and lest I forget yet another 'nuns make things up' chestnut, the old nuns used to tell us that everyone's guardian angel was of the opposite gender. Girls had boy angels and boys had girl angels. They didn't just pipe up with that one because they felt like it. The old nuns liked the idea that with a guardian angel of the opposite sex watching you all the time, you would be less likely to sin in private, if you catch my drift. You have to hand it to the old nuns for staying on top of things that way.

Speaking of things that should not be depicted in art
.....I noticed this over there on my google adsense thing. I have no control over what they put on there, except to be very careful about what I put in there for 'tags'. Sometimes something catches my eye. Virgin Mary checks. I had to look.
Maybe if you only use the Mary checks to give money to the Catholic Charities. I'm not sure I can stand to see Mary going to the Gap.

Nice artwork, though.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Girl Talk

I'm trying to catch up on all the questions we've had recently. Forgive me for being so pokey with such urgent matters. To try to get the job done, I'm putting questions that are similar together. Today, two patron saint matchings.

Hello Sister!
I know you love saint matchmaking, and I'm in need of your help! I really need a patron saint of feminism. You'll probably think it sounds easy, but I'm looking for a specific saint who fought for the rights of women(but I'm not talking about the radical feminism being delivered these days...all that sexual liberation rubbish and whatnot. I mean feminism the way JPII defines it). I know that the female doctors of the church were amazing, but I thought they only wrote on prayer and the church in general. Could you please help me? (Even better if the saint is male:) ) Happy New Year Sister!

Oh Posh. I've had it up to here with fighting other women about the proper role of women. Here's the way I see it. If there's a job to do, do it. If someone else is better at a job because they have stronger muscles, let them do it and go find something else worthwhile to do. If there is a paycheck involved, the job should pay the same thing to anyone who does it.

The end.

Do we ever hear about masculinists? No, we don't. That's because there was no need for anyone to point out that men are worthwhile in all their endeavors and that their thoughts are relevant. Obviously, that was not the case for women or they would never have been a movement called "feminism".

It's too bad that people had to be reminded about the importance and relevance of women. I can tell you that the world of women in which I grew up was quite different than the one in which I now live. I remember my mother watching game shows on TV, for example, and saying, "I think those women should let the men win." That sort of thinking was the tip of the iceberg. The big hunk of ice beneath were things like a man's legal right to beat his wife. Police actually responding to a 'domestic dispute' is a relatively recent phenomena.

I know we're all upset about the sexual revolution. There is an upside to it. Think of it this way. If the feminist movement was in part about a woman 'owning' her sexuality, a girl should be much less likely to be pressured into having sex to keep or please a man.

Here's a good read, by the way, to get a grip on seeing a job that needs doing and doing it. The book is called, "Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America" and is an amazing trip from Europe to America by young women who were sent alone into the wilderness (when it really was wilderness) to build schools and hospitals and orphanages from nothing. There is a very entertaining story about a nun who befriended Billy the Kid because she was the only person who would give medical attention to one of his buddies who had been shot. She saved the man's life. Billy the Kid visited her whenever he was in town and had his horse do tricks for her.

I'm not sure why you would especially want a male saint for this job. That has a little bit of a "nyah-nyah" tone.....We want the best saint for the job, the end, do we not? A good match, like picking a doctor. We simply want the best one for the problem.

I strongly suggest St. Catherine of Sienna, Doctor of the Church (one of three women to earn that title) who single handed, through her tireless writing, held the Church together during a dark time when we had two popes. One in France and one in Rome. She urged that someone step down. Finally, it was decided that neither man would be Pope and a third Pope was appointed. Still the other two popes remained. Three Popes. What a mess! She took a verbal ruler to the whole problem.

On top of that, St. Catherine was a wonderful teacher and a fantastically strong person. She accomplished all of that before the tender age of thirty three, because like Jesus, she was dead by then. Unlike Jesus, she did not rise from the dead. But she certainly earned a very special place in heaven, like all women who have to work for the salvation of their own souls while wrangling everyone else into some semblance of a path to salvation. As most women (and pastors) can tell you, it's like herding cats.

I also think St. Catherine is a wonderful patron saint for dieters, as she subsisted only on the Host a lot of the time. She also slept only three hours a night. Sound familiar anyone? She didn't even have an infant or a teething baby or a husband with a cold.

Here's a tough one:
On the No Question Left Behind blog we tackled a question on cutting and self harm. In response, someone emailed me and asked if there is a patron saint of self harm. One of the teen members of the blog suggested perhaps a saint who was into self mortification. I'm not so sure -- there is a difference between wearing a hair shirt to increase spirituality and a teen who suffers through cutting or bulimia. So, I come to you for your opinion. Teens these days really need patron saints! Thanks for all you do! www.noquestionleftbehind.blogspot.com

This is a tough one. It's my understanding that young people (the majority being girls) do this because they are punishing themselves and at the same time they are emotionally numb.

So I suggest, although I have to do some more thinking on this, St. Teresa of Avila, who was also a Doctor of the Church. Clearly these people need a doctor. But that's not why I suggest her.

St. Teresa always felt inadequate. She was wracked with guilt over what she perceived as her imperfections, which often were very simple things like enjoying a bottle of perfume. And romance novels. She really liked romance novels and felt terrible about it. She didn't cut herself. But she did have visions of where, exactly, she would end up, which was under a staircase in hell. She didn't even merit a room in hell. She had to sit under the stairs.

Which brings to mind the other St. Teresa....well, not technically a saint yet...Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who suffered her dark night of the soul most of her working life. It's a big problem.

Maybe it calls for two Teresas.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

How Fat Was He? As Fat as.....

I'm not sure why it is that people become so upset when we mention that saints weren't perfect. It's not necessary to be perfect to be a saint. It's a good thing, too, or there wouldn't be any.

Thomas Aquinas walked half the earth (or something equally ridiculous). Dominicans of that day and age couldn't possibly be as big as a house...

Good for him! I walk all over the place, too. However, I did not make it up that St. Thomas Aquinas was as big as a house. This fact first came to my attention because a priest I used to know always used St. Thomas Aquinas as his one and only similie for fatness. If Father Bill wanted to say something was fat, he would say, "as fat as Thomas Aquinas..."

It was only after that I noticed Thomas Aquinas looked rather portly in his pictures. These aren't necessarily pictures that were drawn many years after his death. It's only in recent years that St. Thomas has slimmed down on his holy card.

If I may digress for a moment, most saints are prettied up for their holy cards. I understand the reason is to show that everyone is beautiful in heaven. I wish this practice would be discontinued. It's bad enough that everyone has to be pretty on TV where no one is particularly fat even on a Pizza Hut commercial. Saints aren't saints here on earth. You have to be dead to be a saint. But you have to have lived a life of heroic virtue here on earth to be a saint. We call people who are living lives of heroic virtue 'living saints'. But to be an actual canonized saint you have to be dead. The holy card is usually a depiction of the saint while he was alive. I would appreciate seeing someone's homely mug on a holy card. That type of thing gives everyone hope.

I love seeing St. Therese's potatoey little face much more than her prettied up holy card. I think her real face is all the more beautiful.

I love the idea that Our Lady appeared to this unfortunate looking nun, as opposed to the beautiful young girl we always see.

Leave the models for Palmolive dish soap and show me the everyday faces of the people who are the real models for living.

My soap box is breaking under the weight of the New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce someone fed me during the Christmas break.

What was I talking about?

Oh, yes, St. Thomas Aquinas, the tubby. They didn't call St. Thomas Aquinas "The Dumb Ox" when he was a school boy for nothing. The 'dumb' part came from the fact that he was a quiet boy. But, let's fact it, they didn't call him the dumb mouse, or the dumb beanpole, or the dumb greyhound. "This dumb ox will fill the earth with his bellowing." (Albert the Great, Aquinas' Parisian professor)

You don't have to take my word for it. Here's G.K. Chesterton (a 'takes one to know one' example in the weight department, Chesterton's coffin was too big to be carried down the stairs and had to be lowered from the window like a piano) on St. Thomas Aquinas:
"St. Thomas was a huge heavy bull of a man, fat and slow and quiet; very mild and magnanimous but not very sociable; shy, even apart from the humility of holiness; and abstracted, even apart from his occasional and carefully concealed experiences of trance or ecstasy."

Myron Shibley of the Franciscan University writes:
"St. Thomas Aquinas was a compulsive over-eater who was not just fat but morbidly obese and physically grotesque."

I have read, but not been able to verify, that St. Thomas Aquinas had to cut a semi-circle in the table for his stomach so he could fit himself in there. Now, this may not be true, but no one would have made up a story like that if Aquinas was skinny, because no one would have believed it. They would have said, "Posh! Aquinas is a beanpole! What are you talking about?"

Instead, they said, "Reeeaaally?"

So all the walking didn't work for St. Thomas. I doubt he could walk that much anyhow. It takes a lot of sitting to write as much as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote. He didn't even have a typewriter.

It's okay with me. I like him that way. A peron can't have heroic virtue if they have no problems to try to overcome. You're not brave if you're not afraid. Bravery means you are afraid, but you still do the deed. If you're not afraid, maybe you're just fool hardy. Or stupid.
There can be no strength of character without temptation, no virtue without the existence of vice. Being a fatso doesn't make Thomas Aquinas a hypocrite. It makes him human, which allows him to become a saint.

I want the fattest holy card I can find of him.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Glandular Sin

What is gluttony and why is it a sin? We think of gluttony as just eating like a pig. The end. Eat like a pig and you are a glutton. After you are a glutton you get fat and when you get fat you can't move and when you can't move you get lazy and now you've added another deadly sin, sloth.

Care to join this cat?

But what is the difference between overeating and being a little fat and a little lazy, and gluttony and sloth. I went to the great thinkers of the church for help. I didn't get too far with that. St. Thomas Aquinas is the most often quoted, which is rather ironic, since St. Thomas Aquinas was as big as a house. I've read that maybe he had glandular problems.

I've also read that people who blame their girth on glandular problems are wrong about that 98% of the time.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the expert (in theology), listed six ways to commit gluttony:

  • Praepropere - eating too soon.
  • Laute - eating too expensively (washedly).
  • Nimis - eating too much.
  • Ardenter - eating too eagerly (burningly).
  • Studiose - eating too daintily (keenly).
  • Forente - eating wildly (boringly).

I think if you get a Catholic family of ten around a table for supper on any given day, you probably hit all six before the table is cleared. The six year old grabs for the bread before anyone else has sat down, the fifteen year old has his own bottle of orangina, the eight year old is having a contest with the seven year old to see who can eat the most, Dad is shoveling in the meatloaf, the fourteen year old girl is picking at her potatoes because she read about carbs causing weight gain and the baby is flinging peas.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri cleared things up a little. Here's his comment:

"...it is not a fault to feel pleasure in eating: for it is, generally speaking, impossible to eat without experiencing the delight which food naturally produces. But it is a defect to eat, like beasts, through the sole motive of sensual gratification, and without any reasonable object. Hence, the most delicious meats may be eaten without sin, if the motive be good and worthy of a rational creature; and, in taking the coarsest food through attachment to pleasure, there may be a fault."

I love St. Alphonsus Ligouri. He had arthritis so bad and was so bent over from it that his chin wore a hole in his chest. You can't begrudge a guy like that getting some enjoyment from his food.

We could try to get off easily and say that if we are devoting too much time and energy to food, maybe we are sinning. That doesn't really work either. You might have a job making beautiful cakes. Those beautiful cakes bring people pleasure and are often a way of expressing our love. So is a nicely presented, tasty dinner. Or lunch or breakfast or snack.

Jesus certainly seemed to enjoy a good meal with his friends. He enjoyed a tiny bit of luxury even. Remember the incident with the perfume? So, no help there.

I'd go with this. Eat when you are hungry. Stop eating when you are full, even if the food tastes really great. Save it for later when you are hungry again.

How will you know if you are eating too much? You'll be a little fat. Maybe you'll be a lot fat. That means you're eating too much. Or you are in the 2% that actually have a glandular problem.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

My Big Fat New Year's Day

I did trudge down to the marina to stand beneath the fancy party and watch the fireworks. To do that, I have to walk down several blocks in one direction, go through a whole in the fence to the park, walk across the park (very short) and then walk back in the other direction a little farther than I've walked in the first place. It's really not particularly far. I did all that walking in a heavy fog. Not in my brain. The whole bay was in a thick fog. It wasn't until I arrived at the 'party' that the I realized there was a fog in my brain that caused me to do all that walking in the thick fog and not have it occur to me that you can not see fireworks in a thick fog.

This happens on July 4th sometimes as well. The fireworks go off in the fog. We see lights flashing in the fog. Then the smoke from the fireworks clouds what's left of the fireworks themselves. Happy Birthday America!

Last night we could only hear the fireworks. Not even a flash in the fog. Someone could have saved a lot of dough by simply having a recording of fireworks.

After it was all over, a small boy was standing out on the deck at the fancy party with some sort of light up pin wheel. I shouted up to him, "HOORAY! You have the only fireworks here tonight!" He seemed tickled. I walked home.

Happy New Year!

I have a question: Does the practice of making New Year's resolutions have any root in our Catholic faith? It seems that every time we go to confession we make a resolution (or two, or a hundred)but are New Years resolutions even BETTER seeing as it's just after Advent and Christmas?

Nope. We tend to think of these things as always being the way they are now. But the date of the start of the New Year has moved around a bit, not to mention that lots of people don't recognize the January 1st date as we speak.

As Catholics, I'm not sure we've come to rest on the official start of the Church calendar. Have we? Maybe we did and I missed out. It's either Christmas day or the Baptism of Jesus. I think.

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to see people stop smoking, drinking, gambling, overeating, and start brushing their teeth more often, cleaning the oven more than once a year, jogging, trotting, walking, making an earthquake preparedness kit and taking up knitting.

Learn a language! That's my advice!

I've just never gotten my brain around using some arbitrary date to start something you could start anytime you realize you need to make that change. It's just an excuse to be lazy procrastinators.

I do have some advice about adhering to New Year's resolutions, should you decide to wade into having some.

Did you know that lots and lots of people who are in rehab and AA 'relapse' all the time? I read somewhere that the 'cure' rate for people in rehab is a mere ten or fifteen per cent. Should those people just give up and head out and find a corner crack salesman? Of course not. What do they do? They go back to rehab, back to the meetings and they spend another day sober. And another.

I just don't understand how someone who is trying to stop smoking, who cracks and has a cigarette, then turns around and goes berserk and starts smoking like a stack again. What is the deal there? "I tried to quit, but I couldn't." Nonsense. You did quit and then you started smoking again and you used your little slip as an excuse to go nuts. Stop again. Don't buy any cigarettes. Make yourself into a cigarette bum or a pathetic ashtray and trashcan diver. At the very least you'll smoke a lot less. We'll be so happy you smell better most of the time.

I know it's hard. If you've tried to stop smoking and taken up knitting as your New Year's resolutions, someone might end up stabbed to death with a knitting needle.

I saw a program about a man who could barely walk he was so fat, poor dear. He lost ever single excess pound and was Mr. Fit. He did all the talk shows and gave out advice. Then one day a couple of years later, he went to Coney Island for his birthday and decided to treat himself to a Coney Island hot dog. It was so good he had another....and another and another. Now he can barely walk because he is so fat, poor dear.

I understand having the first hot dog. I even understand having ten hot dogs on the same day. But what in the world went on there the next day with this fellow? Glory be! Where did his three years of strength and determination go?

What am I talking about? I've lost my train of thought....

One day at a time. Make a change. If you fail, make the same change again tomorrow.

Now, we all begin thinking about 2009, and our New Year's resolutions. My resolution is to go on a diet, like a zillion other people. I need to lose a significant amount of weight - more than one hundred pounds.

I eat too much, and I move about too little. Is this what the sin of gluttony is and should that be part of my confession?

I liked your earlier post about patron saints of dieting. I am asking them to pray for me as I begin this diet and also to think seriously about how my dietary choices are affecting not only my body, but my soul.

I eat too much, and I move about too little. Is this what the sin of gluttony is and should that be part of my confession? Yeah, I guess so. Far be it from me to decide you've crossed over the line of not paying attention to how much you eat and the idea that you might be a little lazy about exercise to the sins of gluttony and sloth. Gluttony, after all, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Are you really tipping the scale that far?

But, if it helps you to look at it that way, go for it!

Do you have a plan? I hear Weight Watchers is very good. I read somewhere that if you walk a half an hour every day you won't gain any more weight at least. Maybe it was one hour.

It's going to be a lot of work. Saint involvement is a huge plus.

Maybe tomorrow we should have a talk about what the sin of gluttony actually entails.