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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Down the Dark Alley

Sister St. Aloysius will have to look for new opportunities to suffer, as her arm is on the mend. A few days ago her doctor changed her big clunky all the way around the elbow cast to a streamlined light weight job that only goes from her hand to her elbow. What a shame, as that happened the day before Lent began and not being able to straighten her arm was driving her around the bend.

A shame for me as well, since I loved taking her on alley walks while she had that big clunker on.

I like to walk through alleys. I think I have always liked to walk through alleys.

To begin with you get to see the backside of everyone's life. The tidy garage, the hillbilly garage, the beautiful yard, the falling down back fence, the grill, the Big Wheels, the cars on blocks, all a snapshot of life as we know it.

Back there we get an insight into who is really persnickety, who is a big slob and who is just a person with not enough time to take care of every detail of a hunk of property back in the corners no one else sees.

No one but me and Sister St. Aloysius, the alley walkers.

Here in the city, I especially like walking through the alley because it's much more quiet than trudging up the sidewalk with all the cars zooming by. I will admit that at certain times of day the cars zoom through the alley, too, trying to bypass traffic.

But I am such a learned alley walker, I know where to walk in the alley so that I don't get run over. You walk in the middle of the alley in the middle of the alley and the far sides of the alley when you are on either end of it. That way when someone comes zooming into the alley they don't hit you, but in the middle there they can see you and slow down. I am actually a bit paranoid about being run over since my mother's amazing colossal accident a few years back. Did I ever tell you about that? She came out relatively unscathed, but the car was totaled. Remind me to tell you that story sometime. You should see me scooting around parking lots trying to avoid being behind anyone with their brake lights on. On lookers must wonder if someone is secretly giving me electric shocks from afar.

I have been cautioned numerous times, that it is dangerous for me to walk in the alley, as I also do it at night. "Pish posh," I say. It's not as though I'm out there at 3 AM.

The best part about the giant heavy cast was that I could just tell everyone not to worry about the alley walking, because if anything happened, Sister St. Aloysius could just clunk robbers in the head with it and we would run away.


So I've given up alleys (among other things) for Lent.

By the time Lent is over, and our backyards of the soul have been all straightened up, Sister St. Aloysius' arm will be all better and she will be able to do her kung -fu jujitzu on any potential attackers once more.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Have a Great Time

I always want to wish everyone a "Happy Ash Wednesday" because I am exuberant about Lent. Of course that would be inappropriate. I know "Have a Blessed Ash Wednesday" would be the way to go, but it doesn't cut it for me. Too.........quiet.

Lent has begun. What a great time!

Not a great time, as in 'we had a great time."

A great time, as in "times that are full of greatness."

Just for a moment let's pretend we're not Catholic. Only for a moment, though, really. (And let's not get hit by a bus during this moment. You're ashes can go to ashes and your dust to dust after the moment passes.)

What would we get out of Lent, with no religion involved, by just using the time to do without?

Character building, that's what. Anyone who had had to live through the Great Depression, or been in bootcamp, or deployed away from home, or scraping by to feed the family and pay the bills or taken a back seat one day so someone else can shine will tell you that giving something up builds character.

So to do it for forty days will build quite a bit of character. "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Who said that anyhow? FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE. Speaking of no religion involved!

Now let's be Catholic again.

Whew! I hope no meteors hit anyone.

Lent is where the rubber hits the road to heaven. Because we are not just going to give something up. We are going to sacrifice. The word "sacrifice" (which no doubt does not appear in Oxford Junior Dictionary) is
from the Latin sacrificium: sacr, "sacred" + facere, "to make." We are going to make what we don't do sacred.

Which means: no whining, no blabbering about our great sacrificesl. Do it. Offer it up. And shut up about it.


Happy Lent!

Which brings me to today's question:

I have an Ash Wednesday question. My husband just brought it up as if it were an original idea, but I have wondered this every year for years. The Gospel reading for today starts out: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them." Then we go out from Mass and go to our jobs or our shopping with big black crosses on our foreheads. So, isn't there a bit of irony in that? How do we reconcile the words and the act in this case?

Something has gone awry in your thinking about the meaning of the ashes and why we walk around with them on all day. Wearing ashes on your head is not a 'righteous deed'. Wearing ashes on your head is supposed to be an act of humility. Even more so in today's society where everyone is so very conscious of how they look every second.

You do need to shut up about your righteous deeds when you actually do them. You don't give money to the poor and then run around all day telling everyone you gave money to the poor. This is not election day for the good deed doers, where you get to wear a little sticker all day that says, "I gave." This is the day to wear ashes on your head all day because you are just a pile of dust that God chose to give life. You pile of dust you.

The ashes on your head don't tell everyone on the bus that you have done righteous deeds. The ashes on your head tell everyone on the bus that you are really a pile of dust.

At the end of Lent we will be celebrating the fact that we are piles of dust that God chose to give eternal life. Pretty impressive. But not to be confused with righteous deeds.

Why did we have that reading today? Because today is about being humble. The whole season is about humility. But showing up for Mass is not a righteous deed. It's an obligation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Some Bird in a Coal Mine

Sister St. Aloysius is very pleased with the response to her letter writing campaign to the Oxford Dictionary Junior Edition. She wishes to caution every one who wishes to join her protest not to run off half baked.

This sentiment is common among our readers:

I think the powers that be in the world are trying to eliminate any reference to Christian religion. Christianity is the only religion it is permissible to discriminate against, or so it seems to me. Maybe a few others have noticed this new trend.

I have noticed that people like to say this is a new trend, as evidenced in the phony War on Christmas, but I just don't buy it. If really think that Christianity is the only religion it is permissible to discriminate against, you haven't spoken to any Jews or Muslims lately. Muslims are the new Jews, where discrimination is concerned.

I'm not saying there is no discrimination against Christianity. I merely suggest to you that we are very low on the ladder of true discrimination, certainly in the United States and in England.

I cant' think of a case in the United States of a person being beaten, dragged to death, strung up or attacked that has anything to do with the person being Christian. The most recent case had everything to do with keeping a chimpanzee as a pet.

We must especially keep our hats on straight while writing to the Oxford Dictionary, because they did not just remove "nun", "sin", "saint", "bishop", "nunnery", "abbot" and "monk". They also removed “magpie,” “vine,” “beaver,” and “canary.”

"Blackberry" is still in the Oxford Dictionary Junior edition but not as a very seedy little fruit. It remains as a word for a hand held telephone/computer/organizer device.

For this they deserve the "raspberry" for short sightedness. I think the fruit will outlast the technology.

My point is that lots of words went by the wayside. "Gone to where the woodbine twineth," as my mother likes to say. I'm sure woodbine is not in that dictionary, not is 'canary' is gone.

Their excuse for dumping all of these words was that the dictionary has to stay small enough for little hands to hold.

Nonsense. Little hands fair much better holding big things than small things. That's why we always gave them those giant pencils.

The more I think about, the more I am convinced that words that must be eliminated are
"Oxford Junior Dictionary". Why do children need a watered down, missing words, dictionary in the first place? The last thing children need is less information, especially these days.

Can't these children just use their Blackberries to look up words anyhow? I believe they can. So much for the 'little hands' excuse.

Little hands indeed.

Poor Tarzan. Just swinging through the jungle on a........

Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press
Great Clarendon St.
Oxford OX2 6DP

Friday, February 20, 2009

Get Thee to a Cannery

What can I do to convince Sister St. Aloysius that starting a 'write in' campaign is not the best project to begin when the arm you write with is broken in three places and held together with plates and pins? (Great sling, yes? Click the picture for more.)

She is undaunted. I have had to rewrite her letters for her, which means I have to decipher what she tried to scratch out with her devil arm.

Maybe our readers can help.

For reasons no one can fathom, the Oxford Junior Dictionary has taken out the words "nun", "saint", and "bishop". (There were a few others. Although, they also took out "nunnery" and I am happy to see that one go. I never cared for that word. It sounds too much like 'cannery' and it makes me feel like a sardine that got packaged and shipped.)

Sister St. Aloysius has decided to protest. I agree. It's not as though any of these words are remotely out of use, unless we've decided to change the names of some cities to "Paul" and "Charles" and "Louis". The Louis Arch. It just doesn't have the same ring to it.

I'm not sure how one will refer to that certain now nameless chess piece. I wonder if 'rook' is still in the Oxford Junior Dictionary. I hope so. I don't have any idea what a rook actually is and I'll need to look that up in a dictionary to find out.

They've added some words, like "MP3 player". I'm glad they did that because I can never remember what that is and I have to re-ask the same 6th grader over and over again. Now I can just look it up.

I'm all for this write in campaign. I'd rather just show up at the offices of the Oxford Junior Dictionary editorial board with as many ______s as I can gather and ask them what we're called, since they have taken away the word for us. I could bring some children to open and close their mouths as they try to identify us to further emphasize the problem they have created.

We could set up chess boards with games that can never be completed because of the missing pieces. We could do this under the Louis Arch.

But I don't have that kind of money to get myself over to England.

So please write to the Oxford Dictionary people on our behalf and tell your friends. Take pictures of your children attempting to play chess with no bishop under the Louis Arch. Write to Tony Shalloub. This has to bother him as well.

It's too late for this year, but like the Catholic Church, we are willing to forgive the penitent sinner. Is sinner still in there? I hope not. Not without a saint to help out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Lent is just one week away! Our Ordinary Time has not been ordinary. It never is.

I wonder if you could point me towards some saint's writing on the purpose of Lent. We (all two of us) have recently revived the public recitation of the rosary and so far during a three month period only one other person has shown up. This is fine, really, as the main point is to give people the opportunity to come and stay constant without pouting that we're the only ones there. However, we are hoping to recruit some others during Lent. There is something of a liturgical guilt trip and we'd like to use it to good end.
I'm trying to put together a short article for the parish newsletter for February but I'd like to find something substantive to back me up about the purposes of Lent: prayer, good works and such. Please help!

I got this question some time back. Sorry for the long delay in answering. I hope the person who asked is still hanging around.

I don't profess to be remotely saintly, but I have lots to say about Lent, my favorite time of year after Christmas. I've always felt guilty that I don't get more excited by Easter, since it is the moment we've all been waiting for, so to speak. What can I say? I identify with the excitement of new babies and the suffering of Jesus.

Which is what Lent is all about. Not the babies part.

Here are some of my thoughts:


My Lenten Rule of Thumb.

It's not too late for your article! In fact, the timing is even better, because if you are trying to bring in people to your rosary group for Lent, it's better to invite them now rather than a long time ago and then they have to remember about that Lenten rosary group for weeks and then have time to come up with all kinds of excuses. This way, you have the 'see you Wednesday!' moment, and now we all know that they will remember and so if they don't show up they've been the doofusses. And voila! There's your guilt.

If it's a guilt trip you're looking for, I'd go with Mary herself. She never stops begging and pleading for people to say the rosary. She goes on and on about how sad Jesus is, how mad Jesus is, how the world is going to Hell in a handcart, all the terrible things that will happen that only the rosary can hold back.

Let me gently suggest that maybe guilt isn't the way to go.

Here's how publicity works: you have to have something that people want in the first place, and if they don't actually want it, you have to make them think they want it. That's why Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves are in so many movies. We've already seen "War of the Worlds" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Why should we come and see them again? Because Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves are in them this time.

Normally, I'd say offer something besides the rosary group, like coffee and cookies. But not just coffee and cookies, because you can have that at home. Something like everyone's best cookie recipe, like one of those cookie swaps. Then next time have everyone bring whatever fun soap they can lay their hands on, have everyone bring a candle to exchange, or children's art work.

But it's Lent. We can't be having that much fun.

So you're going to have to go the Tom Cruise route. Have somebody there that everyone wants to see, hear or associate with. A guest rosary leader. Tom Cruise is in that crazy Scientology church, so don't even think about asking him.

Here's the problem with your guilt trip and Lent: if you write an article about the purpose of Lent being to align ourselves with the suffering of Jesus then you're pretty much saying that to come to your rosary group is going to be a miserable experience. "Come suffer with us!"

I think you might want to go with a 'the power of group prayer' angle. Group prayer is a powerful thing, that's why we don't attend Mass for shut-ins on TV when we are not shut in. That's why we ask as many people as possible to pray for us. Even the pagans get this idea. The rain dance is not done in private.

Part two of publicity is getting the word out. Make some cards to hand out, get on Facebook, send out some emails, put up some flyers, tell the school children. Maybe you could Tweet. Even that poor goofey guy on CNN has figured that one out. If he can do it, you should have no problem.

You could even borrow that movie tagline from The Day the Earth Stood Still: "From out of heaven and warning and an ulitmatum!"

But to answer your original question. Here are some saints, just the same.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Devil Arm

Sorry I haven't been around. Sister St. Aloysius has been using my right arm and it's hard to type with just my left hand.

I think I mentioned a while back that Sister St. Aloysius is not a good patient. She's not accustomed to being sick or injured and just doesn't know how to act. She's trying to pretend as though everything is the same and she can just go on her merry way. Her way is particularly not merry these days.

I've considered tying her up. I told one of the Ladies of Charity the other day that I had thought about clocking her with a frying pan. That particular lady had spent a few hours with Sister St. Aloysius earlier in the week. Her charitable response? "Wait until she turns around."

She's just not getting the rest she needs to heal. She's moving her arm around too much. Her fingers are swelling and tingling, her sewing hand thumb won't bend on it's own.

I could slip her a mickey.

I caught her trying to cook yesterday with her one good arm. She was trying to open a jar by leveraging the jar in her cast and twisting her lid with her devil arm. Even if it had worked she would have been covered in olive juice.

The good news is that we have discovered that I am a decent cook. Who knew? All sorts of things I know about cooking have come back to me, from how to make chicken pot pie with a biscuit top to how great meatloaf tastes if you put every single thing you have in the refrigerator in it. Hence the olives. Turn your back for one second and you have a helper with one devil arm whacking at jars.

I used to cook along side my mother when I was a child. My mother is an excellent cook and really wanted to teach me to cook. But every task she gave me somehow didn't please her and she would grab it away from me saying, "Not like that!" and do it herself.

So I just made life easier for both of us and let her do it herself.

Somehow a bunch of it rubbed off on me, even if my mother wouldn't like the way I sliced the tomatoes. She's not here to disapprove anyhow.

And Sister St. Aloysius can't grab anything away from me. Ha!

Six weeks. Our Lenten sacrifice is all laid out for us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Clean Sweep

You may be aware that we've had El Nino rains lately. Knowing the rains were coming, we decided to do a little spring cleaning. Sister St. Aloysuis was especially keen on cleaning the front of the house and the driveway. It's a good idea to sweep the front of the house before the rains come, because otherwise puddles form and you end up just sweeping muddy leaves around. So out she went to sweep up the dust and leaves and sticks and left over bread the birds have missed.

I focused on the floors back inside the house. I would wash down one area and then dump the water out back. I change the water a lot when I'm cleaning because I can't stand the idea of washing with dirt. You should see me rinse the dishes before I do them. My dishes will not be washed in a sink full of garbage hunks.

What we had here was a failure to communicate.

The water I was dumping out the back was running down the side of the house and out to the front. If Sister St. Aloysius was having a problem with that, perhaps she was offering up her suffering over my mindless, endless water dumping for the Poor Souls in Purgatory and getting all ten of her St. Therese sacrifice beads counted and out of the way for the day.

The floors were looking good.

Then there was some barking.

Then there was some shouting.

Then there was some barking and shouting.

Our neighbor's grandchildren were playing in the yard next door and one of the kids left the gate open and the goofy-floppy eared dog that lives there trotted out to the sidewalk.

I think if no one had chased the dog maybe she would have just trotted around the front yard and trotted back in again. But once someone tried to grab the dog, she was ready to have a great game of chase.

The shouting and grabbing and chasing had brought me out to the front just in time to see the dog, appropriately named "Dingo", running up and down the block. She had already run past Sister St. Aloysius twice, I'm told, and as I arrived on the scene Sister had used her best school teacher voice to yell, "stop!" at the dog. She threw her broom to distract Dingo from the street.

But I saw that look. The glimmer inthe dog's eye. The "not only am I not going to stop, I'm going to make a beeline for the street! In fact, I'm going to run even faster!"

Sister St. Aloysius managed to get her hands on the dog, but alas, her feet were in my floor water and down she went.

The next thing we knew, there she sat in the gutter with one arm firmly around the dog, and the other....the other just did not look right. Not right at all. She told me later that for a moment there, sitting in the mud in shock with dog breath in her face, she thought the bone sticking out of her arm was rick rack. That's what sewing too much will do for you.

I ran back into the house to get something to stop the bleeding and grabbed a kitchen towel, the nearest thing, and ran back out. By now the whole neighborhood had gathered, the dog was corralled. Sister St. Aloysius saw me coming.

"Not that towel!" she screamed. I had grabbed a decorative kitchen towel my mother had embroidered for her. The kind you make from those Aunt Martha's transfers. It has a rabbit baking a pie on it. Maybe it's a chicken. One of those days of the week things that some animal is always baking on Saturday and doing laundry on Monday and ironing on Tuesday, etc.


Back in the house, searching frantically for an undecorated towel, I heard sirens. Someone had called an ambulance. I was a little relieved about that because I think if I had had to drive Sister St. Aloysius to the hospital myself I might have fainted behind the wheel.

Yes, there was the ambulance. And a squad car. "How nice," I thought, "that the police would stop to make sure a woman sitting in the mud in the gutter is alright."

The policeman was looking for the woman who was "yelling and throwing brooms at children."

Note to self: throwing brooms at children is not an option in this neighborhood.

That's how it happened. Sister St. Aloysius had to spend two days in the hospital because the water she fell in was so dirty, she had to stay under observation for risk of infection.

Thank goodness I dumped it out so frequently. No wonder the floors sparkle.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Right Makes Might

One of the nun horror stories I am often questioned about is why nuns had a problem with left handed children. Back in the day it was entirely common for school teaching nuns to swoop in on the lefties with all kinds of barbaric methods to try to get them to puttheir little pencils in their right hands.

As a child in school myself, I felt very sorry for these poor unfortunates because if some nun came flying down the aisle to try to make me change hands, I couldn't have done it to save my life. I'll bet there were children who did think their lives depended on switching hands. I sometimes thought my future would depend on my mastery of the perfect Palmer method.

Which was a silly way to write, if you ask me. As I recall, we weren't supposed to move our fingers at all while writing, but roll our forearms around on the desk, pens in hand. Those were those old timey pens, too, the kind in which you had to load a cartridge. It was a crazy enough way for anyone to try and write with the hand God intended for them to write, let alone the wrong hand while trying to learn cursive with a drippy pen.

Why were the nuns so adamant that children change hands? I'm sure the nuns had not clue one. Maybe they were aware that the world is made for right handed people--scissors, gear shifts, can openers, etc. They were teaching what they were taught without question as to why children should be forced to be right handed.

What they probably didn't know was that the real reason people originally tried to grab pencils out of the hands of the left handed was that way, way back in the day, people who were left handed were thought to be possessed by the devil.


Where did anyone ever get that idea? The idea that right is good has always been around. The best seat in heaven is on the right. The goats went left and the sheep went right in the Bible. The word "right" also means "true" and "noble". The list of things that are right and good goes on an on.

Left is just....two left feet.

The English word sinister comes from the Latin word sinestra, which originally meant "left". The devil tempts you from your left shoulder and baptizes his minions with his left hand. Probably just to be contrary.

I wouldn't have given any of this another thought, except for the occasional question from a traumatized left handed former child, until last Wednesday, when Sister St. Aloysius broke her arm in three places, bone sticking out of the skin style. I believe that's called a compound fracture.

Her right arm.

She's very calm about it. As she is usually not a calm person, I would guess her mellow mood is from the Vicadin that was prescribed to her after her surgery to glue her arm back together with plates and pins.

I am not calm about it. For one thing, the whole event made me want to faint. And now, I'm her right arm.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Vanity Fair

My favorite perk of being a nun is that I never have to think for one second about whether or not I look pretty. I do check myself in the mirror to make sure I am presentable. No one takes you seriously if you have spinach on your teeth.

But as long as I'm tucked in and freshened up I'm good to go.

I wish everyone had the same luxury. I suppose they could have the same luxury if they just thought about life a little differently. But I am willing to concede that if one's vocation (using the word somewhat more casually) is to, say, read the news on TV, one can't show up like a sack of potatoes. One has to look one's best.

I don't have to look my best. I just have to look--to make sure I don't have spinach on my teeth.

I am of course surrounded by quite the opposite, living where I do. It's amazing that someone can spend so much money to look young and beautiful and end up looking like a Mr. Sardonicus.

Does anyone remember that story? It was a favorite of mine as a girl. Mr. Sardonicus finds out that his father has been buried with a winning lottery ticket in his vest pocket. He decides to dig up his father and grab the ticket, but realizing that this is a perfectly horrible thing to do, he warns himself that he must not look at his father's face while he is digging around at the corpse. Of course, he has to look. Having been dead for awhile, the skin on the corpse has pulled and stretched into a hideous grin. Sardonicus flees. I guess he had the ticket, I can't remember.

When he arrives at home he slumps over the sink and shakily washes the crime dirt from his hands. He raises his eyes to the mirror and there, staring back at him, is the same monstrous expression. His face is forever frozen in this hideous grin.

Hence the name. I suppose his name wasn't Sardonicus until he went digging in his father's grave. Anyhow, he spends the rest of his life trying to find a cure for himself.

After that it becomes a horror story as he captures people to on which to experiment. He is finally outwitted by a plucky couple who injects him with his own powerful muscle relaxant, which relaxes him to death. Actually, I think it relaxes him into a puddle, the couple runs for it and Mr. Sardonicus dies a cruel death unable to move. But I think his face went back to normal there at the end.

The best part of the whole story was the picture on the book cover. Chilling!

Which brings me to today's question:
Hey Sister what do you think of plastic surgery for the dead? Yep, a little botox for uncle Frank so he can look 10 years younger in the coffin. What will they come up with next?

Offhand, I would agree with you. It does sound vain and ridiculous to try to make someone look younger after they are dead.

But upon further reflection, what's the difference between a little botox and all the other cosmetic implants and pancake make up and false teeth and hair pieces that go to the grave with dear Uncle Frank? Undertakers have all kinds of tricks to plump up sunken eyes and cheeks, to hide gashes and scars and make every one look as pleasant as possible. I've seen quite a few of the faithful departed looking like quite bizarre and not at all like themselves.

The idea is to make the person look good, or as good as they can possibly look with no soul to animate them. It's not for the person in the box. It's for the rest of us to have a peaceful last memory of them and to get our heads around the fact that they are dead and gone. So...botox, cotton wads...whatever...

Most of us can't rely on being incorrupt like our sainted brethren. I can't see a problem unless it was some sort of vain last wish of the person who had a vanity problem to begin with and asked the family to spend money they didn't have to make him look ten years younger. Even then, we can't judge.

Let's hope our dying wish is not for botox. But if you were Dr. Sardonicus we would understand.