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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Burning Up

Since January people have been dropping like flies from the flu. Not me. I have soldiered on while everyone coughed and sneezed and sweated through fevers all around me for three whole months. Three whole months, until last Friday, when I had the opportunity, on a Friday no less, to offer up my suffering with a horrible sore throat which developed into a nasty flu over the weekend.

I'm almost back to normal now.

It was a horrific sore throat. I spend all of Lent reminding everyone that we are to more closely align ourselves with the suffering of Jesus. I recall that Our Lord's throat felt terrible during that time, as He asked for a drink of water. I hope I freed some Poor Souls from Purgatory.

Now, I have some catching up to do. Many people were interested in the subject of cremation. I'm not sure why everyone thinks it's okay to fling ashes all over the globe, or, as one reader pointed out, grind them into precious jewels. It's not. So let's begin at the beginning:

Is cremation okay?
Yes. This is relatively new, though. For most of our history, the Catholic Church has said no to cremation. At first, the idea was to set us apart from the pagans and the Vikings. But also, Holy Mother Church wanted to stress the idea that we will, at some point in the distant future (or not so distant, one never knows) be reunited with our physical bodies in heaven. Or hell. You get your body back then, too, so you can suffer more. Even if you were missing parts of your body, you'd get those back, so that finger you've been missing all these years can also experience the bliss of heaven, or the agonies of hell.

With me so far?

There's more.

The body you have is the one that has been honored through your whole life (unless you've covered it with tattoos and nose rings). It's the one that was baptized and felt the waters and the oils. It must be honored after death as well, and treated with the utmost respect.

As for cremation...that's perfectly respectable, the Church has decided. It is not preferred. But since a zillion people have turned to dust waiting for the day when they can be reunited with their old bodies, the Church just finally said, "Slow dust, fast dust....just take good care of the dust."

Still with me?

That's why you can't fling it all over the place or having it sitting around like a lamp or a Little League trophy. It's not rocket science.

Which means you should be able to figure out the answer to this next question yourselves:
I love your blog, but I have a question.
I understand that we are not supposed to spread the ashes of our loved ones all over the place, but what about the relics of saints? Why are we allowed to chop up saints and send the pieces to different churches? I'm just wondering.

Have you figured it out yet? I'll give you a hint: reverence.

We haven't taken the finger bones of all the saints and put them in a bucket and slung them out over the ocean, nor have we gotten hold of the heart of Blessed Brother Andre of Montreal and shot it into space. We haven't dropped St. Therese the Little Flower's hair from a helicopter over the Andes. We haven't even taken a toe from St. Rita and ground it into a precious gem for the Pope's hat.

Our saint pieces are in altars, the most reverential place in the building. They are not dangling around someone's neck.

I hope this clears the matter up for you.

How do you braid the fronds that way? I was having a new backing put on an icon that was my grandmother's and there was a tiny bit of very old palm frond stuck under one of the nails. I remember her braiding the fronds and placing them over this icon of the Theotokos.

You'll have to ask my mother. There is more than one way to braid fronds and I choose that picture because that's the way my mother does it. I'm not sure if she does it any more. I'll have to ask her. She still does needlework with her shakey old hands and it looks just as fabulous as ever, so it's likely she still sits around on Palm Sunday braiding away.

Have you tried the Google?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ocean's Five

Sister, I have a question. On Palm Sunday, besides going to Mass, I have been invited to a non-funeral/non-memorial service for a deceased relative. (He was adamant about not wanting a memorial or funeral, so that's not what we're calling it.)

Why Palm Sunday? I'm getting to that.
The man's wife has chartered a boat to sail out a mile into the ocean so that his cremated remains can be scattered at sea. The boat is rented for this specific purpose, and it's really hard to reserve, which is why she's left with Palm Sunday, a day she wouldn't ordinarily choose. Anyway, when the ashes are sprinkled overboard, the attendees on the boat will probably throw down some flowers, too.

Here is my question. Would it be appropriate for me to include some blessed palm leaves along with my tossed flowers?

Way to get around a man's last wishes! Have a funeral and just don't call it one! Retention award, anyone?

I'm kidding. We like everyone to have a proper send off. I've always wondered why anyone would object to those of us who remain behind doing something to honor them. What's up with that? "Please everyone, just forget about me. " I understand why someone wouldn't want anyone to be saddled with the unbelievable expense of a funeral. But if I want to get together with your friends and toast you after you've gone on to where the woodbine twineth (or in this case, Davey Jones' locker), what do you care? Afraid of what we'll say about you?

You needn't worry. We all have the good manners not to speak ill of the dead. Well. Some of us do.

What was the question? Oh yes, the palm fronds. No. Don't be tossing them out in the water.

Really, you shouldn't throw him out there either. He should have a lovely funeral Mass and then his ashes have to be buried or entombed. Scattering of ashes from a boat or a plane or a blimp or a mountain top, or wearing them in little charms around your neck or shooting them into space is not allowed. Is he not Catholic? Poor thing.

But back to the fronds. Palm fronds from Palm Sunday are considered to be sacramentals. I've talked about sacramentals before. Go take a look. I'll wait.


So throwing Palm fronds out to sea with ashes that should actually be getting buried is a doubly bad plan. St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. Why not throw a statue of St. Joseph into the briny deep? ( A statue of a saint is also a sacramental. ) Then again, if we run around burying St. Joseph every time we move, maybe we might just as well fling him in the ocean as well.

Your palm fronds, unlike your statue of St. Joseph, have been blessed, which gives them a little extra sacramental juice (unless, of course, you've had your statute of St. Joseph blessed, in which case, don't go burying him in the front yard upside down). We don't say 'juice', though. We say 'grace'. I was just being colloquial, as people seem to be able to get their brains around the idea a little better that way. At any rate, we don't throw blessed objects in the ocean (on purpose).

Find someone who knows how to braid your palm fronds and stick them behind your Crucifix. Next year, we'll burn them and use them for the Ash Wednesday ashes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Holy Martyrdom, Robin

I never understood the popularity of the old Batman television show, fleeting though it may have been. I suppose some people thought it was funny. It was too stupid even to be funny. That poor anemic, droopy Batman with his stiff dialogue and tiny budget had none of the 'suspension of disbelief' necessary for even a comic book hero.

You've heard of 'suspension of disbelief'? It's the hallmark of fantasy
writing. That's when a fantasy story sets you up in some kind of comfort zone where you can buy into the premise and then sit back and relax and enjoy a story of something that could never happen. In Peter Pan, for example, we first see the Darling children as they prepare for bed in a sweet and normal bedtime scene before a flying boy with a fairy friend flies into the window and takes them all away.

Poor Batman was flabby looking in a skinny sort of way. Not a good look for a crime fighter. We really couldn't buy him as a millionaire or a super hero. He was stiff and clumsy. The villains were silly and the plots thin.

But the kicker for me, back in the day, was that at the end of part one of each episode there would be the cliffhanger where the villain had captured Batman and was dangling Batman (and usually Robin) over a vat of something that would kill him once he fell in. A candle would be burning through the rope as the villain left the scene, laughing his fool head off, and Batman would use his utility belt somehow or another to escape.

And I always thought, "If you want Batman dead, just shoot him before you leave." The fact that nobody ever just shot Batman in the head was the stupidest part of the show.

I suppose we were just supposed to think that the villains were crazy or maybe 'sporting'. I think it was just very lazy writing. Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel, Same Bat Plotline.

But then yesterday, when I was talking about St. Jonas of Hubahem, it occurred to me that there are quite a few saints who had the Batman treatment.

St. Sebastian
was tied to a tree and shot full of arrows. The villains left, but Sebastian was rescued by St. Irene who nursed him back to health. When St. Sebastian went to give his tormentors what for, they finished the job with clubs.

St. Catherine of Alexandria was tied to a wheel but that didn't work so she was beheaded.

St. Florian was flayed alive and set on fire. That didn't work so he was thrown into a river.

St. Cecilia was locked in her own bathroom in an attempt to steam her to death. When that didn't work someone was sent in to behead her. That didn't work either, at least for the next three days. St. Cecilia had time to put her affairs in order before expiring.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Move over Batman villains. Make way for the pagans and the heathens.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Blue Monday

I'm sorry I failed to give you all a heads up about yesterday. I was too busy changing altar cloths from purple to pink and back to purple again.

That's about how much time you had to lighten up a little during Lent.

Sorry if it's my fault you missed it.

On the other hand, if you missed it because you didn't show up for Mass yesterday when everything was pink for a minute....you'll want to head to confession before you trip and fall down the basement stairs.

Yesterday was Laetare Sunday. Laetare as in "Regina caeli, laetare, hallelujah!" for you old people who remember that song. Such a glum tune for such a cheery number.

Laetare is Latin for "rejoice". But that was yesterday.

Yesterday we paused for a moment (just a couple of days past the actual midpoint in Lent) to remember that our story has a very happy ending and to remind us that it is all very worthwhile to give up our coffee or our favorite TV show, our mindless internet surfing or several meals. We stop to rejoice for a moment because Jesus will rise from the dead.

But, that was yesterday.

Today, it's nose back to the grindstone. We are on the homestretch. This is the time of year when I like to re-crack out the story of St. Jonas of Hubahem, because just when you think you are suffering, you can think about what happened to him.

St. Jonas was a Christian man living in Persia. Persia has never been a good place to live for anyone, ever, it seems. St. Jonas was asked to worship the sun and moon and the King of Persia. He said, "No, thank you. I would rather worship the immortal King of Heaven than the mortal King of Persia." That didn't go over very well.

The pagan Persians beat him with clubs. They threw him in an icy pond over night but he didn't die, so they hauled him out, cut off all his fingers and toes and smashed him in a wine press. Then they cut him in half and tossed him down a well. They posted guards at the well so that his Christian buddies couldn't fish out his relics.

I often have wondered if the Persians threw his fingers and toes down the well, too, because if they didn't, they clearly didn't know much about relics.

This story should get you back into the swing of things for Lent. It always works for me. We're purple again.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

That's Life

A reader responds to our musings on St. Gertrude of Nevilles:
As a poster of a holy card blog, and having a book that shows so many of St. Terese's personel holy cards, I nominate her for Patron Saint of Holy Card Collectors.

There actually is a patron saint of holy cards. St. Teresa can busy herself being the patron saint of perfumers and perfectionists, because we have St. John of God.

(Perhaps you were referring to St. Theresa the Little Flower. We keep her busy, too.)

I will confess St. John of God is one of my favorite saints. To begin with, he could be the guy Frank Sinatra is talking about in his song, "That's Life". John of God was up and down and over and out. And each time he found himself laying flat on his face, he picked himself up and got back in the race.

The reasons St. John of God became a saint? He had no impulse control.

When he was 8 years old, he heard a sermon and ran away from home with the priest who gave it. They traveled around preaching and begging until John fell ill. A wealthy man took John in to nurse him. John stayed there until he was 27, working as a shepherd until he was pressured to marry the man's daughter.

He just wasn't that into her.

So he took off to become a soldier. He had a swell time looting and burning and pillaging with that bunch, not to mention all the fun they had in their down time in their terrifically bawdy life, until he almost got himself killed and realized where he would end up for all eternity if that had happened. No scapular promise for John. His companions did not care for the new improved John of God. They tried to get him hanged. They did manage to drum him out of the army.

I'm getting to the holy card part, I promise.

John went back to being a shepherd again. Sitting around with the sheep, he decided God would like him to go to Africa and ransom Christians. Waiting on the docks for his departure, he encountered a sad, sick family who was being exiled. St. John took over their care, nursing them on the boat and in exile in Africa. He begged and built and place for them to stay and worked for almost nothing to bring them food. He was working for a bunch of Catholics who beat everyone everyday, which caused him to want to give up the whole Catholic thing. A priest told him to get out of there and go to Spain.

So he went to Spain.

There are holy cards in this story, my hand to God.

Back in Spain, John must have never made it past the docks, because he worked there unloading cargo. He started reading religious books. He was so happy with his religious book reading that he thought he should spread the joy and he became a religious book peddler, a Fuller Brush Man of holy reading material.

Does anyone remember the Fuller Brush Man? Only us old folks, I guess.

I digress. Holy cards.

St. John of God peddled religious books and .....drum roll.........holy cards.

But that's not really what he's known for, although he is the patron saint of holy cards.

He is also the patron saint of nurses and firefighters. That's because he went crazy. He's also the patron saint of lunatic asylums and the lunatics in them.

And that's why I love St. John of God. Once you go crazy and end up in the asylum, everyone ever after thinks you are crazy. You are officially, because of the asylum stint, a crazy person.

Before St. John was in the asylum, he would have maybe been seen as one of those people who just never 'found their niche' or their 'calling' or their 'thing'. A wanderer through life.

After the asylum: crazy. But that didn't slow him down for one second.

What St. John accomplished in the remainder of his life is astounding. He became a nurse in the asylum when he was feeling better. When he was released, he nursed people in abandoned buildings, begged for beds and mattresses and food and clothing. He rented rooms for them. He gathered them together and cared for them. He changed bandages and bedpans.

And how did people respond? "Not in my backyard!" "He's gathering the troublemakers!" "That guy's crazy!" Well, he had no impulse control.

What did Alice say? "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

Imagine all the people he rescued. He rescued more.

The asylum, his former home, caught on fire. When St. John arrived on the scene, everyone was just standing around watching it burn to the ground with everyone and everything in it. St. John of God ran into the fire. He rescued every single person. Then he went back for the precious mattresses and bedpans. Cannons had been brought in to separate the burning part of the building from the rest of it, but St. John, with his poor impulse control, climbed on the roof and used and axe to get the job done. The roof collapsed and John disappeared. He walked out the door unscathed.

That's why he is the patron saint of firefighters, because they do that all the time. I think that makes him a better patron saint of firefighters than St. Micheal the Archangel and St. Barbara, who are also patron saints of firefighters.

St. John of God died from pneumonia after trying to rescue someone from a river. He died on his 55th birthday. He is officially the patron saint of alcoholics, book binders, book sellers, holy cards, dying people, nurses, firefighters, heart patients, publishers, insane asylums, lunatics and sick people.

Not bad for a crazy person.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

St. Gertrude of Mices

A reader says:

The beer is to get the taste of the corned beef and cabbage out of your mouth. I suspect a green milkshake would only make it worse.

We have left over corned beef and cabbage, so my opportunity to suffer continues. A better penance for me tomorrow would be to actually eat it again, instead of any fish.

We have had a surprising number of cat lovers glomming on to St. Gertrude of Nevilles, the patron saint of cats. I hope I haven't mislead anyone.

As I have often said, there is a patron saint for everything (which is what inspired our little shop). But truth be told, there is no official patron saint for cats. The job fell to St. Gertrude of Nevilles because she is the patron saint of mice.

Cats like mice.

So there you go.

St. Gertrude is actually not the patron saint of mice, either. She was particularly devoted to the Poor Souls in Purgatory and they were often depicted as mice.

St. Gertrude is actually the patron saint of travelers, because she took care of travelers in this world. Legend has it that your first day in the next world is spent with St. Gertrude. The day after that is spent with St. Micheal the Archangel.

Of course, somebody just made that up. But I wouldn't mind it if it were true. Maybe they tell us everything we we always wanted to know, like who shot Kennedy. But there are no 'days' in the next world.

Don't be upset, however, about St. Gertrude and the cats. That's how it works with patron saints even when they do have a particular assignment. St. Therese the Little Flower is the patron saint of airline pilots. Was St. Therese ever on a plane? No. They didn't even have planes when she was alive. She is actually the patron saint of airline pilots because she never traveled anywhere in her whole life.

It wouldn't have been my call for St. Therese the Little Flower. There are plenty of other things she could patronize that would make more sense. Aspiring authors would be a good one, since St. Therese was not the sharpest knife in the drawer but managed to write a book that earned her the title "Doctor of the Church". That should inspire anyone who thinks they might have a novel up their sleeve.

She could be the patron saint of "Daddy's girls", as she was one of those young ladies who had that type of close relationship with her father.

She could be the patron saint of wig makers, since her father kept her beautiful hair after it was all cut off in the convent.

She could be the patron saint of bloggers, since she kept a precise diary. And in my shop I have made her the patron saint of people who are annoyed by the annoying habits of others, because her diary was a precise list of her suffering there in the convent by being annoyed by the other nuns and such. She kept the list so she would be able to keep track of her offerings to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

Which brings us back to St. Gertrude.

I'm glad we have St. Gertrude for our patron saint of cats. Dog lovers can't hog all the fun.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Green Boy

I'm glad St. Patrick's Day happens during Lent. It is probably my least favorite holiday, a terrible excuse of a tribute to a great saint. What an opportunity for suffering! For me.

I have never been able to eat corned beef and cabbage and even pretend I like it. I'm okay with boiled potatoes. It's pretty hard to ruin a potato once salt and butter gets involved.

On the one hand, I have a fabulous opportunity to suffer by having corned beef and cabbage, possibly skipping the cabbage, because I actually like that, and some old boiled potato with no butter or salt. Plah.

On the other hand, it is the feast day of a great saint. But then every single day in the Catholic church is the life of a great saint. Maybe not a famous saint, but aren't all saints, by definition, great? Why are some saints so richly celebrated?

I'm going to digress now and tell you a story about something that happened to me. A few years ago I visited the Huntington Library in Pasadena. They have a big collection there of Gainsborough, including his famous "Blue Boy". If you like, before you go into the Gainsborough gallery, you can view a little film about the "Blue Boy". Some sort of art expert comes on and explains some things about the painting.

He begins by asking the question, "Why is this painting so famous?" He asks this because Gainsborough did lots of portraits of people and the "Blue Boy" is just another one of his portraits, really. He has the "Pinkie" and dozens of ladies and gentlemen posing with their King Charles spaniels. Why did the "Blue Boy" becomes so celebrated?

The art fellow goes on to explain that the "Blue Boy" wasn't really a portrait that someone paid for. It was rather a kind of calling card for the type of work that Gainsborough did. Gainsborough had the blue suit the child in the painting wears. The painting is to show you how your child would look if Gainsborough did your child's portrait. Your child would 'borrow' the blue suit and pose and come out looking more or less like this child. The child in the painting is one of the little neighbor boys. Gainsborough borrowed the child and you could borrow the suit.

That's all.

"So why this painting and not many others or even a few others?" the art fellow posits. "We don't know."

What? Are you kidding me? I just sat through your whole film to see why and you don't know? Excuse me, mister art expert, isn't that your entire job? Why one painting and not the other?

I'm surprised I didn't shout at the screen like people at a horror movie. "Oh no, you didn't!" I was so upset I could barely enjoy the art. It wasn't even Lent.

Why St. Patrick and not St. Jan Sarkander? It's St. Jan Sarkander's feast day, too, and also St. Gertrude of Nevilles (the patron saint of cat lovers) and St. Joseph of Arimathea. I don't see anyone wearing cat suits or giving out free graves.

In the Catholic church, saints are all about you. People become saints because living people venerate them and petition the Vatican for the person's sainthood. People pray for the saints intercession and come forward with miracles. It's a grass roots kind of thing.

I did find the answer to 'why the "Blue Boy"?' In the end, the answer is the same for the "Blue Boy" as it is for St. Patrick. For some reason, everyone likes it the best. St. Patrick has the entire population of Ireland behind him, green beer, leprechauns and good luck charms (which is against Catholic teaching, by the way). He has a parade in New York and Chicago. He has a whole river turned green. He has metallic paper hats and pipe cleaner shamrocks and free shots. He has a Shamrock Shake at McDonald's.

And a lot of people actually love corned beef and cabbage. And that horrible soda bread.

The Irish are not known for their cuisine.

For today, while I'm wearing my pipe cleaner shamrock and choking down my corned beef, I think I may trudge down to McDonald's and split a Shamrock Shake with Sister St. Aloysius. Sister Mary Fiacre can have a whole one to herself.

I'll offer up by walk to McDonald's to the Poor Souls in Purgatory, in honor of St. Gertrude.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

You Are What You Don't Eat

Here we are just about smack dab in the middle of Lent. What is a smack dab, anyhow?

Lent can be equally confusing.

In the old days, and by this I mean the way old days before even Fred Astaire, eating meat was a luxury. It has always seemed to me that giving up red meat for Lent, or on Fridays, was to give up something that, if you had it, it would be really hard to pass up eating.

Then we hit a time when it seems that red meat was just about all we had at every meal. It was hamburger or pot roast or Salisbury steak or Swedish meatballs or beef stroganoff all week, cat fish on Friday and fried chicken on Sunday. Meals at my house as a child were always structured around the meat part, even the fish. Beef, chicken and fish. Everything else was a side dish, a 'go-with'.

Meatless? A pox on your house!

Back then, the Catholic rules and guidelines for Lent were a no-brainer. A day of abstinence meant no meat. The penance factor was obvious and felt.

The rules are the same. But the world around us has changed dramatically.

First we have our vegetarians. Even that is not as simple as it sounds. We have our full vegetarians, who eat no meat at all. We have our vegetarians who eat fish and don't call that meat. We have our quasi vegetarians who eat chicken and fish.

Then we have our vegans, who eat no animal products of any kind, which includes eggs and diary and the horse they rode in on. God Bless them.

And once a person has entered this world of dietary restrictions, we also have people who never touch sugar, caffeine and alcohol.

I'm not talking about people who have diabetes or high blood pressure and have to watch their salt and sugar intakes. The Church already has guidelines for sick people. Sick people don't have to fast and abstain. Neither do little children or really old people.

I'm talking about perfectly healthy adults who have already don't touch everything the Church is asking them to give up for Lent. What are they supposed to do? Skate?

I believe that many of them do. I hear them laughing to themselves behind their hands. To them I say, "Not so fast, bucko! You can't just dance merrily through Lent eating the way you always do." The idea here is to identify with the suffering of Jesus.

I don't think vegetarians should start eating meat, or have an egg if you're a vegan. But you're going to have to come up with something.

Here are my suggestions for days of abstinence:
Full vegetarians should give up beans, a major source of protein. If you don't feel that, throw in the cheese, too. No cheese or beans.

Fish eating vegetarians should cut out the fish. Make yourself a Hula Burger. That should cause some suffering.

Quasi vegetarians should stop calling themselves vegetarians, for starters. But they should also give up fish on Fridays, and find some other ways to atone for being so confusing.

Vegans....I'm at a loss to help vegans. I have one idea. Get yourself invited to a dinner party every Friday and don't say one word to the hostess about your myriad dietary restrictions and then just only eat what you can of what is being served and if anyone asks about it, say you are fasting for Lent. Also spend the entire Lenten season not talking about being a vegan or anything else about your diet. That should cause some profound suffering.

Because it's all supposed to get even trickier as Lent goes on. I hope everyone is not just sitting around saying to themselves, "I gave up desserts, so that's that." That's not that. As Lent continues one needs to step up one's efforts. If you never touch sugar and alcohol and caffeine to start with, you're going to have to dig deep. Only drink water, cut out a meal altogether, eat only half meals.

Trust me. It will make Easter all the more thrilling.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Rival Thoughts

I'm reading about Abe Lincoln again. It's that "Team of Rivals" book. A much better read than the Ben Franklin tome I just slogged through. That took me forever. I like getting the information, but reading the book was it's own kind of Purgatory. Time stopped, that's for sure.

I always think about Abe Lincoln during Lent because if had just been Catholic, he wouldn't have been at the theater that fateful night. He would have been at one of those really long Good Friday services with three priests and a procession with incense and he would have been kissing the Feet on the Cross. He might have dodged a bullet by leaning over to do that, since people were trying to kill him left and right.

I thought of all of that again because everyone is so surprised by the Lenten wreath. They are not new, but there are some discrepancies about what color the candles are supposed to be. Some have all white candles with one black candle for Good Friday. (That's what set me to thinking about Abe Lincoln's last full day of life. He actually expired the next morning. ) The tradition I had as a child was all purple with one pink. And in church there was a giant pink candle for that day, too. So I don't know what rock you've seemingly all been under, but if you want to get on the bandwagon, it's early yet.

Also, folks are still arguing about the whole 'take Sundays off" thing. I found this fun site of how to spend your Lent. They are clearly taking Sundays off. (But they have a Lenten wreath....do I get to say, "I told you so?" I suppose not. Not during Lent, anyhow.) I'm not a take Sundays in Lent off kind of gal. As I've said before, we are trying to more closely identify with the suffering of Jesus and Jesus did not take any time off from His suffering while He was suffering.

He didn't suffer every second of His life. As gruesome as it was, His actual physical suffering only lasted for about a day. As suffering goes, things can be much worse for much, much longer. You might recall that the soldiers were surprised that Jesus died after only three hours. Some people had what happened to Him happen to them and they lasted for days. Things used to be pretty tough if you even got sick. Imagine the suffering of the sick before the days of penicillin and morphine, having to have your leg sawed off after it was crushed by a musket ball during the Civil War with no anesthetic, no antibiotic, no pain relief of any kind, for example.

I digress. Jesus certainly suffered. And He suffered every time He thought about our sins and during all the time He spent with the poor and suffering. We can get it together for 40 days and a couple of Sundays, can't we? You get one pink Sunday. Bite the bullet! Which brings me to our next question:

Just out of curiosity, how would you differentiate between scrupulous and observant?

Oh. It's a matter of semantics, isn't it?

Observant means to take extra care to pay attention. That could mean just making sure you watch your fingers when you're snipping parsley so you don't snip off the top of your pinky. Sister St. Aloysius did that once when she first arrived here. She didn't want to make a fuss, so she taped her finger back together and put the roast in the oven. It actually worked out. No antibiotic or morphine required. She should have been more observant. Now she is scrupulous when she snips parsley.

Or it could mean, pay attention to the rules. When we say we are 'observing' Lent, we all understand that we're not sitting around watching people give up their coffee. It means we're not eating meat on Fridays and we've given something up ourselves and we're trying to stick with it. It means we know what the rules are and we're sticking to them.

Scrupulous is just being observant on steroids. And it connotes morals. Scrupulous is rigid observance. It would mean there is no question that you are not touching whatever it was you gave up for Lent. Getting up an hour early to read the Bible? No slouching!

Is that bad? Only when you judge others. Unless you're the Mother Superior or the head monk. Then it's your job.

You can go right ahead and be a scrupulous maniac. We need people like you. You may well end up being a saint as long as you mind your own garden. Mother Teresa never asked everyone to be Mother Teresa. Just her nuns. She was, after all, the Mother Superior.

Was she ever!

Here's a little left over question from a couple of days ago when we discussed gossip. Gossip, by the way, is an oddly popular thing to give up for Lent.

I have a problem with giving up something for Lent that you are supposed to not be doing in the first place. Should we give up drunk dialing for Lent?

The question:

What do we do when the gossip is about us. How does one as a Christian act upon learning that someone is out there spreading rumors about her?

Haven't you ever seen "The Magnificent Ambersons"? That whole movie is about how Joseph Cotten's life is practically ruined when the woman he loves' son decides that they all have to behave as though what people are saying about them actually matters.

The question is: is what the person is saying true? If it is, I would say confront the person and ask them not to spread the information around. Tell the person it is not just for you to not be able to explain or defend yourself and kindly request that they zip it.

It's not true? Then ignore it. If you try to defend yourself, you'll just look really guilty.

SPOILER ALERT. If you haven't ever seen "The Magnificent Ambersons" stop reading now. If you haven't but you don't care because you never intend to watch it anyhow, read on. Just know that you'll be missing out on the second movie Orson Welles made after "Citizen Kane."

Ann Baxter in the Ten Commandments. Just sneaking in a little religion.

That's what happened in "The Magnificent Ambersons". Everything would have been fine for Joseph Cotten if the kid had not tried to shut up the gossips. It made everyone body think the rumors were true and the Magnificent Ambersons weren't magnificent anymore. His mother who had loved Joseph Cotten, pined herself away into an early grave and the son was finally hit by Joseph Cotton's invention, the car. He is saved by antibiotics and morphine and recovers to marry Joseph Cotton's daughter Ann Baxter.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


So here we on on our road trip to Salvation, better known as Lent. It's the second Sunday of Lent. How times flies when you're not having fun. We have a question about Sunday's in general and as they apply to Lent:

Sister, I have a question for you. My husband and I have been debating how to best keep holy the Lord's Day. Tomorrow is Sunday, for example, and I would like to go putter in the yard and work on my flower beds and vegetable garden. I enjoy yard work, it's something I struggle to find time to work on during the week, and I don't think it's a lovely way to spend a Sunday. My husband, who does not like yardwork at all, thinks it would be a sin to do yard work on Sunday. I have told him if it is truly "work" to him, then maybe it is sinful for him to do yardwork. But maybe I'm rationalizing what I want to do tomorrow. :) If working in the garden is a bad way to spend Sunday, I will find something else to do, but honestly, I feel like it's a better way to spend the day than the way my husband will spend it, in front of the tv or computer. We do, of course, go to mass and religion classes on Sunday mornings as well. What is your opinion Sister?

If yard work isn't work for you, as it is not for me (most of the time), then I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday with your hands covered in God's creation. I learn God's simple lessons every time I'm out there.

Just when you think something is hopeless, it isn't. New leaves on old wood.

If you don't keep up with the small things they can become big things overnight.

When the plant doesn't have to spend time getting rid of it's dead stuff because you've done that for the plant, the plant looks better and is healthier. God may help those who help themselves, but he certainly smiles on those who help others.

A little effort goes a long way.

Sometimes all we need is a little food, water and sun to stay alive.

Sometimes all we need is a little shade to keep from keeling right over.

Stuff like that.

But...it's Lent. Contary to popular opinion, and wishful thinking, we don't take Sundays off during Lent, except for the pink candle Sunday. That Sunday is to remind us that the tulips are about to bloom, so to speak.

So for you, personally, I think you should poke around at your garden while you are dead tired during the week and would rather do anything than pull weeds or haul amender. On Sunday, you should look at your garden and think about all Jesus gave up for us.

Meanwhile, let's not go judging how our husbands spend the day. Maybe he's only reading about the Lord. (Maybe he's catching up on my blog! I've been at it for almost three years!) Even if he's playing on line poker, that's not a sin unless you're a Baptist.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Catholic Math

Catholic math extends to other areas of Catholic life beyond calculating Ember days and the date of Easter. From a reader:

Just to complicate things further though, Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers said a few years back that the 2 small meals and one large is an old wives tale and there are really no specific guidelines for fasting. I'm one of those 'five small meals/day' types, so the 'rules' always made me crazy anyway. I've never seen a conversion chart for the meals, but I'm sure it would work up into a nice algebraic formula. Anybody out there want to take it on?

I'm not sure where Mr. Akins is getting his information, unless the Canon Law is now considered to be an old wives' tale.

At least you only have to be crazy on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, now that Ember Days are a thing of the past. I'm sorry the rules make you crazy. You'll just have to be crazy, though, because there are rules.

On a day of fast, you only eat one full meal. You may eat a little bit besides that meal, but what you eat cannot equal that one meal. You also cannot eat between meals. Or drink something that would seem like a meal. (You can't have a milk shake. That would be a meal. You can have milk. You just can't drink anything that would be considered a meal, like one of those diet meal substitutes that you drink, like SlimFast. If you're fasting you'll be slim fast enough anyhow.)

And just to prove that we are Catholic and not Baptists, you can have booze. You could have a Bloody Mary in between your breakfast nibble and your lunch nibble and you won't be breaking any fast.

We all agree, however, that having a Bloody Mary on a day of fasting really isn't in the penitential spirit of things. Neither is a Mimosa, just in case you thought a drink with "Mary" in it makes things better.

So the math on your 'five small meal' a day plan is actually not rocket science. I will tackle the math. Let's say this is what you eat for your five small meals:

A bowl of oatmeal
A half a sandwich and a little salad.
The other half of the sandwich and the rest of the salad.
A bowl of soup.
A little bowl of pasta and some vegetables.

I would say that any two of these things would equal a full meal. The end.

You can still split up the meals. You could have the half a sandwich and the salad and then later have the other half a sandwich and the rest of the salad, but after or before that you could only have a little oatmeal and the bowl of soup. Or the little bowl of pasta and later some vegetables.

You could have the bowl of soup and later the bowl of pasta and some vegetable. But before that you should only have a little salad and after that you should only have a half a sandwich.

You could have a Bloody Mary. But we would rather you didn't.

See? Not so hard. One meal a day and some nibbling. The nibbling cannot add up to the full meal. This needn't mean you have to sit around counting peas.

Unless you already sit around counting peas. Don't stop on my account.

But let's just talk for one second about why we do this.

One: to align ourselves with the suffering of Jesus during His Passion.

Two: to free ourselves of the earthly things we obsess about every second, like "what's for lunch?" and "what's for dinner?" Forget lunch. Forget breakfast. Have some water. Eat enough to make up a one meal, or sit there and eat one meal.

Maybe the best penance for you is to not eat anything at all and then sit there and eat one full meal. Would that be a kick in the head? Good. That's the whole idea.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gossip Girl

Sister St. Aloysius is getting a removable cast
any minute. What happened to the good old days when you could knock someone out with your cast and everyone signed it?

She told me that all she would want written on her cast is an arrow pointing to her left arm and the words, "I'm with stupid."

Of course, if she wasn't careful with that, a lot of the time the arrow would be pointing to me. Which brings me to today's question from a reader:

Dear Sister, I've been reading your blog for some time now and I really, really love it! I have few questions about gossip:

1) How does one differentiate between gossip and 'sharing concern'?

2) If someone starts gossiping to me about another person and I just listen, am I gossiping too?

3) If some is gossiping to me about another person, should I walk away? Should I call the person on his/her gossip? Should I defend the gossipee?

I've always learned that people who gossip about others will surely at one point or another gossip about me. How can I stay away from gossipers? How can I ensure not to gossip myself? Any tips or pointers would surely be appreciated. Thanks much

You're welcome.

Oh wait. I have to answer.

How does one differentiate between gossip and sharing concern?

You don't get to share concern by sharing private details about other people. Let's take a moment to define gossip. We'll use Webster's Dictionary because they still have nuns in there:
1 : a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others
2 a
: rumor or report of an intimate nature b: a chatty talk c: the subject matter of gossip.

If I'm standing around with you and tell you about my friend who just found a wonderful new apartment after a long hunt and I want to share that good news with you, no problem.

Me: Margaret just found a wonderful new apartment! She is so happy.

You: Isn't that wonderful. I know she has been so worried about finding a new place.

We're both good to go here. It only turns south if I start revealing personal information about Margaret.

Me: Yes, well, she will be paying quite a bit more. She is such a shopaholic. I hope she doesn't end up living in her car.


Here's a rule of thumb: if you are talking about someone else and you suddenly realized they've been standing right behind you the whole time you've been talking and you find yourself combing your brain to remember exactly what you just said and whether or not you're going to have to sputter and backpeddle, you've been gossiping. (Unless all you've been talking about is the surprise party that's being planned. Then you're not a gossip, you're a blockhead.)

Why is it so bad? Because people have a right to justice and fairness, which is denied to them when people are talking about them behind their backs, even if you think it is for their own good. That's why the nuns always used to tell you to "mind your own garden".

We all have enough weeds to keep us busy.

If someone starts gossiping to me about another person and I just listen, am I gossiping too?

Great real.


If you weren't standing there listening there would be no gossip. Do people stand around talking to the walls about other people? No, they do not.

If some is gossiping to me about another person, should I walk away? Should I call the person on his/her gossip? Should I defend the gossipee?

This is a little more tricky. Unless there has been some sort of conversation about how you don't appreciate being involved in gossiping, just walking away is a bit rude. But then, so is gossiping, so it will do in a pinch.

I'm not much one for the holier than thou approach of calling a person on their gossiping, at least not in so many words, and defending the gossippee can result in more unearthing of the dark dirt.

Me: What a shopaholic that girl is! It's a wonder anyone would rent a place to her!

You: Well, she had a poor childhood and she told me once that she was denied so much as a child that she simple wasn't going to live her life pinching every penny.

Me: There is a difference between pinching pennies and reckless abandon. She wouldn't know a budget if it bit her in the face!

You're defense has made me defensive and caused me to spew even more unpleasant judgment.

I go for this approach:

Me: What a squanderer! What a wastrel!
You: It's really none of our business what she does with her money.
Me: (sputter) Well, I hope she doesn't end up at the Salvation Army trailer park.
You: I'm sure she'll be fine. How nice she found a great place.

Now you can walk away. Unless we're in the car. Then you're going to have to wait until I drop you off.

I've always learned that people who gossip about others will surely at one point or another gossip about me.

Yes, they will. They especially will at the point you tell them to stop gossiping.
You: (walking away) It's none of our business. If we keep talking about this we're just gossiping.

Me: Did you hear what Janine said to me? She called me a gossipy old biddy!

How can I stay away from gossipers?
You can't, unless you live in a cave. Trust me, you wouldn' t even be safe in a convent. Just don't cave yourself.

How can I ensure not to gossip myself?
Be vigilant. Be less judgmental in the first place. Don't busy yourself with the affairs of others. Mind your own garden.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Calendar Girl

When I was a little school girl, I had a terrible time with math. There is something about even talking about numbers that makes my brain shut off. I'm sure men know this feeling. It's the feeling they get when woman talk about shoes.

Or handbags.

It's an oddly painful sort of shut down, the kind that makes you want to cry if that math talk continues. Worse, you are being asked to do something about the math talk, to come up with some sort of answer or conclusion.

At least men only have to nod about the shoes.

I know, for example, that how we figure out when Lent starts and what on what day Easter will fall is not rocket science. It's just that as soon as someone starts in with, "It's the the first blah, blah after the second blah blah in the blah blah blah....." and the word 'equinox' is in there, my brain is outta there. I just look at the calender, the end.

So you can imagine my chagrin when I got this question (and thank you for today's opportunity to suffer):

Since we are now in Lent, could you explain "Ember Days"? I have never heard of them!

Hear that big click? That was my brain.

I was giving a talk a few years ago and someone in the audience asked me, "Sister, what are Rogation Days and Ember Days?"


I answered, "Rogation Days are the days we set aside to pray that our hair grows back."

That's not really the answer.

Ember days were days of fasting that happened four times a year. In the old pagan days, there were three times set aside for some kind of idol worshiping prayers to the gods for a good harvest, a good grape crop and a good seed planting. The early Church grabbed up all the pagan holidays they could to make them relevant to a life in Christ and made these times into days of fasting. They added a four set somewhere in there and voila, there are your ember days.

If figuring out exactly when they are makes you want to cry, like it does me, don't worry about it. Ember days were made optional at the discretion of the bishop after Vatican II. Just another reason I am a fan of many of the changes of Vatican II, which puts me at odds with lots of Catholics.

But just for the sake of knowledge and information and so that we don't go the way of the Oxford Junior Dictionary here is a rundown of when the Ember Days would have landed from the Old Farmer's Almanac:

Definition: The Almanac traditionally marks the four periods formerly observed by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches for prayer, fasting, and the ordination of clergy. These Ember Days are the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays that follow in succession after (1) the First Sunday in Lent; (2) Whitsunday–Pentecost; (3) the Feast of the Holy Cross, September 14; and (4) the Feast of St. Lucia, December 13. The word ember is perhaps a corruption of the Latin quatuor tempora, "four times." Folklore has it that the weather on each of the three days foretells the weather for three successive months; that is, for September’s Ember Days, Wednesday forecasts weather for October, Friday for November, and Saturday for December.

So today would have been your Ember Day, if you had known about it. Clearly, your bishop is an Ember Day dropper. At any rate, you would fast, which would mean only one full meal today. It's not too late, if you want to get on the band wagon, if you had a light breakfast and a light lunch or skipped breakfast or had a full lunch....you can still get it in there.

Rogation days are also movable. Hooray for calendars and the people who make them. They were completely dropped after Vatican II, but were completely revived again in 1988. They also have to do with prayers for a good harvest.

Here's the Wikipedia explanation

Major Rogation

The first Rogation, the Greater Litanies, was introduced as a Christian substitute for a Roman pagan celebration , which was a special celebration to pray for crops. This day is observed on April 25. If Easter falls on this day, the latest possible, the Rogations are transferred to Tuesday, April 27.

Minor Rogations

The second set of Rogation days, the Lesser Litanies or Rogations, introduced about ad 470 by Bishop Mamertus of Vienne and eventually adopted elsewhere, are the three days (Rogation Monday, Rogation Tuesday and Rogation Wednesday) immediately before Ascension Thursday in the liturgical calendar.

The word "Rogation" comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning "to ask," and was applied to this time of the liturgy because the Gospel reading for the previous Sunday included the passage "Ask and ye shall receive" (Gospel of John 16:24). The Sunday itself was often called Rogation Sunday as a result, and marked the start of a three-week period (ending on Trinity Sunday), when Roman Catholic and Anglican clergy did not solemnize marriages (two other such periods of marital prohibition also formerly existed, one beginning on the first Sunday in Advent and continuing through the Octave of Epiphany, or 13 January, and the other running from Septuagesima until the Octave of Easter, the Sunday after Easter).

Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes.