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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The War in Heaven on Earth

The comments section is abuzz with comments and questions about Lent. And my attitude. We have much to discuss, but first, a little catching up on some unanswered issues.

I was just elected to a 3-year term on our church's vestry. I now find myself caught between 2 people who think I am on their "side". Honestly, I didn't realize there were sides! I am at peace with everyone in our (small) parish. One of the people is always telling me things about the others that I don't need to know and asking me to go to other members of the vestry and do something about her personal issues with certain other members and complaints about parishioners. I don't like gossip, and definitely don't want to "take up another's offense". I am about ready to resign already! Surely there must be quite a few Saints I could go to with all the personalities in our rich church history. Which is the best match? Thank you so very much.

I've actually talked about some of this before. My basic premise is: if you can't even get along at church, how in the world do you expect to fit together in Heaven? Another War in Heaven may be unavoidable.

It's always a delicate matter how to go about telling people who need to be told, "Shut up and go sit down" to shut up and go sit down in a loving manner. A careful reading of your question, however, indicates that we are really not talking about 'people' here. We are talking about one person.

(Although, we know how it works at any parish. Should you be so adept and fortunate as to skirt this person, there will be a new one waiting in the vestibule to take his/her place.)

At my mother's parish, we have never resolved the issue of the organist. The elderly parishoners feel the organist plays much too loudly. This leads to judging the organist as an arrogant egomaniac who spends the Mass "showing off". My own father, rest his soul, offered to kick the plug on the thing, as the handicapped seating was right next to the plug. He couldn't walk very well, but he could still move his legs enough to threaten to kick the plug.

Heavenly peace, indeed.

My advice is to:

1. Take a deep breath and channel Abraham Lincoln, who may or may not have actually said, "You can't please all the people all the time." I think he may or not have actually said "fool" all the people all the time. But the point is, of all the things you can't do to all the people all the time, pleasing them is at the top of the list.

2. Find an area of compassion. For example, you surely must be able to sympathize with the fact that when a new person takes charge, everyone has high hopes that whatever it is that has been bugging them will finally be addressed. She has pinned her hopes on you, you poor thing.

3. Listen past the gossip and see if there is an actual problem that can be addressed or resolved. Sometimes, deep down, people do understand that some problems can't be solved. I think the organ at my mother's church is already as unloud as it can be. It's a big echoey church with an organ playing. There is no "soft". My point is that sometimes people only need to be heard, even if the answer is, "we can't help that."

There is a great tool you can use for this little exchange. Repeat what the person has said to you (sans judgement and gossip). This lets them know you did listen.

Parishoner: That organist is such an arrogant egomaniac pounding away on that thing! Can't you tell him to turn it down! My husband is going to fall out of his wheel chair trying to kick the plug one of these days!

You: You feel the organ is much too loud. I'll see if there is anything we can do to soften it.


You: I spoke with both the organist and the organ company and unfortunately they have both shown me that the organ is set as softly as it will go. It's very loud in this echoey old church. Maybe you'd be happier if we switched to a guitar Mass or liturgical dance.

You shouldn't say that last part about the guitar Mass or the liturgical dance. You should only think that to retain your own sense of humor and your sanity.

I know you'd like to tell her to shut her soup hatch when she starts gossiping and judging, but I suggest that for now you just mentally close your ears and hum to see if you can wade through to the actual issue. Unless, of course the actual issue is the sinful behavior of others. Then you're going to have to tell her it's not your department. That's God's department. She'll have to go straight to the top and pray for the other person.

I don't expect my advice to help very much in the long run, to solve the issues in your parish. But it might help you out a little. Meanwhile, of course, I recommend St. Therese the Little Flower, the patron saint of people who are annoyed by the annoying habits of others. You will free many souls from Purgatory during your three year sentence...I mean....stint.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heavy Lifting Two

Tomorrow's the big day! Lent begins! I always have a lot to say about Lent.

The first thing to keep in mind is that, as of tomorrow, we are no longer in Ordinary Time. Which brings me to this comment from a reader.

Blogger Diane said...

Sister Mary Martha - LOL! do you live a charmed life? not enough suffering, sorrow, or humiliation of your own that you would consider putting peas in your shoes or wearing an embarrassing hat? I don't know anyone in that position, however I do know people who look for opportunities to turn the ordinary into an offering without drawing attention to themselves. :) Same goes for eating the pbj when everyone else is eating your favorite meal. It's a little bit in the spotlight, don'tcha think? However, 'Don't complain' works no matter what sacrifice you choose. LOL, I hope those peas don't end up in the soup after you've walked on them all day.

And, no disrespect intended but I disagree about losing weight or quitting smoking not being suitable sacrifice. I think if I need to lose weight or follow a special diet, I can offer the struggle/suffering of it to God, regardless of the time of year. For some people these things can be unbelievably challenging.

And I loved the Feast/Fast list from the previous post you referred to. I kept it pinned to my bulletin board for frequent reference when I worked with engineers and detailers. These were no small suggestions in that particular environment. I think it's a really good reminder that the end result of all of this is that it's supposed to help us to let go of attachments so we can love God more completely, which usually translates into our relationship with others in some way.

And no disrespect to you, either, when I point out that I think you've missed the point of Lent altogether and the point of the "Reverse Lent" post, which is to say that that is a list, for the most part, of things we should always be doing. Every day. Ordinary Time.

And yes, we all suffer life's slings and arrows. My suggestion is always to suck it up and offer it up to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

Lent is a special time. A time out of the ordinary. A time when we more closely align ourselves with the suffering of Jesus. Was Jesus on a weight loss program so His pants would fit better? Was he trying to stop smoking there on the cross? I don't think so.

Why do we even 'give something up' for Lent? We do it so we notice that something is missing. You have to give up something that's going to make a dent, something that's going to get through to you. "Letting go of attachments" is an everyday dusting. Entering the world of Jesus Suffering is heavy lifting. We sweep the floor every day. We move all the furniture and clean it and what's underneath it during Lent.

The list I made the other day was for a pregnant woman who couldn't just do some fasting and call it a day. We had to be a little more creative. What can you do to really get through to yourself that Jesus suffered? Make your favorite dinner and watch everyone else eat it and not act like you're suffering? That would work. Wear an embarrassing hat? I think so. The Apostles were very mortified that their leader was publicly executed. I think being publicly executed would be even more of a strain on the ego for the person on the cross. A pebble in your shoe? Each step, a reminder of Christ on the Cross.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Heavy Lifting One

There is a very pleasant phenomenon here in Southern California. It usually happens sometime in January, but we had such a cold January (for us!) it didn't happen until now. At night, the air is full of the fragrance of jasmine. No matter where you go, from the coast to the valleys, to downtown and skid row, you will practically be overwhelmed by the smell of night blooming jasmine. It's only in the evening. A reminder that Lent is upon us. Time to do some heavy lifting.

I wanted to know if there was a Patron Saint for holding grudges. My father-in-law asked my husband for a large sum of money to help prevent forclosure on property. So my husband, wanting to help out his family, gave him the money but it completly depleated our savings. Now we have hit a speedbump(crashing and burning) in our finances and are barely scraping by. We have two babies and I know I shouldn't be mad or hold a grudge, he needed help and he's family and our bills our paid as of now, but I cant help it. I'm so mad I could scream! Pray for me please

I can think of a couple of saints who would fit the bill, but let's back this truck up for a moment. Are you mad at your father in law? Or are you mad at your husband? Or are you mad at yourself?

In any case, some forgiveness is at hand. We hope.

To begin with, it sounds a little like you weren't so happy about this idea your husband had to help out his dad. So it seems to me that you are mad at either your husband for giving away your savings, or mad at yourself for not intervening in some way with at least some sort of plan to recoup the money.

And at the risk of sticking my nose where it doesn't belong and playing armchair psychologist....well, here I go....

Does anyone remember that huggy shrink that used to be on TV? I think he had a radio show as well. I used to enjoy listening to him, because after he analyzed the problem, he actually would say, "Here's what you need to say and do." And he would give people the exact words to say.

One of the things he often said was, "anger is unresolved hurt". I mulled that one over and over. I think he's onto something here. Even when someone cuts you off in traffic and you have that flash of anger, why are you angry that you've been cut off in traffic? Because you actually have had your feelings hurt that someone would just disrespect you that way and zoom in front of you, the selfish things. And all you can do is honk and flap your mouth (because just about anything you could do after that would be a sin).

I'm crawling out on a limb here and thinking that you are hurt. You were hurt when the money was given away. You are hurt that it's gone. You are hurt that you have to struggle now to make ends meet. You are hurt that no one seems to be talking about replacing this money.

How do you resolve the hurt? Can't the three of you sit down and talk about this missing money and make some sort of plan to get it back, have it paid back? Can't you say to your husband, "I know it's a lovely thing to do to give your father the money he needed, but I feel terrible that our savings are gone and we're struggling and no plan has been made to recoup our loss"?

I think that would go a long way to resolve your anger, saints notwithstanding.

Is your father in law dancing around like the gingerbread man with your missing money? "You can't catch me!" Or is he still struggling financially as well?

And now, my added two cents. Let it go. Your husband did a wonderful thing. Be proud. It's only money. It comes, it goes. If you worry about getting money back that you gave away, be sure and never give away money again.

But that would be a shame. Give it away again and again. Consider the lilies. They neither toil nor spin. The world is just as beautiful without money. Love is just as important without money. Children are just as sweet without money.

Patron saints for you? I'd go with St. Peter, the patron saint of anger management. Peter had a bit of a temper, you may recall. A little impetuous, that one.

And the Infant of Prague, the patron saint of financial stability.

Dear Sister Mary Martha,
I'm in need of a lot of help, as well as my peers. I am a college student currently taking organic chemistry, which is throwing me through fire loops! Granted I love my vocation as a student deeply, I was wondering if you knew of a patron saint I could especially ask for help from. Any chemists out there?

I have to go along with one of my readers who made the suggestion to you of St. Albert the Great. The saint who knew everything there was to know, he was so fabulous at science that back in the 13th century people thought he was a magician or a wizard.

And for those fiery hoops: St. Catherine of Alexandria. No slouch herself in the education department, flames wouldn't touch her.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Planning Ahead

Ordinary Time is almost at an end. We are about to begin my favorite time of year, short of Advent and Christmas. Lent begins next Wednesday, one week from today.

It is Wednesday, isn't it? Ordinary Time is so ordinary, sometimes I lose track. Ever do that? Go through one whole day thinking it's a different day and become all discombobulated when you finally realize you're on the wrong day? Sometimes it's just one little trigger that will set you off. Somebody makes spaghetti on Tuesday instead of Spaghetti Wednesday and then all day Wednesday you think it's Thursday because you had your Wednesday spaghetti on Tuesday. I just hope I manage to show up at school on Friday and not stay home because I think it's Saturday.

Hi Sister, even though it's still a couple of weeks away I have a lent question for you. I am 16 weeks pregnant and I think the catechism says that pregnant women are exempted from the obligation to fast on Ash Wednesday. I was wondering if that was true, could you recommend any other type of fasting or penance that doesn't involve food or anything too physical which could put stress on my baby.


You have come to the right place!

First, let's remember why we fast on Ash Wednesday, all the Fridays and do penance in general, during Lent. We do it to align ourselves with Jesus' Suffering.

Suffering isn't all about food. It's just what the Church picked out for us to do because everybody eats. The Church couldn't very well say, "Give up your fun tennis game with that other couple that you do every Friday for Lent." Everybody doesn't play tennis.

But everybody eats. Which reminds me. If you are trying to lose weight or stop smoking, do it on your own time. Lent isn't about self improvement.

Well....it is....but not like that. I hope everyone can see the difference.

So what can you do instead of fasting?

1. Get up an hour earlier and clean your house the way St. Therese the Little Flower would do it, as if you were doing it because Jesus was coming over.

2. Offer up your morning sickness to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

3. Wear an uncomfortable shirt all day. Don't complain.

4. Don't complain about anything.

5. Have tea with some lonely old person.

6. Make your favorite dinner for everyone else in the family and you have a little peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk.

7. Think of the one thing you love to do everyday, like talk on the phone or watch your soap opera, and don't do it. Pray a rosary instead.

8. Clean someone else's kitchen.

9. Wear an embarrassing hat.

10. Put a couple of dried peas in one of your shoes for the day.

I could go on and on. It's really easy once you get started.

I am a veritable font of Lenten advice. And I'm old school.

Sister Mary Martha, your blog and daily mass are the spiritual food I need to make it through my weeks. As a young college student, I'm looking for the patron saint of procrastinators. Even right now at 12:22AM I'm avoiding my research paper that's due in a few hours! Is there any saint who can help me rid my terrible habit?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Maybe Yes, on the Overreacting....

This doesn't relate to anything, but it is driving me crazy. I just bought "My Daily Catholic Bible" from Our Sunday Visitor over the internet. I like the idea of a plan for reading the Bible in a year, but the books are not in order. The January 1 reading starts with Genesis and Mark. All books seem to be accounted for, but it still makes me a little crazy. Does anyone know why the books are not in order? Am I overreacting?

If it's driving you crazy, you need St. Dymphna, the patron saint of crazy people.

I don't know why the author chose the order he chose, but he seems to have been borrowing from the readings at Mass, where over the course of time, we read the entire Bible in little segments. I believe it takes three years to read the whole Bible at Mass, so he couldn't just copy the Mass readings and call it a book if he wanted to get it done in a year. Perhaps if you read the book jacket blurb, someone will explain the chosen order.

Here is what is driving me crazy: if you want to read the whole Bible by reading pieces of it for twenty minutes a day and it's driving you crazy that it's not in order, why don't you just pick up the Bible and read it for twenty minutes a day? It will be in order, unless you're dying to find out how it ends and skip to the back of the book.

You will need a special device to get through it.

Save the money you would spend on the book and buy a really fancy one.

St. Dymphna, by the way, was not crazy. Her father was crazy. She is the patron saint of crazy people because she had to deal with a crazy person.

St. Dymphna looked just like her beautiful mother and when her mother died, her father snapped and decided Dymphna should just step into her mother's......shoes. Dymphna fled with the help of the parish priest, but her crazy father found her and killed her and the parish priest.

She is also the patron saint of sleep walkers, because sleep walkers used to be considered to be crazy people. I'm not sure if she qualifies to be the patron saint of people who take that drug, Ambien, and then eat everything in the refrigerator in their sleep or go for a drive. I think at that point, the sleepwalker should switch over to St. Cosmos and St. Damian, the patron saints of twins and doctor (because they were twin doctors) and let the heavenly physicians help find a new medical practitioner.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Kitty Korner

I hope I haven't confused anyone too terribly with my sense of humor. I was trying to indicate that the comments section was the place to leave questions, so I typed a little message. Only the first half of the message posted, the first half being a little joke about giving your "pop quiz" answer in feet.

The second half explained that the comments section is the place to leave questions and comments.

I suppose if you have to explain a joke, it isn't a very good joke. Perhaps it's actually too private a joke, too personal to me. As a child in school, the very idea of math problems caused my brain to freeze into a solid block, forcing tears out of my eyeballs. The questions always sounded like this to me:

One train is leaving New York at 9am moving 60 mph. Another train is leaving Kansas City at 11am travelling 70 mph. Each train has to make 7 stops along the route. The New York train takes 5 minutes extra to unload passengers at each stop and the train from Kansas City takes an extra 8 minutes, plus the engineer stops in St. Louis to visit his mother for 27 minutes while the passengers twiddle there thumbs and complain. The train from New York encounters a sleet storm that freezes the track and delays it for 92 minutes. The train from Kansas City gets stuck in a flood in Springfield, Ill and all the passengers take the opportunity to get off the train and visit the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln for 67 minutes. Both trains catch on fire at some point causing a delay of 12 minutes for the New York train and 17 minutes for the Kansas City train. The fire has ruined the coffee pot on the New York train and it makes an unscheduled stop so that six people can run out for Starbucks coffee and on the Kansas City train the conductor has been caught smoking a uncontrolled substance in the lavatory and the train has to stop for his arrest.

Which train will arrive first in Chicago?

Give your answer in feet.

I'll try again to indicate that the comments section is the place to leave questions. I have some great questions I'm excited to answer, but today we have a matter of some urgency:

Is this the comment place where you ask questions? I desperatly need to know if there is a patron saint for a lost cat. Her name is Magda and she has had quite a life with us but she is missing... Help--Help-- and many thanks Your blog is something else. Cant wait to read it everyday......

Is Magda named after St. Mary Magdalene? That would be a good place to start. We always encourage the faithful to name their children after a saint so that that child automatically has the patronage of that saint. It never occurred to me to do that same for a pet.

Why not? There are quite a few animal lovers in the Communion of Saints.

Your girl is St. Gertrude of Nevilles, the patron saint of cats and cat lovers. Once again, we have to extrapolate a bit to arrive at that patronage. She has zero to do with cats.

There are two St. Gertrudes. The other one is St. Gertrude the Great. Both of them had a devotion to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

In our St. Gertrude's case, she envisioned mice to be the Poor Souls in Purgatory, come back to plead for help. Don't get upset. It's not reincarnation. It's a metaphor.

And who else likes mice? Cats.

The truth is Gertrude lived a pastoral life and probably had a few cats with her at the convent and out in the garden. She was an herbalist. She is depicted in one of two ways in art, either deep in prayer with a mouse running up her staff, or out in the garden collecting herbs surrounded by cats.

If for some reason that doesn't float your boat, you can go with St. Rock, the patron saint of dogs, Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, the patron saint of turtles, St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animal lovers, St. Eligius, the patron saint of horses and cattle and St. George, the patron saint of sheep. They are the SPCA of Heaven.

St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items. He is often on the back of a St. Francis of Assisi medal, I have noticed, which indicates to me that he will also be happy to help locate missing animals.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Your Number is Up

I have been under the weather. That is really a perfect explanation of my health. The weather here is pretty good these days, although another big storm is due tomorrow night. I am less than pretty good.

Lucky me. Sister St. Aloysius makes a mean chicken soup.

I am being facetious. Not about the soup. About the luck. We Catholics don't believe in luck. Luck is off the table. Which brings me to today's question:

Dear Sister Mary Martha,
I have a question for you, if I may. I am asking it here be because you don't seem to have a questions here icon. So my question is who is the patron saint of Winning the Lottery? Is there a Saint associated with the correct numbers coming up? I value your sound advice.

Huge thanks, I love your Blog and read it religiously each day.

Sister you Rock.

The comments section is the place to leave questions. Maybe I can change the setting somehow so it actually says, "questions and comments".

We have a patron saint for everything. So of course we have a patron saint for people who want to win the lottery. In this case I will send you to St. Lawrence. Because he was roasted to death on a grill, he is the patron saint of cooks. But I believe that he should be the patron saint of comics, because he had quite an ironic, if not side-splitting, sense of humor.

The reason he was roasted to death on the grill was because he flummoxed the local conquering prefect with his quiet wit. The Roman prefect had ordered Lawrence, a deacon, to round up all the treasures of the Church.

We still hear a lot about the treasures of the Church, the gold Chalices, the jeweled crowns. This is precisely what Lawrence was charged with gathering. Lawrence asked for three days to get the job done. His request was granted.

Lawrence spent the three days liquidating all the gold and jewels and candlesticks and anything else he could find and dispersing it among the poor. Then he rounded up all the beggars and lepers and blind and infirm and brought them to the prefect.

"Here are the treasures of the Church, " he announced.

This went over like a lead balloon, but Lawrence's sense of humor lasted to his dying breath. His last words were, "Turn me over, I'm done on this side."

I think St. Lawrence might be able to handle your need for a boatload of cash, one way or another.

Hello Sr Mary Martha

Do you know of any saints who felt that they were constantly under a cloud? Jinxed. Or that God's blessings were being blocked.

Also do you know any prayers to remedy the situation?


Get this straight. God's blessings aren't being blocked by some kind of neutron cloud. And being "jinxed" is just another word for "bad luck". There is no such thing as bad luck. Or a jinx.

If you're having trouble with God's blessings, it's because you are having trouble with God's blessings.

And yes, there's a saint for that.

St. John of God. One of my favorites. He did everything but accept God's blessings. He did absolutely everything he felt like doing, good or bad, for most of his life until one day, God, like Dr. Phil, came and asked John, "How's that working for ya?" At that point, John was enjoying life in a 16th century mental institution, so you can imagine how it had been working for him.

From that point on, he put his impulsive actions to work for God, hence his saintly name, "John of God. I like this little prayer for the one reminder it holds, a reminder that has the power to turn your life around. Act out of love.

Saint John of God, help us to act out of love as soon as we feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Help us learn to fight the little voices in our heads and hearts that give us all sorts of practical reasons to wait or delay in our service of God. Amen