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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Angry God Vs. Mellow God

Hi, I have a question. An atheist girl I work with keeps arguing with me (not in a bad way, but she does have her opinions) about Christianity. This week, she's hung up on all the "atrocities" committed in the name of "your god", especially in the Old Testament. How do I explain the Old Law versus the New Law, and the God-sanctioned killings in the OT, etc.? I know there is an explanation and I feel her questions deserve a good answer. Thanknation, I just can't remember!


Good luck with that. And you know that we Catholics don't believe in 'luck'.

Here are the explanations, none of which is going to have much of an impact on her.

God in the Old Testament is working with a nation and setting laws for that nation. God in the New Testament is dealing with individuals and the individual's relationship to God.

I don't think that explanation is going to get us anywhere. Here's another one:

God reveals Himself slowly throughout the course of time and brings people to Him in ways they can understand as human understanding itself evolves. I believe this is the most accepted thought on the subject.

You could go with what the word "wrath" actually means in the Bible. God's "wrath" is mentioned many times, but the word is re translated from Greek and Hebrew and has various nuances (none of which are actually "wrath") when you look at the original word. The original word in many cases is "passion" or "out of breath" or "panting with passion". You could say God was upset. We understand the word "wrath" to mean extreme anger and vengefulness, but in the original language God is never wrathful. He is passionately not happy.

You might also mention that, for the most part, God actually doesn't do anything to anyone. He simply turns away from man, who is making Him unhappy, and mayhem ensues. He gives people every opportunity to get it together, sending messengers and angels and whatnot, but people never do.

She probably won't buy this either, so you could hit her with some numbers that show that God was just as sweet in the Old Testament as he is in the New Testament. Some nice person worked out this happy equation: in the Old Testament, God's love and mercy is mentioned 546 times as opposed to his "passionate unhappiness", which occurs 308 times. In the New Testament the ratio of love to unhappy is 291 to 71.

I asked Sister St. Aloysius, the math whiz, to work out the percentages on these figures and she came up with: OT 64% Love and Mercy to 36% Unhappy God. NT 80% Love and Mercy to 20% Unhappy.

So mathematically speaking, God is pretty consistent. He's only 16% more unhappy in the Old Testament.

I might say this to her, "If you actually read the book, you'll find that God never turns away from man, but that man often turns away from God. Through all the times His nation disappointed Him, God forgave them and never abandoned them and continued to guide them. He finally showed His ultimate love by sending His Son."

Although, truth be told, we really don't want her reading the book on her own. She would need to know a lot of things, like what translation she's reading and some history about the region and the people and ancient customs and all of that sort of thing. If she digs around in there by herself, it will be a sorry mess, I'm sure.

I just don't want you to get your hopes up. She's an atheist, which means she doesn't believe in God in the first place, let alone His Son. You may as well be discussing Harry Potter with her or The Wizard of Oz. Why did the people of Oz set that guy up as a wizard to run the place when he never had any power and everyone there had to know he was just that guy behind the curtain? He couldn't even fly that balloon, so we know he didn't build his wizard machine or sew the curtains. Who cares. There is no wizard of Oz.

I always feel our best bet with an atheist or a separated brethren person is to show God's endless mercy by the example of our own compassion. You seem to be doing a very good job so far by not becoming frustrated and stapling her fingers to the desk, which would be a sin for which God would punish you, even though He would understand.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hot Stuff

Hi Sister! This may seem odd, but do you have any words of wisdom concerning demonology? I'm just curious as to how you would describe how demons work in the world and what sort of natural phenomena may or may not be attributed to them. Thanks!

Yes, it does seem odd. I was completely thrown by anyone asking about demonology, which means exactly, "The study of demons". That's different than the second part of your question about how demons work in the world and what sort of natural phenomena could be attributed to them.

I think I need a nap already.

Before my eyes clank shut, we can get rid of the first part and the last part of your question. I think no one should study demonology. There is such a thing because the belief in, or fear of, demons has always been a part of human history. The idea that demons are ruining one's life is as prevalent in the life of a savage living on a remote island three feet wide as it is in the parlors of the tea sipping cultured and it always has been, even before the invention of tea sipping. As a result, there is a lot to know about what humans have thought about demons, from the ancient Assyrians, Greeks, Iranians, Persians, Chinese, Israelis and all the way up to Christian culture. The Assyrians and the Iranians, in particular, had elaborate demonologies.

But it's not something you really need to look into, unless you're some kind of theology/history major and you have a test coming up on Azazael and a paper due entitled "Who Is Liltith?"

The problem with the actual study of demons is that, for our intents, the information is full of theological errors. In other words, you will be up against heathen legend vs. Christian theology. It would be very difficult to sort it all out on your own. St. Albert the Great has some advice for you: "It is taught by the demons, it teaches about the demons, and it leads to the demons."

Demons do not control natural phenomenon, so you can let that go. One might argue that the devil might have some effect on what happens because of natural phenomenon, though. We'll come back to that.

That leaves us in the middle. What's the deal with the devil?

The devil is a fallen angel. Fallen from where? Heaven. God's favorite angel, Lucifer, decided one day that he should be equal with God. This is a problem. Angels are pure spirits, all good and holy and very, very smart. But only God is God. So Lucifer's uprising backfired and all the angels that went bad with him went to Hell with him.

I have to stop here for a moment and reflect on the outlandish silliness that is "Satan worship". The whole reason that Satan is Satan is that he is not equal to God. So why are you worshipping him? Crazy. Just the other day at the grocery store I saw a lady dressed as some sort of vampire. It's August, so we know she wasn't trick or treating. This was a style choice.


Anyhow...where was I? Generally speaking, when we say the "devil" we mean Satan (formerly known as Lucifer) and when we say "demon" we mean any of those other fallen angels. The Catholic Church teaches that Satan and his pals are alive and well and they are relentlessly trying to grab your soul. How do they work in the world? Against you, that's how.

This makes it very, very hard for us, because we really, really don't need Satan's help to sin. We are weak enough on our own. But here comes Satan and his demons to make it even harder. It's bad news. These aren't just some kind of crazy little monsters with pitch forks running around giving people flat tires so their days start off badly. These are fallen angels. They are very smart beings. Satan doesn't have to waste his time trying to get you to watch more television and not eat your vegetables. Satan can take a look at the evil in the world, that evil we perpetrate all on our own, and orchestrate it. That is his power.

So did Satan cause Hurricane Katrina? No. You'll have to ask a meteorologist what causes a hurricane. But did Satan help in the aftermath of stranded souls and carpetbagging? I'm quite certain he did.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Best Offense

I've decided to try and get some souls out of Purgatory today by tackling and extremely difficult question in the August summer heat. I hope I land someone in heaven.

Dear Sister,
I just discovered your blog and I love it :) I have a question for you. How are we to deal with all of the misconceptions that people we know have about the Catholic Church, especially to do with sexual abuse by priests? I have researched adequate defences to these problems, but these are complex issues of which many people are resistant to explanations. Such perceptions are continually perpetrated, and people, especially lapsed Catholics I know, use them as a justification to reject the Catholic faith. They don't like being challenged in their perceptions, and never give me time to explain. Is there a way to gently change their hearts, for their own sake, and for the sake of the people whom these ideas hurt? It needs to be gentle, because I'm not good at being pushy. I can't tell you how much this frustrates me.

Let's talk tomorrow when it's cooler.

No, no. I'll do it now.
I have to wonder what these misconceptions are. I'm going to go with "you set these people up with all this power, from the lowly priest to the Pope himself, and then they pull this kind of thing."

To which I would answer, "Yes, yes we do." Or more precisely, Jesus does, when he calls these men to the priesthood. But that really doesn't help you case one bit, does it?

Here's the thing: I don't think you're going to be able to give anyone a speech that will convince them that they should unlapse and let it all go. That's not to say you should let it go. You're just going to have to be patient.

Did you ever notice that when someone accuses you of being wrong your first reaction is, "No I didn't..." You may even realize in the next second that you are indeed wrong and apologize. But the normal human reaction to any accusation is to go on the defense. It seems to be the way we are built.

So your first step in moving anyone toward unlapsing is to try not to put them on the defensive. You won't always be able to agree with someone who is dissing the Catholic Church or spreading some kind of misinformation, like someone who is insisting that the Immaculate Conception involves the visit from the Archangel Gabriel (or a football, I've have to gently remind some that that would be the Immaculate REception or the Immaculate INTERception). But if you can agree, do so.

The sexual scandal is horrific. It is horrific at every level. Crimes were committed and covered up. Hundreds of children were assaulted and forever damaged. The scandal has shaken the faith of the most stoically faithful and true to the actual meaning of the word "scandal" it has ended the faith of many more. It really doesn't get worse than that.

Can we just admit that? It's not going to go away because we try to forget about it or, worse yet, defend it. It's utterly indefensible.

I would personally like to see everyone go to jail that had anything to do with these actions or the actions that covered up what was going on. Crimes were commited, crimes should be punished.

And where does that leave us?

With Jesus. Is our faith in Jesus gone, too? That's what I'd like to ask these people. Was Jesus wrong when he asked for compassion and forgiveness? Is it just impossible to love our enemies? Is it too much to ask of human beings to try to live up to what Jesus asks of us?

That's what I want to ask these people. Is your faith in Jesus gone? Because if we can find or strengthen that faith, we know Jesus will meet us on the path. You're not going to change anyone over night. But we are all going to have to redouble our efforts to lead by example.

I think of it like missionary work. We don't go into a skidrow neighborhood and shout, "Stop drinking you sots and come and meet Jesus!" We begin with love and compassion, unconditional food and shelter. We preach by actions alone. The words come later, gradually.

We believe in a Person that walked on water and rose from the dead, so don't despair.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Confession for Adults

The hot weather has finally found us. We have been so unbelievable untouched by the vicious summer heat that has plagued so much of the nation. I can't really complain about it now. Even though it's baking during the day, it's still downright chilly at night, so there is no opportunity for days of suffering.

And if there was, we could be reminded of the fires of Hell and redouble our efforts to be harmonious with God. Which brings us to today's question:

How does one make a good confession? Any tips would be appreciated.

We're not seven years old any more, so let's get real about confession, shall we? It's all well and good to examine your conscience and make a list of your sins and show up on Saturday morning with a "Bless me Father, for I have sinned" and recite your little laundry list of how many times you've been uncharitable, or lied or had unclean thoughts. That's the drill. A few Hail Mary's and you're on your merry way.

Not so fast, Bucko.

Confession isn't just an absolution to-do list. All that conscience examining is so that you can dig up how and where you are not living in harmony with God and feel sorry about it. Sorry enough to try and do better. "Go now and sin no more."--Jesus

Contrition is the key word here. You need to be sorry for your sins. This isn't just another round of Catholic Guilt that is so valued by the old nuns. Let's think this through.

Let's take a simple sin. Let's say you've gone out of your way to do something nice for your neighbor. (This isn't the sin part, yet.) You've made her a batch of her favorite cookies and used the expensive kind of chocolate to make them really special. (Not yet.) You wrap them is colored Saran Wrap with a pretty bow and take them over with a big smile. (Not yet.) She takes the cookies and says a lame, not very convincing sounding "Thanks" and retreats back into her lair.

You feel a little disappointed, maybe even hurt. (No, not yet.) You went through all that trouble and even a little expense and she didn't seem to appreciate it at all. Harrumph. (Here we go.) You start thinking of all the times you've helped her out, listened to her boring problems that are barely problems for most people, people with any brains, stuff you've lent her, watching her bratty kids when she had an emergency broken nail that needed immediate salon treatment and your resentment grows. (Now we're cooking.)

Now you're being downright uncharitable, harboring resentment and anger. You're sinning away. All day.

Are you sorry? Probably not. You're so wrapped up in your self righteous anger that you've completely forgotten the actual situation. You made a gift for someone to brightened their special day. It doesn't seem to have worked. That's all that happened. Her lack of enthusiasm doesn't make her a bad person. You've spent the day judging someone who you were trying to please.

So now, back to the issue of preparing for confession, we ask ourselves, "have I been uncharitable? Have I harbored anger?" The answer is yes and yes. So this sin is on the list.

But....are you really sorry? Or are you still a little wrapped up in your self righteous, 'where's my thank you note" thinking? That's the most important part.

The list is important. What would you be examining without the list? But reciting the list to the priest in the box with no actual feeling of remorse gets us nowhere in our spiritual growth.

Here's a little known fact: you don't have to go in there with your list and walk out with your absolution. You can actually say, "Father, I think this is a sin, but I just don't really feel very sorry about it." You'd be surprised what he might have to say. He might explain what you have to feel sorry about, how your actions keep you from God.

He might even say, "You know...that's not really a sin....yet."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Flying High for Autism

Sister, is there a saint for children with autism spectrum disorders?

No, there isn't.

This is where I come in! I love patron saint matching! I dug around for quite awhile trying to think of who it might be. I had something stuck in my head about a saint who had a really troubled childhood because of his behavior. A saint that started with the letter "J".....

It finally struck me! St. Joseph Cupertino! Everything about his early life was unfortunate. His family was dirt poor and there was just something...not right...about Joseph. He couldn't learn to read or write. He couldn't concentrate long enough to finish a sentence. He became a burden to the family. He was given to fits of temper. In the town of Cupertino, no one wanted to be around him. Even his mother had had enough.

He was apprenticed to a shoe maker, but he never learned to make or fix a shoe.

He was taken in at a Franciscan monastery, but they didn't know what to do with him either, because he would stop whatever he was doing and just stand in a stupor. He couldn't even pass out the bread at dinner time, because he couldn't remember the difference between white and wheat bread.

Poor fellow. He was even kicked out of the monastery. He went back home and his mother kicked him out of there. Nobody wanted him. But God wanted him.

His mother took him back to the monastery and gave them the what for. This time, the friars put Joseph in the stable to care for the monastery mule. And this time, things went very well. He became cheerful. He calmed down. He learned to read with great difficulty.

Here is my favorite part: He couldn't be a priest because he couldn't read well enough to pass the oral examine given by the bishop. He couldn't remember passages from the Bible and all of that. There was only one thing in the Bible that inspired him. The words in Luke "Blessed be the womb that bore Thee".

When he went before the bishop, the bishop's eye fell on those words, randomly selected and he asked Joseph to talk about that passage. Joseph could talk endlessly about that passage and only that passage. He became a priest.

God chooses who He wants.

It turns out that the reason Joseph had these 'stupors' was that he he was ultra sensitive to the world around him and the supernatural that exists in this world.

Ring a bell, those of your who are familiar with the autism spectrum?

As time went on, every little thing sent Joseph into a stupor, and then an ecstasy. The sound of the church bell, the utterance of the word "God", a candle, a lamb.

And then...Joseph would rise off the floor. And then ....Joseph would fly.

Yes, I said fly. He could fly straight up and kiss the cross on the top of the altar. He could fly across the church and hover in front of the Mary statue. He levitated before the Pope.

It wasn't long before he could no longer say Mass because he would float around and fly around, every moment of the Mass sending him into further ecstasy. He could read souls and bilocate.

He was a very special person. Very, very special.

How's that sound for a patron saint for autism? Difficult and misunderstood, with problems controlling temper but a host of special gifts locked inside waiting to be discovered.

A perfect match.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Mighty Burst of Light

What was it that Alice said, there in Wonderland? "The more things change, the more they stay the same." I grow weary. Great news for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

As per yesterday's post:

Thanks sister,
I was kind of hoping more for a saint to pray for the end of discord or that we somehow manage to sell and find another house without problems. I'd much rather love these people from afar instead of ending up on anti-depressants. I am praying for the graces to put up with this while I have to (and for a bit of peace)...

I really do think that St. Maximillian Kolbe is a great saint to ask for intercession for the graces to put up with a bad situation. His situation was way, way worse than your situation, so I think he can cover your bad situation. Think he didn't want an end to the discord with which he was dealing? I'm betting he really, really did.

If you're looking to sell your house with ease, St. Joseph is your man. You know the drill? You get a little statue of St. Joseph and you bury him in the front yard facing the house. After the house sells--and it will--you dig him up again and take him to the new house and put him in a place of honor. Done and done.

But I can't leave you without a gentle reminder. There was no addendum to what Jesus asked of us. I can't recall him saying, "Love your neighbor" and then with a sly wink, adding, "from afar."

Either you want the grace or you don't. If you do, you're going to have to meet Jesus on the path and walk with Him and not just sit in your house wondering why things stink. You're going to have to work at it. "Love your enemies."

Who said it was going to be easy? Ask Max how easy it was.

with Love,
Sister Mary Martha

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Ants Go Marching

I used to really enjoy the start of the a new school year and the anticipation and excitement.

I still do.

I just grow weary right about now, when we have to prepare the classrooms, even though we cleaned and tidied at the end of the school year. This year, sensing my lack of enthusiasm for this particular task, Sister St. Aloysius decided to come along and pitch in. This means we have to bring Sister Mary Fiacre along, too, because we can't leave her home alone.

What a production!

Just getting there was a day's work. Then it seemed that wherever we parked her, was where we needed to be cleaning next.

What an opportunity to offer it up for the Souls in Purgatory! Heaven must be smiling on us with all the newly arrived saints.

Please advise me of a saint or saints whose intercession would help me with the following on going (for years) problem with neighbours. Vindictive damage and attempted damage to property by the children, not to mention glaring, shouting abuse and general nuisance all brought on, as far as I know because we've spoken to the parents a couple of times about them throwing stones at the window and knocking on the door a few years back. Lately this has got worse as they had a visit from the police and I suspect they've decided it was us who called them (wrongly). We've just had to talk to the parents again about new damage, but they don't care at all and just deny it's their little angels and make excuses - e.g. "kids will be kids". To be honest this is affecting my whole well-being and causing no end of stress. I would love to move house because of this, but would feel a bit sad about having to, I had no desire to move before all this started years ago. We also can't afford to. Please don't tell me to just put up with it and stop whining - I've tried, unsuccessfully. Also, talking to the kids or their parents seems pointless. I really need some heavenly help with this!

You sure do!

Let me make sure I understand what you are asking. You are not asking how to make these people behave. Talking to the parents and the kids is pointless. The police can't stop them. You can't move.

You could try a very high fence on their side of the property.

But that isn't really what you're asking, it seems. It seems to me that you realize that if you don't have any options, you'll have to put up them with and stop whining, but you bring yourself to do that either.

Nonsense. If you're not going to move and you can't talk with them, you're only option is to put up with it.

In order to do that, you're going to have to change your outlook. You're going to have to do what Jesus asked us to do. It's just awful what He asks of us a lot of the time. It's easy when we just get to love people that we already love. It's easy when we get to love people who we don't even know, but who are doing us no harm, just existing on the planet with us.

The rubber meets the road when we are asked to love our enemies. Yes, He said enemies.

Just awful, isn't it? You can't even tolerate them, let alone love them.

Well, get on the bandwagon, sister. There is a very good chance, as we believe in a loving and forgiving God, that these folks will share eternity with you. You'll never get rid of them, not ever. You may as well start in loving them now.

Because everything that happens here is finite. But everything that happens later is infinite. Everything you do here is a preparation for what is going to happen to you there.

Apparently, since every avenue of relief is cut off from you, God gave you this cross to bear. So bear it the way God wants you to bear it, with love and with a smile.

I do have a saint for you. The ultimate "things could be worse" reminder of what it means to do what God asks of us.

St. Maximillian Kolbe. Your life is a picnic by comparison.

A happy, happy picnic with quite a number of ants in attendance.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

You're a Nurse, You Make a Difference

Where did the week go? Is it Thursday already? Where did the summer go? Is it time to start preparing the classrooms already? In the final lull of the week, and the season, let's have a little patron saint matching.

I am in need of a patron saint. My daughter graduated for Nursing School, near the top of her class, I must add. (Just a little mother pride there)She can not find a job, all the hospitals want "experience". So we need help here please....Who would have thought a nurse could not find a job? But most of her class do not have jobs and this is repeated across the county.

I love this! No problem with saints here! We'll get to that.

I love nurses! Between my father's protracted decline and Sister Mary Fiacre's, I don't know what to call it....old age limbo...I have seen, talked and argued with, begged, cried to and thanked many, many nurses. Their skill, compassion, toughness and ability to work without sleep and still get it right is unmatched.

Here's my 'mother pride': Catholic hospitals are always better because they hire a better nursing staff. That has been my personal experience, having had to enter hospitals at the drop of a hat because we had to run to the nearest one. All nurses are not created equally.

But most of them are the bees knees.

Patron saint for nurses: St. John of God, who took it upon himself to gather up sick people and help them, find a place to put them all and carry them and their mattresses out when the place burned down.

We have an extra problem to solve here, though, because we don't just need the patron saint of nurses. We also need a 'finding a job' saint. For that, I always recommend Pope John Paul II. He isn't a canonized saint just yet. But if he is in Heaven, then he is a saint. In any case, here is a person who had the job he had longer than any person who ever held that job. So if there's a better saint for finding a wonderful job that you keep forever, I don't know who it is.

There are a few others, though, that could be helpful: St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, is also known as "St. Joseph the Worker". The Holy Family seems to have done alright on St. Joseph's salary.

And both St. Martins! St. Martin de Porres was thought to be not really priest material or doctor material. He was relegated to sweeping the floor. He became a well known healer.

And just in case the job search is lengthy, the other St. Martin (de Caballero), will give you the shirt off his back.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Convert Questions

Our convert readers have come out of the woodwork in droves! Welcome! It makes our day to see so many people coming to the Church. Now, if you could just all go have a talk with Anne Rice, the poor thing.

In any case, we still have a Mary issue to clear up and then a new question that will test your new found faith. First, we head to Mary World (one of my favorite places).

Sister, what about the concept of dormition? My understanding is that Mary did not actually die, but entered a phase of something like sleep, and was then assumed bodily into heaven. Can you help to clear this up?

BTW, I am a convert also.

Fasten your seat belt. We have to travel through time, schism and tradition.

You do realize that there are two 'branches' of the Catholic church? The Roman Catholic Church, that's us, over here, and the Greek/Russian Orthodox Church, that's them over there. And while we don't agree about every single thing, we do agree that the Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven.

Here's where the flight is going to get a little bumpy, so take a deep breath and dig your nails into the armrest. The "Dormition of the Blessed Mother" is the Eastern Orthodox Church's feast of the Assumption, defined as "the falling asleep or death of Mary and her subsequent assumption into heaven".

So there's your 'falling asleep' idea. This is not the end of the discussion yet, so the seat belt light is still on.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII actually made an Infallible Papal decree on the Assumption (Munificentissimus Deus, Latin for "the most bountiful God" written in 1950). He said this:

"Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted
by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death."

Take a deep breath. The question of Mary's death is left open.

And it would seem that the Eastern Orthodox Church also leaves the question open. But the fact is that the Eastern Orthodox Church actually teaches that Mary did die. The word "Dormition" is the word for Mary's Assumption and...how she got there....but they actually teach that she died.

In the Roman Catholic Church, although the Pope officially left it open, if you actually read the Ex Cathedra decision in its entirety, you'll find that Pope Pius refers to Mary's death several times.

The generally accepted theology on the subject, therefore, is that Mary did die because Jesus died and she is His Number #1 follower. So she followed Him by dying. But it's not official, unless you are in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Then, even though the definition of Dormition uses open language, Mary died. And if you are Roman Catholic, you pretty much believe Mary died.

If this were a math question and we were to round up to the nearest number, we'd be saying Mary died.

I'm going with that.

I wouldn't take my seat belt off just yet. We still have this:

I too am a convert to the Church, which I'm very happy about, easily the best decision of my life, and I have a question similar to the one you address in this post.

Could you please explain the doctrine of the Real Presence? I once asked a priest about it, but he just got mad, and I stopped talking about it. How can the wafer and wine become the real body and blood when they still look like bread and wine? Do they mean spiritually? In which case, using the word real doesn't seem right.

Thanks for helping me with this.

I can't help you with this. The doctrine is very simple. During the Mass, the bread and wine change into the physical Body and Blood of Christ. We don't mean spiritually or symbolically. We mean the Real Deal, hence the term, Real Presence.

How can this happen?

Once there was nothing, not even a great void of space. Just nothing. And somehow, there are more galaxies than we will ever be able to count, more stars, more planets. On this planet, we have a complex system of self sustaining life. From nothing.

The human body alone is like a galaxy, a mind boggling complex system of molecules and atoms, DNA strands and cells. It is recreated again and again with the start of single cells meeting and dividing and yet each individual created is unique. There are millions and millions of people in the world right now, and there are millions and millions of them who have lived before us, each utterly unique. Every dog, cat bird and flower, fish and otter, unique.

Ever see the eye of one fly? Flies see at a 275 degree angle. A fly. There are zillions of flies.

God did that.

The Real Presence? No sweat.

Can we understand how God does these things? No.

There is one thing I can help you with, that you will find very, very valuable as a Catholic. This is the term "Sacred Mystery". This term refers to things that God has done that we will never be able to understand because we are human. They are beyond our scope and capability and always will be.

An even more valuable tip that cradle Catholics well know: "Sacred Mystery" is "Catholic" for "just let it go".

Monday, August 09, 2010

Because We Said So

Here's a topic I would appreciate you discussing: papal infallibility. I am a Catholic convert, and for a long time, this was on my list of reasons I couldn't be Catholic. Then, eventually, I learned that papal infallibility had only really been invoked a couple of times, which made me feel better; it wasn't like the Pope was prone to ego-tripping statements of infallibility just to show he was the Boss. Then I learned that the two times since Vatican I that papal infallibility had been invoked had to do with the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. Hmm.If believing that Mary was conceived without sin and assumed bodily into heaven help you grow closer to God, well, I'm not going to be one to debunk. And that was the attitude I brought into the Church when I converted. Personally, I would think that if Mary was born without sin and was assumed into heaven, those sorts of details might have worked their way into the writings of the earliest Church. I have to say, I have trouble buying in to those two tenets of the Faith, and the fact that the Pope spoke infallibly in their favor doesn't so much elevate those doctrines in stature as it does lessen the papacy a little for me. It just seems to much like a father being questioned why something is so and replying "Because I said so," only because he knows he doesn't have a good answer. And the louder Dad says that, the more you know he's on weak ground.But I'm sure I'm missing something here.

We're so glad you've converted. We hope you can have a little talk with Anne Rice in the hope of bringing her back (again). Of course her issues are a little different.

I digress.

I digress for a reason. It's very difficult to answer your question because, to me, and I think to many Catholics, they are in a sense questions of the heart. The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary into Heaven have always been with us as a part of what we call 'Sacred Tradition", long before any Pope made any Ex Cathedra pronouncements. For cradle Catholics these beliefs have been with us long, we just don't worry think much about where they came from. It's just something you know, sort of like when a baby figures out the if he crawls off the end of the table he'll land hard on the floor. Most babies actually become aware of that without having to have a painful lesson. Understanding that when the ball rolls behind the couch it hasn't ceased to exist, or that air won't hold you up is part of natural cognitive development.

And yet, we have airplanes.

Have I digressed again?

Papal Infallibility in a nutshell: You're playing Scrabble with the Pope and he throws down the word "blotsnefad". Does he win because he's infallible and can make anything true that he wants to be true? No. The Pope is only infallible when he speaks on matters of Dogma and only when he speaks on them "Ex Cathedra" which means, "from the Throne".

Jesus gave His Church to Peter and Papal succession goes all the way back to that moment. Jesus won't let the Pope go wrong.

It seems like we've always known that the ball doesn't cease to exist when it rolls behind the couch, but we didn't always know that.

I think that part of the reason the Separated Brethren have issues with Mary Dogma, is that they don't care much for Mary in general, so they pay no attention to what Mary herself has told us. I'm thinking they don't think Mary has spoken to anyone.

Which is entirely understandable, given Mary in the toast and Mary as a lump of melted chocolate and Mary underneath the freeway made of oil and goo. Trust me, Holy Mother Church isn't too thrilled with all of that, either. Still, we don't want to stand in the way of anything that helps bring people to Jesus.

Which is Mary's job. It's all she ever talks about when she visits.

It's how she introduces herself that is of interest to this discussion.

I'll refer you to a couple of important instances where Mary has appeared and validated that she is the Immaculate Conception.

The Real Deal. Important to note here, is that Mary showed Catherine a vision of how the medal should look and the words "Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee" are therefore Mary's words, not Catherine's.

Emergency Lourdes Water. Important to note here is what a dim bulb poor little Bernadette really was. She was literally dirt poor, living in a hut with practically no education except for the nuns trying to prepare her for her First Holy Communion and that wasn't going well at all. Bernadette was very sickly and missed out on a lot of lessons and could never remember her Catechism. So when the bishop asked Bernadette to find out who this lady was and Bernadette heard the lady's answer, it may as well have been "Blotsnefad" to Bernadette. It was so baffling and nonsensical to her that she said it over and over again from the grotto to the bishop's door. "I Am the Immaculate Conception."

Even more important to note, for you, dear reader, is that not only had Bernadette never heard these words in her life, she also had no knowledge that the Pope had just declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception four years before Bernadette's encounters with the Lady.

So Mary actually validates Papal Infallibility during her visit to Bernadette. It wasn't the reason for her trip. She was trying, as always, to bring people to Jesus. In an effort to boost belief, Mary left a healing spring.

But these two things are beliefs that the Church has always held. "Sacred Tradition."

There are quite a few beliefs that fall into this category. That Joseph was an older man who died before Jesus began his ministry. That Mary's parents were named Joachim and Anne.

The Church has always believed that Mary was conceived without sin and the she was assumed into heaven. The Pope just finally made it official. It didn't come out of thin air.

You will fall if you walk off a building, because gravity will pull you earthward.

Mary was conceived without sin because she was to be the mother of Jesus and she couldn't pass Original Sin onto Him.

Sacred Tradition tells us that the disciples were with Mary when she died and that her body disappeared. We have John the Baptist's head and the body of St. Peter. We have nothing of Mary. Nothing. Since she was conceived without sin, she could be assumed bodily into heaven.

She actually didn't even have to die, but she did in deference to Jesus, who died. She can't outdo Jesus by not dying.

In any case, we're actually not dealing with "because I said so" here. We're dealing with "because we've believed these things since the Church was born and because Mary said so and the Pope who protects the Church through Jesus said so and because it actually makes theological sense."

Although, don't write off poor Dad when he says, "because I said so." Sometimes there just isn't time to explain that you're about to fall off the table.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Patron Saint Matching Day

One of my kind readers brought it to my attention that today is the feast day of Our Lady of Copacabana. Not only did I not know about that, I did not know there was a Lady of Copacabana. I didn't even know there was actually a Copacabana that wasn't a night club or a song by Barry Manilow. And I was good at geography.

A true story: way back when Elvis died, I had a little nine year old boy in class who was perplexed by what a fuss everyone raised about Elvis' passing. I set out to explain to him who Elvis was, the impact he had had on the world of popular music and culture, his musical roots of rockabilly, gospel and blues. I think I spoke about Elvis for a good five minutes straight.

When I was done, this kid, Ronny, said, "Wow."

I was pleased that I had done a good job of explaining the Elvis phenomenon, when Ronny continued, "I wonder what will happen when Barry Manilow dies."

Somebody else will have to write jingles for Coca Cola. I didn't say that out loud.

I am currently starting the process of applying to colleges. There are several fabulous ones I have my eye on. I was wondering, is there a patron saint for getting into your top choice colleges? How about one for winning scholarships (which I sorely need)?

This is an easy one! Follow my train of thought here. To get into that fabulous top college, you're going to have to be a fabulous top student. You're going to need a patron saint for that.

A double whammy: St. Albert the Great and his best and brightest student, St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Albert the Great was the most learned man of his time. He was dubbed "the Great" while he was still alive (like Elvis), that's how great he was. He knew a lot about everything. (The exact opposite of the likes of me, I know a little about a lot of things.) He was the leading authority on botany, physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrology (considered a legitimate science back then), physiology...the list goes on and on....phrenology.....

And of course, he was quite the theologian and philosopher. He was appointed as advisor to the Pope, but he quit after a few months because, well, he had plants to catalog and test tubes to tend, stars to chart.

On top of all that, St. Albert was the person who showed everyone, in no uncertain terms, that science and religion are harmonious. Everything comes from God, to understand our world is to better understand and appreciate God.

Thank you, Albert! And thank you again, St. Albert, for lighting the way for your student, known in school as "the dumb ox", St. Thomas Aquinas, who grew up to be one the greatest, if not the greatest, theologians who ever lived. He is the official patron saint of students (and pencil makers). Both saints rank among the 33 "Doctors of the Church".

Then, for financial aid we're going to send you to the bursar's office to get in touch with The Infant of Prague.

You should be all set. Make us proud!

My central air conditioning is on the blink. Is there a patron saint of air conditioning? I could use some help.

I'd go with St. Nicholas. He was originally from a hot climate, but moved to the North Pole to beat the heat.