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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Clappy Silent Night

How about a little palette cleanser after yesterday's donnybrook? Our readers have weighed in heavily on their grade school experiences. Let's just say, "That which does not kill you, makes you stronger."

Or not.  I think that only works if you are a relatively strong person in the first place. I remember hearing an African American professor bemoan the bemoaning of the welfare state and the state of America's poor. What he said has always stayed with me. I can't quote him, but his point was that our "anyone can grow up to be president in the US if they just work hard enough" mantra is a fallacy that asks every single person to be extraordinary. Oh, sure, we hear about people who were able to rise from horrible backgrounds and extreme poverty. But no one seems to take into account that these people were exceptional, extraordinary people.

Of course, as Catholics, we constantly ask ourselves to be extraordinary, to strive for sainthood. Heroic virtue is our goal. And, of course, the last people to claim any heroism or extraordinary virtue are the saints themselves because to do so would lack the necessary humility.

But I digress...a palatte cleanser.

I've been doing my research about "Silent Night". One of the things I love best about that song is that the person who wrote the music (who is not the same person who wrote the lyrics) wrote it as a lullaby. That has always tickled me.

But it turns out that it was not written as a lullaby and in fact was a peppy tune, a lilting dance type number. I can't imagine it, can you? It was originally written in 6/8 time, if that's any help. It doesn't help me any, even though I know what that is,  this 6/8 time, and how that rhythm works.

I don't know who had the wherewith all to make the slight changes that turned the song into a lullaby, but my Santa hat is off to them!

The beautiful lyrics were written in 1816 by Father Jospeh Mohr, an Austrian priest. He had written this poem and apparently let it sit in a drawer or something for two years. Then one foggy Christmas Eve in 1818, he needed a song for the Christmas Mass and took the poem to his friend, the schoolmaster Franz Xaver Gruber (that's his picture on the right).  Father Mohr asked Guber to write the a tune and a guitar arrangement.  Isn't that a kick in the head? What was that? A song for the original guitar Mass? It seems so, since the original music was happy, clappy stuff. To soften the blow of that thought, people have suggested that he did it because the organ had broken down, but there is no proof that this was the case.

And what was the name of the church in which was heard "Silent Night" for the first time? The Church of St. Nicholas!  How appropriate is that?  The song became such a big deal that there is actually a thing called "The Silent Night Society", which has information about all things "Silent Night", I assume. The original Church of St. Nicholas is long gone, but a small chapel was built to commemorate the song and of course now there is a gift shop.  They call it a "museum" about  "Silent Night", but what do you think is in there?  I'll bet it's chock full of things that play "Silent Night", recordings and wind up angels and Navitiy Scenes and tree ornaments, sheet music and key chains. That troll over there plays "Silent Night", by they way.  The troll.  Plays "Silent Night".

 ( click here for "Silent Night" IPhone App.)

Christmas is happy to have had Father Mohr, especially considering that he had to actually get permission from the Pope himself to become a priest. Mohr was the illegitimate son of a woman who had taken up with a soldier, a soldier who promptly abandoned her and their upcoming child.

In the midst of WWI, the world stopped warring on Christmas Eve during the Christmas Truce of 1914.  Soldiers on both sides of the front sang "Silent Night".  It was the one song for which they all knew the lyrics.

Then they went back to killing each other.  They should have listened to what they were singing a little more closely.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tis the Season to be Jolly....

Well, I think I may have reopened this can of worms myself, but I am always willing to have an open discussion on the topic.  I don't care for rewrites of history and whitewashing.

I had mentioned Sister Marillia the other day, terror that she was. And then in the comments section of yesterday's post, a dear reader mentioned her own perhaps not so beloved Sister Dolores, who hit students on the back of their heads with erasers. (I admire her creativity.) The reader, I believe, mentioned her own terror of said Sister D.

And then another reader responded....

Dear Anonymous - so sorry you were terrified of nuns. Wonder what you were doing that DESERVED being whacked on the head with erasers. ??? SOOOOO tired of people saying that nuns were terrifying. Get over yourself, already! Maybe you were sent to Catholic school by your parents to get straightened out. Maybe your classmates have not-so-fond memories of you (spoiling their recess, distracting them from their studies with your eraser-earning antics). And gee - would an eraser really hurt? REALLY???? Shame on YOU, not on the nuns. I never had the priviledge of attending Catholic schools because my parents were too poor to afford it, and probably too ashamed to beg. But I have been teaching at schools with anywhere from one to five sisters, and they were all as nice as could be. They were from different teaching orders, too, so you can't say I just happened to run into an exceptional community. I'm not saying all sisters are perfect - I've seen a couple of slip ups - but it rarely involves the discipline of a student. So please, knock it off, people! The joke isn't funny any more.

Catholic School Teacher
(Incidentally, we have a couple of students who were sent to us to be straightened out. Newsflash to you parents who do that: Try discipline in your own house. Don't make a mess for others to clean up. It's not fair to the parents who send their students to get a Catholic education.)

I fully appreciate you defense of the perils of the classroom teacher. I really do.  But please don't confuse the nuns and students of yesteryear with the nuns and students of today. Things have changed on both ends.

We were children of the late 40's and 50's, the children of men returned from winning The Big One.  We said "please" and "thank you" and "yes, Sister".  We all rose and said the Pledge of Alligiance in the morning and rose again before we were allowed out the classroom door to say an Act of Contrition.  

If we did something wrong in class, like whisper to our neighbor or pass a note (I truly can not recall any worse transgression that than ever occurring from my kindergarten years through high school, my hand to God), we were not just misbehaving ever so slightly, we were sinning, because were were being disobedient to Sister, a sin against the Fourth Commandment, "Honor thy Father and thy Mother".

There were sweet nuns.  I can't recall any, but there were.  We certainly had nuns that weren't terrors, who were even tempered. But once you have a person more than twice your size (we were little children, after all) come swooping down on you, blackening the sun with her habit, to crack you across the knuckles with a three foot ruler or a rubber tipped pointer (which is basically a dowel rod), you will straighten right up in the presence of the rest of the nuns.

Maybe they had a 'good cop/bad cop' plan back at the convent.  Of course, they didn't. There was no planning back at the convent.

But as to the children deserving it? No.  I'll give you that the erasers probably didn't hurt. I knew a nun that would actually hurl them at the children. She had a great arm. She could pick off a kid in the middle of a room of thirty kids. I don't think she hurt anyone either.

The reason you keep hearing about terrifying nuns, is that sometimes they were actually terrifying. In Sister Marillia's classroom during math hour, we lined up six at a time across the blackboard in the back of the room. We each had a problem to do up there, long division at that time. When you finished your problem you returned to your seat. One gangly girl named Bonnie couldn't seem to solve her problem. Row after row of children got up and sat down again and poor Bonnie was still there.

I'm sure by that point, her brain had frozen, and by the time Sister Marillia arrived at the back of the room to belittle Bonnie, the rest of her had frozen, too. I'm not sure what set Sister off, but all of the sudden she had poor gangly Bonnie by the scruff of her neck and began to bang her head against the blackboard to the beat of whatever it was Sister was saying to Bonnie.

We were also frozen, our jaws dropped, our eyes wide. Finally, out of nowhere, one of the boys said, "Sister, you're going to kill her...."  Bonnie stumbled back to her seat.

Or how about the time another nun I knew found a boy talking in line and took the pile of books she was holding, those flat wide music books, and dropped them on his head. He was out cold on the floor and the rest of the children had to file out of the room on their way to lunch, stepping over his unconscious body, sure he was dead on the floor.

He wasn't.

And what was the upshot of all of this? A well behaved classroom.  Happy parents who also believed that if Sister had smacked you, you must have deserved it.

I know they all meant well. But please never try to convince any of us that we deserved bloody knuckles because we were left handed or our penmanship was sloppy. These things happened and are well remembered by all of us who still quake in our Mary Jane shoes when they are recalled. It's not a joke, although we've certainly had a few laughs about it.

Nuns today are indeed a different breed, thanks be to God.  For one thing, they receive a much better education.  Those old nuns were thrown at a roomful of children with no training of any kind in how to work with, teach or discipline children. They were making it up as they went along. They didn't even have the opportunity to discuss it with each other at days end. They were on their own in there. More's the pity.

And back in my day, kids weren't sent to the Catholic school to straighten them out. Children who misbehaved too much were kicked out of Catholic school. For that, you would have had to do something actually bad, like property damage.  Very rare, because we were indeed a bunch of goody two shoes tikes with a fear of Hell and Sister.  Not necessarily in that order.

I'm glad students are now being sent to Catholic school to be straightened out. If Jesus could kiss lepers, I think we can tackle an unruly child.

Things have changed for the better.  But the past informs the present.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mark My Footsteps!

Isn't it the best thing in the world to wake up today! Advent! The first day of the best time of year, even if the thermometer is dropping and the sleet and snow is falling, even if your finances look like a left over birthday balloon, even if you're still too full from Thanksgiving and can't even look at the work "turkey".

We're already digging around in the garage loft for our Christmas decoration and lights, such as they are. We don't light the lights until Christmas Day, but they get dusty up there. Advent is about preparation.

What songs shall the grade school kids sing for the Christmas recital? What projects with construction paper and paste shall we make with the kindergartners and first graders?

I am besides myself with glee, as usual.

I think I'm going to teach them Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and have everyone sing along. They do that out here at the Hollywood Bowl every year. I've never gone. I suppose I should try to go and sit in the nose bleed seats (which are fantastically inexpensive) and take notes.

And I think this year we'll make a study of Christmas songs.  They have such an influence over the  season. Rudolph was invented in a Christmas song.  We love the Little Drummer Boy, but he certainly is not found in the New Testament.  Silent Night was written by a priest.

What's your favorite Christmas song? I have ten or twenty favorites. I have a few that don't exactly float my boat, either.  Not a big fan of "We Three Kings", love "O Come All Ye Faithful".

I truly love "Good King Wenceslaus".  What a great story! What great imagery! "When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even."  Beautiful! Can't you just see it? Wencelaus and his aide go trudging out on a freezing ("the frost was cruel") night  because the King has spotted a poor man feebly gathering sticks to burn. Wencelaus orders up meat and wine and logs for fuel to take to the poor man. Out they go. Wenceslaus barrels ahead while the aide struggles to keep up. Finally he informs his master that he is freezing and can't go another step. The King tells his aide to "mark my footsteps my dear page, tread thou in them boldly, you will find the winter's rage, freeze the blood less coldly."

Clumsy, I know.  But the aide does as the King says and finds that the footsteps of Wenceslaus are indeed heated.

What a great story! Such a happy tune!

Good King Wenceslaus was a real person who became known as the the champion of the wretched because of his kindness to the poor. He was really the Duke of Bohemia who was raised by his dear old grandma. He brought his country to Christianity.

Unfortunately, he came to a bad end in 929 AD or so, when he was murdered by his brother and a band of pagans. Oh, well.

Welcome to Advent everyone! Prepare ye the way!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Got Chalk?

I wrote and entire blog about St. Gottschalk and something went horribly wrong. It disappeared into the ether.  Whoever asked me about St. Gottschalk, my apologies.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Doubt It

Terrence! Of Course! Why didn't I think of that?  I am referring to yesterday's post about a man taking the name "Teresa" as his Confirmation name.  My readers have weighed in with some very helpful advice. One person suggested that the man use Mother Teresa's last name.  I thought of that as well, but I think her last name is "of Calcutta".  Her last name before she became a nun is a difficult Slavic type collection of consonants and her middle name, also difficult to pronounce, means "rosebud".  Not so manly. Unless by "Rosebud" you mean "the sled".

Moving on:

Saw your shop policies and got a doubt, why is St. Joseph, the patron saint of doubt and hesitation and not St. Thomas. If you have answered this question, kindly provide the link.

Thanking you and prayers from the land of Our Lady of Health...

Poor St. Thomas, his one moment of doubt is so famous that he is forever referred to as "Doubting Thomas".  I would hate to think that one moment of stupidity that I had would eternally brand me in history.

The gum incident springs to mind. What if I was relentlessly called "Gumwad Martha"?

St. Joseph is the patron saint of quite a number of things. He is the patron saint of carpenters and workers, since he was a carpenter and a worker.  Some people think he was not a carpenter but more of a stone mason.  Fine.  Although we would have to change a lot of holy cards depicting St. Joseph with his planers and angle irons.

He is the patron saint of buying and selling real estate.  That must be an extrapolation of the carpentry and the fact the the Holy Family moved a number of times.

He is the patron saint of Italy.

He has an aspirin named for him.

He is the patron saint of a happy death, because we feel that Mary and Jesus were right there with him when he died. It doesn't get happier than that.

He is the patron saint of travelers, since not only did the Holy Family have to move, they had to travel great distances when they moved. St. Joseph should be the patron saint of anyone who has to take a baby on a plane or a long car ride. He didn't have one of those portable DVD players on the back of the donkey.

I have to pause and say, what is the deal with that?  If you're going to park your child in front of a movie while your travel in a car, why not just stay home and park him on the couch?  Isn't the whole point of travel to see different places and how other people live?  I can rather understand it on a plane, when there really is nothing to see at a high altitude. But not in the car.  Seriously, count cows, collect license plates from other states, tell stories to each other.

I digress.

St. Joseph is the patron saint against doubt and hesitation because he had some rather understandable doubt about what seemed to be a completely impossible event. He didn't know what to do. Twice in his life angels had to come and give him advice. He really didn't believe Mary's preposterous story for a second. Who would?  An angel visited with him and told him to get with the program.

After that, he really paid attention. An angel had to come again to tell him to get his new family out of Bethlehem fast because Herod was after the Baby Jesus. Off they went. No DVD player.

St. Thomas wasn't running about doubting everything, despite his sad nickname. When the Apostles tried to talk Jesus out of going back to Bethany to bring Lazarus back from the dead because Jesus had received death threats, it was Thomas who said, "Let us go so that we may die with Him."

Thomas is thought to have travelled the farthest of the Apostles in spreading the Gospel, all the way to India. He would make a fantastic patron saint of travel.

Sacred Tradition holds that when Mary was Assumed into Heaven, all the apostles were transported to her side, but that Thomas, perhaps because he had traveled the farthest arrived at the Assumption itself and Mary gave him her girdle as she left.

Don't get silly.  A girdle then isn't the same thing as now.  Belt.  Think belt. She gave him her belt.  He is not the patron saint of ladies foundation wear.

But he is the patron saint of architecture. I suppose because he left so many churches in his wake. It seems the Church has let Thomas off the hook for his famous moment of doubt. We meanwhile look to St. Joseph to show us how to overcome it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Maria, I Just Met a Boy Named.....

There was a song a few years back, quite a few years back, that was extremely popular. It was popular enough that the sentiment and title of the song became part of our lexicon of thought. The song itself was what used to be called a "novelty" song, and  "A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash became a reference joke for years to come.

The song tells the story of a man who had to go through life with the name of "Sue" and how extremely difficult his life was with this woman's name. He spent his life angry and bitter and hating his father. His father had saddled him with the name "Sue" and then abandoned him. The song traces the man's life to the day he finally encounters his long lost father in a bar and they have a real donny brook. After the fight, Sue asks his father why he did it. There is a touching moment where the old man explains that he knew he wouldn't be around to raise the child and wanted to give him a name that would cause the boy to learn to stand up for himself.  His plan had indeed worked.  The man and his father reconcile in a tearful reunion. The final advice given by Mr. Cash (as Sue) is that if you have a son you should name him, "Bill or George! Anything but Sue!"

Which brings me to today's question from a reader, a follow up to our last post:

I've actually had a similar question, but since I'm a guy I've been much more hesitant to bring it up. I'm in the RCIA process right now and have been thinking about a confirmation name for a while, but the only saints that have really resonated with me have been female. As a protestant, I was very much drawn to the life and work of Bl. Mother Teresa, and now I find myself fascinated with St. Teresa of Avila as well. I'd pick Teresa in a heartbeat if there weren't a weirdness about a guy picking a girl's name. I'd just like to get your take on that, and if you could think of another male saint whose work closely mirrored that of Bl. Mother Teresa, I'd be happy to hear about it.

Here is my take on it.  I can't think of any saints, male or otherwise, whose work closely mirrored that of Bl. Mother Teresa. She is in a class by herself. Father Damien, who was recently canonized, famously worked with lepers, but his life is not very similar to that of Mother Teresa, really.

And Damien, thanks to another cultural reference point, is now thought of as another name for the devil, because that's the name of the little devil boy in "The Omen" ( I through XII). Not that that silliness should actually influence your choice. We know you're not going to throw anyone's mother off a balcony or run over anyone with your tricycle.

It's up to you whether or not you want to have Teresa as your Confirmation name. There is one small point you might consider. Unless someone asks you, or you want to run around blabbing your Confirmation name to everyone, no one is ever going to know what it is, except for you and God (and the St. Teresa's).  It doesn't go on to any legal documents or hospital records or anything of the kind. No one is ever going to peer over their half glasses and shout into a waiting room full of people, "Thomas William Teresa Smith? Thomas William Teresa Smith?"

If you have the nerve to have the congregation hear that your Confirmation name is "Sue"...I mean, "Teresa"....in the moment in which it is given to you by the bishop, no one need ever hear it spoken aloud again, unless someone asks you the direct question, "Hey, there, what's your Confirmation name?"

It happens. Not often, but it happens.

I can't tell you what to do. Your trepidation is entirely understandable. It doesn't seem fair that women can take on men's names with impunity and it doesn't seem to work the other way. Perhaps our readers have some suggestions.

If I were you I may be tempted to take Teresa anyhow. You are, after all, becoming a soldier of Christ. It certainly toughened up the boy named Sue.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Boy Girl Boy Girl

Now, I have a question. My daughter and I are being received into the Church very soon, and since we were both already baptized in a protestant church we can take a baptismal name when we enter (we live in Japan, and names are taken at baptism here, rather than confirmation). She is an artist and a big animal lover. Would it be alright for her to take St. Francis of Assisi or St. Luke even though she is a girl? And, of course, we would love to hear if you have any other suggestions!

Thank you!

Yes, it's fine.

Your question certainly got me to thinking, though. I was just going to point out to you that there are many nuns, our own Sister St. Aloysius among them, who have taken or been given male saints names. If it's alright for them, it's clearly alright for her.

But I was trying to think of some examples of nuns I knew with male saint names, like Sister Mary Ignatius or Mother Frances Cabrini, whose full name was Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, and I ended up with more questions than answers.

For example,  Mother Cabrini was named after Francis Xavier, but why change to the female spelling of Francis?

Then I remembered nuns whose names I have always taken for granted that they were named after some obscure saint of which I had never heard and just never gave the matter another thought. Sister Mary Arthen?  Who is Arthen?  It wasn't her last name. I distinctly remember her telling me that she was so thrilled to have a new name when she became a nun. Back then nuns were being allowed to return to their actual names if they chose.  Sister Arthen remained ever Sister Arthen because her name had been Flossie.

Florence, no doubt, but everyone had always called her Flossie and she was happy to  unyoke herself from the name of a famous cow.  But Arthen? I never asked her where that came from. There is no Saint Arthen. And even more disturbing, the word "arthen" is a Welsh  mythological creature, a river god bear. Better than a cow, I suppose.

Or Sister Mary Marillia.  Never thought about where she got her name, although it recalling her name brought forth a flood of memories.

Let's step aside for a moment, us old people, and talk among ourselves. These young folks have only ever met lovely, sweet Kumbaya nuns, and good for them. But we know better, don't we?  We had nuns that could wither you with a glance, because you knew behind that glance was a ruler with a metal edge that might soon find the palm of your hands or worse, your knuckles.  She might make you stand in the corner, put your nose in a circle on the blackboard or kneel on dried peas in the cloak room.  She might just put you in the cloak room, period, where eventually the coats all looked like ghosts or dead people hanging there in the dark.

Sister Marillia was the poster nun for this type. She looked the part, tiny old and shrivelled, her chin and nose hooking together like a wrinkled old witch. You would have been afraid of her even if you had never heard of her reputation.And what a reputation it was. At the beginning of the school year, when we would eagerly line up to read the room rosters to see "who you got this year", every incoming fifth grader was holding their breath in the clutches of fear of the worst case scenario.  One by one we heard the whispered fear when the verdict was read aloud: "Marillia."  "Oh! Marillia."

I survived my year with Sister Marillia somehow. But there were many frightening days. Many close calls and near misses. Shock and awe.  Once, there was a particularly homely boy who slid up to her desk with his $2.00 for his school photos that year.  She said to him, "You mean your parents are going to pay $2.00 for a picture of that mug?"

Kum Ba Ya.

Right, old people?

For some reason that seems to be acceptable to all for which there is no actual explanation, it's fine for woman to take male saints names, but utterly unacceptable for men to take women saints names.  You'll never meet Father Lucy.  It just doesn't happen.

I have my own theory about that, although I find it a bit sad.  There are many ways to insult women. And while there are also many ways to insult men, there is only one sure-fire way: insinuate in some fashion that he has feminine qualities. Sissy, "you throw like a girl", etc.

That's a bit sad to me, that the worse thing I can say about a man is that he is something like me.

As long as he isn't like Sister Marillia........

Monday, November 15, 2010

Is it Monday already?

I was hoping to get these patron saint matches out to you over the weekend.  I'm thinking that in the future I should maybe set aside one day each week in which to address all our patron saint requests. I'm catching up.

Sister, my daughter wants to give her boyfriend a holy medal for his birthday and is trying to find the patron saint of runners. I've googled it with little luck. I found that St. Sebastian may be the patron of athletes, but my kids are into competitive archery and we've always thought of him as their patron. (They all have medals of him in their bow cases -- you gotta love the picture of him with all the arrows.) We also call on Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati as our patron of winter sports (the kids also skate and ski). But no luck finding a patron for runners. There's got to be one, right? Thank you Sister for your awesome blog!

Good old St. Sebastian. He really is the patron saint of a lot. Did you know he is also the patron saint of pin makers? Yes. Because of the arrows...pins, arrows...things that stick into things... He is also the patron saint of the Pontifical Swiss Guards.

I suppose you all feel he's busy enough. Yes, Blessed Giorgio is the new kid on the block for youth and particularly young athletes.

Lately, St. Christopher has made a resurgence in the athletic department. You can find medals of him for just about every sport, from golf (if that really a sport? I suppose there is a lot of walking involved) to swimming, to running to ping pong. I've seen one for runners. I think it all started when the surfers adopted him as their patron saint. That makes sense, their boards keep them about the waves, St. Christopher bore the Christ Child above the water.

My favorite rendition was one in which there is a golfer teeing off in the foreground of the medal, and in the background St. Christopher is coming up over the ridge with the Christ Child on his shoulders. I can't help but think of all the people who have been beaned with golf balls when I see it. Hope that golfer yelled, "Fore!" Why do golfers yell "Fore", anyhow? Why don't they yell, "Look out!" or "Duck!"

You might also consider going with someone who covered a lot of ground. St. Peter or St. Paul who ran all over the known world spreading the Gospel. Of course, they only ran figuratively speaking. I'm sure they mostly walked. St. Paul had a horse, we know that.

Dear Sister,
I need a patron saint for a poor friend/co-worker who is consumed with guilt. She was involved in an auto accident where a pedestrian died. The accident was not her fault. I need a heavenly prayer partner to help on her behalf, and on behalf of the poor soul who lost his life.

How terrible for everyone involved. She has to find a way to forgive herself. A tall order. Those horrible moments when you wish you could just take back those few seconds in time and the tortured feeling because you cannot. When things are really dire and sad, we always turn to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Hi Sister! Is there a patron saint for those trying to lose weight and deal with stress? And also...for those of us who need a little help doing volunteer work overseas, is there any saint we can look to to help us pray for some protection?

We have a bracelet with no less than five saints for weight loss help in our shop! It is our best selling item!  Of course, you don't need to purchase the bracelet to ask for the intercession of these saints.  I suppose many people like the constant reminder of wearing the bracelet. I imagine it jangles ever time you reach into the refrigerator and clanks against the rim of the cookie jar.
There are some very great saints who did 'volunteer work overseas'. The North American Martyrs spring to mind. St. Raymond Nonnatus....

But I'd like to direct you to St. Therese the Little Flower. She never went overseas. She never went anywhere. Her life, in fact, was pointedly spent in one spot, a cloistered convent. But she had so wanted to become a missionary. That was her life's dream, so I think she would be so happy to accompany you on your journey.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Repent! If Necessary

We have a lot of patron saint matching requests, but we'll get to that over the weekend.  Meanwhile, one of our readers has been pressing for an answer to this question, which I somehow managed to lose in the recesses of my inbox. We can't have that:

received Eucharist from a protestant church by mistake, thinking it as a catholic church. Was it wrong? Was it a sin? if so, how can I repent? Please answer...

You can put your mind at rest, my dear. A sin is only a sin when you know it's a sin and do it anyhow. You must have been in an Episcopal Church.  We sometimes refer to them as "Catholic Lite".  All of the Catholic flavor but with less sin and guilt. It was probably called St. Somethingoranother and in you went. Which of these buildings is a Catholic Church?  Anyone?

No sin, just chagrin.

Just because you feel embarrassed doesn't mean that your sense of guilt must mean you sinned. Although we should feel ashamed when we sin, a sense of shame doesn't mean a sin occurred.

My Uncle Rob married my Aunt Sharon. Aunt Sharon's mother was a huge lumpy pile of mashed potatoes of a woman and my cousins called her Grandma Dumford.  It was a very descriptive name for her.  It was also actually her name. 

My father owned and operated a small grocery store that was in the family for 75 years. One day, one of his customers came in laughing.  He told my dad a hilarious story that had them both in stitches.  This man was looking out his front window when he saw an elderly woman walking down the street. As she walked her underwear suddenly just dropped to her feet and, without missing a beat,  the old lady calmly leaned over and retrieved them and put them quietly into her purse.

My father often told this hilarious story.  One day he was telling the story at a family gathering in which Grandma Dumford was in attendance and while everyone was laughing once again, Grandma Dumford said, "That was me."

Which only made it funnier. I would have dropped dead of embarrassment if that had happened to me, let alone admit, while everyone was laughing, that I was the subject of that big joke involving purses and underpants. I would have wished to turn into a puddle and trickle out through a crack in the floor.

Was anyone sinning? Of course not. The only culprit here is some worn out elastic.

I am a little surprised, however, that you would ask me how to repent. If you actually had done something wrong, like say, strolled into the wrong church, took a look around and realized that you should be down the block but thought to yourself, "Eh.  I'll just call it a day here, pick up whatever they call Communion and no one's the wiser." You should not come here and ask me what to do next.  You should march yourself over to the nearest Catholic priest holding Reconciliation and confess and HE would tell you how to repent.  And do it quickly, because the whole time you dawdle, you're running around with a mortal sin on your soul.

Whenever you sin for now on, don't stop to ask a nun what to do about it. Go to Confession.  If you don't know whether you sinned or not, we can discuss, but you're still better off just asking a priest about the whole deal. You don't want to just stuff everything into your purse.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Repeat After Me

Welcome to Monday!

We've had a lovely weekend of stray cats and relaxation. Halloween seems like hours weeks ago. We're ready for one those questions everyone asks all the time and no one seems to know the answer, although there is a very simple answer that everyone seems to forget. Perfect for a Monday!

Hello Sister,

Sorry, been on google too much this weekend and come accross all sorts of sites by mistake, one of which leads to my question. Jesus said not to use repetitive prayers as the heathens do which has lead to criticism of the rosary by non-Catholics. To be fair, it is quite repetitive, so how do we answer this to the critics?

You'll be delighted to know I can put your mind at ease. There is more than one answer to this question, so let's start with the simplest explanation and work our way up.

Isn't it nice that people take this quote out of context and just lop off words that explain what Jesus was actually talking about: "vain repetitive prayer" (according to the King James Bible)?  I would go along with the poor sad Protestants that the rosary fills the bill on that account if I thought what they seem to think about the rosary, that it's a bunch of mumbling the "Hail Mary" hundreds of times.  But we know differently, don't we?  We realize that the Rosary is a meditative prayer in which the mind if filled with thoughts of the life of Jesus as seen through His mother's eyes.

What did Jesus mean when He said "vain", anyhow?  Once again, it's not a good idea to go around interpretting the Bible on your own, especially when you have a copy that has key words and phrases changed to please British kings and queens. The King James Bible is translated from the Greek. There is no word for "vain" in Greek.  The word used means something more along the lines of babbling.

Are you babbling when you say the Rosary?  We understand that an observer might think you are. But we know you are not.

If that isn't enough to answer the critics, misguided though they are, consider this: Jesus was talking about how the pagans pray, which would translate more along the lines of "babbling repetitive (incantations) to gods who do not exist".  Now there is an explanation of "praying in vain" if I ever heard one.

Once the disciples asked Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray" and Jesus piped up with the Our Father. Should we only say that once? Or does 'repetitive' only means more than once in a day, or a few minutes, or what?

Unfortunately for us, in terms of answering the critics, the explanation lies in an understanding of what praying the Rosary actually entails and I'm not sure you're going to get very far before the critic's eyes glaze over. I have found that when it comes to the Rosary and Mary in general, the Separated Brethren would rather close their ears and hum than actually listen to the answer. They really can't seem to get past the word "Mary".  If you start your sentence with "Mary", they're done.  I might remind you, at this point, that after one brief other prayer, the Rosary pretty much starts right in with "Hail Mary.."

If you are saying the Rosary by sitting there with your beads saying dozens of Hail Mary's with no thoughts other than mumbling out the prayers (especially if you your mind is wandering about what time you have to pick up the kids and trying to remember if you told them to stand in the front or the back or under the tree or what to wait for you), then we all have a problem.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Match Made in Heaven

We're ready for our Confirmation name saint matching!

Thank you!

Let's see...
I am a wife and mother. I have 4 children now (we recently received custody of my sons 14 yr old lifetime friend!)

I have been in and out of RCIA for 6 years. Yes sadly, 6 years!

A little over a year ago I left my dream job (along with the paycheck, insurance and 401k) due to a sudden and crushing bout with Anxiety and Panic disorder.

I love children and I love animals. I cannot bare to see them hurt, hungry or mistreated.

I love to read and regularly do book reviews for various publishers.

I still feel like I don't know what the heck I am doing spiritually but I do know that the Catholic Church is where my heart is.

Other than that, my bio says that I am a self proclaimed small town girl, I can wire a three way switch, find a leak in a radiator, wire a phone line but still cry at a sappy movie and take in stray kitties :-)

I think I have the perfect saint. The problem is she's not officially a saint yet. I feel a bit remiss in not knowing if it's okay to use a "Blessed" person.  Not to worry, there is a loophole!

I believe I'd go with Mother Teresa of Calcutta! I'm sure she'll be canonized any second. 

Look at all you have in common with her!  You gather up children who you love and care for them.  She couldn't bear to see them hurt or mistreated either, so she did everything she could think of to make sure that did not happen.  I'll bet she knew how to change a tire, too.

But she suffered most of her life in Calcutta, the life for which she is famous, with crushing doubt and anxiety.  Mother Teresa had what is known as the "dark night of the soul", in which one is tormented with the feeling that God has abandoned them.  Except in her case, it wasn't a dark night.  It was a dark decade or two or three, a dark era, a dark adulthood.

Mother Teresa got a message from Jesus one day while riding a train in Europe.  He told her to go do what she did in Calcutta.  Then, according to her, He never spoke to her again.

She felt abandoned, and felt that way for almost the rest of her life.  She did it anyway. Did what was asked of her.

It's odd that she felt abandoned, looking at it from the outside.  For example, once she had a bus that was going to pick up a whole busload of children, but before they could go get the children, fighting broke out.  By fighting, I mean gunfire and explosives. So everyone told her she couldn't go in there.

She went anyway, while everyone bit their nails and fretted for her and the children.  They came through untouched.

Abandoned, indeed.

Still, she felt that way.  On top of feeling abandoned, she could never understand why. Wasn't she doing everything that was asked of her to the top of her ability every second of her life? It wasn't until the very end of her life that a spiritual advisor pointed out to her that one of the gifts Jesus brings is sharing in His suffering and that people who receive, say, the Stigmata, are suffering with Him in a very specific way.  He suggested to her that she had lived her live in "the Agony in the Garden", in which Jesus is left alone by His sleepy disciples in His greatest hour of need.

That snapped her out of it. She was overjoyed with this gift.

So imagine that!  You and Mother Teresa, struggling to be the best person you can be and to find Jesus everywhere and do everything He asks and all the while feeling full of doubt and anxiety.  But...you both do it anyway.

She'll be a saint any second, I'm sure.  And there are saints who spell their name that way, as opposed to Therese and Theresa, so no one will bother you about it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

On the Case

Hi Sister! I blog over at thouartjules.com and just received word that my annulment has been granted and am scheduled for the Rite of Reception on Nov 21 (my birthday!)

I'm so excited and did not think this day would ever come! Now I need to chose a confirmation name. Do you have any tips or suggestions?

We better get on this!  November 21st is just around the corner!

We don't know you from Adam, so we can't make any good suggestions. But we can give you some Confirmation name pointers.

Here's how everyone else does it:

1. Pick the name of a beloved relative, living or dead.

2. Pick the name of a saint that will help them do battle.  St. Sebastian, St. Michael the Archangel (recent angel flap not withstanding), St. Joan of Arc, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Thomas More, etc.

These are battle saints and you are about to become a Soldier of Christ.

Congratulations! by the way. We're so pleased.

3. Pick a saint that has something to do with you.
    a.  your job and/or hobbies.
    b.  an area in which you need special help
    c. a saint who understands your weaknesses.

I think that about covers it.  We'll be happy to match you up if you tell us a little more about yourself. 

Unless, of course, you're content to go with St. Monica after dear old Aunt Monica or something along those lines.  That's lovely, too.