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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Lesson of Sal Mineo

Welcome back to all the folks who gave up the internet for Lent!  


We've had a lovely Easter capped off by the always wonderful plethora of Bible movies. Deviled eggs and " Greatest Story Ever Told" make for a great relaxing Easter evening. Although, I must admit, that at some point during the film, perhaps when both Sal Mineo and Shelley Winters are cured by Jesus within minutes of each other, the movie begins to feel like a Bible version of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in terms of cameo star power. Ah well, a glorious movie, none the less. 


Now to catch up on some questions:


 Hello Sister,
Something I read today suggested Jesus didn't try and communicate with Herod when presented to him as he knew that grace would not reach him as he lead such a sinful life. It also suggested that He prayed for and agonized over Judas. As anything is possible with God I don't understand why both of these men could not have had their hearts changed. If it's a case of them having a role to play in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem fair that they were not given the opportunity to change while we are. If it's a case of having free will and having to want to change and accept graces is there any point in praying for people who have no intention of changing to change? Sorry, I find it all very confusing.


To begin with, both men always had the opportunity to change.  They had free will. No one took anything away from them.  The miracles of Jesus had nothing to do, ever, with Jesus changing someone's mind through His power as the Son of God.  


Take Sal Mineo's miracle moment in "The Greatest Story Ever Told".  He is lame (meaning his feet are all twisted, not his acting ability).  When Jesus tells Sal to arise and walk, Sal responds that there must me something the matter with Jesus, since Sal's affliction is so obvious. Jesus tells him to walk anyhow, saying to Sal, more or less, "Just do it." With each step, Sal Mineo's leg untwists a little more until he is walking, cured of his affliction. 


Sal Mineo:  You cured me!


Jesus: Your faith cured you.


God does not change your heart for you. You have to do that yourself.  Herod would have had to to that himself. Judas would have had to do that himself.  We pray for grace, for God to work within us or others, but everyone will always have free will to turn from that grace.


As for the Great Scheme of Things....that's Sacred Mystery territory. If you are a regular reader you'll know what I mean by that.  The Church defines a Sacred Mystery as that which we are not even meant to understand, God's wisdom that is beyond our capacity as humans to ever understand.  I define it to mean, "Just let it go."


Sacred Mystery=Catholic for "just let it go."


Here's an example: Mary had free will. She could have said no when asked to be the Mother of Jesus. We all know she didn't, but she could have. Yet, Mary was born without Original Sin on her soul (the Immaculate Conception) because God knew she would be the Mother of Jesus, though she could have said no, He knew she wouldn't, but she still could have, but He knew she wouldn't, but....


Sacred Mystery.


Without free will, we are indeed role players, pre-programmed robots, in the Great Scheme of Things. How that all works along with God's omnipotent knowledge....




Sacred Mystery.


I'll bet this didn't help you much.  Just let it go.  I'll admit that I am always very happy to do this. There is so much in this world which we must understand. Math, what causes obesity, what things infuriate or calm the people with whom we share oxygen, street signs that are just some kind of vague symbol, which way to turn the car wheels when parking on a hill, how long the milk will stay fresh if you leave it on the counter, what happens if you mix bleach and ammonia, why you should never mention the Korean War to Grandpa Bill, how come it's better to live a life of compassion and forgiveness as opposed to one of judgement and competition, what Jesus meant when he said, "Consider the lilies"...


It's a relief that there are things that I am not expected to understand. I am happy to leave them to God.











Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Curtain Up

I'm not sure how I managed to eat something that made me sick during days of fasting, but I did.  The Poor Souls in Purgatory greatly benefited from my bout with food poisoning, not only from my own suffering, but also that of poor Sister St. Aloysius, who had two invalids in her care.  Although, between fasting and my lack of ability to eat, she had a easy time in the kitchen at least.  However, when they say, "God never closes a door without opening a window" I don't think this is what they mean. At all.


So here I am with a PILE of questions from readers. As I am a bit light headed, we'll just chase some grounders.  Unfortunately, then we descend into the meat and potatoes of Holy Week, so we'll go dark until Easter.  Feel free to keep the questions coming, though. I'll catch up while biting the ears off a chocolate rabbit and feasting on my favorite treat, deviled eggs.  Ironic name.


My question is, why do we cover the statues this last week before Easter? (It used to be two weeks and I remember the ushers going along with long poles and removing them.) I should have had sense enough when a child asked me Monday to look it up before another one asked on Tuesday.


The easy answer is that we do that do turn our focus to the Passion of Jesus.


Which, frankly doesn't make sense to me altogether, since the whole reason for having statues is to help us keep our focus on Jesus, by remembering people who did that and examining how they did it and drawing strength from them.


Perhaps we are finally more closely aligned with the thinking of our separated brethren. During Holy Week, it's all about Jesus, period.


There's more to it than that, however.  For one thing, it's up to the local Bishops as to what gets covered and when. There are different traditions and practices in different places. Some churches actually remove all the statues. Some cover them for the whole of Lent, some just for Holy Week. Some leave the statues alone and only cover the crucifixes.  This is the most common practice, as the crucifix is then slowly revealed during the Good Friday service. Which doesn't make much sense if it wasn't covered in the first place.


Also, the origin of this tradition is in--well, not debate exactly.  There is just more than one explanation and I'm not sure any one is definitive.


Remember that at one time in the history of the church we didn't have confessionals and penitents couldn't even enter the Church building?  No?  Here you go.  Later, the entire congregation became penitents on Ash Wednesday, so everyone was cut off' from the altar during Lent and the whole altar was covered with a giant purple drape that was ripped open on Good Friday, just like in the Gospel when the Temple veil was ripped.


Having a giant purple curtain cutting us off from "God" is, symbolically speaking,  the essence of Lent. Our sins keep us from God, this is our focus.  This tradition changed to covering the statues and the crucifixes.


However, I did hear another explanation for the covering of the crucifix, which I'm sure has some validity. In the very early Church, crucifixes were ornate, jewel encrusted things.  It made sense to cover them during Lent, and the tradition of covering them stayed after crucifixes became more plain and ever more graphic.


I think seeing the practice in this historic context gives us a better sense of what we mean by "focusing on the Passion of Christ".  It would seem that looking at a crucifix would be the very best way to focus on the Passion of Christ, don't you think? Unless you fully take into account why Christ had to have a Passion, our sins, which cut us off from God, although He is there always, behind the curtain of our sins.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cat Saints

Love the story about St. Clare's cat, but the official Patron Saint of Cats and cat lovers is St. Gertrude of Nivelles.

We know.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cat Lassie

Hi, Sister! My friend is about to get confirmed and needs a saint. There's a picture of Clare of Assisi in our church, and in the picture she is holding a cat. My friend was interested because she loves cats, but I have no idea why there was a cat in that picture. Do you? (My friend also loves American literature, in case there's a saint for that...) Thank you!


So exciting for your friend to become a Soldier of Christ! Is your friend a couch potato? Because St. Clare is also the patron saint of television. And embroidery. My mother embroiders while watching television. And right now, our little statue of St. Clare appears to be watching television because whoever dusted the TV stand put her back down facing the tube.


But I digress. St. Clare's cat and his busy job falls under the category of the miracles of St. Clare. Jars of olive oil miraculously filled as she passed by. The sick were healed by her prayers. When she was too sick to leave her bed, the Mass being celebrated miles away appeared on her sick room wall. She could even name everyone who was in attendance. (Hence her patronage of television.  Long before anyone thought of "Mass for Shut-ins".  It's a sin, by the way, to "attend" Mass for Shut-ins if you're not shut in.)


And she had a cat.  This cat would bring her whatever she needed when she was so ill she couldn't get up. Isn't that nice?  Because, you know, cats really don't behave that way. 

For a saint for American literature, I think we're going to have to extrapolate a bit and say that, as we look to American literature for that which is uniquely American, we should look for a saint who is uniquely American. I would proffer St. Elizabeth Seton, the very first American Saint. We have other saints who lived in America and are considered to be American saints (the North American Martys, Mother Frances Cabrini), but they were born in other countries. Elizabeth, born in New York in 1774,  was the first person from America to be canonized. She founded St. Joseph's Academy which became St. Joseph's College. I would imagine her students also read American literature. She is the patron saint of Catholic schools.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mystery Saint

The parish where I normally attend 7:30 AM Mass decided to move it to noon during Lent, so I've been attending morning Mass at a different parish lately. 

They have a beautiful mural depicting about twenty saints gazing down upon the altar from the wall above. They're mostly 19th and 20th century saints with lots of nuns and priests, and the artist made it relatively easy to identify them. Saint Faustina's easy because she's holding the picture of the Divine Mercy. Saint Maximillian Kolbe is wearing prison garb. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina is wearing the brown habit of the Capuchins and the stigmata are easily visible. And Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is easy to identify by the black bonnet she is so often depicted wearing. 

But there is one nun that baffles me. She is wearing the traditional habit, but she is holding what appears to be a platter inscribed with the Star of David. I've searched myself blue in the face on the Internet, but can't find any reference to a saintly nun whose symbol is a platter with the Star of David. 

Can you help? 

Joe Pacuska


That must be Edith Stein, also known as Sister Teresia Benedicta  of the Cross.  She was a German Jewish girl who converted to Catholicism at age 31 and became a Carmelite nun.


She's a bit controversial, however.  If I remember correctly, she was canonized because she was considered a martyr by Pope John Paul II (and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints). She died  in the gas chamber at Auchswitz  concentration camp. The controversy lies in why she died in a concentration camp.  The Church feels that she died a martyr to the Catholic church because she was brought to Auchswitz because she was a nun who was an outspoken writer on the evils of the Nazi Party.  Therefore she died because she was upholding the teachings of the Church and that makes her a martyr for the faith.  A lot of other people believe she was brought there (and died) because she was a Jew. She had a lot in common with Jesus and the Apostles.


Whatever. As I understand her story, and how the Church hid her from the Nazis and why, both things are true.


She is a saint in heaven, we know that, because she would have had to have two miracles to be canonized. So, end of story.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Gem of God

The Peanut Gallery has spoken about St. Gemma.  She's a hit! Which is very nice, since during her life and her beatification process, things didn't go well for her at all. Three cheers for Gemma!


She was a pretty lady. What I always have a hard time understanding about people like her, the living saints, is that they are "overcome with sorrow for their sins." Like she was before she got the stigmata. What sins? It's like Pope John Paul II going to confession every day, which I heard he did do.


Yes, as Pope, that's something you're going to want to do.  We do call it "Reconciliation" these days, as in "reconciling with God".  The sin pyramid for who gets punished the most for their failures has the clergy and nuns and religious leaders at the top, parents next. That would put the Pope on the very tippy top since he's head of everything and everybody.


During their lifetimes, saints certainly do struggle with sin. If St. Teresa of Avila were alive today, she'd be confessing her penchant for reading People Magazine and enjoying perfume and cute shoes, because that's the type of thing she really liked. It embarrassed her no end.


But if you get right down to it, you'll find that the No. 1 source of sin for saints was chastity and such was the case with Gemma, according to her own writings.  That's what hair shirts are for.  Gemma had one.


Dear Sister,
I love love love your blog=)I would like to know which Saint I should pray to for my father. He has spinal stinosis and to top it all off he has lost all the fat in the soles of his feet.He can hardly walk.His neck is fused, he has had bone removed from his lower spine and now his feet feel like he is walking on glass.But i must say he is a most amazing man.It is not very often you hear him complain.Thank you so very much.On a side note I want to say the Saint of the day is Saint Jerome only because that is my dad's name.





Thanks!  I suggest St. Bernadette for your poor father. Poor man. I do believe that St. Peter is the patron saint of foot ailments, though.  I have to guess it's because he walked all over the world.  But poor little Bernadette also suffered with a myriad of ills, very painful.  Lourdes, the Lady told her, was not for Bernadette. Not much was for Bernadette here on earth.






Fewer diseases these days and advanced medical cures seem to have translated, perhaps into fewer saints?(Unless they are in Italy). An awful lot of them had physical ailments to overcome, didn't they!
Maybe we should be looking for saints in places like school tuckshops, and homes with five children under 10 at bathtime - saints in abundance there! Not to mention all the middle-aged daughters caring full time for frail parents AND busy teena
gers at the same time. Or the young teenagers looking after mentally-ill mothers, which seems to be happening a lot more often for some reason.

Cometh the hour, cometh the saint.



Also, in recent years, that is exactly where the Church has been searching for saints.  Pope John Paul II put out a call to find married saints.  I think St. Gemma's parents ought to be up for discussion.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Saint Prayer Circle

One of my companions is suffering from serious back problems. What patron should I pray with for him?
Is there anything worse?  I suppose there might be.  Keeping in mind that finding a patron saint for back pain involves finding a saint that had back problems, yes, boy and howdy, do we have a patron saint for you! And your friend.
St. Gemma Galgani was already holy and pious as a little child. She wanted nothing more than to head off and become a nun. The Visitation nuns were her ticket, she believed, because Gemma had a very special relationship to Jesus in His Passion and the Visitation nuns are the order that boasted (well, not boasted, nuns don't boast...we hope) St. Margaret Mary.  You may remember her. She had a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that resulted in the entire Church embracing that devotion.
Now the story becomes truly fascinating, as saints, saints in waiting and saints in the making all form a daisy change of Heavenly help and intervention.
Here we have St. Gemma, now a young woman of 20 (1898),  living in poverty after the death of her parents, stricken with incurable meningitis of the spine and living with her Aunt. Gemma's back pain became so severe that she was bedridden and, before long, paralyzed, only able to move her head and arms and only able to move or change positions if someone did it for her. She had severe headaches, tumors all over her spine and her hair fell out.  Being a saint in the making, Gemma never complained and only smiled at those caring for her. In an effort to help her, doctors cauterized her spine in 12 places with no anesthetic. She never made a sound. She had to wear an iron back brace at all times. Now her back brace is a Second Class Relic.


Like Padre Pio's sock.  Unless Padre Pio's sock has blood on it from his Stigmata wounds.  Then it would be a first class relice. But I digress.
Poor Gemma was torn. She wanted to die and go to Heaven and be with Jesus, but she didn't think she should pray to die. Her confessor asked her to make a novena to St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus for a cure.
St. Margaret Mary still needed her second miracle, the miracle that would hasten her canonization, so the Visitation nuns were excitedly waiting the outcome of the novena. Poor Gemma started her novena and then forgot about it.  Began again, forgot again and started again.
Sound familiar?  Considering the horrible condition that Gemma was is in, with nothing to do but lie in bed and pray or stare at the Cross (which is exactly what she had been doing) you'd think it wouldn't be too hard for her to remember she had started a novena.  Maybe now you won't feel so bad when you forget about your novena for your financial woes and your doctoral orals.
On day three of the non-novena, St. Gabriel Possenti appeared to Gemma and asked her if she wanted to be cured. Faced with a saint from Heaven, Gemma said yes. Gabriel said he'd come every day and help her pray her novena, which he did. Gabriel, a Passionist brother who died from tuberculosis  in 1862 was not a officially saint himself yet, although, obviously as he was dead and came from Heaven, he was a saint.  Beatified in 1908, he was canonized in 1920 (a delay caused by World War I). He was 24 years old at the time of his death.


The day after her novena ended, Gemma arose from her bed, fully cured. One would think that her life was all moonbeams and lollipops after that. She shot off to join the Visitation nuns. They were so tickled with her and her miraculous cure from her Sacred Heart Novena and the intervention of St. Margaret Mary, they treated her like royalty (unlike what happened to another visionary, St. Bernadette when she entered the convent).  They couldn't wait to get a Visitation habit on her and she couldn't wait to don one. To everyone's dismay, the Confessor for the convent would not accept her, claiming that her health was at issue.


In his defense, she had had meningitis (some thought spinal tuberculosis), and  he didn't want to have to press Heaven for a miracle cure package deal if the whole convent became infected.  


Now Gemma was all at sixes and sevens as to what to do with her need to align herself with suffering of Jesus and leave the secular world behind.


And then one day, she was overwhelmed with sorrow for her sins and BAM, she ended up with the Stigmata.  She tried to hide it from everyone, but it really doesn't work to hide bleeding hands, feet and side or when you begin sweating blood because someone in the room (your brother) has blasphemed. She was vilified and mocked and accused of trying to get attention. Her stigmata appeared every Friday and lasted until the following Sunday. Even her confessor was slow to believe what was happening.


Like Gabriel, she died young of tuberculosis, after spectacular suffering from the disease. She was 25.  St. Margaret Mary died at age 24.  If they had lived at the same time in the same place, the three would have been pals, contemporaries.  Actually, they were anyhow.