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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Change of Habit

I am one confused nun.  Perhaps you, dear readers, can talk me through it.  Someone called us last evening to breathlessly announce that there was a nun on the Oscar red carpet! I thought they were joking. As far as I know, there has never been a nun at the Oscars, and besides, it's a Sunday in Lent.

So I checked it all out on the internets, and sure enough, there she was.  Not to be confused with the horrible portrayal of a nun by pretend Sister Laura Petrie in her nine pounds of mascara laden fake eyelashes and vampire eyeliner in "Change of Habit",  Sister Dolores, an actual nun, made a documentary movie about how she left Hollywood and kissing Elvis to become a nun. Her movie is called,  oh...I already forget what it's called....  something about God being better than Elvis. 

I believe my confusion lies somewhere in the dusty scripts of Hollywood and nuns.

Just the other day, I chanced upon the opening hour of Sister Audrey Hepburn in "A Nun's Story".  That is one upsetting movie.  Sister Hepburn has a humility problem that plagues her throughout the film and eventually causes her to stroll out the door in a very smart Chanel suit.  (Forgive me if you haven't seen the film and I just ruined the ending for you.  I believe I've saved you a couple of hours that could better be used saying rosaries.)  She is a very smart young lady whose deepest desire is to be a missionary and a nurse.  Some sort of fancy nurse, I believe.  A surgical nurse, perhaps.  She has the chops to do this, but Mother Superior is constantly on Sister Audrey's case about her lack of humility.

Keep in mind, that this is not ordinary humility, but nun humility.  This is the kind of humility that causes a novice to confess that she paused before acting when asked to dry the dishes because she thought maybe she should help wash them or that she sighed once when she saw the breakfast oatmeal was looking even more dry than usual.

So Sister Audrey is about to ace her nurse test that will land her in the Congo when Mother Superior calls her into the office and asks if she would be willing to prove her humility and obedience by blowing the test so that Audrey's nun nursing school rival can move ahead and be sent to the mission.

I didn't watch past that to see what Sister Hepburn decided to do. I have seen the film before and  I know she somehow ends up in the Congo, still a nun.  I was just so aggravated at such a ridiculous request. I understand that the Mother Superior wanted Sister Hepburn to have to do something huge to prove her metal.  But what about the poor people in the Congo?  Don't they deserve to have the actual best candidate for the job?  The people of the Congo hospital weep.

As do I.  It made Mother Superior look like a crazy person who is more interested in rules than in what the rules are for.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Humility. Lent. The Red Carpet.  Hollywood just cannot get nuns right.  Poor Sister Dolores is faced with the dilemma of the best publicity her message can ever get vs. that the publicity occurs on a Sunday in Lent.  I suppose she made the right choice. If she hadn't, none of us would have ever heard of her film.  Maybe her Superior ordered her to go.

I'm sure she skipped the Vanity Fair after party.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Passed Over

Dear Sister, there is a friend of mine who keeps on arguing with me that we Catholics do not celebrate Passover especially during the designated time of the year like when the Jews used to.  Please help me.

Where in heaven's name did you get the idea that we Catholics DO celebrate Passover?  Does your family have a Seder? After Temple?  Does the youngest child ask what's going on with this dinner and then someone explains the flight of the Israelites from Egypt?  Then you ate apples and honey and bitter herbs?  Is this plate in any way familiar to you?

Matzo, anyone?

I am utterly baffled by this question.  Certainly, we come from a JUDEO-Christian tradition.  Jesus and just about everyone He knew were Jews.  Everyone that started the Catholic Church was Jewish.  St. Peter and St. Paul had a huge argument about letting non-Jews become Christians at all.  (Guess who won?) The Last Supper was actually a Passover Seder.  But on Holy Thursday, when we recall the Last Supper, Seder has nothing to do with the Mass we celebrate.  We celebrate the New Covenant Jesus has brokered with God for our Salvation.  We recall moment when Jesus gives us the Holy Eucharist (which happened at this Seder dinner).  The Old Covenant is over, along with sacrificing doves and  Yom Kippur.

And our "Elder Brothers", as the Pope calls them,  still celebrate Passover every year.  What's this "like they used to" thing?  Pretty soon now, you'll see Matzo go on sale at the grocery store.  And that  wine.

I hope your friend keeps on arguing with you. There are Catholics who celebrate Seder for, I guess, historical re-enactment purposes or in the spirit of ecumenicalism.  But they're on their own.

Monday, February 20, 2012

God is Love

What should I say to people who accuse me of believing in a "Pixie in the sky" and fairy tales because I believe in God and ask me for proof that He exists? (Or do I just ignore them?) I feel like I should say something, but it's quite hard to say anything that will convince someone who starts out with these views, as they usually get ruder with each attempted defence and I don't have your gift of making sense of everything.

My absolute honest answer is to run, run as fast as you can and don't look back lest you turn into a pillar of salt.  At the point where someone is accusing you of sprinkling pixie dust, nothing you can say will convince them otherwise. The truth is that the entire reason they want to engage you at all in this discussion is to belittle you.  You may as well dance a hulu and sing "Here Comes Santa Claus" as try and testify to your faith.

Unfortunately for you, (and me) Jesus would prefer that we didn't do this. He didn't do it to the point where He was crucified for not shutting up.  He could have just shut up. He chose not to duck out.

Here is the tactic I employ.  I try not to answer right away.  I ask them what they believe. Everyone believes in something that is unseen.  Love, for example.

"Do you believe in love?"

"Yes, of course."

"How do you prove it really exists?  Neurologists say that emotions are complex neurological states in the brain that motivate us to act."

"You can show love, in how you behave toward another person."

"That is absolutely true.  Although....once in a while we find people who we believe love us because of what they say and how they behave toward us, only to be betrayed by them, or hurt by them, or beaten up by them, or murdered by them.  How do we know when love is true?  How can you tell when love is real?"

"Well...you just...you can..."

"Tell that to my friend Ruth who just got dumped by her boyfriend of three years.  Love exists.  But it can't be proved, except through time.  The answer about love is that you just have to take the risk, take the leap of faith to experience it or stay alone and lonely."

"That has nothing to do with a big man with a beard in the sky who makes up rules and sends floods to bad people."

"I think it does.  But I'm not that smart.  I like to read what actual smart people have to say. Like Einstein. He's the smartest person I can think of.  He recognized the impossibility of a non-created universe.  Einstein believed that God reveals Himself in the harmony of what exists, which actually is what motivated Einstein's interest in science.  He once said, "I want to know how God created this world, I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details."   He also said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." So, if you want to argue with someone, go argue with Einstein.  And good luck with that."

The truth is you are not going to be able to make sense of everything.  But neither are they.  If they try to explain how the world works, they are going to have the same difficulties you do.  No God?  No afterlife.  I'll bet they believe in ghosts, though. Most people do.  How do they explain that, besides admitting their own cognitive dissonance? 

In the end, it may be the best you can do to say, "I have not been rude or belittled you for your beliefs. I cannot prove to you that God exists anymore than you can prove that He does not, so I'll thank you to give me the same respect I have given you."

Make sure you have indeed done that. All people are God's creation. Even the rude ones.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Don't Need a Patron Saint, You Need a Nerd

Sister Mary Martha,
I could use a all-purpose patron saint.
I have recently returned to school to obtain my college education and earn my degree in nursing.
My difficulties started the first day. English, the one subject that I thought I would do well in, in going right straight down the toilet. Our teacher wants us to work exclusively with the computer and the internet. Nothing could have frightened me more, except the fires of Hell, of course. I am all but computer illiterate, having confidence only in the simplest of tasks.
I already have a 60 in English. My teacher said I didn't save my paper in rich text format. Huh?
When I ask her show me something on the computer, she becomes visibly agitated and states that I must learn to use the computer, or I simply won't succeed in college.
Now, due to heightened anxiety, the narrative thesis statement, outline, and bulleted list looms large before me. The assignment was assigned Friday, are due Monday. This Monday. Help!

Oops.  I hope it all turned out well for you, as I missed your saintly deadline.  We can always look to the saints for help.


Your teacher is correct.  Your professors can't hand hold you through the rest of your college career.  They call it a college "career" for a reason.  You are going to be doing it for some time to come, and to succeed at it, you'll have to approach it as the job that it is.
If you were working at Target, and the manager said to you, "We're getting in some new registers that you'll have to learn how to use",  you would never dream of saying, "Oh, I'm computer illiterate so I'll just flap around with my hair on fire until you sit here with me and show me how it all works until I get it down."  You'd play close attention to her instructions, and then you'd figure it out.

Get a grip.  Computers are SO EASY to use now.  Everything you'll need to change file formats is practically self explanatory. Have someone show you that. Computers: what was once actually rocket science, is now child's play. 

I'll do it.

Here's how you change file formats. When you save your document, under the bar that asks what you'd like to call the file is another bar that allows you to change formats. Click on the little arrow and a list of choices will appear. Click on the one your teacher wants.  The computer will do the rest.

I just don't think you need a saint for that.  You might need a sixth grader.

That's not to say that you won't need, or don't need Heavenly help.  I suggest St. Catherine of Sienna, who spent much of her career writing letters to people telling them to get their act together.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Union Label

re: unions - I expect she would be shocked and appalled at the los angeles teachers unions who have not stood up and spoken against those teachers molesting those students FOR YEARS, or objected to their receiving pensions and health care for life because they happened to file their 'quitting' papers before the 'your fired' papers get submitted. Makes you question unions, it does.

Actually, it doesn't.  Especially in the light of our own scandal in the Catholic Church which will take a century to overcome.  We will live in this glass house throughout our lifetimes and beyond.  Shall we get rid of unions and the Catholic Church?  Your logic applies to both.

How best to help the poor on a large scale, that was the question facing Dorothy Day.  As Jesus noted, "The poor will always be with us."  Apparently, even He needed a break from the crushing burden of the endless stream of destitution.

He did spend most of His time, however, telling us that we should go ahead and help them, because as we care for them, God cares for us.  Hence that "lilies" speech.  And those Beatitudes.  And all that compassion.

I wouldn't worry too much about anyone getting a union pension.  The guilty party won't be receiving it in prison.

And frankly, as I mentioned yesterday, here is where we all have such a hard time with Jesus and His radical thinking.  We still must have compassion for the perpetrator.  Too hard, right?  Too bad.  Jesus did not turn to the thief on the cross and say, "Well, you deserve this."  We must always have hope that the sinner will return to the table.  "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  He didn't add, "Unless the sin is really, really bad, then have at her."

I'm a member of a Union and it has helped me and many like me be treated with respect by our Employers (it must be said that my managers have all been fabulous, but Corporate Policy is often quite abusive of employees in my business). That said, some Unions have too much power, or use their power for very selfish ends. It doesn't make them all terrible, just like my former corporate overlords being awful doesn't make all corporations awful. I'm not sure why we make politics such a team sport in the US - it's always Us vs. Them, Good vs. Evil. Like Dorothy Day or St. Augustine (grant me chastity, but not yet) it's such a contiuum of shades of grey.

My point, exactly.  Sometimes the balance swings too far in one direction or the other, in just about everything, from what we eat to who we vilify.  Jesus' radical ideas of love and compassion for all, sinner and saint is a good place to begin the conversation.  That's how Pope Leo XIII did it.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Class Warrior

So we were invited to a Super Bowl party last evening, which turned out to be a party of four.  Sister St. Aloysius stayed home with Sister Mary Fiacre, and I bumbled over to be sociable.  We enjoyed the game and then, inevitably, because my neighbor is excruciatingly involved in politics at the local level, the conversation turned to neighborhood activism.  Most of the time, I have no idea what she is talking about.  I function as a sounding board in which her sound goes in and never comes back out. As I result, I have no clue as to how the topic came around to millionaires and billionaires and the quandary they have as to what to do with all that money.  I came to around the time she was saying something like, "You can only buy so many pairs of shoes."

"I don't think it's that difficult," I ventured. "They could randomly pay a year's worth of rent for  some people.  Or they could pay the Cobra payment of $400 per month for a year for a family or two so those people could use what is a lot of money to them for other necessary things.  It wouldn't be hard to find those people. The billionaires only need to walk out the door."

She was greatly taken aback.  Then we ate carrot cake.  Which brings me to today's question from a reader:

I was wondering- do you think, realistically, that Dorothy Day will ever be canonized?

(Thanks again for making a post giving me St. Nicholas as a saint of advocates of children. It has meant a lot to me)

You're welcome.

I'm not holding my breath on Ms. Day.  But never say never.  She is officially a "Servant of God", which means her cause to become a saint is being examined.  There are stumbling blocks.

To begin with, she was no saint.  She lived with a man, off again, on again, for many years, had an out of wedlock child with him and before that, she had two abortions.  She was a radical activist.


She had her daughter baptized as a Catholic and then she gave up her life of sin under the guidance of a local nun (Sister Aloysius!--a different one).  St. Monica must have had her back. So that's good. Sins are forgiven. The prodigal daughter is embraced.

Then there is that radical activist part.  I'm not sure how the words "radical" and "activist" have become so demonized, but they most certainly have been demonized.  The two radical thinkers on which Dorothy based her activities were Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi.

Let's not pretend that these two were not very, very radical.  They were indeed so radical, that few people, if anyone, have been able to keep up with their radical ideas and activities.  It's too hard.

The disciples of Jesus were continually questioning Him, warning Him to dial it back, asking Him if He really meant to say this or that.  And Jesus was continually admonishing them that, yes, not only did He really mean that, He really meant to take it much, much further. (Or do I mean farther?  Both, really.) His "consider the lilies" speech completely sums that up.  So do His last "marching orders" to His disciples.

And St. Francis of Assisi followed those marching orders to the letter.  I think we want people who have radical ideas that are superb to also be active.  Maybe it's just me.

Dorothy Day's inspiration for her radical social ideas about how to help the poor were drawn from the Doctrine of the Catholic Church, specifically Pope Leo XIII's encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (1891).

The problem, as far as I can tell, is that these ideas have become live wire political footballs (too many metaphors?)  Unions, for example, have been steadily vilified.  While I realize that the pendulum may have swung a bit far in the labor rights favor at some point,  I imagine Dorothy would like to remind us what life was like for workers before they had the right to unionize, how many people were murdered while asking for their rights and that there truly is such a thing as social justice.

She might make it yet.  If the Church can determine that she lived a life of heroic virtue and two miracles are attributed to her, she's in.  I find it difficult to imagine that will happen any time soon, in this political climate.  As we sit here today, she would assuredly be accused of "class warfare". People like Dorothy Day are always shouted down.

But so was Jesus.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Walls Came A Tumblin' Down

So lately, we've been talking a little about the Bible and the End Times and how confusing that all is and in the middle of all of that, we got this question:

Speaking of the Bible, I have been reading it (but also the footnotes and Catholic interpretations!) and I am sort of flummoxed by one book: Joshua. In it, Joshua and Co. go into the future promised land, kill everyone (young and old, man and woman) and take the place for their own, all because God told them to. I've tried to find a Catholic answer for how this is okay, but no one seems to answer the question. Some apologists have said "God gives life and can take it away", which is fine by me, only God isn't doing the taking. God is telling people to invade another land and commit genocide on the inhabitants! It's not even a war of defense. How are we to understand this book? Did God really tell the Israelites to do this to the letter? Did Joshua misinterpret Him? How could God command his people to do something evil? Am I missing something? Please help!

I can't.  I don't understand it either.  How's that for frankness?

It seems to me that if something is bad, slavery for example, it's always bad.  And if something's good, like monogamy, it's always good.  And if something is important to God, like sacrificing doves and lambs, it should always be important.

At least we can get our brains around the idea that God's Son sacrificed Himself so we don't have to stock the garage with pigeons to atone for our sins. There's one down, anyhow.  But no one bothers to ask why God ever wanted all those dead animals in the first place.

But slaughtering a whole village, babies included? When would that ever be okay? God doesn't care about kittens?  Because they got washed away in the Great Flood, too.  So did those cute baby monkeys.

So I can't help you, except to say that, I just leave God to God.  If you take a look at His creation, you'll be pleased to note that He really knows what He's doing.  For example, He thought to make us waterproof.  What if, every time you got wet, you had to wait to drip dry, or "lay flat to dry" like your good wool sweater.  I would not have thought of that if I were making a person, or a frog.

We were just talking yesterday about the Last Judgment and how that will be what is thought of as a "general judgment" in which whole populations are judged all at once.  No one seems to be concerned that innocents will be lumped in with that judgment.  I don't see how one is different from the other, really.

Apparently, God went with a general judgment and asked Joshua to carry it out.  (I do think that if Joshua had misinterpreted what God said, Joshua would have heard about it from God.)

Maybe the slaves and the extra wives were a good idea because they all converted to believe in one God.

It's a Sacred Mystery, as far as I'm concerned. And you know what that means.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

End of the World II

We've heard from readers who have weighed in on yesterday's post. I always welcome everyone's two cents, because together with mine, we have four cents and before we know it we can buy candy.

I thought the judgement after you die is the "personal judgement" and at the end of time is the "general judgement" at which all people (the quick and the dead) will be united to their glorified bodies (which will be doubly great if you then go to heaven and doubly bad if you go to hell).

Yes, there is that.  I thought I would keep it simple, since the next thing you know, once you start talking about Judgment Day, people start selling their houses and walking off into the wilderness.  It has been a personal pet peeve of mine that whenever there is talk of the "End Times", people in every era since the death and resurrection and Ascension of Christ into Heaven were completely certain that THEY were living in the End Times.

The run up to the End Times has the peculiar distinction of applying to every age: wars, famine, evil and crazy weather.  Wait! That's happening now!  Must be coming tomorrow!

I try to point out to people that things were much, much worse at other times in history than there are now, but, having not personally experienced any of that for themselves, even though they watch "Downton Abbey" and watched the History Channel before it turned into "What Hillbillies Are Up To Today", they don't believe me.

I try to not point people in the direction of reading up on it, as they inevitably walk away scared to death with their hair on fire.  But here we are.  Let's skip the build up for how we know the End Times are coming since, although there is a list of 'signs', the Bible also tells us we will never know the hour.  Here is what the Catholic Church has to say about the Judgment itself (and may I suggest you grab a soothing cup of tea, take a deep breath and open both ears so the information can just flow right back out again):

The Roman Catechism thus explains why, besides the particular judgment of each individual, a general one should also be passed on the assembled world: "The first reason is founded on the circumstances that most augment the rewards or aggravate the punishments of the dead. Those who depart this life sometimes leave behind them children who imitate the conduct of their parents, descendants, followers; and others who adhere to and advocate the example, the language, the conduct of those on whom they depend, and whose example they follow; and as the good or bad influence or example, affecting as it does the conduct of many, is to terminate only with this world; justice demands that, in order to form a proper estimate of the good or bad actions of all, a general judgment should take place. . . . Finally, it was important to prove, that in prosperity and adversity, which are sometimes the promiscuous lot of the good and of the bad, everything is ordered by an all-wise, all-just, and all-ruling Providence: it was therefore necessary not only that rewards and punishments should await us in the next life but that they should be awarded by a public and general judgment."

I know. "Blah, blah, blah", right?  What are you to glean from this?

1. What I said yesterday.

2. What I left out yesterday: that if you are already dead and in Heaven OR Hell, you will be reunited with your physical body.  Which I believe is a very good incentive to stay in shape. This is eternity we're talking about.

What are we to make of this "general judgment" stuff?  A few years ago I had jury duty.  We sat in the jury pool room all day. They had told us that once the clock struck four, we would have missed out on being called up and we wouldn't have to come back, that our obligation would have been met. At 3:45, they called us in to begin the process.

It was too late in the day to do anything but nail us all for duty the next day. We were instructed to come back in the morning at 9am sharp OR ELSE.  There was a young man and his lawyer and maybe his mother in the courtroom.  He looked like what people would call a "gang banger".

So, at 9Am the next day, back we were.  The boy was not there.  The judge informed that a deal had been struck and we were done.  On the way out, we all packed into the elevator, expressing our relief and speculating about what had happened.  Referring to the young man, one lady said, "Well, he must have done something or he wouldn't be there."

And I said, "That's exactly what the Dutch said about Ann Frank when they led her family out of the attic."

I believe it gave her pause.

What are we to make of the General Judgment?  Let's not be the Dutch.