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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

True Grit

We've had quite the discussion from the Peanut Gallery on the last post on the Patron Saint of Etiquette. I hope you can take the time to read through the thoughtful thoughts of our compassionate readers.

I wish I had had the wherewithall to sum it all up as nicely as one reader's mom did: "something my mother always said, "the people who are hardest to love are the ones who need it the most."

Ain't it the truth?

Happily for me, I know our readers will also weigh in on this complex and gritty problem:

A question: Do I allow a 14 year old girl (very good, kind, naive, religious girl), to have popular rock songs on her ipod that are riddled with sexual innuendo (if you want to call it innuendo!), and other nasty themes? She doesn't know about the birds and the bees yet (homeschooled!), and just loves music, the beat, etc. I feel like the Grinch telling her she's got to go find something more suitable, as almost nothing on the local radio station is suitable (especially when I consider my choices at her age), but yet I feel a horrible pang of guilt every time I download another icky pop favorite for her. I've explained my reluctance to her in that most of these songs glorify sin, especially against the 6th commandment. She doesn't quite get what that means. Is it time for 'the talk'? Do I cut the cord on the music? Am I overreacting? Any input would be appreciated!

Would that we could all just stick our fingers in our ears and hum. But, no such luck.  School, whether at home or seated in a roomful of the great unwashed, is a preparation for life outside the classroom.

She's 14 and you haven't had "the talk"?  You wouldn't have gotten away with that had she gone to school outside your home.  Not that that is a bad thing, but any second, she could walk out your front door and be very, very unprepared for life as the rest of us know it.

It's lovely that you've managed to keep her innocent for so long.  These days, most children have had the rudimentary "talk" by age 7 or so, and because of all the hormones in our milk products, the rest have had the full explanation, complete with a power point show, by age 9.

I think you've bypassed your dilemma. Here is your actual dilemma: You can download all the songs you want and feel no guilt whatsoever because she doesn't get one word of the innuendo or otherwise.  They may as well all be in French, or Swahili.  What difference does it make, really if she doesn't understand any of it?  It really is just a beat.  As long as she doesn't bop around town singing it, nothing bad has happened.

I saw "A Streetcar Named Desire" on TV once when I was too young to know what was going on.  I thought Stanley was kind of mean to Blanche and that was the end of that.  I felt sorry for Blanche because she wasn't married and wanted to be married and I thought it was mean of that homely man, Carl Malden, to dump her because she had had boyfriends along the way.  Of course she did!  She was in her forties!  Go live with your mother, Carl!

Now I realize what was going on there. 

Once you have that talk, you're going to also have to decide how to handle this.

Growing up is about handling things yourself.  She's going to have to decide what to do about all of this.  At that point, you can tell her you will no longer download things you find inappropriate.

That doesn't mean she'll never hear any of it, or find a way to listen to it, or end up downloading it herself at some point, unless you lock her in the basement where there's no internet reception.

Keep this in mind, you can't be good without bad.  If there was no bad, good wouldn't be a choice.  She has a solid foundation in good, but she's always going to have to choose it, just like the rest of us.

And it's not always so black and white and easy breezy lemon squeezy.  I remember when Elvis Presley couldn't be shown on television except for his head because he gyrated his hips.  Now when you see those old videos, he just looks like he's swinging his knees all around.  At least, that's what it looks like to me.  But then I never could figure out what all went on in "Suddenly Last Summer".  My point is, even with things that seem terrible and sinful, times do change.  Hence the phrase "a well turned ankle."

Maybe you can get her interested in Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

I'm sure our readers will have a lot to say!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Patron Saint of Etiquette is You

Dearest Sister,

I need your help! Who is the patroness of etiquette? There is a new teacher at my daughter's school who is (and I hate to say this) annoying. She was hired because her qualifications are impeccable, her recommendations - glowing. She must have done well during her interview. (Most anyone can hold it together for 45 minutes when being interviewed.)I've been to see the principal, and he is beside himself! The poor teacher simply seems not to know any etiquette, and now she is under contract for the whole year. The principal says that unless she does something (or fails to do something) specifically stated in her contract, he really has no grounds to let her go. It seems our institutions of higher learning are allowing basic skills to go by the wayside. How can it be that someone holds a Masters degree, yet she mispronounces several basic, English words. For example: Ek-specially. Wunst-a-while (once in a while) Prolly (probably) and koont (couldn't). This is a person for whom English IS the first language. Additionally, she chews gum with her mouth open (in my day, we didn't dare chew gum!) sits with her legs apart, and interrupts people when they are speaking by talking over them. She can get very loud. And, when she laughs (usually at her own jokes) it sounds more like grunting or cackling. The other teachers do not know how to bring these things to her attention without hurting her feelings, so everyone just avoids her. I could say more, but I would much prefer to simply leave it at that. Any advice? Where can I find a good book on professional etiquette! The principal says he plans to let her go when her contract expires (she thinks it is because enrollment is going down) but he has written a glowing recommendation for her, hoping to dump his problem on someone else. He does not feel the least bit guilty over it, because he is sure that her last employer did exactly that, which is how he got saddled with her. I am trying to teach my daughter the importance of good manners so she will be successful in the world. I tell her that first impressions make lasting impressions, and that good manners are a way that we can all show respect and charity toward one another. On the upside, being around this person causes me to take a serious look at myself and ask what I may be doing that is annoying to others. I know that when we point a finger at someone else, we are pointing 3 back at ourselves. However, if someone doesn't do something to help this poor young lady, she will go from job to job, and may never realize that she simply lacks good manners!
Thank you so much for your time,

That's quite a list.  Yes, you could buy her a book on etiquette, but then she'll just know which fork to use and how to write a proper thank you note.

Here's what you can't do: tell her she 'laughs wrong'.  I'm sorry you don't care to hear her laugh, but people laugh how they laugh, hyena, donkey or howler monkey.

I would try an entirely different tactic.  Love her, warts and all. The poor thing seems to have no friends.  Her off putting laugh, her gum chomping and overbearing style of conversation has made her a social pariah, which is a never ending spiral of loneliness and misunderstanding.  Perhaps if there was someone who could be a little more tolerant, just a little more tolerant, that person would have her ear and then that person could say things like, "Oh, darling, watch out with your knees there! We can see all the way to the Jupiter..."  or  "Excuse me, I wasn't finished making my point. If you would just let me finish."  A friend can tell her, "I don't care much to talk to you when you talk over me."

I do grow weary of the the phrase, "What would Jesus do?"  but He did have some difficult people around him. Today is the feast day of St. Mark, the Evangelist.  St. Mark had traveled with St. Paul and after that St. Paul specifically requested that St. Mark not travel with him on the next trip.  Perhaps St. Mark was a gum chewing over talker.  Maybe he snored.

But in the end, St. Paul asked Mark to visit him in prison.  We'll never know if Paul asked Mark to take that gum out of his mouth.

Also, make another list.  The list of things she does well.  The list of things that are lovable about her.

I can tell you this: it takes a brave person to befriend the social pariah.  Because a person who befriends a social pariah runs the risk of becoming a social pariah themselves.

Jesus was a bit of a social pariah, precisely for this reason.  I guess we now know what He would do.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sixteen Tons

How do I know where I am supposed to work? I have a job now. My husband is job-seeking. I get job offers and interview requests frequently. How do I know if I should go to another place or stick it out here?

Well, if you don't know, how on earth can I help you? What's your job? What are the job offers? Do you have to move? Would you make more money? Would you have more time or less time for your family life?  Is where you work now a horrible sinful place where you are surrounded by evil? Are your co-workers dragging you into a life of sin?  Are you put upon so much so that you feel used and abused?  Is there health insurance?

You have to ask yourself every one of these questions. Make a pro and con list.   In the end, if this is the only job that has health benefits, stay.

A job isn't just a job.  It can be where you spend almost all of your time.  You are giving all your time away for what, exactly?

1. Fulfillment. All jobs are not created equally.  Some are mind numbing, sand pounding days of dullness as thick as a layered bean dip.  Some are kind of pleasant at best.  And some are important and engaging. 

But don't think that if you are just a bean counter or a shelf stocker that your job can't be fulfilling.  As long as you do your job with a sense of purpose, that sense of doing good work and being needed will stretch itself across your life.

If you find yourself "phoning it in" everyday, maybe it's time to move on if there's someplace to go. As long as that place has health insurance.  Don't go from a job where you have insurance to one in which you don't.

2. A paycheck.  This is nothing to sneeze at!  Are you making enough to make ends meet?  Do you need more for food, rent, clothing?  If the answer is yes, you should be looking for something better.  Don't go backwards in your salary.  Unless you don't have insurance now and the new job pays a little less or the same but has benefits.  Then it's worth the move.

3. Loyalty.  Also nothing to sneeze at! There's not enough these days.  Still, you have a family to take care of, even if your family only consists of you and your husband just now.

I get the idea that your job is no fun.  But why?  This is an important question.  It could be that it's just not fun, what you do, like being a public defender.  No fun and low pay.  But perhaps a  great sense of fulfillment. 

There are reasons to stick it out if your job stinks.  That paycheck. Those benefits.  If you're just put upon, or your co-workers are icky to you, the only way you are going to survive is to change your attitude, because they are not going to change.

I believe that one of the reasons the world never changes is that, for the most part, human beings have the tendency to say to themselves, "Why am I the one who has to bend over backwards to accommodate these clowns?  They should get it together!"  That's why Jesus was such a radical. He said to everyone, "No. You have to love them as you love yourself. You have to change to behave that way.  Chances are it won't change them. But it will change you."

Meanwhile, we turn to St. Joseph the Worker, our patron saint of workers.  Granted, he didn't have someone in the next cubicle snapping their gum and making personal phone calls at the top of their lungs and eating whatever food is in the break room whether it belongs to them or not.  But he did have the whole town looking at him sideways because of the unusual situation with his wife and son.

We all have our crosses to bear.  I hope yours has health insurance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Glimmer of Hope

I am still very behind on catching up to all the questions! But today I have to address a serious question with no time to spare in answering.

I have lost my will to live. Which saint can I request intervention concerning the sin of despair?

Hold my hand while I say gently to you that you have not lost your will to live. Not yet. Not quite. Something is causing you to hang on by your toenails, and not only reach out to a blog, but to ask for help.  For a patron saint.

That would give you something to focus on outside your despair, even though it's all about your despair.

Yes, despair is, in fact, a sin.  That seems rather unfair, since some depression is not just sad lazy thinking, but a medical condition.  You can't sin if you're not responsible for sinning.  It's very possible that you're not sinning at all.

Let's talk about that for a moment.  Why is despair a sin?  Very simple: with God there is always hope. So to despair is, in some way, a denial of God's power and grace.

But I think it's very possible to feel hopeless and desperate and kind of forget all about God while being stuck in the ever increasing oppression of depression.

So you have actually raised up your head, just high enough, to ask God to help you, because when we pray to a saint, we are only praying (asking, petitioning) for the saint to pray to God with you, for you.

Please make sure you seek medical help, too, and/or a therapist.  These things can make a world of difference.

All the while, Heaven will help you.  St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes, but not because he suffered from depression or had a terrifically difficult life.  He made have had a rather jolly life, for all we know. Although, I rather doubt it, as one of the first Apostles (he replaced Judas), I imagine he met with a lot of jeers and resistance.  The reason he is the patron saint of the hopeless, is precisely because of his relative obscurity.  Since we know almost nothing about him, someone figured that no one gave him much thought and therefore, no one was praying for his intercession, leaving him with eternity on his hands and not much to do.  That would give him time to tackle the really hard stuff.

And as we all know, he has turned out to be really good in that area.  By now, though, he must be very busy.

I would go with Mother Teresa, who is surely in Heaven.  She suffered her 'dark night of the soul' for most her her working life.  And while she felt abandoned by God, she never let that slow her down in her faith or her work or her life.  I would think she could sympathize with you completely.

Also, there is the lovely St. John of God, who was so lost for so long in his life, only to wake up to the grace and power of God.  He was in a mental institution at the time.

Know that everyone who reads this will be praying for you, just like the saints.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


You may recall that I found out long ago that at some point in time in the ever more distant past, Sister St. Aloysius had suffered from a brain tumor.  As many of you who have had some sort of catastrophic illness can attest, having this type of thing happen to you can change your outlook on life considerably.  I have had some very interesting discussions with her as a result.

On this beautiful spring day, a letter from a reader called to mind one of those talks:

Dear Sister Mary Martha,
I'm sorry to be posting this in a comment on another post, but I don't know how else to reach you. I have a serious problem: I live in an apartment building, and the people above me are insufferably loud. Not "normal" loud, but jumping, running, bouncing balls, dragging things across the floor kind of loud. In the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening—it never stops. The residents there are a woman and her young son, and I have tried explaining to her multiple times that their activities sound like an earthquake in my ceiling that shakes my walls and nearly topples my bookshelves. She is very nice, but insists that she can't believe it's that loud, and that she can't control her son, that he's "just at that age". I have tried complaining to the front office and they have mentioned it to her, too. Short of harassing my neighbor or anonymously sending her Dr. Dobson's child-rearing books in the mail, how can I make this stop? I can't go on with them waking me up every morning, preventing me from taking a nap during the day, constantly interrupting anything I'm trying to concentrate on...
Please help me!

One of two things is happening, or both.  She doesn't believe you.  She doesn't care.

I have three options for you:

1.  Be vigilant.  Every time you are disturbed, tell her and the office.  Tape record the noise.  Ask someone from the office to come to your apartment during the noise.  File a formal complaint. Make sure someone knocks on her door every time it happens.

If you go for this option, make sure you are truthful.  There is going to be noise from above when you live down below.  They can't live silently up there.  They have to walk and move things and maybe thump and bounce once in a while.  Complain when there is something to complain about.

2.  Befriend her.  Bring the child a little gift or ask her for dinner or coffee.  Don't talk about the noise at all. Let her talk about herself.  Dote on the child.  Once you are friends, you can ask her for small favors.  "I have a big meeting tomorrow and need to make sure I get some sleep.  Can you try to be extra quiet tomorrow morning?"  Enlist this child's help.  "Will you remember to be quite as a mouse?" "I'm so tired. I need a nap.  Can little Lonny watch "Rio" for the 200th time while I snooze for a bit?"  This will take time.

But you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Unless you just want to splatter them on the countertop with a flyswatter  and get it over with.

3. Love the noise.  I don't mean love it, as in "I love Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."  I mean just embrace the noise and stop fighting it.

I have mentioned that Sister St. Aloysius is rather a nervous person.  She once told me that during her treatments, especially leading up to the procedure that removed the tumor, the doctors were very worried that she wouldn't be able to handle how very still she would have to be for quite some time while they worked on her.  So they arranged for people to come and work on relaxation techniques with her.  This involved some sort of 'guided meditation'.  A very calm woman showed up to work with Sister St. Aloysius,  had her lie down and focus on relaxing every muscle in her body one little muscle at a time.  As soon as they began, everyone in the neighborhood decided to go out in their yards and laugh, holler, talk, start up lawn mowers, throw screaming children into the swimming pool and do whatever makes the dog bark so that his barking can cause all the other dogs to bark.

The mediation lady said,  "I'm so sorry.  This is not very relaxing, all this noise."

And Sister St. Aloysius said, "It's not a problem."  She said she found a great peace in the sound, as she wasn't sure if she was going to survive the tumor or the surgery, that she wanted to soak up every sound of life being lived.  It was relaxing. 

So love them. Love their lives and the noise life makes.

I'm sure there will be times when the noise is a bit much.  But at this point, you're counting and tensing and waiting and grinding your teeth, which is just making everything worse.

I recommend option 2 and 3 combined.  And St. Scholastica, the patron saint of thunder storms.  She was visiting her brother, St. Benedict and it was time to go home.  She didn't want to go home. She wanted to stay and talk.  He insisted she go.  She prayed.  A violent storm sprang up so she had to stay put.  They spent the night talking while the storm raged.  She died the next morning, no doubt with a head full of prayer, and thought and thunder.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

She Has Risen

Happy Easter!    Full of ham?  I am. Which is close to miraculous. Our standards for the miraculous are very high.   I could have used an actual miracle. Instantaneous and unexplained.

I had quite a time of it this week.  Whatever I had hoped to accomplish by giving up things for Lent was trumped by the most brilliant opportunity for suffering and an end, once and for all, to my dilemma of the McDonald Fish sandwich.

We had quite the plan, lining up the Easter lilies for the altar, and the other Easter decorations so that we'd have a smooth transition from the stripped down sancutary to the Glory of Easter.  We were like a well oiled machine! The florist was on board.  The white drapery for the cross was at the dry cleaners.  We spent the day with the plastic bottle of Murphy's Oil Soap and some elbow grease and got to work on the pews.  Sister St. Aloysius started on the left and I began on the right.  We had Sister Mary Fiacre parked in the middle.  She turned out to be a rather good marker as to where we were in our work.

The Friday before Good Friday.  We had had such a productive day I decided to throw caution to the wind, and my Lenten fish sandwiches issues, and grab one.

It will be a cold day in Hell when I do that again.

Within about two hours, I realized that the fish sandwich was very much still with me.  Three hours, four, still tasting the tartar sauce. My stomach started to hurt.

I'll spare you the gory details.  Let's just say I had a lot of suffering to offer up. For about five days.

I thought about what that poor soul said when he visited St. Catherine.  She had been at his death bed only an hour before and there he was, asking her to pray for him. He told her he had been in Purgatory for sixty years!  She felt really bad having to break the news to him that it had only been an hour that seemed like sixty years.

This week seemed like sixty years.

We had to call in the troops.  The Ladies of Charity brought food that I couldn't eat. The doctor put me on a liquid diet and antibiotics.  The Ladies of Charity brought jello.  Peach and strawberry.

On Holy Thursday, I graduated to mashed potatoes.  I rediscovered ginger ale.

Poor Sister St. Aloysius  had to do everything herself.  Well. not all by herself. The Ladies of Charity chipped in.  But she is really not comfortable with bossing people around.  Bossing is called for at every turn.

Like Jesus, I rose from the dead for Easter!  Sister St. Aloysius and the gals did a wonderful job.  Not the way I would have done it, with the lilies sort of scattered all around instead of grouped together, but the effect was lovely.  Perhaps we'll keep in that way next year, unless some fussy old goats fuss about it.  You wouldn't believe the things people fuss about, even on Easter.

So here I am back at work and ready to tackle all the questions that have piled up during my trip to Little Purgatory.

And I'll never have to think about those fish sandwiches again.


I'll go ahead and eat them and offer up my suffering at the very thought.

The dilemma lives on.  Oh well.