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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Teen Angels

Sister Mary Martha, is there any way to tell about how old the Apostles were?

No, there isn't, but that doesn't stop everyone from trying.

We're used to seeing the disciples more or less like this:

If not grey haired, at least wizened looking and thick bearded.There's a bald guy on the end of the table there.  I think the traditional "wisdom" is that the disciples were as old as Jesus, maybe one or two were older. I have known people who went grey or bald in their twenties.  Given that Jesus didn't make it past thirty, that makes the Apostles relatively young.  Relative is an important word here, as the average life expectancy in the time of Christ was...pretty young.  40 was the new 87 back then. A man in his twenties could have had quite a life for himself back then, married as a teenager,at work since he could walk.

So just for the sake of 'we never stop making conjectures about Jesus and His life on earth", let's visit some of the scholarly thoughts scholarly people have had about how old the Apostles were.

Matthew was a tax collector. Since he had a job he must have been older. How old? Who knows.

Peter was married. Older.

Young men did not take instruction from Rabbi's who were younger than them. That makes all of the Apostles younger than Jesus who was 27 when He began His ministry. How much younger? Who knows.

So the images of  these bearded old wizard looking fellows are a bit out of step with what was probably going on. Although beards make you look older and wiser. That's why young men grow them. Unless they're Amish, then it's because they don't use Norelco products.

Certainly the Apostles were in the prime of their lives, as they jumped out on foot and walked all over the known world until they they met their unpleasant demises. I believe John might be the only one who didn't have an unpleasant demise. We don't really know what happened to them all for certain. Here is a rundown of who they were.

Way more fun and worthy of discussion is the new idea that perhaps the disciples were all teenagers.  There are some compelling reasons to buy into this one and some not so compelling reasons.

It's really quite a turn around to consider the Apostles as teens or barely out of their teens.

Peter and Paul give each other the hand shake of peace?  And then have a coke.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Poste Vaticane

Dear SMM- Do you have any idea if the Vatican Office for Sin and Forgiveness (OK, the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary) has its own letterhead or business cards? Just wondering. Slightly more seriously, is there a listing of the different offices of the Vatican anywhere on the Web? It would be interesting to see. Thank you for all the information you give us Sister. 

Are you collecting Vatican letterheads and business cards? I'm sure each office must have it's own letterhead and people who work in these offices have business cards. 

I wonder if they have MOO cards.  These are the new rage.  You can have dozens of pictures in your box of cards.  They could have their own picture, the papal seal, a lovely shot of the Vatican, their favorite saint, a picture of them kissing the Pope's ring, what they had for dinner....the possibilities are endless. 

In any case, it's easy to write to the Vatican and if you get a response, you'll have your collector's item. I'm not sure how you wangle a business card.  Since it's my job to make your connection to the Catholic Church easier and not more difficult, here is a list of all of the Offices of the Vatican.

So to write to anyone, or any office you can use this address:
Name of the Cardinal or Archbishop or Bishop or Priest in charge
Name of the Office
Piazza Pio XII 10
00193 Rome, VATICAN CITY

Don't put "Italy" on the envelope. Vatican City is its own country. The country of Vatican City is in the country of Italy. It's a country called in a city in a city in a country. Don't think about that too much. It's not a "Sacred Mystery" but it's almost as baffling.

It's okay if you don't know who is in charge of the office, just address it to the office. Maybe if you write to the office and ask who is in charge, they'll send you a letter with the business card of that person!

And as long as you're at it, you might want to suggest Moo cards to them as the new rage, since the Pope is tweeting indulgences and whatnot.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Little Bird Told Me

The headline reads: Pope Offers Indulgences Through Twitter.

Well, why not?  The Vatican Office on Sin and Forgiveness is all for it.

Did you know the Vatican had an office just for sin and forgiveness? Probably not. It's not called that, but it's actual name is even less well known (if that's even possible). The Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary.  Not to be confused with prison. It's not a Sacred Apostolic jail.

The whole issue of indulgences makes the separated brethren's heads spin, because it's pretty much why we have separated brethren. (Unless we're talking about the Anglican and Episcopal church, that was all about the messy divorce of Henry VII. Very messy, what with all those severed heads.)

I really hate to have to explain it all again. Here goes.

Indulgence: time off of your punishment (purgatory) for sins that have already been forgiven.
Already hard to understand since purgatory is outside of time. There is no time in purgatory but you get time off from the time you would have spent there. Calm down and remember this is what we call a "Sacred Mystery".  "Sacred Mystery" is "Catholic" for "just let it go". And by that I mean, there are things you will never be able to understand because God made it that way and that's okay.

Away back when, you had to climb up steps on your knees or go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or fight in the Crusades to earn an indulgence. And then someone rightly pointed out that it wasn't fair that only able bodied wealthy people (because such things are long and arduous and take capital) could earn indulgences, so the Church found other things to indulge. Certain prayers, walking the Stations of the Cross (invented by St. Francis of Assisi for just this purpose), that sort of thing. There are still steps you can climb, not necessarily on your knees.

Which brings us to the tweeting Pope. Attending World Youth Day earns an indulgence. But like going on a Crusade, not everyone can get there. So the Pope offered the indulgence to people who follow what's going on at World Youth Day on social media, which includes Twitter. And now we have some silly headlines.

I'll leave it to smarter people to explain it all better if your hair is still on fire.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Devil is in the Details

I know that saying "Oh my God" is using God's name in vain and is against the ten commandents. But what about "Oh my gosh"?

There are people who would argue that is is a sin because "Oh my gosh" is some kind of  old time way of actually saying "Oh my God". 

I would not be one of those people.While it might have been true that at some point in time people actually knew gosh really meant God, the truth is, these days, people saying "Oh my gosh" are expressly trying NOT to take the Lord's name in vain.

Sin is about intent.

When my mother was upset she would shriek, "Oh St. Peter and Paul and all the saints!"  I think she was praying, because she did that when something had scared her really badly, like the time she answered a knock at the front door and my dad was standing there with glasses on that had eyeballs on springs. He manages to time it just right so that the eyeballs boinged off the glasses just as she opened the door. I really think she wanted the saints to save her from the google monster and wasn't taking anyone's name in vain.

And look there. Google means something different these days, too.

 Sister, I just read a wonderful book called Let the Great World Spin that made me think of you, because one of the main characters is I guess what you'd call a mendicant friar, ministering to prostitutes in the Bronx in the 1970s, when New York was at it's lowest point. It's the most compassionate novel I've ever read and I'd recommend it to you unreservedly except for some un-nunlike language and situations. One thing bothers me, though. That character fell in love--genuine, deep, requited love--with a widowed nurse in the nursing home he worked at and after much spiritual torment broke his vows, then died before confessing. I can handle the thought of him doing time in purgatory because of that sin, but being kept out of heaven altogether after all the Christlike good he had done...? Surely not! Please tell me it's not so! He voluntarily turned away from God, did he not? 
I can't tell you it's not so.

I also can't tell you that it is so.

This is why we have the canonization process, to prove that a person is in Heaven. This is why we would rather you didn't pray for the intercession of your dead Aunt Millie, saintly old soul that she may have been, because we don't know where she is. The Catholic Church never says anyone is in Hell. Not even Hitler, because at the last moment, Hitler might have had a moment of clarity and repented somehow.

What happens to you after you die is between you and God and not the rest of us.

And this case isn't cut and dry for that exact reason.  Priests do leave the priesthood.  Did they get married or did he just run off with the nurse?  He could have a boatload of mortal sins there. Scandal would be on that list because the sin of scandal is that you doing something makes it seem like it must be okay for the rest of us. If he didn't reconcile himself with God, then the ex-priest has a problem. A really big problem, as clergy get harsher punishment in the great beyond because they are responsible for the souls of others.

I wouldn't worry about it. He's a fictional character. So he's not in Heaven or in Hell, or anywhere else for that matter.  He is ink on a page.

I can't think that New York was at it lowest point in the 1970's.  New York in the 1860"s?  New York in 1930? New York in 1960?  What did I miss? 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ports in a Storm

Hi, Sister. Recently my family sold our house-- a lot more quickly than we expected. This is great, except that now we have to find a new place to live in just a few weeks, and we're having trouble. I know you're supposed to ask for the intercession of St. Joseph to sell your house. Who are you supposed to ask for prayers when you want to find a new house...fast?

That's St. Joseph, too. He buys and sells real estate. You may recall that St. Joseph had to move his family right quick. Over night.  He found a place in Egypt (not that you'd want to go there these days).

Hi sister, I just learned that I had salmonella poisoning, although thankfully it wasn't severe. At about the same time my best friend became extremely ill and had to be operated. All this to say we barely came out and are intensely grateful for our lives. As my friend put it, its like God came down and shook us and said wake up and see that your not immortal, fools. Is there a saint or a particular prayer for situations like these? 

I am a little confused. A prayer for when these things are happening or a prayer of gratitude that you came out unscathed?  I don't think you need any intercessory prayer to be grateful, unless you were already praying for the intercession of a saint and the saint came through for you. I always thank people for praying for me.  I hope everyone does, even if those people were in Heaven at the time that they prayed for you.

So a patron saint then for when the storm is raging. That would be our old pal St. Scholastica. She was the sister of St. Benedict. They were twins.

Not identical twins. Don't you hate it when people cluelessly ask a mother of twins, a boy and a girl, "Are they identical?"  I have actually seen that happen.  "Do you know what identical means?"  I would be tempted to make that my answer. Or, "One is a boy and one is a girl, so, NO."  The mothers in question have always been gracious and simply answered, "No."  Perhaps they were thinking, "...you dumb bunny..."

Anyhow, St. Scholastica was having a swell visit with her brother at his monastery. She was having such a good time that she didn't want to leave.  She prayed there would be some excuse for her to stay and a huge storm blew up. She got to spend the rest of the evening with her brother and then she died the next day.

Now she is the patron saint invoked against raging storms, which is a little odd, since she brought the storm rather than ended it.  She was pretty happy about the raging storm.

The fact remains that she is the patron saint to keep us safe from storms and when there is a raging storm I do think of her.

You might also think about St. Paul.  God came and gave him quite the shake, too.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Lord Giveth and you know what comes next

Holy cow! I didn't realize I was so behind on answering questions! I also can't believe how many posts start with exactly this type of apology. Long ago I made a list of sins for the new millennium (way back when the millennium was new), things like watching Mass for Shut-Ins when you're not shut in and counting that as Mass. Perhaps I need to update the list to include "if you find yourself apologizing too much on the internet, do better".  

At any rate, here is today's question. A doozie, and I expect that it will spawn a lot of remarks, and further questions. Which will no doubt take me forever to answer for which I will have to apologize. I apologize in advance.

I didn't see a contact, so I'll leave my question here. Actually, it's my 15 year old son's question. He has some doozies! He was wondering why God put a hit on the Egyptian first born children (specifically - 10th plague) when He was trying to get the Jews their freedom via Moses (Exodus). He thinks it was an act of terrorism. Sigh, I tried to explain it, but he is not buying a more philosophical, broader interpretation. I think he reads the news too much! He doesn't understand why innocent children had to die at the Lord's hands.

How did you explain it?  Just wondering.

I don't think you can ever read the news too much.

It's much simpler than it would seem. God gives life and He can take it away. He's doing it RIGHT NOW. We never get to question that, although we almost always do.  We do not get to do God's job by taking life away. If we kill people on masse like that it is an act of terrorism. If God does it, He's just being God.

I know that doesn't sound like a satisfying answer.  There are other explanations I have read but they cause me to roll my eyes so far up into my head I can find old phone numbers from 1972 in my brain.

Let me digress for a moment and tell you the absolute stupidest one I found. This fellow had gone through the pains to figure out who died.  For example, if you had four sons and your eldest had already died someone, you wouldn't have lost your second born in the plague. No first born who were daughters went.  First borns who were grown ups were eliminated, I guess if they were now heads of households? Anyhow, doing the math, he figured out that only 3% of the populated were taken by God and compared that to hundreds of thousands that the Egyptians had killed, or some other group who had decimated the Jewish people in some other big conflagration. And that made it okay with this fellow.

And I thought, "Are you kidding me?"  Killing children is not about numbers. They are not prunes. "Is a few enough? Are six too many?"

Back to my answer.

So about now, your son is not going to be happy with my answer, But he's framing the question incorrectly. God doesn't kill anybody.  If you want to frame the question that way, you have to actually say, God kills everybody, as He alone chooses when to take us home. 

This time He chose to make a point by taking souls back to Heaven.  (Technically, those souls in Egypt would have gone to the Limbo of the Fathers and Jesus would have taken them to Heaven when He was there after He died and before He rose.)

God takes thousands of babies and children every single day. Miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, accidents, illnesses.  He's killing them left and right, if that's how you choose to see it.

What happens here is here and gone. We are here because God loves us into existence. Then He takes us home again.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Saint Pope and Saint Pope

We are besides ourselves with glee for the upcoming canonization of both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. 

If you don't watch the news endlessly crawling across the bottom of the TV screen you may have missed the second miracle for John Paul II coming through.  You may have not even heard about the first miracle.

Let's review. I'll give you a moment to familiarize yourself with the rule book.

Okay...so the the first miracle was a nun with Parkinsons. Her order prayed for the Pope's intercession after he died and Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre was cured of the debilitating disease. I love her name, by the way. Sister Mary Simon Peter in English, so to speak.

Since then we've been waiting for the second miracle. Some saints wait a long time. Some are still waiting. And then last week, here we go!

The actual miracle happened a while back, but it takes time to prove that it actually was a miracle: instantaneous and unexplained.  The doctors have to sign off on it and then the theologians have to examine it.

Our second miracle is a woman from Costa Rica who was cured of a brain aneurysm. It's does involve a talking magazine, but we'll overlook that part.  It wasn't really a talking magazine.  

Florabeth Mora Diaz had just gotten back from her doctor visit with the bad news that her brain aneurysm was incurable and inoperable.  She was feeling pretty low and went in her room to pray. She prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II and she head him say, "Rise, don't be afraid."

Here comes the magazine part. She said that she had returned from the doctor's and watched the beatification ceremony of John Paul II on TV. I suppose that's what gave her the idea to ask him for his intercessory prayers. She heard him talking to her from the cover of a magazine.

" I was surprised. I kept looking at the magazine.  I said, "Yes, Lord", and I got up, " she said.

Her husband was surprised to see her emerge from the bedroom rather chipper.  She told him, "I feel better."  There was a good reason for that. The aneurysm was gone.  Her neurosurgeon, Dr. Vargas said, "What we found remarkable, unbelievable really, was that by November there was absolutely no trace in her brain that she ever had an aneurysm. I had never seen this in my career."

So talking magazine notwithstanding, we do have a miracle here.

Isn't this exciting!  And how wonderful that the person that beatified Pope John XXIII will be canonized along with him. Double bonus.

What will his patronage be? I have always pegged him for the patron saint of people who are looking for one of those really long term jobs, which used to be at the post office. I'm not sure those jobs still exist. 

But obviously he will be the patron saint for Parkinson's sufferers, as he suffered from it himself AND had the miracle nun cure.

We have questions in the queue but today we just want to sit back and enjoy the intercession!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Can You Lead a Mule to Water?

I have a 14 yr old daughter who refuses to go to Communion. When I talk about the grace she is missing out on, she tells me "You don't know that.". Same with Eucharist--"You don't know it's His body". 

I think it's the age. I hope it is, anyway. I worry about my daughter's soul. She does go to Mass with me but complains it's boring. She wants to attend a protestant church with a friend because it's "more fun" and I said "No". She thinks all christian religions are the same. I don't know how this happened. I had her baptized, she received her first communion, she went to religious instruction, we talk about God, we pray.

Maybe it's school..or maybe friends..or, hopefully, just teenage rebellion. 

It's scary to be a parent. It's scary to think that you are responsible for someone's soul. What if, when I face God, He tells me I failed her. I should have done _____ and _____ but I didn't. But for my parenting, she would have been more religious, more faithful. 

When I was a teenager, my brother and I (he was about 14) did a 30 day novena where we went to Mass and Communion every day for 30 days. We did it for our parents because my Dad was not attending Mass. How were we different from our own kids? Was it Catholic school?

Catholic school is so far out of my reach. Our school tuition is $750 a month and you must meet a fund raising goal (or they tack it on to your tuition) and volunteer for x number of hours per month. 

I'm a single mom with two kids. I would have to win the lotto to be able to send them.

I hope, when I face God, He doesn't tell me He's sorry He gave me these girls. I love them so much. I'm so grateful for them. But I worry.

I feel your pain.  Clergy and nuns face the worst suffering in Purgatory because we were responsible for your souls.  But on the next rung up the Purgatory suffering ladder are parents. 

But God won't be mad at you if you fail. He'll only be mad is you don't try or give up. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.  It would be bad if you gave up on the horse, or didn't show him any water, but once the horse and the water are in the same place, it's up to the horse.

Or mule, as the case may be.

There is however one avenue you may try. The All Faiths Are Created Equal argument just doesn't hold water.  The Catholic Church is the church that Jesus established while He was alive on earth and ALL of the other Christian religious were founded because somebody was mad at somebody else. All Christians were Catholics until the 16th century when:

Martin Luther got mad at the Catholic Church (he was a Catholic priest) and the corruption of the times. He wasn't wrong. He put a list of grievances on the church door to open a discussion (which was how it was done back then). When the Church didn't respond the way he liked he quit. The Church did address the problems he had pointed out eventually. That's called the Reformation.  Luther's followers are called Lutherans.  They are followers of Jesus through the teaching of a Catholic priest who lived in the 16th century.

Around the same time, Henry the Eighth got mad that the Church would not approve of him divorcing his first wife so he could marry a younger woman in the hopes of begetting a son and heir.  He quit and founded the Anglican Church, which is called the Episcopal Church in the US.  The Anglicans and the Episcopals are the followers of Jesus through a guy who wanted to dump his wife for a new model.

Then Calvin took exception with some of the things Luther said. Those are the Calvinists. They are the followers of Jesus through a guy who was mad at Luther who was mad at the Catholic church.

And on and on until you have denominations sprung from denominations because they were mad that  the host is on a plate and not  in a basket or which way the pews face.

Meanwhile, and many people may disagree with me here, I don't see anything wrong with her visiting the other churches. Just don't let it take the place of Mass. Go to Saturday Mass. Go with her to her friend's church on Sunday. Study up on the denomination you're about to visit. See if you can find out the tenets of that faith (Good Luck with that, I have never been able to get separated brethren to explain the tenets of their faith past "I believe in Jesus").  

Make sure you bookmark the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" because you can look up just about anything and find out the Church's teachings and why we believe as we do.

By the way, how did the novena work out?