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Thursday, August 28, 2014

St. Winifred's Well, well, well....

I would have thought that, with Sister Mary Fiacre gone to where the woodbine twineth (as my mother used to say...she has some good ones), that I would have more time on my hands. But nature abhors a vacuum (as someone said, whoever that was) and the opposite has proved to be the case. I'm sure this poor woman went to Wales and back already, however, in the interest of the next person who confuses tourist stops with pilgrimages, I'm going ahead with the answer:

Sister, can you do something on pilgrimage? I'm going to Wales in a month and I'm not sure if I'm going on a pilgrimage or not. I'm planning on visiting as many ancient Christian sites as I can, from the days of the first Christians in Britain. One place I particularly want to go to is St. Winifred's well, because of all the Winifreds in my family. I'm planning on approaching it by foot on a day hike that includes some other historic holy sites. On the one hand, I truly believe a place can accrue holiness because of the faith of some many believers over so many years, including pre-Christian believers at some of these sites, and I want to connect with that on this trip. On the other, I'm not looking for a miracle and I'm not hoping to be healed by the waters or anything, and in fact I kind of have a feeling St. Winifred herself might be one of those saints the church has some doubts about these days, her story is so out apocryphal and out there (Her uncle reattaches her head after it's been cut off and she comes back to life? Come now!) so I think I can be pardoned for being a little skeptical about her herself. So am I going on a pilgrimage or am I just a tourist? Especially since I'm sure there was an aspect of tourism to the pilgrimages the folks did in the Middle Ages, as well. 

Technically, you're just a tourist. That doesn't mean that you can't salvage a little pilgrimage action out of the deal.

Really, a pilgrimage is the WHOLE TRIP. A plan to visit a place that is brimming with holiness. It doesn't have to involve miracles or healings or leaving your crutches in a pile by the shrine. But the pilgrimage begins when you step out of your house.

Plus, there is no removing a modern pilgrimage from its historical origins. The idea that a person would want to visit a holy place to venerate the person, act (like say, martyrdom) or phenomenon that took place there, is pure human nature. It is an instinctive notion of the human heart.  And who made that nature, that heart? God did. So it follows that God would use that notion to aid in His grace and blessings. With me so far?

The Church then begins to assign pilgrimages as punishment, as penance. Back then, you didn't just go on Orbitz and book a flight and a room or sign up for the parish bus trip tour of incorrupt saints. No. You laid down your weapons, took off your shoes, walked from wherever you lived to wherever you had to go, BAREFOOT, with no money. The danger, the humility in your shoeless penitential garb, that is some punishment.

So if you follow what it might be like to pull that off, you have to understand that every barefoot step of the journey connects you to the goal.

And that's what you're missing by thinking of this tourist hike as a pilgrimage. It's not a part of a trip. It IS the trip, even though nowadays we keep our shoes on and fly and sing Kumbyah on the bus. (And have a bottle of wine in the hotel room with the other ladies on the trip, I am told.) There is a blessing of the staff to set you on your way. It's a whole big thing.

I think you can salvage some aspect of "pilgrimage" out of that hike, if you keep your mind on the journey.

I'm not sure why you'd really want to have a pilgrimage to St. Winifred's well, since you seem to not really .... care so much...for her story. I can't say I blame you. The poor thing has one of those "okay, nevermind" kind of saint stories that leaves us scratching our heads. The first part of her story is typical of the virgin martyr. When she spurns the man courting her, he becomes enraged and lops off her head. In one version of the story, her head rolls down the hill and a spring springs up (ala St. Bernadette). In another version, once her head is off, her uncle puts it back on. The perpetrator is standing around looking smug and Winifred's uncle curses him. The perpetrator drops dead on the spot and, as if that isn't punishment enough, the ground opens up and swallows him. But there is much more to her story than that.

I'm pretty sure that Winifred never lost her head, and it therefore never rolled down any hill, because we next find Winifred as a nun and the abbess at Gwyetherin in  Denbighshire.

St. Winifred was a real person. Historical records show that she was the abbess for 8 years, that she had a scar on her neck and that her uncle did kill Cadaroc (the perpetrator) for some reason. I think we can surmise that something unpleasant happened between them, but that Winifred walked away with her head on her shoulders.

Perhaps the legend sprang up because no one could believe she survived the attack. Or perhaps it just grew from people playing "telephone" and getting the details wrong. Whatever happened, Winifred was revered from the moment of her death.

This is very important. It means that pretty much everyone who knew her thought extremely highly of her, that she was worthy of veneration and that grace could flow through someone like her.

And that's what a pilgrimage is all about. Her shrine, St. Winifred's Well, is the only continuous shrine in Britain, where pilgrims have been coming for thirteen centuries. I think God would have but a KI-bosh on that a long time ago if he wanted our intrinsic nature to be focused elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Not Sorrowful Mystery

What's "Joyful" about the Presentation in the Temple in the Holy Rosary. To me, hearing the news about the baby and hearing that a sword will pierce her own heart would be devastating to our Mother Mary. Do you know how it ended up being a Joyful mystery instead of a Sorrowful mystery?

Because it was a happy occasion in the first place. And there is only the one bummer piece of prophesy, and even that one follows from the joy of what Christ brings to the world. All of which is covered by Simeon, who is thrilled, by the way, to get to hold the child in the first place.

At this point, there is no such thing as Baptism. This particular ritual, offering the baby to the service of God in the Temple, is the Jewish version of this happy day. Imagine, then, you take your baby to the Baptism and some old man jumps out of nowhere to wax on about what a very important baby this is. The Savior of the World, this one, and the old man is oh so happy to be able to witness this person's presence in the the world. The old man prattles on about the immeasurable change this will create. And then he mentions that this will be particularly hard on you, Mom. But your hardships will also help humanity for the rest of time.

Is that so bad? It's not a Sorrowful Mystery because it's not a sorrowful occasion. The Jewish ritual of presenting a child to the temple of was an act of obedience and gratitude. It was a way to thank God for the child. If you were doing it today, you might hit the IHOP on the way home to celebrate.

And we're happy that Mary and Joseph led by example in following the rules. They didn't have to do that. Jesus is the New Testament with God, after all. They present Jesus, the Lord, to the Lord. We're happy about that. It shows us that they followed God's laws. They could have sat home, thinking, "This IS the Lord. He'll have His own book soon enough." 

Here is a lovely article about how nice it all really is.  That should help.

And note that there are a bizzlion depictions of this event in art. And everyone always looks happy.

You can be happy, too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

St. Teresa of ADHD

I was wondering if there is one for females who have ADHD?

I go out on a limb here and offer up St. Teresa of Avila. She is well known to be such a marvelous thinker, a person whose works have everything to do with her ability to concentrate, to lead a life of contemplative prayer so deep as to cause spiritual ecstasies and whose body of writings and work is do deep that she has been declared a Doctor of the Church.

ADHD? Where does that come in?

If you just do a quick internet googly search of St. Teresa, you'll see nothing but beautiful, coherent writings. For example (my personal favorite):

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.


 That's because all you'll come up with is her greatest hits, so to speak. The Best of St. Teresa of Avila.

But if you actually try to slog through her actual writing...well, you'll feel like you have ADHD.  They are often rather meandering, taking side trips. She digresses. A lot. You'll need a nap.

And one of her frequent topics, unfortunately not found on her greatest hits album was her long road to be able to concentrate.  She really had a problem with that. She was a flibberty gibbet. She talks about that a lot. A lot.

But she very much overcame that.  Which is why I offer her as your girl patron saint for ADHD. As I understand it, the main treatment for ADHD is to learn coping strategies. Honestly, that was St. Teresa's whole life. One long coping strategy, which led her to the astonishing life she led. She didn't start out trying to be a mystic saint or a Doctor of the Church. She was just trying to concentrate.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

St. Joseph on the Job

I appreciate that people are still finding us and combing through the hours of blogging to find answers and have a laugh at our expense. I know this is happening because we get follow up questions from age old posts.

My question is, do I remove my St Joseph statue if I'm renting my house to a couple that wants to buy my house? They are waiting for her dad to sell some land so then he can give her the money to pay cash for my house. Thanks

You're welcome. Oh, wait, that was a thanks for the answer. Which I haven't given yet.

I'd say no. Leave him there. Anything could happen. Dad could spontaneously combust or wake up from a coma and not remember he promised to sell some land to buy a house for some people who claim to be his children, although he has no memory of them. Dad could suddenly look around and think, "The better part of my life is over, what do I really want to do?" and sell his land and take a world cruise. He could join the circus.

Or,

there is no Dad and they are enjoying renting your house.

As I said, anything could happen.

I wouldn't move St. Joseph until you hand over the deed to the house and skate away, St. Joseph in hand.
 
The good news is, he's working on it. He's on the job.

Perhaps someone needs to tiptoe over to Dad's land with a second St. Joseph statue. That way, you'll also know if there is a Dad with land.

Is the land nearby?  If it's far away, this is not an option, unless you have far flung (and stealthy) friends.

Or, you could mention to the couple to tell Dad to buy a St. Joseph real estate kit.

I'm sure, that since St. Joseph is already on the job, that everything will turn out peachy keen. Good on you for collecting rent on your home for sale, rather than have it sit there while you fry butter and cinnamon on the stove to make it smell homey as you hold open house after open house. You can thank St. Joseph for that, as well. 

Now. You're welcome.



Friday, June 13, 2014

Tony Tony Two

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony! He is one of our very favorite saints, and when I say "our", I mean "OUR".  Catholics, Protestants, Jews, agnostics and probably some Hindus and Buddhists routinely turn to St. Anthony when something goes missing.

Or some one.  Or cats....
I lost my cat once. I looked all over for him for hours in the middle of the night. I finally started to pray to St. Anthony (St. Anthony, St. Anthony, Please come around, for Bon-bon is lost and cannot be found). After deciding to check the neighborhood for the inth time at 3am, a woman who was talking to someone in a car in the middle of the street stopped her conversation, looked at me, and asked if I was looking for a white cat. When I told her that I was, she told me she just saw one run across the street to the train station. I ran over to the station, called his name, and there was Bon-bon crying for me. St. Anthony, through God's Grace, has never failed me!

Bon-bon thanks you, St. Anthony.

Eyeglasses, keys, documents, cell phones.

And why is that, do you suppose? Because St. Anthony never fails to come through.

"Holy Tony, come around, something's lost and can't be found."

St. Anthony is, therefore, one of the greatest examples of cognitive dissonance, religion edition, we can find.

Here we have people who don't believe in saints, or don't believe we should pray for the intercession of saints, doing exactly that--because it works--and then going right back to not believing in saints and not praying for their intercession.

Just for the record, so you don't have to go look it up, St. Anthony's penchant for finding your other shoe stems from the story that a novice made off with Anthony's beloved Book of Psalms. Anthony prayed very hard for the book to be found. The novice had a terrible nightmare about the book and returned it.

I just...whatever. I think there is a much better case to be made for Anthony's forte. Involving his actual forte. He was one of those people who remembered every word he ever read about everything. And so once, when a speaker failed to show up, St. Anthony was pressed to say a few words and wowed everyone with his knowledge and eloquence. Because he remembered every word he ever read. Which is why he can remember what happened to your shoe.

And if he can find your shoe and your dog, imagine how great your life could be if you turned to other saints for all kinds of other problems and fears and phobias! If you're already calling on St. Anthony, it's pretty illogical not to wade on in.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Active Choice

How do you "honor" the Face of Jesus or the painful wound on His shoulder. There are prayers but that can't be all there is to it. To honor His name, I say "May your Holy name always be praised and adored" whenever I hear the Lord's name in vain. So, I guess that's an active way of honoring His name. And my kids are forbidden from every using the Lord's name in vain. I told them I would prefer them to say every horrific word including the F-bomb rather than use God's name in vain. And it's one of the few rules that I NEVER allowed to be broken. But what can I do to honor His face and the wound of His shoulder? Just saying a prayer just doesn't seem like enough. I want an active way to show I care.


First, let me just say that not all prayers and thoughts to contemplate have to be thought about or prayed by everyone. That's why we have so many orders of nuns. We end up with the Blessed Sacrament nuns, the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, The Sisters of Jesus Crucified and the Sorrowful Mother (that's one order with a long name), Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of the Sacred Wounds, Adorers of the Sacred Blood,  the Congregations of the Sacred Stigmata, and a whole slew of various orders that end with "The Sacred Heart". To name a few.

Many of the prayers we say involve contemplation. Contemplation on a single focus is sufficient. We don't also have to try to paint the face of Jesus (that sometimes doesn't turn out so well) or carry a cross to see how that actually feels (although there have been plenty of people who have tried that).

But if you insist. How to honor the face of Jesus. Let me count the ways.

How do honor the face of your mother? You carry her picture in your wallet. You have her on the mantle. You remember her face with fondness. You don't make fun of her nose. You see her face in the face of your children.

An active choice about the wound on Jesus' shoulder? That wound is from carrying the cross.  The cross symbolizes our sins. Jesus has taken on our burden. I suggest that if you want an active way to honor the wound on Jesus' shoulder, you take up the burden of someone else.


For example, once in a while, for reasons unbeknownst to me (but probably because we haven't gotten around to it), our neighbor sweeps our driveway. I love that. Wouldn't you? Who wouldn't?

I do think you should re-think the idea that other horrible things people can say are preferable to taking the Lord's name in vain. We don't have to create an hierarchy of what's worse to say. Don't say that stuff. Maybe you were just trying to get your point across.

We used to do that with soap. But those days are gone.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

If At First You Don't Succeed


But this raises a related question for me. I have been trying to be faithful to at least morning and evening prayer. You say "You only do it wrong when it becomes rote or thoughtless." And I wonder, what is the difference between reading the Office and praying it? I asked Father after Mass once and he sort of mumbled something about intent and said I should be able to tell the difference. But I can't tell! If I'm reading the words with the intent to pray, but I don't 'feel' anything while I'm reading them, is that still prayer? And sometimes, I notice that I've gotten distracted, and I go back to the point I last remember being attentive... I've been operating on the assumption that I should continue regardless of the way I feel, because otherwise it makes the prayer more about me than about God, you know? But Father's comment that "I should be able to tell" disturbed me. Maybe I really *am* off track.

I should add that I chat with God inside my head throughout my day. I think that's prayer, too, so hopefully my attempts at the Divine Office aren't my only prayer.

Anyway, anything you could say to shed some light on this would be appreciated. I'm a convert and I often feel clueless, but I want to pray well to express to God the indescribable gratitude I feel every day.

It's not rocket science. And it's not about feelings. It can be. But praying isn't about evoking emotions.  Spiritual ecstasies aside, prayer is a conversation with God, a connection with God, so that you can receive His grace.

So if you and I were having a conversation and you somehow managed to keep talking while you were distracted with something else, it's not much of a conversation. What if I just suddenly blabbed out one of my distracted thought while I was talking with you?

"It has come to light from recently published documents that the CIA actually promoted artists like Jackson Pollock during the Cold War to show the world, but particularly Russia, that the United States of America was on the cutting edge of everything, including art."

While this is a true statement, it has nothing to do with you and me and our conversation. It's fascinating, though, isn't it?  I've been thinking a lot about it lately.

I understand that the mind wanders.  I'd like to say "don't beat yourself up about it."  So I'll go ahead and say that.

Don't beat yourself up about it. Not because it doesn't matter or because it's normal or expected. Don't beat yourself up because doing that is a waste of time. Beating yourself up serves no purpose whatsoever in this matter. (In other ares of life, it might be a good idea to give yourself a talking to, a finger wag, or a boot to the head. But not about this.)

Move forward. Do better. Don't dwell on your past failure. Concentrate on redoubling your efforts.

Imagine you were reading me a passage from a book you enjoyed. You would be engaged in the words you were saying.  What makes saying these prayers any different from that? Perhaps you simply need to say your prayers out loud.

It takes some discipline to pull your mind back if and when it wanders. I frankly find these questions about prayer to be rather like questions about dieting. We'd all love to find some magical diet or pill that allows us to eat as much of anything that we want and do little or no exercise. But that is never going to happen. If we want to maintain a healthy weight we're going to have to have a little discipline.

If you think of your prayers as a conversation with God, you actually should be able to tell whether or not you are having one, don't you think? You can tell when you're having a conversation with someone, right?

Good old Maya Angelou went home to God yesterday. (I'm not wandering off, I'm about to make a point.) She said once that when she went to write (she kept a hotel room in any town in which she lived and would go there every day at 6am), she began by clearing her mind of everything: what happened yesterday, whatever was on her mind, what happened on the drive over. She brought herself to the present. She mentioned that she didn't really know how she did this.

I'm suggesting that you do this somehow. Take a few deep breaths. Bring yourself into the present moment. You are connected with God. You are a part of Him. You don't have to feel anything. It's already there and happening. Read the prayer to Him.

If you can't maintain any concentration, stop. Try again later. Try again tomorrow.  The ability to focus and concentrate is a muscle. I'm sure you use it in other areas of your life. You  just have to train it to this use. Beating yourself up about it is a waste of energy. Do better. If you don't do better, try again.