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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Blue Boy

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I love to read the obituaries. In a large city like this there are some really interesting dead people. The daughter of the guy who wrote "Happy Days Are Here Again", another person who did such great things that the fact that he also invented the BIC pen was a footnote, a fellow who was arrested during Watergate by the same man who saved his life during the Battle of the Bulge.

Today it was Martha Holmes' turn. She was the first woman photgrapher for "Life" magazine. I actually didn't finish reading the story because I was stopped in my tracks by one of her pictures. It was a photograph of the artist Jackson Pollock at work, a cigarette dangling from his lips, paint drizzling from his brush. The Postal Service used the same picture when they made the Jackson Pollock commemorative stamp. They airbrushed the cigarette out so as not to influence the children or very wishy washy people.

But that's not what stopped me. In the background of the photograph is one of Pollack's works resting against the wall. As nearly as I can tell, the thing he is working on is about to look just like that thing against the wall, but with less red in it.

I have never had a satisfactory answer to why his splattered paint is art. I doubt anyone has. Not even Sister Wendy has helped.

Contrary to what you might think, I am not an old fuddy duddy who writes off as nonsense things I don't understand. If I was, I wouldn't be a Catholic, now would I? I am willing to be open minded to the idea that art is simply about illuminating the human condition. Pollock's paint splatters are no less illuminating than a painting of a bowl of fruit, really.

I was zapped back to a visit I had to the Huntington Library in Pasdena. The Huntington is the home of the famous "Blue Boy". In fact, they have a whole roomful of Gainsborough's paintings, portraits all. Before you go look at the "Blue Boy", you can watch a little educational film about it. I did that.

It ruined my day.

The art expert in the film begins with the question "why THIS painting?" Why is this one so famous, so renowned? Why is this painting a higher level of art than others, even by the same painter? Fascinating.

He goes on to explain that the painting itself is of the neighbor boy. The blue suit is a suit Ganisborough would put on YOUR child and paint him in it if you wanted to have your child's portrait painted by Gainsborough. He put the blue suit on the neighbor's kid and had a 'calling card' to showcase his work. A demo tape, a spec script, a sample.

That's it.

At the end of the film the expert asks the question again: Why this painting? And his answer?


I about blew my top. I wanted to take my head off and rest it in my lap so I didn't have to think anymore. We don't know??!!!???

Mr. Expert, that's your WHOLE JOB to know the answer to that question!!!!

Look, as a nun, I am willing to admit there's a lot we don't understand about God and Jesus and what it all means. That doesn't mean we don't have an answer! We may not understand the answer but we have one. At the very least we can explain to you that it's a "sacred mystery". "Sacred Mystery" is Catholic for, "just let it go."

I do know the answer, by the way, to the Blue Boy question. I only found out about it last month while reading the same section of the paper, this time an editorial commentary. It has nothing to do with art and everything to do with commerce. Once someone wants something and the art dealers get going on it and the price gets driven up and the rich guy wants it even more and the art dealer can keep the painting hot and keep rich people wanting the painting in their collection, we're off to the races. By the time some one's paid millions for a piece it has become famous and renowned.

It's not a mystery.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sister St. Aloysius opted not to wear a full habit. She used to wear a little veil, but dropped that a while back. She feels she can better serve if she blends in, like an undercover cop. It is not my purpose here to get into the forty some odd year argument whether the clergy should or should not be recognizable from across a football field. I can tell you she sometimes gets an earful.

Yesterday she got an invitation.

I have to tell you two things. One, it is my firm belief, now slightly shaken, that you can still spot a nun. Those funny little bangs give them away. I call them "nun bangs". And the shoes. Two, we live in the Los Angeles area.

The invitation that Sister St. Aloysius received was for a cuddle party. I wish I was joking. I wish the people who extended the invitation were joking.

It wasn't a very personal invitation, I'll grant you that. People were handing out flyers and shoved one into her hand. I maintain the bangs and the shoes still should have waved them off.

Here's the more horrible thing. I actually already knew there was such a thing. I saw a report about it on the news. I can't think what news I was watching, but it was report about new trends. Cuddle parties are a new trend. A group of people gather in someone's apartment, the cuddle co-ordinators, who are the flimsiest of new agey therapists, give a speech. The rules are laid out to everyone, as you can imagine what you might have to say to a group of adult strangers who are about to lie on the floor and 'cuddle' each other, then the people pair off and cuddle and then they cuddle in ever larger groups until in the end they have a 'dog pile'. No mention is made of the sins that are about to occur, the near occassions of sin and actual sins that are occuring, probably even during this little speech, or how really pathetic this all is. Did I mention they all show up wearing pajamas? I believe my brain wanted me to skip that part. They all show up in pajamas.

Here's my flyer: Join the Catholic Church.

We have a cuddle party right in the middle of each Mass! Catholics have been complaining about 'the handshake of peace' for years, but there you have it. In the middle of the Mass we all have to turn to each other, shake hands and say, "Peace Be With You." In many parishes the handshake has progressed to hugging. Desperate for human contact? Go to Mass. That's enough contact for you.

What to show up places dressed out of the norm? Join the clergy. We have an array of comfortable garb. Don't believe me? What does the priest wear? A robe.

Need someone to explain the rules. Brother, we have got that covered.

And finally, if you feel the need to have a dogpile, after you're third child and way before your ninth, you will have this wonderful experience.

Sister St. Aloysius got her veil back down from the closet.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Don't Make Me Spell Tekekwitha Again.

Over the weekend on the patron saint trail I stumbled upon Blessed Kateri Tekekwitha, the only Native American saint. Well, not a saint. Blessed. Not 'blest'...bles-sed. Sister St. Aloysius is big on recycling and mentioned that the church better get on the ball and declare more useful patronages for modern life, like they did by making St. Isidore the patron saint of the internet.

There really is a patron saint for everything, even if you have to stretch it a little. But the saints had to deal with life just like we do, so it's not hard to make the leap.

This time it was Sister St. Aloysius and I who were behind the eight ball. Blessed Kateri is the patron saint of the ecology. Officially. Ecology, ecologists, Green Peace, Save the Whale, recycling, riding your bike, having a fuel efficient car...by extention of what they believe, vegetarians (which is not just about not killing animals) and by further extention of that thought...the makers of tofutti.

Sister Mary Fiacre loves tofutti. We have to watch her weight a little, since she's immobile.

Blessed Kateri was a Mohawk...I think. Anyhow, she was a Native American girl who found Christ, survived smallpox but was disfigured by it, and was shunned by her people for her newfound faith. She made her way all alone through the wilderness, like the cat and dog in the Incredible Journey, to find a mission where she could live in peace. Like most saints who weren't much to look at, she's very attractive on her holy card.

That all got me to thinking about the North American martyrs, who have fascinated me since I was a child. They were Jesuit priests who came here from France to evangelize the Native Americans and they were all tortured and killed. My favorite childhood story was that of St. Isaac Jogues who had his fingers chewed off by the Iroquois. They had discovered that the priest is only allowed to touch the host with his thumb, forefinger and middle finger, so they chewed those off on both hands. He had to get a special dispensation from the Pope to say Mass with his remaining fingers. I think of these things whenever I hear people whining about being lactose intolerant as they reach for their soy latte.

There were eight of them all together, tortured and killed by the Iroquois and sometimes the Hurons. What great work!

How many people did they convert?

One. I think.

Not Kateri. She was a Mohawk.

God love them for trying. But I have to wonder if it was worth it. You may be shocked to hear me say that. After all, all eight of their lives are worth that one soul.

But what if all eight of them had gone elsewhere and converted 20 people? Or 700 people?

The heathens who never hear the news get to go to heaven anyhow. They used to go to limbo, but limbo closed. Now they just go right to heaven.

Which makes me further worry about the possibility of a war in heaven.

I figure, if you haven't heard the word of God and you were an ignorant innocent and you go right heaven, which is only fair, you'll get all the information when you get there and you'll see for yourself right away that the Catholic church was right about everything, as claimed.

But you know...you still have free will in heaven. And some people can't see the truth when it's staring them in the face. It would be very depressing to have my fingers chewed off in heaven. Not that I'll need them there.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thank Goodness for St. Joseph

How long do you hold a grudge? I know we're not supposed to hold a grudge at all, but some grudges are important to hang onto. Isn't that what a boycott is all about?

Here's what happened. Sister Mary Fiacre takes an aspirin every day to help guard against heart attacks and strokes. So far, it's working. Whatever health related train wreck she has endured, she hasn't had a heart attack or a stroke. We don't think. I have been militant in making sure she gets St. Joseph's aspirin. In the first place, it's St. Joseph, the patron saint of everything: travel, a happy death, old age, families, dads, workers, aches and fever reduction, Italy...the list goes on. And secondly, because I have been boycotting the Bayer aspirin companyfor years since a Jewish friend of mine told me to.

I'm generally not so wishy washy that I would just boycott a whole company by taking someone's word for it. I don't boycott a book without reading it first.

But she was so vehement, I just went with it. I knew it had something to do with the Second World War. Chances are, contrary to what the President of Iran believes, she wasn't making anything up. AndI can always take St. Joseph aspirin, where my loyalty lies.

Since I broke my toe and couldn't do things I normally do for us here, I have been relying on the church ladies and other kind souls to hunt and gather and fetch. We ran out of aspirin and Mrs. Morris brought us some. Bayer. oops. I can't just toss them out. Mrs. Morris paid good money for them. So I have been giving Sister Mary Fiacre Bayer aspirin all week, feeling just a little guilty.

Until yesterday.

One of my normal duties is digging up patron saints for people. I have so often mentioned that there really is a patron saint for everything...beer, disappointing children, toothaches....that people ask me all the time what saint to turn to in their time of need.

One of the church ladies was concerned about her drunken nephew and what would happen to him if he ever stopped drinking and we were talking about the DT's. I figured, given the fact that there is a patron saint for beer, there must be one for the DT's.

What do I unearth? St. Barbara.

The man who invented barbituates is none other than Adolph Bayer (also spelled Baeyer). He named his new wonder drug by putting together the name of the saint's feast day on which he made his discovery, the feast of St. Barbara. He called his new compound Barbara's urates (urates=a salt of sulphuric acid).

Not so bad really. Sleeping pills, badly needed for people who were getting no rest because of diseases like TB.

The Bayer company also invented two other wonder drugs, aspirin and heroin, in the same two week period. Heroin was the more promising drug, for the same need, to help people with severe breathing problems get some sleep, a huge problem of that time. The only had morphine, which is habit forming.

Bayer was also the first company to do heavy duty testing on animals and humans. The researchers all tried heroin and said it made them feel 'heroic' which is how it got it's name. The head of the company became a regular user. Heroine was selling by tons for 3 years or so when doctors started reported it's addictive nature. oops.

Seems the company thought heroine would be the most lucrative, so they pushed that. Pardon the pun. No one dreamed the big money would be in aspirin.

The company was still testing on animals and humans during WWII when they also bought Jewish slave labor from the Nazi's and haggled that $80 was too much to spend on a person. And even if we could leave them off the hook for all of that, they also fought restitution just yesterday....yesterday in the grand scheme of things.

Now I feel really, really guilty giving Sister Mary Fiacre the Bayer aspirin. I can barely look at the bottle. I'll have to limp to the Walgreen's myself for the St. Joseph's and offer it up for all the pain and suffering caused by the Bayer aspirin company.

Thank goodness we don't drive a Ford.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pope Spoke on a Rope

So far this year the most difficult thing to get away from has been Mary appearing in and on things. She was on the underpass dribblings in Chicago, a tree in the parking lot of the General Mills factory where they make breakfast cereal, that grilled cheese.....just yesterday I saw her on the underbelly of a turtle that some lady found in her back yard.

That was until the Pope gave his recent speech. Now I can't get away from all the Pope fuss. I can't escape everyone and their dog Rollo's opinion of the Pope, what he said, what he meant to say, whether or not he did apologize or should apologize, and what hat he had on while it all occured.

I feel compelled to offer my opinion of his hats. Every once in a while when I run across the a picture of the Pope unexpectedly , in the paper or online or wherever, just for a second, I think I'm looking at one of those red hat ladies. Since he's not also wearing a purple boa, I realize in the next second it's the Pope.

Nice hat, I think to myself.

The rest of it is as tiresome to me as the endless questions about papal infallibilty. How many times have I had to explain that? Even Catholics get mixed up.

It's not rocket science.

Is the pope always infallible? If you're playing scrabble with the Pope and he puts up the word "blotsnefad" does he win?


The Pope is only infallible when he speaks on matters of morals and ethics, and even then only when he speaks 'ex cathedra', or from the throne. I mean....ex cathedra means from the throne. There's been some argument about how many times this has happened and I think the official answer is three. One was the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, one was the Assumption of Mary into heaven and the other one was that the Pope is infallible.

You see, the Pope wasn't always infallible. The Church has always been infallible but the Pope was not personally infallible until Vatican I. That Pope locked everyone up in the Vatican for quite some time. The Cardinals were very crabby and uncomfortable.

But the Pope became infallible by infallible ex cathedra decision and the infallibility of the Pope was retroactive for all the Popes before him. Even the Borgia's.

I'm thinking it will all blow over, this recent conflagration. Salmon Rushdie is still doing very well after all and I think his dummy was burned many times way back when.

Monday, September 18, 2006

I didn't realize that the world would fall apart because I broke my toe. I haven't been able to keep up with my usual activities one of which, unbeknownst to me, was keeping parishoners from attacking each other with hammers.

The Ladies of Our Lady here at the parish hold a card party once a month on the Friday after First Friday, the second Friday, to cheer us all up after First Friday. There are two ladies, names withheld although no one is innocent except the Blessed Mother, who make refreshments. They take turns.

It seems they don't care for each other's refreshments and have been attempting to oust each other from refreshment duties forever. Since I wasn't there to get wind of the coup and stop it, which is a balancing act I've managed better than Carl Walenda since my arrival here years ago, a bloody refreshment massacre ensued. Feelings were hurt, parishes were left.

It looks like we'll be having ham from now on. The fight was about not always having ham. The Always Hams won. The head of Variety (not the Hollywood newspaper) took off for a nieghboring parish.

I am more sure than ever that the possibility of war in heaven is inevitable.


We can't get through this month's card party! I'm not sure how we expect to spend eternity together.

I mean, who do you think you're going to be in heaven WITH? (Please, forgive the Chicago grammar.)

At least in the Catholic church we have Purgatory to settle everyone's hash before they arrive in heaven. But if the separated brethen are going to heaven (iffy, but not impossible) they are going AS IS. That can't be good. If you can't get across town in your car without swearing at someone or through the grocery checkout without thinking evil thoughts about the person in front of you who has ten thousand coupons and is slowly writing out a check.... but you're 'saved'.... what's heaven going to be like?

Given the loving and forgiving nature of God, I expect heaven to be very crowded. I don't mean crowded like a Northern prison after the Civil War, I just mean heavily populated. I should have just said heavily populated.

How many times have you found yourself spotting someone you'd like to avoid, and then running behind anything you can run behind to avoid them? If there's someone you can't stand here, how are you going to behave in heaven? Is everyone going to stand around and correct each other's doctrinal errors for eternity? Are Boston fans and New York fans going to throw sodas at each other without end?

I'm all for the hope that everyone gets a little Purgatory time. Except martyrs. They seem to have gotten it right, at least one very important time.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

If It Bleeds, Mop Up the Mess

Sister St. Aloysius and I were channel surfing
last night. Sister Mary Fiacre was with us, of course, but I can't actually say she participates in any way. It's hard to tell. It would be hard to tell at any rate, but last night we gave her a couple of large marshmellows for dessert and she enjoyed them so much we gave her several more. So whatever her commentary at any point might have been we'll never know what she intended to tell us.

I have mentioned that Sister St. Aloysius and I often watch the news with the sole intent of choosing things to pray for. For about 15 seconds we were about to pray for some poor souls who had been kidnapped. They looked awful, sweating behind bars, frightened expressions on their faces. Then we realized that I had hit the wrong button for the news and we were watching network television.

So at least I can report to you that the season premiere of "Lost" is October 4th. I know some of you were concerned.

I have to confess that Sister St. Aloysuis and I stole the idea of praying for the news from some other nuns. Those cloister girls have deep thoughts and are champion pray-ers. This little group of Carmelites have a website. If you've just had a short visit with this link you've already seen that it's actually called "pray the news".

They'll pray for you, too, whether or not you're newsworthy. And you better get over there fast because they're all old, there's only a seven or eight of them and they're dying off one by one. Pretty soon there will be no one to do their shopping, let alone run a website.

Sometimes the news seems so overwhelming that we just don't know where to dig in prayer-wise.

But to be honest, it's not that overwhelming when you boil it down. You have to realize that so much is hype and spin and 'if it bleeds it leads." So we are compiling a check list to wade through the madness.

How to Tell When You Can Cross Something Off the Prayer List:

1. If the story is about a politician, take a bathroom break. Unless the poor soul is having personal problems like an illness...we could pray about that.

2. If the story has a question mark behind it. "Muslim in the Senate?" "Armageddon?" "World War Three?" A question mark means it's automatcally stupid thinking in the first place. Grab another marshmellow.

3. If Paula Zahn looks really concerned about it. Just change the channel.

4. If the story is only showing stock footage: some kind of rioting, terrorists training, really fat people walking around with their faces blurred. It's a slow news day.

5. If the person speaking is a geologist, in particular a siesmic geologist. Although, if he was ever correct all you could do is pray anyhow. You may as well turn your attention elsewhere.

6. If it's Saturday. Read the paper. The most amazing news that really needs your attention is in the paper on Saturday. Read it before you go to confession in case you've become so angry you've had bad thoughts. Really really bad thoughts.

7. If it's William Donahue, just pray that he doesn't have a heart attack.

That's the list so far. I'm sure you all have some ideas. The list really helps us narrow the field.

And when in doubt these days, I always fall back on my new obsession, the possibility of another war in heaven.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Three Scares and Four Sorrows of Mary

The doctor told me that by today, a week from the bathroom door incident, my toe bone should have knitted together some. I think it has. I still can't wear a normal shoe.

But if that's my worst complaint, no big deal.

Especially since tomorrow is the feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

Now let's not confuse ourselves. The Seven Sorrows of Mary are not the Five Sorrowful Mysteries.

For the separated brethen and the miminally educated CCD kids, the Five Sorrowful Mysteries are five incidents in the life of Mary that we meditate about when saying the rosary on Tuesday, and Saturday, unless it's Lent, and then we do the Sorrowful Mysteries every day. If you get confused, you could just say a proper rosary and go around the beads four times, once for each set of mysteries, which is what a full rosary actually entails. But we know how lazy you are so we divided it up for you across the week. Pathetic.

Bear with me here. The rosary is a meditation on Jesus as seen through the eyes of his mother. Mary doesn't actually appear by name in the Sorrowful Mysteries. She's all over the Joyful Mysteries and she is active in half of the Glorious Mysteries and makes appearances in the Luminous Mysteries. I know it sounds a little confusing, but if you actually mediatate on it, you'll figure it out.

Anyhow, the Five Sorrowful Mysteries are: The Agony in the Garden, The Scouring at the Pillar, The Crowning of Thorns, Carrying the Cross, and the Death on the Cross.

And that's almost completely different...although not entirely different....from the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary

1. The Prophecy of Simeon.
Mary brings the baby Jesus to the temple and Simeon jumps out and tells her that she will have a sword pierce her heart.

Now this one isn't all that sorrowful, really, if you imagine yourself in her shoes. If you were at the temple with your beautiful new baby and some old man jumped over to tell you things would end badly and that you would be incredibly sorrowful and wounded, you might be really spooked or a little peeved. What a wet blanket.

If you knew he was a prophet, it would certainly gnaw at you.

2. The Flight to Egpyt.

This is when evil king Herod got wind from the Magi that a new king had been born and had all the first born babies killed. I have to pause for a moment and say, what's up with these Magi? How 'wise' was it to tell the old evil king they were on their way to honor the 'new king'? And ask where they might find this new king? Doh! That has always gotten on my nerves. Wise, indeed.

Anyway, an angel tells Joseph to get out of Dodge. Which is why St. Joseph is a great choice to replace St. Christopher since Christopher was x-ed off the list. St. Joseph did a lot of safe traveling with his family.

And for Mary, very scarey.

3. Jesus is Lost at the Temple

We're all familiar with this tale, when after a visit to the temple in Jerusalem, Mary thinks Jesus is with Joseph and Joseph thinks Jesus is with Mary, when really, He's still at the temple.

Really scarey and aggravating.

The next three (Jesus carrying the cross... also a Sorrowful Mystery..., Mary at the foot of the cross and Mary recieves the body of Jesus) I won't go into because since I know you all saw the Passion of the Christ, you know how deeply sorrowful they are, in living color, great detail ten feet high, slow motion and surround sound.

The last one is Mary witnessing the Burial of Jesus. How right Simeon was.

So that's my day tomorrow. I suppose some of you are just looking forward to the season premiere of "Lost".

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hello, my name is Martha and I'll be your server today

I don't do well being fussed over and waited on. Luckily my toe is much better and I can limp around. I don't really even have to hobble. I was still hobbling yesterday. Like Grandpappy Amos on the Real McCoys, something only old fogies like me remember.

I chose the name Martha on purpose, way back when. St. Martha is the patron saint of waitresses and cooks. St. Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks, too...also of comics. I tend to think of him more as the patron saint of comics for his wild sense of humor. A true satirist.

When the Roman prefect started up the Roman killing machine again he told St. Lawrence to round up all the churches treasures. The prefect gave St. Lawrence three days. St. Lawrence spent the next three days giving everything away to the poor like a wild man. At the appointed time he showed up wherever he was supposed to be with the loot: thousands of the blind, lepers, poor, crippled....excuse me, disabled....you get the picture. "Here are the treasures of the church, " he announced. What a riot! He was promptly ordered to be killed.

Legend has it he was grilled on a gridiron and his final words were, "Turn me over, I'm done on this side." Really, you can look it up.

Reminds me of when Ronald Reagan, not the dancer, old Dutch, said, "I forgot to duck."

Anyhow, St. Martha is the patron saint of waitresses because of one famous story, that makes everyone hang their heads in shame because it makes everyone feel really guilty. And it should.

You remember Martha. She had a sister, Mary and an extremely famous brother, Lazarus. Yes, THAT Lazarus. (Has anyone ever been named Lazarus except that guy? Some names you just don't touch. Like Hitler. No one wants that last name anymore.) Jesus spent a lot of time at their house and on one such occasion Martha was busily serving everyone. Twelve apostles, the Lord only knows how many disciples, Lazarus. Did they just drop in? Did she have to make the falafel dinner for three she had planned stretch for 35 people? We don't know.

We do know that she had something choice to say to her sister Mary for plopping herself down and listening to Jesus. Anybody would sympathize with her. Where does Mary get off leaving Martha all that work all by herself? There are guests in the house, for Pete's sake. St. Martha could have stormed out the back door with a hearty 'get it yourself!' throw over her shoulder and taken some 'alone time' and no one would have blamed her.

But Jesus tells her to chill, only in his archaic way of speaking. It's smarter to sit and listen to him then to bustle around rattling plates.

oops. That's right. That would be better.

Well, that's me, to a tee. I'm a plate rattler through and through.

Of course, I have St. Mary Fiacre to contend with. We never know who she's listening to at any given moment. Could be God, could be Lawrence Welk. There's no way to know.

This week I've been forced to go sit down. I've still managed to rattle a plate or two here at the blog anyhow, true to my namesake.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Picky, Picky, PIcky

Good thing I have a little extra time. The nit pickers have arrived.

Normally when someone responds to an entry I respond in the comments section of the post. But yesterday's entry had two responses that need a whole new post to reply.

Now, I realize you're all lazy and would love it if I would copy and paste the responses here for you to read. Fat chance, lazybones. Go to yesterday's post and read them yourselves and if you're annoyed, offer it up.

I'll wait.

One of the things I love about the Catholic church is that it indeed has an answer for everything. Just like we have a patron saint for everything. Really. Everything. Cramps (Pancras) and hemmoroids (Fiacre!), lost keys (Anthony) and the internet (Isidore), dogs (Rock) and cats ( I forget, but there is one), casting out demons (Benedict), airline pilots (you have your pick of at least three), dizziness (Ulric), eczema (Anthony the Great).

We didn't set out to have an answer for everything but we constantly have to answer really stupid questions that you make up when you are seven or eight and never let go of.

For example, back when we had to fast before Holy Communion (dropped at Vatican II with the Friday fish....except for Lent...you still have to fast on Friday's during Lent...unless St. Patrick's Day lands on a Friday...then you can get a special dispensation from the Bishop to have your corned beef dinner...but not at your house........at the church fund raiser) I had this gem:

"Sister! If I make a whistle out of a blade of grass by putting it between my thumbs and blowing on it and I accidently swallow the grass, can I still go to Communion?"

After calling on St. Dymphna, the patron saint of insanity, I answer. "Was it really an accident? Technically, you did indeed break you fast by having something enter your stomache. But sin is about intent. You had to intend to break your fast. And fasting is not about eating or not eating, anyhow. It's about what you do and think while you're not eating."

"Survey says! No sin here."

Which brings me to my two nit pickers on the subject of to whom you confess and what constitutes contrition.

Here's the deal. If you have a mortal sin on your soul and you are about to buy the farm, you better be really remorseful to have God accept your apology. Them's the rules.

For those who LOVE to nitpick, we have two kinds of sins. Mortal and venial.

We also have "near occasions of sin" meaning you are purposely (perhaps) putting yourself in harms way. They are four: Remote, Proximate, Voluntary, and oh look out you are about to be sooo in hell. Not really. The last one is Necessary, like you have a family of twelve and the only job you can get is next door to that place Tony Soprano owns. Anyhow, they too are to be avoided. Not avoiding sin can be a sin.

Thinking about sinning is also a sin if you intend to commit the sin as soon as you get the chance even if you never get the chance. God is still offended.

And finally, we have two types of contrition, to which my two responders are referring.
Perfect contrition is when you know what you did offended God and you are really sorry because you understand just how exactly it offended God and you feel just terrible about it. The more you understand about God's feelings and how you hurt them, the more perfect the contrition is.

Since we don't that really expect that from you lazybones, we'll take what we can get, which is called 'imperfect contrition', which is when you're sorry because you know what you did IS a sin even if you don't agree, and you are afraid God is going to do something untoward toward you, better known as the Wrath of God.

We figure that's enough for forgiveness for your run of the mill 'lied to my teacher, poked my brother in the back of the head,' type sins. And if you're even a little sorry, for whatever reason, maybe your understanding of your badness will grow on you and you'll grow toward a more perfect contrition.

But you are not going to get away with imperfect contrition and manage to get through the pearly gates if you are, say, Hitler. We never ever ever say that anyone is in hell, not even Hitler, because we give everyone the benefit of the doubt, that somehow in their last moments they suddenly said, "What was I thinking?" But someone as rotten as Hitler, or you if you have really rotten sins going on as you fade from consciousness,must have perfect contrition to cut the mustard.

From the Cathechism of the Catholic Church:
1453 The contrition called "imperfect" (or "attrition") is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.

Which brings us back to the original question of yesterday's post. Why the priest?

So to sum up:
On Your Deathbed With a Mortal Sin on Your Soul
Perfect Contrition (good luck)=no priest necessary
Imperfect Contrition=get yourself one of those medals that say "in case of emergency please call a priest" . Better yet, have it tatted on your forehead.

See? I learned about tats.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Good for the Soul

Being felled by my broken toe has given me the chance to catch up on all kinds of things. Most of those things are really tedious, like tatting* altar clothes. Not that I do that. I mean it's that kind of tedious.

But I have been able to catch up on my email and correspondence and it seems I've been neglectful in answering many questions sent to me by readers. So I'll try to pick them off one by one, or several at a time if they're easy. I can't play favorites and they are in no particular order. Since today is a day of national mourning and we are reminded of how easy it is to disappear from the planet with little or no notice I thought we could start with this question from Beadoodles in Illinois who asks:

"I wonder what your thoughts of the role of the priest in confession is. Isn't it just easier to tell the Big Guy yourself? Or is it that Catholics feel they can't atone unless someone told them to? And is it right for Father to make comments on sins? Like reprimanding the sinner? "

Confession 101

There are 2 types of sins. Lesser sins, like taking all your co-workers paper clips and rubber bands while she's out sick, are called venial sins. Big sins, like sleeping with your co-worker's husband while she's out sick, are called mortal sin. Mortal, because they wound your soul mortally. Adios, soul. Catholics know they have to atone. No one has to tell them. It has been drummed into them, for their own good starting at age seven, the age of reason.

But all sins, no matter how grievous, can be forgiven, and in fact ARE forgiven if the sinner is truly sorry. And that means not just grudgingly SAYING you're sorry, but actually feeling remorse.

You CAN just 'tell the 'Big Guy' and I'm sure He'll hear you. But get this, here on earth 'the Big Guy' is represented by the priest. Why? Because Jesus said so. He said to his Apostles, 'whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.' Jesus spoke in archaic language. God does, too. He said things like, "Take off they shoes from off they feet." Like Father, like Son.

So, Beadoodles, you can't fight city hall, as they say. We go to the priest because Jesus wanted it that way. You can pretend He didn't, but you'd be wrong.

So it follows that Father can make comments on sins, to give you guidance, just the way Jesus would. And he's not really commenting on you, so much. But what can I say, if the shoe fits.....

You'll want to make sure you get this confession thing together because if you die with a mortal sin on your soul, it's straight to hell for you. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Don't be committing a mortal sin and then go cross a busy street against the light. Or go swimming with manta rays. (Rest his soul.)

You might also consider wearing a scapular. Mary promised that anyone wearing the scapular would not see the fires of hell. But she was talking about the brown scapular of the Carmelites (that big piece of cloth worn by the clergy that looks like a table runner with a head hole...mine is black). The Pope was so enamored of this idea that he extended the priveledge to all the faithful. So if YOU wear the scapular YOU will not see the fires of hell. You will go to Purgatory if need be. But you will get out of Purgatory on the first Saturday after your death. So you might want to shoot for a Friday passing. Also St. Lawrence comes once a month to collect one soul. I'm not sure how you go about gettin picked for that. And some other saint takes ten souls or so once a month, too. Find that line, if you're there.

I hope this answers your question.

*It has been brought to my attention that this word in common usage no longer refers to intricate crochet made with a teeny tiny hook to make intricate lace. I have not opened a tattoo parlor for altar cloths.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mary!

It's really hard to walk on crutches at all, let alone while wearing a habit. I've taken to rolling around the convent house in the office chair.

So I rolled right here to wish Mary a happy birthday!

Yes, today is the feast of Our Blessed Mother's birth. I have to have people getting me every little thing, so I don't think I'll ask them to get cake. We'll just think about cake while we're eating whatever Sister Saint Aloysius is making.

I was telling the story of the Virgin Mary for a while here. I left off when we hit the part that is actually written in the New Testament, so I'd thought I'd pick up where the New Testament leaves off.

After Jesus dies, Mary lives a quiet life in her little mud hut. The Apostles and disciples visit her often. Here we have an example of the 'simple' life. "Simple" like the Amish and the magazine, not like the children of Fatima, Lourdes, and LaSalette. I read somewhere that the Franciscans have figured out how old Mary was when she died. Sixty four. Or....eighty six...I forget.

There is a story of everyone gathering as she grew weak and old and the women lifting her head to drink juice from smashed yellow berries. Pulled from the ether that one, I think.

But she did die, the apostles wrapped her up and buried her and three days later her body was gone. Everyone assumed she was assumed into heaven.

Now get this straight. Jesus ascended into heaven. He flew up there himself, so to speak..or floated or whatever...but under his own steam. He did this so there would be no doubt where he went. He didn't disappear, or go down. He went up. It doesn't mean heaven is actually up. It's just that we all think of heaven as up and hell as down and here as here. So he went up so everyone would know where he went.

Mary was assumed into heaven. The angels took her up. We guess. Maybe Jesus came and got her. She didn't go under her own steam.

When I was little I thought that when the priest said Mary was assumed into heaven he meant 'we don't know what happened we just think this is want happened' as in 'we assumed her to be in heaven' shortened to 'assumed into heaven'. Follow me?

But that's wrong.

After Mary got to heaven there was a big ceremony and she was crowned Queen of Heaven. Dont' believe me? Check your glorious mysteries, it's right in there.

So that's that. You can still visit the little house in which Mary lived in her elder years. It's in Italy. It got there by itself. Well....the angels moved it.

It was under attack by the infidels (not us, the other infidels) so the angels flew it somewhere else. Shepards suddenly discovered the clay hut that wasn't there yesterday. It stayed there for three years and pow! it was gone again. This time it was spotted flying to it's next location where it stayed for quite some time until the devotions turned ugly...you know, selling glow in the dark rosaries, or the dark ages equivilent of glow in the dark rosaries. And then the angels moved it to Loretto, Italy, where it remains today.

Did the angels fly Mary's house to Italy? Yes they did. There was a family by the name of Angeli who had it brought to Loretto. The Angeli's brought it. You get the picture.

Did the angels fly Mary in to heaven. We assume so.

We know her body is 'up' there.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Toe Tapper

Did I mention this was a bad week? If this were the Old Testament I'd suspect God's wrath. I do suspect the wrath of Our Lady of LaSalette may be at work here.

Yesterday, as soon as I got up, before I had water, coffee or a morsel of food, I slammed my foot into the bathroom door. I knew my little toe was broken because I heard it snap. When I've broken a toe in the past, I simply tape it to the toe next to it and march on. But this time my toe was, well, askew.

I couldn't just jump in the car and drive to the emergency room. I couldn't walk and Sister Mary Fiacre wasn't up yet, which is a whole long routine right there. Sister Saint Aloysius had to call on one of the church ladies to come and drive me and then Sister Saint Aloysius had to fend for herself and Sister Mary Fiacre on her own. Good luck to you both!

The emergency room was sort of busy. There was an old lady who had fallen at the bank and had a gash in her head and a really big fat lip. There was a Hispanic man who had let an electric saw slip...into his leg. There was an odd fat man with fantastically curly hair. His face was a little bashed up. And when I arrived a girl was coming in shaking in pain from kidney stones. By the time Mrs. Gott got me a wheel chair the kidney stone girl got in the door ahead of me.

I didn't realize she had gotten ahead of me, so I said to the admitting nurse, "Take her first, please, she's in terrible pain." And the nurse said, "She was ahead of you." It seemed she meant that had the kidney stones not been ahead of me she would have to have waited for me, shaking and moaning.

I left without my glasses so I couldn't read. Mrs. Gott was trying to keep my spirits up by talking to me so I couldn't mentally say a rosary. Which is a real shame, because I was there so long I could have freed Russia single handedly if it still needed freeing.

We got there at 9 am. We left with my foot in a Velcro shoe and on crutches at 4 pm!!!!

My toe was throbbing the entire time and I had shooting pains where the tiny bone broke.
So I told Mrs. Gott the story of St. Barthlomew. He had his skin peeled off. He was one of the Twelve Apostles and he is depicted in art with a big knife sometimes holding a big pelt or sometimes holding his own skin. The boys always really liked to have his holy card, which generally depicted his final moments. They always loved St. Sebastian, tied to a tree and shot full of arrows, too.

And I told her of St. Denis, who was beheaded in a not so nice part of town. He picked up his head and walked to a better part of town and died there.

At which point, the curly haired bashed face man said, "Never believe you're dead," to no one in particular.

We had quite a camaraderie going on hour after hour, as we were picked off one by one by the male nurse with the flag stamp hospital shirt. I found I was interested to see what happened to everyone, as though I was watching some television show and I wasn't going to get to see how it ended.

The kidney stone girl was given pain killers and was still trying to pass the stone. They gave her a sieve.

The Hispanic man had eight stitches.

The old lady, who I found out was fantastically wealthy and had willed her wealth to retired nuns (but not my order), had nine stitches.

I don't know what happened to the curly haired bashed face, or the gunshot wound to the head that came in later.

I do know the gunshot would was able to give a statement to the police, so like my toe, it couldn't have been that bad.

It's all about perspective.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I Am a Fussy Old Goat

I guess I'm having a bad week. First, I overlook Sister Mary Fiacre's feast day. (I was right on the money; she didn't notice.) Then, not only was I flummoxed in posting my tribute to Mother Teresa, I find I posted it on the wrong day. Her new feast day is today. I thought yesterday was the fifth. I better get it together because school starts Wednesday.

Or is it Thursday? Uh-oh.

And then there's the ever looming possibility of a war in heaven.

And now I'm a little down in the dumps because I've discovered...and this is a confession about as earth shattering as St. Augustine's whole book, for me anyway....I just don't believe in Our Lady of La Salette.

There I've said it.

The faithful are not required to believe in any Mary appartitions whatsoever, so I'm off the hook as far as that goes, but the Church has deemed La Salette worthy and true. It's not easy for me to just...you know, not buy it.

I was reading a little book about the Rosary. The author has this theory that since the whole secular, moral relativity movement started in France with the French Revolution, Our Lady spent a roughly a decade 'circling' France like a giant lasso. I really like that theory.

She starts in 1830 in LaBourre and swings around the country, ending up at our favorite sighting and the old Pope's, Fatima. La Salette would have been the second stop on her tour in 1846. She's been touring longer than the Rolling Stones.

The theory falls to pieces, though, if you look at a map. No circle. No lasso.

And for me anyhow, no La Salette.

The story is that two shepard children are out tending their cows. Like most of the visionaries..perhaps all of them, really... these two are dim bulbs. I wouldn't mention it, but that all the stories about them and the other visionaries like little Bernadette stress over and over how really backwards and 'simple' they are. They don't mean 'simple' like that magazine, or even the Amish...they mean not bright enough to pound sand. Anyhow the boy, Max, is 11 and the girl, what's her name...it starts with an "M", too. We'll call her 'Mimi" for now til it comes to me. Mimi is 15.

Being dumb as rocks they lose track of their cows, go find them, and as they're returning they see a big ball of light, like the sun has come to land. Then out of the ball of light steps this beautiful lady. At first they're frightened but her voice is 'like music' and they are drawn closely to her.

It's all very charming. We love that Mary's voice is like music and she comes in a ball of light.

But then....Mary, who never stops crying the entire time, tells the children she has 'good news' for them. Not so good to stop her crying, apparently. The 'good news' is that Jesus is soooo offended by cab drivers and the like taking His Name in vain that He is up in heaven saying, "Hold me back! HOoooold me back!" and Mary can barely hold Him back. Still crying, she continues the good news by telling them they've been getting warnings that were not heeded. The year before Jesus ruined their potato crop in an effort to get them to stop swearing, but unlike the Irish, they must have all just gone ahead and eaten something else. She tells them things are going to get a lot worse if everyone doesn't straighten up and fly right. Then she walks back into the light and she's gone.


I'm not kidding, she said "cab drivers"...okay..she said "cart drivers"...it's still all about 19th century road rage.

She doesn't even say the word "rosary."

In 1848 the Women's Rights movement began. A woman in New York appeared on the streets in bloomers. Carl Marx was writing. There was a little thing called the "Revolution of 1848" in which all of Europe was embroiled.

But Mary the Mother of God comes to tell us how really mad Jesus is at the cart drivers, not to mention that He wants to 'abandon' everyone except every day Mary tells Him not to.

I'm letting this one go.

How did it get authenticated? Well, the children were extremely convincing, not smart enough to hold up under the extreme scrutiny that befell them. Max in particular, if he was living today would defintely be diagnosed with ADD. Melanie! That was her name! Anyhow, at one point a burly man held Max over a cliff by his ankles and Max still never recanted. I admit that's compelling.

And then the faithful picked up the cause and miracles happened. You know the drill.

I'm not comfortable about any of it. Letting it go or not.

Some day I hope I'll get to ask Our Lady what that was all about. When I'm languishing in Purgatory, as I am certain to be, we can talk often. I've read the writings of other visionaries who tell us she is in charge there.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I was in a good mood.

The operative word is WAS.

Today is the brand new feast day of Blessed (one miracle 'til sainthood) Mother Teresa. I was going to spend the day reflecting on the thing that caused me to notice her in the first place, besides the fact that she's a nun, or that she founded her own convent with the personal blessing of the Pope himself, or that she hung around in squalor for love of her fellow humans, oh, and that Nobel Peace Prize.

But instead, I find myself stewing about this nasty article by that nasty man, Christopher Hitchens. It's an old article and I've read it before. For one thing, the whole situation is causing me to sin, since I am dwelling on Hitchens himself and how his giant puffy head reminds me of every alcoholic I've ever known. How many is that? Catholics get to drink. You do the math.

And he works for Vanity Fair. Vanity....that's a sin right there.

Off to confession for me!

Here's the nasty article. Hold your nose. Prepare to cringe and twitch.

Mr. Nasty Man Pontificates

Here's my response in defense of the Blessed Mother Terese . I'll try to keep it short:

No one's perfect.

In order to be a saint you have to have what we call heroic virtue. Virtue above and beyond the call of duty.

We know Mother Terese is going to be a saint because she had two things Catholics value very highly: 1. she had heroic virtue. 2. She was great at fundraising.

Someone needs to patiently explain to Mr. Hitchsons that if Mother Teresa would have given speeches about the need for birth control in over populated impoverished third world countries, she wouldn't be considered for sainthood in the first place, even if she was able to single handedly close down the communist country of Cuba by clicking the heels of her nun shoes together. You can't be a saint if you say things that are against the dogma of the church. You can't even be the Virgin Mary.

One of the ways the church determines if a Mary sighting is authentic is, "did she say anything that is contradictory to church dogma?" If she stood on top of a grotto and announced, "I am NOT the Immaculate Conception, where did anyone ever cook up that idea?", we're not even going to come and talk to you. And we came to the General Mills parking lot when Mary was on a tree there ....just to have a look.

I digress.

I feel better, except for the mean things I've said about Christopher Hitchsons, for which I shall be punished severely...for this is another thing Mr. H should know: the people who get punished the worst in Purgatory are the clergy, because they were in a position of authority, they advised people on the state of their souls. There's no room for error...although...no one's perfect. (Next up the rung: parents, for the same reasons.) So Mother Teresa got whatever was coming to her and then some, for the vengence minded.

I meant to tell you the thing that drew me to Mother Teresa. It's that she had a version of this poem on her bedroom wall. Really, just this is why I love her. If she even tried to live this way, she's dead+in heaven=saint.

The Paradoxical Commandments

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Make a Saint Campaign

Okay everybody, time to roll up your sleeves. Monday is the feast day of not-a-saint-yet Mother Teresa. We need to take care of that 'not a saint yet' part. It's embarrassing.

For those of you unclear on the rules, the criteria for sainthood is really easy breezy lemon squeezy. Dead+In Heaven=Saint. Everyone who is in heaven is a saint. No one who is alive is a saint. The Church never ever declares that any dead person is anywhere, not heaven, not Purgatory, not Hell. Not even Hitler (at the last moment he could have gone, "What was I thinking!?").

Except when the church canonizes someone. Then the church is saying the person is definitely in heaven and is worthy of the veneration of the faithful.

In order to do this the church has to prove the person is in heaven. The devil doesn't do nice things. The only way to prove a soul is in heaven is if a living person has a miracle bestowed upon them after asking for the intercession of the saintly candidate.

Now get this straight! We're talking miracles here, not this junk people CALL miracles! Not, "I found a parking space!" Not, "My cat hid in the armoire when we were moving and was transported across North America by Allied Van Lines locked in the armoire with no food or water for five days and arrived in Alaska still alive and well."

Not even this (true story):

A man in Santa Monica suddenly has the irresistible urge to jump up and walk his dog in the middle of the afternoon. He never walks his dog in the middle of the afternoon, but out he goes. While he's gone a construction worker hits a gas pipe and the dog walker's house blows to smithereens.

Is it a miracle? No. It's great for him, but it's not a miracle.

A miracle only qualifies as a miracle if the event is spontaneous and unexplainable. If the man had left his house to walk his dog BLIND and come back and SEEN that his house was blown to splinters that would be a miracle. Spontaneous+unexplainable+good thing=Miracle.

So in order to canonize the Blessed Mother Teresa (the fact that she's called "Blessed" means she already has one miracle under her belt) she needs another miracle attributed to her.

This is where you come in. Start praying for the miracle you need by asking for the intercession of Mother Teresa. You separated brethren can just calm down. You're just asking her to pray for you, just like you ask your other friends to pray for you when you need a miracle. And don't give me this "I Just pray straight to Jesus" malarkey. Really? You never ask anyone to pray for you? Good. That'll save me some time every day....

......ugh....I'll be praying for you anyhow......

When you get your miracle contact someone in the Catholic church. Someone important, not the old lady next to you in the pew mumbling through her rosary when she should be paying attention to the Mass. (Not that she's not important.....you know what I mean. Anyhow, she can't even focus on the task at hand. I wouldn't trust her with my miracle.) Be sure and follow up to make certain your important person actually got a hold of someone even more important that can get your case to the folks over at the Causes of Saints. Unless your important person was the Pope.

Prepare to be investigated. We're not taking your word for it. Sorry.

Get busy people. We'll talk more about why Mother Teresa is most definitely in heaven when we celebrate with her on Monday.