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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I received this question from a reader, Kasia:

Sister, please tell me more about this "offering up"...

I understand the theory. But I don't think I fully understand the mechanics of it.

Let's say I'm working our front desk, and I'm waiting for my co-worker to relieve me for lunch. I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, and I want to get off the desk before the phone rings AGAIN. (Just theoretically, of course!) She's taking her sweet time, and I'm getting more and more frustrated and uncomfortable. So I think, "Offer it up." Have I offered it up if I'm still irritated? What if the irritation goes away as soon as I start offering it up? Did it count?

Dear Kasia,

This is a gigantic question, right up there with how many prunes are too many. (Are three enough? Are six too many?) Great saints have grappled with it, great leaders have grappled with the saints grappling with it. You can't offer up your suffering if you're not suffering.

St. Rose of Lima wore a crown of thorns she made for herself out of metal spikes and she slept in the family's garden shed. Her superiors tried to stop her from punishing herself too much. She covered the crown in flowers. The minute anyone's back was turned, POW! She was rubbing her face with pepper.

St. Catherine of Sienna only slept 2 hours a night and consumed only the host.

St. Therese the Little Flower slept with a wool blanket in the summer and no blanket in the winter. Among other things.

Besides being saints, what did they all have in common? They seem to have not been crabby during all of this, which seems to have worried them to ever new heights of self inflicted misery. And...

They died really young.

Of course, it was the old days and medical field isn't what it is now. But come on. No food, no warmth, too much warmth, infections with no antibiotics? And no one is praying that God will cure them. They weren't Christian Scientists.

This sort of behavior is discouraged these days. But I think your question had to be at the root of their sacrificial enterprises. They obviously never thought they were doing enough.

So how do we sort this out without ending up in the ICU? Or the looney bin?

By getting into the spirit of the thing!

1. Buck up! The souls in Purgatory are suffering way worse than you, pretty much no matter
what's going on. When I slammed my toe into the bathroom door and it was knocked sideways I had to howl, yes, but I also had to think, "well, I'm not also on fire." Hungry? Thirsty? Try Purgatory.

2. Stop whining. The souls in Purgatory are in abject misery. They're on fire. One hour seems like sixty years. Some of them appear to mystic saints and beg for prayers to release them.

But they're very happy. They already have the Heaven stamp of approval. They are not going to slip through a crack in the Purgatory floor and drop into Hell. Take a tip from them.

3. A gift...like a sacrifice for a soul in Purgatory...is no good if it's given begrudgingly. You don't give your old Aunt Sadie a wad of wrapping paper with no tape, slung around a box of melted chocolate and say with you lower lip out, "here's your gift." Buck up, stop whining and dig up some enthusiasm.

Technically, in answer to your question, it does still count if you're still irritated and it does still count if the irritation goes away. It's a win win for the Church Suffering. I vote for "irritation goes away"as the actual goal here. Not the physical irritation. The bad attitude.

You may fail, but trying really, really counts here.

And for the record, while you're sitting there hungry and thirsty waiting for the pokey co-worker, I hope the phone DOES ring again and that you have to put on the most dulcet of your tones. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they have a big problem that you have to solve?

And while we're on the subject of you at your desk...stop judging your co-worker. She may be 'taking her sweet time' or she might be off offering up sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory while the Xerox spits out 300 half printed sheets in the middle of a paper jam.

Maybe it would help if the whole situation had a gimmick, like "It's a Wonderful Life" where a bell would ring when a soul went out of Purgatory. I think we can go with a bell. Angels aren't dead people, so no bells are ringing for anyone getting wings.

A loud buzzer might be even better. It's annoying.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mary Circles France

There was a method in my madness bringing up Catherine Laboure the day before her feast day. (Happy Feast Day Catherine! We're jealous!)

Now that you are aware of her story and the story behind the medal, I want to run this by you. This is a theory I read a few years back and it caused me to stew in my own juice ever since.

I'm not sure if I've discussed before that Mary's visits so often have a political bend to them. Fatima, for example, was a warning about what was going on with Communism and Russia. At Lourdes, Our Lady confirmed the long held doctrine that Mary was conceived without sin. The church has always maintained that Mary was conceived without sin but it wasn't officially dogma until Vatican I and there was a big fight over doing that. So Mary coming along and introducing herself by saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception" was quite a big deal. It confirmed another decision made at Vatican I: Papal Infallibility. The Church was always infallible, but the Pope was not personally infallible until Vatican I and then it became retroactive for all the Popes, even the teenage ones and the Borgias.

Mary is no slouch.

Here's a little more background for this theory: Mary appeared to Catherine in 1830, warning (she must have been reading the papers) that France was about to be in hot water again. The clergy came under attack in the very same month. The rise in popularity of the Miraculous Medal was in no small part due to the fact that Catholics were driven to hide their faith.

So here's the theory. Mary circled France to save the world because France was the source of all the evils of the 20th century.

I know a lot of people are thrilled to hear this.

I'm not thrilled. I don't care much for it when a whole bunch of people, like an entire country, are blamed for the evil of the world. You can't blame Great Britain for the Beatles. You can't blame America for "Girls Gone Wild". On second thought, maybe you can.....


The idea here is that the French Revolution spawned Deism, an idea that glorifies man and human reason, which led to Rationalism, which gave birth to secularism in the US and Communism in Russia.

So let's not argue that right now. (Because I think we can argue that, since the American Revolution inspired the French Revolution. The American Revolution had some things to do with economy and religious suppression and the British....who gave the world the Beatles.....)

Here's the part of the theory that spins my top: Mary circles France.

She starts in Paris with St. Catherine Laboure to pour out her grace to everyone because, boy, are they going to need it. She next appears in LaSallette in 1846. Two years later all hell breaks loose. Karl Marx writes the Communist Manifesto, the Pope had to flee Rome, there were riots in London and as if that wasn't enough, the Potato Famine!

So Mary stops in at Lourdes in 1858 and asks that everyone do penance and say the rosary. The Franco Prussian war starts in 1871 and Paris falls. Luckily Mary comes to Pontmain where the peasant children of the day (I can't think that Mary ever appeared to any non-peasants) report that Mary increases in size when they pray the rosary. Eleven days later the war ended.

At Pontmain Mary has 43 stars surrounding her. (Stars from the sky, not Mary Pickford and Judy Garland.) They signify the 43 years France has to get it's act together. Instead France secularizes the schools. So 43 years later the First World War began. Russia's fledgling democracy is overtaken by Stalin 3 years later.

Mary dips down to Portugal and appears in Fatima in 1917. Apparently no one ever prays enough and we have WWII, so Mary goes to Medjugorie. In 1981.

You can see this theory is just falling apart like reasons to invade Iraq. Although I must admit to you when I first read it I was sucked in. I had wanted to do a presentation about the whole thing while on my next speaking engagement, because I love talking about Mary's help for the world. I got out a big map of France so I could show her path, circling the country.

I was undaunted by not being able to find LaSalette or Pontmain on the map. They are teeny places. Perhaps France would like us to forget they exist. When I finally managed to find them, guess what? Those places are by no stretch of the imagination in a circle. If Mary was trying to create a circle she only managed to zig zag around France like Matt Talbot after he sold his shoes for a bottle of booze.

I was so disappointed.

I was even sort of okay, when I read the theory, of the dip into Portugal. It's not that far from France. Really...

But Medjugorie is really problematic. Not only is it way way out of the 'circle', it's more than 60 years later. The icing on the cake is that Medjugorie was recently officially dubbed not worthy of veneration or belief. The church official deciders decided that Mary just wouldn't have to repeat herself that much as what has gone on at Medjugorie. I concur.

What a shame. It would have made such a great presentation. I could have made a giant felt banner with a map of France and little felt Mary cutouts and a little Stalin head.

Back to the drawing board.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Prettied up for her holy card.

The Real Deal.

We're gearing up for one of our very favorite feast days, right on the heels of St. Catherine of Alexandria! Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Catherine Laboure. Oh, how we love her! She sat with her head on Our Lady's lap!

I think we're a little jealous.

I always love entering the world of Mary's visits to our pathetic planet. As many times as she's come around to chat with us, not that many of her visits are...believable... at least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned.

I mentioned before that right off the bat we're going to dump the grilled cheese sandwiches, tree trunks and melted chocolate. Those things give us tension in our jaws and necks. Bishops grind their teeth. I think I had a nightmare about the melted chocolate. We couldn't clean Mary off the stove. In the dream, my old high school principle showed up to tell me the chocolate wasn't Mary and I felt really stupid because I already knew that. Typical of my many waking encounters with Sister Mary Arthen.

If Mary shows up in your back yard, the church will investigate thoroughly, and let everyone know if the situation is worthy of our belief.

If is is deemed worthy, mind you, you still don't have to believe it. You can if you want to.

If the church doesn't recognize the Mary visit, you are asked to stop showing everyone the tree bark or underbelly of your turtle. But no one actually does stop you.

St. Catherine Laboure was awakened one night by a small child. Odd, as she was in the convent. The child told her she was to get into the chapel right away. Catherine didn't want to go, because one isn't allowed to just wander around the convent all night. Think how scary that could be! But the child told her to get in there.

When Catherine arrived in the chapel in the middle of the night it was lit up like the Chicago fire. Mary came in and sat in a chair. Catherine and Mary talked and Catherine rest her hands on Mary's lap.

This happened a number of times. Mary showed Catherine a vision of a medal that Mary wanted Catherine to have made. Not an easy thing for a nun in a convent to accomplish. Catherine told her confessor (she never told any one else about any of this, ever), who treated the whole situation like so much melted chocolate.

Eventually he gave in and had a few of the medals made. They immediately became extremely popular. So many people had miracles happen to them while venerating the Mary of the medal that the medal became known as "The Miraculous Medal". Sales skyrocketed.

Now, if you think about it, unlike Fatima or Lourdes, the picture of Mary on the Miraculous Medal is a self portrait by Mary. Her other self portrait would be the one she painted for Juan Diego in Mexico, known as "Our Lady of Guadalupe", although Guadalupe has nothing to do with it. I guess Juan Diego had a heavy accent and the bishop, with his clenched teeth and tense jaw, didn't quite understand what Juan was saying.

It's a fabulous self portrait. Grace flows in streams of light from her hands. She stands on top of the world, crushing the head of the serpent under her foot.

St. Catherine took the secret of her to her deathbed in 1876 but did make a full account of the events before she departed. Her body was exhumed in 1933 and was incorrupt. Her heart, a couple of ribs, her kneecaps and her hands were removed.

I have to say, the kneecaps is a new one on me. It is very common to remove the heart of a saint and ribs, because you have a few, make for a good source for relics. Her hands were removed because they touched Mary. Her body, now under glass has wax hands and her actually hands are back at the convent along with the chair in which Mary sat. (It had been the Mother Superior's chair....considering Catherine never told anyone what when on in the chair, imagine how the Mother Superior must have felt when she found out, like Papa Bear, who had been sitting in her chair.) I'm guessing the kneecaps went because she knelt at Mary's feet while Mary sat in the chair? I'd like to have been at the meeting where they decided that one. Italians must have been involved.

Like most Mary visionaries, Catherine was a bit of a dim bulb, so there is hope for all of us to some day have a heavenly visit.

And the Miraculous Medal is still doing it's work. It's now the official patron of motorcyclists. I think they scrape their knees a lot.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

On Again Off Again

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Or not.

St. Catherine is one of those saints who was booted off the calendar in 1969 due to the fact that she didn't exist.

Or she did.

She was put back on the calendar in 2002.

So today you can honor her, or not. We won't encourage you. But we won't ask you to stop.

St. Catherine is not one of those saints like St. Christopher who flat out didn't exist. She likely did exist, it's just that her story is made up.

Embellished, let's say.

If you read the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, a Greek philosopher woman, you'd swear you're reading the story of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Beautiful, smart, pure as the driven snow, great speaker and teacher, killed for stating her beliefs.

St. Catherine however is preaching Christianity. Her converts are promptly killed and Catherine is thrown into jail. But now she is so famous that the Empress and her enclave visit her in jail and are converted, so they have to be promptly killed. Now Catherine is really in the soup. She is to be put to death on the wheel but when she touches it the wheel breaks. Sometimes it even explodes and kills bystanders. So they chop off her head.

(This is a common occurrence among the holy martyrs, the evil super villain torture fails due to some miracle, and then off with their heads. The beheading always works eventually. I say eventually because at least two saints finished what they had to say before they died, sans heads. St. Genesius, a pagan actor, was starring in a play mocking baptism when he suddenly saw the light and started preaching. To shut him up they chopped off his head, but he kept talking. What can I say, the show must go on. And St. Denis was beheaded in a nasty part of town so he picked up his head and walked to a nicer area and died there.)

Then the angels carry the body of St. Catherine to Mount Sinai. I guess they took her head as well. In art, she's in one piece again. I can tell you for a fact this never happened. Somebody would have seen it and made a comment.

St. Catherine's feast day was a huge big deal for a very long time. It was a Holy Day of Obligation in some places. Her popularity and her superpowers caused her patronages to grow. she is the patron saint of: wheels and wheel rights, students, teachers, unmarried girls, fireworks, people who work with wheels, like spinners and potters, archivists, lawyers, dying people, knife grinders and sharpeners, philosophers, preachers, stenographers, nurses, theologians, millers, mechanics, secretaries, people on juries and scholars.
And apologists...there are a lot of those these days.
In some places there is a bread called St. Catherine's Wigs (which has nothing to do with hair, wigs are a type of bun) that is made and eaten by maidens and spinsters who are looking for a suitable husband. They would say this:

"Sweet Saint Catherine, send me a husband,
A good one, I pray;
But arn a one better than narn a one.
O Saint Catherine, give me your aid!
Grant that I may never die an old maid!"

I think if one part rhymes the whole thing should rhyme, but that's just me.

Meanwhile St. Catherine herself was married. She married the Baby Jesus in a mystical marriage presided over by the Blessed Mother.

You may think I'm confusing her with St. Catherine of Sienna, but I'm not. St. Catherine of Sienna was also married to the Baby Jesus in a mystical marriage presided over by the Blessed Mother. It's mystical, so calm down.

St. Catherine is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, who also got the boot in 1969. The Fourteen Holy Helpers were invented ..not the saints, the list...to help victims of the Black Plague. Or more to the point, people who were not victims of the Black Plague yet. The Fourteen Holy Helpers are not to be confused with the fourteen most helpful saints, a sort of saintly top ten list. St. Catherine is in the top 14 list as well.

And for a girl who didn't exist but did, she sure gets around. She was one of the saints who counseled St. Joan of Arc.

It's up to you how you want to handle the St. Catherine situation. Here's my beef: St. Christopher is really, really just a story and yet he is still plastered everywhere, on medals and visors, on prayer cards and keychains. Even non-Catholic surfers wear him while they hang ten.

Good luck finding a St. Catherine of Alexandria anything.

St Catherine's Wigs (Not Hair)

You can make them. Or not.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I always start my day
with the obituaries. It's not because I'm morbid or I'm looking for my friends or to see if I've died. It's actually because the obituaries are so full of life, full of wonderful stories.

Yesterday, the King of the Hobos passed away. This thrilled me no end. Not that the King of the Hobos died, but the chance to explore why I feel guilty for getting such a bang out of hobos.

Nuns are all about discipline and rules. Hobos break all of society's rules AND they hop on trains and ride for free. That's stealing. Hobos are antithetical to nuns. Of course we love all our fellow men, but I feel I should be bugged by hobos. They seem like people I should be praying for to reform their wicked ways.

But with names like Scoop Shovel Scotty, Slow Motion Shorty, and Skeet Simmons....

"Dear Lord, I pray for your servant, Scoop Shovel..." I'm smiling already.

Hopping trains can't be a very big sin, as we don't care too much about property unless it's on a grand scale. Think Ken Lay. And even then... you can't take it with you. Still, all those mooched lifts add up to quite a pile of obviously unrepentant sin. But it's all so romantic.

The hobos themselves are very careful to make the distinction that they are not tramps and bums. During his life the King of the Hobos explained that he rode the rails and "worked to support" his "hobo lifestyle." He mused that it was like going on a camping trip and never returning. He said that hobos, who are not bums or tramps (because they work for a living just like everyone else, except not at all like everyone else), have to know how to live off the land, know what's poisonous, know how to catch game without weapons. In recent years a hobo had to "practically be a pharmacist" since the trains had so many terrible bio-hazards on them. You can't hop a toxic train.

Nobody knows where the word "hobo" comes from. Sister St. Aloysius thinks it's from the word "Bohemian", but that can't be right. Then they'd be "bohos". Maybe I wouldn't like them so much if they were called bohos. Hobo even sounds like fun. Heartwarming, non-sinful fun.

What is more heartwarming than a bearded toothless hobo, saying, "Thank ye, ma'am" for the meal you made him after he fixed the garage door opener? So American.....unless the hobo was in Romania. I guess then he'd be King of the Gypsies. And he'd play a violin instead of that twangey thing you hold in your teeth. And his bandana would be on his head instead of holding his belongings. And he really would be a boho.

The hobos, minus all the train sinning, remind me of Jesus and the apostles and the saints, going from town to town, only the apostles and the saints really did beg. The King of the Hobos would call them bums, at least according to the hobo creed. We have to point out to the King of the Hobos ( if he wasn't dead) that the Christ the King brought people back from the dead, healed the sick, changed water into wine, and fed the masses. Exhausting. I'd like to see the King of the Hobos manage that. The King of the Hobos was a brick layer when he wasn't sinning on the rails.

I think deep down I know that the true sin of the hobo is the gigantic selfishness. Sure a hobo isn't hurting anyone. But he's sure not helping anyone either, except for fixing the garage door opener. You'd have to have an enormous amount of energy to live as a hobo, but all that energy is only for yourself. What a waste of industriousness.

But so colorful.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I've been pleased to find that some readers have put links to the 'convent' here on their blogs and that some people have seen fit to actually quote some of my ramblings. I'll have to do penance later.

In one such mention, the blogger noticed that although the title is "Ask Sister Mary Martha", there usually aren't questions being asked.

True enough. When I began I thought I would simply be flooded which questions as I am when I do speaking engagements (I do that sometimes and I am absolutely flooded with questions) and that I would never have to think about what I might address on any given day here in cyberspace. But that didn't happen. I have no problem yammering away anyhow.

I do like to read the blogs of others, especially those of my readers and I ran across this one (Sunday Nov. 19). I think she touches on some very interesting points about money and church and I'll leave you all to ponder on your own about all of that.

But near the end there in her essay are a series of questions I feel I must answer.

I tried to simply put the answers in her comments section, but nothing happened when I clicked there, so I'm putting the questions and the answers here. They are questions I've been asked many times and I am happy to have the opportunity to answer them once again.

"As far as worship goes, why do I need to be in a building for an hour or so, with a bunch of other people, sitting on hard wooden benches, singing what someone else has decided will be my musical praise for the day? Why does it have to be Sunday morning? Why can't I be praying and singing my heart out in the car alone and call it my worship? Why can't I be at home, alone, and call it Worship? Why can't my tithe be what I sent to the family who's house burned down?"

1. Why do I have to be in a building for an hour or so ...

God made an entire world for you. A very beautiful one except in cases of mudslides... and the Badlands and the Sahara desert, but we love diversity. Even the stuff we're not too happy about like spiders and alligators are part of the eco-system to keep things looking pretty. An hour is not too much to ask to pay attention.

2. .....with a bunch of other people.....

And in heaven you'll be all by yourself? Singing in your heavenmobile car? People who can't get along with each other IN CHURCH are just about my biggest pet peeve. This includes you "Vatican II ruined my Latin Mass" crowd. Guess what? If a Hootenanny Mass is someone's idea of happiness, which it obviously is, there's going to be some Hootenannying going on in heaven. Unless heaven is segregated into a bunch of people mumbling praise to God in Latin and a bunch of them singing Kumbyah, or however you spell that, we better learn to get along. Being insipid is not a sin. Guitars and bongos will be welcome.

And it doesn't end there. How on earth can we expect the Sunni's and Shiites to get it together when we're arguing over whether or not it should just be a handshake for the "handshake of peace" and finding a new parish when the one we're going to gets a little too huggy. Get a grip, people. Or a hug. I promise you it's not that bad.

And what's with the notion that anyone that isn't you is a 'bunch of other people'. So much for 'the least of my brothers'. Heaven forbid we should hang out with that bunch.

3. ..sitting on hard wooden benches...

Well, any Catholic worth his holy cards knows the answer to this one, so let's all say it together shall we, "Jesus suffered for your sins". Offer it up. Don't you dare bring a cushion. In fact, sit there for an extra hour to make up for the fact that you didn't want to sit there.

By the way, many churches now have padded benches, or padding on their benches. I can't argue with this either, but only because the congregations are so old. I know we have to sit Sister Mary Fiacre on bunch of pillows all the time to keep her old bones from hurting her all day. Perhaps there should still be an unpadded section, especially for the children.

4.... singing what someone else has decided will be my musical praise for the day?

See answers to 1. and 3. Maybe you can put your special song requests in the suggestion box for next SUNDAY MORNING.

5. Why does it have to be Sunday morning? It doesn't. It can be Saturday evening or Sunday at 5 pm. But it used to be only Sunday morning because it's one of the Ten Commandments which everyone would know if they would just stick them up in front of the court houses.

I'm being sarcastic now, forgive me. I don't believe the Ten Commandments should be in front of court houses for two reasons: The court house isn't God's house and almost none of the Ten Commandments are against the law if you break them. God may throw you into hell, but no one is going to throw you into jail. Ironic.

Anyhow, it used to be that Sunday was everyone's day off and a special day for God and now it's
'special day' at the Target and the car wash. And the whole idea of having a day off that everyone had off and could worship together is pretty much whole idea of the community of faith. See answer to #6.

Yes, there are monks and hermits. But they're busy praying for the rest of us to be able to put up with each other.

6. Why can't I be praying and singing my heart out in the car alone and call it my worship? You can. But a whole bunch of people doing anything together has a lot more power than anyone doing anything alone. That's why soccer games are so dangerous and why there are peace marches.

7. Why can't I be at home, alone, and call it Worship? You can. But, see answer to 6.

8. Why can't my tithe be what I sent to the family who's house burned down? Go for it. I really don't see a problem here. You're not Donald Trump so you have decisions to make about how you can best use what money you have. It's admirable that you'd give your money to a bunch of other people.

Of course, I have to put in a plug to jump over to the Catholic church. You will be greeted with a handshake or a hug as soon as everyone stops arguing about how loud the organ was, how the host should be distributed, in what language the Mass should be, how Father dresses when he's not saying Mass, where the screaming babies should be kept .....

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Now we've had a quiet couple of days since our house is back to normal. This gives us time to reflect. We're not cloistered nuns who do nothing but reflect, meditate and pray. We're distracted by sewage and deadlines.

When I think about nuns in the cloister and how they spend their time, my mind turns automatically to St. Therese the Little Flower. She had enough time to add subcategories onto her own name. It got pretty long....there was more after the Little Flower. Jesus is in there somewhere.

St. Therese was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She had wanted to become a missionary and die a martyr but things didn't go her way. She decided to use every aspect of her mundane life as an offering. She used every opportunity to suffer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, sleeping with no blanket in the winter and a wool one in the summer....that type of thing.

She kept a careful record of all her sufferings, saving someone in heaven the task of tallying up her sufferings to bounce over to the suffering souls. I wonder who's job that is? In heaven, I mean. Who has to spend their eternal happiness figuring out who still has to suffer and how much and how much my suffering counts towards theirs?

We all suffer differently. One person's suffering is another person's delight. Just ask all those Germans running around in leiderhousen out in the desert. They love it there.

For example, I can sit in a room of kindergarteners banging on toy percussion instruments pretty much all day. It doesn't matter how many of them there are or what they are banging as long as it doesn't actually hurt my ears. They're busy and happy and out of trouble. (Unless I knew they all had dirty hands, then it would drive me crazy.)

Sister St. Aloysius would have to be carted off to an asylum after about six minutes of that. (If they had dirty hands on top of it, she'd need an IV.)

On the other hand, when we're watching basketball and someone we like makes a shot, Ben Wallace, say, or Sam Cassel, Sister St. Aloysius claps her hands. There is something about the sharp sound of her clapping that just kills my ears. It's everything I can do not to leap up and tie her hands behind her back with my giant wooden rosary.

So you can see how our suffering when we're in Purgatory could be quite different. For me, all they would have to do is play that "El Pollo Loco" jingle (where the guy sings "EL ! Po yo Lo-co!") really loudly over and over again. Or the Navy Marimba Band playing "Blowin' in the Wind".

If you ever have guests that over stay their welcome, just get yourself a copy of the Navy Marimba Band playing anything at all and they'll clear right out.

I would think that they had some sort of system in place in heaven to sort all of this out. By now they will have to have gone digital as our causes of suffering and our ability to tolerate it are ever-changing.

Truthfully, the modern world offers opportunities to suffer that self-flagelating saints never dreamed of. It would have been fun to sit in a traffic jam caused by looky-loos with St. Francis of Assisi. We could listen to books on tape together. How would St. Christopher have handled it when the person in front of him on the escalator got off at the top and just...stopped? That can cause death and mayhem. What would St. Catherine of Sienna who never ate anything but the host think watching people pound down a Whopper with fries and a Diet Coke?

I know what I think.

That's why I know I'll be in Purgatory.

Maybe I shouldn't let anyone know what bugs me.

Monday, November 13, 2006

We went to the Home Depot
as late as we could muster, given our work hours and the fact that the bathroom is out of commission. All the contractors and people who know what they're doing are there during work hours. We mistakenly thought that there would be less people at 9pm.

At 9pm at the Home Depot there are a lot of terrible looking people. People who have 5 hours to paint their apartment walls before they move out in the morning who are looking for the cheapest white paint they can find that will cover up the unsightly colors they painted the place without the landlord's permission and 7000 hand prints. People who are buying plants and rugs and fans and doorknobs and drawer pulls. And lots of people with emergency plumbing problems. Because it isn't really an emergency if it's not at 9pm now is it?

And they all look like zombies. Poor Souls.

It's an oddly good match when we arrive in a land of zombies. We look like exorcists. Sort of.

Another reason it really doesn't do any good to go so late is that there are also less Home Depot employees. If they spend their work days fleeing contractors and people who know what they're doing and what they're looking for, you can imagine how they feel in the sea of zombies that is night time at the Home Depot. It's a matter of life and death, us or them.

We found the plumbing aisle on our own. Did I say aisle? Aisles. One whole aisle of bathtubs, one of fixtures, one of toilets, one of hardware, pipes, fittings, plumbers tape and a whole wall of drain opening products.

Sister St. Aloysius was right! There is a product that you can dump down the drain that's supposed to get rid of tree roots. But it said something about the septic tank and it was dressed in it's own private Hazmat suit so I was nervous about trying it.

That would mean we would have to ask someone. Perhaps we should leave, have a Mass said for us and come back.

We could try to call on St. Vincent Ferrar, but I have to admit I'm dubious about his patronage of plumbers. St. Vincent is the patron saint of plumbers and construction workers because he did so much to build up the church. He was a scholar. I'm sure he wouldn't know a pipe wrench if he fell over one. He would be even more lost in Home Depot than we are now. But then in heaven all things are possible. (Even war...)

We decided to split up to find help. I found a poor bug-eyed man trapped by several zombies asking questions because he had the misfortune to be threading some pipe for a customer. even if he dropped the pipe and ran he would be trapped on the end of the aisle by a bunch of boxes and a fork lift. Ha!

My attire caused the zombies to part like the Red Sea and I asked him about the Chemical Warfare product dressed in it's own Hazmat suit available to me. He was very nice, soothed, I think, by my presence, an unusual experience for both of us, I'm sure. He told me to
"never use that stuff" and he told me some other stuff I could use. St. Vincent comes through after all.

So I went to find Sister St. Aloysius. Somehow she had found a frightening looking Home Depot employee. Maybe he had found her. A rummy, or perhaps a parolee. Remember "It's a Wonderful Life"? Remember how when the angel shows George Bailey what his town would look like without the influence of his life and how the local bar is a horrible den of iniquity and a terrible old drunk who had spent "twenty years as a jailbird" comes in it turns out to be the pharmacist that would have poisoned a little boy had it not been for George Bailey?

Like that, only in an orange vest.

When I got there, Sister St. Aloysius had turned into a zombie. Mr. Gower was standing side by side with her and she was staring blankly at all the products. When I stepped in and grabbed the bottle of what the pipe threader told me to get the spell was broken, the orange vested Mr. Gower nightmare disappeared in a poof.

Poor Sister St. Aloysius blinked at me. She had explained to the pathetic version of Mr. Gower in an orange vest that all the sewage had come up through our toilet and that we needed something to unplug it. Mr. Gower had stood close to her side, put his arm around her waist and pulled her next to him and said, "What did you do?" She had peeled herself away from him.

It was at that precise moment I had arrived.

We tried to beat a hasty retreat but here's another reason late night isn't any better. There are just as many people shopping at 9pm, but there are far fewer checkers at the check stands. Luckily, we have the patience of many saints to call on. And there's a McDonald's right in the store.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

How Did We Get Here?

We survived Home Depot by the skin of our St. Bartholomew medals.

Our house is very old and only has one bathroom. The plumbing is from the Cro-Magnum Man period (or right after the Garden of Eden for the Evangelicals). Once a year or so everything that goes down one drain in the house...any drain... comes up through the bathroom. The entire system is clogged with heaven only knows what and tree roots. Raw sewage begins to erupt into the bathroom and down the hall way. As a result, we know the whole house is tilting forward, as the stenchey brown water rushes toward the living area.

It comes without warning. It reminds me of the Bible movie The Ten Commandments, when Charleton Heston warns Yul Brenner to let his people go. Yul Brenner ignores Chuck and a black smoke snakes through Egypt killing the first born. Perhaps Yul created the cloud himself with a pack of Camels.

It is a disgusting mess that we have to mop up with towels and disinfect like crazy people and keep Lysol in business. Then we have no where to go to wash the towels until the whole mess is fixed, so the stenchey towels mock us from a Hefty bag out on the porch until....

...we call the plumber. To get nearly as disheartening a feeling about the human race as you might get from a trip to Home Depot, stay home and call a plumber.

The plumber will have to come out with a giant electric snake and put it down the trap to clean out our system. But the only trap that is available to them is on the roof.

We've had to do this every year for years. But now there are almost no plumbers left who will go on the roof. Not even if we promise the pray to St. Barbara the whole time they're up there. At least I think St. Barbara would fill the bill. She was locked in a tower by her evil father. The tower had two windows in it and she had a third window cut in there to represent the Holy Trinity. So it doesn't seem like she was afraid of heights since she had all those windows to look out of up there.

The plumbers that will go on the roof want two plumbers to come here to go on the roof, one go on the roof and the other one to hold the ladder and laugh at the guy on the roof.

The whole thing makes me sick with anxiety. The mess, the expense, the plumbers and the way I can see the roof give with each step they take. The roof was built during the Ice Age. (Not sure where that fits into Evangelical fantasy time.) I have to pray to St. Joseph the whole time. He's a great all purpose saint! Carpentry, happy death, doubt and hestitation, dads, step dads, travel, Italy, workers, real estate...and I know for a fact he put a roof on the St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal after getting the whole thing built.

That's why we decided to grit our teeth (while praying to St. Apollonia) and head for Home Depot. Sister St. Aloysius was certain she had seen some product that can be dumped down the drain to kill roots. I think she was confused. I think what she actually saw was something to kill a tree stump after you've cut down the tree, but if she's right and I can avoid so much as getting out the yellow pages to look for plumbers, I'm already starting the car.

We felt terrible having to ask someone to come in to look after Sister Mary Fiacre while we were gone. To have to sit in the stenchey house for heaven only knows how long! I know people who have gone to Home Depot and returned to find their children grown.

At least Sister Mary Fiacre is oblivious. There's always a bright side, isn't there?

But we made it out alive! More on that tomorrow....

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bracing for Home Depot

I pray for strength.

I have to go to the Home Depot.

I try to like Home Depot. They hire people with special needs and they have everything you could ever need to fix anything.

But I have a theory about what actually goes on there. Four things:

First, if an employee sees you coming to them for help, they run. They try to be clever, looking past you like they didn't see you, or trying to look as though they are on a mission. I'm sure they are. The mission is to get to the break room as fast as possible and then stand in there and laugh with all the other employees that they got away with it again. While smoking.

Second, each employee can only do one thing at a time. So should the employee have the misfortune of actually having to help a customer, other customers gather around hoping for an audience with the employee who will not deign to let you hold his robes, let alone ask where in the store they make keys.

Third, if you actually get an employee to talk to you, they will tell you they'll go 'check on it' and then run away never to return, no doubt laughing in the break room with the employees who didn't have to even talk to the customer first. And smoking.

All three of these Home Depot rules are thrown to the wind if the customer is an attractive woman. Several employees will gather around an attractive woman, hold her purse and shine her shoes, offer her a cold drink and feed her grapes while they carry her to her car on a litter.

So you can imagine how flumaxed they are to see us coming. Sister St. Aloysius is rather attractive in a nunny sort of way. She was invited, after all, to a cuddle party. She might even be more attractive if she didn't wear the nun shoes. Hard to say.

But she IS a nun. She is wearing a small veil.

And she's with me. I know I scare small children. I can't imagine what I do to Home Depot employees.

The two of us together looking for help in the Home Depot causes the employees to short circuit, I think. The combination of an attractive (enough for Home Depot) woman, the employee's need to simply wander around the store aimlessly until it's time to go home and me, who embodies a reminder of eternal damnation, causes them to go completely haywire.

So we've learned to snag them while they are caught in the headlights of stupefication, wondering why they are both attracted and terrified, both curious and repelled, and get them to do our bidding. Which brings me to point four:

When you actually do snag a Home Depot employee to help you they will tell you absolutely anything that pops into their brains, hand you the wrong thing in the wrong size and disappear. I think at this point Home Depot employees actually have the ability to disintegrate and reintegrate in the break room. And smoke.

I have no small amount of glee knowing that both Sister St. Aloysius and I did in fact stick it to the smokers in last Tuesday's election.

Headed for confession on Saturday. Wondering if the suffering involved in a trip to Home Depot will cancel out the penance for the glee. Probably not.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mc Voting

We vote in a garage. Not a place where mechanics fix cars-- the neighbor's garage. Like most polling places it is run by the elderly. The very, very elderly. I remember a kid years ago who brought a toy to school from a cartoon called "He-Man". The toy was the the bad guy, "Skeletor". I always think of him when I'm talking to the people who are sitting in the garage. "Hello, Skeletor," I think to myself as I approach.

The garage is in what we here in Los Angeles call a 'McMansion'. This simply means build the biggest house you possibly can on a tiny lot. You' d be amazed at how much house can be stacked up on there when you use every inch. It seems odd to me, considering the weather is virtually always lovely (even on a bad day unless you live in fire territory or mudslide county), that people would opt to have no back yard. Or front yard. The people at the voting garage McMansion actually use the tiny strip of ground on the side of the driveway for a vegetable garden. They don't notice their own yearning.

I notice their garage is big enough to hold an election.

We took Sister Mary Fiacre along for the ride, since we can just stroll over there. She's always a hit with the people at the polls. Everyone talks to her. No one seems to care that she is more or less unresponsive. It seems to encourage people even more to speak to her as though she were five years old or so, or as though she didn't speak English, in that way people have with non-English speakers, speaking loudly and slowly so the foreigners will suddenly understand the meaning of words they've never heard.

I could tell that the Fiacre chatter behind us was horribly distracting to Sister St. Aloysius as she tried to vote. We don't go behind curtains. If only they did. I could roll Sister Mary Fiacre in there and no one would be the wiser. The only curtains in the McMansion garage are there to hide the junk these people keep in their garage. Which is always fascinating. Why keep that beat up snooze alarm? Is there a garage in America without one? Why are there always minute paint splatters on it?

Anyhow, I could see by Sister St. Aloysius' body language that she was getting more and more tense at all the baby talk and left over Halloween candy going on behind us. Sister Mary Fiacre loves her sweets but we can't just stuff her with candy and cookies, willy nilly. I wasn't concerned that sister St. Aloysius would blow her stack or anything like that. She never blames anyone esle for her woes. But I was concerned that as she grew more and more flustered ....we'd never get out of here. Ever. I can only stare at the stacked up paint stains on the snooze alarm for so long.

Sister St. Aloysius takes her voting very seriously. She studied the voter's guide for days after it came, highlighted things with a yellow marker, read all the propositions, read all the arguments pro and con, noted who was making these arguments, agonized as to whether she should stick it to smokers with the proposed $2.60 cigarette tax.

Then in typically "you had me, you had me, you lost me" Sister St. Aloysius fashion, she didn't take any of these materials with her as a reference. Her idea was that the whole point of all this study was to know the issues. It was as though she was taking an exam and not knowing the answers cold would be cheating.

I fail to see how this would be cheating. The whole point is to cast your vote in the way you choose. It's not a test on how many facts you can retain and relate them to numbers 1A through E.

Which is exactly what happened. In her zeal to study the propositions she didn't memorize what number or letter went with each proposal. Even that is not a disaster, since there is a little sentence with each proposal to explain it. With all her study, that should be plenty.

And I'm sure it would have been had it not been for the Sister Mary Fiacre symphony of sound. The candy wrappers, the introductions to entering voters, more candy wrappers, the constant use of the royal 'we', "Sister! (what's her name? Fiacre? is that French?) how are WE today?"

I can only hope for my own voting that my guardian angel guided my handthe way God protects the Church from a teenage Pope. Heaven only knows what I voted for. I punched holes as fast as I could, skipped all the judges I didn't know, which was most of them and stuck it to the smokers. Then I zoomed Sister Mary Fiacre out for 'some air', even though we were more or less outside anyhow.

I marveled at the vegetable strip and felt a pang of guilt for that lady out there smoking.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Brownie Theology

I felt sort of bad that my eyes glazed over when Sister St. Aloysius was explaining how making brownies on All Souls Day was the ultimate sacrifice for her so I asked her about it again. It was wonderful that I did that, because the consequent suffering on my behalf had to have blown the roof off Purgatory, at least for the half an hour that followed.

She explained that the more uncomfortable she made herself, whether purposefully or by accident, the more she could offer for the Poor Souls. Giving away her favorite treat is just the top of the iceberg. She didn't actually assign a value for her sacrifices, but I will, in order to explain her thinking.

I'm not sure if it's not more math than theology but here goes:

How to Score Sister St. Aloysius' Suffering:

1. The Brownies are made from scratch. 100 points.
If you use a mix, it's a tablespoon of water and an egg, stir, blob into a pan. Voila! Delicious brownies. Made from scratch, the brownies involve melting chocolate pieces (on my really clean stove, 50 points for me), and quite a few more ingredients that must be measured.

2. She measured everything. 100 points.
Sister Saint Aloysius is one of those natural cooks who doesn't measure much of anything left to her own devices.

3. She gives the brownies away. 100 points.
She loves brownies more than anything but will not so much as taste the batter or lick anything off her fingers.

Now, we can't really award points to suffering, but here's how her theory works if we were to break it down mathmatically:

If she were to have simply make brownies from a box she would only make 100 points for having given them away (#3). She likes to cook and brownies from a box are an enjoyable easy treat.

Now she has 300 points instead of 100 points because she added #1 and #2.

She purposely made the brownies from a recipe she had never seen before so she would be forced to measure everything. That ups the points for #2. I'll add 50.

She was made the brownies from a very promising recipe she found in a fancy magazine she saw in the doctor's office while waiting for Sister Mary Fiacre's cholesterol results, making the no taste/give away factor all the more high. I'll add another 75.

She burned her thumb. hmmmm..........25 points..........it wasn't bad. She was joyful about it. 25 more points.

She spilled flour down the front of herself and was very upset about how stupid she was for not wearing an apron. Minus 10 points.

She worked even more slowly with no apron and made sure she didn't spill anything else on herself just to make it harder. Plus 15 points.

Teddy loves chocolate. I know animals aren't supposed to eat chocolate, but Teddy eats chocolate whenever he can get away with it and he's not dead yet. Maybe it's only dogs who aren't supposed to eat it. Maybe every time he eats it he's giving up one of his nine lives. She gave the spoon to Teddy. The spoon that had the only taste of the fabulous new recipe on board. The wonderfulness of it was not even lost on Teddy who can purr really, really loudly.

Listening to Teddy purr over the chocolate, 30 points. Feeling jealousy toward a cat, minus 40.

(I am often jealous of Teddy. No one can sleep like that guy.)

It didn't end there. The brownies smell great when they're cooking, they have to cool and be cut and wrapped up to give away. 300 more points.

She made a double batch. This doubles all the points she has received so far.

She wrapped each brownie individually to give away, 300 more points. She used that horrible cling wrap that constantly clings to itself. 1000 points. It was the expensive decorated kind. Minus 50 points.

She was very proud of her beautiful, individually wrapped, made from scratch from a fancy recipe brownies. Minus 400.

She saved one brownie out for Sister Mary Fiacre. Plus 400.

What's her score?

I don't know.

It doesn't matter since I made it up anyhow and since we don't even know how much suffering it would take to free a soul,the math is all moot.

I do understand her thinking, although it gave me a headache. Oh joy! 500 points.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Soul's Day

This is a very big day for all of us. As important as All Saints Day is, we have quite a mission today, All Souls Day.

Today we pray for all the souls of the dearly departed, even if they didn't depart so dearly, or weren't very dear leading up to their departure.

Here's the 911 on the whole shebang. We here living on earth are called the Church Militant. If that doesn't make you snap to attention, I don't know what will. The people who died and went to heaven are called the Church Triumphant. Hooray for them.

We don't know who got in and who didn't, and we don't make assumptions about anybody except when we canonize someone as a saint. Everyone who is in heaven is a saint. But we only have proof by way of miracles about some people who we officially deem are in heaven.

That's why we never ask our dead Aunt Julia to pray for us from heaven, because we don't know whether she made it or not. We hope she did, but we can not assume she did. Not at all if you knew our Aunt Julia, but that's beside the point.

Everyone who isn't dead and in heaven or alive here on earth are called The Church Suffering. Boy, are they ever suffering. They are in Purgatory where an hour is like sixty years and they're always on fire. Mary and the angels come and bring them water to freshen up with. St. Patrick swings by on Saturdays to lead some souls out.

Today is dedicated to praying for the Church Suffering in the hope that some of them get paroled. We offer our own sufferings and annoyances and our prayers, rosaries, masses....Sister St. Aloysius is making brownies.

I'm not sure what her reasoning is there. She explained it to me but it gave me a theological haircut. Whizzed low over my head. I think she loves brownies and plans to give them all away. I know I must have missed something. Her explanation took an entire half an hour, which for me was an opportunity to suffer thirty years worth in Purgatory time for a soul TBA.

Anyhow, you can pray for everybody there in the Church Suffering, or you can pray for your dead Aunt Julie, or anyone else you think may be suffering.

Dont' worry about being judgemental. Chances are the person or persons you have in mind did indeed make a stop in Purgatory. Take a gander at any booklet put out by the church to help you examine your conscience before confession and you'll find out you probably can't get through a day without sin. You probably sin every hour on the hour. For men, one minute out of every five, according to the American Psychiatric Association. So you're not being judgemental, you're being practical.

And don't worry that you might pray for someone who got out of Purgatory and that you've wasted a whole day trying to pray Uncle Al into heaven and he's been there for the last three months already. You're prayers will go up to heaven and bounce back out again. They'll be deflected to a needy soul just like a no look pass from Steve Nash to Amare Stoudemire. The souls in Purgatory are always yelling, "Over here! I'm open!"

(We like basketball around here and are very excited the season has begun. We'll offer up missing the opening games because we have important work to do. But we'll be parked in front of Charles Barkley on Thursday, yes we will. Sister Mary Fiacre likes things that move fast. I hope she doesn't get stuck in Purgatory too long because it's way too slow moving for her. She'll really suffer.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What are you doing here!? Why aren't you at Mass?

Hopefully you've already gone. Otherwise it's straight to hell for you.

Today is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation. The obligation is going to Mass.

Don't think you can let this slide because you're all crashing from your sugar rush from All Hallow's Eve. Don't get confused by the loosy goosey, substitute Saturday for Sunday Mass, 'New Rules'. Your lump of flesh needs to be in a pew with a priest in front of it today.

Halloween is short for All Hallow's Eve. That's because we now have two whole days of hallowing ahead of us.

Today we honor the saints. These are people we know for a fact are in heaven. It's a REALLY long list. We read part of the list at the Mass you're supposed to be attending.

It used to be a short list. At first it was just the martyrs, and only two of them at that. Just St. Stephen, the first martyr and John the Baptist.

St. Stephen was out preaching away, shortly after Jesus ascended back to heaven. The mob wasn't very happy with what he had to say and they stoned him to death. Saul, who was about to become St. Paul any second, was in the crowd holding cloaks for people, thus freeing up the rotator cuffs for those who needed a full range of motion to throw their stones. St. Stephen is the patron saint of people who have headaches.


St. Paul is the patron saint of tentmakers. Maybe he kept the cloaks.

St. John the Baptist was imprisoned, but not for his riverside enterprise. It was entirely personal. It's that nasty Herod at the helm again. Or rather one of the nasty Herod's. This isn't the same Herod who ordered the death of the Holy Innocents when Jesus was born. That Herod is Herod the Great.

Herod the Great was the builder of the temple of Jerusalem, although he angered the Jews by sticking a giant Roman eagle on the top of it when it was done. The Jews took it down, and he found out exactly who did that and had them executed. Herod the Great was officially called 'The King of the Jews'. So when the Wise Men showed up asking the king where they might find the 'new king' (how wise was that?!! I guess we can't call them the Foolish Kings since they did manage to find Jesus, but...holy cow!), Herod went ballistic and had all the male babies that fit in the right age range slaughtered. All in a day's work for Herod.

An angel comes to warn Joseph about this mess and Joseph takes the Holy Family off to Egypt until after Herod is dead. Unfortunately, Herod is never really gone.

Herod the Great the King of the Jews had three sons. (He had a few more sons but he had them executed. Ho-hum.) When the first Herod died the kingdon was divided between the three of them.

They were all named Herod. So George Foreman isn't the first guy to really confuse everyone by naming all his kids George.

The first Herod boy, Herod Jr., is in power for ten years and then is booted out because he was just lame and the Romans got rid of him. He did effect the Holy Family, though, as Joseph moved Mary and Jesus north to Galilee to stay low profile.

Here's where John the Baptist comes in. Herod's cousin divorces her husband and marries Herod. Not the one the Romans didn't like, the second is this Herod who married his divorced cousin and we don't care about the other one.

Are you still with me here? There's the George Foreman Herod and his three sons. We're now talking about son number two.

John the Baptist had a fit about this divorce and Herod Jr. Jr. had him thrown into prison. Then during a party Herod asks the divorcee to dance for him, he'll give her anything she wants. Her mother sees a great way to shut John the Baptist up and Salome the divorcee takes her mother's advice and asks for the head of John the Baptist. It's made for some fabulously gory works of art.

This is also the Herod who presided at the trial of Jesus.

But it is not the Herod who executed James the Elder, also known as St. James the Greater. He could have been called St. James the Taller, or St. James the chosen by Jesus before the other James.

And it is also not the Herod who coined the phrase "Christian" when he referred to St. Paul as such. That Herod is two Herod's later than the John the Baptist, trial of Jesus Herod.

These last two were not more sons of the George Foreman Herod. They are nephews. Riding the coat tails, I say.

St. James the Greater, by the way, was the son of Salome. Not THAT Salome.

I've totally lost my train of thought. What was my point here? Make sure you go to Mass and honor the saints. I'll be here, lost in a maze of Herods. Someone throw me a rope.