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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Stand Corrected

Today the Pope visited the tomb of St. Augustine. I think it was the tomb. I know it was someplace that prompted His Holiness to talk about St. Augustine, the "model of conversion." I'm too disturbed to get the specifics.

I'm still in a state about Limbo.

Not about the Church's teachings on Limbo and all of that. It's something else that has surfaced several times here on the blog that no one has ever questioned, which is very surprising to me. It's about nuns, specifically teaching nuns.

They're not always right. And they don't even seem to know when they're not right. And sometimes they just make things up altogether.

There I've said it.

Actually, I've said it before. (scroll down for the story of the ant's nest)

I've decided to bring it up again because of the Pope's words today about St. Augustine. He pointed out that St. Augustine corrected his own writings as he grew more in understanding, a sign of humility.

I'm sorry I never mentioned to my second graders that Limbo was just an idea. I'm sorry I told them that everyone who commits suicide goes straight to hell. I'm sorry I told them they would go to hell if they ate meat on Friday. Although I think that might have been true at the time. I actually didn't think it was true at the time, but Mother Superior told me it was.

Back when I was teaching second graders that Limbo was a fact and that all suicides go straight to hell, I didn't know any better myself.

Everyone assumes that nuns are highly educated carriers of the Catholic flame. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think it is true nowdays. Sister St. Aloysius is living proof of that. I'm not talking about all nuns, or modern nuns.

I'm talking about my nuns.

People have often asked me how I heard the call. Here's another confession. I didn't. Like dozens and dozens of other girls who entered the convent when I did, I was just a homely girl with no prospects. I could be a spinster or I could have a career of some kind. The convent seemed like a good choice. And like St. Augustine, my calling grew on me.

Not everyone can be Audrey Hepburn.

The dozens and dozens of girls who entered the convent were separated into two basic groups. The really dim bulbs went to work in the kitchens and houses. The ones with a little something upstairs did get a better education. Especially in a teaching order.

But no one ever taught us how to teach back in those days. We were on our own. We never had a chance to discuss what in the world we should do with a roomful of wiggling children because we were never allowed to hang around with each other much. We all moved around so much they didn't want us to any make attachments. If I went to the store with Sister Mary Consolette today, I wouldn't be going to the store with her for the rest of the month.

The time we didn't spend grading papers was spent in prayer and in adoration and in service. As far as education goes, we didn't get much chance to upgrade. I don't think I ever read "the Catechism of the Catholic Church" until the 1970's. I was shocked at how much I had misunderstood or never knew in the first place.

I've made a real effort ever since to correct errors.

Limbo was just an idea.

People who commit suicide may go to hell. Taking your own life is a mortal sin. But we have no way of knowing where any individual ended up, good bad or otherwise, unless that person is a canonized saint.

And frankly, not even then, as some of the canonized saints, the ones who were canonized before canonization was invented, never existed in the first place.

A person who commits suicide may be in such a state as to not understand what he or she is doing, which makes them incapable of sin, for one thing. And on top of that, even if they did know what they were doing, as their life ebbed away they may have thought better of it and repented. The Big Oops. We could never say that didn't happen. We even have funeral masses for them now. Another problem corrected.

We also told everyone that Judas ran off and hung himself. I don't know why. That's what we all thought...nuns, I mean. And that St. Peter was so upset that he denied Jesus three times that St. Peter had grooves on his cheeks from crying. I don't know when I stopped telling that one. It was a favorite of mine until it just suddenly dawned I me that it came out of nowhere.

Not nowhere...it came out of Sister Marillia. Who knows who told her.


ColleenD said...

Thank you Sister for this post. It is a great reminder that nuns (and priests) are just people, no smarter, not more perfect nor necessarily more informed.
And thank you for what you give in all your posts. I love reading your humorous take on the Church and it's teaching. I learn a lot without realizing i'm back at school!

Anonymous said...

While you are on the subject of correcting/explaining things, I want to bring up the fact that I was taught (Catholic School kindergarten through high school in the 1950's and 1960's) to "pray to" St Jude for hopeless causes, St Anthony to help me find things I'd lost, St. Joseph to sell my house, etc. Now I see you don't think Catholics pray to saints for help, but only for them to pray for us. Aren't people also "praying to" the late pope to help further his cause for cannonization? Does he even care if he's cannonized? After all, he is or is not in heaven, no matter what declaration is made by the church! One more thing. I remember hearing that people who ate meat on Friday are in hell, because the sin was really disobedience. Since when is disobedience a mortal sin? (If it is, I am in BIG trouble!)

I love your blog and have learned a lot.

Kasia said...

Well - although we know from your post that priests and nuns are fallible, in case we didn't know that before - I've heard the St. Peter bit from my priest. Specifically he was talking about the difference between guilt and shame, and how even once one's guilt is expunged through Reconciliation/Penance/Whatever-It's-Being-Called-Now, one can still have shame for past actions. He then went on to say that the tradition is that Peter wept so often in shame for having denied Christ that he had furrows on his cheeks. Now, he doesn't state it as a certain fact, but he does tell it. And I've always thought he was pretty credible (or I probably wouldn't have ended up converting - after all, if the guy who's teaching me is making things up left and right, who's to say any of this is true?).

Anonymous said...

I recently had a friend who was out to dinner and had another friend tell her that Catholics aren't Christians, and another friend with them (who is Catholic) agreed!
In discussion, it came out that another friend of ours has even heard this from "theologically trained" Catholics.
Could you please explain to me (and everyone) why someone who is Catholic would claim that they aren't Christian?

Kasia said...

Also, Sister, you and the nuns may have gotten the Judas thing from the Gospel of Matthew (ch. 27):

Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver 3 to the chief priests and elders,
saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? Look to it yourself."
4 Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that a real Sister does not know that Judas' hanging himself is clearly indicated in the gospel? Could a real Sister be this unfamiliar with something found in one of the most important and well known stories in the scriptures?

Mrs Marcos said...

Sister Mary Martha,
Thank you for your posting. Your words give me a sense of peace regarding some unhappy events that occurred in Catholic school. Now, don't get me wrong, for the most part I LOVED my school and most of my teachers but I did have one horrible year - 4th grade. Your explanation that "no one ever taught us how to teach" really hit home. I realize now that perhaps my bad experiences were due to not knowing HOW to teach.
Thank you,

Kasia said...

And it was the relics of St. Augustine.

Londiniensis said...

Hey, hey, hey !!! Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. The grooves on St Peter's cheeks, Veronica and her cloth, St George killing the dragon, St Patrick casting out the snakes, the literal stories in Genesis, all the Golden Legend ... What in heaven's name are you going to teach 6 year old children? The collected works of Karl Rahner?

Limbo always was a way of saying "we don't know, but God does something special" or "it's a special place for unbaptised children, where they can be happy like little babies, but they don't grow up and see God". And the ITC is just a talking shop, although quite a distinguished one.

I pay tribute to all the wonderful and not so wonderful nuns who taught me between the ages of 5 and 11, devotion to St Philomena and all.

Anonymous said...

kat1945- When we pray to the saints we are having a conversation with them, asking them to pray along with us, to take our petitions to God. So saying the "Dear Saint Anthony, please come around, something is lost and has got to be found" prayer, or whatever prayer composed and said 'to' a saint, it is a request to the saint to help us. How do they help us? They go to God. Whether it is understood by the person praying or not, those prayers are seeking the intercession of the saint, on our behalf. When these prayers are taught it ought to be explained correctly, it may not have been, or that may have been the moment the child had some distraction and missed it, but it should be told over and over again. Perhaps sister can talk about the word 'veneration' and things like Dulia and hyperdulia, etc in a future posting.

Kelly said...

What catechism did you read in the 70's? This new universal one wasn't published until the 90's. Before that there was the old Baltimore, which would have been out of date by then. Maybe Fr. Hardon's Catechism? You've got me curious.

Anonymous said...

This whole discussion makes me think that being a saint must be an awful burden. Many times they go through something crappy here on earth and then after they die andare deemed saints then they are tied to this earth for however long earth lasts, helping people who they never met solve problems both large and small. On the other hand, some plain old shlub who dies and goes to Heaven just gets to do whatever he or she does that makes Heaven heavenly, without being interrupted by the constant pleadings of those still on earth. Why would one want to be a saint when it equates to having to stay inside and do homework while all your friends get to go outside and play?

Anonymous said...

Who cares of SMM is a real nun or not. I'm grateful to have a place to clear up some questions I have. Thanks to all who answered the last one. Yesterday I found myself in the middle of a 'discussion' not of my making. I was stuck in the hair dressers chair.
Last summer, in the next town-not my hometown and not my parish-a local young man asked to be married in the church there before he left for Iraq. He was not Catholic nor was his bride. The priest gave them permission to use the church- no minister or priest official was present- the legal business was done by a family member who got his clergy lisence on line. The community of Catholics are still in an uproar over it.
I thought all people are either Catholic or potential Catholics thus the young man was in his home diocese and free to marry there. Mostly I thought it was over and done with nearly a year ago, the young man just got home after being permenently disabled by a sniper shot so let it go....IF I find myself stuck in this conversation again what was right? Is the church building open for non-Catholic weddings?

Sister Mary Martha said...

In Acts Judas buys a field with his 30 pieces of silver and then trips or something and falls down and his intestines spill out.

I'll talk more about the Judas issue tomorrow.

Three angels, two angels, no angels. How many angels were at the tomb when Mary Magdelene arrived.

Anonymous said...

SMM: I think you finally gave yourself away. NOT A REAL NUN. No genuine sister would speak of her vocation in such a denigrating manner....and without even mentioning Christ. The jig's up.

Unknown said...

"sister" mm has pointed out two interesting facts that i think most people don't realize. a lot of nuns didn't have a vocation to the religious life. it was one of very limited options for women until the 1960's/70's. also, a lot of large families would "tithe" one or more of their 10-12 children to the church, so the children would hear, "bobby, you're going to be a priest when you grow up. mary, you'll be a nun." and that was sometimes that.
the religious life is so hard (even harder then) that if you don't have a vocation, it makes you a really angry 5th grade math teacher.
the no teacher training is also a revelation. i've taught w/o any training (by the skin of my teeth) and i've taught after attaining a master's degree in ed. it's really, really hard. i'm a career changer and this is the hardest job i've ever had.
so, imagine a nun with little or no vocation (or, it doesn't "grow" on the religious) and no training or possibilty to confer w/other teachers/nuns. bummer. i'm glad things are different. i'm so glad that men and women who are entering monastic orders today have a true calling.

Kasia said...

For once I'm in near-perfect agreement with everything Sister Mary Alternative wrote. So much so that I won't even nit-pick at the small points on which we disagree.

You've made my day, SMA. I love being able to agree with people. :-)

Sister Mary Martha said...

anonymous, I'm sorry if the truth offends you. I was making a point about teaching, not about my life with Jesus. I did mention my identification with St. Augustine in that manner, sorry that didn't cut it for you.

Things have changed so much for the better. What's that book called, "The Rules"? The theory that it is always the man who chooses his bride not the other way around. Really upset people. True in my case....so to speak.

Claire Joy said...

Called by God or not called at all, it doesn't seem to matter. The religious life has a profound effect on those who make it a vocation... (like an arranged marriage where the partners actually end up loving each other, or a lapidary where the stone tumbles until it's polished.) God can work with any raw material. Anonymous seems to be (yet again) sporting their ignorance/arrogance on shoes they've never walked in.

Anonymous said...

My husband's aunt didn't want to be a wife or a nun so she joined the army and became a nurse. She served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Her dad had a fit as the first two choices were the only ones acceptable to him. A friend of mine became a nun out of pressure from the college priest and the thrill it gave her parents. Didn't last tho, she left the order, drove a truck for her brother then married, three kids, and works at her local Catholic school.
Every nun I've ever met has a great sense of humor. But I never attended Catholic school.

Anonymous said...

Sister, I have to say that I love how you found and continued your vocation! Too many good hearted people are trusting in their emotional experience to show them the path God has planed, and emotions change like the wind. I know several ladies who are all faithful, fun, energetic, loving, and excited about the faith and they went and enter orders... and then found out that they weren't called there. It's a mess. What happened? I don't think they used that wonderful other organ (besides the heart) He gave us... a brain. We must think about things and analyze them as well as discern what our hearts think. If we're called to go, we've got to go no matter what we feel like and just pray like mad. No wonder you have persevered in your vocation so long! It's obvious that you rely on your wonderfully sound common sense! I mean no disrespect, it sounds like perhaps you didn't have much of a choice, but you realize what vows mean and were open to grow from it. I have such respect for you! And it gives me hope for my own vocation as well! Many thanks for sharing your story!

Anonymous said...

Two angels

Anonymous said...

...walk into a bar...

Etrangère said...


Christine said...

Thank you so much for this post. Too often sisters and priests and brothers are put on a pedestal, and any error they make is judged harshly. You are human. Having a vocation as a sister does not change that. Our Lord put humans in charge of His church. He knew then and knows now how imperfect we are.