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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Notes from the Garden

The eighth grade boys have a slang word that I used to discourage them from using. After thinking it over, however, I've adopted it myself as a very useful word. It's a word for that emotion you have when you suddenly realize you are in over your head but you just have to soldier on in the moment. The word is, "gnarly", as in "Dude, that was really gnarly."

I have discouraged the usage of "dude", a word so massively overused that it has been applied while addressing me on more than one occasion.

It brings me to this question from a reader, which I have been pondering for days, looking for the words in answer.

So I voted on the Blogger's Choice awards after I read that Sister St.Aloysius was praying for those who did, which made me feel guilty like I was just doing it for the good graces. I will readily admit I will take all the prayers and such that I can get and like a kid looking for candy, I definitely do some good things because I want the rewards associated with them. But like with the blog voting, I also mean what I do. I *do* think this is a great blog and deserves recognition. And when I'm nice because I know it makes God happy even though I don't always feel like being nice, I also really mean the nice things I say and do. Like deep down that is the person I really want to be. So here is my question: If we do charitable works and get a payoff, do they still count as charitable? And are there really any selfless good deeds given that at the very least a good deed makes the doer feel good?

If you've been following our exploits you know we've been battling our garden. It's been difficult to get the work done, it was so massive and our schedules are full, even though the garden is tiny. Working in the garden, however, is very rewarding. In the end there is beauty and while working there is constant metaphor.

The work was gnarly. Gnarlly....gnarley....what's the proper spelling?

We have a rose called, "Joseph's Coat". It's buds are a dark pink which open into blossoms of orange and red and then fade to shades of pink. It has buds, open blossoms and fading flowers all going all at the same time. It is magnificent.

It also has thorns on it's thorns. I'm not kidding. There is nowhere on the plant, even on it's rough leaves, that you wouldn't get poked or jabbed or shot full of thorns that break off in your skin when you touch it. The thorns are razor sharp and slide into your skin like a knife through butter. I had one stuck in the pad of my pinky for almost a week before I was able to dig it back out. When I looked at my little finger with a magnifying glass on day four I discovered there were three more thorns in there I didn't even know about!

And I'm not even touching this nasty plant. I'm doing everything I can not to touch it. I only use the scissors or the pruners to touch it. Somehow after you clip off the branch, it spins or flops or springs back and manages to stab you anyhow. I screamed and howled my way through the whole process. I tried not to, but it took me by surprise every time I was stabbed because I was being so careful not to be stabbed. At least I could offer it up on the back end.

And that's just part one. Part two is that we have to haul all the razor filled stems and branches over to the green can by putting them in a basket and them dumping them in the green can because we can't take the green can into the garden. It's too big to fit through or around the house.

I think about all of this every time I hear someone say they won't give money to a homeless person because they did that once and the man screamed at them. Or they once gave a sandwich to a homeless man because they didn't want to give him money that 'he would use for booze' and the man was not grateful for the sandwich. Made them think twice about doing that again.

Believe it or not, I'm trying to answer you question.

If we do charitable works and get a payoff, do they still count as charitable? And are there really any selfless good deeds given that at the very least a good deed makes the doer feel good?

They always count as charitable works but ...who's counting? As long as we don't fall into the sin of pride it's perfectly alright to feel good about being good. You are certainly on the right path. But ...and this is a very big but....

It's really about how you behave and how you feel when it gets gnarly. And believe me, there are plenty of good deeds that won't make you feel very good after you do them. I just named two very common ones.

My roses are utterly ungrateful. Can I be charitable when my help is not appreciated?

My roses attack me when I take care of them. Can I be charitable while under attack? Gnarly.

Thanks for your votes. Sister St. Aloysius has calmed down about the whole thing once we leaped past the atheist blog, but she still gets a real bang out of following our progress.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,

I know just what you mean about tending the roses. It reminds me of the book, THE LITTLE PRINCE (I know the title of a book should be underlined but, I can't figure out how to do it.) How about some garden gloves? Have you any? Also, if you spread an old, flat sheet under your bush while you trim, you can just pick up the four corners and drag or carry it to your green can and dump it without having to pick up your trimmings. I think if your roses are blooming, that's their way of showing you their appreciation for your tender care. Hope your fingers feel better. I do have much to say about my lack of ability to perform acts of charity without feeling uncharitable while performing them. I pray about it constantly but, alas, I continue to falter. Persevere!

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with doing good works and getting something out of it. In fact, being aware that you're getting something out of it may help keep you humble. Being aware that there's a payoff for you (for example, a beautiful garden) makes it easier to avoid telling yourself, "Oh, what a good boy (or girl) am I."

Melanie said...

I thought gnarly meant awesome! Kinda like saying that is so bad when you mean good.

Sister Mary Martha said...

melanie, it definitely has the connotation that we've lived to tell the tale.

Melanie said...

You probably have a point when it comes the story about the Easter bunny. How did you come up with that so quickly? Now that I read it again, I can see how clever you sre being by not just making your point in plain language and telling the story.

Anonymous said...

Jews perform tzdakah (charity) on a daily basis. We are commanded to study Torah, love G-d and perform tzdakah. The difference between that and charity is that caritas has something to do with love....tzedakah is performed even if you don't know or like the receiver of the action. If love/gratitude result, so much the better! BTW, I am a former Rcatholic religious, so I marvel at the similarities/differences between my two "lives".

Anonymous said...

Sister, I am currently feeling that God is calling me to convert from reformed Christianity to Catholic Christianity. My husband is not of the same mind and I am praying that God would show His will through my husband - either that he would change his opinion and allow me/our son to convert or stand firm and I could be guided that way. In the meantime, while I am waiting, what can I do? Is it against "the rules" or seen as disrespectful if I go to Mass during the week (my husband wants us to keep attending chapel together on Sunday), can I have a rosary and learn to pray it, could I have an image to focus my prayers and remind me of the Lord? Sorry to seem ignorant. In Christ, A Wife who wants to be patient

Melanie said...

May I suggest http://www.rosaryarmy.com/rosaryprayers.aspx to learn how to say the rosary
http://www.rosaryarmy.com/request.aspx to get a free one

Anonymous said...


I've been in a rocky relationship for over half a year now. Lately I've been wondering what it is I am supposed to do. Do I stay and stick it out even though I am suffering right now because God wants us to persevere through the dark times for what is important to us? Or is the fact that I'm so unhappy lately a definite sign that I'm not on God's path for me? Nothing at all seemed odd to me but then I tell my best friend about my dilemma and she looks at me like I'm nuts to think about it that way. So I started wondering if God really does work that way. Does He have a specific plan for each of us? Or just some of us? Or is it more general like 'do good, be good, love God'? Is He really concerned about my love life? Or just the condition of my immortal soul as in I can date whoever I please so long as there is no sinning? I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter, Sister. I feel sort of ignorant at the moment. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

....didn't someone once say something along the lines of "let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing....."?
I had a friend once who would only allow her children to have guinea pigs as pets. She said it taught them to take responsibility without expecting the reward of purring or cuddles.
She was a much stronger woman than I was!

Anonymous said...


I'll leave the question of Providence to Sister Mary Martha, but I couldn't help thinking when I read your comment that the time to fully commit to making a relationship work is after you've exchanged vows to do so. Everything before that should be a process of discerning whether this relationship is worth that kind of commitment.

I personally think God's Providence applies to all areas of our lives, but I think He also intends us to use our own prudence and judgement as a means of helping us discover what His will is for us. He can't force His will on us, and He doesn't display His plan for us on big signs with flashing lights.

Maybe the rockiness of the relationship is itself a flashing light?