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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ebony and Ivory

We've had several comments from readers on the last entry here at the blog. It struck me that they all address the first comment from Mrs. G:
Your definition of a miracle is so black and white, so rigid. Oh that's right, your Catholic.

I have pointed out to Mrs. G that she meant to say "you're Catholic." (It's my job.)

I understand that everyone thinks the Catholic Church is very black and white. Why, just look at my get up! I've always felt that nuns are on the front line for the battle for souls, and what am I wearing? Black and White. How symbolic.

But the truth is that the Church is not so black and white. Catholics argue endlessly at every level, right up to the Vatican. Latin or English? Limbo here, or gone? Dogs in heaven? Should I leave Mass with the baby when he gets really noisy? Can I wear a rosary as a necklace? (NO...but you can wear a chaplet as a bracelet...go figure.)

So although we have a lot of rules, following the rules isn't always so clear, even when we are discussing what is a miracle and what isn't, as we did the other day. The miracle rule is instantaneous and unexplained. So a reader asks:
Dear Sister, in February, 2004, I had surgery for endometriosis. I wanted to have another child, but my doctor at the time said if nothing happened in the next 3 months, nothing would without his "help". And if something did happen within those 3 months, the odds were good that the pregnancy would be ectopic. In June of 2005, I asked Mother Teresa to ask Our Lord if I was a good parent, and if so, would he please let me have another baby. In December of 2006, I had a beautiful baby boy a month before my 41st birthday. Is that enough of a miracle to help her cause? I am forever grateful for her intervention.

Poor Mother Teresa. She'll just have to wait.

First of all, there is only one doctor involved. You at least would have had to have a second opinion. Another doctor might have given you better odds. What if the next doctor had said, "your (or you're, if you're Mrs. G) chances of conceiving are 50/50." That makes the whole thing seem less miraculous right there.

Anyhow, it could be argued that your doctor was just wrong. We also don't have anything like spontaneous. There is also a perfectly logical explanation. You healed better than your doctor expected.

My father almost didn't survive heart surgery a few years ago because his bone headed doctor had put him on steroids and never taken him back off again...for ten years. His immune system was shot, his blood was as thin as water. When he finally recovered and went in for his check up, his doctor said, "Wow! I never thought I'd see you alive again!"

Having your doctor be wrong doesn't make the cure a miracle.

That's not to say that good old Mother Teresa didn't intercede for you and that your prayers weren't answered. Clearly your prayers were answered. But the whole thing just isn't going to cut it on the miracle front.

Which brings me to this question, which I am so happy to discuss:

Sister, what can you tell us about the rather unusual artwork illustrating this entry? Not the Miracle lemon polish ad, but the guy (Jesus? Lazarus?) on the slab with what appears to be his leg grown back (or about to fall off?). Every time I look at it I see something new..but I'm not sure what I'm seeing!

No, I can't! That picture is the craziest thing I've seen in a while. I can tell you what it's supposed to be. It's the legend of St. Cosmos and St. Damien, twin brothers who were doctors. In what is known as "the miracle of Cosmos and Damien" (uh-oh), they attempted a leg transplant and sewed a black guy's leg onto their patient. The donor was deceased. As far as I can determine the miracle is that the whole thing was painless. The legend doesn't say if the transplant was rejected or what. I guess it all worked out.

So that's Cosmos and Damien there in the picture on your left. They seem to be holding some left over parts. And why is Cosmos (or Damien) poking Damien (or Cosmos) in the head?

I don't know who that other guy stuck in there in sort of black and white could be. Where's Sister Wendy when we need her? Back in the cloister, I suppose. As a nun, I could make up an answer: St. Luke, physician to St. Paul, assisting the surgery making the whole thing more miraculous. Whoever he is, he also seems to be a master of the pan flute.

Then there's that dog. What's up with that? It looks like they tried to transplant the back half of a rat on the dog or a dog's front on the back half of a rat. Maybe they were practicing transplanting things first. Maybe it's just a creepy painting of a dog and the dog belonged to the black guy and jumped up on the table looking for him.

Maybe it's St. Rock's dog come to help St. Luke assist.

Just when you think you've got some handle on the whole transplant circus, the patient seems to sit up in fear of the naked doctor who has entered brandishing the doctor symbol he must have taken off the wall in the reception area. Or maybe he's the next transplant candidate, as he is having an issue with one of his legs, too. We'll never know.

The dog certainly isn't any help.

The miracle of Cosmos and Damien is usually depicted in a much more sober fashion.

There are other miracles associated with the saintly twin doctors. They were finally turned in for being Christians (funny no one seemed to mind their "Dr. Moreau" experiments..but then, being saints, they never charged a fee). You could argue that two of their other three miracles aren't miracles:

1. They were bound and gagged and thrown into the sea to drown, but their bindings miraculously came loose and they crawled to shore.

(or they weren't tied so tight, or being doctors, they knew some of what Houdini knew and held their breath and tensed their muscles to give themselves some wiggle room)

2. They were burned at the stake, but the flames never touched them.

(or somebody didn't know how to burn a person at the stake and set them too far into the pyre)

3. They were flogged, but they weren't flogged because the lashes wouldn't touch them.
(I can't explain that one. That seems like a miracle.)

Then they were beheaded. That always works.

The story of Cosmos and Damien is not so black and white.


ann nonymous said...

Touche Sister!

However, I'd like to point out that, with regard to the legs, the story is very much "black and white."

Anonymous said...

"That's not to say that good old Mother Teresa didn't intercede for you and that you're prayers weren't answered. Clearly your prayers were answered. But the whole thing just isn't going to cut it on the miracle front."
The first "you're" should be "your."

But this isn't a grammar site, after all.

Amy said...

Did you see this?? "Will I See My Doggie in Heaven?" http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jul2003/Feature2.asp
I thought you might enjoy it after all this discussion... :)

Anonymous said...

OK, now I've looked WAY closer at that picture than I ever wanted to. What goes on in the minds of some artists I'll never know!

Sister Mary Martha said...

Amy, yes I have seen that. I think I'll have to write up a counter point.

Meanwhile theres' this (scroll down):

Suzanne Temple said...

Hilarious, sister. My husband and I had a lengthy discussion about that picture when you first posted it. We didn't unpack as much as you seemed to. Who needs Sister Wendy when we have Sister Mary Martha??

beez said...

Thanks Sister! After a month of Pre-Theology and a day of reading The Republic, I needed a chuckle.

Anonymous said...

Sister, I really enjoy your blog!

Margaret in Minnesota said...

Hello, dear Sister. I have a question of an--ahem--personal nature. Could you e-mail me so that I could e-mail you, etc. etc.? I am mom4life at comcast dot net.

Rev. Daren J. Zehnle, J.C.L., K.C.H.S. said...

Sister, you forgot the bit about the talking camel after their deaths! The Golden Legend mentions it; it's well worth a read. It's one of my favorite saint stories.

Beloved Spear said...

Interesting stuff, Sister. I'm not sure if you're up for responding to a Presbyterian's musings about Mother Teresa, but thought...why not ask? Anyhoo, having just finished reading and praying over that recent collection of her letters, I had an insight that you may or may not find interesting. It's at:


Sister Mary Martha said...


I left a remark on your blog. Let me know if it didn't appear.

Anonymous said...

I know this blog is read by many people of prayer. I was following Sister's lead and reading the news for where to direct prayers. The little girl in the Nevada abuse tapes needs prayer more than anyone I have ever know of. She is constantly in my thoughts and prayers, please join your prayers with mine, this baby must be found.

Anonymous said...

I did get your reply...thanks!

What I found frustrating about Mother Teresa's confessors was that they seemed unable to articulate a response that would bring her any comfort. Reading her suffering over the decades was difficult, particularly given that helping her to spiritually reframe her experience of darkness would have brought her a small taste of the joy and peace she gave so many others.

Ah well. At least she knows it now.

Paloma said...

I liked the blog but I have a question about the rosary. Why are you not supposed to wear it as a necklace and you can wear the chaplet as a bracelet?

Anonymous said...

this message is for you sister mary martha .vip i,m asking for you to contact me by mail at the post office. buy a 41cants stamp .my address is p.o. box 7435 chico, ca zip 95927. please mail me your phone number and i will call you right a way its v.i.p. its about my royalties of one billion dollars i,m asking for your help i walked a way from a billion dollar business i want to talk to you about it. i own the copyrights to the copyrights for the movie to come out.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that the random guy in the background who is sort of glowing is the black guy who's leg they're using. It sort of looks like it to me. Maybe he just wants to see what's going on with his leg. O.o

Great blog, sister!