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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Easter Evening

I didn't dye any eggs.

My father passed away on Easter Sunday in the evening. I didn't know, but his father also passed away on Easter Sunday. He and his mother shared the same birthday. His 87th birthday was last Saturday. He died the next day.

So no eggs. More travel.

People are wonderful, but I may never eat ham again. Anyone need some ham?

Mom is holding up very well. She has a whole parish to lean on.

They love ham, apparently.

Someday soon, I'll be back home.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Start of the New

I hardly know where to begin.

Happy Easter! Let's start with that.

I might dye some eggs. I have eggs. I have dye. I very nearly have a life of leisure!

Don't worry about the egg dying being too pagan. It may have indeed been pagan at some point, but we grabbed it up like a Christmas tree and gave it a lovely Christian meaning of renewal of life and hope.

I could use a little of that right now.

You may recall, way back in January, that I had to go to the Midwest and take care of my mother, who became ill, who was taking care of my father, who was already bed-ridden.

My mother got well. Very well. Not all the way back to normal, though, so we spent some time getting her some more help taking care of Dad. I was just about to come back home.

Which is when Dad, who is as frail as balsa wood, had another heart attack or two. He is back at home now, on hospice. I stayed and stayed. I came home again. I went back again. Dad didn't read the little booklet that they give you from the hospice workers which explains how to read the signs that the end is near. He's had all the signs for years. Discoloration, labored breathing, loss of appetite, you name it.

But he is going. There is no doubt about that.

So there is much to do and I will be headed back to the Midwest again any second.

Meanwhile, back here, we have had Sister St. Aloysius all alone with Sister Mary Fiacre and the house all this time. We know what happens in these times. In the middle of all this, Sister St. Aloysius had to have surgery on her nose. (Not plastic surgery because her nose was too big. She has a perfectly fine nose. Now it is actually functioning properly.)

So we've had to get Sister St. Aloysius some help and now we have Sister Nicholas.

I had never met Sister Nicholas. She arrived while I was away. Since Dad isn't following the rules, my mother and I decided I should come home for a while again.
(During my travels I had some really good old fashioned Lenten sacrifice. I'll tell you about that later.) Sister Nicholas was in the house somewhere when I arrived. Not that I could see her.

It's a small house. I was very concerned about her coming, as I do live here and there is no room as it is. I needn't have concerned myself. Sister Nicholas is so tiny, she could sleep in a dresser drawer or one the low cabinets. In fact, I think she may be doing just that.

I heard her before I saw her. I thought for a moment the neighbors had purchased a chihuahua or that Teddy was in distress,
but it was Sister Nicholas cajoling Sister Mary Fiacre to change from the wheelchair to her easy chair. It turns out that Sister Nicholas was right in the room, blocked by Sister Mary Fiacre's bulk and wheelchair. Suddenly Sister Mary Fiacre was in the chair and there was a new nun in the room. No chihuahuas.

Are there any tiny people who are lazy? I've never met one. Sister Nicholas is a ball of fire, a triple threat of tirelessness: she's tiny, she's Catholic and she's a nun.

I can barely lift an a finger or an eyebrow that Sister Nicholas doesn't leap to her feet to see if she can help, do it for me, find six other things that need doing, and put a bow on it. Hallelujah! And she's really, really bossy. It is just excellent. I don't even have to think, she'll tell me what to do next. Praise the Lord!

So I may dye some eggs.

Unless she sees me headed for the kitchen, in which case she'll dash right through my legs, boil the eggs, dye them, paint them, hide them, find them again and make egg salad before I get across the hall.

I love egg salad.

Thanks in advance for all your prayers.

Friday, March 14, 2008

New Sins

Happy Fake St. Patrick's Day!

Can you post your "Sins of the New Millennium". We would love to see it.

I'm not sure what I did with my list. But I invite you to help me compile a new one.

Here are my top picks:

Cell Phones Most of the Time. You may think that excessive cell phone use is merely bad manners. I beg to differ. If you are with me, but you are talking your phone you are pretending that I am not there and that you are alone and free to talk, that goes a little beyond bad manners. This isn't a 'what would Jesus do?" question. This is the reverse. Pretend I'm Jesus. Still feel like finding out what's for dinner?

That Woman on the Food Network Who Cooks Southern Food. My mother likes to watch cooking shows and her soap opera. The other day we were watching this southern lady make fried macaroni and cheese. I am so sorry I am not kidding. She had made a big pan of macaroni and cheese and left it in the refrigerator over night. Then she cut a big fat square of it. Next she took a big thick and wide piece of bacon and wrapped it around the macaroni and cheese square. I can't remember if she dipped that in egg before rolling it in some sort of breading. I was getting queasy. I understand when people are having a heart attack they may also feel a little nauseous. Finally, she dropped the big fat bacon wrapped brick of cheese and pasta with egg (maybe) and bread crumbs (or corn flakes or crackers or something) into a big fat vat of boiling oil. I think she said it was peanut oil. Whatever the most fattening kind of oil there could possibly be, that's what was used to deep fry the heart attack brick.

That's just a sin. It just has to be. Unless instead of calling it "Deep Fried Macaroni and Cheese" she called it "Heart Attack Bricks". Maybe being honest about it would lift it from the realm of sin.

Certain Uses for Tiny Cameras.Last night on the news there was a story about a man who was acquitted of the crime of taking a camera and taking pictures unbeknownst to the sixteen year old girl whose skirt he took pictures under. He wasn't acquitted because he was innocent of sneakily taking pictures up the skirt of a teenage girl without her knowledge. He was acquitted because it is not a crime to sneakily take pictures up some one's skirt, even if they haven't said you can. I'm guessing that since this is really a brand new problem because, not only the invention of tiny cameras, but the availability of them to people beyond CIA agents, the law has not caught up to the technology.

It may not be a crime. (YET) But it is most definitely a sin.

I'm pretty sure this one was on my old list: Reality TV. Other people's problems and pain are not fodder for our entertainment.

Not even those predator guys. Go ahead and set up a house and catch them all. But don't show their shame to me so that I can sit in judgement and laugh at how stupid they look, now that they were caught red handed.

To this I would add: Nancy Grace. Miss Grace, you are not the judge and jury. Don't let Miss Grace make you the judge and jury.

And finally: Grill Work. Not on your car. On your teeth. Also
called 'bling'. This is when you have some diamond braces made for your teeth. Take that money and buy some mosquito netting for the children of Africa so they don't keep getting malaria. Send that money to the retired nuns. Hand it out to homeless guys on skid row. Anything but stick it across your teeth.

Worse yet, while I was at the drugstore picking up my mother's prescriptions, I saw CANDY GRILL WORK. Attaching candy to your children's teeth has got to be a sin.

I'm sure every single one of you has some ideas of other things that should be on our list. Post them in the comments and we can compile this year's list.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The New Deadly Sins

About four years ago I wrote up a list of Sins for the New Millenium. I realize I sort of missed the actual onset of the New Millenium. What can I say? I'm very busy. It took me awhile to write it all down. We have new challenges brought about by changes in science and technology that are newly available.

Maybe not so new now.

Anyhow, I had things on the list like attending Mass for Shut-ins when you are not shut in and plastic surgery for vanity's sake. (If you are that ugly, join the clergy!)

So you can imagine how my interest was peaked by the headlines that the Vatican had come out with a list of Sins for the New Millenium! "New Deadly Sins!" I was a little disappointed when it turned out that there was no actual list, but the lack of a list didn't stop goof ball news people from saying things like:

"Forgive me Father, I don't recycle."
What is with the list released from the Vatican where environment abuse is a mortal sin?

Actually, this is a question from a reader, who must have been listening to Wolf Blitzer scream the news. Let me get this straightened out.

There is no list. It's just news spin, like when you hear one candidate "slammed" the other candidate and it turns out they were just mentioning why you should vote for them and not the other guy. Wolf and pals have to scream about, "slam", "attack", "rip into"....anything to make this boring dragged out campaign season seem compelling.

Here is what actually happened. Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican body which oversees confessions and plenary indulgences, had a seminar for priests to discuss sin and the modern age. What they were really talking about, which is VERY interesting, is the idea that sin used to be a lot more personal. You sin, God is sad. Your sin has an affect on other people in a limited fashion.

And now, with so many people and the internet and whatnot, you can really get your sin out there. You can email it, blog about it, self publish it, make your own flyers for it, get yourself a tax exemption for it, and sell ad space. Right from your lazy boy. Or your desk if you don't have a lap top.

Within this discussion were some big deal sins that couldn't have existed just a few years ago, like genetic engineering and cloning and invitro fertilization.

And the environment.

What makes me giddy, however, is that the guidelines of what is a sin and what isn't work just as well right now as they did from the start.

The Catholic Church. On the Cutting Edge Since 300 A.D.

For example, the Church has always taught that man is meant to be the steward of his environment, warning against waste and clutter and plunder. Does that mean littering is a mortal sin?

I guess it does if you are Wolf Blitzer. Or that crying Indian.

Could environmental abuse be a mortal sin? Sure it can. In India, the Coca Cola company has ruined the water of the area in which it bottles it's products for India. Hundreds of people have become sick and begged the Coca Cola company to do something about the problem. Their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Which leads us to the next area of discussion. Somehow, the news goofs twisted the Church's concern that the gap between rich and poor grows ever more wide and deep into "it's a mortal sin to be crazy rich." I would raise my hand shyly and say that I've noticed that, at least here in the US, excessive wealth is not only not considered sinful, it's believed to be a virtue.

Why does the Coca Cola company stick their fingers in their ears and hum while mothers and children die? Crazy rich has something to do with the answer, don't you think? "I'd like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company!"

Not so much. "We'd like everyone in the world to buy a case of Coke every day. What pesticides?" Now there's a jingle!

Which brings us back to square one of the discussion. The sin of a small group of executives, or maybe even one guy, has an effect reaching around the globe. Teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, indeed. Do I boycott Coke? Don't they also own the orange juice? Do I have to spend all day researching everything Coca Cola makes and does? And Exxon oil? And General Motors? Should I still not take Bayer aspirin?
That's what the bishops were talking about, sin is less and less between just me and God. It's about me, some executives, women and children in India, and how my choices affect them. New Deadly Sins.

Here's a sin I'd like to ad to the list: Dumbing Down.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Alexander and Rufus

We have solved the mystery of the mystery saints, thanks to our readers, right down to the shovels. Oddly enough, the shovels were to dig a garden. Who knew!

One of our kind readers mentioned that the two young people are probably the children of St. Simon of Cyrene who was dragged out of the crowd as Jesus passed by with His cross. Jesus has at this point fallen three times and His executioners must be getting nervous that He's not going to make it all the way to His execution. So they drag this pagan man out of the crowd. Simon has three children but only two are old enough to be milling around with their shovels on their way to dig in the garden.

The Mystery Saints are Alexander and Rufus. The third child eventually went to live with St. Stephen (the patron saint of headaches and first martyr).

Of Course! Why didn't I think of that? Where is my brain?

How to we know all this?

We don't. Simon's two children, Alexander and Rufus are mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. (21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.) But the idea that they were running around with shovels on their way to do some gardening and the idea that Simon had one more child who was younger and who went to live with St. Stephen? I'd say it's made up, more or less, like Veronica and her veil. Veronica and her veil, to the surprise of many, do not make an appearance in the New Testament. Veronica and her veil are not to be confused with the Shroud of Turin.

There is no woman named Veronica who wipes the face of Jesus on His way to Calvary in the New Testament. Where did she come from? Who knows. I think the idea that someone wiped the face of Jesus and the image stayed has something to do with the fact that there IS a Shroud of Turin. Somehow the idea that there is a TRUE (Vera) IMAGE (icon) of the face of Christ during His Passion became a woman's name.

It's a very nice name.

In fact, several of the things that happen during our Stations of the Cross are not in the New Testament. The early Stations of the Cross had Jesus falling seven times, maybe to reflect the Seven Deadly Sins Jesus came to conquer. The New Testament doesn't mention Him falling at all. And no Veronica.

Simon of Cyrene does make the cut! Simon is mentioned in three of the four Gospels. And although Alexander and Rufus are mentioned, they are only mentioned as the sons of Simon. It really doesn't say they are there at the time, or that they have any weeding ahead of them.

I read somewhere that Pope Paul IV came up with a new Stations of the Cross that reflect things that DID happen. I'll see if I can find it. Should be interesting.

How do we know Mary learned to sew or that her parents were named Joachim and Anne, that Simon and his children were on their way to plant some Early Girl tomatoes?

We don't know.

These things are passed down to us in something we call Sacred Tradition. That means we can believe it. The thing I find a little ironic is that many of these stories come from texts that were excluded from the New Testament, and rightfully so, in the fourth century when the Church finally decided, like that German girl who chooses the fashion designing contestants, what would be in and what would be out.

A Rose growing out of Joseph's staff? You're in.

Killer Baby Jesus?
Auf Wiedersehen.

At the risk of confusing you further here's a breakdown of what to believe:

1.Things written in the Bible. Believe it or not? Not that easy. Some of the things in the Bible are stories and parables. Some things are up for interpretation, like the writings on the End Times. For the most part, believe it. Certainly everything in there is something God wanted you to know.

2. Private revelations. Believe it or not? Private revelations are things that people are told privately by saints, Jesus, Mary, angels. The Church will let you know which ones are worthy of your consideration. You can believe it or not. For example, St. Bernadette talks to Mary at Lourdes/BELIEVE it (if you want), Nancy Fowler sees Mary in her dryer in Conyers, Georgia/don't believe it (even if you want to).

3. Sacred Tradition. Believe it or not? Believe it. I think it's just one of those "it's good for my old mother, it's good enough for me" kinds of things. The Church clearly feels there is enough Truth.

Here's a rule of thumb. If Truth has a capital "T" believe it. That's why you always see the words "Sacred Tradition" written thus and not 'sacred tradition' like we're crawling off somewhere with a bunch of crazy stories.

Glad to have solve the mystery, although it should have rung at least a little bell.

Mystery Saints

Sr. Mary Martha, I was hoping you could help me identify these saints (you're good at this). My parish has very nice paintings for the Stations of the Cross. I noticed there were these two children with halos in some of the stations. They appear about the time Simon helps carry the cross and are no longer in the picture when Jesus is nailed to the Cross. They're carrying shovels or spades. Who are these saints?

Who knows? Some artist had some idea about what symbols he wanted in the paintings. I've never seen any haloed children in any depiction of the Stations of the Cross, so it's not some common thing that we're all supposed to 'get'.

I think they're angels. Here is why: there can't be any saints yet. Saints are people who have died and gone to heaven. Since during the Stations of the Cross the gates of Heaven are not open yet, there can't be any little children saints to come down and dig a garden or whatever they were planning with those shovels. Not any child saints could exist yet, not even the Holy Innocents, who would have landed in the Limbo of the Fathers.

Everyone who died before Jesus opened the gates of Heaven went to the Limbo of the Fathers. Unless they went to Hell. I think if they were headed to Hell, they went straight the Hell. I'm not sure about that, but that seems like the expedient thing to do. Certainly all the good people went to the Limbo of the Fathers. Then, when Jesus died on the cross and before He rose on Easter, He went to the Limbo of the Fathers and let everyone out. The Limbo of the Fathers closed.

Then Limbo was re-opened for the unbaptized babies and the Aborigines. I was under the impression that Limbo was closed for good after Vatican II, but it seems the jury is still out on that one. The official word is that the Church "hopes" Limbo is closed for good and that God in his mercy has accepted the little unbaptized babies (and the Aborigines and dead Native Americans who lived before the North American Martyrs tried to save them) into heaven. We just don't know.

And I just don't know who those children could be if they are not angels.

The bigger mystery, in my opinion, is what on earth they are doing with those shovels! Surely they aren't going to help dig the hole in which to place the cross! Perhaps they are, since Jesus' death and Resurrection is very important and must be accomplished.

I wouldn't put it past some artist to stick some child saints in there, even though they couldn't really exist yet. Here's a painting called "The Triumph of the Holy Innocents" in which the blessed children are having a fun time accompanying the Holy Family on their flight to Egypt. I'll bet not one of them asked, "Are we there yet?"

Or perhaps the artist had a fever at the time in which he painted that panel in your church. You might want to just try and track him down and ask.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Can You Handle the Truth?

Hippity Hoppity, Easter's on it's way. That means some people are getting ready to join the Church. How exciting!

Here in my home parish we have the "Adopt a Confirmation Kid" program. My mother gleefully joined and dutifully sent her eighth grader cards through the mail a least once a week. They were kid friendly notes of encouragement. "I know you are studying hard!" That type of thing. She may have included a piece of candy. I wouldn't put it past her. She was chagrined to find that little Bobby was actually Mr. Robert Adultmen, grown up convert.

I'm sure he liked candy, anyhow.

I'm a junior in high school and am very active in my church youth group. The other day, I and another boy from the youth group were asked if we would like to help lead the high school confirmation retreat (we normally have confirmation in 8th grade, but there are always a few older ones who end up in their own group.) We said that we would love to and were each handed a copy of a retreat script that the youth leader would like to use as a basis. The other kid and I agree that it is Religion at its fluffiest. We want to take the other kids to Mass and Confession (which was not in the original plan,) but we aren't sure what other discussions/activities/talks we could have. Any suggestions? It's four hours with about seven 14-16 year old kids.

A lesson plan is all about time management.

The Mass and Confession will take up about an hour and a half. Maybe more if someone is extra sinful.

The Retreat Script can't be THAT bad, can it? Does it require you to purchase a set of puppets? Is there interpretive dance involved?

I would use it as a guideline to talk about what I'm supposed to talk about at any rate. It must mention why we have Confirmation, why we have baby Baptism, what the choice they are about to make entails. Those are the main points you'll have to cover.

Do they talk about the all important Confirmation name? We've heard from many readers saying kids no longer get a new Confirmation name. What a pity. Kids could be picking a great saint and a great name and be undoing years of damage from having to answer to "Dweezil", "Apple" and "Brandy".

I'm not allowed to teach kids about Confirmation because of my radical ideas about what it means to be a Soldier of Christ. I always did okay with the little second graders preparing for First Communion and I even managed not to scare any tots into fainting during their First Confession. But by the time a person is old enough to take the Catholic Pledge, so to speak, the gloves are off. You're in the Army, now, sons and daughters. Welcome to Boot Camp. I think I scared some kids. Oh well.

It's nice to think that we can all plan a guitar Mass and sing Qum By Yah or whatever that mopey song is and get up an go to work the next day wearing our scapulars and call ourselves Catholic. In fact, plenty of people do just that.

I think you should point out to these youngsters some of the things that have gone on in the name of Jesus. There were people who had their skin peeled off, and people who drank lead rather than denounce their faith, for example.

Here's an idea! Give them that speech that Jack Nicholson gives in " A Few Good Men". You know the one! The "You Can't Handle the Truth" speech.

Here's the speech. Jack Nicholson says, "You want answers?"

I believe Tom Cruise acknowledges that he feels entitled to some answers.

To which Jack Nicholson says, "my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to!"

I'll paraphrase, Catholic style:
"The existence of the Catholic Church, that so many people vilify and make fun of, saves souls. The Truth is difficult and you would rather have somebody else do the work. But somebody has to take up the Cross. Somebody has to stand up to dishonor and filth and weakness, so pick up your Cross and stand post, soldier! And make the words of Christ mean something!"

And don't say "damn". That isn't nice.

My suggestion would be to use the Confirmation names and the saints they invoke to remind everyone what they need to do at their post on the wall.

However....as I have been asked not to teach Confirmation classes, you should run your lesson plan past whoever is in charge before you go running off at the mouth, even if it means having to do a liturgical dance, or drag out some puppets. Obedience is important in the Army.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Unluck of the Irish

I am snickering behind my hand. If I were living in Elizabethan times, I would be snickering behind my fan.

St. Patrick's Day has to be cancelled!

Okay, not cancelled. Moved.

I'm hoping that the move will confuse everyone and rivers will not turn green. Many people could be spared from up chucking their socks up because they are not used to drinking so much beer, especially beer that is green.

This year St. Patrick's Day lands right smack dab in the middle of Holy Week. Monday of Holy Week to be precise. Okay, the beginning of Holy Week. That hasn't happened since 1940. I don't know what they did about it in 1940, but this year the Bishops have firmly requested that St. Patrick's Day be moved to Friday the 14th.

I'm not really excited about this plan either, as that puts the celebration on the last Friday of the Fridays in Lent (by the time we get to Good Friday, it is no longer Lent), which throws the whole corned beef dinner thing into a tizzy, just for starters. We have no business having a party on the Last Friday of the Fridays of Lent. Drinking beer until we are blind and spinning isn't in keeping with aligning ourselves with the suffering of Our Lord. Having to sleep with one foot on the floor is nothing to offer up for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, who would probably love to have a cold one. We shouldn't be eating corned beef on any Friday in Lent, either.

We occassionally do have St. Patrick's Day land on a Friday in Lent, in which case you can get a special dispensation from your bishop to have your corned beef dinner, but not at your house, at the church fund raiser.

I have mentioned before that I am no big fan of St. Patrick's Day. I have nothing against St. Patrick himself. I am just disappointed that this great saint has been reduced to an excuse to vomit up your socks and miss work the next day. And on a national level.

Some cities have already complied with the Bishops' request. Not because they are happy to comply. They just don't want a stink raised by the "War on Christmas" crowd. Fine. Whatever works.

So here's a head's up! Get down to the drug store and snap up your fuzzy shamrock a few days early this year! Plug in your red nosed leprechaun night light before Holy Week! And mark your calendar for the next time St. Patrick's Day lands in Holy Week--in 2160.


Is there a saint to invoke against infestations? Like, insect infestations? Ugh...

Patron saintage. My favorite topic.

Of course there is a patron saint of insect infestation! Is the Pope Catholic?

Flying or walking?

And be careful...you don't want to accidently get a saint who is pro insect, like Pope St. Felix, the patron saint of spiders. In the early days of the Church, Pope St. Felix was running from Roman soldiers. He found a hole to hide in and spiders quickly spun a web over the opening of the hole. Pope St. Felix spent the rest of his days covered in cobwebs and dripping with spiders. He never allowed anyone to kill a spider in his presence. He liked spiders.

City or country? If you're out on a farm you'll want St. Magnus of Fussen, the patron saint against caterpillars and locust type crop killers.

There at the house I think you'll want to go with St. Dominic Silos. You'll be tickled pink, I think.

St. Dominic was in charge of a swell monastery when the king decided he wanted the monastery lands for himself. Poor Dominic was kicked out and landed at the world's most delapidated monastery. It must have looked like my house. (Meaning the house in which I live. Heaven knows it isn't MINE.)There were only six monks there (three up on us!). The place was falling down around their ears. (Been there, done that.)

I'm sure this is why he is that patron saint of insect infestations. The reason is not specifically mentioned. But he lived in Spain. I'm thinking termites, for starters.

He is also the patron saint of having babies (along with St. Gerard and St. Raymond Nonnatus), but he should be the patron saint of fund raisers. Not only did he turn the old monastery into a world class joint that still stands today as a model of architecture and art work, he ransomed folks who were held captive by the Moors (which was also St. Raymond's claim to fame), fed the poor, worked lots of healing miracles and got the monastery up and running with gold and silver art works. He managed all of this by getting rich folks to donate money. Not bad for a former shepherd who became a monk because he liked the quiet life.

He is the patron saint of having babies because a woman once prayed for his intercession one hundred years after his death. She wanted another son. She gave birth to St. Dominic. THE St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans who made the Rosary a popular item. (Many people think this St. Dominic invented the Rosary, but he didn't.) She named her Dominic after her intercessor, our friend the fund raiser and insect fighter.

Certainly, before you drag out the aerosol can of poisonous bug annihilator, consider the words of St. Isidor, patron saint of Spain, who was adament that we extend the Lord's kindness to bugs. He fed "the ants, too, since they are God's ants, and His royal bounty is for all His household."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

No Big Fat Greek Wedding

Can you tell me what's up with St. Philomena? I was reading your archives and saw you had her associated w/ the St. Christopher legend type saints. Isn't there a church in Italy w/ her remains.

Well, there is a church with some remains, alrighty, but the Church has decided that we really don't know whose remains they are.

St. Philomena was a rock star of a saint for quite some time. And yet just the other day when I was out on a medal scout, she was MIA, although I did see several St. Philomena novena booklets. I've also often seen St. Philomena novena booklets in the back of churches I have visited.

Talk about confusing.

Here's the story. Back in 1802 the Catacombs were all the rage. Someone found a burial vault with the name "Philomena" and some inscriptions, symbols of a virgin martyr. Originally, when the bones were found they were catalogued and put away in the Vatican reliquary. Three years later, Canon Francis de Lucia was digging around in there and when he reached the relics marked "Philomena", he experienced a 'spiritual joy'. He wanted to take the relics to a chapel to be enshrined, but there was an argument about it until Canon Francis himself was cured of something or another after prayers to Philomena for her intercession. (So there are your remains in the chapel.)

That's when the Philomena bottle was uncorked all together, with miracles galore. She is the only person to become a saint solely on the basis of miracles.

I have to stop here for a second and mention that this is exactly why, when a person has a cause for sainthood, the Church digs the person up to make sure the person is really in there and that the miracles that are being attributed to St. Bob aren't emanating from the tomb of Bob's faithful dog.

No, there weren't dog bones in St. Philomena's vault. But someone did figure out later that the inscriptions on the tomb had been lifted off some other tomb at some time and stuck onto this vault. In hunks.

It's confusing. It means, however, that we don't know who was in the tomb or if there ever was a virgin martyr named Philomena. There is absolutely no historical evidence of her existence, let alone her sainthood. We only have a mismatched inscription on a set of bones.

So where did we come up with the story of St. Philomena? OH. I forgot to tell you the story.

St. Philomena was a Greek Princess. Her parents converted to Christianity and she was raised a pampered Christian Greek Princess. At thirteen, when the Emperor Diocletian asked for her hand in marriage, Philomena refused a Big Fat Greek Wedding as she wished to remain a virgin.

We've heard the story before, more or less...St. Agnes, St. Lucy, St. Agatha...the list goes on.

So poor Philomena was tossed into jail, flogged (angels cured her with balm), had anchors tied around her necked and was thrown into the sea (saved by angels with a rope), shot full of arrows (healed by angels again). But this time the arrows turned around and killed the bowmen.

Miraculous enough for you? I have to pause. If the arrows turned around and killed the bowmen, how come Philomena had to be cured by angels again? It just doesn't add up.

Anyhow, now accused of witchcraft due to the bowman incident, Philomena was at last decapitated.

I have to pause again. These ancient legends where a person is endlessly tortured and then at last decapitated always remind me of that old Batman TV show where the Joker hangs Batman over a vat of something and then leaves. Of course, Batman uses his utility belt to escape. Why didn't the Joker just shoot him and have done with it? These ancient stories always end the same way, too. "No head" always seems to end the story, except in the case of St. Denis, who was unhappy with the part of town in which his head was removed, so he picked it up and walked to a better area and died there.

Here is another good rule we have in the Catholic Church. You don't have to believe anything that has come to us through private revelation.

St. Philomena's life story has come to us because she paid a visit to a nun. Don't get me wrong. We've had some wonderful private revelations from nuns (and you don't have to believe them, either)--St. Mary Margaret, St. Catherine LaBoure....

It's just that St. Philomena's story just doesn't add up, so the Church has let it alone. Backed off, so to speak.

What about all the miracles? Here are my thoughts. Certainly there were girls who
lived parts of St. Philomena's story. They were burned, flogged, shot full of arrows, boiled in oil, made to drink lead, chopped into pieces, flung into the sea and had their heads removed. Perhaps the reason there were so many miracles, is that there were so many girls and they have banded together there in heaven under the Philomena banner and brought their heavenly intercession to bear.

The Church leaves you to sort it all out for yourself.