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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Spectacular Scapular

Several years ago my mother gave me a brown scapular with a brief explanation about it's significance, and a hint that I would be needing it. (She was Catholic, I am not. But that's another story.) She died shortly after under quite bizarre circumstances. The scapular sort of appeared at her funeral in a manner that nearly caused one of her Catholic friends to faint.

One of many questions I would like to ask you is do you find it odd that someone would "give" their scapular to another?

I don't find it the least bit odd. This sentence is why: "She was Catholic, I am not. But that's another story."

Not really. That's pretty much the whole story.

She wants you to join her in heaven and since you are not Catholic she was worried that you will be...left behind the door.

The one that's on fire.

I wrote all about why wearing the scapular can help you get to heaven. Go ahead and have a read. I'll wait.

So, you see, it's not rocket science why your mother would want to at least get that scapular around your neck. The rest is up to you, including joining the Confraternity of the Scapular. I'm surprised she didn't also thrust a green scapular at you. She probably had one under her pillow with your name on it.

Dear Sister,
When you respond to Miss Sandy's question, could you also answer whether the brown scapular needs to be given ceremonially at Church in order to be worn. I was told that it did, and since I am too old go getting special ceremonies to receive something most children get at their First Communion, I do not wear one. I would like to though, since I want all the help getting into heaven I can get!

Nothing so fancy. You seem to be picturing some sort of scapular parade and maybe a Maypole. You just have to take your scapular to the priest to be blessed. There is a special prayer he has to say when he does this. This enrolls you in the Confraternity of the Scapular.


I would think that if you need all the help you can get to get into heaven, you'd jump at the chance to dance around the Maypole in a flowered headdress if that's what it took. Lucky for you, you don't even have to take it to the priest yourself. You can have some youngster run it over to the rectory for you.

I think you want all the easy breezy lemony squeezy help you can get getting into heaven. The Church keeps doing whatever She can to make it ever more convenient for you.

For example, in order to get the full benefit of the Stations of the Cross it used to be necessary to actually go to the Holy Land and walk in the footsteps of Christ. This was no easy feat. You couldn't book a quick trip on Southwest, hop off and grab some falafel and get your indulgence. It would have taken you months to get there. You would have had to have some serious dough or be willing to starve and freeze and boil the whole way there and back. You may well have died before you got there or before you got home.

People complained. Only rich, healthy people could get the indulgence. Our good friend St. Francis of Assisi came up the Stations of the Cross as you know them today, so you don't have to drag yourself over to the Holy Land. You can just walk around in your own church.

At least they kept the rule that you actually have to walk around and not just sit in your pew and nod in the direction of "Jesus Falls the Third Time". You don't have to starve and boil and freeze.

And you don't have to dance around a Maypole.

I would be all for instating a Maypole dance or parade, were it up to me. Followed by cake in the school basement.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Time to Wear White

Hi Sister Mary Martha! I love your blog, I read it about as often as I pray my rosary (about 1-2 times a day). I have a question!

I grew up under super conservative traditional catholics. I was always taught that rosary's are NEVER to be worn as jewelry, yet lately I've been seeing everyone from Madonna to the "cool kid" down the street wearing rosary or rosary type jewelry, and even "catholics." Am i wrong? Is there a special clause that allows us to wear a rosary as jewelry? And the religious candles and jewelry with pictures of Jesus and Mary, and the saints. It it sacrilegious to wear/use those also if you're a non-believer? or am I just being way too uptight?

Although I love that you are a frequent reader, I would drop me like a hot potato to squeeze in another rosary if I were you.

I, too, was taught that one never wears a rosary. A rosary is an instrument for prayer. It's not jewelry. End of discussion.

But now people wear white after Labor Day all the time and nobody cares.

Here's what I've been told about our brave new world of rosary wearers:

1. People in other cultures have been happily wearing rosaries all along. Perhaps we just didn't know because we never had the internets. For example, in Mexico people wear rosaries all the time and always have. I'll bet they've been wearing white all year long all the time as well.

2. People wear rosaries as reminders. I had a reader who informed me that she wore her rosary around her neck to remind her to remain chaste. I really can't ask her not to do that, if that's what it takes. I truly can't imagine that someone would need a rosary around their neck to remain chaste. How bad is this poor woman's memory? Isn't that the purpose of a hair shirt? I told her to get a hair shirt. I doubt she listened. Far be it from me, at any rate, to tell her to stop wearing that rosary under those circumstances. I've given enough bad advice to land me in Purgatory until Pontius Pilate gets out.

(I was told by the nuns I had in school--and I believed them--that Pontius Pilate did not go to Hell. He went to Purgatory and he has to stay there until the end of time. It makes perfect sense to me. But it's just another one of those things some nun made up.)

3. Gang members now wear rosaries. This is truly horrible. It might make anyone who is considering wearing a rosary for any reason think twice about it, even if they are just wearing it to prevent it from sinking to the bottom of their purse so as to be able to get their hands on it quickly so they can pray for gang members.

If rosaries are actually becoming a fashion statement, you really shouldn't be wearing a rosary around.

That said, I'd rather see you wear a rosary than hang it on your rear view mirror. That is a really useless place to have a rosary, hanging there with the little stinky cardboard pine tree. If you want to hang something on your rear view mirror, put St. Christopher up there.

Actually, don't. He probably didn't exist. St. Joseph is my choice for travel aid. One of his many patronages is travel, as he managed to get Mary safely to Bethlehem and his whole Holy Family back and forth from Egypt. On a donkey. Tell that to your kids the next time they whine that your SUV doesn't have a backseat DVD player.

Candles and medals, though, are a whole different ball of wax. Oh. What a pun. Sorry.

Candles and medals are sacramentals. (So is the rosary, which is why I suppose, it's actually okay to wear one.) They are there for the sole purpose of reminding us about Jesus. Having a candle with Mary on it will remind you to say the rosary and help you focus when you do. Having a medal of a saint will remind you what that saint endured, how he managed to stay holy, got shot full of arrows (St. Sebastian), had his skin peeled off (St. Bartholomew), never ate anything but the Host (St. Catherine), remained chaste (St Agnes), etc.

That is altogether different than wearing an instrument of prayer as jewelry. To me, wearing a rosary would be like tying your Missal to your head and calling it a hat. But that's just me.

I never wear white no matter what time of year it is.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Birds and Squirrels

Who's the patron saint for those of us faithful Catholics who work for social justice and the marginalized but are surrounded by conservative Catholics?

I didn't know there was a difference. There better not be, or there are some sorry Catholics who have forgotten the Corporal Works of Mercy.

Are these conservative Catholics impeding you in some way? Telling you to go sit down and say a rosary? What am I missing here?

To answer your question, however, I'd go with St. Francis of Assisi, the most radical of radicals. Mr. Shockingpants, as his former friends would have called him behind his back. That is, if he even wore pants. He didn't.

In fact, his whole exciting saintly life started because of clothes. For one thing, his father was an extremely wealthy cloth merchant. Francis decided he wanted to be a soldier, so he bought himself a soldier suit. He had the dough to really deck himself out. I imagine he bought himself chain mail and a hat with a plume. I bet he had his horse all decked out, too, in a horse soldier suit.

But he didn't really care too much for soldiering as it turned out. Typical of a wealthy kid who can afford to do anything he wants and then can't ever figure out what he wants. I'm sure that's what's happened to those poor children like Brittany Spears and company. Francis encountered a bum on the side of the road and, itching to ditch his soldier suit, traded his duds with the bum.

Now think about that for a minute. That's a little out there, don't you think? Say you were coming home from your job one day in your three piece pantsuit and matching pumps. Maybe you were thinking about how much you hate your job and your boss and having to wear this three piece pants suit with the matching pumps. Suddenly you spot a homeless woman. You slam on the brakes jump out of the car and ask her to trade clothes with you. Think her clothes are clean?

The two of you strip right there on the street and you put on her filthy, stinking old clothes and she walks off in your pumps. When you see her all dressed up, you have another great idea. You give her your car! Hey, you can't get back in your car in those stinking clothes anyhow. You'll ruin in the upolstery. You'll never get that smell out, even with a little cardboard pine tree hanging from the rear view mirror.

Francis was not a normal person.

Of course, his father blew up at him when he finally returned home and told him to take those stinking rags off. What his father meant was, "Get those stinking clothes off and put on your real clothes that I paid hundreds of dollars for!" But Francis just dropped his drawers and walked off naked into the sunset.

So again....you get home in the stinking rags of the homeless woman (who is now at Starbucks in your car and pantsuit having a soy latte that she bought with the change in your car seat)and your husband says, "Get those stinking clothes off!" And your response? You strip completely and walk out the door, never to be seen again in any type of normal setting.

The next thing anyone knows you are talking to birds and squirrels and getting the stigmata.


Meanwhile, I suggest you lighten up on the "conservative" Catholics. You have to share heaven with them, too.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Jesus and the Mosquitoes

Ok, here's a question for you. I don't know if this can actually be answered....but I was pondering the other day this thought: Did Jesus ever get sick? At first thought it would seem, yes, "He was like us in all ways except sin" right? BUT really think about it, would God have allowed his holy, sinless and pure body to be prey to say...shigella? E coli? typhoid? Would He not have been all knowing and avoided tainted food? For that matter, would He have been bitten by bugs? Would some disgusting mosquito or tick be allowed to drink and defile His holy blood??

Ok, strange questions, but I'm wondering what others think.

We don't know what happened to Jesus from the time he was about two, when those 'brilliant' Magi* showed up, until he was twelve and lost at the Temple, and again from then until he began his ministry at age thirty.

I doubt he was ever sick. This is just my opinion.

We tend to go by what the Bible says and then we extrapolate from there to figure things out. For example, although the Bible never mentions the place we call Purgatory (which is just a name we came up with from the root word "purge") by name, there are a couple of passages in the Bible that mention 'praying for the dead'. Now, if there is no Purgatory, why would you have to pray for anyone dead? The dead either went to Heaven, where they need no prayers, or they went to Hell, where prayers do no good. There must be a place people go where they need prayers. It says so in the Bible.

Since the Bible never says word one about Jesus being sick, either He was never sick, or it isn't important for us to know about His stubbed toes, stomach flu or chicken pox. Either way, you can let it go.

Also, if He did get sick, He could heal Himself. Surely you thought of that?

For example, after the Last Supper, the disciples were either drunk or very lethargic from the Passover dinner. You may remember that they all fell asleep on Jesus there in the Garden of Gethsemane. My opinion is that they had one too many glasses of wine. That is certainly the way they were behaving, sprawled on the lawn, all eleven of them. I imagine that Jesus had just as much food and wine as everyone else had. He was still alert. If He had been having any problems, He could have snapped Himself out of it.

We also know that, to everyone's amazement, He spent all His time kissing and touching some fantastically sick individuals. He obviously wasn't worried about catching something.

Which, by the way, is a personal bugaboo of mine, all this worry about people have drinking out of the same chalice at Mass. Silly germaphobes. Obsessing over germs in the chalice of the Blood of Christ? Get a grip people. Hug a few lepers and head over to Mass. I guarantee you'll feel differently about the whole situation.

I'll wager bugs didn't bite Him either, even though in many pictures Jesus looks like just the sort of pale white man that bugs love. They may have landed on Him, realized with Whom they were dealing, and thought better of it. We never hear about Jesus fussing over bugs and animals one way or the other. He fusses over sick people, poor people, children, sinners and tax collectors. No cats or puppies.

If I were you, I wouldn't spend another moment thinking it over. You might, however, consider this a good reminder of the Corporal Works of Mercy.

*I have a problem with the Magi being called "Wise Men" when they strolled up to the world's most evil King and asked if he knew where they could find the 'New King'. What's up with that? "Wise Men" indeed. A six year old would have known better.

I am busier than a cranberry merchant. That's another phrase my mother uses. I say it all the time and people look at me like I have two heads. Someone actually asked what in the world I meant by that. I suppose that since the cranberries that person buys come already neatly bagged with a pretty blue wave on them, the image of someone trying to wrangle cranberries and sell them escaped her.

Anyhow, Sister Nicholas is on her way out. Sister St. Aloysius is on her way back. I am here, for a change. Sister Nicholas is used to packing and unpacking. It seems she never stays anywhere for very long. She thinks people complain about her so much, because she is so annoying to just about everyone, that she is constantly being transferred.

Don't think that doesn't happen. It happens a lot. I know everyone thinks that nuns are taught obedience and therefore just offer it up when living in close quarters with groups of women gets to be a bit much. That happens a lot, too. But sometimes, some people are moved, or asked to move, or asked to leave altogether because no one can get along with them. It happens. I'm not sure it's the case with Sister Nicholas. One could certainly make the case.

I don't mind her. But then, I always knew she was temporary, so perhaps I could always see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, they build a new tunnel.

I've always found it quietly amusing, when people ask about vocations or wonder if they have a vocation, and they are wondering aloud with which order they should join, just what makes them think the order will have them? People are turned away in droves.

Well...not droves. Not these days. But only because droves don't show up in the first place. Ironically, you are more likely to get turned away these days than in the past.

Picky, picky, picky. My mother also always said, "Beggars can't be choosers."

Wanna bet?

Dear Sister,

Could you let me know who the patron saint is of Catholics whose faith is challenged and insulted constantly? I am a conservative Catholic who lives in the very secular San Francisco Bay area.

Thanks in advance, and God Bless you.

I have to go with the North American martyrs on this one. You may have heard of them. These were eight Jesuits who left France during the Renaissance and came to Canada. They had a plan to evangelize the 'savages', meaning, the Native Americans of Canada. They picked the Hurons to start in on, because the Algonquins were a nomadic tribe and the priests apparently thought it would be impossible to just follow them around everywhere trying to get them to listen about Jesus.

The Hurons stayed put. There were about thirty thousand of them to work on. So the priests went to work. It didn't go very well. During the thirteen years they toiled they did manage to baptize a number of people, but it was an uphill climb.

Sound familiar? How about this description of how they found the Huron:
The suffocating fires and foul odors within made the huts most uncomfortable. The savages were rough, impatient, and thoroughly given over to every impurity. Their "divinities" were the sun, the moon, and almost any material object. Sorcerers led wild feasts and orgies to appease the spirits, and superstition accompanied all they did. Father Brebeuf, convinced of Satan's dominion over these poor souls, prayed fervently for them.

has to ring a bell for you.

Things went from bad to worse when influenza and small pox wiped hundreds of people out. Although the priests did catch the disease, they all survived. Rather than take this as a sign that God was indeed helping them, the 'savages' became suspicious that perhaps all that Latin mumbo jumbo was some kind of "Blackrobe" sorcery.

Meanwhile, the Hurons were at war with the Iroquois. It was the Iroquois that eventually tortured and killed the eight priests.

gruesome, by the way. I'll let you look it up for yourself on the Google. Chewing off fingers, removing eyeballs from their sockets with hot pokers, hunking off chunks of flesh, running club gauntlets...the list goes on. The Pope had to give Father Isaac Jogues a special dispensation to say Mass with what was left of his hands. A couple of the lucky ones got shot with muskets and arrows in the head.

That should make you feel better about your life in San Francisco.

Monday, May 12, 2008


I am never late for anything, left to my own devices. I take into account that traffic may not be doing what I think it should be doing, I take into account the actual time it takes to park and walk or unload things.

I am almost always a dollar short.

I apologize for being a day late and a dollar short in answering this question that was asked in plenty of time for me answer it. I could have answered it and then gone on vacation to Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon, gamble away my veil or ride a donkey down an enormous canyon, pack and unpack, and still have time to read the next set of questions.

I have no excuse. I also don't have a dollar.

Any suggestions on how to celebrate Pentecost Sunday?

Pentecost is the birthday of the Catholic Church. Happy Birthday, everyone! That means you, too, Church Suffering!* We haven't forgotten you!

So a birthday cake is in order. Maybe one of those birthday banners you pull out every year. That might be nice. However you go about celebrating a birthday, save the way a Jehovah's Witness does it, which is to say, not at all, will suffice.

But, I would add one more thing you could do, especially since I am so late in offering this advice and it will take you quite a lot of time to accomplish it anyhow.

Learn a language.

You might recall that after the Holy Spirit, nee Holy Ghost (we used to always call Him the Holy Ghost, I don't know what happened there, maybe somebody got scared), descended upon the disciples, they all went out and preached and everyone who heard them could understand them no matter what language the listener actually spoke.

You really don't hear about that happening anymore. You hear about people 'speaking in tongues', but I think that is a misnomer. No one understands a word they are saying. There is no language involved. Also, if you were standing here beside me, I would whisper into your ear that I met a man who was part of a 'speaking in tongues' cult of some sort and he told me that someone whispered in his ear, at the beginning of the whole sheebang, to just start babbling out some gibberish and everything would be alright. So I don't put much stock in speaking 'in tongues'. "To whom?" I would ask.

The disciples, on the other hand, were speaking in their own language but they were being heard in many languages. Like at the UN. Only useful.

That's why I'm suggesting that, in honor of Pentecost, you get your hands on some Rosetta Stone software or some such thing and learn a language. Don't worry about the language being useful or popular. Today's obscure language is tomorrow's Arabic.

*The Church Suffering are the the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The People Under the Stairs

I have a question for you to write about. You've said before that clergy and parents are responsible twice over when they sin or teach others to sin, but I wonder if you have any advice for godparents. I ask because my godchildren aren't going to Mass any more and aren't learning about their faith. I'm concerned about this, but unsure what to do, as I live hundreds of miles away, so can't take them myself, and don't really feel as though I should tell their parents what to do. Do you have any advice for me on being a good Godparent to the children of a lapsed Catholic? Thanks so much!

And nuns. Don't forget nuns. St. Teresa of Avila was shone, in a mystical vision, her own special room in Hell for her transgressions. I think it was under a stair case. I believe it was Hell, though, and not Purgatory. The people in Purgatory are happy. Suffering but happy. Like pea pickers. Suffering because picking peas is tedious, happy because they are going to eat fresh peas.

Please capitalize the "God" in "Godparents". Unless you are the godparents to idol worshipers, in that case, it would be okay.

But you are not.

I've been mulling it over. It's tempting to say that you should talk to the parents. Clearly they are going to move into St. Teresa's spot under the stairs, since Teresa herself is in heaven.

But you're right. It's not your place, really, to tell them how to raise their children. You might mention it to them. You might toss in the words "mortal sin". If that doesn't wake them up, I'm not sure what will. (Although, some people prefer a gentler approach leaving out the fires of Hell and opting for a syrupy "God misses you" tactic. Not me. Some people.)

Anyhow, I do think you should talk to the children directly. That is the very definition of Godparent. That's your whole Godparent job, the spiritual development of your Godchild. It really isn't birthday cards and graduation money, as much as we might want it to be.

I suggest a nudge when you talk to them on the phone. Don't mention Hell. They might not want to answer your phone calls after that.

Mention Hell in the letters you write them. I'm not suggesting you say, "if you don't go to Mass on Sunday, you'll go to Hell." You might say, "missing Mass on Sunday is a grave sin" and then in another letter mention what we mean by "grave sin". You'll have to add some syrupy "God misses you" verbage. It's true, anyhow.

You might start with a letter that mentions, after some thoughts on the weather in your area, how much you love Mass, asking if they glean the same graces. You can follow up with a letter about how much you're looking forward to this year's tomato crop and your pending visiting with Great Aunt Margie and ask how Mass is working out for them, adding information on why the Church wants you parked there every Sunday. Throw in some amusing anecdotes about the fun you had at Mass this week, that sort of thing.

Not that Mass is supposed to be a big party. But it's not a morose sorrowfest, either, so let's be encouraging.

Send them things besides Easter candy and birthday money. Holy cards. Patron saints. St. Augustine, for example, is the patron saint of beer and party animals and he pulled himself together and became a Doctor of the Church. There is always reason to hope.

In any case, keep in mind that your place is between the Godchildren and God. If you have a problem with the people under the stairs, remind them that they are the ones who hired you.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Betsy Who?

Can you recommend a patron saint for potty-training? I need help!

I saw an episode of Dr. Phil. Sister Mary Fiacre was on a Dr. Phil kick for a while there. He used to come on just about the time I got home from school. I would fix her a snack. I think she liked the colors and the music. I'm not sure she actually followed what was going on.

I don't care much for programs like that. They make me feel as though I'm standing in some strangers' house while the couple is fighting and I'm just shifting my weight from one foot to the other, biting my lip and feeling embarrassed for them both. Other people's problems and shame are not entertainment, not bad singing on American Idol and not the Battling Bickersons.

What was I talking about?

Oh! Dr. Phil. He had a show on about his potty training method, which seemed to me would work. It basically involved having the child potty train a doll while you give the child hundreds of glasses of juice or water. The whole event is over in a couple of hours. I'm sure you can use the Google to find it on the internets.

Meanwhile, I would say that the patron saint for potty training would have to be Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Such a fine woman. Born before the Revolutionary War and the first American born saint. There are other "American" saints, like Mother Frances Cabrini and the North American Martyrs but they weren't born here. Mother Seton didn't even get her fingers chewed off by the Iroquois. Here's what happened.

Her first cross to bear was that she was Episcopalian, better known as "Catholic Lite". We know that the Episcopal Church is the American version of the Anglican Church of England. The Anglican Church of England is what happened when a certain king wanted a divorce and couldn't get the Pope to go along with it. Not only did said king actually kill wives that got in the way of his plans, he started his own church and made himself the head of it. He wasn't very clever, though, so his church is basically the Catholic Church with the parts he personally didn't like taken out.

How convenient.

So Elizabeth got married and had five children. They were well off, her husband's family was well off. Then everything went south. The business went belly up, her husband's parents died and left them seven more children to tend, her husband got really sick and died.

During all of this Elizabeth and her husband went to Italy for his health. It didn't work out, but the family that cared for them was so impressive (those Italians are CATHOLIC) that when Elizabeth got home she converted. Being Catholic in America back then was not a popular thing to be, or do. Elizabeth founded a school that closed because of anti-Catholic bigotry (as William Donahue had yet to be born). Elizabeth soldiered on, founding a religious order (the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's) and a home for widows and women with children who needed help and lots of other wonderful things. Her surviving daughters became nuns.


So why is she the patron saint of potty training?

Did I mention she had five children and then suddenly had to take on seven more? And that her husband was sick? Who do you think potty trained those kids?

She didn't have cute little potty chairs that play a tune when you use them or "Pull Ups" or "Good Nites". She didn't even have a toilet, if you'll excuse me. She would have either had a chamber pot or an out house.

I have been around potty training and I know that one of the hurdles can actually be that the child is afraid of falling in. How do you think that child might react to using an out house?

Dr. Phil?


I think, not only would the child be terrified, but the truth is, the child actually could fall in and never be heard from again.

We do carry Saint Elizabeth Seton in the shop, although I'm not sure we have her in stock just now. In any case, I'm sure she can help you. It would be a snap for her.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Here Come Santa Claus

I always think of St. Nicholas as a German saint from Germany. Of course, this is ridiculous. He was from Turkey and the Eastern Orthodox Church is all over him like Murphy's Oil Soap on a church pew.

But the German's did get their hands on him and made him into Santa Claus. Germans on TV and in the movies always fall somewhere between dour and Nazi, but my own experience with Germans is that they are a jolly bunch, full of good humor. Not as raucously fun as the Poles, but not anything close to stiff and sour. Think "beer garden".

Sister Nicholas is a little German person. She's not from Germany, just from German stock. (I'm a "Heinz 57" myself, Irish, Welsh, English, German.) She has all the earmarks, too. She saves everything. She unbelievably tidy. She is tireless, relentless.

And the things she cooks...she's not the best cook in the world. She's no Sister St. Aloysius. But her little specialties are quite....special. Although they are often scary looking in the making. I've never watched anyone make spaeztel before. It's disturbing. And putting vinegar in just about everything. What's up with that?

One day she made a wilted lettuce salad. She wilted the lettuce on purpose using bacon grease and vinegar. Merciful heaven. She added hard boiled egg (those Germans love their hard boiled eggs) and bacon bits.

It was delicious!

So when she was making soup the other day I just looked the other way until it was done. Even after it was done it didn't look very appetizing. It was a sickly yellow color. Jaundice Soup. It had some hunks of something really dark green in there and some hunks of potato. Scary.

"I should call this Sister Nicholas soup!" she chirped, in that chihuahua voice of hers.

"Is it your own recipe?" I asked.

"Oh, no! It's my grandmother's recipe. When she made it, she would tell us the story of St. Nicholas."

(Maybe your should call it Saint Nicholas soup, in that case.

"Which one?" There are many stories of St. Nicholas. He was supposedly at the Council of Nicea where pretty much everything about being Catholic was resolved: the Nicene Creed, which books would be in the Bible and which wouldn't, how we figure out the date for Easter, the doctrine of the Trinity, that type of thing. Really big deal stuff.

I think he stopped a storm at sea once.

He gave those girls their dowries by chucking sacks of gold in their windows. That's a really famous one because it accounts for some of his Santa activities.

I was still combing my brain for anything that St. Nicholas had to do with soup.

"The Pickle Barrel story, " she tweeted.

I had a sinking feeling about the dark green hunks in the soup.

Some evil inn keeper killed some children (I forget why) and stuffed their bodies in the pickle barrel to hide his crime. St. Nicholas, world traveler that he was, showed up and unmasked the villain, found the children in the pickle barrel and (another piece of the Santa puzzle) brought them back to life.

Pickle Soup. Hunks of dill pickle. In soup.

You know what? It was utterly delicious. Like potato leek soup with dill, except the dill wasn't in minuscule blades. I'll be craving it for weeks to come.

It turns out it's a Polish recipe, by the way.

Tomorrow: the patron saint of potty training.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Keep, Give Away, Throw Away

Is there a patron saint for the disorganized? Our parish could use some help lately. (Just don't send Sister Nicholas.)

Who said St. Nicholas was organized? Do not confuse organization with busyness. I'm sure it's a common error. If St. Nicholas were organized, I would be able to find my shoes. My own shoes.

I'm glad you mentioned that it was your whole parish that lacked organization and not you in your home. Because if it were your home, I would recommend St. Zita. Although she was a lowly maid, she never missed Mass or her appointments with the oven for bread making. This is back in the day when you had to do every single thing yourself. Those dirty clothes did not have a machine that washed and dried them for you. You had to make the soap to wash them yourself, no less. The bread was not lined up on shelves in keep fresh plastic. The beans and tomatoes and green peppers and peas were out on the vine. If canning had been invented by that time (the principle of canning was discovered during Napoleon's time according to that guy who had that show "Connections" a while back), you would have had to go pick the beans, tomatoes, green peppers and peas and then can them yourself.

St. Zita didn't have a screen door to help keep the dust down, She didn't have a Mr. Clean Eraser. If she had had a Mr. Clean Eraser, I'm sure people would have mistaken it's amazing properties for another of St. Zita's miracles. Have you used one of those things? Miraculous. I do not use that word lightly, believe you me. If your parish has black marks on the walls, get yourself a Mr. Clean Eraser and call it a day.

You'd want St. Zita, also, because she had a 'shoemaker and the elves' experience with all that housework and bread baking. She was about to get raked over the coals by her boss for having gotten up early and gone to Mass instead of doing her chores and duties, when it was discovered that the elves had done it all for her.

Not elves. We don't believe in elves.

Angels, no doubt.

But for a whole parish, hmmmm.....

Now, is the parish messy? For example, is the disorganization due to a lack of proper filing. The "in" and "out" boxes are not clearly marked?

For that type of thing, I'd go with one our great clerical types. Maybe St. Benedict. He was so strict with his organizational skills that some of the other brothers tried to poison him. Although underlings everywhere understand their pain, St. Benedict prevailed.

But if the whole parish is just in a bad state and really needs a good shaking up: St. Joan of Arc. A peasant girl who talked to God about what had to be done and then went and did it. Honestly, can you imagine being a French soldier sitting around in your own stench with your bow and arrows, back before anyone even invented canned peas, and having some little girl tell you, "Hey, fella, I'm the General now, and here's the plan we're following"?

She must have been one very compelling young lady.

Plus, those soldiers all kept their hands to themselves. My uncle Joseph often talks, very happily, about being a soldier in WWII in France and what a wonderful time he had while not in combat. So here is Joan, this young girl, the ONLY girl in sight no less, and all of those soldiers, even people like my Uncle Joseph, left her be. Remarkable.

If Joan of Arc can't whip people into shape, I don't know who can.

Tomorrow, I have to tell you about the bizarre irony of Sister Nicholas' favorite dish.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

This is my mother's mind boggling story, told in her own words. Someone asked me, after yesterday's post, how I knew her story. She always told us, when we were little, why she couldn't stand to see a child humiliated, or struck, or belittled. She told us a million times why she couldn't eat cream of wheat (not included in this telling) and why she loved dolls and wanted us to always feel proud in the clothes we were wearing. None of what she tells here was news to me. I've known since I can remember.

Judging from the reaction to the story, not very many other people did know.

Grab your coffee. Get a hanky.
When one thinks of children today it's easy to picture family dinners, outings at the neighborhood park and photo albums full of memories. Dorothy had none of those.
Born in Hannibal, Mo., she was dropped off at the orphanage, along with her brother and sister, by their father when she was not quite four. Dorothy's mother had died of tuberculosis, and her father couldn't care for the children. Dorothy, too, developed "consumption" as it was called then, which left her crippled.

There's one picture of her as a little girl.


She is smiling in the photo, but what followed soon after that picture was taken was anything but idyllic.

But you wouldn't know that today. Dorothy is a beacon of light in an often dark world, who leaned on her faith together through tough times and harbors no ill will toward anyone.

She married Earl in 1947, and according to Dorothy the couple enjoyed a wonderful life. "I don't feel sorry for myself, because I had a wonderful marriage, I really did," Dorothy said. "My husband was wonderful to me. September the 15th we were married 60 years. He died Easter Sunday."

As a mother, with no true role model to guide her, she raised two children, and according to her son, did so admirably. "She was an excellent mother, very loving, and could not stand to see a kid get hit. Any kid, anywhere. And she can make an amazing coconut cream pie."

Dorthy speaks:

"I was born in Hannibal, and I had a brother and a sister. I'm the middle guy. Our mother died when my sister was not quite six, and I was not quite four. My brother was 18 months. And our dad put my sister and my brother in the orphanage the week after mother died. They didn't put me in the orphanage right away because I had tuberculosis. See, my mother died with consumption, and I was the only one that got the tuberculosis, and I got it in my hip. So I always walked with a limp. They had to make sure I was free of TB.

They found out my grandma was taking me with her, my dad’s mother, and she didn't know where he was either. And she was gonna take me with her to Louisiana, was where she was gonna move to. And then the Catholic side of my family -my dad wasn't Catholic, my mother was - they found that out and they didn't want me with the Protestants. Plus the fact that they said our mother always wanted us to be raised together, the three of us. So I was put in the orphanage too, then. I was not quite four years old.

The thing I remember is you came up a big flight of steps, and up at the top stood this Sister Erharta. She was called Sister Superior. And that I can remember. She says, "Well, well, well, well, well." And I remember crying like everything. They got my sister, and I remember she stayed with me, but after that I don't remember a thing 'til I started going to school when I was 5 years old. We went to school in the orphanage.

We got up at 5:30 every morning, and you made your bed. And you had a job you had to do, like mine was to clean the steps, and you did that, and you got in line to go the chapel at five minutes to six, and we had morning Mass at 6 o'clock, and then we went down to breakfast.

We went to school, all four grades had one teacher. If you missed a word in spelling, or missed a question in geography, you had to stand for supper. You didn't get any supper. They ate, and you stood over in a place while everybody ate. And if the poor kids wet the bed they didn't get any supper either. That was their punishment. I felt sorry for the kids that wet the bed.

I remember one time we had a nun, sister Lucia, she was cruel as she could be. She was in charge of the girls. And every Saturday, she said whether you needed it or not, it was "payday", and she'd give you a whipping. Until the kids started talking about it and then she quit.

But with me, we three didn't have anybody that came to see us, except an aunt that came up to see us from Hannibal maybe twice a year, and so I always, as I grew older, felt that the reason we were picked on so much is because it was to show the other kids, "Stay in line, or this is what happens." And there was another girl, Kathleen, she just passed away last week, and she was treated that way, too. (My mother's best friend, who was like a sister to her, died the day after my father's funeral.)

It just seemed like this was the way it went. One time Sister Lucia said, “... now don't tell the boys, but they're gonna have to scrub the floors today. The girls won't have to scrub," and we were all delighted. And she said, "Don't tell the boys."
So my job was to go out after you dried the dishes and lay the tea towels out on the grass, if the sun was shining, to dry. And Frances Lambert went with me, and her brother came along, Earl. And Frances said, "Hey Earl, you boys are gonna have to scrub the floor." And I said "Frances, you weren't supposed to tell that." He ran up the stairs and Sister Lucia was standing at the top of the stairs, and he said, "Is that true we're gonna have to scrub the floors?" She said, “Who told you?” And he said, "Dorothy." And I didn't, but he wouldn't tell on his sister.

And she got me, and I told her, "I did not tell him. His sister told him." She made me take my hands this way (she had to clasp her hands together and put them under her chin), and she put them under my chin and she hit me in the mouth. (repeatedly) And when she was done my lip was even with my nose. Great big cuts. And then, so the other nuns didn't see it, she wrapped a great big tea towel around me and told the other nuns, well, she told them what I had done, supposedly, and the other nuns said, "Dorothy, you always got your big mouth open, can't you ever keep it shut?" And I stood in the basement with that towel around my mouth 'til suppertime. I didn't get any dinner because my lip was so sore, she didn't want anybody to see it. Nobody knew.

My brother one time, he was always in trouble. He was mischievous. He was accused of stealing someone's fountain pen. And he said he didn't do it. And he was locked in what was called a trunk room. The nuns all had trunks. It was a long room, and they put there trunks in there. There was no window. They'd come down every now and then and let him go to the toilet. And they brought him down a plate to eat for dinner, but then he didn't get any supper. And they did that for a whole week. And then that boy found his fountain pen, and they said, "Well, that's for something you did other times and didn't get caught."

So you were really just isolated from everybody, you know? I didn't even know streets had names until I was ready to go down to grade school, in the fourth grade.

You just couldn't believe that one nun ... Sister Erharda, she ruled the roost. She came into the kitchen every day and told what we would have to eat for the day. She controlled what kinds of clothes we wore. She was like a dictator. She used to call me an ungrateful wretch. "You ungrateful wretch." And I never knew what I was supposed to be doing. You're just a kid, you know? But if you did something wrong ...

I found that praying was a source of help that I felt. That was my only safety was to be able to pray and hope that things would turn for the better. No one ever gave you a hug.

I guess I was about 14 and these two nuns had their arms around each other, dancing around the drain in the laundry floor. And I stood there, and all of a sudden they looked at me and they grabbed me and said, "We're being transferred." They were that happy about it.

I hate to tell my last name, because the nuns would say it like it was the dirtiest word in the world. "You might know it's a ______ again. Ohhhhhhh, the big mouth _______ got her big mouth open again." To this day, I hate to tell anyone my name is ________.

My mother had an aunt that lived in California, and I think I was about nine years old. And that Christmas she sent my sister and I a doll. It was a little girl doll. Oh, I just thought it was the most beautiful thing. Mine had a green dress and my sister's had a lavender dress. We each had a drawer where we kept our private things, and I'd go down and look at that doll, and put it away again.

Every year they had a picnic to raise money for the orphanage. And my sister, I guess she wanted to be in good with the nuns, she gave her doll to the Sister Superior for the picnic. They changed the dress and put tissue paper on it and were gonna sell chances on it. Well I was just sick, cause I knew I couldn't keep that doll, and I just agonized about it. After she told me what she did I could've just killed her. So I went down very reluctantly and got my doll, came up and said, "Sister Superior, here's my doll." She said, "It's about time."

When Sister Erharda died, in '39 (my mother would have been 17 years old)then we got a new Superior, Sister Ignatius. And I mean to tell you it was just as different as night and day. She was just ... I really loved her. She was so understanding, she would listen to you if you had a complaint. And little by little, I bet within a year and a half, the only nun that had been there under Sister Erhahrda, was the cook. All the rest had been changed, and they went by (Sister Ignatius') rule. And it was altogether different.

And people thought that this was a wonderful, wonderful place. I've had friends, when I tell 'em some of the stuff that happened to us, say, "Oh we just thought that was the most loving place. You kids were so happy." We weren't.

But nobody would believe that."

Honestly, as sad and awful as this all is, it is the tip of the iceberg of what happened to my mother and all those other children, day after day, year in and year out. Always on guard for the back of a hand at an imagined slight, the wrong glance, never knowing when the next beating would come or why, "hoping that it wouldn't" as she told me just yesterday, "but knowing that it would."

Sorry for the very long post. But I've always felt, as many of her recent callers have expressed, that it is a long overdue truth that needed to be told.