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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Token Prayers

I believe I have mentioned before that I have no use for New Year's resolutions. If I haven't, I'm telling you now that I believe that each day is an opportunity to do better. I've never understood, for example, how someone "falls off" a diet.  I understand that one could slip and give into to that luscious piece of pie or become overwhelmed by the desire for a quarter pounder with cheese and bacon.  What I fail to comprehend is how the flood gates then open wide for binge eating. Had that quarter pounder? Don't have another one.

So you slipped up, you ate a whole bag of Oreos, you had a cigarette. Stop now. Go back to your diet and your smoke free life and try harder, learn about yourself and what made you do it, remove the triggers and blocks as best you can and begin anew.

Surely you're not going to wait until next January 1st to do better? Of course you aren't. You're going to do better right now. You will be in our prayers.

Hey Sister Mary Martha, my name is Sandra. I read several blogs on religion and prayer and I feel like I've ended up here once before. I ran across this prayer exchange website and I haven't had the chance to ask my Church what their stance is on it.

I'm a bit confused, I think that there are some benefits to a site like this but some Christians might find it questionable.

The website is http://www.prayermarket.com/. 

If you're looking for a topic to blog about, I would be curious to hear your thoughts and know what your stance is on this type of prayer service.

I have your blog in my feed reader so I'll check back, God bless
Sandra J

Questionable?  A site by the separated brethren who became separated initially because they were mad at the Church for 'selling' indulgences allows people to 'earn' tokens for praying for other people and then use the tokens to get prayers for themselves read OR cash in the tokens for CASH and PRIZES.  

What's to question?  It's cash people! Who doesn't want more cash?  Isn't that the most important thing in our lives? You can earn up to $10 an hour just by reading people's prayers! All you need a a good pair of knees and a webcam.

Oh, I feel a swoon.  My veil is spinning. Maybe it's my head.

I'm still not sure I understand how it works, although there is this helpful diagram:

Does anyone understand this?  I think I do.  Bob reads Susan's prayer and earns tokens. He uses his tokens to submit a prayer which is then read by Alice. Bob is now devoid of tokens, but good old Alice has earned some by reading Bob's prayer. Then Alice blows her tokens on a prayer that is read by David.  Alice now has no tokens, but David has a handful that he splurges on a prayer for himself, which Susan reads. Now Susan has all the loot, until she submits a prayer.

That explains everything.  It seems to me you'll do fine for yourself as long as you don't submit any prayers.  It promotes unselfish behavior, don't you see?

If you need more clarity, you can click on "How it Works" on the site there and they spell it out even more, right down to how you can skip the tokens altogether and just pay hard cold cash for someone to read your prayers. Only a dollar a pop.  What a bargain!

I have to have a nap now. 

And the truly wonderful part is that by submitting your prayer, you are helping the prayer reading people earning up to $10 an hour to "stay close to God" by doing all that prayerful webcasting.  AND you get to check in on them and make sure they're doing it right!  I suppose this means that they read the prayer just as you submitted it.  Such as the  prayer that asked Our Lord to make sure the Vikings beat I forget who by 28 points, because, you know, you can't win the bet if the point spread is wrong.

I need an handkerchief. Either I have allergies or I have started to cry.

It's so wildly ironic that if there were irony prizes, this would have to be the winner. Because they could have done the exact same thing, the underlying idea being that by posting these prayers and videos, you will have even more people praying for you, they could have done that without any tokens or cash.

What's my take on it? Whoever put this together is preying (the winner of the worst pun award) on desperate people who need our prayers.

Too bad there isn't a way to steer them all over to the Carmelites.  That's their whole job, those Carmelites. They spend almost every second in prayer for you and me, both in general and in specifics.  

Or, steer them all over to Mass, for that moment when the priest tells us "insert intentions here" and we all pray for each other's intentions, even if they involve point spreads.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ho ho ho

We've just had such a jolly time!  The Christmas concert at school went off without a hitch. Well...almost without a hitch.  A nervous second grader forgot to tell anyone he needed to use the facility.  Everyone was wearing green on the bottom and red on the top, so the loss of his pants would have made him stand out like a sore thumb.  Did I just say that?  You know what I mean. Where were we going to get pants, let alone green pants? 

The happy news is that we live in earthquake country.  I'm sure the poor child was hoping a huge earthquake would occur and end his misery, but the spectre of earthquakes is what saved the child.  Every child has to keep an emergency earthquake kit at school complete with juice box, water, a snack and a full change of clothes (shoes, too!).  He had some camouflage pants in there!  Green enough!

Hi Sister Mary Martha!

Would you happen to know the patron saint of Bishops, Dioceses, or priests? The Bishop of my Dioceses seems to have a strong disliking for my parish...he didn't even come when we got our first class relic on our Saint's Feast Day! I'd like a Saint that I can ask to pray for him to soften his heart toward our parish and stop dumping on us. I'd really like to keep our current priests longer than a year.

Thank you very much,

Speaking of green...

The actual patron saint of bishops is good old St. Patrick.  He was pretty special, as bishops go.

But for you, I'm going to suggest good old St. Nick.  He was also a very special bishop and I think the man of the hour as a person who was known to have a soft spot for children and people in need.  He ended up being Santa Claus, for goodness sake!

The two stories associated with St. Nicholas that turned him into Santa Claus are the story of the girls who needed a dowry and the story of the children who were murdered and thrown into a pickle barrel.

When St. Nicholas found out that three daughters could not marry because they had no dowry, he anonymously tossed a bag of gold into their window at night.

Ho, ho, ho.

Then on his travels, he stopped at a inn where the innkeeper had murdered three (the number varies from two boys, a boy and a girl and three boys) children and hid the bodies in the pickle barrel. St. Nick pulled them out and brought them back to life.  As a result, we hang a pickle ornament on the Christmas tree, hidden in the branches, and the lucky child who finds the Christmas pickle gets a prize.  If they are German, that is, because I think only Germans have Christmas pickles.  Or people who know Germans.

So isn't that what you really need?  Someone who'll toss you some money and rescue you from the the pickle barrel?

Meanwhile, I wouldn't assume that the bishop has it in for you.  We don't get to assume people's motivations.  It could be that your poor bishop is doing the best he can with what he has, which isn't much these days.  Whatever would make you think he doesn't like your parish? What possible motivation could he have for disliking an area and the people in it? Did your parishioners beat him as a child?  Did someone wish him into the cornfield? Could he never find the Christmas pickle?

Maybe when you got your first class relics he had more pressing problems to attend.  You can pretty much count on the fact that if he had gone to your first class relic installation, there would have been a bunch of people somewhere else complaining about what he didn't come to over there. That's how that works.

Perhaps a patron saint of not liking the bishop is in order.  I recommend St. Thomas More. He had a parishioner who didn't like him very much.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010


We're in the basement polishing up the Baby Jesus!

It's Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Raining Cats and Questions

Oh my goodness! Where is Noah, when we need him? One of our dear readers has asked after us, here in the Los Angeles basin where the rain has been as ceaseless as the rains that caused the Great Flood. It's supposed to finally stop tomorrow, or I think we'll have to start pairing up the squirrels and bunnies. We're fine, except for the leaky roof in the kitchen. We have buckets, so we are doing all right.  The leaks are right over where Sister St. Aloysius would normally cool the Christmas cookies, so now we have cooling cookies on the desk, among other places. They remain dry, as do we. But the temptation of the warm cookies here on the desk....the Poor Souls in Purgatory are getting their Christmas bonuses.

We do have a deluge of questions to answer, though.  They're questioning cats and dogs. First a follow up:

Is Limbo the same as Purgatory?

Let's have a quick afterlife primer.  What Goes on in the Afterlife 101:

There are four places (perhaps) where one could end up having left this earthly coil. Three we know of for sure, and one maybe. You are most definitely going to wind up in one of three places, Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. The fourth possibility would be Limbo, but we're not sure about Limbo anymore.  It's just a thought. The other three, however, are definite.

1.  If you die in perfect harmony with God and His Will, you go straight to Heaven.

2.  If you die with a mortal sin on your soul, you go to Hell.

3.  But if you're not perfect, but not horrible, you go to Purgatory until you are punished for the sins for which you didn't do penance while you were alive and to achieve harmony with God.

Thank goodness for Purgatory! We'd hate for the afterlife to be pass/fail.

Limbo was for the good people who died before Jesus opened the gates of Heaven with His death on the cross.  After they vacated the place,  it was for the unbaptized babies or the unbaptized innocents, like people who live deep in the jungles of Borneo and never heard of Jesus or His saving Grace.  I'm thinking with the internet and all, there must be very, very few people who never had the opportunity to hear a word about Jesus at this point.  As of today, the official stance of the Catholic Church is that we "hope" all the innocent people of every stripe and age group go to Heaven through the mercy of God.

Limbo is not Purgatory.  If there is a Limbo, it is a fairly happy place, free of pain and punishment, making everyone as comfortable as possible as an eternity without ever seeing God can be. Purgatory is a very unpleasant place to be, but not an unhappy place, because everyone who lands in Purgatory is definitely going to Heaven. That's happy, isn't it? Like having surgery that you know will cure you.  The surgery part is no fun. The cure is fantastic.

One last thing before the separated brethren start to howl.  Purgatory is the main reason we have separated brethren.  The controversy surrounding earthly prayers that release souls from Purgatory started a protest that caused the Protestant revolt. It wasn't enough for these folks that the Catholic Church addressed and corrected the problem.  The separated brethren actually decided there was no Purgatory at all and now proudly point to the "fact" that Purgatory is not in the Bible.

True.  It isn't.  That's because they use the King James Bible, the Bible edited by the Protestant movement that not only edited out the reference to Purgatory, they took out the whole book in which the reference is found. True, that in the Book of Macabees (removed from the King James Bible), you will not find the word Purgatory.  You will find encouragement to "pray for the dead".

In the Bible that was the Bible that all Christians followed for 1200 years, we were asked to pray for the dead.  Now if the dead only went to Heaven or Hell, why would they need our prayers? Prayers would not help them in either place.  That means there must be a place where the dead need our prayers.  The Catholic Church gave that place a name.

Purgatory.  In the actual Bible.

Moving on.


Can I ask why we bless things? I had bought a new second hand car and asked Father to bless it, and he did. In my mind, I was thinking about how blessing things 'super sizes' them...how does blessing my car super size anything I do with it?

I'm not sure that 'super sizing' is quite the right way to think of a blessing. In any case, we love answering this question. The answer will serve as a reminder for the rest of us as to what our blessed objects mean to us. A reminder of a reminder, so to speak.

It's not rocket science. We bless objects to consecrate their use to God. Then when we use those objects, we think about God, our relationship to God, what we're up to with the object, how we are behaving. The explanation is right there in the blessing itself.

And while you're at it, click on the upper left corner for the list of blessings. The Catholic Church=no stone unturned. A patron saint for every conceivable help, a blessing for everything you can think of.

And a dangling participle to end the day.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Limbo, Limbo, Limbo

Less than a week to go to the big day! Very exciting.  We have our little concert all ready to go.  We've added "Little King So Fair and Sweet" to the program.  I really never thought of that one as a Christmas song.  I always think of the Infant of Prague during that number.

Meanwhile, our readers are communicating with each other in the comments section, which always makes me happy.  Well, almost always, sometimes people get fussy.  Not today, though.

If heaven wasn't open until Jesus died where were all the souls who had already died. Were they suffering or just in waiting.
and a reader's answer:
Anon, if you recall, when Jesus died, he descended into Hell, to free the just who had gone before him. They waited and are now in heaven.

Whoa, Nelly.  This is where people get a little confused.  When we say that Jesus "descended into Hell", we don't actually mean that Hell, the one that awaits ghastly sinners where the Satan lives forever with his minions and everyone is on fire.

What we mean is that Jesus descended into what we call "The Limbo of the Fathers".

Now, I have gotten myself into trouble before discussing Limbo, so let's proceed with caution.

Before Jesus died for our sins, no one could enter Heaven and everyone went to Limbo. Most of us think of Limbo as a place where the unbaptized babies go and all the pagans and that is correct. But we think of it that way because we have lived for over 2000 years with Heaven open to the public.  

Before Jesus died on the cross, everyone who died went to what we call the "Limbo of the Fathers", thusly named because holy people like Moses and Abraham had to reside there until the Messiah came (and went).  So when Jesus died on the cross they all got into Heaven.

"Right this way, Moses!"

That's what Jesus was up to during the three days he was dead. He went to the Limbo of the Fathers and let everyone out. So Limbo was closed.

But then, God needed someplace for the unbaptized babies to go, so we had Limbo again, reopened. 

This is where I got into trouble. I really thought that Limbo closed again after Vatican II.  There certainly was some discussion that surely God would take unbaptized babies into Heaven.  And maybe He does.  I've been informed that the jury is still out on Limbo and the Church has not let the notion go. Is there a Limbo now?  Maybe. Maybe not.  Limbo was never, ever dogma, it was just a thought about what might go on.  Limbo is not mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and recent thought is that we can probably let it go.

I, for one, certainly hope so.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

God's Pecking Order

We have some sticky questions to answer, but today we're going easy on ourselves with a question about today's Gospel reading:

Hello Sister,

Me again with another question, I can almost here the sigh. Today's Gospel has a quote from Jesus "I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." So is Mary somehow excluded from this comment or is John the Baptist also in heaven?

I am sighing, but not because of your question. Just some general, 'Christmas is any second now, what have I forgotten' sighing.

You might want to read the whole passage from Luke here and get some context.  John the Baptist has sent his disciples over to see if Jesus is the One John has been telling everyone to about.  During all of this, the powers that be, or were, have been grumbling that John is too austere and that Jesus is having too much fun, eating out with the tax collectors. Jesus has kind of had it with everyone's attitude.

He says to everyone, "What did you think you were going to find when you found John? A guy in an Armani suit with gold teeth? No, you are going to find a man who is following his path to God in his own way,  a way that wouldn't hurt you to experience."

Jesus doesn't really say that exactly, but that's the sentiment, I think.  It's at this point that your quote comes in, which is to say, "John is a great saint, the greatest saint, but all saints are equal in Heaven." (I hope you realize that everyone in Heaven is a saint.)  Jesus is trying to tell everyone that God doesn't love one person over another and that there is more than one path to harmony with God. John went the sack cloth and ashes route. Jesus showed us a more gregarious path.

At this point in time, no one was in Heaven, including Elijah and Enoch and Moses and Abraham.  John and Mary still walked the earth and Heaven was closed. Heaven did not open for business until Jesus died on the cross.

Mary is the Queen of Heaven. In her life on earth she was the person closest to Jesus.  She was His mother, she raised Him, they share DNA, she was with Him at His death. She said yes to God in all things. She is our greatest example of obedience and grace.

In this passage, Jesus is simply saying that of all the people on earth, John fully understood what was happening right then and there, making him the greatest man on earth and a great prophet, whatever the powers that be (were) thought about John's lifestyle.

What are we supposed to do with today's reading? Why do we have daily readings? So we can think it over. What does it mean that the greatest prophet is equal to the lowly? It seems to me that mankind has never gotten very far away from the thinking of the powers that were. We constantly place ourselves and those around us in some sort of pecking order due to status, money, fame, good deeds, failure...and we contiunally readjust the list. Jesus told us over and over again that God does not do that. He never turns from us, although we may turn from Him. There is no pecking order. There is only God and His Love.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

May I Help You?

Hi SMM, Could you tell me why the candle is pink when the others are purple?
We love our colors in the Catholic Church!  During Advent we're preparing the way for the Birth of Jesus. Not quite like Lent, but still a time of reflection and fasting and longing.  So a little past the halfway point of Advent, we have a cheery day to remind us that true joy is just around the corner.  It's a candle unlike the others that says, "Lighten up!  Jesus is really coming this time!"
How else can I help you?
Revelation 12 is the best evidence of the Assumption of Mary.

Sister, while the topic is on Mary, could you please explain the Greek name for Christmas, Synaxis of the Theotokos?

It's Greek to me!  
Actually, that is not the Greek name for Christmas.  It's the Greek name for the day after Christmas and it's not rocket science to understand, unless perhaps you come down on the side of the separated brethren who seem to like to ignore Mary as much as possible.
"Synaxis" simply means a coming together in a liturgical way and Theotokos just means "Mother of God".  The day after Christmas in the Orthodox Church is what we would call a "feast day" celebrating Mary as the Mother of God. Mary and Jesus shared DNA.  God could not have been made Flesh without her. No Mary, no Incarnation.
Speaking of the colors of the Catholic Church, why is Mary wearing blue all the time?  Because blue is the color of the sky. In human history, before we had an elaborate court system, a way to show you had adopted someone was to wrap your cloak around them.  Mary's blue cloak, like the sky, covers us all.

Sister Mary Martha I am thinking of asking for a new position within my company. Is there a Saint that I can pray to that can help me find the courage to do this? In addition, be able to have all the right words to show why I am the best fit for the position. 

Fear not! We have you covered. I'll give you three saints who would be happy to help and if you'd like to single out one of them, you can choose. You actually mentioned three points you need covered:

1. A new job position.  Although he isn't officially canonized, I recommend Pope John Paul II.  He had his happy job longer than anyone in history.

2. Courage to pop the question.  St. Joan of Arc.  One tough cookie. Took an arrow in the chest and kept fighting.

3. The right words. St. Anthony of Padua.  Oh, sure, you know him as the guy who finds your car keys, but do you know why he can remember where you put them?  St. Anthony was a fabulous public orator who could speak off the cuff, answer questions and sway minds and hearts.  His ability stemmed from his photographic memory. He could retain everything he read and saw (including where you put those keys).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mary Part Deux

Have you procured a keg for today's discussion?

Readers have weighed in with the notion that the Assumption of Mary is much more easily explained that the Immaculate Conception.  On the face of it that's certainly true. To begin with, you won't be up against years of misinformation and bad football related jokes about great catches of long passes. You won't have to talk about people who do not appear in the New Testament (Mary's parents) and you won't have to mention sex for any reason.  Bonus.

We like to begin our discussion with the question: How many chairs do they need in Heaven?  The answer is, two.  There are two people who went to Heaven body and soul, Jesus and Mary.  Yes, Elijah went to Heaven in a fiery chariot, but we think he burned up in the atmosphere on the way there.

The Assumption of Mary is rather simple. Mary was raised to Heaven, body and soul. That's the explanation and that's what it means and you're done.


People will be confused.  Mary went to Heaven like Jesus?

No. No, she didn't. Jesus ascended into Heaven. He used His own Power, lifted off and up He went, gone until the Second Coming (visionary sightings notwithstanding).  Mary was assumed into Heaven, not with her own power. She was raised into Heaven by the angels or Jesus or God the Father and Jesus or just God the Father or the Holy Spirit.  We don't know. No one was there to see it.

Or....St. Thomas saw it and as she went into Heaven she gave him her girdle which was not what we think of when we say "girdle", but her belt.  In the story, the belt is always referred to as a girdle.

"But wait," the thinkers among the group will ask, "if Mary didn't have Original Sin, why did she die? Death is the punishment for Original Sin." Let's hope at this point, there is still plenty left in the keg, because you are going to be here a while.

I have a priest friend to whom I turn with sticky questions, not just because he is a priest, but also because he has a PHd in dead languages and has actually read things like the Dead Sea Scrolls and has combed over the New Testament in its original text and such.  The Catholic Church does not say that Mary died.  The Catholic Church also does not say that Mary did not die. The Catholic Church rather vaguely says that Mary was assumed into Heaven when her life on earth came to an end.  My friend the priest feels that Mary did die, because Jesus died (He also did not have the stain of Original Sin on His Soul), and Mary would not outdo Jesus.

I think my friend makes an excellent point, but it's not dogma. That said, just about anything you read about the Assumption of Mary will begin with "after Mary's death".

There are conflicting stories about the 'end' of Mary's life.  The stories agree that Mary lived to a ripe old age (the Franciscans say 84...or is it 86?  she was up there) and grew weak.  Sacred Tradition holds that the disciples gathered and gave her things to eat and drink, and with her loving family, the earliest Catholic Church, around her she.....I would have to say died, because these people placed her in a tomb and when they returned she was gone and they assumed she was taken to Heaven by being assumed there.

Then we have the more fanciful stories where, as she is being assumed, St. Thomas is there and he gets the girdle she drops to him. I love the idea that poor 'doubting Thomas' gets a nod as a very true believer.

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven was not officially made dogma in the Catholic Church until 1950, but is obviously a belief that has been held from day one.

Perhaps you shouldn't mention the chairs in Heaven unless you have a designated driver, since Heaven isn't a physical place, but there are two bodies and what's left of Elijah up there. There's a keg you don't want to open.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Am the Immaculate Conception

My face is as red as my Santa hat. I apologize for not visiting with you all during such an important time in the Catholic Calendar and I totally missed out on The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which is a Holy Day of Obligation, which means your presence was mandatory at Mass) and Pink Sunday.

Rose Sunday. Pink candle on your advent wreath. Advent is flying by isn't it? A time of preparation and there is no time to prepare! Old nuns can't keep up.

Happily we have our readers to keep us in line:

Dear Sister Mary Martha, 
I am a cradle Catholic now in my third year of college. My friends are very supportive of my beliefs, though very few are also Catholic. I get a lot of questions that I can't often answer to my satisfaction. Today was no exception. 
How do I explain the Assumption of Mary and the Immaculate Conception to my non-Catholic friends? I feel like a poor example of the faith when I can't answer their questions.


It would help enormously if we knew what their question actually were.  Let's hope they were asking because they saw you headed for Mass on Dec. 8th.

I have had some knock down drag outs over the Immaculate Conception. I actually had a woman who teaches RCIA classes tell me that I was wrong in stating that the Immaculate Conception means that Mary was conceived without the stain of Original Sin on her soul. If it wasn't a sin, I would have clonked her on the head with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Although it wouldn't have done much good, since I only have the paper back version.

An enormous number of well meaning and well educated people confuse the Virgin Birth with the Immaculate Conception. They believe that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Jesus without sex.  Which is perfectly understandable, since the word "conception" is right in there. But no, that's the Virgin Birth.

I find it helps if we employ a time line.  First, Mary's parents make a baby the way all babies are made (except for one person in history). But, unlike the the rest of us, this baby is conceived without the stain of Original Sin on her soul.  Conceived without the stain of sin=Immaculate Conception.

Then quite a few years go by. Mary lives at the temple, she learns to sew seamless garments, she leaves the temple and gets married.

Then and angel visits her to tell her that she is to be the mother of Jesus.  (We call this "The Annunciation.) She becomes pregnant in a way that no one ever has and gives birth to Jesus.

Immaculate Conception_(Mary plays with her dolls , sews, grows up, marries Joseph)__Virgin Birth
14 or 15 BCish                                                                                                                                 1ADish

I find the time line clears things up for most people, misguided catechism teachers not withstanding.

If they want to know how we know this,  you're going to be knee deep in some thick theology. I suggest you order a pitcher right off the bat. They're going to want to know 'where in the Bible it says this', and of course, the words  "Immaculate Conception" are not in there.  The Catholic Church has always maintained that Mary was born free from Original Sin, because that makes sense since she was the Mother of Jesus. Jesus is also God, so He is not going to have Original Sin. But Original Sin is passed on to each person born of the human race.  So it makes perfect sense that Mary couldn't pass Original Sin onto Jesus, so she was born without it.

Then they'll want to know how that happened. The answer is "God can do anything He wants."  So, then they'll want to know "if God can do anything He wants, why didn't he just have Jesus born without Original Sin?"  And the answer to that is, "It's a Sacred Mystery."

"Sacred Mystery" is "Catholic" for "let it go."

We know for a fact that Mary was born without the stain of Original Sin because not only did the infallible Catholic Church tell us so, but Mary has showed up more than once and introduced herself as "the Immaculate Conception."  When St. Bernadette asked "the lady" her name, Mary responded with "I am the Immaculate Conception."

Mary also showed St. Catherine LaBoure a picture of a medal Mary wanted Catherine to make. The medal said, "Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

So, straight from the horse's mouth on this one.

You'll need a keg for The Assumption.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Original Convert

The Christmas lights are dusted off. We haven't hung them yet. We had a bit of a set back with Sister Mary Fiacre. She wasn't doing so hot last week and she suddenly wasn't able to stand on her feet at all. We were quite concerned because her ability to stay on her feet for a few seconds is how we are able to manage taking care of her.  Her doctor thought it was due to poor circulation, which might have meant curtains for her (as my mother would say).  But it turned out to be tendinitis and we're all back to normal.  Since we don't have to light the lights until midnight on Christmas Eve/Day, it doesn't much matter that they're not in place.

Sister St. Aloysius is pouring over her cookie recipes and I finally have time for a visit with you all here.

How is Advent going for everyone?  While you mull that over, here's a question from a reader that has been sitting in the queue for some time.

I have a question of sorts. I was raised Church of Christ and my parents are very strong believers. All my friends, except for a couple are Protestant as well and like my parents do not hold the Catholic Church in high regard. This being said, I have been considering RCIA classes lately have felt a very strong pull in my heart to the Catholic Church. I have been to a few RCIA classes and a few masses and I am considering converting but afraid of how my friends and family will take this. I am old enough to make this decision myself, but you know how loved ones can be. Do you have any advice and or possibly a saint that I can call on for intercedence?

Please include the prayer to the saint as I am not Catholic yet.

That's not really a question of sorts. That's a full on question. Of course I have a superb saint for you! And a wonderful prayer!

To some extent you've answered your question yourself. You are old enough to make this decision yourself and you've already made it. The issue is, how difficult is it going to be for you?  It sounds like it's not going to be fun.  So let's turn to our saint for conversion, the original convert, the first and most famous convert of all time, the one, the only, St. Paul.

I'm hoping you know the story of St. Paul, given that the original Protestant movement was based on his letters and writings in the New Testament.  Good old Martin Luther was a huge fan of St. Paul's line of thought and rather beat Paul's words into submission to back up his thesis.

We've all been arguing about it ever since.

The happy news for you is, the whole answer to your question is right in the very thing you asked!  A prayer to said saint.  Here goes!
Prayer to St. Paul 

Patron of Evangelists

O glorious St. Paul, after persecuting the Church you became by God's grace its most zealous Apostle. To carry the knowledge of Jesus, our Divine Savior, to the uttermost parts of the earth

You joyfully endured prison, scourgings, stonings, and shipwreck, as well as all manner of persecutions culminating in the shedding of the last drop of your blood for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Obtain for us the grace to labor strenuously to bring the faith to others and to accept any trials and tribulations that may come our way. Help us to be inspired by your Epistles and to partake of your indomitable love for Jesus, so that after we have finished our course we may join you in praising Him in heaven for all eternity. Amen.

So, as I said, I hope you know the story of St. Paul, a persecutor of Jesus, a man who was holding the coats of the people throwing rocks at the very first martyr, St. Stephen, so their pitching arms would not be hampered, who was knocked from his horse by Jesus who asked "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

That got his attention. He wandered around blind for a bit, changed his name to Paul and went to work.

The part you may not know, since Protestants don't pay much attention to saints and how they inspire us to have heroic virtue in our lives, is that it wasn't all balloons and giggles for Paul once he made that decision. He was chased and imprisoned (more than once in a no frills 1AD prison), scourged and shipwrecked. I'm sure his family had a few choice words for him, too. Seder that year was probably a bit icy.

So if anyone can guide you through some stony faced family encounters, it will be Paul.  And in the prayer, note the words "joyfully endured".  Try that on for size. 

I'll go a step further for you and suggest that you start a novena.  Do you know about those? Basically what you're going to do is say this prayer for nine consecutive days. We like the number nine.  Three is the most wonderful number because it's so balanced, three Person in the Holy Trinity.  Nine is three, three times.  I guess because we are less than perfect, we have to add  more threes.

Don't let it worry you. Just say you're prayer for nine days straight and don't give me any guff about forgetting a day.  Or when each day you do it.  You and St. Paul will make a great team.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Clappy Silent Night

How about a little palette cleanser after yesterday's donnybrook? Our readers have weighed in heavily on their grade school experiences. Let's just say, "That which does not kill you, makes you stronger."

Or not.  I think that only works if you are a relatively strong person in the first place. I remember hearing an African American professor bemoan the bemoaning of the welfare state and the state of America's poor. What he said has always stayed with me. I can't quote him, but his point was that our "anyone can grow up to be president in the US if they just work hard enough" mantra is a fallacy that asks every single person to be extraordinary. Oh, sure, we hear about people who were able to rise from horrible backgrounds and extreme poverty. But no one seems to take into account that these people were exceptional, extraordinary people.

Of course, as Catholics, we constantly ask ourselves to be extraordinary, to strive for sainthood. Heroic virtue is our goal. And, of course, the last people to claim any heroism or extraordinary virtue are the saints themselves because to do so would lack the necessary humility.

But I digress...a palatte cleanser.

I've been doing my research about "Silent Night". One of the things I love best about that song is that the person who wrote the music (who is not the same person who wrote the lyrics) wrote it as a lullaby. That has always tickled me.

But it turns out that it was not written as a lullaby and in fact was a peppy tune, a lilting dance type number. I can't imagine it, can you? It was originally written in 6/8 time, if that's any help. It doesn't help me any, even though I know what that is,  this 6/8 time, and how that rhythm works.

I don't know who had the wherewith all to make the slight changes that turned the song into a lullaby, but my Santa hat is off to them!

The beautiful lyrics were written in 1816 by Father Jospeh Mohr, an Austrian priest. He had written this poem and apparently let it sit in a drawer or something for two years. Then one foggy Christmas Eve in 1818, he needed a song for the Christmas Mass and took the poem to his friend, the schoolmaster Franz Xaver Gruber (that's his picture on the right).  Father Mohr asked Guber to write the a tune and a guitar arrangement.  Isn't that a kick in the head? What was that? A song for the original guitar Mass? It seems so, since the original music was happy, clappy stuff. To soften the blow of that thought, people have suggested that he did it because the organ had broken down, but there is no proof that this was the case.

And what was the name of the church in which was heard "Silent Night" for the first time? The Church of St. Nicholas!  How appropriate is that?  The song became such a big deal that there is actually a thing called "The Silent Night Society", which has information about all things "Silent Night", I assume. The original Church of St. Nicholas is long gone, but a small chapel was built to commemorate the song and of course now there is a gift shop.  They call it a "museum" about  "Silent Night", but what do you think is in there?  I'll bet it's chock full of things that play "Silent Night", recordings and wind up angels and Navitiy Scenes and tree ornaments, sheet music and key chains. That troll over there plays "Silent Night", by they way.  The troll.  Plays "Silent Night".

 ( click here for "Silent Night" IPhone App.)

Christmas is happy to have had Father Mohr, especially considering that he had to actually get permission from the Pope himself to become a priest. Mohr was the illegitimate son of a woman who had taken up with a soldier, a soldier who promptly abandoned her and their upcoming child.

In the midst of WWI, the world stopped warring on Christmas Eve during the Christmas Truce of 1914.  Soldiers on both sides of the front sang "Silent Night".  It was the one song for which they all knew the lyrics.

Then they went back to killing each other.  They should have listened to what they were singing a little more closely.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tis the Season to be Jolly....

Well, I think I may have reopened this can of worms myself, but I am always willing to have an open discussion on the topic.  I don't care for rewrites of history and whitewashing.

I had mentioned Sister Marillia the other day, terror that she was. And then in the comments section of yesterday's post, a dear reader mentioned her own perhaps not so beloved Sister Dolores, who hit students on the back of their heads with erasers. (I admire her creativity.) The reader, I believe, mentioned her own terror of said Sister D.

And then another reader responded....

Dear Anonymous - so sorry you were terrified of nuns. Wonder what you were doing that DESERVED being whacked on the head with erasers. ??? SOOOOO tired of people saying that nuns were terrifying. Get over yourself, already! Maybe you were sent to Catholic school by your parents to get straightened out. Maybe your classmates have not-so-fond memories of you (spoiling their recess, distracting them from their studies with your eraser-earning antics). And gee - would an eraser really hurt? REALLY???? Shame on YOU, not on the nuns. I never had the priviledge of attending Catholic schools because my parents were too poor to afford it, and probably too ashamed to beg. But I have been teaching at schools with anywhere from one to five sisters, and they were all as nice as could be. They were from different teaching orders, too, so you can't say I just happened to run into an exceptional community. I'm not saying all sisters are perfect - I've seen a couple of slip ups - but it rarely involves the discipline of a student. So please, knock it off, people! The joke isn't funny any more.

Catholic School Teacher
(Incidentally, we have a couple of students who were sent to us to be straightened out. Newsflash to you parents who do that: Try discipline in your own house. Don't make a mess for others to clean up. It's not fair to the parents who send their students to get a Catholic education.)

I fully appreciate you defense of the perils of the classroom teacher. I really do.  But please don't confuse the nuns and students of yesteryear with the nuns and students of today. Things have changed on both ends.

We were children of the late 40's and 50's, the children of men returned from winning The Big One.  We said "please" and "thank you" and "yes, Sister".  We all rose and said the Pledge of Alligiance in the morning and rose again before we were allowed out the classroom door to say an Act of Contrition.  

If we did something wrong in class, like whisper to our neighbor or pass a note (I truly can not recall any worse transgression that than ever occurring from my kindergarten years through high school, my hand to God), we were not just misbehaving ever so slightly, we were sinning, because were were being disobedient to Sister, a sin against the Fourth Commandment, "Honor thy Father and thy Mother".

There were sweet nuns.  I can't recall any, but there were.  We certainly had nuns that weren't terrors, who were even tempered. But once you have a person more than twice your size (we were little children, after all) come swooping down on you, blackening the sun with her habit, to crack you across the knuckles with a three foot ruler or a rubber tipped pointer (which is basically a dowel rod), you will straighten right up in the presence of the rest of the nuns.

Maybe they had a 'good cop/bad cop' plan back at the convent.  Of course, they didn't. There was no planning back at the convent.

But as to the children deserving it? No.  I'll give you that the erasers probably didn't hurt. I knew a nun that would actually hurl them at the children. She had a great arm. She could pick off a kid in the middle of a room of thirty kids. I don't think she hurt anyone either.

The reason you keep hearing about terrifying nuns, is that sometimes they were actually terrifying. In Sister Marillia's classroom during math hour, we lined up six at a time across the blackboard in the back of the room. We each had a problem to do up there, long division at that time. When you finished your problem you returned to your seat. One gangly girl named Bonnie couldn't seem to solve her problem. Row after row of children got up and sat down again and poor Bonnie was still there.

I'm sure by that point, her brain had frozen, and by the time Sister Marillia arrived at the back of the room to belittle Bonnie, the rest of her had frozen, too. I'm not sure what set Sister off, but all of the sudden she had poor gangly Bonnie by the scruff of her neck and began to bang her head against the blackboard to the beat of whatever it was Sister was saying to Bonnie.

We were also frozen, our jaws dropped, our eyes wide. Finally, out of nowhere, one of the boys said, "Sister, you're going to kill her...."  Bonnie stumbled back to her seat.

Or how about the time another nun I knew found a boy talking in line and took the pile of books she was holding, those flat wide music books, and dropped them on his head. He was out cold on the floor and the rest of the children had to file out of the room on their way to lunch, stepping over his unconscious body, sure he was dead on the floor.

He wasn't.

And what was the upshot of all of this? A well behaved classroom.  Happy parents who also believed that if Sister had smacked you, you must have deserved it.

I know they all meant well. But please never try to convince any of us that we deserved bloody knuckles because we were left handed or our penmanship was sloppy. These things happened and are well remembered by all of us who still quake in our Mary Jane shoes when they are recalled. It's not a joke, although we've certainly had a few laughs about it.

Nuns today are indeed a different breed, thanks be to God.  For one thing, they receive a much better education.  Those old nuns were thrown at a roomful of children with no training of any kind in how to work with, teach or discipline children. They were making it up as they went along. They didn't even have the opportunity to discuss it with each other at days end. They were on their own in there. More's the pity.

And back in my day, kids weren't sent to the Catholic school to straighten them out. Children who misbehaved too much were kicked out of Catholic school. For that, you would have had to do something actually bad, like property damage.  Very rare, because we were indeed a bunch of goody two shoes tikes with a fear of Hell and Sister.  Not necessarily in that order.

I'm glad students are now being sent to Catholic school to be straightened out. If Jesus could kiss lepers, I think we can tackle an unruly child.

Things have changed for the better.  But the past informs the present.