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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Fine Kettle of Fish

"Well!" as Jack Benny was fond of saying. We've had our own version of Lenten sacrifice and no end of suffering because of our little malware warning problem.

I know it really has nothing to do with math, but as a girl, the very sight of a math problem could cause my eyes to fill with tears. And solving this problem involved scouring the entire site for html code embedded in html code for more than three years of blog posts. Only my own steely determination to offer it up got me through the horror and tedium of finding that our little convent on the internet had been flagged as 'unsafe'.

I think my gasp upon discovering that that was happening caused all the air to be sucked out of the room. As the days wore on, even the eighth grade boys, who were able to identify the problem, were unable to devise a solution.

But, God love them, they were able to find an angel who fixed the whole thing in record time. He wasn't really an angel. Angels are not people. They are not even dead people. Dead people who live in heaven are saints, not angels, no matter how many people refer to their dearly departed Grandma as "an angel in Heaven." Angels are a different entity than human beings, created by God to adore Him and help people out.

Which is what made this gentleman angel "like". He certainly did help us out.

And just in time for Holy Week! Tomorrow is Holy Thursday! How excited are we? In a sad sort of way.

Oddly enough, I experienced for the very first time a Seder meal with a Jewish family. That's timely, because if I am following in the Footsteps of Our Lord, Holy Thursday was Passover and the Last Supper was indeed a Seder meal.

The New Testament doesn't say anything about any children being present, so I take it there weren't any, but a Seder dinner is a very 'child friendly' ritual, in which the children are encouraged to ask questions about what is going on around them. They play a 'hide the matzoh' game and the child who finds the matzoh wins a prize. There are ritual questions asked by people identified as "The Wicked Child", "The Wise Child", "The Youngest Child" and...I forgot the other one. The were four.

We didn't have any children present at our dinner, either, so I was identified as "The Wise Child", which is much better than being identified as "The Wise Cracker" or "The Wisenhymer".

And since we were encouraged to ask questions, and I was there, we were there for hours. The whole thing takes hours, anyhow, so it wasn't all my fault. The truth is, I had many more questions, but I kept my control knobs on.

The dinner was delicious and I did feel some guilt for enjoying such a treat in this, the Holiest week of Lent. I didn't make a pig of myself.

It was, however, very enlightening, and very moving, to experience what Jesus was actually doing on Holy Thursday, celebrating how His people had been saved by the blood of the lamb.

No wonder the apostles had so many questions!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lent Squared

One of my very favorite things about the Catholic Church is how very, very hairsplittingly precise we can be. As of today, it's not just Lent anymore. It's now Lent 2.0. Lent squared. Lent with those intense trainer people with not an ounce of fat on them that train the tubbies on that TV show where overeaters are forced to stand in front of the nation in their underwear. Yesterday was "Passion Sunday", which marks the beginning of a subseason of Lent as we follow the events leading up to the death of Jesus on the Cross. Passiontide.

Which gives me the perfect opportunity to address this question from a reader about my own Lenten ideals:

Question: If the purpose of giving something up for Lent (such as dieting or smoking) is NOT for a reward at the end, why give up anything at all? Isn't the purpose of giving something up for Lent for the ultimate end reward of eternal life with God? Is an eternity with God in heaven less of a reward than a skinnier behind or pinker lungs?

I am a DRE for our parish, and I teach the kids that they should "give up" something that prohibits them from being closer to God. Theoretically, a person may have a weight issue because they are eating to fill a need. Might I suggest during Lent a person look to God to fill that need rather than food? Isn't the hope that whatever sacrifice is offered during Lent carry forward into the entire year or an entire life?

The reward at the end of Lent is a closer relationship with Jesus. The reward for giving up smoking is a longer life, less stinky clothing, some extra cash and the admiration of your loved ones. And while you may suffer and turn to prayer as a means of coping, the focus is on you and your health, not you and your relationship with Christ.

The same may be said of dieting. If the focus of the outcome of Lent for you is looking better in your jeans, then you are barking up the wrong tree. Even if you try not to focus on how much better you'll look, the fact is, you are going to be enjoying how much better you will be looking. Lent lasts for quite a while. If you diet all through Lent, your Easter bonnet will be the last thing anyone notices on Easter Sunday.

The rewards of Lent are all spiritual. The hope is that the renewed focus on your relationship with Jesus will carry forward into the year and into your life. I maintain that if you want to break bad habits, do it on your own time. Figuring out what need you are filling with Dortios is a very good thing to do, but it has nothing to do with the sacrifice Jesus made for you.

Sometimes simple is better. Give up something you like a lot. One thing. One thing you'll notice every day. And while you do that, you can think about what Jesus did for you.

Think of it as a very long meditation. Utilize the Sorrowful Mysteries.

I suppose there may be one earthly reward for this exercise: a more disciplined mind.

A more disciplined mind that you will be able to put to even better use next time Lent rolls around.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jeepers Creepers

There was a reason Ann Landers had a daily column in major newspapers across the country for so many years. She was really good at her job. Me? Not so much.

It seems I gave my reader the wrong patron saint the other day.

Although, now that I think about it, good old Ann Landers sometimes gave someone a bum steer and her readers would read her the riot act. She would sometimes change her point of view. So, maybe I'm not a total disaster.

Our little computer girl has clarified her issues:

Thanks, Sister, and everyone in the comments with suggestions.

To clarify, by "creepy" I mean a couple of things: 1) not realizing the "personal space" thing or that I can tell that they're not looking at my face or the code on my laptop, but areas in between, and 2) not realizing that making a lot of sexual jokes (in general, not about me, or I'd have done something serious about it) and mentioning things like "if they run out of hard drive space, deleting their porn will be a last resort"
do say things about their character and creep me out. Neither sort of behavior started until I tried to befriend them earlier in the year (not within earshot for the second one, anyway)...

At first when it was just the space/turning up often issues I did think of Asperger's, but wasn't too sure because some of my friends have it in varying degrees and are generally pretty good with personal space and such. Then the other issues started.

Oh, dear. My ears are burning.

I have a new patron saint for you! St. Dominic Savio! He only lived to be 17 years old, but he spent his whole life admonishing sinners and being humble. Some reports say that he was popular with the other boys at school. Some reports...not so much.

I can understand that he may have gotten on some people's nerves. When I was in grade school myself, we had a boy rather like Dominic in our classroom and he got on everyone's nerves. He got straight "A's". He never so much as talked in class. He sat up straight and cleaned his plate and bowed his head in fervent prayer.

I'm surprised he survived past the sixth grade.

If someone else talked in class, he would press his finger to his lips, but not make a "shushing" sound, because that would have been making a sound in class and defeated the whole purpose of the finger to the lips bit. Once, in the eighth grade, he finally got a 98% instead of 100% on his work and he burst into tears.

I'm pretty sure he became a priest. I'm not sure he stayed.

I digress.

Back to St. Dominic! Once, out on the playground, some boys were passing around a filthy magazine and laughing and carrying on. Dominic came over to see what the fuss was about when he got a load of what was going on he was horrified. He grabbed the magazine and ripped it apart.

And he said this:

"What are you thinking of? God has given you eyes that you may admire the beauty of His works; and you are using, or rather abusing, them to look at these abominations. Have you forgotten what so often Our Lord says: that a single harmful look can soil our souls? And here you are feasting your eyes on that filth!"

"But," objected one boy, "it was only a joke."

"A fine joke you'll think it when you're burning in Hell!"

I couldn't have said it better myself. I might have said something like, "You won't be laughing when you're burning in Hell." I've said that many times, over the years.

"I didn't see any such great harm in them," protested another.

"So much the worse. Not to see any harm in those horrors, argues that your eyes are used to such sights and such an avowal makes your sin greater. Do you not know that the holy patriarch Job, though old and infirm, declared that he had made a contract with his eyes, that they should never rest on anything but that which was chaste and holy?"

Good old Job. He didn't have an easy time of it.

Too bad you can't get them interested in St. Aloysius, another youthful saint. He wouldn't look at girls at all, even when they were standing right in front of him. He definitely would have kept his eyes on his own laptop.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Sometimes, I'm Sister Mary Annlanders. Regarding our last post:

Thanks, Sister Mary Martha-- this sort of question means a lot to me too, as my friends tend to engage in similar pestering (in my case, they don't seem to believe that the fact that I've reached the old age of 18 without having dated could possibly have been my idea. Sigh.)

While we're on the subject, any saint suggestions for avoiding unwanted male attentions? Despite various declarations that I'm not interested and a dedicated effort to not draw attention, several somewhat creepy guys at school have taken to being particularly friendly to me; the only reason I can think of is that I'm one of the very few single girls in the computer science major. Most of them don't really understand the concept of "personal space," either, despite repeated explanations, and while none of them have attempted anything, it's still somewhat distressing (it's a bit hard to concentrate on homework while someone's standing directly next to my chair, staring and asking after my health for the fifth time). Any patron saints for just wanting to be left alone?

You'll have your pick of fabulous patron saints! Just as you seem to have your pick of computer nerds.

You could try coughing violently into your hands and then wipe them on your skirt. That might get the germaphobe nerd to back away. You could draw a flesh eating virus on your arm using your make up. You can make a really good looking flesh eating virus with regular Elmer's glue and bits of Kleenex and any kind of sticky red liquid. You glue on a little bit of Kleenex and then put on a little red liquid and then tear at the Kleenex. You do this for several layers and that creates and open wound effect. I believe Alfred Hitchcock used chocolate syrup for blood, but then he was shooting in black and white.

How do I know these things?

Sister St. Aloysius and her Halloween costume prowess ran across the plan on the internets.

As to the patron saints, yesterday we mentioned good old St. Wilgefortis, who miraculously grew a beard to stave off unwanted advances. That's something you could draw on with a little eyebrow pencil, by the way. When I was a little girl, people used the burned end of a cork to make what looks like a five o'clock shadow, at least from a slight distance. You could just buy a fake beard.

They ask about your health, do they? Heathens! Doggerels! St. Lucy had an unwanted suitor who had admired her eyes, so she pulled them out and had them sent over. I don't suggest you follow her lead on that, but she might feel your pain.

I would also recommend poor little St. Rosalia. She really wanted to get away from everyone. She went to live in a cave. Then she changed caves without telling anyone. Moved with no forwarding address, as it were. Her new cave collapsed on her. By that time, it seems, everyone had forgotten about her and her poor old bones stayed buried for quite some time until some miners or some such persons happened upon them. It must have jogged everyone's memory about her, because they seemed to know right away whom they had found.

They took her back to town where a plague happened to be going on, speaking of flesh eating viruses. Everyone was cured of the plague and curing a whole town of the plague earned her sainthood.

Here she is depicted in art with some United Van Lines angels.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Let's Hear It From the Peanut Gallery

We haven't had any patron saint matching lately, not for lack of requests! Time to catch up a little:

Dear Sister Mary Martha,
Do you have any good saints for friend troubles?
I'm 15 years old, and have an amazing catholic guy friend who my parents love. We both like each-other a lot, but as neither of us is allowed to date till we are 18, we are just friends. Only problem is, all my friends are giving me a tough time about it. Half of them are horrified I hang out and talk to the guy, the other half are shocked that we don't make out- or even kiss; and they all give me long thought out speeches about what I'm doing wrong whenever they have the chance. All of them are driving me up the wall, and with so many mixed messages coming from everybody (different priests, friends, and relatives) I'm ready to give up on all of them and move to a different country! Any good saints to help me with all these 'friends'?

Three years is a long time to not date a fellow to whom you are attracted. My best guess is that the people around you are worried about how much will power the two of you have between you, especially if you are really not just friends, but waiting to be 18 to begin officially dating.

I'm not saying these people are right or wrong. It might not be a bad idea to at least listen to them. That's how you learn. You don't have to actually take anyone's advice, including mine.

My advice is that if you are actually able to remain, 'just friends' for three years, maybe you should consider joining the convent. You certainly have some remarkable mental toughn

To answer your saint matching question, several saints spring to mind.

For you and your not boyfriend, I suggest any and all of the virgin martyrs, who walked through fire, torture, teeth pulling, and all manner of misery including miraculous hair growth. You should be so fortunate as to sprout a beard in some crucial moment.

But that wasn't really your question, was it? You asked how to deal with the flood of nosey, well wishing, doom saying, worry warting, "everyone has an opinion" friends. You want to tune out the Peanut Gallery.

You're too young to know about The Peanut Gallery. It comes from "The Howdy
Doody Show", a screamingly popular marionette show from way back in the 1950"s. The audience, seated in bleachers, which consisted of a lot of screaming kids, was called "the Peanut Gallery". Buffalo Bob, who was the host of the show, often would say, "Let's hear it from the Peanut Gallery!" and everyone would scream.

You can't silence the Peanut Gallery. They are going to freely scream about whatever
moves them. That's life. You're going to have to do one of two things:

1. Listen to them. After you do so, thank them politely and go your merry way.

2. Close your ears and hum.

To continue your relationship as is, you'll have to be, as the saying goes "as stubborn as a saint". That's what we, here in the Peanut Gallery, are hoping for you.

My patron saint suggestion for dealing with the Peanut Gallery: St. Stephen, the first martyr. No one liked what he was doing either, and the Peanut Gallery threw rocks at him. He didn't let it stop him, he kept going.

They did keep throwing those rocks, though, and he died.

Not that I wish that part for you. I just think he might understand what it's like to be doing something that's unpopular.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Your Own Personal Jesus

I got an awfully big response a while back when I wrote about what is expected of us during Lent. I always get a big response from my Lenten musings, but the big hubbub wasn't exactly to due my theological or philosophical point of view. The wailing and gnashing of teeth was all about the pictures I posted of Jesus.

They gave everyone the creeps.

I will admit, my goal in using them was met. Lent isn't about an easy going Jesus, sliding around the office giving everyone high fives and shoulder rubs. Lent is to align ourselves with the suffering part of Jesus.

There are lots of part of Jesus. Advent and Christmas is about the human side of Jesus, for example. The Word made Flesh and dwelt among us. Pentecost is about the Divine side of Jesus.

It did give me pause, however, that everyone found the modern Jesus pictures so creepy. We do have to ask ourselves why. I think there are several explanations.

The easiest one is that Jesus is just so....eighties...in these pictures, with His pastel shirts and high rolled up sleeves and His ancient desk top. Not that we'd be any happier to see Him with an Iphone. Still, I maintain that eighties fashion is depressing. I think we might find a forties, or fifties Jesus much more palatable. Those styles are now timeless vintage wear.
Like my outfit!

We don't want to see Jesus stuck in the eighties, like mullet Jesus here.

But I think the whole "get that disconcerting picture of Jesus outta here" reaction goes much deeper.

I find that people have a very deep connection to their pictures of Jesus and how they picture Jesus.

For example, this picture of Jesus came out in the nineties. I think it was in "Scientific American" or some such magazine that a group of scientists tried to figure out what Jesus might have looked like, being a Jewish man living in 1 AD. While there wasn't a massive recoiling of the Peanut Gallery, the portrait did not catch on, to say the least.

I think it's because He doesn't look very bright or very kind. We know that Jesus was very smart and very kind.

Of course, the polar opposite of that picture of Jesus is the one with which we are most familiar. He's the one every Grandma has had in her bedroom for a more than a hundred years.
To be honest, I'm not fond of this portrait either.

I call Him "mosquito bite Jesus", because He looks to me like the kind of guy mosquitoes love to bite. We have pictures of Him at every age, too! I can't think that I've ever seen a Baby Jesus in a manger with dark hair! Have you?

My favorite Jesus portraits are along these lines. Here he looks like He has some energy to do all that walking and talking and have all that compassion and love for everyone. That really takes a lot of energy. It's really hard to be compassionate when you're tired.
Isn't it?

Your job during this season is to picture a person who suffered terribly on your account and never complained except to mention, right at the end there, that He was thirsty. Suffer a little with Him and toughen up.

Friday, March 05, 2010

You're a Better Man Than I Am, St. Apollonia

I'm fine! I'm just fine. Thank you for your concern!

I haven't been able to answer any questions because I am too stupid. Hopefully, it's just temporary.

Here's what happened. We were invited to dinner by a couple of the Ladies of Charity. We love they're company, so dinner...well, let's just say that we felt guilty accepting since it's Lent.

I shouldn't have worried my habited little head about that! My opportunity to suffer was just around the corner.

We were having a lovely time. Mrs. Gott put out a bowl of garlic flavored pretzels. Now, one the one hand, I shouldn't be eating 'extras' during Lent, but I didn't want to be rude and I don't really love pretzels. These were little hard pretzel rectangles, shaped like little pretzel loaves of bread. To be polite, I took two of the little guys. I held one in my hand. I popped one in my mouth.

As soon as I bit down on the pretzel, the tooth behind my eye tooth broke in half. I can tell you that Alice Kramden is living comfortably on the moon after being socked up there by her husband Ralph, because the pain that shot up into my head sent me straight up there.

I pretended nothing had happened. I couldn't figure out what to do with the pretzel in my hand. In my pain induced thought process, I considered slipping it between the couch cushions. It's not like I haven't done that type of thing in the past.

Eventually, in the midst of offering up my suffering to the Poor Souls in Purgatory, I ate the second pretzel.

I have since confessed the lie I told when I could barley touch my dinner, that I had eaten too many pretzels and spoiled my appetite. I didn't want to spoil everyone's good time.

After that, I had a long period of opportunity of which I took full advantage, to align myself with the Suffering of Jesus. I had too full a schedule to stop for the dentist. After I did see the dentist, he had too full a schedule to work on me.

And now, the pills they are having me take to help the hole and the stitches heal are making me stupid. Goofy. Wacky. Wackadoodle. Heaven knows what type of half baked answer I might give to a serious question. Some hard garlic pretzel of an answer, no doubt.

I'm sure I'll be back to normal soon.

I did think a lot, while I was in the chair with all the disconcerting noises, how grateful I am to live now when I can be shot full of Novocaine and have such violence occur to my head. I have always had a great appreciation of the sad story of St. Apollonia. If I met her today I would say to her, "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din."

I say that to quite a few people, whether they're men or not.