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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Judas Cake

Sister, Father mentioned during a Lenten mission that the Bible attributes Judas' death to suicide (Matthew 27:5) and to an accidental death (Acts 1:18). What do you make of this? Is there some symbolism there I don't understand?

Why did Father mention it and not say anything further about it? Maybe he did and you dozed off?

Father: The Bible says that Judas hung himself and it also says he fell and his guts split open. Oh well, ha ha! so much for that! Coffee and tea in the lobby, everyone! Rosary at six!

You: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....what? There's cake?

Yes, there are two references that seem to contradict each other as to how Judas died.

Matthew: “and he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.”

Acts 1:18-19: “Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem, insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.”

There are at least three explanations for this contradiction. There are thousands of people who have written their two cents about it, but it still boils down to the same three explanations.

I'm sure we could start a collection, as I'm also sure if we dig around, we'll find one or two more.

The first explanation is the most commonly held. In this one, Judas hangs himself and the part about him falling and his guts splitting open refers to what happened after Judas hung himself, which is that hanging there in the hot MidEast sun, the rope broke and his bloated body hit the ground and burst.

Maybe Father didn't want to ruin the cake reception with that image.

One brainiac author went so far as to suggest the actual timeline that caused Judas to drop from the tree. This one purports that it happened during the big earthquake that followed the death of Jesus on the Cross.

I suppose that's possible.

The second explanation is a doozie. It seems that the 'ancients' had a different meaning altogether when they said "hung himself". They meant the person would climb onto a rock or a stool and then jump off onto a spike, and then 'hang' there impaled.

Cake anyone?

The third explanation is my favorite one. This time the whole 'gut spilling' thing is a metaphor that people of the time would have understood and not been the least bit confused. The first passage about hanging is about how Judas died in the flesh and the second is about how Judas died in the spirit. To get your brain around the symbolism, you have to understand that the Jewish people equated compassion with the gut or bowels, the way we equate the heart with feelings of love. Now you have an image of Judas "falling" from God and losing his compassion on a field of blood.

It makes the most sense to me of the three. It would explain why Judas' death would be discussed in such a manner, after the fact, so to speak. I don't think it is a particularly widely accepted explanation.

But my favorite thing about the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular is how every part of it works as both history and metaphor. Heaps and heaps of metaphor.

Like a cake stuffed full of tasty things. Click here to find the recipe for Simnel Cake, an Easter cake representing the eleven apostles who were around to celebrate that day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gary Indianagaryindianagaryindiana

I love your blog! What do you know about St.Matthias and is he the patron saint of anything?

Thank you!

I know what everyone else knows about St. Matthais, which is almost nothing. Based on his statue here, any guesses as to how he left this mortal coil? Here's the 411.

There were Twelve Apostiles, as we all know. Then Judas removed himself.

It just occurred to me as I wrote that, Judas is a very good metaphor for how a person ends up in Hell. The Catholic Church maintains that God doesn't put anyone in Hell, you go there. God always loves you and forgives you, no matter what. But when you aren't sorry for your sins you have removed yourself from God.

And that's just exactly what Judas did. He did a terrible thing and removed himself. He crawled away. He was very sorry. But then he did another terrible thing and killed himself. God didn't do any of that to him. He did it all himself. That's the nature of sin. As a result, there is a good chance that Judas is in Hell. But we actually don't know that for sure. At the last second, when he kicked the stool out from under himself, he might have thought, "Wait! I shouldn't have done that! I take it back! I'm so sorry!"

It could have happened. We know that God would have forgiven him.

But I digress.

Once Judas was out of the picture, there were only eleven apostles. So Peter suggested that they replace Judas. At that point there were 120 disciples hanging around. The eleven apostles narrowed the candidates down to 2, a fellow named Joseph, and St. Matthais.

St. Matthais became the Twelfth Apostle.

And that is all we know about him for sure. Tradition says the he was stoned and then beheaded. So he must have mad someone very angry, with that kind of overkill (pardon the pun). St. Helena found his relics. Maybe. She found some relics that she identified as his.

He is the patron saint of alcoholics! Who knew! Why?

No one knows. I have an educated guess. There is only one quote attributed to St. Matthais. "We must combat our flesh, set no value upon it, and concede to it nothing that can flatter it, but rather increase the growth of our soul by faith and knowledge." Maybe it's on the account of that "we must combat our flesh" part of the quote.

That's my best guess.

He is also the patron saint of Gary, Indiana, Gary Indiana, Gary Indiana...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dog Doctors

I have to make an important correction! One of my kind readers pointed out my enormous mental lapse in yesterday's post when I said that St. Peter was crucified on a cross shaped like an "X". Of course we all remember the famous story that St. Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to die the same way Jesus did. It was St. Andrew on the "X".

I guess I became thoroughly confused in a pile of Simons. Or...

...maybe I should see a doctor!

I can make it up to everyone today though by some investigative work into the answer to this question:

Sister, I love your blog!
Can you tell me why St. James the Greater is the patron of veterinarians? My niece is in vet school and wanted to know why.

I hope you are not disappointed by the answer. I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed. If I were you, I would go with St. Martin de Porres, who is also the patron saint of veterinarians. Not that there is anything wrong with St. James the Greater. It's just that he had absolutely nothing to do with the care of animals. Nothing whatsoever. St. Martin de Porres, on the other hand, actually did take care of animals and he was a healer.

And St. Francis of Assisi is also a patron saint of animals, running around calling every animal "Brother Wolf" and "Sister Sea Anemone" and the like, preaching to birds and squirrels. That's what most people think about when they think about St. Francis, but he was much more interesting than that. I still hold out for St. Martin de Porres.

But to answer your question, St. James the Greater is the patron saint of veterinarians because he is the patron saint of Spain.

Because he is the patron saint of Spain, he was the patron saint to the Conquistadors.

And because Conquistadors rode horses, he is the patron saint of equestrians. And equestrians, and the horses they rode in on, need vets.

I guess.

It's a long way to go, isn't it?

It's an extra long way to go when you also realize that St. James never went near Spain. He may have, but I don't think so. There is a thought that he preached in Spain. I find that dubious. Somehow, though, and by "somehow" I mean some people think angels flew it there, his body ended up in Spain after it was decapitated by one of the Herods. Agrippa, I think. I can only hope St. James' head went along for the trip.

St. James the Greater was a very great saint, though, dog and cat check ups and shots notwithstanding. I'd call on him whenever you feel like you need support that you're not getting, or need help and aid with the projects of your heart's desire. He threw his lot in with Jesus long before he really understood Who Jesus really was and what Jesus was really going to be asking of him.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nothing Up My Sleeve

Hi Sister. Do you know who is the patron saint shown holding a giant saw, I think the long kind used by two people on each end for sawing down trees? I saw it in a painting.

Yes, I do. Unfortunately, I can't tell you much about him.

I believe you are asking about St. Simon Zelotes, aka St. Simon the Zealot. He was one of the Twelve Apostles. For a minute there, there were two Apostles named Simon. Then Jesus changed one Simon's name to Peter. I'm sure it was because "Peter" means "rock" and "upon this rock, etc.", but it must have cleared up a lot of confusion and possible embarrassment.

"Who ate the rest of the loaves and the fishes?"


"No, I didn't."

"Thomas says he saw Simon do it. He only believes what he sees."

"It wasn't me."

"I didn't mean it was you. It was Simon."

"I'm Simon."

"Then Who is on first?"


"What is on second."

You can see the problems that would cause. In any case, other than some name confusion, we don't know much about St. Simon the Zealot. His legend as a preacher has him in all parts of the known world of the time, including England, or what would become England. His death was by crucifixion, or peacefully in his sleep, or he was cut in half by a giant saw in Persia. Hence his depiction in art with the giant saw.

Whenever you see a depiction of a saint in art, whatever the saint is holding tells you something about the saint. St. Apollonia, the patron saint of toothaches, is holding a giant pair of pliers because that was how she was tortured. St. Peter has a cross that is "X" shaped, the instrument of his death and the other St. Simon, whose name was never changed has the giant saw, even though there is no evidence of any kind that he actually died that way.

It does make for a great looking painting, though. And a handsome statue.

The bigger mystery is this: why is St. Simon Zelotes the patron saint of tanners?

He should be the patron saint of vaudeville style magicians. The kind that saw a lady in half.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

You Scream, I Scream

Hi Sister,
Is there a patron saint of ice cream? (Or people who love ice cream, or people who make ice cream, or cooks and bakers in general?) Thank you

Funny you should ask. Just the other day I had a hot fudge sundae for dinner. I figured that since we are celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus I could splurge a little and the thing had so many calories, that should be all she wrote, eating wise.

And yesterday I had a milk shake in the afternoon. One of those delicious fountain kinds, with real ice cream, not that gloop that causes your eyes to pop out of your head when you try to suck it through a straw like at McDonald's. I can't believe anyone likes those! Why not just buy a big cup of wet grout?

It looks like you and I may be in the same patron saint boat when it comes to a love of ice cream, although it is a rare treat for me, since I value my heart and my ability to climb stairs.

But there isn't actually a patron saint of ice cream per se. Once again, we'll have to extrapolate. I do think you'll be pleased with the result.

Off the bat, we have a couple of great saints as patron saints of cooks: St. Martha and St. Lawrence. You'll see that St. Lawrence also had a hilarious sense of humor, if you love high irony.

Next, we have the patron saint of bakers and sweets, who has a scrumptious thigh expanding cake named for him, the French St. Honore, also known as Honorius. He has a couple of baker stories to back that up.

First, when he was named a bishop and the word got back to his hometown, the woman who had been his nursemaid said, "I don't believe it! In fact, I won't believe it until this peel I'm using in my recipe here takes root and grows a whole tree." Of course, that happened. It turned out to be a raspberry tree, in fact. Talk about high irony.

Then, in the 13th century a baker put up some money to build a chapel in St. Honore's name and it became a very rich chapel. In the 15th century, the french bakers launched their guild in that chapel.

Then we'll add in the diary products to the sugar with St. Brigid of Ireland, who is the patron saint of all things lactose, including the intolerant because of a couple of milk related miraculous. One was when a beggar asked her for a drink of water and the water she poured for him turned to milk. Hope he wasn't lactose intolerant, or it wouldn't have been such a hot miracle for him. He must not have been. Miracles are never bad things and the milk would have provided the poor man more nutrition.

And finally, we'll have to keep our sweet cream nice and cold and throw in St. Nicholas, better known as Santa Claus. He never lived anywhere near the North Pole until the 19th century, but since that's his last known address, we'll go with him for cold confections. He likes children, too, and as we all know, children (and old ladies) love their candy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dog Gone Sinners

My comments about my comments seems to have confused people. In order to keep up with the confusion, if you haven't read the last two posts, you'll have to have a gander at them.

It all started with the fictional Mrs. Sheffield blocking everyone's way to get to the parking lot first. My point was that even after you're all set with a plenary indulgence, you may sin again any second and, "poof" we're off to the races again. I imagined that the reader understood the gist of my comments, but I can see that we need a little clarity.

Peanut Gallery Comment One:
Please comment on what constitutes a mortal sin. The questioner stated that he/she rarely gets out of Mass without having a sinful thought about Mrs. Sheffield. If it's just a thought and not something that's nurtured into something bigger, I doubt it's a mortal sin and hence no fear of eternal damnation when that bus rolls into you. Or else we're all in big trouble.

Peanut Gallery Comment Two:
You know, unless you are just wallowing in hatred and maybe planning her demise, entertaining unkind thoughts about old Ms. Sheffield is not a mortal sin. Just having the thoughts pop into your head unbidden is really nothing more than a temptation, and if you refuse to give in to them, it's not a sin at all.

Correct on both counts! I didn't mean to imply that an unkind thought about Mrs. Sheffield would land anyone in Hell. It looks like we need to discuss not only a mortal and venial sin, but sin altogether.

Ever watch that dog whisperer fellow? Sister Mary Fiacre loves watching that man. I think she likes all the dogs. The dog whisperer is a dog trainer who has a TV show where he goes to some one's house who has an incorrigible dog and the second he gets there, the dog behaves for him. Then he has to teach the owners to treat the dog like a dog and not a furry person who eats off the floor.

His motto is that the dog is a dog first, then a specific breed of dog, then your pet. Or something like that. Dogs are pack animals and once the owner understands that he is the pack leader and not the daddy of the dog, things fall into place. Just because a dog is a dog doesn't mean we allow the dog to eat our shoes.

Here is some people whispering for you:

We are human animals. We are also beings who fare better when we live in groups--families, tribes, the Catholic Church, etc.

We are animals first and humans second. We can't help it when certain thoughts and emotions pop into our brains. Sometimes things are happening because of chemical reactions in our bodies.

But that doesn't give us the excuse to eat our shoes.

When an unkind thought pops into your animal brain, it's not a sin.

Unless....you don't pop it right back out again. It's why our saintly fore bearers wore hair shirts and knelt on dried peas, to keep those thoughts at bay.

The added bonus is that the more discipline you have over your pop up thoughts, the less you will even have them. Because you are not a dog. You might even be the pack leader.

That said, if poor Mrs. Sheffield is lumbering out in front of you and you let your thoughts run amok, that is a sin. If you want to kill Mrs. Sheffield, that's a mortal sin. If you actually want to kill her, it's the same sin as if you actually do kill her.

So it is indeed possible to land yourself in Hell on the way out of church behind Mrs. Sheffield. It's highly unlikely, though.

Unless you're the type who also goes home and eats their shoes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Confess

I feel a little guilty about mentioning the high horse of the separated brethren the other day. I certainly spend almost all of my time on my own steed, here on the blog, so I have no room to accuse. So much for my Divine Mercy Plenary Indulgence. Right out the window!

Which brings me to today's questions:

The above comment prompts me to ask, what if you're truly sorry for your mortal sin just before being hit by the bus (or just after, for that matter, the split second before dying). Will it be held against you didn't make it to confession, or are you allowed to skip the middle man in this case?

This is all very disheartening really as I rarely make it through mass without having a sinful thought about "Mrs. Sheffield lumbering out the door".

Technically speaking, you have to confess a mortal sin to a priest to obtain forgiveness. That's why you want one of these! And why we have a Sacrament called "The Anointing of the Sick". That Sacrament used to be called "Extreme Unction" or "Last Rites". That made everyone receiving it too nervous. We don't want to give anyone a heart attack.

How ironic would that be?

But practically speaking, we don't judge. God in His Infinite Mercy may forgive you, it's just not our call. That's why the Catholic Church never ever claims that anyone who has ever died is roasting in Hell. Not even Hitler. God is merciful and just and eternity is a long time.

But before you think, "HA! That's great! I'm always sorry for my sins! God will forgive me!" please take into consideration that forgiveness is a two way street. God already forgave you, even if you are not one bit sorry. It's your own understanding and humility, or lack thereof, that will keep you and God on the outs.

God does not put you in Hell, you go there.

Let's drag up Sister Faustina again, while we're on the subject. She actually paid Hell a visit. Here's what she had to say.

"Today, I was led by an angel to the Chasms of Hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw:
The First Torture that constitutes hell is:
The loss of God.
The Second is:
Perpetual remorse of conscience.
The Third is
That one's condition will never change.
he Fourth is:
The fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it. A terrible suffering since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God's anger.
The Fifth Torture is:
Continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own.
The Sixth Torture is:
The constant company of Satan.
The Seventh Torture is:
Horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies.

These are the Tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings.

You can purchase her diary. She wrote all of this stuff down in a diary.

The questions remain, regarding your question. Were you on your way to confession, with a sorrowful heart, when the bus hit you? You're probably good to go, in that case. But if you were running around with a mortal sin on your soul, thinking, "I'll get to confession after I pick up the dry cleaning," and then the bus hit you because you were standing in the street with your Starbuck's cup on top of the car while you fumbled with the keys and the hangers, how sorry are you, really? I mean about your sin, not about getting hit by the bus. Of course you're sorry about that getting hit by a bus, especially with that mortal sin on your soul.

And while we're on the subject:
Not so much a question but more a request for advice.

I will be making my first confession very soon and I wanted to know if you had any advice for going to confession. What to expect? Do I need to say the number of times I have committed a certain sin? how do I confess 20 plus years of sin?

Surely you have a priest or deacon that can talk this over with you.

I recently saw a great commercial. It was a public service announcement encouraging people to have medical tests that could be life saving, tests they might put off or skip altogether because the test is....embarrassing. The catch phrase, which I'll ask you to keep in mind, was "Don't Die of Embarrassment."

The same is true for the health of your soul. A mortal sin is called "mortal" because it is fatal to the soul.

Of course, you are not going to be able to count up 20 years of sin. Unless you keep a very accurate diary. We get that. You're just going to have to go with trying to be sorry for being unreconciled for so long. And that's fine.

You may be aware of some 'problem areas' in your life and you may want to focus on those. That's the part you may want to discuss ahead of time with someone.

We changed the name of this Sacrament, too. Instead of "Confession", which is a perfectly fine name for what you are going to do, we now call it "Reconciliation" which is an even better name for what is going to happen. Keep that in mind, and everything should turn out wonderfully.

Remember that God has already forgiven you. Reconciling is all up to you now. Don't get hit by a bus.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Big Power Grid in the Sky

I hope we've covered
Divine Mercy Sunday to everyone's satisfaction as it is just around the corner. One reader wanted to know if one mortal sin meant a trip to hell. Yes, hence the term "mortal" sin.

Someone else asked if they have to go to Mass on Saturday evening instead of Sunday, can they still do the devotion and receive the plenary indulgence.

I don't know. My best guess its that you would get an indulgence, but not a plenary indulgence.

I think that about covers it. Now onto today's question!

What does a blessing add to rosary beads? A friend prayed the rosary using his fingers. I knew his prayers were still efficacious. But it made me wonder, why the blessing?

There's an easy answer and a complicated answer.

The easy answer is that when you say a rosary on a rosary that has been blessed, you gain an indulgence.

The complicated answer begs the question, "What is the deal with blessed objects?"

Good luck explaining blessed objects to the separated brethren. And we don't even believe in luck.

I'll make a sad attempt at explaining it anyhow. The first part is easy. Even the separated brethren can get on this bandwagon. When you receive a blessing, the Grace of God flows through the blessing. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking the separated brethren aren't on board with this concept. It's like an electric current from you to God.

Where everyone gets up on their high horse and stays there, is when we give power to blessed objects, which....we really don't.

We kind of do.....

Bear with me here as a borrow an analogy I read in my travels. A blessed object (which will not, as a rule, include things like your dog's collar or your fishing rod) is like a light switch.

When you flip a light switch you actually don't turn on the light. The switch turns on the light by connecting with the wires in the wall, which are connected to a giant power grid. When you flip the switch you simply demonstrate your willingness to have the light on. You actually have no power whatsoever.

Looking at your blessed object, like a holy card, is a reminder of that which makes us holy. It's your willingness to make the connection that brings the power. You have no power. The blessing is the switch and wire in the walls to THE Giant Power Grid.

Not the best analogy, but it works for me. I'd like to give credit where credit is due, but I really don't remember where I ran across this.

I wouldn't suggest trying to explain any of this to the separated brethren. We've been trying to explain it until we are blue in the face. And we don't have a tall enough ladder for that horse.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Divine Mercy Healthcare Bill

Can you please do a detailed post on Divine Mercy Sunday? My father is under the impression that his "slate" is wiped clean on that day after attending Mass and if he were hit by a bus walking out the church doors he would go immediately to Heaven.

Wait, I think there's also something about attending Mass for the next seven Sundays or something like that.

I have a hard time believing a person can stand on his left leg, jump three times on three consecutive Sundays and then be granted immediate entrance to Heaven.

Please clarify. Thank you in advance.

I am thrilled that you asked!

Your father is more correct than you might imagine. That's part of the reason I was pleased to point out that next Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Now for those details. How we love details!

First, let's start with the part where your father is right. Check out the name of this feast day: DIVINE MERCY. This feast is a shout out to the worst sinners and regular old sinners alike that God's Mercy is boundless. That means without boundaries.

God will forgive anyone for anything as long as the person is truly sorry for their mistake, even if 'mistake' is just euphemism for heinous crime, debauchery or mayhem. This is God's mercy, not ours. It's what Jesus came to tell us about, which is why the Pope stuck it onto the second Sunday after Easter. God's Divine Mercy rather sums up just about everything Jesus wanted you to know.

Jesus appeared to a nun named Sister Faustina, and told her all about God's Divine Mercy. He sent an angel to take her on a tour of hell so that she could be very specific when she talked about what people might avoid by seeking God's Mercy. Then he gave her a plan, and a nice portrait of Himself, to guide people to receiving God' Mercy.

So, your father is absolutely correct that by participating in the second Sunday of Easter devotion to Divine Mercy, he could walk out of church, get hit by a bus and go straight to heaven.

So....let's talk about two more things:

1. What it means to participate.

2. What is a plenary indulgence.

PARTICIPATION: Your father can't just skip to my Lou into church on Sunday and skip back out and expect to get a plenary indulgence. He'll have to also go to confession, receive Holy Communion, pray for the Pope and stay sin free until the bus hits him. He'd better jolly well go to Mass for the next umpteen Sundays and every Sunday after that, because if you are an able bodied person, it's a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday.

PLENARY INDULGENCE: People have a major problem with the idea of indulgences. I think that a lot of people don't know what they are. At all.

Once you confess your sins and are forgiven, you still have to pay the piper and be punished for your sin. An indulgence is a pass on the punishment portion of sins

At the risk of dredging up the complaints of Martin Luther, I will make an analogy. You go to the hospital very sick, they do all kinds of things to you to make you better and you actually get well.

That would be the confession part.

But now you have a big fat hospital bill to pay. The sicker you were, the bigger the bill.
That's the punishment for sin part.

Now suppose the hospital waived your bill, or part of your bill.

If they waived part of the bill, that would be an indulgence. If they waived the whole thing, that would be a plenary indulgence. A complete waive of the punishment due for your sins that you just confessed (and one's you forgot to confess as long as you actually forgot and didn't "forget").

A plenary indulgence is what you get for your participation in the Divine Mercy devotion next Sunday. That means you actually have work to do. You have to go to confession. You have to have no sin in your heart. You have to go to Holy Communion. You have to pray for the Pope.

And the indulgence, even the plenary indulgence, is only good until you sin again. Going with our hospital analogy, you got sick, got well in the hospital, the hospital waived the whole bill and then....you get sick again. Maybe you have the same illness, maybe you have something new, maybe it's just a little glitch, a slight complication, but how you're sick again. AND even after you're well again, you're going to have to deal with a new bill.

That means that your father could being walking out of church, have a sinful thought about Mrs. Sheffield lumbering out the door in front of him and when the bus hits him there at the curb, he will find himself in Purgatory with a bill to pay. Let's hope he doesn't manage to commit a mortal sin on the way out the door or he will be doing more than touring Hell.

I hope the news that your father is on the right track doesn't upset you too much. Perhaps reading through this old post from a while back will ease your mind.