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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Super Sized Sacramental

The weeding has been accomplished. The soil amending has not. One of my kind readers sent over a link to an article about 'lasagna' amending, though and I am definitely going to go for that in some parts of our little garden. This basically involves composting right on the ground. No tilling and digging. I'm sure I can get away with it over in the 'dead zone' where nothing is growing these days and then use the 'part two' method for where we actually need to plant.

We don't have any of our own compost since the whole bee incident. We never got our compost bin back in the game. Any second though, one of us might be compelled to muck around in the worm farm. Maybe some of the worms will get sprung from their work camp and go to live in the garden. I don't really mind mucking around with the worms, it's just so very messy to drag the canister out and put it in the sun so the worms leave the top layer.

I can tell you, they don't really do what the instructions say they do, either. They don't really leave when you take the top off and go to a lower layer. If they do, it must take eons. I always end up picking about a million worms out of the goo I want for the garden. The last time I did it, all I saw when I closed my eyes were worms, worms, worms. It took hours and hours, both tot harvest the castings and to stop seeing worms when I closed my eyes.

I'll offer it up for the Poor Souls in Purgatory and for the fallen that have gone on to Purgatory here on Memorial Day. I think the last time I dug around in the worms it was also Memorial Day. Memorial Day has become worm casting harvest day around here.

Is that wrong? Perhaps I should pick another day in the future.

Speaking of wrong. A reader takes issue with our notes about the rosary as a sacramental.

t's my understanding that a rosary isn't a sacramental unless a priest has blessed it.

You're not entirely wrong. But there is some confusion. There is more than one type of sacramental and that's where we've gone a little haywire here.

We think of a lot of things as sacramentals that aren't actually sacramentals....yet. For example, the medal of a saint, like the ones we have in our shop, is considered by many to be a sacramental, because it can be a sacramental. But it isn't actually a sacramental until the medal is blessed by a priest.

It's a big fat sin to sell blessed objects, by the way. I've found that somehow the confusion over an object being a sacramental and blessed causes people to assume that our medals are blessed when they arrive in your mailbox.

I assure you, they are not. Until you have them blessed by a priest yourself, they are not sacramentals.

In fact, any object that has been blessed by a priest is a sacramental. I admit I have a little bit of trouble entirely getting my brain around this idea. A sacramental is defined as something that brings your closer to the Seven Sacraments and therefore closer to God. So when you have your car blessed, it's a sacramental? I guess you can drive to church in it.

Anyhow, a rosary is a sacramental all on it's own because prayers can also be sacramentals and the prayer of the rosary has been deemed a sacramental by the Catholic Church. A blessed rosary also carries certain indulgences, which brings us back to square one of our discussion.

I hope this clears things up. A rosary is a sacramental all on it's own because it is both prayer and an object. When you have it blessed you just 'super size' it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Signs of the Sign of the Cross

It's raining today, so we can't do what we thought we were going to do, which was work out in the garden. We need to pull some weeds and do some soil amending. We've planted some tomatoes, which we haven't done in a year or so.

We sort of gave up on them in recent times. In a garden where everything does pretty well, even when we rather neglect it, the tomatoes just weren't happening. After two years of terrible crops with almost no tomatoes to speak of, we threw in the towel. Now I see what's gone wrong. The soil is terrible. There is no soil. Just dirt.

So we're going to unplant the tomatoes, amend the soil and replant the tomatoes.

But not today.

Today we're back to square one, so to speak, with the Sign of the Cross. We've solved the 'which hand' problem, I hope. Now we have to talk about what we do with our hand.

I have a sign of the cross Q for you. Why do some folks touch their lips after they make the sign of the cross?

Why indeed?

They are not touching their lips. They are kissing their fingers.

And why are they doing that?

Here's another question for you? Which fingers are they kissing?

Everything we do in the Catholic Church is symbolic. Obviously the Sign of the Cross is a symbol of the Cross, but why touch your' head, your heart, your shoulders? Why not just make a Sign of the Cross out in front of you?

Let's start with the fingers. There is more than one tradition about how to hold your fingers. We do the flat hand method. Using all five fingers symbolizes the Five Wounds of Christ.

And you thought it was just your hand!

Some traditions use the three finger method, the thumb, and the first two fingers. Care to guess the symbolism there?

Holy Trinity.

Then for some people, touching the head represents the Father, the heart, the Son and the shoulders, the Holy Spirit. Which seems like a no-brainer, since that's exactly what you're saying at the time, although sometimes we make the Sign of the Cross without saying anything, like before a free throw.

How about those Suns! Who saw that coming? Not me. I'd love to see a Suns/Celtics playoff!

But I digress.

But for some people the symbolism also digs a little deeper in that the head represents God the Father and His Wisdom, and touching the heart or stomach next represents the Incarnation, specifically. I've forgotten what these folks thinks about while touching their shoulders.

But then, I've forgotten more than a lot of people know in the first place, so I don't feel too bad about about forgetting some symbolic stretch.

So, since your hand is representing either the Five Wounds of Christ or the Trinity, that's what you're kissing when you kiss your hand at the end.

Of course, a lot of people just do it out of habit and aren't really thinking anything. And a lot of people are holding something that they are kissing, like a rosary, or the cross on the rosary.

And then....some people make a little Sign of the Cross with their thumbs on their foreheads and everywhere else while they are making the Sign of the Cross with their hands, thus making a Sign of the Cross Squared. Or would that be a Sign of the Cross to the second power?

I'm not good at math.

Or tomatoes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shake on it

Apparently I misspoke when I said that the reason one shakes hands with one's right hand is so the left hand could be ready with a sword if the hand shake didn't work out so well.

A kind reader pointed out that it's the other way around. One shakes with one's right hand to show that there is, in fact, no sword coming, since the majority of people are right handed and would brandish their swords accordingly.

I'm not sure I buy it either way. I feel pretty confident that right handed hand shaking developed because of the deep cultural roots of the left being unclean and most people being right handed in the first place. There was a time when pretty much everybody used their left hand only for...their toilette. It makes sense that people would only extend the right hand, no matter if they were right or left handed, in friendship and solidarity, if we all knew where that left hand had been.

Ironically, it means that all the left handed people were probably quite a bit cleaner than everyone else, since they were using their 'good' hand, that is to say, the hand with more dexterity.

This all reminds me of a website I found once that explains a long list of traditions and practices, like carrying the bride over the threshold (which according to some sources, also involves the devil). The explanations all made perfect sense to me. I'm pretty sure the sword one was in there.

Several people told me later that it was all untrue.

How did they know? It all sounded very plausible.

The sword thing is the least plausible explanation I have heard for a tradition. It's not like every single person had a sword. A knife, maybe, but not a whole big sword. It doesn't make sense to me that a handful of people saying to each other, "See, I'm offering you the hand that would otherwise kill you, which means I won't be killing you just now, so we can all relax" would somehow translate into an across the boards demand for right handed handshakes.

Maybe it's just me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

LIttle Left Handed Devils

Sister, here is something that has come up among our catechists and a question from someone on another forum has brought it to mind to find an answer. Left handed kids tend to do the sign of the cross with their left hand. Is that okay? Should we be correcting them?

I have an old ruler I can loan you, if that helps.

I'm not going to say outright that it's not okay. I'm sure Jesus doesn't particularly mind which hand anyone uses for anything, contrary to the efforts of many an old nun.

Why do Catholics have a history of shunning left handedness? It's not rocket science. The left hand was associated with the devil, so people who were left handed were guilty by association, as though their handedness was a sign that they were evil.

The list of devil associations with the left hand is long. Satan uses his left hand to 'baptize'. Witches greet Satan with the left hand. The very word "left" comes from the old English word "Lyft" which means "weak, worthless".

In many cultures, the left hand is used...let's just say, to clean oneself, and leave it at that. So the left hand was considered unclean. It would be the utmost in discourtesy in some cultures, even today, to offer someone your left hand in greeting and friendship.

These cultural roots are old and deep. No wonder the old nuns were running around with their hair on fire trying to 'cure' lefties.

It is always news to people that a lot of old nuns were actually quite superstitious. They believed in curses and people who were cursed. Perhaps they believed all of that in a "Jesus vs. the devil" sort of way, but there's no getting around whacking the knuckles of left handed kids because they might be left handed because of the devil was superstitious.

I think a lot of the old nuns might not have even questioned why they were whacking the knuckles of left handed kids. Old nuns love conformity and the "Palmer Method" really only works if you're right handed.

But after all is said and done, I would encourage the kids to use their right hands when making the sign of the cross. Do you let them put their left hand over their hearts for the "Pledge of Allegiance"? Do you not teach them to shake hands with other people with their right hands?

Supposedly, the real reason we shake hands with our right hands is because that freed the left hand to be ready with the sword if the hand shake didn't work out so well. Whatever. I'm sure it had more to do with the left hand being literally unclean in so many cultures.

We don't care anymore why we shake with the right hand. That's just the way it's done.

The Sign of the Cross is made with the right hand. That's just how it's done.

If you're Roman Catholic, you touch your head, your heart, your left shoulder and then your right shoulder. If you are Eastern Orthodox, you touch your right shoulder first.

As I said, I'm sure Jesus doesn't really care much. But don't pass up the opportunity to teach little kids left from right by using the Sign of the Cross.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Heaven is Just a Click Away

It's a rosary day. We've added more rosaries to our schedule, since we had a lot of 'down time' sitting around at the hospital and life around here is quite a bit slower as well. Our readers are on the same page.

Dear Sister – I love your blog. I do have a question for you. A few posts back you mentioned that saying a rosary on blessed rosary beads earns you a partial indulgence. Seven years ago I suffered a spinal cord injury that left me with the use of only one hand. It is very difficult for me to manipulate a traditional rosary. I discovered a downloadable program called the Virtual Rosary that keeps track of your prayers on the computer. It is very convenient for someone with my physical condition. That being said, do I not receive a partial indulgence because I say it on the computer? Please help!

When a person prays the rosary, do they say "amen" after each prayer? For example in each decade of Hail Marys are there 10 amens or one at the end? I am not asking to be smart aleck. I have never heard anyone pray the rosary. I thought I would try it for a week and see what happened. I found the prayers online, but wasn't sure about the amen part. (And what has happened so far, is that Catholics are coming out of the woodwork. For being the Church Militant, there are a lot of you in the secret service, apparently! But all of a sudden I'm meeting a lot of you. )

Let's take the second question first, since that's an easy one. Yes, you say the "Amen" each time as each "Hail Mary" is a separate prayer. You say the "Amen" after each "Our Father", too. All the "Amens" are in there.

There is a bit more to saying a rosary than all those Hail Mary's and their Amens, though. The rosary is a meditative prayer. While you're saying all those Hail Mary's and their Amens, you are supposed to think about the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of His mother. The very human, the very divine and the human/divine, all sitting around the breakfast table.

Actually, the breakfast table isn't in there.

When you look up the prayers online there, also look up the Mysteries of the Rosary. You can choose your own set, although the Catholic Church has made it even easier for you by setting up a chart of which Mysteries to contemplate on which days of the week. There are four sets. That should keep you very busy, rosary-wise.

We're delighted you'd like to try it. We'll be sitting around the campfire with our shields and armor, cheering you on.

The Rosary/Indulgence thing is a bit more complicated to explain. For one thing, there are several types of indulgences to be gained from saying the rosary. Let's start with why that would be the case.

To gain an indulgence, you're going to have to do a little something extra. The more extra work you do, the greater the indulgence. This is a situation that has evolved over time in the Church.
It's why St. Francis of Assisi invented the Stations of the Cross.

Back in the day, people who went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and walked in the path of Jesus on His way to Calvary got the elusive Plenary Indulgence. You have to consider that, back in the day, going to the Holy Land wasn't booking a seat on Priceline with William Shatner and finding a great hotel deal. It was an arduous trip from wherever you lived in Europe, since America hadn't been invented yet, by horse and/or on foot and by boat. You might not even survive the trip. You would be gone for months. It was crazy expensive.

Not everyone could even consider making such a trip. If you were sick or old or poor, forget it. Someone pointed out that this wasn't exactly fair, to grant people who were young and healthy and rich the opportunity for a plenary indulgence while the rest of us sit on our old poor arthritic hands. St. Francis of Assisi had the brainchild to set up a walkable 'Stations of the Cross' for the rest of us.

That's why you have to actually walk them, by the way, and not sit in your pew and crane your head around and think about them. You have to do a little something extra.

With that in mind, here is the Rosary list of indulgences.
"A PLENARY INDULGENCE is granted, if the Rosary is recited IN A CHURCH OR PUBLIC ORATORY OR IN A FAMILY GROUP, A RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY OR PIOUS ASSOCIATION; a partial indulgence is granted in other circumstances. "Now the Rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which is made up of fifteen decades of 'Hail Marys' with an 'Our Father' before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our Redemption. "The name 'Rosary,' however, is commonly used in reference to only a third of the fifteen decades. "The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms: "
  1. The recitation of a third part only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously. "
  2. The vocal recitation MUST be accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries. "
  3. In public recitation the mysteries must be announced in the manner customary in the place; for private recitation, however, it suffices if the vocal recitation is accompanied by meditation on the mysteries. "
  4. For those belonging to the Oriental rites, amongst whom this devotion is not practiced, the Patriarchs can determine some other prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (for those of the Byzantine rite, for example, the Hymn 'Akathistos' or the Office 'Paraclisis'); to the prayers thus determined are accorded the same indulgences as for the Rosary."
I don't see one word here about using blessed beads! If you ask a priest, they will tell you that you have to use blessed beads, and even some of the virtual rosary sites bother to mention that you have to use blessed beads to gain the indulgence.

Some smart cookie changed the rules! St. Francis must be smiling!

For a complete list of everything for which you may be indulged, click here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Don't Taze Me, Bro!

Where has the old girl been?
Some kind reader with ESP asked how Sister Mary Fiacre has been doing, seems that I haven't mentioned her in a while.

Let me mention her now. Sister Mary Fiacre has been in and out of the hospital with all manner of heart ailment. She's doing much better now, thank you all for your kind prayers in advance.

It started with her feet. Sister Mary Fiacre doesn't get much exercise, as you can well imagine, so she is ever so slightly rotund. As a result, we didn't think it was odd that her feet were so fat. Everything on her is a bit eversized, why should her feet not come to the party? We've put her shoes on horse style, that is to say, picking her leg up backwards and jamming the shoe onto her foot, for years now.

But when she became nauseous and short of breath we headed for the emergency room. Unlike my broken toe trip, which cost us many hours of offering up our suffering for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, a short of breath nauseous old nun will get you right in to see the doctor. It still took hours of blood tests and monitors, but she was admitted.

She had excellent care, in part because she also tested positive for some sort of staff infection which caused everyone to always wear a hazmat suit in her presence and scored her a private room.

But things didn't go very well for her. She has congestive heart failure, she was full of fluid, and she developed atrial fibrillation, which means her heart was beating all kinds of ways. It beats to a different drummer, so to speak.

True to form, she is the only person in the world who likes hospital food. She is not a picky eater. I wonder if at some point in her life she was food deprived. She really has a true appreciate for whatever appears on her plate.

They gave her some pills to get rid of the water and lo and behold we actually saw the true size of her ankles! Teeny! But her heart would not go back to a regular rhythm. Pills didn't help, the low salt diet didn't help. We took her home again.

Two days later we had to call an ambulance. We were feeling really down in the dumps. We called Father for the Blessing of the Sick. We sailed past the mugging victims and people who hit themselves with a hammer into another private room. We wondered how many people would be leaving the same way they came.

She got better again, but her heart rate was still erratic. The doctor had a plan to give her a shock.

"Don't taze me, bro!" He said it would shock her heart back into a normal rhythm. Or not. Or it would work for a while and then her heart would get crazy again. Meanwhile, the drugs they had given her were working too well and her blood was too thin and the whole tazing thing was put on hold.

She had been very restless during this second round and I suggested that they give her something to help her sleep. This was on Saturday. The tazing was set for Monday. They gave her that Ambien stuff. I supposed we're lucky she didn't get up and drive the car or find the hospital kitchen and eat a whole cake or murder someone. She slept for two entire days.

She finally awoke Monday morning with a normal heart rhythm. Miracle? It does fit the criteria. Instant and unexplained and good.

We've had to make a few more adjustments to our little world. She is much weaker than before, and therefore quite a bit more work. We are learning to like less salt. We gave up martinis at 6.

I made that up. We never had martinis at 6. If we had, we would have had to give them up.

I believe we've finally gotten our new routine down pat, so I'm back again at my desk and ready to answer questions. There are several in the queue and I'll be with you in a moment!