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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Ninja St. Patrick

For those of you who have been dying to know, it was Apple Pie. But not just apple pie.

Our neighborhood, and the rest of the city, gathers on the beach to watch fireworks. We can't have fireworks anywhere else because the ashes would burn the city to the ground. One of our acquaintances recently dropped a cigarette ash out of her car window and had to pay a $5oo fine and do a day of community service, which involved "beach clean up". She drove around in a dune buggy from bathroom to bathroom while the city workers who were in charge of her flung cigarette butts onto the beach. Ironic.

But I digress.

Our little cook out turned into a "loaves and fishes" extravaganza of friends and strangers, none of whom came empty handed.

The star of the night was Sister St. Aloysius, in her element at the grill, the stove, the sink, the buffet table. She was a black and white blur with a red, white and blue tie. Someone stuck a sparkler is Sister Mary Fiacre's fist. Very festive.

And it wasn't just apple pie. It was sour cream apple pie. I can't describe to you how delicious that is. There must be a sin in there someplace.

Now back to reality, with this sad question:

On a side, but related, note, have you ever heard anyone say one of the following:

1) Catholic saints are based on Pagan goddesses (and gods)

2) St. Patrick killed hundreds of people in Ireland.

I'm fairly sure both are quite false (in that (1) saints are/were real people whereas gods/goddesses are based on... myth/natural phenomena I suppose and that (2) Ireland had almost no martyrs during conversion except Patrick's wagon driver, but that was for political reasons, I think). At first I thought these statements were just silly, but I've heard at least three different people (who I'm fairy sure have never met) say them at different times. All three, strangely, identifid themselves as Pagans. I find that troubling. I do pray about it, but such misinformation seems, I guess, overwhelming to me. Do you have any advice, either for my own peace of mind or for what I can say to my friends about it?



Sometimes what people think is so giantly crazy that there is no answer, at least, not a simple answer. Of course, the simple answer would be, "No, dear, that's crazy. It fact, you have things quite backwards. There are no gods and goddesses, but there have been plenty of very real saints."

Since we don't know where these people got their misinformation, we're going to have to make an educated guess.

There are indeed plenty of things about the Catholic Church that were originally pagan practises that the Church, in Her wisdom, turned to good use. Didn't we just talk about St. Boniface and the Christmas tree the other day? It's sad to me when these instances are used as some sort of "proof" of an evil plot.
It would have gone something like this:

The Christian missionary shows up in your pagan town and notices that you all are wearing holly branches in your hair for the winter solstice. The missionary wants to bring you to understand that there are no gods and goddesses and tell you about Jesus, so you can have everlasting life.

Some evil plot.

He could beat you with sticks and take your holly hats away (which is what the nuns would have done), but instead, he tells you about the love of Jesus and says, "Your holly hats remind me of Jesus. The green leaves stay green all the time, ju;st as His Love is always with you, while the berries appear bright red as did the blood He shed for you."

When you become a Christian too, you're still going to be wearing your holly hat, only now it's because it reminds you of Jesus.

The end.

So that's one way they could have have gotten confused.

Another way is the fact that other ancient cultures had virgin birth stories and many modern pagans believe that this is what happened with the Jesus 'story'. That would make Jesus and his apostles people who are based on a myth.

But even if we go along with that idea, within a few years of the Christian movement (pretending it was based on a myth that began in 1 AD), we are going to find a seemingly endless number of real people who did indeed live and sometimes die for Christ. We have their letters and their bones and hairbrushes (St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese the Little Flower). We have people who knew them that are still alive (St. Padre Pio). We have police reports and jail terms (Maria Goretti). We have the impeccable record keeping of the Nazis (St. Maxmillian Kolbe).

The problem you are facing, dear reader, is that once people have these half baked notions, it is just about impossible to convince them otherwise. Ever meet someone who thinks the moon landing was faked and that it was all done in a studio in Hollywood? Good luck convincing them otherwise.

I believe that's what you're up against here.

But. I'll try.

Here's what I would say (after taking a big deep breath and counting to ten):

"What makes you think that?"

You'll get, I think, one of those two answers that the Church co-opted pagan practises or that the Jesus story is a myth.

Neither of those things have anything to do with the very real endless list of saints.

I would then have to ask which saints they believe to be based on pagan myths and such and I would name a few. St. Augustine, author of "Confessions"? St. Thomas Aquinas, world reknown philosopher? St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, founders of religious orders?

And then I would not mince any words in saying, "Your blanket statement, which I hope is not an actual belief, is absurd. " I would stop short of saying, "If you'd stop dancing around in the woods and read some actual history, particularly European history, you'll find that a lot of that history was formed by very real people, some of whom are called saints."

As for St. Patrick. Sigh.

I'm guessing the same thing has happened. This is the sad excuse for logic and proof: St. Patrick is said to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland, which is a myth, but like all myths is based on a 'truism' or symbolism. In this case, many believe that the snakes symbolise the pagans, or paganism, being driven out of Ireland and somehow that has translated to these poor birds that he killed them all.

With what, I'd like to know? Did he have an army? Or did he act alone? I don't ever remember hearing one word about '"St. Patrick's Army", so he must have acted alone. Was St. Patrick like some sort of ninja killing machine like in the movies where 40 people attack one man and he ends up standing in a pile of bodies with his shirt torn a little?

Usually, when you ask one of these people to back up their wild tales with anything concrete, they can't. Offer to wait for the email with a link to the 'evidence'. If nothing else, that should be entertaining. I'd love to watch the St. Patrick ninja movie.


clarebear said...

Dear Sister,
Due to a recent discussion among some good Catholics I know the whole witch/magic thing has been on my mind lately and I'M SO CONFUSED!!!! I feel like everyone has their own adamant opinion of where the line should be drawn with reading that kind of stuff and I can't figure out where the line should ACTUALLY be drawn. Like is Harry Potter okay? What about Twilight? I feel like you have the Bible on one end of the spectrum and the satanic bible on the other and somewhere in between a line has to be drawn but I don't know where!
Oh and if witches aren't real then why is this stuff a problem at all? HELP!

Bethany said...


I don't know for sure, but I'd guess they're referring to some of the older specific saints, Sister. Like St. Brigid is supposedly based on the Celtic goddess Brigid. Which I assume is just a mistake of names mixed with stubborness.

Or maybe they get these ideas from the fact that some of our Saints are myths, like St. Christopher. But that's like saying that some pagans worship the devil, so they all must. Try that one on your wiccan friends!

Those Roman Britons had great Eastern marshal arts training, I guess! :)

Mary Bennett said...

There is a religion that is a mixture of Vodoo and Catholcism called Santaria (I think I spelled it right) and they use statues of Catholic saints to be their gods. Truly, they believe that the statue of St Barbra , for one, is a god and can watch them, hear their requests etc.
Could someone be mixing up these Catholic Saints used in Santeria with gods and godesses and their stories of murder?

Anonymous said...

I always heard that spells and charms had only as much "power" as you gave them. Sort of if you think that you can be harmed, you would be harmed.

But I've been told that I shouldn't diregard a curse or hex, because if you have any least bit of sin n your soul, or not enough grace, it is like a chink in your armour for evil to enter.

Claudia said...

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups!!!!

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

this is an important topic to me, as I STILL like Dungeons & Dragons, and suchlike things. Unfortunately, this is what's called "a matter of prudential judgement," so you're not going to get any super hard and fast rules, just guidelines. As far as I can tell, here's the deal with fantasy magic.

In most modern fantasy (i.e., post Lord of the Rings), magic is basically "weird physics." Magic is something that anyone with the right proclivities, apparatus, and training can use to gain effects they want. The morality of using magic in such a milieu are basically determined by the ends. This is why J. K. Rowling called the curses used for torture, enslavement, and murder "unforgivable" curses.

Fantasy magic mostly differs from space opera (Flash Gordon, Star Wars, etc) in the props used -- magic wands = blasters, magic swords = light sabers, crystal balls = security cameras and bugs, and so forth. It's very useful as a plot device for exploring the temptation of power.

In the real world, magic is supplicating some supernatural being to use its powers on your behalf. Prior to Tolkien, most fantasy authors had this understanding, which is why warriors like Conan the Barbarian fought sorcerers who were typically both evil and priests of some horrible dark god (much like Pharaoh's court magicians, who would also have been priests). This is, in short, either idolatry or dealing with the devil. Do not mess with it. Don't be taken in by the idea that it is glamorous. It imperils your soul and spreads misery.

YoungAmericanCatholic said...

I love the post sister! I'll be sure to subscribe.

Non-Catholics love to talk about how certain feast days correspond to pagan celebrations, while some are true, they create a 'Catholic adoption of paganism' argument that is just way off base. I'm with you sister!

Though, It would be cool if my statue of St. Pat was holding nun-chucks instead of a staff ;-)

I just started my own Catholic blog that anyone might be interested in. It's about being a young catholic american and how those three value systems don't always line up. youngamericancatholic.blogspot.com

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