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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Out of Line

Oh sister! I know this isn't relevant to this post but I didn't know where else to ask. I go to a Catholic high school and we have a monthly school mass, which is a good thing except that the Eucharist is profained. At every mass our priest says only practicing Catholics in a state of grace may receive and every time we have non-Catholics and others receiving unworthily even putting the Eucharist in their pocket. I have a Jewish friend who did this and I explained that it's wrong but she said that her parents tell he she must receive and that she plans to do so at the next mass. What can I do? Is there any one i can pray to for understanding?

I can certainly understand you're feeling disconcerted. It's a very unfortunate set of circumstances. Poor Father.  He must be giving his little speech because he knows this is happening. I've never heard a priest at a Mass give a "here's who can receive" speech at Mass that I can recall.  Still, he can't run around being the Eucharist Police.  We don't show denomination ID's or go take off our shoes and go through soul x-ray equipment at the Communion rail.

Most of us don't even have a Communion rail anymore.

That's okay. Jesus didn't have one either.

So let's examine our dilemma.  Why are only practicing Catholics in a state of grace allowed to receive the Eucharist? Because we understand exactly what we are receiving: the actual Body and Blood of Christ.  Because of that, we are able to have the proper adoration and respect for what's really going on.

Supposedly.  Come on.  You know we've seen it all. People line up for Communion, in quiet prayer (or not), and then walk away, parents dragging little kids who are crying and whining, people fussing around with coats and kneelers, now we see people checking their text messages, we've always had people who jump up before the Mass is over so they can get their car out of the parking lot before the rush that makes them wait in line to get out of the church and out of the parking lot. And people who receive the Sacred Body of Christ and run right out and sin.

Let's put this in a little perspective.  You're not wrong to feel the way you do. But this is Jesus we're talking about. He is much less judgmental than the rest of us. I'll bet He doesn't actually mind being in someone's pocket so much. As it is, He rides all around in little tins as He is brought to hospitals and nursing homes and battle fields.  

Of course He would love our full attention, but He surely understands the state of any person's soul at any given moment. What He thinks of all of that is up to Him and not us.

Here are a couple of things you could do:
1. Be very glad so many non Catholics are coming to Mass.  That is truly remarkable. Something wonderful is at work. Be extra nice to them.  We want them to understand that the basis of our faith is compassion.

2. You might talk to Father, or write him a note, asking if he could perhaps give a short explanation as to why only practicing Catholics in the state of grace can receive.  That might help a little.

A note of caution! When I was quite young, I stopped going to Communion for quite a long time because the priest gave a whole sermon about how people who don't really understand the Eucharist shouldn't go. I believe he even read a passage from Paul. It was during Holy Week, I remember that much. 

I was spooked. I certainly didn't understand it. The Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Christ?  Good luck understanding that one.  It was a long time before some kind old nun explained to me that the opposite of faith is not lack of faith.  The opposite of faith is certainty.

Now I have faith, sometimes with full understanding and sometimes with almost none.

If I were you, I would definitely have another chat with that Jewish girl, in no small part because I am a nosy old buzzard who wants to know why her parents want her to go to Communion. Someone is very confused. Or very hopeful.

Oh! And...who to turn to for intercession? Going with St. Paul on this one.  For one thing, he's a convert himself and for another, he fully agrees with you about who should not be going to Communion.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In the OUT Box

I mentioned the other day that our home is a big mess. Our little cat is thrilled with the variety of things he has to bat around, but we find it all rather off putting.  I can't think straight in a mess. 

I've had to let go of my own embarrassment at the sad looks visitors have.  You know the one, the "Oh, dear, what's happened to these poor nuns?" look.  It will all be over soon.  I've been happy to learn about Iron Man, who is very popular this year.  He seems like an interesting fellow. 

In any case, today's question hit home:

Oh Sister, do you have a saint for disorganized people?! The business papers that I can't throw away going to suffocate me! My office is being built or I should say was until my husband and the contractor had a disagreement and now work has come to a halt and I am about to blow. Can you find a saint for me?

Of course I can! Any saint who founded a religious order would fit the bill. These are people who gathered together a group of people and organized them into a force for doing good and fighting evil.  May I just point out that when people try to live together, life can be very difficult, especially with a group of adults, all with their own idiosyncrasies and opinions.  It's like herding cats.  

Then these saints had to figure out how to help everyone get along and get the job done, find a place for everyone to live and food for everyone to eat and get matching outfits for everyone, figure out ways to expand and form more groups and put various other people in charge.  They also had to petition the Pope for permission to found an order.

Oh! the paperwork!

There are plenty of saints who did all of this: St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare, St. Elizabeth Seton, St. Ignatius Loyola....

But let's go with the granddaddy of them all, St. Benedict.

We'd still be making lists of do's and don'ts for people trying to live in group harmony, but we don't have to, because in the 6th century St. Benedict made the granddaddy of all such lists, "The Rule of Benedict".  

"Be careful what you wish for."  Isn't that the way the saying (with a dangling participle) goes?  Benedict took on the task and began writing his rule.  The cats did not like to be herded.  They tried to poison Benedict. Twice.  First, they put poison in his drink, but the cup shattered before he could take a drink.  Then they put poison in his bread, but a raven flew off with it.

No word on what happened to the raven.

Benedict didn't set out to form an order of Benedictine monks or write a set of rules that are so useful that most religious orders still use them today.  It just happened!

Of course it didn't "just happen".  That's silly. Nothing this good, or long lasting or far reaching "just happens". Does anyone actually believe that the "tea party" movement is a grass roots phenomenon?  Of course it isn't.  It has a high degree of organization and money driving it. Perhaps it will be good and long lasting and far reaching. But it didn't "just happen".

These things come about through hard work and attention to detail and the ability to organize and herd those cats.

I can imagine that Benedict could make short work of your office.  Three piles: IN, OUT (to be filed), TRASH.  Done.  Of course, it won't "just happen".  You'll have to do it.  It should go very smoothly and no one will try to poison you.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Scariest Time of Year

I am so sorry for my week long absence!  As faithful readers know, Halloween is very busy around here. I do the leg work and Sister St. Aloysius does the sewing.  Sister Mary Fiacre needs a little more care these days, and the whole house is covered in rick rack and snippets of thread.  We haven't had time to even think about putting up a few little outdoor decorations. I am partial to those fake cobwebs. Sometimes it comes with plastic spiders to stick in there.

I thought I'd better get to this timely question, so it got moved to the top of the queue. 

Dear Sister Mary Martha,
As the Catholic mother of three children 5 and under, I am very concerned about Halloween. This year I have decided we will go out with the kids in Saint or soon-to-be Saint costumes (an Angel, Blessed Kateri, and Saint Michael). It seems like the holiday though is now much scarier and gorier than I remember it as a child. Should we protect our children and abstain completely from the festivities or should we wage spirital warfare and show others the Christian side of this now quite secular and perhaps even demonic holiday? 


It's lovely that the children are going as saints and angels, but I wouldn't start a Holy War over, what is for a small child, a gentle little holiday involving candy and dress up.  It's such fun to dress up.  That's all they care about. That, and candy.  Yay! Candy!

It's not really a demonic holiday.  It's a very Catholic holiday.  Holiday/Holy Day.  

And candy.

But if you are new to our little convent on the internet, here is what goes on around here and my take on Halloween in general.  I can't believe this blog is FOUR YEARS OLD!  But four years ago, this was my Halloween adventure:

Grab a cup of coffee, a mug of tea and share my own Halloween horror!

Let's not overthink this Halloween thing.
Into the fray
Crusader nun
The Close Shave

You may be pleased to know that, four years later, the employee turnover rate has made it possible for me to buy orange rick rack at the fabric store once more.

Monday, October 18, 2010


It's an exciting week in saints!  The Pope just canonized a group that includes one of my favorite former "Blesseds", Brother Andre of Montreal.

To celebrate, we're still on the patron saint matching trail.

Hi Sister Mary Martha,

I was just wondering if there was a patron saint for childhood epilepsy. I know a child who struggles with epilepsy and could use a special friend. Thanks!

Oh yes, indeedy!  You'll be surprised to know that the patron saint of lovers is also the patron saint of epilepsy, although no one is exactly sure why.  It could be simply that St. Valentine's name sounds like the German word or phrase for "falling all the way down" and so he got the assignment.

It could be that he healed an epileptic.

But whatever the reason, we're not just whistlin' Dixie when we say that St. Valentine is associated with epileptics.  In the 341 works of art throughout Europe that portray St. Valentine, almost half of them include an epileptic at his feet.  This phenomenon was not lost on some epilepsy researchers who took the time to analyze what type of seizure the person with the saint is having and found the artworks to be very specific and accurate.

And of the 150 some odd paintings and statues and carvings 17 of the afflicted were infants, 35 were children and 7 were teenagers.

So it really looks like he's your man.

The tricky part is that we're not quite sure which man he is.  There are several St. Valentines, two of them are the person we generally think of as St. Valentine, St. Valentine of Terni and St. Valentine of Rhaetia.  They were both bishops and both martyrs. Their stories are both rather vague and they have been mixed up so many times we really don't know what's what and who's who with the the two of them anymore. So your little friend is just going to have to go with "St. Valentine" and let all the St. Valentine's in Heaven sort it out amongst themselves.

Which is lovely, really, when you think about it. A team of St. Valentines.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure my little pal St. Andre of Montreal has a patronage assignment. I vote for "acquiring real estate".  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nose to the Grind Stone, Chin to the Chest

We have a busy weekend ahead, but I wanted to quickly close out our patron saint matching week with a little saintly pain pill and we can talk a little more about it later today.  I hope.

Is there a patron saint for those of us who are suffering from arthritis?

Is your arthritis so bad that your head is bent down to where your chin is pushing into your chest so badly that you actually wear a hole in your chest?  St. Alphonsus understands.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I apologize in advance if this one's been asked before, but is there a patron saint of video games or something similar? I like to try and see Truth in those things, and sometimes like to design, and I'm curious whether there's any particular saint you would recommend for that media of the venture of co-creativity.
Interesting. I've seen some video games.

Huh...  hmmmmmmm....

Can't quite get there, myself.  But I'm not you.

I understand that there are quite a few kinds of video games, from Pac-Man and the rather innocuous Mario Brothers, to the elaborate war games and role playing and general gory mayhem of Resident Evil 1 through 20.

I am really hard pressed to find capital "T" Truth in there anywhere. I supposed it's nice that the Princess gets rescued.  Good for her.  Good for Luigi and whatever the other one's name is.  (Oh, wait...is it Mario?  Or is that their last name?  They are the "Mario Brothers", so it must be their last name, unless the one guy is "Mario Mario".)

On the other hand, here in the Los Angeles area, the "collateral damage" of gang killings, the innocent bystanders that are gunned down, used to be called "mushrooms", after things that are in the way in Marioland, things that are blown up or otherwise removed without thought.

I suppose that's not the game's fault.  Certainly the widely accepted term "collateral damage" is no worse than "mushroom".

Still...Truth.  Not seeing it.

There is a game called "Halo".  I don't think any angels or saints are involved, but I actually don't know anything about it.  I know it's very popular.  Which leads me to further believe no angels or saints are involved.

I have a saint for you, though.  St. Catherine of Bologna.  Not the sandwich meat.  The town in Italy.

Catherine started out living in luxury, the daughter of a diplomat and eventually an aide to a princess, but she gave it all up to go live with the Poor Clares.  That went so well for her that she founded her own Poor Clare monastery and she was the head nun in charge for the rest of her life.

That's because she was informed by visions of Jesus and the devil. So our St. Catherine is a mystic saint, in other words, a person who is communicating with Heaven.  She was a writer and a painter. How's that for co-creativity?

Now, there are a lot of saints who qualify on these terms. The four Evangelists certainly spring to mind.  And our friend from yesterday, Fra Angelico.
The reason I landed on St. Catherine B. is that she also wrote a book that just seems to me to be something a person who is heavily involved in video games should have. Her book is called
 "The Treastise on the 7 Spiritual Weapons Necessary for Spiritual Warfare".

I happen to know that one of the things that happen in these games is that you have to collect weapons along the way.  So there you go.

St. Catherine was buried without a coffin.  The Poor Clares take the "poor" part very seriously.  A sweet aroma arose from her grave and miracles were occurring, so 18 days after her burial they dug her up. Her body was incorrupt after 18 days unprotected in the ground.  They sat her in a chair, where she remains today, although, as you can see, the "incorrupt" part didn't really take.

I also recommend St. Clare, the patron saint of television and couch potatoes and St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of the weight endowed, just in case you have unwanted side effects.

Monday, October 11, 2010

APB for Sister Wendy

Whenever we do a patron saint matching, the flood gates open! Prepare for a couple more days of the big saint parade.

Well, son-of-a-gun, who knew?! No wonder the one time (never tried again) I asked St. Cecilia to intervene, nothing happened... Very cool story about St. Hildegard! Yep, she's gotta be a saint.

NOW, is there a similar powerful saint for the visual arts (i.e. painters, potters and graphic artists)?? Sure need some help with that one!Traditionally, the patron saint of artists is St. Luke, the Evangelist.  I've always felt a little sad recommending him, along the lines of St. Cecilia. Supposedly, St. Luke painted a portrait of Mary. And you know? That just didn't happen.  Particularly amusing is the big old oil painting rendition of what Luke painted, often parked in the background of his holy card.

I think St. Luke is a wonderful patron saint for writers. That's a no-brainer.

But for artists, I'm going with Fra Angelico, an actual artist. And a very prolific one.  Calling Sister Wendy!

Fra Angelico began painting in the Gothic era of painting, but was still at it at the dawn of the Renaissance. He was a Dominican friar, and although he was offered promotions, remained a humble friar his entire life.

As an artist, though, he was anything but a shrinking violet. He was actually famous during his own lifetime and painted for the impossibly wealthy, for chapels and shrines and churches. He started out as a manuscript illustrator and ended up painting for the Vatican. 
He made some interesting artistic leaps. Where's Sister Wendy when we need her? One of his most famous paintings, The Coronation of Mary, depicts all of Heaven all together in the same place.  That was a new concept, saints standing around talking about the days events together.

Not that are days in Heaven. There is no time in Heaven, even though there is a Coronation Day.

If you clomp around and look at his works, you'll find you can tell the difference, without even being Sister Wendy, between when he was painting for a wealthy client (which includes the Vatican) or not. The big commissions are in brilliant color and the small ones in muted hues.  That's because blue paint and gold leaf and all that color was wildly expensive at the time.  I recently posted one of his paintings while talking about St. Lawrence, patron saint of the humorless, or more specifically, patron saint to needle the humorless. You can tell right away it was a pricey work.

He also did frescoes. Very lovely.

Fra Angelico isn't a full on saint yet.  He's "Blessed", which means he is worthy of our veneration. He is, however, the official patron saint of artists.

You really didn't need me after all.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

This Week in Saints

This week our patron saint was St. Swithin.  As much as I love the rain (we don't get many rainy days around here), our old roof is leaking like a sieve.  Just when I thought I knew where all the leaks were, at least three new ones appeared.  Over the front door, over the kitchen sink and then, it took me a minute to put it together why Sister Mary Fiacre's lunch had water spilled on it.  It wasn't until I got a paper towel to wipe it up that I noticed the water was kind of brown and realized she was parked under a new leak.  At least all the leaks are in the kitchen. The front door is actually in the kitchen.  Odd but true.  

Looks like a lot of people are looking for their patron saints of the week:
Hello Sr. Mary Martha, I've just found out that a teenager in our family circle (thankfully not at my house) has a problem with porn. Is there a saint/novena you can recommend for us to pray? I'm praying the rosary for him but would like to know if there's a special saint I can recommend.

Indeedy.  There are quite a number of saints for the virtue of purity, from the virgin martyrs like St. Agnes, St. Cecilia and St. Wilgefortis, to saints who were known for their pious pureness, such as St. Aloysius and St. Dominic Savio.

But for this sad problem, I'm going to recommend St. Maria Goretti.  For one thing, she is the patron saint of teenagers.  And for another, her death was a direct result of the problem your teenager is facing. Her murderer had a thing for a certain type of magazine.  So sad and sordid.  She is officially the patron saint against pornography.

I like to focus on the outcome of this terrible event. Maria Goretti was able to show us all a thing or two by forgiving her killer with her final breaths.  And her killer was able to repent. He stood side by side with Maria's mother at Maria's canonization ceremony.  That's pretty momentous. A lesson for us all.

Hello Sister Mary Martha,
First, thank you for your blog! Second, can you recommend a patron saint for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or just extreme, debilitating fatigue.
Thank you!!

Honestly, the saint who springs to mind is St. Rosalia, who just wanted to go hide in a cave and be hermit away from everyone. I often think of her myself when I'm very tired, especially when I'm weary from dealing with a lot of "face" time.  

But I'm sure she didn't just go lie down. She no doubt spent all her time praying and kneeling on dried peas.

So maybe you want to go with St. Catherine of Sienna, who pretty much didn't sleep at all, except for a few minutes here and there. She must have been exhausted.

Here's a fun one for patron saint matching, Sister! I'm reading about all these patron saints and haven't found one who really "clicks" with me. Is there a patron saint for the overly picky?

Ha! Yes!  St. Teresa of Avila is my pick for the patron saint for perfectionists who are not perfect. She drove herself crazy (figuratively) nitpicking her own short comings, which included things like a love of romance novels and perfume and nice shoes.  I suppose if she were alive today she would be the type of person who loves reality TV shows that feature groups of women from various parts of the country behaving badly.  

By that I mean to say that St. Teresa was a very typical pretty young lady who managed to unburden herself from the yoke of the mundane. And then some.  There are only three women who attained the title "Doctor of the Church" and St. Teresa is one of them.

Pop Quiz!  Who are the other two? (Hint, one is right under your nose.)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Patron Saint for DiaVetes


Oh, the tribulations of caplock.

Do we have a patron saint for diabetes? Is the Pope Catholic? 

We have a patron saint for absolutely everything.  Extra good news!  There are two patron saints for diabetes.

Of course, there is often a list of saintly choices for many problems, jobs, hobbies and illnesses. St. Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks, because he was famously roasted to death on a grill, but so is St. Martha, who had a little run-in with Jesus when she admonished her sister for not pitching in in the kitchen.  Both good choices.

You are equally blessed with a choice of two brand new saints!  Some of our very newest saints! A girl and a boy!

You also have your choice of someone who suffered from diabetes and a person who suffered for ten years with diabetes and then was miraculously cured.

St. Paulina of Brazil was born in Italy but moved with practically her whole town to Brazil when she was 11 years old. From then on she was one holy little girl. She went from helping those around her and dusting the pews at the local church, to getting it together to find an empty house in which to take care of women with cancer.

Who does that remind you of?  Mother Teresa!  Don't you think?

That all went so well that she founded a religious order, The Sisters of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, which eventually became the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She took on the name Sister Paulina of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus.  She seems to have liked long names.

Eventually, her whole life went south, and I'm not referring to her hemisphere. She had enemies who removed her from being the head of her order and finally she went to just sit in the mother house and pray, poor thing. She suffered from ravages of diabetes, losing first a finger and then her arm.  Happily she had some fingers left on the remaining hand, because now that she's a saint we have three of them for relics.

Or you could go with St. Josemaria Escriva, no less than the founder of Opus Dei.  He was a lovely man, a calm fellow with a hilarious sense of humor.  He had the grand idea that everyone should strive for holiness, even people living very ordinary lives.

I think Jesus had that idea as well......

St. Josemaria changed his name several times, by the way.  For one thing, he used to spell it with a "B" instead of a "V".  He was Jose, before he was Josemaria.  Seems he liked the longer names, too.

In any case, he suffered for ten years from a rare form of diabetes and, as I mentioned, was miraculously cured.

Or....you can have them both.  I'm sure they won't have any professional jealousy there in heaven.

Prayer for Those Suffering with Diabetes
O my Jesus, you accepted Your suffering so that we might have eternal life.  Give my hardship meaning and ease my fears as you turn my suffering into a source of joy.
Your servant, St. Josemaría Escrivá, was cured after suffering with diabetes for ten years.  He used his many obstacles and physical ailments as a passageway to holiness.  Through his experiences you taught him that "sorrow is the touchstone of love."  Overcome my sorrow with Your enduring love and purify my body and soul.  I ask this through the intercession of Mary, Our Mother and St. Josemaría Escrivá.  Amen

Pretty diabetic ID bracelet on etsy