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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To Saint or Not to Saint

Here's a little brain teaser for you all!  Yesterday, when I was writing about St. Catherine of Alexandria, I was trying to think of a modern equivalant, not of her martyrdom and sainthood, but of her life of knowledge and influence leading up to it.  I used Mother Teresa as an example, but only because she was the only woman I could think of who wouldn't raise a single eyebrow and a pillar of wisdom (except for Christopher Hitchens' eyebrows).

I still can't think of anyone.  Can you?

Meanwhile I caused even more confusion:
I didn't realize Catherine of Aragon is a saint. Who knew!? I'm kind of new at this saint stuff, so I have a lot to learn. 

You didn't realize it, because she isn't a saint, officially, although she may well be a saint.  I know that makes the whole mishmash even more confusing, since the cake named for her is called "St. Cattern's cake". I believe two things caused that.

First, Catherine of Aragon was a very nice lady, who didn't deserve what happened to her. As a result, she was admired the way a saint is admired, the same way someone might say, "My sainted mother", even though their mother has never been canonized.

If their mother is dead and in heaven, and if Catherine of Aragon is in Heaven, she is a saint.  That's the whole criteria for sainthood: dead+in Heaven.  Everyone who is in Heaven is a saint. By canonizing someone, the Church is declaring that the person is definitely in Heaven.  

Second, it became a tradition to make St. Cattern's cake on the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Perhaps the fact that the official portrait of St. Catherine of Aragon so closely resembles an artist's imagination of St. Catherine of Alexandria just makes everything all the more confusing. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spinning the Tale of St. Catherine

No, no, it's St Cattern who is the patron saint of lacemakers - I remember reading about her, there is even a Cattern's Day cake you can bake.

I can see I've got some s'plainin' to do.  To begin with, there is no "St. Cattern".  St. Cattern, as in the cake, refers to St. Catherine, specifically (as there is more than one St. Catherine), St. Catherine of Alexandria.

St. Catherine of Alexandria had nothing to do with making lace (although you are correct that she is listed as a patron saint of lacemakers....we'll get to that).  She was thought to be one of the most intelligent women of her time.  She was so well respected and her thoughts were heeded by so many, today she would be known as a trend setter and would no doubt have a blog and a web site.  This all proved to be her undoing.  Or doing, so to speak, since ultimately, martyrdom is a good thing.

When she converted to Christianity people followed.  So she was arrested.  But she was so well thought of and popular, no one really wanted to see her in jail.  It was as though someone threw Mother Teresa in jail.  So they sent people to go in there and talk her out of all this Christianity nonsense.  They all left converted.  This happened more than once.

She had to go. They brought in a wheel. The plan was to tie her to the wheel and just drive away with her until spinning on the wheel killed her. I guess. That or they would have had to hang the wheel on something and spin it like the wheel on "Wheel of Fortune" until she died. The statue of St. Catherine of Alexandria that we have in my childhood parish has spikes on the outside of it, so I always imagined that she would be tied to the outside of the wheel and stabbed and run over. But then you wouldn't really need to spikes to kill her, would you?

I finally found this explanation of the "wheel" that made some sense:
 She was placed in a machine, composed of four wheels, connected together and armed with sharp spikes, so that as they revolved the victim might be torn to pieces.

It doesn't matter anyhow, because as soon as they brought her over to the wheel (or the wheel machine, as it were) it miraculously smashed to pieces. So the wheel never did anything to her. She was then taken to the outskirts of town where she was beaten and beheaded.

But our lacemaking, cake making story does not end there.

St. Catherine's Day heralds the beginning of winter. On St. Catherine's day young girls and old maids pray for the intercession of St. Catherine to find a husband. The young ones say this:"Lord, give me a well-situated husband. Let him be gentle, rich, generous, and pleasant!"

If time marches on she prays:
"Lord, one who's bearable, or who can at least pass as bearable in the world!"

And finally, if the parade is really passing by:
"Send whatever you want, Lord; I'll take it!"

What does all of this have to do with lace? Deep breath and here we go. Catherine of Aragon was said to have burned all her lace so that the poor lace makers would have more work to do. Isn't that nice? And St. Cattern cakes are actually named for her. Somehow, St. Catherine of Aragon and St. Catherine of Alexandria's particulars got all stirred up together with cake and lace.

And wheels.  Wheels are used for spinning and products of spinners are used to make lace.

Which is why I would go with St. Clare, who actually did some tatting.

And one last thing.  St. Cattern cake is not cake unless you are British.  In the same way we have trunks on our cars and they have boots, they have cake and we have bread.  St. Cattern cake is actually a kind of bread.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Santa Lucia and Lace

St. Lucy has raised an interesting question:

Wouldn't pulling your eyes out be a sin? Isn't it a desecration to destroy His image and likeness God has created in us? I'm confused.

It certainly doesn't seem like a good plan. We don't like tattoos, either.

St. Lucy isn't the only saint who has raised a question such as this one.  There are a number of virgin martyrs who flung themselves into fires and off of bridges and into the sea in order to remain pure and we've always thought of them as brave and noble.  Except that suicide is a sin. A very terrible mortal sin.

I think if you were sitting in your living room and wanted to send your ex-boyfriend, who has admired your eyes, a message by pulling them out and calling the UPS man to pick them up for quick shipping, yes, that would be sinful.

Truth be told. It wouldn't really be sinful.  If you did that you'd be crazy as a loon.  And blind.  You can't sin if you're not in your right mind. You may do sinful things, but you are not responsible. Sin is about intent.

So there are several factors going on with St. Lucy.  She was being tortured, so she maybe wasn't herself.  She didn't pull her eyes out to spite God. She did it because she no longer had need of those things that bind us to this life, and made a bold statement about that with her action.  She was transcendent.  And certainly, it may not have happened. In other versions of the story, her tormentors removed her eyes with forks.

St. Sebastian is the patron saint for lace workers, I can only think that is because he was shot full of arrows, so looked like a pin cushion. Every time I mention him, ( I tat lace) my priest rolls his eyes. he he,

St. Sebastian is the patron saint of pin makers, too, for that very reason. There really is a patron saint for everything. Pin makers! I'm surprised, however, that you aren't on board with St. Clare of Assisi!  The order she founded, The Poor Clares, are famous for their lace and embroidery.  They make altar clothes, among other things.

And speaking of altar clothes
 I live in a small village in Sweden (please excuse any flaws in my English). As you know, Sweden has not been a Catholic country for a few centuries now, and we suffer from priest shortage. The vicar of our parish comes to celebrate mass a few times per month, which everyone here thinks is very good of him because he has to drive 130 kilometres just to get here and he also sometimes drives to celebrate mass in other places, in other directions, on the same day, and then of course he also has to drive back home eventually.

He showed me once how to prepare for mass so that when the priest arrives, everything is ready. Sadly, I don't have perfect photographic memory and I can't remember the details and the correct order of it all. So I thought that perhaps you could help me with some images and explanations? I think such information might also be useful to anyone who wants to help their hard-working priests a little.

Thank you.

Here you go!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blind Faith

I had a customer over at the shop fuss at me the other day.  Well, not at me.  At least, not about me. She was fussing about saint extrapolation. I was explaining to her why St. Blaise is the patron saint of knitters, which is admittedly a bit of a stretch.  He was tortured with wool combs. Wool combs=wool=knitting.

Kind of like six degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Yes, I've heard of that little game. In fact, I am only two degrees from Mr. Bacon myself as I know a woman who went to college with his wife. Indeed, our entire parish enjoys this distinction.  But I digress.

Specifically, she had difficulty understanding why the Church would think that saints who had suffered because of something would have an affinity for that thing.  Which brings us to today's question from a reader:

Hi Sister,

I have eye trouble (i.e. myopia, bad eyesight)...please do help me find a patron saint to pray to!

The official patron saint of eye problems is St. Lucy. As far as we know, she had no eye or vision problems. She did, however, lose her eyes, either because she pulled them out herself or someone did it for her. In one version of her story, losing her eyes is part of her tortured martyrdom.  In another version (the version I always thought was hard cold fact), she pulled out her own eyes because her would be boyfriend, who was the reason she was in prison in the first place, had once admired them.

Saints undergoing martyrdom often react defiantly.

I can understand how that story, either version, just doesn't really work for someone who has eye problems. But there is a bit more to St. Lucy.  Her feast day is a festival of light in some countries, light as in the way Jesus is the Light of the World. And you need light to see.

So, you see, you're not going to escape St. Lucy's eyeball influence, one way or the other.

If this just doesn't float your boat, you could try St. Vivenzio of Blera.  He went blind, but had his sight restored so he could fulfill and instruction he had gotten from God in a dream.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Going Dutch

Greetings, Sister!

I have a saint-matching request.

I recently moved to the Dutch speaking part of Belgium but I don't speak any Dutch! Learning foreign languages doesn't come easily to me.
Can you recommend a saint for me for either language learning in general and/or Dutch in particular?

Many thanks for any help!

Oh, you poor thing!  I suppose some people have a penchant for languages. I am not one of them.  I speak English and few badly pronounced words of French. Numbers one through ten in Spanish. Miro!  Look! 

As a result, I am forever baffled by people who are hard on immigrants in the States for not learning English.  To me, that is like being aggravated with someone for not knowing how to fix a car.  It would be nice to know, but it's just not that easy.

There have already been a couple of very good suggestions in the comments section, but I'm going to go with:


And here we are just after Pentecost! You do remember Pentecost?  The disciples got together in a room and the Holy Spirit descended on them and voila! (French for "There!"), they could speak and be heard in any language. I'm sure Dutch would have been in there if there was a Dutch language at that time.

Wouldn't that be great?  The Holy Spirit descends on you and you can speak Dutch?  How 'bout it? Since it sounds like you need as much help as I would, I decided to go with all twelve, although you could conceivably focus on someone like St. Thomas, who maybe was the only apostle to leave the Roman Empire.  He went to India (maybe) and would have had to use his new gifts.

The patron saint of Belgium is St. Alena. Such a pretty name!  She was the daughter of a chieftain and her night time disappearing act worried her father.  He had her followed. She was going to a chapel.  He decided she had been bewitched by the Christians and had her dragged home.  A fight ensued where her arm was cut or torn off.  An angel swooped in and grabbed the arm and flew it over to the chapel, placing it on the altar. Having seen an angel fly in and fly off with the arm, caused Alena's parents to reconsider their attitude toward Christians and they both converted. Being a saint, Alena didn't seem to care about her missing arm.  Although, technically it wasn't missing. Everyone knew right where it was.  Here she is in Heaven with her arm back. I think.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Seminarian Saints

Dear Sister Mary Martha:
I was just accepted to Seminary for next year, and I was wondering if you could recommend some saints for me. I already know about St. John Vianney, since the seminary I will be attending is named after him. I was hoping for some more obscure saints. 

Thank you very much.

Obscure saints, eh?  How come? Not that that isn't a fine idea. Are you thinking, being obscure, they'll have more time for you?  Works for me!

So, my suggestion for you is Saint Cristobal Magallanes Jara, who is not obscure, obscure, but I'll bet most Americans don't know him from Adam.  He was a parish priest from Mexico.  He was a busy guy. He opened schools, a newspaper, a catechism center and even a power plant.  In his youth he was a shepherd, a farm boy, so he knew from farming life.  He was able to start up farm co-ops with towns people. Move over farmer's market!

Here's where the rubber meets the road, where you are concerned, patron saint-wise.  The anti Church government closed down all the seminaries, so St. Cristobal opened one on his one and gathered up all the displaced seminarians.  It was quickly suppressed.  He quickly opened a new one. Which was suppressed. So he opened another one. Over and over and over again. As fast as they closed him down, he reopened.  When they were all closed he met with the seminarians in private homes.

How's that for devotion to seminarians?

It didn't work out well for St. Cristobal.  He preached against the rebellion and one day he was arrested as an instigator of the guerilla resistance, which wasn't true. He was arrested on his way to say Mass. Falsely imprisoned with no trial, he was sentenced to the firing squad.  He gave away all his possession to his captors and forgave them and gave them absolution.

You can actually find pictures of him being led down the street, standing in front of the firing squad and the final kill shot (as the Navy Seals say) online.  The firing squad actually didn't kill him and he was then shot point blank in the head.

So if it's bravery, devotion, energy and strength that you feel you need, there you go.

And if he isn't enough for you, there were a bunch of these guys.  He was martyred with St. Agustin Caloca.  The rebellion made quite a few martyrs.

And then there's this little fellow. He never got to become a priest because of the mess his country was in.  I'm sure he'd love to help you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Conventfornia Dreamin'

Sister, I love reading your blog! Since you mentioned your little hobby about dreams, I was wondering if you could tell me something about one that I had a couple weekends ago. In this dream, our Holy Father (yes, the Pope) walked up to me. Sitting, I looked up at him with tears pouring down my face and said to him, "Holy Father please help me, I want to be a nun." He automatically responded "You will be" then gently kissed me on the forehead.

Any ideas, or pretty self-explanatory?

Have you been thinking about being a nun?  Or were you just sitting there, minding your own business, having spent your waking life thinking about how happy you are, how fulfilling your role in the world feels and looking forward to tomorrow's drive to work and day spent returning emails when you suddenly found yourself asking the Pope if you could become a nun, out of nowhere?  Because if it's the latter, that is one interesting dream.

We often play all the roles in our dreams, unless the person is highly symbolic of something.  I'd say either applies here.  You are telling yourself you can go be a nun.  Your mind, represented by the highest authority of the Church, is telling you that you can go be a nun.

The question here is, do you actually want to be a nun? Because if this is a new idea for you, you might want to consider what you think about when you think about being a nun, and why your subconscious mind thinks that will bring tears of joy to your eyes.

If that's what you want, what's stopping you?  You don't even need to pack, because you don't need much there at the convent. Here's your hat! What's your hurry!  Off you go!

This doesn't mean you will actually become a nun, just because you want to be a nun.  It's a two way street. The convent has to accept you as a candidate.  You may decide you hate being bossed around and having to be humble and obedient 24/7.

But you won't find out any of that unless you give it a whirl. The grass is growing under your feet.  What do you need to move forward?  Someone to look after the cat?  Pray for the intercession of St. Gertrude, patron saint of cat lovers.  Family members who aren't on the same page?  St. Monica, patron saint of turning hard hearts into saints.  Shoes too fancy?  Grab a pair of nun shoes from Pay-less.

Don't wait until the Pope revisits you in dreamland and gives you a kick instead of a kiss.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Tidy Cats

Hi Sister!

I know how you like Patron Saint matching, so here's one for you:

I'm getting ready to move to a new apartment at the beginning of July. I am not a tidy person by nature, and my current apartment got into a very sorry state that took a very long time to try and set right. I don't want this to happen in my new place! To what patron saint(s) could I pray for intercession to help me stay motivated and better organized in my new home? I'm even thinking about getting a medal or icon to keep somewhere where I'd see it all the time to help me remember to keep at it.

Thanks for your help! :)

Oh dear! You're not one of those poor souls that have a whole television show about them, are you?  Those people who don't ever throw anything away, even old food, until the garbage literally erodes the house and ruins the plumbing and the neighbors call the city and a psychiatrist has to come and talk you out of the tree in the yard because you've had to move into it because you can't move a foot in the mess you've made?

No, you're not.  Those people are mentally ill. Poor things.

You need three saints!  The patron saints of staying tidy: St. Throw Away, St. Give Away and St. Put Away.

St. Throw Away: St. Lawrence.  Learn what is important to hang on to, and toss the rest. St. Lawrence was asked to bring the new local poobah all the treasures of the Church. He gave St. Lawrence three days.  St. Lawrence gave away all the money and gold he could lay his hands on to the poor and returned three days later with all the sick and poor and lepers and losers he could find.  "These are the treasures of the Church, " he quipped.

What is valuable?  Not that much, here on earth.  Certainly not a bunch of stuff.

St. Give Away: St. Theresa the Little Flower.  St. Theresa wanted to be a missionary, but she was too sickly to travel anywhere. (She only lived to age 24.)  So she did everything she could as though she were doing it for Jesus, Himself. She washed the dishes as though He was going to eat off of them. She washed the floor as though He was going to walk on it.  You get the picture.  

Give your work away and it won't be work anymore. It will be a gift.

If that thought doesn't work for you, clearly, you really hate cleaning. You could also offer up your suffering to the Poor Souls in Purgatory. St. Theresa is your girl in Heaven for that, too!  Get yourself some St. Theresa sacrifice beads!  Every time you suffer through cleaning something you move one of these movable beads.

St. Put Away: St. Charles Borromeo. You will have to keep some things and keep them tidy, put things away after you use them, clean up after yourself, etc.  St. Charles Borromeo came to his monastery when things were very messy, very messy indeed. He cleaned house so thoroughly that the brothers who had to rise to the occasion tried to poison him hired a hit man to rub him out.  He missed.

Now that's some discipline.

I have a thought. You could hire a cleaning person to come in once a month. I realize it sounds like a lazy extravagance, but it isn't that at all to the person who comes in once a month and would like to add clients to earn money. It's not a lazy extravagance. It's someone's job. You'll have to clean anyhow, because you will be embarrassed by the horrible mess you've made in a month and you'll find yourself "cleaning for the cleaning lady".  

Meanwhile here's a couple of cleaning tips:

1. Have less stuff. Much easier to clean that way.

2. Clean the bathroom sink area each time you use it, right then.  Wipe everything off and rise it.  Wipe off whatever counter space you have. It will only take 2 minutes that way.

3. If you have a washer and dryer in the house, put your clothes right in there and then wash them when the load is full.  If you don't, make sure all your dirty clothes are in a hamper. You really can't lean over and put that sock in the hamper? Leaving it there is a lazy extravagance.

4. Get out of the house.  Go out and perform some corporal works of mercy. That way you won't be there to make a mess.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Dream a Little Dream

Hi sister Martha, today was  a very hard day for me and I cried a lot and then went to sleep a little because of the headache caused by crying.  I don't remember much, but I saw the Infant of Prague. I never saw a picture of him but then I searched for it in google and there I find that it was him...Can you please help me with this dream!!!As soon as I saw him in my dream I began the 9 hours novena...

I think I can help you with this dream, although it's very uneven ground on which to tread. Dream research is one of my little hobbies.  Have a look:

Dream On

Pot Roast with Peas and Carrots.  (not a recipe)

We can't say for certain that the Infant of Prague was visiting you in a dream, so let's not say that.  Some people are visited in dreams with important messages, like St. Joseph. But since you didn't get any message from the Infant of Prague, it's more likely your own brain is trying to tell you something.

Having read my previous ramblings on the subject, you now know that your dream is dealing with something immediate. In order for us to figure that out, you've left out some very pertinent information. I will not ask you to supply any details, but clearly you have had something enormous on your mind. And your mind brought you an image of the Infant of Prague.

The big question here is that you didn't seem to know anything about the Infant of Prague to start with.  So how in the world did you end up finding his picture?

Recently,  I was looking for a picture of a saint that I had seen. I couldn't remember where I had seen the picture, but it showed the saint with what looked like another person locked into some sort of cage made out of a fish.  I was trying to find out what was going on with the person in the fish cage. I thought perhaps the saint was one of those people who visited people in prison and maybe the fish cage was some artist's rendition of a person imprisoned for being a Christian, as a fish was a not so secret code for followers of Christ.

But I could not remember the saint's name and I searched forever to no avail.  "Saint with fish"    "Saint with cage"  "Saint at prison"  "Saint with person in a fish cage"   Hopeless. 

I finally remembered where I had seen the picture in the first place. Over at the shop, someone had asked for the patron saint of candy makers.  Yes, there really is a patron saint for everything.  St. Macarius was the patron saint of candy makers. He gave up his lucrative candy making business to trudge off to the desert and become a follower of Christ.  It's not a person in a fish cage.  It's a really odd rendition of an angel. He's with a Seraph, no doubt come to comfort Macarius in the desert.

That or it's a Treat or Treater, delighted to have found a the mother lode.

I'm joking.  It's an angel. Maybe a Cherub, according to some.

My point is, without knowing who was in the picture in the first place, I never would have found it.

There are lots and lots of depictions of the Infant Jesus. The Holy Infant of Good Health (pictured here...in red) looks pretty much just like the Infant of Prague.  The Infant of Prague, although he changes his outfits to match whatever the priest is wearing on any given day, is best known in red.  Was he in red?  That would be the big tip off.  If you do any search for the Infant Jesus, the first thing you'll see are dozens of depictions of the Infant of Prague. 

I'll bet you've seen the Infant of Prague in your travels, or something that looks a lot like the Infant of Prague. Of all the depictions of the Baby Jesus, he's the most famous.

So, during a time of crisis, you saw this image that you didn't know anything about. The Infant of Prague in your dream didn't come with a message for you, unless the message was "Who am I?  Do a Google search!"  So this is your brain, bringing you an image of the Baby Jesus.  That means you'll have to ask yourself "what does the image of the Baby Jesus mean to me?"

A good place to start would be to think about why we have a devotion to the Infant Jesus.  It begins as soon as Jesus is born, a celebration of the Good News He brings and an acknowledgement that Jesus is fully human.  We join the shepherds and the men from the East as we ponder the Child Jesus living a a loving home with the protection of his mother and father.  

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Match Made in Heaven

Hello, I have a question about soteriology. I'm an atheist dating a nice Catholic boy. We've been dating for a year and a half, so we're at the point where we're trying to talk about points of conflicts between our religious beliefs to discern whether we can find a way to make this work out in the long term.

The primary impediment is my boyfriend's interpretation of Catholic theology surrounding damnation. He believes that, if we were to one day marry and have children, those children would be pretty much automatically damned because they would have an awareness of Catholic teachings, but having an atheist for a mother would poison their faith. Regardless of whether they attended catechism class, my boyfriend believes any hypothetical children would be lost unless I pretended I was a Catholic and lied about my true beliefs.

Is this what the Catholic church asks of an atheist who ends up with a Catholic? I am uncomfortable engaging in a complex, long-term deception. I also wonder, if my boyfriend's interpretation of theology is correct, why the Catholic Church would ever sanction this kind of marriage under any circumstances.

I wonder if you could point us to any resources/teachings on this topic. It's hard for my boyfriend to get spiritual guidance on campus, since the priests are very liberal (well-nigh universalists) so he's not sure they think anyone is in danger of Hell.

Well, there's a year and a half down the drain.

There's no Catholic rule against a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic or an atheist.  But any priest worth his salt will try to discourage such a union, or at the very least, make the Church's teachings very clear.

Children born to a Catholic parent must be raised as Catholics.  No "we'll go to your church every other Sunday".  And very, very certainly not, "you'll just pretend you believe as I do, Mom, and we'll fool the kids."

Ultimately, it is about the danger of Hell, but before that, it's also about what constitutes a Catholic marriage in the first place, which is this: the union of a man and a woman who are responsible for each other's salvation and the salvation of their children. This is not your boyfriend's "interpretation" of Catholic theology. That IS the teaching of the Catholic Church.

How are you going to handle not using birth control, by the way? The reason Catholics may not use birth control is that they are leaving themselves open to God's will.  You don't believe in God. How's that going to work?

And how are your going to actually GET married? You would be lying during your vows if you do it in Church, as you are pledging your troth before God. Very silly for you.  Surely, your Catholic boyfriend who fears for his and his children's salvation, will wish to be married by a priest performing the Sacrament of Matrimony.

I don't agree with your boyfriend that the children are automatically damned because of their atheist mother. He doesn't give himself much credit.  Their faith will meet many challenges. But the idea that you'll have to lie to the children about your beliefs?  Lying is a sin. He's asking you to sin. That's crazy. And it certainly doesn't have anything to do with helping out with your salvation, which is also his job as a spouse.

Marriage and raising a family is about trust. It can't be sitting on the eroding riverbank of lies.

The Catholic church would sanction the marriage, but only if you agree to raise the children as Catholics.   The Church has sanctioned marriages between Catholics and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, etc.  But the Church does warn against such unions, as the non-Catholic spouse must agree to raise the children as Catholics. I don't know how couples work that out, but they often do.  For some, Episcopals ( or Catholic lite as we like to call it) say, it wouldn't be such a stretch.  A Catholic with another Christian will at least agree on the teachings of Jesus, if not the veneration of Mary. and how much we love statues of saints.  A Catholic with a Jewish spouse....well, Jesus was Jewish after all and we can agree on many of the things that God wants from us.

But a Catholic and an atheist?  Good luck with that.  You realize, of course, that Catholics don't believe in luck.