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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Blessed Sacrament and Blessed Eva

I love it when the questions are super easy to answer, especially in the summer!:

I have a question, and I'm hoping wildly that this isn't disrespectful or wrong. I'm in the process of becoming Catholic and OH, I am wrong so often these days.
As I said, I'm becoming Catholic - finished RCIA and am waiting and praying for my husband's first marriage to be declared null so I can finally come home. During the RCIA process, one of the events that changed my thinking from "Oh, I suppose I can do this Catholic thing to make my husband happy" to "Oh please. Only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Please may I come home?" was a miscarriage. I lost my fifth child at four months gestation, and it all but broke me. I am still so very sad.
The day we found out she'd died, my husband and I went to the Adoration Chapel, a place I'd always felt very uncomfortable in. That day I was just so shocked and sad. I knelt and prayed and wept and shook. And then I looked up and realized that Jesus was there. Not like "I feel Him here," he WAS THERE, because he said he would be. Not because I deserved it or asked Him the right way, because He promised. It totally spun my thinking around on the Real Presence.
I told a friend about that, and she said, "You know what that was? That was your daughter, praying for you, and taking you by the hand into the Truth."
So this leads to my question. We named our daughter Eva. And since losing her has made this whole process of conversion so much more real and personal to me, I want to take Eva as my patron saint. From what I can tell, there was a Saint Eva, from the third century, who was a mother with four children, no less. But really, I mean it in gratitude for the life of my little one and what her loss has taught me about what really matters. Do you think that would be okay?
Thank you for what you do here. I'm a little scared of you, but much more grateful for your insight.

On come on. I'm not that scary. Unless you're under the age of 7.  Then I'm terrifying.  Even if I'm smiling. Perhaps, then even more so.

Welcome to the Church!

Now to your question. You can have anyone you want as a patron saint.  Oh, wait...did you mean you want to take your daughter as your patron saint?  That would be okay, I guess. We know she's in Heaven, which is the definition of a saint.

However, when we look to find a patron saint, we look for someone to help us through our struggles. That's why we first make sure a person had heroic virtue--virtue above and beyond the call of duty--for the cause of a saint. We generally don't call on the non canonized as patron saints.

Your St. Eva from the third century was a martyr, but I'm not sure the children who died with her were her children. She died with a rather large group of people, five of whom were children...four children and a toddler.  But that's okay. Martyrs go straight to Heaven and are automatically saints. (The only time we argue over the sainthood of a martyr is when we're not sure if the person's demise was in fact a maytyr's death.  Such is the case with St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein.  She was both Jewish and then a nun, so there was considerable argument over whether her death at the hands of the Nazis made for a martyr's death, since she might have been murdered because she was Jewish, as opposed to being murdered because she refused to renounce Christ.  She was canonized, so the controversy has been resolved.)

So, that St. Eva from the third century is fine. But....this will tickle you!  There is another Eva, not a saint yet. Blessed Eva.  That means she is worthy of our veneration and has one proven miracle. She's waiting for another before she makes it to 'saint'.  Here's the part that you'll appreciate: she was instrumental in making the Feast of Corpus Christi and feast day!

The Feast of Corpus Christi is the day the whole Church celebrates the fact that the Blessed Sacrament is the True Presence.  Blessed Eva didn't start the ball rolling. Her superior, St. Julianna did that. St. Julianna had a vision of the moon with one dark spot on it, a symbolic depiction of the one missing feast day in the Church calendar.  She had this vision for twenty years but never told anyone about it, except for Blessed Eva.  St. Julianna didn't know what the vision meant for the longest time, and when she finally came to understand its meaning, she still didn't tell anyone about it because she didn't think there was anything she could do about it.  When she finally told her confessor, he took the information to the Bishop and the Bishop made the feast day happen, but just locally.

It wasn't until St.  had died that Blessed Eva took up the gauntlet and worked tirelessly until the Pope made the Feast of Corpus Christi a feast day for the universal Church.

How's that for a kind of perfect patron saint for you?  I hope it tickles you as much as it tickles me!

Monday, June 25, 2012

What a Headache

Dear Sister: I've been struck lately by severe headaches--the kind that are only gotten rid of by going to the emergency room and getting hooked up to IV painkillers. Coincidentally (literally--he went to the hospital in Cleveland at the same time I went to the hospital in DC) a friend of mine across the country is undergoing experimental brain surgery for his own crippling cluster headaches. I thought we could both use the intercession of a saint at this point, and found two names mentioned as patron saints for migraine suffers: St. Teresa of Avilla and St. Gemma Gelgani. Which has raised two questions in my mind: 1. Which one is it? St. Teresa or St. Gemma? And, more existentially, 2. Does it matter? I don't mean does praying for a saint's intercession work, because I know what you'll say about that. I mean, if I pray for the wrong saint's help, won't the saint I pray to still give me the hand up I need? Isn't that kind of part of their job definition? Or is it less effective if I invoke...I dunno...St. Joseph of Arimathea, who doesn't have any particular history with head or headaches than the headache sufferers official patron saint?


P.S. A third, half-facetious, half-serious question: 3. Will praying to the proper saint help us pay for our treatments? Insurance won't pay his $100,000 bill because the surgery is too experimental, and my own insurance has told me it won't pay for prescription refills in a timely manner.

Oh, you poor thing.  What a terrible hardship.

At the risk of giving you a headache, there is a third patron saint for headaches, St. Stephen, the first martyr.  He was killed by having rocks thrown at his head, so I think he's a very good choice.

There are several saints for specific problems in many cases. St. Francis of Assisi, because he preached to birds and squirrels and "Brother Wolf" is the patron saint of animals and animal lovers, but  so is St. Martin de Porres, because he was an amateur veterinarian. St. Rock is the patron saint of dogs and dog lovers and St. Gertrude is the patron saint of cats and cat lovers.  

St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, but so is St. Joseph.

So let's back this truck up a second an take a look at what the deal is with patron saints in the first place.  The idea of having a patron saint for something is that in some way the saint had to deal with the same problems that you have. St. Martha had that unfortunate incident where the disciples descended on her house and her sister wouldn't help her get dinner on the table for them all. That's why shes is the patron saint of cooks and waitresses. Sometimes the patronage is rather a leap.  A really big leap.  Like St. Blaise.  He is the patron saint of sore throats because he once blessed the throat of a young lad who was choking on a fishbone. So that makes perfect sense. But he is also the patron saint of knitters, because he was tortured with wool combers.  He never knitted a thing.  That's a bit of a....an extrapolation.

I can't figure out why St. Teresa of Avila would be the patron saint of headaches. I do not believe that she was a headache sufferer.  Perhaps one of our dear readers would know.  I suspect that she is the patron saint of headaches because she was one.  St. Teresa was put into the convent by her very strict father because she was a rebellious teenager. At that time, the nuns in the convent were often other rich girls who wore their veils as a fashion accessory and brought their jewelry, not for the convent to use to buy food, but to wear.

Teresa didn't take to nunness right away. And even when she did begin to embrace the religious life, she was still a bit of a "how do you solve a problem like Maria" type.  She didn't care much for praying, for one thing. Ironic, since what made her a Doctor of the Church eventually was what she had to say about prayer, among other things.

Even after all of her sighing and eye rolling about prayer, Teresa began having mystical experiences including visions and ecstasies and levitation.  She changed her mind about prayer.  And the convent. She didn't leave, she called for reform and founded the Discalced Carmelites.  She was not popular and faced the prospect of the Spanish Inquisition twice. That would be headache inducing, I suppose.

Meanwhile, St. Gemma spent most of her life really sick in bed. She did have debilitating headaches, but then, she had debilitating everything. She had a really miserable time of it.

Your dilemma is simply to pick the saint to which you feel the most connected, for whatever reason.  So no, it doesn't even matter if the saint has that patronage assigned to them.  Why do we pray for intercession at all?  We are asking the saints to pray for us, just the way we ask each other for prayers. The saints, however are right there in Heaven.  They have got to be just the best at praying. It absolutely astounds me that there are people who think that asking for saintly intercession is some kind of time waster.  I hope they don't go around asking other people to pray for them either, but that kind of logical consistency seems to escape them.

St. Joseph of Arimathea seems like a very good choice to help with the financial end of things! He did after all, swoop in and take care of business when everyone else was too stunned and impoverished to figure out what to do with Jesus' body.  The Infant of Prague is also a good choice.

Oh wait! there's here's another idea for the headache patron! You could go with St. Joseph! He has his own aspirin.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Music to My Ears

I wonder if you would do a post on St Hildegarde, one of the new Doctors of the Church?

I would love to!  Besides that fact that St. Hildegarde is a fascinating person, her new status in the church is also something to talk about.

She wasn't a saint, officially. Four attempts have been made to canonize her, but the process took so long that it was abandoned.  She had made it to "Blessed", which means she lived a life of heroic virtue and a miracle had been attributed to her intercession.

Now she is officially a saint by what is called "equivalent canonization"  , which basically means she is a saint because the Pope says so.  There's a little more to it than that. The Pope doesn't go around calling people saints by osmosis.  That makes her all the more very special and worthy of our attention.  Next October she will become the 35th Doctor of the Church.  There are only 3 women who hold that title (St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese the Little Flower). Now there will be four.

Hildegarde experienced visions at a very early age, so by the age of eight--or maybe fourteen--she was sent off to the cloister with to be "enclosed" with and older nun name Jutta. And there she remained for 24 years until Jutta passed onto to her heavenly reward and Hildegarde was put in charge.  During this time, Hildegarde was a prolific, writer, poetess and singer.  She also was an herbalist and healer.

And the visions never stopped. This isn't a picture of an octopus attacking St. Hildegard. This a rendering of her receiving a vision in all five senses, which is how she described the experience.

Because 69 full compositions remain for us to enjoy, Hildegarde claims one of the largest repertoires of medieval music.  She wrote what is considered to be the first, or at least the first surviving, morality play. A musical, it has many parts and a speaking role for the Devil. She wrote buckets of music of all sorts, and of course many hymns.

She wrote down her visions. She corresponded with Bishops, Abbots and Popes. Nearly 400 letters survive. She wrote two volumes on herbs and medicinal cures.

She also did four preaching tours. Her writings about the Scriptures were so profound, stemming as they did from her visions, that she was the only woman around during that medieval time who was allowed to give speeches at all, let alone speak on the Bible.  She had ardent fans.

And if that isn't enough for you, she has an asteroid named after her. Asteroid 898, is called "Hildegarde".

I  am personally thrilled by her canonization, because it means we finally have a great saint to be the patron saint of musicians. Not that St. Cecelia isn't a great saint. It's just that she really had nothing to do with music at all and St. Hildegarde was a truly great composer, breaking the boundaries of medieval music.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Yes and No

 There was a time when I did lectures and fielded questions. That brief time is in part what spurred me to start this blog, because the questions were always very interesting and heartfelt and sometimes kind of funny and sometimes surprisingly misguided. I thought it all might make for a good read.

One time I got this question from the floor and just the other day here it is again from a reader:Hello Sister. I just have a quick question. I am a Protestant and my Catholic friend told me that according to Catholic Church teachings I can still get into Heaven. I did not think that was the official position of the Church. So what's the verdict? Can Protestants get into Heaven? What about non-denominational Christians? Mormons? I tried consulting the Catechism on this subject but it confused me a bit.

When I got this question from the live group there was a priest sitting in the front row.  I told the lady who asked  the question, "The Church believes that only Catholics can get to Heaven."

The priest nodded his approval.

"But the Church doesn't believe that only Catholics can get to Heaven."

The priest nodded again.

"So only Catholics can get to Heaven, but non Catholics can get to Heaven, too.  Right, Father?" I said.

He nodded again. Smiling.

And you say the Catechism confused you? I understand. You have to read between the lines.
 First of all we have this:

"Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ."

That would indicate that non Catholics will see the welcome mat at the Pearly Gates. But the Catechism goes on to state:

"By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment - and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven - have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature. "

So, now we're also talking Baptism. Okay. The other Christian denominations have Baptism, too. So we've closed the gate on the Wiccans and Buddhists, but there's still a turn style for Baptists and Presbyterians. 

But then the Catechism goes on to say:

"This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven."

The Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed--that would be saints--that's Catholic.  And maybe Episcopal, a little bit. 

I think if we had a priest sitting in front of us, he would nod if I explained it this way:

We know that you can only get to Heaven if you are a follower of Christ, because Jesus said that you could only get to Heaven through Him. So that much is a given.  And we, as Catholics, believe that the most perfect way to be a follower of Christ is to be a Catholic. The Catholic Church is 100% on board with that line of thinking. The Catholic Church is the church that Jesus Himself founded while he was alive on earth.  He didn't found the Mormon Church, He didn't found the Episcopal Church and he didn't found the Jehovah's Witnesses.

That's why the Catholic Church basically believes that you have to be Catholic to get to Heaven.


The priest is already nodding...

It's up to God who gets in.  If God feels that you are in His friendship and grace, you're in.

But since we know for a fact that Jesus founded a whole church so you could achieve that, why would you take the chance that God wouldn't think, "Say, listen here, I went through a lot of trouble to send my Son there and He went through an awful ordeal to set up this channel between Me and you.  Don't watch this movie on your cell phone when you have a big flat screen TV."

So the answer is Yes.  and No.  but Yes. But not really. But Yes. But ....

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Simply Put

This is the toughest question I have ever had.

Dear Sister,
 I am looking for a saint that can help me with rest, relaxation, and the pursuit of pleasure. I am a workaholic and type A personality. I'm also co-dependent. All of this adds up to me coming in last in my life. I absolutely have to change this and I need some help. I thought if I had a patron saint of pleasure and/or relaxation, I could ask him/her for help everyday until I develop some healthy life balance. Thank you!!

Before I address my own problem in answering this question, let me assure you that what I'm about to say is not an admonishment to the dear reader who posited this in clear need of "healthy life balance". You can't help anyone if you are completely burned out and have no time to recharge your batteries. If you have children, it's not even safe.

The problem for me is finding you a patron saint. Because basically, I can't think of any saints who put themselves first in any way, rested, relaxed or in some cases, even slept much.

St. Catherine of Sienna only slept for about 2 hours a night. She fasted continually, sometimes surviving on only the Host. She didn't live long at all.

The Apostles walked as far as their feet could carry them, non stop, until they were stopped by martyrdom.

St. Sebastian spent all his time preaching to soldiers to lay down their arms, stop warring, turn the other cheek and all the other things we like to pretend Jesus didn't say because we're too weak to find another way to solve our differences. They got sick of Sebastian and shot him full of arrows. He survived.  Then he went back to tell them a few more things and they clubbed him to death.

Penniless St. John of God found a house, begged for money to rent it, begged for sheets and mattresses and supplies and medicine AND took care of the sick people who came there.  If they couldn't come or didn't come, he went and got them and carried to the his hospital. When it caught on fire he carried everyone out and then went back for the precious mattresses and bedpans.

I don't recall Mother Teresa having any spa time. And Jesus Himself washed the feet of His disciples.

Even the saints who actually didn't help anyone but themselves, the desert hermits who eshewed living in society because they found they couldn't stay holy and pure living among other people and the temptations there, spent all their time praying and fasting, devoting their every thought to God.

I just can't think of a single saint who knew how to relax. That's pretty much what made them saints. Work for God on a heroic level.

I do think you need to relax and recharge.  I just can't think of a saint who was into that. If anything, reading the lives of the saints will make you feel like you should be doing more. A lot more.

So let's take a step back and think about what you're doing.  You're a doormat.  What are you helping people do?  Are you helping them find money for their chemo treatments? Or are you doing their homework for them?  If you're doing the later, you're actually not helping at all.  Are you feeding the hungry? or are you making the kids afterschool snacks?  They can get their own snacks.  They can get you a snack. That would be more helpful to them because they should learn to do for themselves and others.

Are you helping the least and the last? or are you helping people who could do whatever it is you're doing for themselves.  Because if they could do those things for themselves, they could also be training themselves to help the least and the last. Are you following this?

Put simply, don't help people be lazy.

Is your workaholicness stemming from ego?  Is it that no one can do it as well as you, so you just do it yourself because you want it done a certain way?  Get over yourself. You might actually be robbing someone else of a simple pleasure, like making a nice sandwich or washing the car with the kids.

You're probably doing a lot of things that don't even need doing.

A saint for you? Let's try St. Francis de Sales, who had a lot to say about something that you desperately need: simplicity.

When a simple soul is to act, it considers only what it is suitable to do or say, and then immediately begins the action, without losing time in thinking what others will do or say about it. And after doing what seemed right, it dismisses the subject; or if, perhaps, any thought of what others may say or do should arise, it instantly cuts short such reflections, for it has no other aim than to please God, and not creatures, except as the love of God requires it. Therefor, it cannot bear to be turned aside from its purpose of keeping close to God, and winning more and more of his love for itself. -----St. F. de Sales.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rakes and Brooms

Wheeeee!  It's been a whirlwind week doing absolutely nothing new and everything exactly the way we always do!  How does every moment get taken up so thoroughly? Ordinary time is never ordinary.  We have added gardening back into the schedule.  Getting the dirt out from under our nails has certainly taken up some extra time.

Now to clean up the mess I've left with the last few posts.

One reader points out that I said mortal sin "kills the soul" and that the soul cannot be killed. The soul never dies.  She is 100% correct. I was being dramatic it seems.  Mortal sin kills one's relationship with God, shuts down the channel of grace.  The soul lives on, which is exactly why you don't want to find yourself in a state of mortal sin, because your soul will indeed  live on throughout eternity...in Hell.  No one wants that. Oddly, people do choose it.

Another reader thinks one can't die from the D.T.'s. Au contrare.  One certainly can.  Just another reason to not head down that road in the first place.

Dear Sr. MM....where to begin...... I worked on a drug that was genetically engineered to cure breast cancer. I also worked on a pediatric drug that was genetically engineered to immunize millions of children in developing countries. Now I am finding out I have committed 2 mortal sins.......so should I die tonight, according to the Church, I am straight off to hell!? Perhaps I am being slightly facetious, but not really.......Personally I think St Francis' example is all I need, but now all these new sins worry me somewhat......especially since I am not about to leave my field.......
No you haven't committed any mortal sins at all.  Thanks for your hard work! We all appreciate it. We're not Christian Scientists.  The Church is talking about genetic engineering of people: choosing the sex of a baby (if and when that becomes possible), say, or in vitro fertilization.
I do worry about thinking that the example of St. Francis is all you need. Although that is a lovely thought, if you really want to go there, you have to trade your clothes with a homeless person and not work at a job at all, just beg for what you need.  And, no shoes.... 
 Why is it impossible to pray for anyone or anything besides oneself when in a state of mortal sin?

Mother Teresa was on board with this line of thought.  You have turned your back on God.  It's as though, by committing a mortal sin, you've said to God, "Ha! I need to go ahead and do this and I really don't care what You think.  I think You're crazy to think what I'm doing here is even wrong! Okay, maybe it is wrong, but I just really want to do it and you can take a hike."

You've wished yourself into the cornfield.  Anything you do besides try to get yourself back in God's grace is futile. 

I hope this clears out some of our weeds!

Monday, June 04, 2012


I believe I started our recent discussion by talking about Ordinary Time.  At least I think I did, since I can't actually remember what happened that far back.  I hope I never witness a crime, besides the fact that there would have been a crime committed and no one wants that, I would never remember what time I saw the robber leave the bank, or what day that was or what color his ski mask was.

But I digress.

We have to talk about one more thing in regard to the issue of what is and is not a mortal sin which is how actually ordinary things can fall under that category.  I believe the discussion also began because the question was about mortal sin being almost impossible to commit.

So not true, as they say.

Here's where the difficulty lies: some things that are mortal sins aren't sins at all. So there are the easy ones that are mortal sins, the end period. Pornography, murder, missing Mass on Sunday, premarital sex, dealing illegal drugs.  Easy to avoid, one would hope.  Or if not easy, like missing Mass, as least cut and dried.

But there are some things that aren't sins until they are.  It's not a sin to drink or gamble.  It's not a sin to shop or watch television.  But all those things could be mortal sins when done in excess. Excessive shopping is as destructive as gambling when gambling becomes an addiction.  If all you do is watch television, you've crossed into sloth, a deadly sin.

I mentioned that one of my favorite things about the Catholic Church is the road map that is provided by being a one of the faithful.  This includes a "Not To Do" list.  Following the map will help you stay on the road, but it will always be you and only you walking the path.

So I can tell you a million times that it's good for to give things up, offer things up, discipline yourself against bad habits and reserve your harshest judgment for yourself, but if you decide certain things are okay for you to do because you can 'handle it', you may be in for a rude awakening.

I'll offer you this thought: whatever it is, if it's potentially sinful and you do it everyday, you may be on the wrong road.  When does one beer everyday or a glass of wine become two, when does two become three?  Are you sober after one?  Are you sober after two?  Why don't you want to be sober?

When I was first thinking this all over, I was thinking about the Baptists.  As a child, I always thought it was kind of funny that the Baptists didn't allow drinking, card playing or dancing. Dancing? Really?  Canasta? Come on.

Now I can make a strong case for all three.  Not all dancing, certainly. But you see the problem we can have with dancing.

And before you laugh and say, "Yes! Nowadays! That dancing is sinful to watch, let alone, well, dance!", consider that when the waltz was invented it was scandalous because the man held the woman in his arms while they danced.  That could lead to lust.  Even today.  Maybe those Baptists are onto something.

So before we move on to a couple of questions that have arisen from these thoughts, let me leave you with this important information.  The reason some sins are called mortal sins is because they kill your soul.  Small sins turn your attention from God to other things.  Big sins cut you off from God altogether.  But it isn't God turning away from you. It's you turning away from God.  A mortal sin is when you turn away from God on purpose.

"Never!" you say.  Really.  Ask St. Peter about that.