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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Oldest portrait of St. Francis, painted during his lifetime.

Are the stories about St. Francis bunkum, or was he just misled? I wonder why he would bother to preach to the animals if they are soulless.

I am delighted to add the work "bunkum" to my vocabulary.  There are quite a number of saintly stories to which it can be applied. St. Guinefort, who turned out to be a dog, springs to mind.

Let's get a few things straight about animals. You can tell that none of us (with the possible exception of vegans and I believe even vegans would put the dog down when the time came) believe that animals have immortal souls.

Let's take an mammal that does have an immortal soul and treat it like animal. Your Aunt Louise. We will keep Aunt Louise in a cage. We will take her eggs and have them for breakfast.  We will raise the children of Aunt Louise and then slaughter them and eat them, happily roasting their flesh on the grill during summer parties.  We will make coats and shoes from their skins.  We will make shawls with their hair. If we can't afford to fix Aunt Louise's health problem, we'll take her behind the barn and shoot her. Or maybe, if she's too old to walk, we'll have a doctor give her an injection.  If she's small enough, we might just flush her carcass down the toilet.

We do all of these things and many more to animals, precisely because we do not believe they have immortal souls.

On top of that, animals can't pray or do penance.  They can't sin, but their 'goodness' is not a choice. It's instinctive behavior and/or training.

That said, St. Francis did actually preach to animals. It's not bunkum.  Did he preach to animals in order than they better themselves and get to Heaven? No.  The stories of St. Francis in regard to animals (bees crawling to him to be fed, conversations with wolves) are...bunkum-ish. They are  just legends.

And before I have to listen to everyone screech, "But Sister! He called them Brother Bird and such and told them to praise God!", please keep in mind that he also said the same thing to "Brother Sun".  Is the sun going to Heaven?

St. Francis may have called the hen "Sister Chicken", but he also had her for dinner.

Let's step back a moment and examine St. Francis' love of animals and nature in its proper context.
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men." St. Francis of Assisi.
This about sums it up. There was actually a wolf who had eaten some sheep. St. Francis asked that the people to understand that the wolf was God's creature and that it ate the sheep because it was hungry.  It's the kind of compassion and understanding that God asks of us.

St. Francis was not a particularly educated person. He had a simple childlike nature and he believed that since we are all from God, we are all kin. But he included in this all manner of animate and inanimate objects. His love of creatures rose from a deep and abiding sense of God in all of His Creation.

Over on catholic culture .org they display the blessing of the animals. One line is: And animals share in Christ's redemption of all creation. Might animals then, be included in the new earth? If they just die and are gone, what is being redeemed? Or what is meant by redeemed here?
You've taken that line a bit out of context. The whole blessing mentions that God often uses animals to get His message across. (Think Jonah in the whale.)  What is being redeemed here? You are. We hope.
Here is what we say when we bless the animal:
 "N.(name of animal, i.e. "Smokey", not cat/dog) may you be blessed in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. May you and N. (the name of the guardian) enjoy life together and find joy with the God who created you."
Yes, we bless animals. We also bless rosaries and cars.  We hope that through your animal, just as Francis thought, we would come to see God through His creation and feel God's love for us by all He has given us.

We bless animals. We don't baptize them. That should tell you something.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

You Can't Make This Up

Here are two responses from prior posts that have a lot in common.

On animals in Heaven:
I personally don't believe that animals don't have immortal souls. I know that's problematic because I'm an omnivore, and if one does, don't they all? I'm not saying I've got the logic completely down. I'm just saying that my dog shows me God's love for me because he loves me no matter how crappy I am. There's something eternal to that, and I like to think it's God manifesting in some way to remind me how dear I am to Him. If I'm wrong, and I make it to the right side of the gates, I'm betting that'll no longer be a concern. And given the amount of other things I could be wrong about, I think it's a forgivable one.

And this one, a response to all the hand holding and arm raising and wording and what gets sung and what doesn't  at Mass:

@NC SUE, you said "If we're striving for unity, should we allow such petty things to separate us for the others in the congregation?" My answer is YES, YES, YES!!! In the military groups of soldiers are formed into UNITS. UNITS wear the same uniforms with the same patches and everyone ahderes to the same rules of conduct and follows the same orders hence the name UNIT. Holding hands during the Our Father and clapping during Mass are not found anywhere in the GIRM. Neither one is part of the Mass and therefore both are abuses of the Mass, it's just that simple. It's no different than if 2 soldiers in a unit decided to start holding hands in formation of if I decided to start responding with ALLELUJA when receiving communion instead of saying AMEN. UNITY means ONE, if all are ONE that means ALL are are following the same guidelines. If parishes all over the world introduce their own unique innovations and twists on the mass pretty soon there is no unity. 

Believe it or not, these two responses have a lot in common.  What do we believe? 

I personally don't believe that animals don't have immortal souls. I know that's problematic because I'm an omnivore, and if one does, don't they all? I'm not saying I've got the logic completely down. 

Yes, there is a name for that: Cognitive Dissonance.  That means you have two thoughts in your head, you believe them both, and they contradict each other utterly.  YOU CAN'T EAT SOMETHING THAT HAS AN IMMORTAL SOUL.  You can't cut off it's skin and make shoes and purses, lock one  in  a cage and steal its unborn baby, or make pate out of its liver.  If your dog has an immortal soul, so does a chicken and eating its eggs would be a mortal sin.

What you personally believe is not relevant. And your thinking is nonsensical. Another good reason to pay attention to what the Church says is true.

And here is where the two questions meet: what you personally believe is not relevant to this discussion. What the church teaches is. The church teaches that animals do not have immortal souls. That's why you're wearing some of them on your feet. When we start wearing each other on our feet, we'll talk.

So responder two is 100% correct. It's why we have a ritual called a Mass. We are indeed a unit. In fact, we are called The Church Militant. We are soldiers for good.

Which is also why we can't lose sight of the Big Picture. It isn't good to get our knickers in such a big twist over what someone else is doing, as long as that something isn't murder or unkindness.

While I fully agree with our second reader, I caution against the anger and judgment that seems to arise out of these discussions. Suddenly we have sinning at Mass, not because someone held hands when they shouldn't have, but because someone is grinding their teeth about it.

You know, nuns have two favorite mottos.  "Offer it up!" and "Mind Your Own Garden".  Both would be useful at Mass.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Half Nelson

My last post on Blessed Soon to Be Saint Kateri prompted several people to also pipe up with their hopes for the future canonization of another local hero, Father Nelson Baker. I have heard that name floating around in the saintly ether, but I must admit I didn't know beans about him.  There are a zillion saints and would-be saints. I can't keep up with them all.

Now is as good a time as any to bring us up to speed on Father Baker, who is on the bottom rung of the sainthood ladder, having been pronounced "Servant of God" by that wonderful Servant of God, Pope John Paul II.  That means Father Baker's cause for sainthood is on the move.

Nelson's dad was a Lutheran and his mom was a devout Catholic. It always helps a person to have a devout Catholic in the family, doesn't it?  Nelson worked in his dad's grocery store. His dad was a tremendously good businessman and taught Nelson how to be one as well. Nelson opened a dry goods store with a partner.

He was terrific at it. 

But something was missing. He took a little trip and came back to announce that he was going to become a priest. 

He was terrific at that, too.

Not only was he a wonderful compassionate man who took care of tiny babies, orphans, old people and care givers with his own personal attention and care, he managed to do all of that because he was a terrific fundraiser. Better even that Mother Frances Cabrini, which is really saying something. Good old Frances could squeeze coconut juice out of a rock.

He was a terrific fundraiser because of his experience as a successful business man.

Here he had a simple model for making sure his orphanage was funded. He went to the Post Office and asked them for a list of all the Catholic women for miles around. He sent them all a letter and asked them to join the "Our Lady of Victory" association.  (Our Lady of Victory is one of the 1000 names for Mary, based on a 16th war against the Muslims in Europe.  Praying the Rosary won that war and the Pope gave Mary yet another name. Our Lady of Victory is also the name of the Parish in which Father Nelson landed.) He asked everyone to join for one year at a time by paying dues and told them how the money would be used.  The cost $.25. 

This was at the turn of the century. I wonder how much $.25 bought back then. A lot.  At least 50 pieces of candy when I was a girl in the 50's. 

I suppose he had some Bingo going, too.  Doesn't everyone?

But my favorite thing about Father Nelson....he was a Civil War vet.  He didn't become a priest until after he served in the Union Army, worked in his dad's store and ran his own successful business.

Father Baker is going to need two miracles for move all the way to canonization. One to be beatified and one to be canonized.  That's your job.  If you need a miracle, ask for his intercession. And if you receive a miracle, let the Father Baker advocates know!

Miracles rules:
1. Spontaneous.
2. Unexplained.

Winning the lottery, as miraculous as it may seem, would not be a miracle. There is an explanation: you bought a ticket and you won.

I explain it with this true story. There was a man here in Santa Monica, CA who was sitting around his house one afternoon when he had the inexplicable urge to walk his dog. It was not time to walk the dog. He simply felt compelled to do so. Out he went.

While he was gone, his house exploded due to a gas leak. 

Miracle? No.  If, however, he had left his house walking the dog and he was blind when he left the house and came back and seen that the house was blown to splinters, that would be a miracle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Drums Along the Mohawk

Before this week swallows me whole, I just want to ask: Why didn't someone tell me? What rock have I been under? I feel like someone who has just returned from a gala party only to look into the mirror and see spinach stuck in my teeth from the appetizers I chomped the moment I arrived. "Why didn't someone tell me I had spinach on my teeth all night?  I was talking to the Monsignor!"

Yes, that happened once.

Now I know to always bring a sidekick for spinach checks.

So I just read, what is apparently old news, that Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is being canonized this fall! Why didn't someone bring this to my attention? This is thrilling news.

Poor little Kateri has been languishing around with her one miracle for decades, or so I thought, patiently awaiting her second on her road to the golden wall of names behind the pearly gates.

Unbeknownst to me (like a lot of things, some of them green) Kateri actually does not have a first miracle. I'm sure this must not be the first time this has occurred during the canonization process for saints, but it is the first time I've heard of it. Pope John Paul II, who canonized more people than any Pope in history, waved off her first miracle like a plane that was about to miss the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Perhaps that wasn't a good analogy.

In any case, she didn't have any miracles going on when she made up way up the canonizing ladder to "Blessed".

Now she has a doozy of a miracle. I think it's worth two miracles.

In 2006, a 6 year old boy cut his lip during a basketball game. Overnight, his lip swelled and before you could figure out how to pronounce "Tekakwitha",  he developed a flesh eating bacterium.

What is scarier than a flesh eating bacteria? Not much. Zombies, maybe, but they don't exist.

 The horrible bacterium destroyed his lips, cheeks and forehead and the doctors said the little boy was not going to live.  The parish priest asked the congregation to pray for the intercession of Kateri. He chose her because of her facial scars  and because she was a Native American. The little boy is half Lummi Indian.

I say, "is" half Lummi because as the prayers poured in from around the world, a representative from the Society of the Blessed Kateri placed a Kateri medal on the boy's pillow. The infection stopped the next day and the little boy recovered.

Instantaneous and, a definitive miracle.

I think it's worth two miracles, not only was the boy cured, it throws open the doors of Heaven for all of us when we think of the patron saint of Native Americans. Fabulous!

I also think that St. Kateri will be a good patron saint for the near sighted. Kateri survived small pox which left her scarred and sight impaired. "Tekakwitha" means "she who bumps into things".

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Some Comments and a LIttle Can of Worms

Of course, I can do a whole post on comments about people misbehaving in various ways at Mass. Maybe tomorrow. Or never.

No, I'll post a few. The varying points of view make my head spin.  Which is probably a good thing, because I have a head cold.  My head is spinning anyhow. Maybe the centrifugal force will clear my sinuses.

Meanwhile,  here are a couple of recent thoughts from our guests.

O.P.T.C.J. Oh Sister, how glad I am to have found your site. May I please ask one favor? Would you consider adding the "gadget" to allow subscription via email?

I did that for you! It's in the sidebar there someplace. Just scroll down until you see it.

You may remember a few posts back a reader looking for the patron saints of headaches. She wrote and interesting follow up to let us know what's happened since.

Thanks for the tips, everybody. I go to the neurologist on Monday, and we'll see what s/he says. Meanwhile, my friend Ray's experimental brain surgery for cluster headaches...failed. He posted this the other day: "Time to face the reality that the physical world is never going to go my way anymore, and I have been reading much about how some of the great saints handled extreme pain and debilitating illnesses. I intend to stay around this beautiful little Earth as long as I can, but the spiritual realm will now be my focus. I cannot help myself physically, but if I can help others through my journeys into faith, pain and love, I will endeavor to be the best debilitated person for God and for others that I can be." It made me cry.

Way to go, Ray!  Time to switch patron saints for Ray. St. Bernadette steps up to the plate.  You may recall that when Our Lady showed Bernadette the healing spring, Our Lady expressly told Bernadette that the spring was  not for her.  That must have been a blow. Bernadette lived a life of pain, too.  She is the patron saint for chronic illness.

Chronic sounds better than 'acute', doesn't it? It isn't. Acute refers to a temporary problem. Chronic refers to one that isn't going anywhere.

So....one last new one. A question that I've already answered but that will no doubt cause a big uproar again:

When my mother spoke to our priest about the guilt she felt for putting our family dog down, he told her it was not a sin because dogs have no souls. Do Catholics believe this? Will there be no dogs in heaven?

Yes! Thank you, Father!  The difference between animals and people is that animals do not have immortal souls. If they did, you wouldn't be able to have them for dinner or put them out of their misery.

The question of whether or not there will be dogs in Heaven remains a mystery. Some very learned people think that, because we love our animals so much, we will be able to see them again behind the Pearly Gates where they are permanently safe from the vehicles that put them there.

I personally think this is nonsense.  Because your dog DOES NOT have an immortal soul, if your dog is in heaven, it's just some kind of hologram dog, because your dog's soul did not live on as yours will.  If you think about it, it is drastically unfair that your dog gets to go to heaven because he had a bowl with a name on it. If he gets to go, then every slimy creature and insect and badger and skunk that every lived...EVER...should also get to go. And the idea that that would happen seems extremely silly to this old nun. And I actually love dogs.

Living with God for eternity isn't enough for you? You have to have Mr. Poofy and his little dog bed for eternal happiness? Please.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

That's Gratitude for Ya

We've had quite a lot of comments piling up on previous posts. Tomorrow I'll put some of them up so we can wake up the sleeping dogs and stir up controversy.
Be It Ever So Humble

Meanwhile a reader is not doing so hot:
I'm currently waiting to sign a lease for an apartment. I've been praying more than usual because things are pretty tough right now. I've been waiting since February, it is now July. Not only has my patience been tested so has my faith. As a Catholic and having been born raised and even blessed with going to Catholic schools, I'm wondering if there is a patron saint to restore faith? I feel as though I've hit rock bottom and I'm trying to keep it together for my son. Thank you in advance. 

Yes, of course there is! But before we get to that, can we pause for a moment and think about all the wonderful things you said?

You have a son.  You live somewhere that is not a box in an alley or a car or a shelter. Someone sacrificed to send to Catholic school, we we know there are at least a handful of people who love you.  In fact, everyone in the Catholic Church loves you.

We're not the "Church Suffering" (that's the Poor Souls in Purgatory).  We're the Church Militant. It's our job to live up to the commands Jesus gave us.

Here's one: "Consider the lilies, they neither toil nor spin.

I'm not so sure you need a patron saint for lost faith as a saint to help you find your gratitude.  I suggest St. Therese the Little Flower.  She is a Doctor of the Church, so she can do double duty on finding your faith, as well.

St. Therese desperately wanted to be a missionary but she was too sickly for that. She never went anywhere but the cloister.  She decided to do everything as though she was doing it for Jesus, Himself.  She washed the floors as though He would be walking on them, for example.

I've always thought of her as a bit like Pollyanna. You remember her? She was always playing "the Glad game."  Let's face it, it was a little irritating. Pollyanna's dad was a missionary.  She so wanted a doll, but instead of a doll, someone sent crutches. Pollyanna was glad she didn't have to use them.

Yeah, right.

No, really, she was. That's why everyone loved her.  Everything worked out fine for her. We think. She fell out of a tree and was paralyzed.  But she had a rich aunt to take care of her and send her to the best doctors. I think. I'm a little fuzzy on the ending. It someone has a happy ending even though she falls out of a tree. For one thing, her crabby aunt feels terrible about pushing her away and finally realizes how much she loves the child.  That's something to be glad about.

I suggest you play this game: every day, think of five things for which you are grateful.  No repeats. I didn't make this game up and neither did Pollyanna. Oprah made it up.  Good for her.

We're grateful.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Patron Saint of the Fourth of July

Since it's the Fourth of July, I thought I'd let you know, we have a patron saint for that. Yes, there is a patron saint for fireworks, St. Barbara. 

I always think of Rapunzel when I think of St. Barbara, but apparently a lot of people think of a lot of things when they think of her, including fireworks.

Her story right quick: A holy girl with a crazy father who was trying to keep the boys away from her. He kept her locked in a tower during his absence. There were two windows in the tower and since Barbara was actually a holy girl who really just prayed in there, she had a third window cut into the tower as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. When her father came home he was instantly convinced that she had the third window installed to let the boys in. I don't know why the other two windows weren't enough for the boys. Maybe the new one was considerably lower.
Rhoda gets hers.

In any case, he dragged Barbara out of the tower and killed her.

Where do the fireworks come in? The second he killed her, he was struck down by lightening. Like that little girl at the end of "The Bad Seed".

So, while I'm thinking about Rapunzel, other people are thinking about barbiturates (named after her because they were invented on her feast day), fires, firemen, storms and sailors (because her tower reminds people of a light house).  Because of the lightening and fireworks, she became associated with artillery men and bombers and explosives and people who work with explosives and because of the sailors, the Navy. And because of her sudden death, she is the patron of receiving Last Rites and sudden death and explosions and storms at sea that can spring up out of nowhere and kill everyone on board ship.  Which is why the city of Santa Barbara is named for her, because of a Spanish sea captain who nearly sunk off the shore of California in a sudden storm, but was saved by invoking her intercession.

While you're enjoying the nighttime displays, sparklers, bottle rockets and burning snakes, give a quick salute to St. Barbara while you still have all your fingers.

Monday, July 02, 2012

A Holiday Gift for You!

So last year there were no fireworks. Due to the sad economy, whoever pays for the fireworks over the harbor decided not to spring for it. We thought it was a poor decision, as the previous year drew the biggest crowd we have ever seen.  We love walking down to the pier and watching the fireworks. Someone had the bright idea of syncing the whole thing up with music via the radio, so the cars parked there crank up the sound and we have a patriotic extravaganza.  We sing along. Kate Smith smiles down from Heaven. If she's there. We hope she's there.

If she's in Purgatory, then we could have offered up our sufferings of missing out on the only fireworks around for Kate Smith.

How many of you even know who Kate Smith is any more?  She famously belted out "God Bless America".  When I think of that song, I think of Kate Smith. She looked like a refrigerator dolled up in a dress.

I digress.

This year the fireworks are back! We are thrilled. I can't tell you how much fun it is to see so many people walking in the same direction, lined up along the bike path, standing along the waterfront, camped out on blankets in Chase Park.  If you walk far enough you can see the boat out in the water where the fireworks are coming from.

And the weather has been clear. Some years we have a cloud cover and the fireworks shoot up into the clouds.  You can't see them AT ALL.  It just looks like colorful lighting.  It's a sad thing.  Very sad for whoever paid for them.

So we're tickled pink about this year's festivities.

Here's something else I'm tickled pink about: you can listen to St. Hildegarde!  You can download her tunes! Can you believe it? Is technology more wonderful than not? You can purchase the whole album or you can download one tune at a time. And you can have a listen first.

Fireworks for me. St. Hildgarde for you.  Happy holiday.

Hmmmm......rather make everyone say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holiday" we need to come up with another name for days when we celebrate and take a break that are not religious.  I never understand when people are mad about saying Happy Holidays during the Christmas season, as the word "holiday" actually means "Holy Day".  It's like "Good Bye", which is just old English for "God Be with You".

The Fourth of July is not a holiday, other than that we try to make each day holy.

Happy Fourth.  And Good bye!