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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Scandal about Scandal

We've heard back from our previous poster, ripe for further discussion. Unfortunately, the message cut off before it was finished, so I hope we hear from her even further. Here's what we have so far:
Hi sister, I am the one that wrote the question. I suppose I didn't go into details as I was afraid of being a tattle-tale. And much of what you said is eerily on my mind as we transition through this time. I also want to stress that perhaps conservative was not the right word. Just a way of saying a priest who upholds and defends the faith, even if it goes against popular thought. I meant conservative in the sense of being willing to uphold the faith, even in times of trial. Willing to say those unpopular things, because that is what people need to hear, but love all sinners anyway. The priest I mentioned, other than running off a beloved associate pastor and offending some other congregation members with gossip, addressed the sex scandal facing the church that one Sunday. He stood on the pulpit and said he could not teach us the Catholic faith, specifically saying, "I cannot teach the Eucharist." He then proceeded to apologize. "We are sorry for abusing you."
There was more to the message, but it got cut off somehow.

Yes, conservative doesn't seem like the right word to me, either. Upholding the faith is not very conservative, as our faith is not very conservative. I'm not sure why we would call someone who upholds the faith conservative. I worry what the word you might have for those who don't defend the faith might be.
That said, I think what the priest said from the pulpit merits some thinking.  What he said, at least the way you've related it, doesn't make sense to me. I can't think what he was trying to say.
I have a guess though.  Perhaps what he was attempting to say, in what seems to be a very clumsy way, was that he, as part of the clergy, felt culpable for the actions of his brothers, and was apologizing on their behalf.
The sex scandal in the Catholic Church is a massively complex issue for the members of the clergy and I believe it is precisely why it went on the way it did. Part of the awful truth is that the Church thought it was doing the right thing by being forgiving to those fellows and just moving them somewhere. That simple fact is so mind boggling under the circumstances that it causes people's heads to explode. So trying to address it is equally and always explosive, pretty much no matter what you try to say about it.

So why did he bring up the Eucharist? Because the worst part of all of it is a priest and his own state of grace as a minister of the sacrament. We can't go to Communion in a state of sin.  Can the priest administer the Body of Christ in a state of sin?
"The celebration of the Eucharist, however, cannot be the starting point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church's hierarchical order." -- Pope John Paul II

So we're all in this together. And perhaps your priest was trying his best to come to grips with a mind boggling list of heinous sins and talk about his own struggle to understand any of it, let alone his place in it. And he was doing so in within the theology as he understands it.

I don't know. I wasn't there.

But we must be very careful in our criticisms of the clergy because they have to face things and understand things that we never have to face or understand, always maintaining a state of grace, which is simply not possible.

St. Francis of Assisi was once told about a wayward priest. This priest was spreading heresy.  What was St. Francis' response? He ran over to where the priest lived and threw himself at the man's feet.

"I don't know whether these hands are stained as the other man says they are. [But] I do know that even if they are, that in no way lessens the power and effectiveness of the sacraments of God... That is why I kiss these hands out of respect for what they perform and out of respect for Him who gave His authority to them." 

Our job as the "not clergy" is to follow the example of St. Francis by spreading the faith, not by pointing out the sins of the bishops and priests, but to live the faith so joyfully that is becomes irresistible.

Monday, August 27, 2012

When in Rome

I can't believe I am about to be on top of a feast day two feast days in a row! And school starts next week. Sometimes we are more efficient when we are busy.  That or the angels and saints are prodding me to get their messages out.

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, St. Monica. This is my favorite rendering of St. Monica, as I imagine that someone who lived a life of worry might have looked like this by the end of it. But St. Monica actually wasn't a sad person. She was patient and steadfast. And unstoppable.
Her parents married their Christian daughter off to a pagan with a hot temper. He wasn't the worst fellow but he did yell at her and tease her about her Christian fasting and charity work. Her mother in law was nasty to her and lived with them.

But Monica soldiered on and they both converted. Her husband was baptized a week before his death. Monica's super famous son, Augustine was 17 when his father died. Augustine was a wild child, even by today's standards and Monica followed him everywhere, much to his chagrine. He finally snuck out of town to Rome. She followed him there, not an easy thing to do back in those days, all on her own. When she finally arrived in Rome, she found he had gone to Milan. So off she went. We all know how Augustine turned out. He is once of the greatest saints and scholars the Church has ever know.

Thanks mom!  Her story is pertinent to today's question from a reader:
 A year ago we got a new priest at our parish. Over the year he has done numerous things to cause resentment in some of our congregation. I won't go into details, but I walked out of mass crying after his last "homily" wondering what he was doing being a Catholic priest. I wrote our Archbishop about some of the things he said and hoped that it would bring to light the need our area has for a conservative priest. I have never done anything like that before. I mean, we don't need a Latin priest, we at least need a priest who isn't so wishy washy on Catholic teaching. One that will uphold the faith, not denounce it from the pulpit. The churches in our area are fairly liberal as well. Lots of hand holding and drums. So what is a Catholic to do in this situation? It makes me ache that I can either go to a mass that feels more like a '60's sit-in or go to a mass where the priest says he can't defend or teach.

I wish you had gone into details, because it's actually impossible to address your question without them.

I think it was a good idea to write to the Archbishop about your concerns. He can tell you if the priest is way off base or not. I can't take your word for it, quite.  I'm not saying you're wrong. I just have no way of knowing if you're right.

Because Jesus was not, by any means, a conservative person. His message was and remains a radical departure from normal human emotions and reactions.  "Turn the other cheek?" Seriously? Who does that? "Take no shoes, take no purse?"  He must mean that kind of symbolically, right?  He must have just meant, "travel light".

But when we read everything He said, we come to understand, often with a rather sinking feeling, that He was dead serious.  I've known people who have turned away from the Church because they just feel they can't possibly live up to what Jesus asked of them.

So I'd like to know more about what the priest is saying up there.  Maybe he's just giving everyone that sinking feeling.
This is a 60's sit in. No bongos. Just cheek turning.

As far as going to a Mass that feels like a 60's sit in, take a tip from St. Monica.  When she moved from her home to Rome and then to Milan, she felt completely at sea because the customs of all three places were differently. She was accustomed to fasting on Saturday. They didn't fast on Saturday in Milan.

I don't know why she couldn't just fast on her own on Saturday. Fasting is not exactly something you do with other people. I would understand it better if she was used to going to a Rosary circle on Saturday and the people of Milan did that on Tuesdays.

Maybe Monica understood the power of all manner of prayer when it is done with others, even if there are bongos involved.

She also went to the Archbishop, St. Ambrose, to ask how to proceed. This was his famous reply:
“When I am here, I do not fast on Saturday, but I fast when I am in Rome; do the same and always follow the custom and discipline of the Church as it is observed in the particular locality in which you find yourself.”

Yes, it was St. Ambrose who gave us the line, "When in Rome do as the Romans do."  He didn't say it quite that way, much the way Humphrey Bogart actually never said, "Play it again, Sam." Nonetheless, that famous quote is from St. Ambrose to help St. Monica with exactly the type of problem you are having.

I think St. Ambrose is trying to help you now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

That's the Queen of Heaven, Just Ignore Her

Hallelujah! I am actually going to be on top of things today and point out to you all that today is the feast day of the Queenship of Mary!

Perhaps this information will upset some people, specifically, the separated brethren, who would like Mary to go sit down, as far as I can tell.  In as much as I vehemently disagree with that sentiment, I do understand why they feel that way. They don't want anyone between themselves and Jesus. I know this because I've had many conversations, while trying to explain Mary's place in our hearts, that ended with, "Well, I just pray to Jesus."

It doesn't matter if I patiently point out that they ask other people to pray for them.  Do they believe that Mary lives on in Heaven? Yes, they do. Then why not ask Mary, of all people, to pray for you, just like you'd ask me to pray for you?  Then comes the previously mentioned conversation ender. I usually mention that it doesn't make sense, in that case, to ask anyone to pray for them, ever.

So today I have a question for the separated brethren. I know you're reading, because I hear from you all the time and I welcome you. Here's the question: Where did you get this idea that we should ignore Mary?

As far as I can tell, the whole notion of dumping the saints as people to ask for intercession came from Martin Luther. I actually understand where he is coming from:
"Furthermore, how will you endure [the Romanists'] terrible idolatries? It was not enough that they venerated the saints and praised God in them, but they actually made them into gods. They put that noble child, the mother Mary, right into the place of Christ. They fashioned Christ into a judge and thus devised a tyrant for anguished consciences, so that all comfort and confidence was transferred from Christ to Mary, and then everyone turned from Christ to his particular saint. Can anyone deny this? Is it not true?"

It actually is not technically true, but I know why he feels that way.  We love our patron saints! If there are people out there praying to saints, that is a problem and that is the issue to which Luther refers. The truth is, we are not to pray "to" the saints, even though we refer to these prayers as such.

The biggest offender springs to mind: St. Anthony.  Technically we may be asking for his intercession to ask Jesus to help us find our keys, but it sure doesn't sound that way when we say, "Holy Tony, come around, something's lost that must be found."  I think if we are honest with ourselves, we somehow believe that St. Anthony will not bother Jesus with finding our keys. Anthony will just find them for us on his own.

So of course the separated brethren are confused. We are confusing.

But so are you, separated brethren, because Martin Luther, who started this particular ball rolling, believed almost everything we believe about Mary, including that she is the reigning Queen of Heaven. He believed that she was immaculately conceived (the Immaculate Conception, which means that Mary was born without original sin on her soul), that she was perpetually a virgin (even though a lot of modern Lutherans don't). He didn't seem to believe in the Assumption.

So how did Mary get pushed into the background? We can argue that St. Rose of Lima might not be the best example to follow when she made herself a hat of glass and spikes. But there is no argument to be found that Mary was not the perfect example of love, obedience, humility, strength and a life of grace. How does one on the one hand acknowledge that Mary is indeed the Queen of Heaven and on the other hand say, "Oh, her? Yes, she is the Queen here. Just ignore her."

Any ideas?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

We Want YOU

Hello sister..I wondering if there are any congregation to become a nun that accept someone above the age of 30.

I bet there are a lot. Have you called around?

You mean some religious orders don't accept people over 30? What's the reasoning behind that?

The reason was that we used to be an army. We needed young strong people who would dedicate themselves to a life in Christ, to get into stage coaches and row boats and open schools and hospitals all over the world. We needed young women to take care of the army of old women who had given their lives that way.  It was a hard life behind convent walls even in the days before nuns hit the bricks outside of them.

Yes, we preferred virgins. Everyone was marrying Christ, after all.  But some women still got in after a life of husband and family. St. Rita springs to mind. They didn't want her, but she was persistent. She's not an isolated case by any means.

But there is no doubt that it was harder for a previously married older woman to get into a convent. Ask St. Rita. Even after the angels flew her over the convent wall the other nuns put her to the test. They were as relentless as Rita had been in her bid to get in.

Enter St. Jane Frances de Chantel, a pal of our patron saint of the stressed out, St. Francis de Sales. I feel bad that I didn't get to this a question a couple of days ago when it was actually her feast day (August 18th). I am nothing if not consistent. I always miss telling everyone about saints on the pertinent day. Ask St. Agnes.

Jane was a wealthy girl. She was pretty and vivacious and married a baron when she was 21 years old. She had a very happy life with her husband. They had 6 children, although only 3 of them lived. Jane busied herself with her husband, family, a lot of charity work and daily Mass at the castle.

But after seven years of marriage, her husband died and Jane was inconsolable. She sank into a deep depression, curled up in a ball at the castle. Her father in law threatened to take her children if she didn't snap out of it and come and live with him. So she did. Unfortunately, he had a nasty disposition and his housekeeper was like that women in "Rebecca" who hates Joan Fontaine for no reason other than the fact that she isn't Rebecca.  Jane was nice to them anyhow.

A few years later she met St. Francis de Sales, who convinced her to relax a little. You can relax a little and still be holy.  Jane, meanwhile, decided that she'd like to become a nun. I'm not sure that Francis de Sales didn't simply skip mentioning to her that that would be very hard to do for a 32 year old widow and mother of three. He did tell her to skip trying to become a nun, which she did.

"Wait!", you're saying through the internets, "I know for a fact that St. Jane Frances de Chantel was a nun!"

Yes, indeedy.  Three years later, cagey old relaxed St. Francis de Sales told Jane about an idea he had to start an order of nuns just for older women to join. He wanted to open a place where age or health or other considerations would be swept aside.  These women would not stay behind the convent walls, but be free to roam the community doing spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

They called themselves the Visitation nuns. St. Francis thought that the way Mary behave during the Visitation (where the angel Gabriel told Mary what direction her life was about to take if she agreed).  Meek and humble and ready to serve.  A good motto.

So isn't that lovely? They started an order to serve the community and everyone lived happily every after.

Not so much.  Women running around the community, een if they were nuns, was not acceptable. The women wound up being cloistered after all. (Nuns serving outside the convent walls is much more modern that you think. St. Vincent de Paul was finally able to break that barrier.)  There were only three women in the first convent. The community was under attack because of their desire to not be cloistered.

Then St. Francis de Sales died. Jane's son died. A plague ravaged France. Her son in law and daughter in law died.  And Jane went through depression, and spiritual bleakness and illness.

Being a saint is not for light weights.

The Visitation nuns, however, are still with us! The perfect place for you to begin your search. I applaud you. We are not an army any more.

Yes, we are.  But we are a much smaller army. See your local recruiter today!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

All the Better to Eat You With

"Angels certainly seem to do a lot better with their free will than we do. Once the Lucifer situation was settled, it seems no other angel has had so much as an unkind thought." I must correct you Sister. There are many more Angels that have left heaven, and the church knows this too. First, The Church teaches ( even the earliest Apostles taught this ) that we are to ask the name of any angel we meet with. ( This must mean that then the Church can compare notes. :) Second, There are many scripture reference to more then one angel gone bad ( The Church has said "It is written that no angel tormenting men and women is a heavenly Angel".)

I'm not confused, but it appears I have confused you.

The War in Heaven wasn't just Satan, nee Lucifer.  It was Lucifer and his minions. They lost the war and God booted them out of Heaven. They have spent the rest of their time making everyone on earth miserable to the best of their ability. They all had free will.

But angels aren't still falling out of Heaven, randomly, from time to time. Angels falling out of Heaven is over and done with.

We hope.  They do have free will.

It's an interesting point you bring up that we must ask the name of any angel we meet.  The reason for that is the same reason we are not allowed to attend seances and dabble in the occult, even if it seems rather harmless to try and ask dear old sweet Aunt Mildred where she kept the safe deposit box or just reminisce with her.  She may sound like dear sweet old Aunt Mildred at the seance, but she could actually be nasty old Aunt Bealzebub.  The devil is tricky.

Like the wolf at the end of Red Riding Hood. But not that obvious.

I'm not sure what good it would do to ask the angel his name.  If the devil is going to pose as an angel, I'm sure he is not beyond lying about his name.  I think the point was that we must be on guard when it comes to the supernatural.

It is written that no angel tormenting men and women is a heavenly Angel. That is why the Church demands two miracles for canonization. Precisely because no good comes from the devil.

This is also why the Church is so very careful about private revelations, like Mary sightings. It would just be a real feather in Satan's hat to have everyone believing that Mary appeared on the side of a tree and then show everyone to be so foolish as to believe that Mary appeared on the side of a tree.

That glob of chocolate still makes me sad.

Friday, August 10, 2012

They Don't Call Them Angels for Nothing

Sister, this has been on my mind a long while. I think we all taught something like this: "God created the angels. They loved and adored him perfectly. However, God didn't give them free will so he created humans with the gift of free will so that they could choose to love and adore Him. Somewhere along the lines the angel Lucifer's pride got in the way and he became the devil..." How can the devil make the choice to not adore Christ when he has no free will? It's just something that has always confused me.

I should think it wouldPoor little thing. Where were you taught that? One of two things has taken place. Either the person teaching you was inebriated or otherwise incapacitated or you were behind the door when the angel info was discussed.

You weren't behind the door the whole time.  Whoever was teaching you got out this much:  "God created the angels. They loved and adored Him perfectly."  At that point, perhaps you were distracted, as I often was while sitting at my desk as a child.  I used to daydream about martyrdom and working for the OSS to thwart the Nazis and becoming a famous ballerina. I had wide ranging interests.

In any case, you've gone awry. God did give the angels free will. And then Lucifer went awry.

You don't have to take my word for it. For all you know, I am inebriated or otherwise incapacitated. Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about angels and free will:

311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it.

We don't know why God created us, but the general thinking is that God is just so loving that He just had to share His love with even more creatures.

Angels certainly seem to do a lot better with their free will than we do.  Once the Lucifer situation was settled, it seems no other angel has had so much as an unkind thought.

Imagine it! Every one of us has a guardian angel by our sides from the moment we are born until we leave this earthly coil.  We can whine all we want about how difficult it is not to sin and all the while, our guardian angels have to stand by and experience everything we experience. Well...not everything. They don't have to eat or exercise or not exercise. But still.

At the least, I should think they spend a lot of time just wanting to throw up their hands and have the angel equivalent of a double martini. Sit around at the angel saloon and grouse about all the ridiculous neenering and blather they have to sit through on an hourly basis.

"And then, she went off on her sister because her sister is so 'controlling' and picked about everything she did for her mother."

"Wait...isn't the sister the one who spends pretty much every waking minute looking after the mother?"


"Maybe her sister has a better idea of what needs to be done for the mother."

"Ya think?"


But they don't. Clearly, the "will" part of their free will is stronger than ours. Except for that one time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Transfixed by the Transfiguration

Hello Sister,  I have seen a couple of transfiguration pictures of our Lord and it has some people or crowd at the bottom, I'm guessing they are from purgatory or somewhere because they look sad. What is the significance of them?
Timely question. The Feast of the Transfiguration was yesterday.   I am almost always a day off in discussing feast days. Every year I plan to give the single ladies a heads up for the eve of the Feast of St. Agnes, so that they can eat an egg before bedtime, and every year I come up short.

The Transfiguration is a turning point in the Gospels for several reasons. Peter has just announced that he believes Jesus is the Christ. Jesus then takes Peter, James and John onto to a mountain top (we don't know exactly where) where Jesus is "Transfigured".  Moses and Elijah appear, Jesus emanates light and the voice of God says, "This is my Beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him."

So there are two important things: Peter's announcement and the voice of God confirming what Peter was thinking.

The Transfiguration is also an event mentioned in all four Gospels and is described pretty much the same way in three of them.  That is significant. Whenever I encounter people who insist that everything in the Bible should be taken as literal truth, I ask them how many angels were at the tomb after Jesus rose from the dead and strolled away.  The answer depends on which Gospel you are reading. The answer is one, three or none.  How do you reconcile that with a literal interpretation? They look really confused and then they go back to sleep. 

Cognitive dissonance.

It is also a significant event because it gives us a glimpse of Heaven that we hadn't had before. Heaven is a place for the living and God is God for the living. It was nice of Moses and Elijah to join the party and point that out.

Most depictions of the Transfiguration just have Jesus with Moses and Elijah and James, Peter and John in various of poses of shock and awe.  I have no way of knowing what's going on in your picture without seeing it.

But there is this famous rendition, painted by Raphael right before his death. In fact, he died before he finished it and a pupil of his put on the final brush strokes. Raphael has a lot more busy stuff going on. For one thing, up on the mountain top, way over in the corner, there are two other saints,  St. Felicissimus and St. Agapitus.  Raphael popped them in there because they share their feast day with the feast of the Transfiguration. 

Then of course we have Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John up there.

But down below something's going on. Is this your picture? They don't look happy.  But they are not souls in Purgatory. They are the disciples, muddling on without Jesus while Jesus is on the mountain, trying in vain to cure a young boy. Right after the Transfiguration, Jesus handles that for them. This episode does follow the Transfiguration in the Gospel of Matthew.

Without seeing your picture, I can't be sure who your people are. But I would be willing to go out on a limb and say they are not souls in Purgatory.  The Transfiguration is about the direct connection of God and living man on earth through Jesus.  The event is, however, about our suffering on earth and our salvation in the love and light of God above. So if anything, I would guess that the unhappy people simply represent you and me and our travails.

How often we forget that God is RIGHT THERE is we just lift our eyes.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


 Sister, I was wondering if you could shed some light on a particular subject. Being a young woman, of course I find the opposite sex very desirable and attractive. To someone who is currently living a chaste life, what does one do with the desires that one has? I know it is not a sin to desire certain things as a female, but since I'm chaste, where is the line drawn? I could just be over-thinking this subject too. I thought perhaps you may have some interesting insight given that you are both a woman AND a religious:)

No, I can't.

I'd like to leave it at that, but I can't do that either.

News flash: religious don't run around talking to each other on this topic. With the exception of our confessors, yammering about our 'desires' is dangerous territory. It can be just another way to wallow in those desires.

It's a conundrum that people often carp about the clergy and religious giving out marriage and sex advice when the clergy and religious are not involved in either. The truth is the opposite. The clergy and religious deal with these issues more than other people do. Way more. Just differently.

We are married, for one thing, to a demanding spouse. And we don't just remain chaste until the right man comes along. We remain chaste forever.

But we don't run around talking about it.

And I'm old.  There's that.

The best I can do is at least address where "the line" is.  Let's start with a list of things you can't do:
1.Think about sex too much.
2. Have sex with anyone to who you are not currently married.
3. Look at pornography.

We've already encountered one of those lines. For example: "But Sister, how do I tell the difference between art and pornography?" If what you are looking at makes you think about sex too much, it is pornography, even if it isn't pornography, it is pornography for you..

5. Use filthy language. Using filthy language may cause you or the person you are talking with to think about sex too much.

6. Wear clothing that causes other people to sin. When you cause other people to sin, that is a sin you have committed, as you are responsible for the other person's sin.

The Church in Her wisdom understands that you actually can't help but think about sex.  Sex will pop into your mind at all hours of the day and night.  That's not a sin. That's your brain at work.

But once those thought pop in there, it's your job to pop them right back out again. Say a rosary, take a cold shower, kneel on dried peas.  What do you think hair shirts were for?

If any of those things cause you tho think about sex even more because you are a sexual deviant who enjoys pain, don't do those things. Stick to the rosary.

What does one do with the desire one has? Fill your time and your head with the Spiritual and Corporal works of mercy. You're supposed to do that anyhow. Step it up.

If you have any time left over, become a long distance runner. Take up archery. Play ping pong. You have four years til the next Olympics.