My two patron saints: Saint Scholastica and Saint Veronica

Today, I’m grateful for my beloved patron saints! Yes, I’ve decided I have two of them 😉 and I’ll explain why…

The first is the saint I chose for my confirmation saint, Saint Scholastica. She was the twin sister of Saint Benedict, and according to Saint Gregory the Great, she was “as devoted to Christ as she was to her brother.”

Saint Scholastica

I come from a family who valued the son, my brother, more than the daughters, and I grew up in an environment where the thoughts and aspirations of my sisters and I were given short shrift. We were raised in the culture described in this article.

Men interrupt women, speak over them, and discount their contributions to a discussion with surprising regularity.

…Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse, and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

…A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

This is something I’ve struggled against my whole life — an environment and culture that dismisses and belittles women and their work. So many scholars and scientists and artists never acknowledged, their contributions ignored or appropriated by men. And Saint Scholastica?

Unlike her brother, Saint Scholastica was never the subject of a formal biography. As such, little is known of her life apart from her commitment to religious life which paralleled that of her brother.

But rather than harboring grievances and bitterness, I’ve always believed women need to assert themselves in a different manner than men, create a different and more loving, inclusive culture than the one we now inhabit. It is said that Saint Scholastica was “a sister of such angelic gentleness of character, that she would be a sort of counterpoise to the brother, whose vocation, as the legislator of monastic life, needed a certain dignity of grave and stern resolve.” Saint Scholastica is often depicted with a dove, a symbol of her gentle compassion, and of her departing, recounted here:

Scholastica used to come once a year to visit Benedict, at a house situated halfway between the two communities.

Saint Benedict’s biographer recounted a story which is frequently told about the last such visit between the siblings. They passed the time as usual in prayer and pious conversation – after which Scholastica begged her brother to remain for the night, but he refused.

She then joined her hands together, laid them on the table and bowed her head upon them in supplication to God. When she lifted her head from the table, immediately there arose such a storm that neither Benedict nor his fellow monks could leave.

“Seeing that he could not return to his abbey because of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain,” Pope Gregory wrote, “the man of God became sad and began to complain to his sister, saying, ‘God forgive you, what have you done?'”

“‘I wanted you to stay, and you wouldn’t listen,’ she answered. ‘I have asked our good Lord, and He graciously granted my request, so if you can still depart, in God’s name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone.'” Saint Benedict had no choice but to stay and speak to his sister all night long about spiritual matters – including the kingdom of heaven for which she would soon depart.

Three days later in the year 543, in a vision Benedict saw the soul of his sister, departed from her body and in the likeness of a dove, ascend into heaven. He rejoiced with hymns and praise, giving thanks to God. His monks brought her body to his monastery and buried it in the grave that he had provided for himself. Saint Benedict followed her soon after, and was buried in the same grave with his sister.

So, at Easter Vigil, Saint Scholastica and her brother, Saint Benedict, were added to our prayer of the Litany of the Saints. It is not surprising that she was more effective than he. Since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.”

green leaf

Right before the Easter Vigil, I privately chose a second patron saint as well, because Father instructed me, as penance at my first confession, to “pray to Saint Veronica”. He said that Saint Veronica could show me how to bravely step out from the crowd to offer compassion to others. Such a beautiful talk Father had with me about her, and such a moving penance he gave me!

Saint Veronica

I’ve grown very fond of Saint Veronica, and often pray to her now, as well as to Saint Scholastica. And both these saints are such wonderful examples of compassion and gentleness, and especially of selfless work for others, relying on God as their all.

My Saint Veronica medal.

My Saint Veronica medal.

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Grateful for my dear local church…

Another Gratituesday rolls around, and this week I have so many things that I’ve been grateful for, that I’ll just focus on the Easter-related ones! 😀

  • I’m grateful for the beautiful Easter vigil service, and for the opportunity to be confirmed in the Catholic church, and for the others who also were baptized and confirmed last Saturday.
  • I’m grateful that I stuck with it all the way through the RCIA program, even though at times I wondered what on earth I was doing, why this was such a long, involved process (I’d truly expected that at most there’d be a couple weeks of study and then I’d be welcomed into the church) and considering my ADD whether I’d lose interest over the months of study! (I didn’t.)
  • I’m grateful for how lovely our little church is, with its many stained glass windows, and especially adorned with Easter flowers.
  • I’m grateful that our church celebrates mass every day, so there are many opportunities for me to attend.

One of the sweetest parts of Saturday’s service was during the Gloria, when the children ran up to the front of the church carrying the donated flowers, and handed them to a couple of adults who placed them around the altar, and then the children hurried to the back again to pick up more bouquets and carry them up front. It lasted a good 10 minutes at least, with so many flowers! It was so delightful!

Child with basket of flowers

I’m still contemplating Saturday’s vigil, it so impressed me and was so lovely…

First Confession

It’s now “crunch time” for RCIA candidates! Last Saturday I had my first confession, yesterday was Palm Sunday, this Thursday is the evening service where Father washes our feet (I hear he’ll only pick a few of the RCIA folks, and I sure hope it’s not me!) And of course Friday is Good Friday (Stations of the Cross at noon, and then an evening service) and Saturday night is our Easter Vigil.

Despite being coached on Confession at a couple of the RCIA classes, and again by one of the RCIA leaders right before my confession, I entered the booth and completely froze. I don’t know why, exactly. Perhaps the weight of 50+ years of sins? Perhaps just shyness (since I haven’t really met Father, not to have a real conversation anyway). But whatever the reason, I couldn’t even say the first line, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.”

But Father was very kind, and led me through the confession. I only had a couple of “major” sins to confess, the rest being more a wrong “attitude” or approach toward life, or bad habits. I’d made a list before coming in, but being tongue-tied, I know I didn’t cover all of it. But I believe I mentioned all the relevant “categories”, so to speak.

A major sin I confessed is the one time when I helped a friend get an abortion by driving her to the clinic. She didn’t want the abortion, I felt very uncomfortable driving her, but her boyfriend insisted that she had to get rid of the baby. I (and she) believed at the time that I was helping her, but I realized later that it would have been so much more helpful to have supported her in her wish to keep the baby. I’ve profoundly regretted it ever since (even though I wasn’t Catholic, or even Christian, at the time and didn’t look at it as a sin, per se). We never mentioned it afterward, and a few years later she died. I was never able to apologize to her for doing the wrong thing in not supporting her.

confession

Father and I were sitting facing each other (one of the confessional options, the other: kneeling behind a screen), and I brought up the reason I’d left the Church, a devastating time for me (since I’d been religious my whole life). I’d read the book The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal, an excellent book. Wiesenthal solicited essays from many great thinkers, both Christian and Jewish, about forgiveness, and I found, reading through them, that I agreed with every Jewish writer and disagreed with every Christian.

I agreed with the basic premise that one can forgive others for wrongs done to oneself, but one cannot forgive wrongs done to others. According to the Talmud, even God cannot forgive wrongs that man does to his fellow man, only wrongs that man commits against God. “God’s forgiveness, however extensive, only encompasses those sins which man commits directly against Him, bein adam la-Makom; those in which an injury is caused to one’s fellow man, bein adam le-ḥavero are not forgiven until the injured party has himself forgiven the perpetrator. Hence the custom of seeking forgiveness from those one may have wronged on the eve of the Day of Atonement, without which proper atonement cannot be made.”

Murder, therefore, cannot be forgiven, since the injured party is no longer present to extend forgiveness. Thus, in Wiesenthal’s example in his book, no one can forgive, on behalf of the Holocaust victims, the wrongs done to them. It’d be presumptuous to even consider that.

And yet that is exactly what Jesus did on the cross. He extends forgiveness to everyone, no exceptions. All one has to do is accept it. And this is not some minor theological point, but the heart of Christianity. That is why I had to eventually accept that I was no longer a Christian (after spending many days rereading the essays, talking with many people, pacing the floor while rereading excerpts again, and crying).

I didn’t give all this history to Father in the confessional, but just a highlight, and said that although I was coming back into the Church, I still agreed with the Jewish belief about forgiveness. I haven’t changed one iota in that regard! So I wondered if I should just ignore this whole issue? But Father said, No, that God’s forgiveness is vast, unfathomable, and that one (that I) should study it more and more. I can go along with that. 🙂

The penance Father gave me was interesting: before the Easter vigil I should do the Stations of the Cross, pausing at the sixth station to ask for Saint Veronica’s help to reach out to offer compassion. I will do the Stations this Wednesday before RCIA class (since Father said to do the prayers at actual Stations, in a church, rather than just the prayers). I was not expecting such a beautiful penance to do! Very happy…

Saint Veronica

(Just hoping my second confession goes a bit more smoothly and I don’t freeze like a deer in headlights again!)

The Communion of Saints

Tonight’s RCIA class was great fun! We discussed the Saints, the process of becoming a saint (step 1: you have to be dead… 🙂 and Catholic devotions in general (scapulars, rosaries, saints medals and medallions). And we played a Jeopardy-type game with the categories: popes, saints, canonization, patron saints 1, and patron saints 2. We had two teams: the “Benedictines” and the “Jesuits”, I was in the latter, and my team won. Yay!

Tonight’s leader also played a recording of the Litany of the Saints, but it was a modern version that I didn’t like quite as much as the older, Latin version:

Next week we talk about the Virgin Mary. Can’t wait!

I’m hoping to write more often now that things have calmed down after Thanksgiving. I’ve still so much to write about from the past few weeks of RCIA classes, so heads up, lots more posts coming! 🙂

Christ the King

Today, Christ the King Sunday, I attended my first Mass at the local Catholic Church where I’m taking RCIA classes. It’s a beautiful day, though rainy, and I so enjoyed the Mass and then a pleasant walk afterward.

I’d never known of Christ the King Sunday before now (don’t recall that we celebrated it in the Anglican church I attended growing up), and I’m surprised to learn that it’s fairly new, Pope Pius XI having instituted this Feast Day in 1925. Beautiful celebration! Father reminded us in the homily of how the idea of power and Ruler was changed by Christ our Lord, as put forth in this Gospel message:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 42-45

Rather shocking words, when you think of it. A slave to all. I read recently that when the Bible was first translated into English, they substituted the word “servant” for every instance of “slave” (Greek doulos), because at the time England was going through the process of outlawing slavery. But the meaning is slave. We were purchased out of sin by Christ’s blood, and are now owned by him, he is our Master and we serve him, and are to serve each other in Christ. Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites, and illustrates this.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. …Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25: 34-36, 40

Christ the King Christ the King! It is good to be reminded of his Kingship, as it can be discouraging to look at the evil of this world, the horrible things people do to each other and to this good Earth that God has given us. And then it is easy to forget that Christ is already Victor, already King, the victory over sin and evil and death has already been won! The only thing left to do is to acknowledge his Kingship and give up one’s own will to his rule. As Pope Pius XI said in the encyclical Quas Primas, establishing the Feast Day of Christ the King:

If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.

This gives me such joy, to realize our King has already won the war! And I only pray that I can serve him by giving aid to the wounded on the battlefield.

Please enjoy this beautiful video of the hymn Te Saeculorum Principem, traditionally sung on Christ the King Sunday:

“It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain…”

In tomorrow’s RCIA class we’ll be discussing Jesus, God the Son, and we’re to bring our favorite picture of Jesus. I decided to ignore my knee-jerk reaction to the idea of “pictures of Jesus”… 🙂 Of course, as a child, I’d been shown numerous depictions of Jesus (including blond ones!) Now that I’m exploring Catholicism, I’ve been introduced to a picture of Jesus that I’d never seen before as a child, and it instantly became my favorite: the Divine Mercy picture.

Divine Mercy

The very thought of God’s mercy leaves me lost for words. I’ll quote here A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson:

Mercy sweetens all God’s other attributes. God’s holiness without mercy, and his justice without mercy were terrible. When the water was bitter, and Israel could not drink, Moses cast a tree into the waters, and then they were made sweet. How bitter and dreadful were the other attributes of God, did not mercy sweeten them! Mercy sets God’s power on work to help us; it makes his justice become our friend…

God’s mercy is free. To set up merit is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy. “I will love them freely.” Hosea 14: 4 …

God’s mercy is an overflowing mercy; it is infinite. “Plenteous in mercy.” Psalm 86: 6 …

God’s mercy is eternal. “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” Psalm 103: 37. “His mercy endureth forever” is repeated twenty-six times in one psalm, Psalm 136. …

Oh tell others of God’s goodness, that you may set others blessing him, and that you may make God’s praises live when you are dead…

Imitate God in showing mercy. As God is the Father of mercy, show yourselves to be his children by being like him. Ambrose says, “The sum and definition of religion is, Be rich in works of mercy, be helpful to the bodies and souls of others. Scatter your golden seeds; let the lamp of your profession be filled with the oil of charity. Be merciful in giving and forgiving. ‘Be ye merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.’

Ever since beginning to look into Catholicism, I’ve been contemplating God’s forgiveness and mercy, and about a year ago began praying the Divine Mercy prayers fairly regularly. I believe meditating on God’s boundless love and mercy helps one to get rid of petty ego. Of what possible importance can my little grievances and pissed-off-ness and pouting be compared to what we receive freely and bountifully from God?! The gulf between us and God is simply incredible.

Another new idea to me, from studying Catholicism (so amazing and enjoyable to learn all this!) is the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy that is emphasized in the Church. They are (from the online Catholic Encyclopedia):

Corporal Works of Mercy

  1. Feed the hungry;
  2. Give drink to the thirsty;
  3. Clothe the naked;
  4. Harbor the harborless;
  5. Visit the sick;
  6. Ransom the captive;
  7. Bury the dead.

Spiritual Works of Mercy

  1. Instruct the ignorant;
  2. Counsel the doubtful;
  3. Admonish sinners;
  4. Bear wrongs patiently;
  5. Forgive offenses willingly;
  6. Comfort the afflicted;
  7. Pray for the living and the dead.

Quite a lot to work with, right there! From the same entry on that website we read this definition of mercy:

Mercy as it is here contemplated is said to be a virtue influencing one’s will to have compassion for, and, if possible, to alleviate another’s misfortune. It is the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas that although mercy is as it were the spontaneous product of charity, yet it is to be reckoned a special virtue adequately distinguishable from this latter. In fact the Scholastics in cataloguing it consider it to be referable to the quality of justice mainly because, like justice, it controls relations between distinct persons. It is as they say ad alterum. Its motive is the misery which one discerns in another, particularly in so far as this condition is deemed to be, in some sense at least, involuntary. Obviously the necessity which is to be succored can be either of body or soul. Hence it is customary to enumerate both corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

I will definitely write more about mercy in future posts, because it’s such a complex and rich topic! And so beautiful and almost incomprehensible…

I’ll leave you for now with this beautiful hymn.

The Liturgical Calendar

Last night at RCIA class we all received a copy of this beautiful Liturgical Calendar. The artist is Laura James, in “a vibrant style inspired by the art of ancient Christian Ethiopia” (quoting the text accompanying the calendar). The pictures are all of strong, faithful Biblical women. The one in the center is an illustration of the Visitation, and surrounding the calendar wheel are (clockwise from the lower left): Miriam dancing and praising God after the crossing of the Red Sea; Ruth gleaning in the barley field (with Naomi and Boaz in the background); Mary, Martha and Lazarus entertaining Jesus in Bethany (Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and Martha serving the guests); and in the lower right, Mary Magdalene telling the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection.

2015 Year of Grace

We discussed the seasons of the church year, going through each one, beginning with Advent, and mentioning the colors and activities associated with each season. Then we went through some general questions that people had.

Not exactly a thrilling evening, but they can’t all be, eh? 🙂

The RCIA questions were: What season are you drawn to and why? Was there anything discussed tonight that you would like to know more about?

I’m drawn to Lent, and always was as a child as well. Perhaps it’s due to the possibility of change and self-renewal that Lent offers. A challenge to improve oneself! I’ve always loved that. And that’s the same reason I’m going through all of this right now, learning about and converting to Catholicism. Hoping to keep on keeping on… 🙂

And when I was a child, I was drawn to Advent as well. It was such a mystical time to my childlike mind: winter nights, candles and incense and the dark church, and the Advent hymns (which are not the same as the Christmas hymns), many of them a cappella. So beautiful and mysterious to me as a child.

As for anything I would like to know more about, I still don’t have any pressing questions. I don’t know why. I guess because the church I was raised in (Anglican) was so similar to Catholicism, so there’s nothing very unfamiliar to me. Even one of the questions last night, about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was familiar, because I think our particular Anglican church, that I attended as a child, believed in that. I know it varies from one Anglican church to another, if it’s “high church” or “low church”, whether they believe in the Real Presence, but ours was fairly “high church” (which explains all the candles and incense and a cappella hymns!)

I’m definitely looking forward to next week’s RCIA class, which is to be about Sin, Salvation and Morality. Engaging topics!