Tag Archives: mary

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Hail, Holy Queen

May Crowning   It was early one morning in May during my second grade year when my best friend arrived at my house to catch the school bus holding two droopy tulips that were wrapped in a damp paper towel.

“What’s up with the flowers?” I asked, hoping he had not developed some weird boy/girl thing on his teacher, classmate or worse yet…me.

I shouldn’t have worried.  “I’m taking them to Mary,” he said, like the answer should have been obvious.

“You mean Jesus’ Mom Mary?” I clarified. (Just because I am Catholic does not mean that I presume every mention of the name Mary has something to do with the Blessed Mother.)

“Of course I mean Jesus’ Mom! How many other Marys do we know?” It was a rhetorical question. He and I hung out with the same bunch of kids and not one of them was named Mary. He also informed me that this was the day in which everyone was to bring in a flower of some kind to be placed at the base of her statue during a special Mass and someone would actually have the honor of crowning Our Lady with a ring of roses. “It’s the May Crowning.”

He acted like I should have known about this, but I didn’t and for reasons that I still cannot explain, I have ZERO memory of this event prior to that day. Although I went to the same school the previous year and I can’t believe they didn’t have a May Crowning Mass, this was all new to me. I suppose it’s possible I was sick that day, or simply didn’t notice it, but a flower parade a coronation, a big, and the singing of “Hail, Holy Queen” (hands down one of the best Mass songs EVER!) are kinda hard to forget.

“And everyone has to bring a flower?” I asked, making sure to have my facts straight. After all, I had dressed up as Mary earlier that year for All Saints Day and I was not about to let her down but showing up to her big shindig empty handed.

“Of course!” He told me.

That was all I needed to hear. I quickly located my mother, hurriedly explained the situation, told her that I needed a flower of some kind immediately or I would be the only kid in school not to have something to put at the feet of the Blessed Virgin. (You must imagine me saying all of this in a single, urgent breath as if it were a life or death scenario.)

There was only one problem. My mother didn’t have any flowers. I mean none. The only thing of color we had growing in our yard was the occasional dandelion, but something told me that wasn’t the kind of flower Mary would appreciate. Dandelions are good for moms, grandmas, and a nice neighbor lady you consider to be family, but NOT the mother of God.

“Julie I don’t have any flowers to give you,” My mother said.

“Well we’ve got to do something because I cannot show up at school with nothing. Lookit…he’s got two tulips and I’ve got nada!”

My mother checked all of my facts with my friend, who at the worldly age of eight knew all about these things of course and he assured her that every child was expected to bring something. With the bus due to arrive at any minute and nothing but a potted  philodendron to send with me, my mother came up with a desperate plan. She sent my brother out to hack off some blooming forsythia limbs off of the bush in the backyard.

Now, I suppose he could have snipped off one little branch and that would have been sufficient, but instead he clipped off a ton of twigs, which my mother placed in a Folger’s coffee can wrapped in aluminum foil. This was not a simple little “flower,” it was a freaking arrangement!!

And wasn’t I proud? Children often equate love with how big or small a present is. Though St. Therese championed the little ways in which we could demonstrate our love, deep down I knew bigger was always better and I was certainly going to score some brownie points with the Higher Ups when Mary saw how we went above and beyond for her.

My reverie was short lived. Apparently I was far from the only person who did not know about this event and several of my school chums showed up with nothing. My teacher, thrilled with my largesse suggested that I share with the class by snipping off stems to distribute so that everyone could have something to give. I did as I was told, but I was chagrinned that my foresight (or rather my buddy’s since this was his caper in the first place)was now being leveraged to bail  everyone else out of their own failings. I’m sure I should have been charitable about this, but needless to say, that was not in my nature at the time.

From that day forward, I was never without something to offer on May Crowning. The following year, my mother actually planted tulip bulbs and daffodils in the yard and while she never said that they were for May Crowning purposes, when the school changed the policy to allow everyone to bring in a dollar to buy a cut stem from a local florist, my mother’s crop winnowed out. Coincidence? I doubt it. Still, it goes to show that mothers, whether Biblical figures or not are the most special people in our lives and they all deserve a coronation whether it’s raising a young man to fulfill His destiny or simply making sure you aren’t the odd kid out, they go above and beyond the call of duty and are there for us while they are here and in the Hereafter.


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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: That Certain Undefinable “Something”

Cathbook    I knew I was in trouble the minute that I had to define “faith.” I knew the definition I had learned when I was 11 watching Miracle on 34th Street, “Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to,” but somehow I knew that wouldn’t fly as it pertained to the Catholic Church.

Two days ago my latest book, The Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism was published and as I celebrate this accomplishment, I have had several people ask me some of my thoughts on the writing of it now that some time has passed. As I have said before – and will repeat time and time again – the fact that I was even asked to do this is proof positive that God has a sense of humor. After all, I was the one with all the questions…who was I to start offering answers?

One of the things that surprised me the most in writing this book was how little I felt I DID know…even the definitions that I had memorized fell apart under scrutiny leading me to wonder more that I care to admit if some of the things I professed to believe were nothing more than a game with words. Think I am kidding? Try defining “sacrament.” Go ahead…I’ll wait…

Chances are, you learned some variation of the same definition that I did: “A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of inner grace.” Wonderful, but what does it mean and how do you explain it to someone brand new to the Church if you aren’t even sure you understand it yourself? I don’t mind telling you that I  spent hours trying to pick that one apart until I felt like a dog chasing its own tail and finally called a former religion teacher to try and get her to explain it to me in plain and simple terms. “If you know of a way to do that, you tell me!” She retorted. (Somehow I wasn’t comforted.)

We eventually figured it out, and the explanation is in the book, but it wasn’t easy. Neither was writing a brief history of God. Although He  has quite an impressive list of accomplishments to his credit, God’s actual biography is more than a  little hard to track down. Don’t even get me started on that kid of His. FOUR men tried to put the life and works of Jesus in to writing  and could only agree on two things: that He was baptized by John the Baptist and was ultimately crucified by Pontius Pilate. (Yes, there are other similarities within the Gospels but I am focusing on what all four attest to.) As for the Holy Spirit…well, I admitted that this part is the hardest to grasp and offered a less-than-helpful anecdote involving St. Patrick and the shamrock. Beyond that, you’re on your own.

Heaven, Hell and all that might be in between were another fun section I battled with. While I understand the concept of Purgatory, I am one of those weird Catholics that is not sure she believes in it. (But I’ll save that saga for another post.) As for the process by which someone enters these various locations…there seem to be a lot of loopholes. I was told as a child that good people, of course, go to Heaven while bad people went to Hell. It seemed pretty cut and dry to me early on but then the questions started. Why do you have to be Baptized to go to Heaven? What if you were a baby who just died suddenly? Well of course God would look out for them. What about a mentally disturbed person who killed someone but didn’t go to confession? Would God have mercy on them? What about all of the countless stupid-but-not-too-awful things I did throughout my life? Did reconciliation really wipe those away or am I going to have to answer to a highlight reel of all my shortcomings on Judgement Day? What about Hitler? What happened to him? (This is the go-to bad guy most of us assume didn’t make the cut for Heaven and who we assume we have a better chance than for admittance.)

My point is that writing this book was HARD! Harder than anything I have ever done in my whole life. Like it or not I was forced to confront all of my cynicism, make peace with it and find a way to take everything I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain and….somehow find a way.

There were subjects I wanted to tackle, like saints and Mary, for example. I never understood what is so hard to grasp about all of that, but it is a sticking spot for some people and I really wanted to try and make sense of it all. After all, my father was Baptist, and while I am sure that he had his reservations about it, he never told me that I was wrong or that I was worshipping false idols. I really tried to step out of my comfort zone on that chapter and look at the whole thing from another point of view. Maybe if I wasn’t Catholic it would look weird to see a guy who was alive only a decade ago canonized on live TV and revered by billions of people as if he were something other than human.

But there were also subjects I wanted to avoid like the plague…one in particular that I kept successfully dodging until I could not sidestep it any longer. For weeks I felt like a slime ball for not facing it head on and at one point I wondered if I might take the cowards way out and eliminate it completely. I don’t mind telling you, if I had…it would have been my biggest regret. However, one morning last spring the perfect opportunity presented itself and thanks to one of the finest documentaries I have ever seen, God showed me how I could be “Both” true to the Church, “And” true to all that I believed in.

That’s the only hint you are getting…read the book and you’ll figure it out.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism is available wherever books are sold including:




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Buy It, Borrow It or Bag It: The Shepherds of Fatima by M. Fernado Silva

The shepherds of Fatima         This is the story of the three shepherd children who were visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary near Fatima, Portugal in 1917. Ever since I was a young girl and had to study this story for religion class, I have been fascinated by it. Imagine, the mother of God coming to talk to you and performing a miracle that 70,000 people witnessed!
Assuming you have never heard of this, the basic version of the story is this: One day while tending the flocks, three children are visited by a beautiful woman who asks them to come back to this spot in the 13th day of each month. She says that if they do this, in October, she will tell them who she is and what she wants from them. Being good children (and suspecting that it is Mary who has made an appearance) the kids tell their family about the experience. They are met with skepticism, but as the months go on, they draw quite a crowd of the curious who ascend the mountains to watch the children go into a trance-like state as they talk to someone who no one else can see. Eventually, the local officials get involved and they lock the children up so that they can’t meet with Mary on the appointed day. When they are released, Mary meets them on the road and promises that in October, she will perform a miracle so that everyone will believe in the kids.
On a rainy October 13, the kids go to the appointed place (along with 70,000 onlookers) and the woman confirms that she is in fact the mother of Jesus…then something strange happened. According to newspaper reports, the clouds parted and the sun “danced” in the sky. People said it looked as though it spun around and then fell to earth before returning to its place in the heavens. The ground was immediately dried and there was no evidence of strange meteorological activity that day anywhere else in the world. Mary also told the children certain prophecies (one of which was kept secret until the pontificate of Pope Saint John Paul II) and made them promise to pray the rosary every day. Two of the children died within a few years of this event.
This book is the story behind the miracles. It uses material from Sr. Lucia’s writings (she was the only shepherd child to survive) and weaves together a novel-like narrative to tell this amazing story, some of which I believe and some of which I find suspicious. Over time, I can’t help wondering if some memories were embellished or if a bishop encouraged such embellishments to add drama and flair, but I really don’t know. I will say that this book was well-written and even though it is more spiritual in nature, I had no trouble reading it and getting a lot out of it. Worth the price. Buy It if you are into this sort of thing. Bag It if you aren’t.

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