Has it been a hard Lent for you this year? Well, I know just the thing to cheer you up. Monkeys. Everybody likes monkeys. Well, everybody but Satan, apparently, as the following short demonstrates. Oh, and pardon my French, this was the best version of the cartoon I could find.…
Now, if you’ve ever wondered just where the image of those three monkeys came from, wonder no more. While nobody is completely sure, it’s widely held that it originated in Japan sometime during the 14th or 15th century as part of the folk religion known as Koshin. And while followers of Koshin no doubt liked monkeys as much as everyone else, there was more to the image than just a penchant for primates.
You see, in Koshin it was believed that everybody had three worms called Sanshi living inside them that kept track of their moral decisions. About every two months, these Sanshi would crawl out of their sleeping hosts to report to the Heavenly God Ten-Tei. If the Sanshi informed Ten-Tei a person had performed bad deeds, Ten-Tei would punish that person by making them sick or subtracting some time off of their lifespan. So, basically, folks had two choices. They could try and escape punishment for their evil deeds by never going to sleep, thereby preventing the Sanshi from leaving their body, or they could just do their best to avoid committing bad deeds in the first place. As an aid in avoiding the temptation of evil thoughts, someone came up with the image of the three monkeys, known collectively as Sanzaru, who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.
In a certain sense, that makes those three little monkeys (named Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Iwazaru, by the way) something akin to a Koshin sacramental. As the Catechism notes, “sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church to prepare us to receive the fruit of the sacraments and to sanctify different circumstances of our lives.” They run the gamut from images to objects to blessings to small actions we perform in the course of our spiritual walk. Holy water, rosaries, crucifixes, devotions to a particular saint, they all fall under the mantle of sacramentals.
They’re not magic, of course. “Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” As a personal example, I wear a scapular, and many has been the time the feel of that little piece of cloth rubbing against my skin has reminded me to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. It helps keep my thoughts centered on God… when I allow it, of course.
So if you’ve been having a tough Lent, or tough anything else for that matter, go grab you some Catholic stuff and keep it with you. It does help. And while I don’t think the Church has any monkey themed sacramentals (though I wouldn’t be surprised to be proven wrong), I’m sure you can find something to your own particular taste.