You can get a dolphin picture anywhere

Do we let them know we see and delight in them as they are, for who they are? Or do we hustle past their actual selves in favor of a generic family photo op? God gave us specific children for a reason. One of our primary jobs as parents is to identify and encourage what is good in them – not what we wish they were like, but what is good in them right now. Our job is to find something delightful in them.

Read the rest of my latest in my new marriage and family life column for Parable Magazine.

Image by HAMID ELBAZ via Pexels (Creative Commons)

Cheap flu remedies for the sick and broke

Flu season isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s expensive. In your quest to find some physical relief, you’ll end up paying through the nose for medicine and remedies. And your nose is already busy sneezing! Isn’t there anything you can do to alleviate the fiscal pain, if not the physical?

No; but let’s pretend there is for a second. Here are some tips:

Create a barrier. The flu is transmitted through tiny droplets that are airborne, so you can contract the virus simply by breathing in a space where an infected person has coughed or sneezed. So, like, Earth. Your only recourse is to make a barrier. Try taking a cotton swab and carefully lining your nostrils with super glue. Pinch delicately. For added protection, do the same for your lips. Also your eyelids and your ears. Feel better yet? What?

Clean your bathtub. Yes, right now. Use one of those “clinging foam” cleansers, preferably one known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, and a profound sense of the cold robbies. Do not open windows. Do as many jumping jacks as possible, and then stand there panting and wheezing and drawing those healthful bleach molecules into your mucus membranes and lungs. Cleans you right out from the inside, where it counts.

Remember the dignity of your orifice. Find a hole, cram something in. Make new holes if necessary. I’m not kidding: warm oregano oil in your ears, friggin’ onions in your ears, some kind of berry nonsense up your hoo hah, what do I care. The main thing is to create what scientists call a “ridiculous environment” so the bad microbes will suddenly come to themselves, be filled with shame, and flee.

Isolate. Stand in the middle of the town commons and shout, “I think This Is Us looks stupid and emotionally manipulative!” You’ll become an instant pariah, and thus cutting your risk of exposure to almost zero.

Sto lat! May you live to be a hundred and never have to find out what elderberries taste like.

***
Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

 

Giveaway: Two coupon codes for Magnificat Lenten app

Still looking for a Lenten devotion? I have two codes for the Magnificat Lenten Companion app to give away. I’ll choose the winners on Friday.

More about Magnificat:

Lent is a time to refocus our hearts and revive our love of the Lord and one another

A Companion for the Forty Days of Lent (from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday)

Designed in a convenient, easy-to-use format:
– Inspiring reflections from some of the most gifted Catholic writers for each day
– Faith-filled essays
– Prayers, poetry, and devotions
– Meditations for the Way of the Cross
– A treasury of spiritual insights

By spending a few moments meditating on the inspiring daily reflections and the short prayers that follow them, you will discover all that is true, good, and beautiful about the Catholic Faith.

Let the profound yet practical insights you will find in this little spiritual treasury form and focus your spiritual life, filling it with new conviction and purpose.

To enter, use the Rafflecopter form below (or click on the link that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway,” if the form doesn’t show up). I’ll choose two names at random, and will announce the winners on Friday. Winners may choose a code for iOS or Android.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Suggested Lenten reading: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

This year for Lent, we’re reading aloud Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (affiliate link) by Brant Pitre.  I’m hoping to finish before Easter, so we’ll have plenty to think about over the Triduum. The high school kids are following it fine, and the younger kids are listening in and picking up some, if not all. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Pitre is a teacher, so the book is a pleasure to read out loud.

(You may recall that we were reading Bendict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth. Well, I really dug it, and so did Damien, but the kids were just not into it. So after a few chapters, we gave up. I still heartily recommend it, for high school-aged kids and up. If you’re looking for Lenten reading, you could go with the Holy Week volume of this three-book series.)

Here’s my review of Brant Pitre’s book, which was originally published on Patheos in 2011.

***

Having celebrated more than forty Passover Seders with my Hebrew Catholic family, I anticipated already knowing most of what Brant Pitre has to say in Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper I already knew that Moses prefigured the Messiah to come; that the Last Supper was a Passover meal; that Jesus is both the paschal lamb and the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews, and that we celebrate this same mystery at Mass.

But, the details!

Did you know that the Jews’ Passover lamb was commonly nailed to a cross-shaped board? Did you know that the manna which sustained the Hebrews in the desert was thought to have been created before the Fall, and “had existed ‘on high’ in heaven” until God gave it to the people to eat? Did you know that the Bread of the Presence, which was consecrated and reserved in the tabernacle of the Temple, constituted both meal and unbloody sacrifice, and was offered with wine each Sabbath?

Did you know that temporarily-celibate Jewish priests would elevate this bread on feast days, and proclaim, “Behold, God’s love for you!”

All astonishing and illuminating facts. But this book is no mere collection of obscure coincidences and historical novelties related to Christ. Pitre sweeps the reader up in his enthusiastic rediscovery of the glorious symmetry of salvation history. It is a gorgeous, persuasive, and enthralling story that you’ve heard bits of here and there, but never with this cohesion. Pitre puts it all together.

The overwhelming sensation I had on reading this book was one of relief. I had fallen into thinking of the New Testament as the half of the Bible that is bright, hopeful, and fresh; whereas the Old Testament is blood and thunder, irrationality and murkiness, with flashes of half-understood prophecies whose fulfillment could only be appreciated in retrospect. As I read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, I imagined Pitre’s research and exegesis rescuing generations of pre-Christian believers from that terrifying squalor of the half-life of prefigurement. He shows how all the world always has been, and always will be, loved and guided, and nourished most tenderly by the one true God.

A minor quibble—and I offer it mostly to show some balance to my enthusiasm; in his zeal to illustrate how Jesus’ contemporaries would have perceived his words and actions, Pitre occasionally strays into slightly jarring language. He speaks of Christ “expecting” and “hoping for” future events in His own life to fulfill the prophecies and traditions of the Jews. Although Pitre by no means implies that Jesus was not omniscient, this vocabulary sat oddly with me. It is, perhaps, the natural way to speak about the life of Christ in a book about the fulfillment of promises; but I wish he had made it more clear that the Exodus, the manna, the Bread of Presence, the Passover meal and its fourth and final cup of wine were all ordained expressly for, and in anticipation of, the things to come. Pitre does say this, to be sure (and the evangelist John says the same thing: that Jesus did things “to fulfill scripture”); but his tone occasionally implies that Christ’s actions were cannily calculated to persuade the Jews.

This is, as I say, a very minor and debatable quibble, which is overwhelmed by the true brilliance of the rest of the book.

Although this book is rigorously researched, Pitre’s tone is conversational and appealing. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist began as a lecture, and reading it is like sitting in class with a gentle and intelligent teacher who anticipates questions, reminds us of what he told us before, and even suggests that we mark certain pages for future reference. The book is highly accessible, but by no means light reading. It is insightful, original, and frequently profound. Pitre shows his sources, and he warns the reader when his ideas are speculative.

This is, above all joyful book. And who may appreciate it? Curious Jews who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Protestants who think of the Eucharist as mere symbol. Casual scholars who sanction the mundane dumbing-down of miracles. Indifferent Confirmation students, whose eyes glaze over when they hear the words “sacrifice” and “covenant.”

And most of all, Catholics who desperately want to be more attentive, more engaged in the mystery of the Eucharist, because every time they go to Mass they know it’s really, really important, but it’s so hard to pay attention after all these years.

Pitre’s book will get your attention. With his strange and beautiful story of how God brings us the gift we receive every week, Pitre’s book will make you rejoice again—or maybe for the very first time—for what you have.

 

Why we leave the ninety-nine

Some American Catholics haven’t learned a damn thing from our ordeal. Some American Catholics, when they hear about new victims of sexual assault and abuse by Catholics, are still dragging out all the old defenses:

Well, but look at all the good fruits.
Well, but look at all the energy we waste if we focus on the tiny minority.
Well, but we have to think of our reputation.
Well, but no one will trust us if we admit there’s a problem.
Well, why would you even dare to criticize us? Is it because you hate shepherding and want anarchy?

Well, but it’s just one sheep. It’s unfortunate, but . . . we’re in the fold, and we’re doing all right.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo via Pxhere (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 118: Everyday Gras

You will become fatter just reading this post.

SATURDAY
Grilled chicken with cranberry salad

Quick quick, gobble gobble.

I doused some chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper, and plenty of garlic powder, and broiled it, turning once, then cut it into slices. Bag o’ mixed greens, a few pouches of dried cranberries, some crumbled feta cheese, and a bag of chopped walnuts, toasted for a few minutes while the chicken was finishing up. I could eat this every day. As long as you plan ahead, it takes maybe twenty minutes to put together.

SUNDAY
Hot dogs, hot wings, terrible Russian pickles, chips, ice cream sundaes

Food fit for a superb owl.

Damien made these hot wings from Deadspin . We agreed they could have been cooked a tiny bit longer before they got sauced, to make them a little more crisp, but they were still extremely tasty. He made a big bowl of sauce with sour cream and blue cheese, which I ate with the wings, with the celery, with the hot dogs, and with anything else I could fit in my paw, one little dippy dab at a time, for the rest of the week.

We happened to stop into the Siberian Food Mart and Damien told me to pick out something nice for myself, so I chose this imposing jar of giant pickles.

Well, it took three people and a knife to get the lid off, and they tasted mostly of ammonia. Boo! We also spotted one of our kids casually hanging around on the label of a box of cocoa or something.

MONDAY
Meatloaf, baked potato, salad

Guess what tastes great on baked potatoes? BLUE CHEESE SAUCE.

My basic meatloaf recipe:
Mix together with your hands:
Five pounds of ground beef, two pounds of ground turkey
About four cups of bread crumbs
Seven beaten eggs
Maybe a cup and a half of milk.
Tons of minced garlic, salt, and pepper and whatever.

Form into two tapered loaves on a pan with some drainage. Drizzle the outside with ketchup, you with your filthy eastern ways. Put them in a 400 oven for about two hours, until it’s done all the way through.

I actually had to put it back in the oven for 25 minutes or so after I took this pic.

You can add all kinds of things to the meat mixture, of course. Minced onions, worcestershire sauce. Actually that’s all I can think of. I don’t know, maybe horseradish. You can use oatmeal instead of bread crumbs, too.

Oh, check out this potato. Check out this frickin’ potato.

This is why you support independent Catholic journalism. Who else will show you frickin’ potatoes like that? No one named Leila, that’s who.

TUESDAY
Sausage and spinach risotto; roasted balsamic vegetables

The NYT had a recipe for sausage risotto, but instead of reading it, I wung it.

In the morning, I squeezed the meat out of a few pounds of sweet Italian sausages and browned it and drained it. Then, closer to dinner time, I made a big batch of basic risotto in the Instant Pot. Here is the recipe, adapted from Good Housekeeping. I tripled the recipe, but here’s the amounts for about four servings:

1.Put some olive oil or butter into the IP, enough to coat the bottom. Add whatever spices you like, plus diced onions if you like. Use the “sauté” setting until whatever you chose is browned up and smelling nice.
2.Add two cups of uncooked rice, and keep it moving with a wooden spoon for about four minutes (longer if you use more rice, obviously), until the rice starts turning opaque. Don’t let it brown. Press “cancel.”
3.Add four cups of chicken broth or other broth, and stir the rice so it’s all submerged.
4.Lock the lid, close the valve, and set it on high pressure for six minutes.
5.When it’s done, do a quick release, then dump in so much parmesan cheese. Add pepper, and more salt if needed.

For this meal, I put the cooked, drained sausage in with the broth and let the risotto cook that way. Then, after adding the parmesan, I stirred in a few handfuls of raw baby spinach, letting the heat wilt it.

For the vegetables, I combined a pound of whole baby Brussels sprouts, one head of cauliflower florets, one cubed butternut squash, and a pound of quartered mushrooms. I spread them in a shallow pan in a single layer, then drizzled them with honey, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, rustled it up a bit, and sprinkled salt and pepper on top. Then I slid it right under a hot broiler until it was a little bit charred.

For the record, this was a completely magnificent meal. The risotto was creamy and savory; the vegetables were toothsome and sweet. I was the only one in my house who thought so. Corn flakes and frozen pizza were consumed. Too bad for them.

I also ate kind of a lot of pretzels dipped in blue cheese sauce while waiting for the Instant Pot to stop venting.

WEDNESDAY
Pulled pork sandwiches; fries

Wednesday was a snow day, and since we are having guests on the weekend, I made the kids do a lot of cleaning. One cleaned out the refrigerator. She found a small bowl of some lumpy, white substance, and she . . . threw it out. Thus was broken the thrall of blue cheese sauce over my heart.

For the pulled pork, I just chunked the meat into two slow cookers with some Narragansett beer, a lot of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and the remains of some jars of sweet pepper rings and jalapeno peppers with the juice, and put it on low for six hours.

This meal never tastes quite as good as it smells, but it smells like a meat god has descended on your kitchen and it will be your last day on earth, so I guess a step or two down from that is okay. I served the meat with sub rolls, bottled BBQ sauce, and red onions.

I brought up the possibility of broccoli, but everyone just flapped their hands at me dismally, so I saved myself the effort.

THURSDAY
Ham and egg English muffin sandwiches

With a side of No-Choice Broccoli.

FRIDAY

Oh, wait till I tell you. A friendly priest is passing through the area, and arranged for this to be delivered:

and this:

So, I’m gonna get some beer and some French bread and make some green salad and potato salad and rice, and I believe we’re going to have a Vendredi Gras (?).

And what about you, ma fren? Do you have plans for Mardi Gras?

Give up your enemies for Lent.

Even if you’re overall a friendly, open person, and even if there’s no one you’re openly warring with or frostily snubbing, there are people whose name makes a shadow cross over your sky. Whether it’s their fault or yours – or, most likely, some combination of the two – these are people with whom you are not at peace. When they are around, your peace is disturbed. You know who I mean.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by hobvias sudoneighm via Flickr (Creative Commons)

This year, keep the Lent in VaLENTine’s Day

Ash Wednesday is just a week a way! Valentine’s Day is just a week a way! WHAT TO DO?

Our long-suffering American bishops felt compelled to clarify that Ash Wednesday does, in fact, Trump Valentine’s Day, even if overpriced teddy bears are a very important part of your spirituality. So you push up V-day to Tuesday, or to the weekend before. Easy peasy, shift your squeezy.

Or, you combine them. YASS. Both/and; so Catholic. Here are a few ideas for how to combine romance and suffering, sweetness and pain.

GIFTS OF FINEST CAROB  Remember carob?  It looks like chocolate that’s been sitting in a dusty corner for a while, and it tastes like a chocolately dusty corner.  Fasting just got that much easier! Give your significant other a satiny, heart-shaped box packed with an assortment of carob truffles, and you will be transmitting a powerful Lenten message:  we must not be seduced by the passing allure of temporal things, for the sweetness of this world is but a ackkkk, blech, ptui, what is this?

QUEEN VICTORIA’S SECRET  We’re required to abstain from meat, but other kinds of abstinence? Not obligatory. On the other hand, you don’t want to start your Lent too carnal-like.  So try this easy trick:  pick out something satiny or lacy, but at least four sizes too large.  As the lucky lady opens the box, you can wiggle your eyebrows suggestively while explaining, “You really put the “gras” in Mardi Gras this year, Marty!”  (This works better if your wife’s name is Marty.) I guarantee you, no sins of fleshly excess will threaten your evening.  Unless you count “stabbing” as a sin of fleshly excess.

SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE FLOWERS  Take a leaf from liturgical decorators around the country:  go out back where the dumpsters are, pull up some dead grass, and add a few twiggy things and maybe a really scuzzy looking cattail.  Stick it in a pot, preferably one that looks like grandma got into the clay again.  Voila — Lent flowers!  In a similar vein, if you know your wife or girlfriend was hoping for perfume, you can substitute sand, because sand is symbolic and whatnot.

HEIRLOOM JEWELRY  Any unimaginative bozo can stumble into Zales and pick out a diamond this or a ruby that.  What you want is something that is not only decorative, but also saturated in spiritual significance.  So go ahead and rummage through the lost and found box on the radiator at the back of the church.  Maybe you’ll find a nice, broken-in scapular, already “seasoned” with the holy emanations of countless fervent necks.  Or maybe you’ll really luck out and find a miraculous medal that’s so well-prayed-on, it’s gone full manatee.  Jackpot!

A LOVE LETTER TELLING YOUR BELOVED HOW YOU REALLY FEEL. . . about the state of his or her soul.  True love doesn’t sit by and let other people wallow in sin.  Consider a hand-penned, calligraphic examination of his or her conscience.  Or you might assemble a “dream team” of hand-selected patron saints which you will be assigning to the cause of your beloved’s salvation (St. Drogo, St. Fiacre and, of course, St. Jude spring to mind).  Or simply borrow some lyric lines from scripture.  I suggest Jeremiah.  There are also some really exquisite passages in Hosea.

Good luck, hot stuff. You’re gonna need it.

***

A version of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2013.

Yes, you can catch the flu from the Precious Blood (thank God)

It’s flu season, and it’s a tradition: Some Catholic always claims we can’t get sick from drinking the Precious Blood at Mass. Why? Because . . . well, it’s Jesus! Jesus doesn’t make you sick.

And anyway, it’s alcohol, so that should kill any germs. And anyway! I mean really! How can we profess our trust that Christ is life, and then immediately turn fearfully away from receiving the gift of His blood?

At our parish, they stopped offering the cup during flu season, so the choice is out of our hands. There appears to be a fairly low risk of actually contracting an illness from sharing the chalice, because metal doesn’t harbor microbes well, and because the rim is wiped regularly. Still, there is some risk. I decided a few years ago that if I have good reason to worry about my family’s health, then we have good reason to reverently bypass drinking from the cup.

We know that what is inside that cup is actually the Precious Blood. Its substance is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Himself. But it still has all the accidents, or physical properties, of wine: grapes, ethanol, etc. It sloshes like wine; it’s purple like wine; it has a little wobbly reflection of the fluorescent overhead lights in it, like wine; if you drink enough of it, you’ll get drunk, just like with wine.

And if it has other people’s germs in it, you might get sick from putting it in your mouth. Just like wine.

Harumph, you may say. I’m no fool. We most certainly can get sick from drinking from the cup – but that sickness is a small price to pay in exchange for receiving the Eucharist. After all, if Jesus walked through our front door during flu season, would we chase Him off because we might catch something?

To this, I respond: Let’s not invent sins that the Catechism never imagined. There are many reasons that the Eucharist (unlike the unprecedented house call described above) is offered so frequently, and that it’s offered under both kinds. One reason is that, if you need to be prudent and forego this sacrament completely one day (by staying home sick), or forego one kind (by only receiving the more hygienic Host), then the Church, as always, is accommodating. This is for your own benefit, and also for the benefit all the other parishioners. You can come again another day, and our patient Lord – who made the world, germs and all – will be there, happy to see that you’re feeling better now.

We are all called upon to make sacrifices, including mortifying the flesh; but deliberately exposing oneself to potentially fatal disease, and possibly spreading it . . . you know, maybe just put a pea in your shoe, instead, or say the rosary on your knees. Taking unnecessary risks with your health doesn’t sound like piety to me. It sounds like pride.

But what about the original argument, that we can acknowledge it’s possible to transmit germs through the Eucharist, but it’s more spiritually elevated to dwell only on the pure, holy, and edifying aspects of the Eucharist?

That would make Christ something of a fool. Why would He bother to become incarnate, if He expected us to pretend He wasn’t? Why would he bother taking on a human flesh, if He wanted us to flutter our eyes politely and pretend His body isn’t a real body?

Being a Catholic is all about the body. It’s all about manning up and admitting that this hunk of meat we drag around – whether it’s athletic, soft, withered, paunchy, or bouncing brand-new – is what we have to work with. Jesus, like us, saw with His googly eyeballs, all stuffed with jellylike vitreous humor; He moved His limbs with the aid of diarthrotic joints and synovial fluid. He had boogers. Remember? “Like us in all things but sin.”

I have always felt uneasy around the caroling of certain overly lovely traditions: that the baby Jesus, at His birth, filtered through Mary’s hymen like a sunbeam through a window pane; that “Little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Why shouldn’t He cry? I cry.

When I remember that He is really, truly a human, I remember that he really truly understands the burden of being a human. He doesn’t whisk our troubles away, or dazzle us with His divinity to distract us from the real world.  He sees our burden. He stands alongside us and helps us lift it, because He knows that it is real. Because He is real.

Isn’t our faith strange? It would be weird enough if we taught that the Blood of our Savior gave us mystical immunity from the flu. But the truth is even weirder.

What’s weirder still is that what looks all sloshy and purple, and what smells and tastes like something on sale at the Quik-E-Mart, is what will save our souls.

Weirdest of all: Christ is our Brother. His body had germs. His transubstantiated Blood has germs in it. If we don’t understand this, we’re in danger of making the Eucharist into something a little bit silly – something removed from us, something utterly beyond our grasp, something nebulous and magical, a trick. But the Eucharist is not magic, it’s better: It’s a miracle.  Miracles take nature and form it into something new, like clay becoming a cup. The Eucharist is not removed from the world; it transforms the world.

Well, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe God really does protect those trusting parishioners who hope in His mercy, and maybe He rewards their trust with good health. After all, saints have survived for years with no physical nourishment other than the Eucharist. St. Claire once frightened off an attacking horde of Saracens by holding up a consecrated Host.

But I don’t think I’m missing anything by thinking about germs. Thinking of God’s body, of His brotherhood with us, and thinking most of all of His suffering, and of His sympathy, helps me remember something it’s easy to forget, when I’m worn out, disgusted, flattened, fed up, and exhausted by this world and its disease: He is here with us, right now. He is one of us.

***
Image: “The Increduity of St. Thomas” by Hendrick ter Brugghen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A version of this essay originally ran at Inside Catholic in 2009.

What does it mean to be present at Mass?

The great revelation: Whoever we are, whatever we’ve got, it’s still not enough. Whatever preparation we’ve done, it’s not enough. However attentive we are, it’s not enough. There is great peace in letting that knowledge sink into your heart: We’re not enough, and never can be — no, not even if we’re a shoeless Nigerian toiling through the Mangrove to get to Mass.

But Christ is all.

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

Image: “Church Pew with Worshipers” by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons