Fr. Fournier performed benediction inside burning Notre Dame

Here’s a transcript of an interview with Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade. He went into Notre Dame as it burned — standing there below a cascade de feu— and saved the Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns.

“[W]e had a vision of what hell may be: like waterfalls of fire pouring down from the openings in the roof, due to the downfall not only of the spire but also of other smaller debris in the choir,” he said. (Video in French below; image is a screenshot.)

“Everybody understands that the Crown of Thorns is an absolutely unique and extraordinary relic, but the Blessed Sacrament is our Lord, really present in his body, soul, divinity and humanity and you understand that it is hard to see someone you love perish in the blaze. As firefighters we often see casualties from fire and we know its effects, this is why I sought to preserve above all the real presence of our Lord Jesus-Christ … “

And then here is the part that gave me chills (italics mine):

“The time when the fire attacked the northern bell tower and we started to fear losing it, was exactly the time when I rescued the Blessed Sacrament. And I did not want to simply leave with Jesus: I took the opportunity to perform a Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.

“Here I am completely alone in the cathedral, in the middle of burning debris falling down from the ceiling, I call upon Jesus to help us save His home.

It was probably both this and the excellent general maneuver of the firefighters that led to the stopping of the fire, the ultimate rescuing of the northern tower and subsequently of the other one.”

Makes me think of St. Clare, standing on the parapets of her convent and holding up the Host, and the invading saracens turned away in terror. (Note: I believe reports which say the Notre Dame fire was not intentionally set, so please don’t make any rash assumptions about the kind of threat Notre Dame faced.) He believed so firmly in the Real Presence, he not only had to rescue the host, but He called on its power and blessed the burning church. WHAT A PRIEST. 

Fr. Fournier was ordained in the FSSP, and survived an ambush during his seven years as a French army chaplain Afghanistan; and he was the priest who came to the aid of the dead and dying in the terrorist attack on a heavy metal concert in 2015. According to Newsweek:

In November 2015 he prayed over the dead and comforted the wounded at the Bataclan music club where 89 people were killed in attacks by the Islamic State militant group.

“I gave collective absolution, as the Catholic Church authorizes me,” Fournier said in the aftermath of the attacks.

Because he knows that Jesus saves.

I want to remember Fr. Fournier and his unflinching faith next time I receive Jesus. 

 

 

When mankind has a tantrum

Good and loving and patient God, difficult me. 

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Creative Commons (license)
 

17 ways to make confession easier for your kids

Adult converts sometimes sheepishly admit that confession scares them. What they may not know is cradle Catholics often feel the same way. Very often, anxiety around confession begins in childhood, when well-meaning parents send kids all the wrong messages about when, how, and why we go to confession.

But children aren’t doomed to hate confession. Here are some things you can do to mitigate anxiety and help kids even learn to look forward to confession . . . 

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.  

photo credit: Gwenaël Piaser Ryan via photopin (license)

Everything will be lost. Eyes on Christ.

Maybe I’m just feeling dire, but I’m impatient with people asking how God could let this happen to our beloved Notre Dame, with people asking “What does it mean?” We know what it means. It means the same thing it means when anything dies: That this will happen to the whole world someday. Every relic, every painting, every window, every stone, every body, everything we love. Jesus Christ was immolated. Why should His Father spare a building?

Don’t learn the lesson that, through our will and our strength, we will rise again from this fire. Learn the lesson that death comes for everyone and only Jesus saves.

I wrote those words yesterday, while Notre Dame was still in flames. Today it seems that more than we thought can be saved. Some of the windows are gone, the roof was staved in by the tumbling spire, but the main structure and towers are almost miraculously intact. The Crown of Thorns and other relics were saved; the Blessed Sacrament was saved. No lives were lost.

But even as our panic and horror is quieted with a measure of relief, the loss leaves a mark. It’s normal and human to suffer under the blows of loss. Holy Week is the right time to let ourselves feel that loss without shying away from it, without comforting ourselves too much with reassurances that we can rebuild and repair — not only because 21st century artisans can’t hope to match the brilliance of the past, but because all things will pass. Every rebuilding is temporary. Every loss is practice for the inevitable loss we were born to face. It is good to face it, to feel it, to know what it is. To remember why it happens, and to remember what the remedy is. 

It’s not ironic or especially dreadful that such a thing should happen during Holy Week. On the contrary, it’s the best possible time for such a thing to happen, if it must happen (and it must). This is the week when the universe lost the best thing she ever had. If you will not look loss in the face now, then when?

Here is an essay I wrote just over two years ago. It focuses not on gargantuan, iconic cathedrals full of treasures and relics, but on little things — baby shoes, toddler art. The details are different, but it’s the same story. Loss writ small is loss all the same; and the answer to every loss is also the same. 

***

There was a pile of papers on the kitchen island, and I finally sorted through them.  Along with paid bills, cancelled checks, and warranties for products long since broken and thrown out,  there were reams and reams (yes, I realize a ream is 500 pages.  That’s what I meant) of drawings of birds, ballerinas, flowers, and clouds stuck together with stubby little rainbows.  I smiled at each one, and then, feeling like Satan incarnate, threw them away.

Sometimes when I sort, I save a few representative samples; sometimes I am ruthless. But of course saving everything is not an option.  Even if I had the space to somehow neatly and un-hoardishly preserve all the hilarious and charming pictures my kids draw, when would I have the time to enjoy them?  I have some fantasies about old age, but even the most unrealistically golden ones don’t include spending years of my life looking at thousands of pictures of rainbows rendered in blue pen.

And yet it cuts so deep to throw them away.  Same for sorting through baby clothes.  It’s not that the little purple onesie is so precious and unique in itself; and it’s not as if I actually want my child never to grow out of size 3-6 months.  It’s just the act of leaving things behind that hurts.  I get better at making it happen, but I don’t get better at not letting it hurt.

People are always saying, “Store it in the cloud!” Give it to the cloud rather than cluttering up my poor overworked hard drive:  my pictures, my music, all the words words words that I churn out.  It’s only the price of ink and the shoddiness of my printer that keeps me from printing out everything — every cute kid story that goes on Facebook, every draft of every half-baked idea that never makes it all the way home, every well-turned phrase of love or encouragement I send to my husband at work.  I want to save it all, and never let it go.

It’s not that I hope for fame that outlives me:  “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” and so on.   It’s just that I want it all to last — somewhere, somewhere, all the things I love and have poured my life into.

It’s a terrible anxiety, the fear of losing things that are precious — terrible because it hurts so much, and terrible because of what it means about me and my disordered loves. When the fear of loss is bad, it drains the joy out of my treasures even as I’m holding them.  My little baby smiles at me with such a direct, melting simplicity:  two perfect teeth, tiny and fresh like little bits of shell, her mouth pops open, and she lunges like a jack-n-the-box, so unthinkingly in love with the world that she wants to eat it all.  On a bad day, her happiness gives me pain, because all I can think of is how it passes, how she passes, how I am passing away.

I feel better temporarily, less existentially bereft, if I take a video, to capture the tricks and charms which are uniquely, adorably hers, which will never be repeated by any other baby, which must be remembered, must be saved — mustn’t they?  But saved for how long?  Technology is outmoded.  Today’s cutting edge video capture will be tomorrow’s wax cylinders.  Today’s acid-free photo paper will last only in the same way as “worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.”

So much has been lost, irretrievably. Does it matter? My kids want to know what their first words were. I remember a few. Some I wrote down, but lost the book. Moved away, left it behind to be discarded by some overworked landlord or U-Haul maintenance man. Does it matter? I still love them now; I listen to what they are saying now. Does that mean that what I’ve lost doesn’t matter?

Remember how poor Ivan Karamazov saw all the pain in the world — the brutality against children, most of all, was what he could not abide.  He did not want to be able to abide it.  He understood that, in the light of the Resurrection, all would be made new — that Christ would return and reconcile all things to Himself, and the pain of innocents would be subsumed into a peace and justice that passeth understanding.

Ivan did not want this to happen.  He could not bear for it to happen.  He did not want outrageous injustices to be all right:  He wanted them not to happen in the first place. This is how I feel.  I don’t want it to be okay that they are lost.

Still, I know that if I try to save, save, save, then in most cases, what I’m really doing is burying them.  I’m not doing anything useful, not respecting their value by agonizing over preservation, any more than the workers in that final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark were doing a good deed by packing away that precious crate among tens of thousands of nameless, dusty crates in a warehouse that stretches on for dreary, nameless acres.

So I try.  I do a little saving, just enough to make me feel human, and then I inwardly send the rest up “into the cloud,” hand it over to Jesus, who has infinite capacity to keep every drooly smile, every first word — if that’s what He wants to do. 

I don’t really, in my heart, want Heaven to be a retirement village where all the saints have endless hours to pour over memories of the good old days back on earth!  So I uproot and uproot these things from my heart, and I tell myself I’m cultivating virtue. 

But this disease of affection, this pathology that makes me love the world, and ache as I love — what is it?  And am I sure I want to be healed of it?

That’s the problem, right there. Lose it all or save it all: either way, it’s wasted. Either way, it’s lost. That’s what we mean by the Fall: loss. Everywhere. Everything. Our very mode of being is defined by loss.

Well, it’s Lent. And I am not Ivan, because I have tasted God’s love. I am not a government flunky, senselessly sealing up treasures, because I’m the one giving orders here. I’m not a dragon sitting on my stinking hoard, flying out in a jealous frenzy when some trinket goes missing.

I am fallen, but I have been saved, am being saved, and I will be saved. Nothing is lost, not even me. But now is the time to look loss in the face. What will come back to me? That is in Jesus’ hands — Jesus who was, himself, lost, and who himself “knew the way out of the grave.”

Eyes on Christ. Weep if you will, but eyes on Christ. I must not look to save. I must look to be saved. 

***

Image of Notre Dame by Edgardo W. Olivera via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Pseudoscience, shmeudoscience. I believe in graphology.

When I was in grade school, we spent an inordinate amount of time learning penmanship. We didn’t just learn a specific way to form each letter and call it done; we spent hours every week getting it precisely, excruciatingly correct.

We would send off writing samples in official yellow folders to some faceless penmanship expert who, I imagined, was installed behind a polished mahogany desk with a magnifying glass permanently affixed to her eye. Weeks later, our samples would return to us, critiqued. We would be scored on things like how wide the loops of our lower-case g’s were, whether the masts of our h’s swooned too far too the right, and whether, in our fifth grade intensity, we pressed too hard on our Number 2 pencils. We’d be graded individually and as a class, and we had to keep sending them back until we produced something deemed adequate. 

In retrospect, it was bizarre. Our schooling was not otherwise exacting or pedantic. Volleyball was big, as were popcorn parties. Science class circled constantly around the central idea of “the webs of life,” and we filled out copious worksheets about our feelings, and coloring in charts to show whether our behavior toward others could be classified more as Warm Fuzzies, Cold Pricklies, or something in between. But when it was cursive time, it was all business.

I imagine there was money involved. Some tightly-wound busybody with deep pockets and a fetish for handwriting would disburse a major grant to the school if all the young ones emerged with properly trained pencil hands, maybe. 

Except for a few stray Jasons and Heathers who were born knowing how to make a perfectly ornate capital G in all its ghastly glory, everybody hated penmanship lessons. But it hasn’t turned me against the idea of kids learning cursive. Science backs the idea that it’s important, if not as all-consumingly important as it was when I was growing up. Learning cursive helps kids’ brains develop, engaging both the left and right hemispheres; and people engage better and retain ideas better if they write notes out in longhand, rather than typing. My kids are learning cursive in their elementary schools, but it appears to be a simpler, more streamlined version, which is good.

I have another, more frivolous reason for hoping cursive stays around: I believe in handwriting analysis — up to a point. I don’t think you can tell everything you need to know about a person based on his handwriting; but I do believe you can tell something, especially if we’ve all started from more or less the same standard and then developed our own deviations.

My mother used to take a gander at the handwriting of the young men my sisters were dating, and she’d be enthusiastic or wary, depending on what she saw. And she was onto something. It’s not a science, but it’s not nothing, either. You can also tell something (not everything) about a person from how they dress, what car, they drive, their tone of voice, their personal hygiene, and so on. Some of it has to do with external circumstances and how we’ve been taught, but some of it expresses who we are. Something interior gets put on the page, flowing through the pen.

Take a look, for instance, at this handwriting sample from one Thomas Aquinas, shared by Weird Catholic on Facebook:

How much of this is how he was taught to write (and the quality of the pen and paper, and how much light was in the room, and how much of a hurry he was in, etc. etc.), and how much of it is his own personality expressing itself by deviating from the norm? I have no idea. But what I see (and yes, there are huge gobs of confirmation bias at work in my analysis. Whatcha gonna do) is:

Those horizontal marks over letters. What are these? Aquinas would have been writing in Latin. I’m not enough of a scholar to know if they are dots over i’s, or some other diacritical marks. Whatever they are, they are long (not just over one letter) and are heavier at the right than at the left, and they look aggressive and definitive and a little bit angry.

The individual letters are very upright, not slanting to left or right, which suggests self-control and rational thinking, and also a certain amount of reserve and coldness toward others. No rush toward the future, no pining for the past; and no inordinate dependence.

You wouldn’t mistake this handwriting for that of a shy or indecisive person, or a sentimental person. It’s confident, possibly arrogant, but not showy. The pressure on the pen is very consistent throughout. This isn’t someone with meandering thoughts or a lot of time to waste. The words may not be clear to the reader, but it doesn’t seem like the writer suffered from any sloppiness of thought

Anyway, it’s mostly just fun and games. If you want to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll readily agree, and I won’t even hold your cold pricklies against you for it.

It’s true, though, that when someone has been raised with a keyboard and barely knows how to form letters, you can’t tell much from the unpracticed chicken scratches they do produce. And that’s a shame. All my life, I’ve looked forward to the moment when I can walk solemnly up to my daughter, grasping in my trembling hand an intercepted love letter from her beau, and telling her, “This man makes his lower-case a’s with a little gap at the bottom! RUN AWAY NOW!”

Ah well. In the words of Thomas Aquinas . . . 

. . . yeah, actually I have no idea what he says. 

 

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 167: At last comes the primavera!

Pretty nice food week! Maybe not the lunches, so much

But the suppers were pretty, pretty nice. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Chicken quesadillas with lime crema; corn chips and salsa

Yum. Lime crema is quick to make, but it really elevates basic meals (recipe card at the end). I made the chicken with plenty of chili lime powder. I meant to have some kind of green whathaveyou, but I forgot.

Took some lovely lime zest pictures, though.

If I were a therapist and people came to me feeling bad, I would say, “Have you considered getting an extra hour of daylight in the evening?” I would make a million dollars. 

SUNDAY
Ravioli, garlic bread

The kids made a nice sauce for the ravioli at home while Damien and I and Thing 3 and Thing 4 went to check out Thomas Aquinas College’s new campus in Massachusetts. Pretty swanky!  The dorm rooms are bigger than my bedroom. My phone died after I took this rather overwrought photo outside the chapel. 

If you’re familiar with Thomas Aquinas in CA, it sounds like they intend to import the exact same curriculum into their new campus, which is in Northfield, MA, where the Northfield Mount Hermon prep school used to be. I’m not sure it’s the right fit for my kids (I honestly don’t think I could have hacked it, myself, as a student), who lean heavily toward art and literature, but it was refreshing to hear speeches about a truly Catholic college without a lot of “we’re at war, it’s us vs. them” hype, and without any hint of purity culture garbage, either. A really rigorous liberal arts education. 

MONDAY
Cuban sandwiches, pineapple

There was leftover ham from last week when we had wall to wall ham. I seared up a nice pork butt with plenty of seasoning in a pan, and then roasted it slowly for several hours.

Then I sliced it and and piled up those sandwiches pretty good. Mustard, Swiss cheese, ham, pickles, pork, more Swiss cheese, more mustard. I used Italian bread, and fried them in lots of butter, and we had pineapple on the side. 

Corrie was desperate to help, so I told her to put a piece of ham on every sandwich. And that is what she did. 

You are supposed to press these sandwiches, but when it came down to it, I just didn’t feel like it. What I did feel like was taunting Pascal Emmanuel Gobry, who hadn’t eaten for many hours, with photos of my sandwiches on Twitter. Honest to goodness, I’ll be the last one left in purgatory, because I just had to taunt Pascal Emmanuel Gobry with photos of Cuban sandwiches on Twitter. 

TUESDAY
Strawberry chicken salad

Nice and easy. Greens, sliced strawberries, toasted almonds, and chicken with balsamic vinegar. We also had some leftover Chinese noodles that added an extra crunch along with the almonds. I forgot the feta cheese, but we survived. 

I was afraid I hadn’t bought enough chicken, so I made some quick banana muffins. These really are the quickest of muffins, and foolproof. Recipe card at end. 

WEDNESDAY
Pasta primavera

I happen to love this dish. The broccoli had gone bad, but I had plenty of other vegetables, having been swept up in a primavera enthusiasm while I was shopping.

I ended up with carrots, red onions, asparagus tips (just the tips! I SO FANCY!), green peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, and snap peas, and the sauce was just lovely, with plenty of onions and garlic and butter, chicken broth and white wine, cream, pepper, and parmesan. Some people put tomatoes in this dish, and that would also be nice.

I wish I had chosen some other pasta besides spaghetti, to grab up more sauce, and I wish I had used less pasta for the amount of sauce I made, but it was still a filling and pleasant meal, creamy, a little sweet, with plenty of snappy veggies. 

Of course we made plain spaghetti and served it with the leftover ravioli sauce. I think exactly one kid even tried the primavera. 

And this goes out to Miss Ellis:

At last comes the primavera, ai, primavera, ai, primavera, ai ai!
The deep winter snows are melting high in the sierra, high in the sierra.
(Something something something);
Blue skies are showing;
Through the empty arroyos
New streams are flowing,
New streams are flowing.
 

Recipe card at the end. And I am incapable of typing out “primavera” on the first try. It always comes out “primavery,” which makes me Yosemite Sam. Have a cee-gar with your primavery!

THURSDAY
Lemon pepper pork, pepper, and onions; yogurt sauce and pita; za’atar rice with ca’arots

I didn’t have a clear idea about this meal, so I just wung it.

For the rice, I made plain rice in the Instant Pot. Then I shredded some carrots and sautéed them in olive oil with some za’atar and red pepper flakes. Then I added in some of the rice, then some more za’atar, and heated it through. I really don’t think you can call this pilaf in any way, but I guess that’s what I was aiming for. It was okay. Yogurt sauce helped a lot; and it did make a decent, warm-tasting accompaniment for the meat and vegetables, which had a sharper flavor. 

I cut up plenty of red onions and green peppers into chunks and mixed them up with chunks of pork and sliced zucchini, then dressed it all with olive oil, lemon juice, and plenty of lemon pepper seasoning. I spread it in a shallow pan and shoved it under the broiler until it was a little charred.

Then we had yogurt sauce (Greek yogurt with minced garlic, pepper, a little salt, and lemon juice) and pita. It wasn’t a completely smashing meal, but it worked well enough, and it sure was fast to put together. 

Oh, about the zucchini. I’m not a fan. I know I served it twice this week, but that’s just because I bought a lot of it. Why I bought a lot of it, I don’t know. Anyway, lemon pepper zucchini in garlicky yogurt sauce? Is so tasty. I may make a dish of just that in the future. 

FRIDAY
I honestly don’t know. I thought something would have come to me by now. ¡Ai ai!

Lime Crema

Keyword Budget Bytes, crema, lime, lime crema, sour cream, tacos

Ingredients

  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 3 limes zested and juiced
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. 

Recipe Notes

So good on tacos and tortilla chips Looking forward to having it on tortilla soup, enchiladas, MAYBE BAKED POTATOES, I DON'T EVEN KNOW.

Banana muffins (or bread)

Makes two loaves or 24 muffins. Quick, easy, and pleasant. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 cups chopped nuts (optional)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter loaf pans or muffin tins, or use cupcake papers.

  2. Mash the bananas in a bowl. Beat the eggs and blend the into the bananas. 

  3. In another bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the dry mixture to the banana mixture and stir just until blended. Stir in nuts if desired. 

  4. Pour batter into pans or tins. Bake about 28 minutes for muffins, about 1 hour for loaves. 

Yogurt sauce (tzatziki)

Ingredients

  • 32 oz full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • fresh parsley or dill, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Use for spreading on grilled meats, dipping pita or vegetables, etc. 

Pasta Primavera

Pasta in a pleasant cream sauce with an assortment of snappy vegetables. You can use whatever vegetables you like, really. 

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs cooked pasta
  • 4 carrots, sliced into thin discs
  • 1 green pepper in short spears
  • 1 zucchini, skin on, sliced thinly
  • 12 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb asparagus, chopped (or asparagus tips)
  • olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup half and half or cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 med onion, diced
  • handful peas or snow pea pods, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Cook the carrots and peppers until slightly soft. Remove the veg and set aside. 

  2. Add the butter and a little more oil to the skillet. When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms, zucchini, and asparagus. Cook until slightly soft. Remove veg and set aside. 

  3. Add garlic and onions to skillet. Cook until slightly soft. 

  4. Add chicken broth and wine, and cook, stirring, until it reduces to about half. 

  5. Add cream and parmesan and stir to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

  6. Add all the vegetables back into the skillet. Add the raw peas. 

  7. Put the cooked pasta in a bowl, add the sauce and vegetables, and combine. 

In praise of Mike Mulligan

My friends on social media often share excerpts from books they are reading: Illuminating passages from encyclicals, breathtaking ideas found in scholarly books about design and sociology.

I, on the other hand, post a little bit of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel:

I shared this after reading it aloud for maybe the eight thousandth time the other day. I was admiring once again the perfectly-crafted rhythm of the story. You would have to work really hard to read it wrong. In the page I shared, you can hear the building, busy excitement as more and more people get caught up in the action:

“Now the girl who answers the telephone called up the next towns of BANGerville and BOPperville and KIPperville and KOPperville and TOLD them what was HAPpening in POPperville.

“All the people came over to see if Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel could dig the cellar in . . . ”

and the sentence ends in three, flat, one-syllable words that land with incredulity:

“just. one. day.”

The author, Virgina Lee Burton, would read her books aloud to her own two sons and to neighbor children, to make sure they liked it. She said:

My first book, Jonnifer Lint, was about a piece of dust. I and my friends thought it was very clever but thirteen publishers disagreed with us and when I finally got the manuscript back and read it to Aris, age three and a half, he went to sleep before I could even finish it. That taught me a lesson and from then on I worked with and for my audience, my own children. I would tell them the story over and over, watching their reaction and adjusting to their interest or lack of interest . . . the same with the drawings. Children are very frank critics.

This is about the story, characters, and pictures, but also about the sound of the writing itself. When you’re reading aloud, a book is only as good as how well it can be read. An awful lot of modern children’s books have all the elements that people think kids want: zaniness, lots of frenetic action, lots of repetition; but they require the reader to make constant adjustments so the lines come out right. 

The execrable Skippyjon Jones books come to mind. They are hugely difficult to read aloud, because the words stutter and start and pile up, but rather than building excitement, they’re formless and aimless, littered with dreary puns that kids won’t get, lacking any purpose or arc. They always remind me of this clown, Cheryl, who used to turn up at children’s events. Her entire repertoire was screaming at the kids, because she heard kids like screaming, so here is some screaming. Cheryl was exhausting.

Anyway, about the story of Mike Mulligan. I was astonished to find that some people think it’s depressing. To paraphrase what several people said: He messes up one little job, and now he has to be a janitor forever! Mary Anne is interred in a basement for the rest of her life! I guess if I read the book for the first time as an adult — especially, perhaps, as a young housewife feeling overlooked and trapped — I might read it that way. 

But I did grow up loving the book, and so I’m predisposed to seeing more in it. It’s a John Henry story (“He always said that she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week but he had never been quite sure that this was true”);  except instead of a glorious death in the end, Mrs. McGillicuddy takes them nice hot apple pies. The end of the story is no dark tomb; sunlight pours into the basement, a sort of Elysian Fields for heroes who have earned their rest. 

Several of Burton’s books deal with the idea that progress is good, until it stops being good. (Her excellent The Little House is a more stark and melancholy story with the same theme.) Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne are a victim of their own success. In their prime, they did all the works of progress: They dug the great canals, they cut through the high mountains, they lowered the hills and straightened the curves.

They were literally on the cutting edge of industry and progress; and that means they were destined to be surpassed. 

What are they to do? In a briefly grim passage, Mike has a vision of Gehenna:

It’s intolerable. But where else can you go, when you’ve come to the end?

But in Virginia Lee Burton books, there is always a way out; always a little bit of paradise still reserved for the worthy. So the two heroes set off for greener pastures

and Mike finally has the chance to find out if he and Mary Anne can really dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week. 

The busy pressure of their past life of industry is recreated in one final, intense day of crisis: He and Mary Anne are fighting against time. The era is coming to an end; the sun is going down. The only way to survive is to do what they are made to do, faster and faster.

And they win! They beat the sun. But in their victory, they have literally dug a hole for themselves that they can’t get out of.

And here is the brilliance of the book. How are they going to get out? It’s not just about this specific job; it’s about retaining their dignity and identity in a changing world. They’ve come to the end. What can be next?

It would make no sense for them to find more and more digging to do. They’re no longer wanted in the city, but they also can’t despoil the green and sunny world that saved their lives. So instead, rather than finding a way out, they find a way to stay in . . . but without defeat.

Mary Anne’s engine keeps working, but now she warms up the meetings at the new town hall. It’s the end of an era, and this is inescapable; but that doesn’t mean anyone is consigned to the netherworld. They lay down their hammer, but they do not die.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Mike and Mary Anne’s virtues are transformed into warmth, rather than mere industry. (They always worked better and faster when people are watching, after all.)

And through their ordeal, Henry B. Swap, with small town scheming ways, is also transformed; and after Mike triumphs, “he spends most of his time in the cellar of the new town hall listening to the stories that Mike Mulligan has to tell and smiling in a way that isn’t mean at all.” So it turns out it’s all about people, in the end.

There are other children’s books that look back fondly on the past, but I’ve never found another book that deals with inevitable change in such a satisfying way.

But it’s not a lesson book, a wholesome moral disguised as a story; and that’s another of Burton’s virtues. My four-year-old doesn’t hear a Fin de siècle rumination on identity, mortality, and the mixed blessing of productivity. She hears an exciting story about digging, and billowing clouds of dust, and hurry hurry hurry, and Kipperville and Kopperville and Bangerville and Bopperville, and hot apple pies, and that’s what makes it a good book. 

So I guess I’m okay with being the one who gets all excited about children’s books, enough to share passages that I find illuminating. I know full well that some people see my kind of life as interred in a basement, endlessly changing diapers and wiping up crumbs instead of using my mind and my college degree and making constant progress. What can I say? I’m using the engine I have, and I feel like I’m making some warmth.

Prolife spotlight: St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise offer support, respite, and joy to families of the disabled

Cubby LaHood used the term “D-day” for the day parents first hear their unborn child has a severe or fatal birth defect.  

“The baby is the same baby they conceived and were joyful about, but … the baby can become a stranger,” she said in a 2013 40 Days for Life address.

LaHood, who died in 2015, suffered the same crushing shock herself, when her baby Francis got a likely fatal prenatal diagnosis. Everyone offered the couple abortion — doctors, clergy, family, and friends. But she and her husband Dan decided that they would love and carry their son Francis as long as he lived.

 
The LaHoods firmly believed unborn children with severe or fatal diagnoses deserve to live. But they also came to understand that carrying such children to term, rather than resorting to abortion, can bring healing, strength, and even joy to the parents and family, and even to the rest of the community, whether the child dies before he is born, or if he goes on to live for several years. 
 
“Hope led to grace, grace led to faith, and faith led to peace,” she said. 
 
Cubby and Dan LaHood went on to found two organizations based in Maryland, to offer encouragement, resources, and tangible support to people with disabilities and their families. Isaiah’s House, founded in 1995, offers personal support for families carrying to term after a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis.
 
“In seemingly the most hopeless and difficult of circumstances surrounding the birth of a child, a simple ‘yes’ to life reveals the presence of God, and the presence of love,” she said in a video called “Destined to Live Forever.”  
 
They believe that even a very short life has meaning and power. “[These parents] conceived a miracle, and that miracle deserves all the support that you can give it. It’s about more than you,” LaHood said. 
 
Pro-lifers are frequently accused of being merely pro-birth, of counseling parents to reject abortion, but then abandoning them after the delivery. The LaHoods’ mission refutes this accusation. The other organization they founded, St. Joseph’s House, offers daycare, summer camp, and after-school programs, and respite programs for families of children with disabilities.
This effort, too, sprung out of a personal experience. When Cubby LaHood was pregnant with her first child, she wanted to stay at home, so she decided to open a daycare. The first client she found had a disability, and word quickly spread that LaHood was willing to care for disabled children. 
The family soon made it their mission to make a true home for these children, and to counter “the eugenic impulse” of the world that wants to reject anyone deemed imperfect or useless. St. Joseph’s House is now run by the LaHood’s daughter, Natalie. 
 
Cubby LaHood didn’t believe her family was special. “We all have the capacity to give love,” said LaHood. “It can be done without support — we did it without support — but there’s no reason for it to be done that way.”
 
 The LaHoods do not minimize or sentimentalize the difficulty of carrying and caring for a child with disabilities.
 

“Nobody wants to go through the Passion,” said Dan LaHood “No one wants to go through the Garden of Gethsemane. But once you go through it, you find there’s the spirit of God. There’s resurrection. Not only there’s life, but it’s eternal, and it’s more than you could ever imagine; and you can experience it now.”

None of the hundreds of couples they’ve walked with have regretted their choice, the LaHoods said. 

“Even in this worst, most darkened, most rejected place, God is. Love is.”

***

 

Image from this video:

Destined to Live Forever from Lumen Catechetical Consultants on Vimeo.

St. Joseph’s House

​Saintjosephshouse1983@gmail.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saintjosephshouse/

Isaiah’s Promise

info@isaiahspromise.net

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IsaiahsPromise4915/

St. Joseph’s Place also runs Cafe St. Joe in , “part job skills training, part community builder, and part fundraiser.” The Cafe offers a specialty blend of coffee made by a roaster that employs adults with disabilities, and half the proceeds to go the cafe

***

Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

Today I’m on The Catholic Podcast . . .

talking with Joe Heschmeyer and Chloe Langr about Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, for their series on the way of the cross. This episode, #57, is called “The Women of the Way,” and includes passages by the great Josef Ratzinger.

You can hear and download the episode here.

I talk about how I came to understand why and how Mary truly understands our suffering; and about the sensation of helplessness that so often comes along with motherhood and with love in general, and how that sensation can either tear us away from God or help us meet him more intimately. (This conversation was the impetus for my essay, Mary who stays.)

Their other guest is Deacon Brad Sloan who works with women who’ve been caught up in sex trafficking in the midwest. He says so many of them have never experienced what it means to be loved, by anyone else and certainly not by their maker.

The podcast isn’t just discussion; it’s intended to help you meditate on various themes in the stations of the cross. The goal is to help us understand that we’re not alone in our suffering, and to give us the courage to confront evil in our lives. 

The Catholic Podcast homepage is here and feed is here; and you can follow them on Facebook @TheCatholicPodcast.

Image: Station of the cross, Saint Symphorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France. XIXth century. Detail of the 4thstation : Jesus and his mother. Photo by Pethrus [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

What’s for supper? Vol. 166: Everything is awesome

Raise your hand if this was your favorite week ever. Yeah, I thought so. Oh well, at least we have food. Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese; chips; string beans

Just another busy Saturday. You can see I made another stellar shopping list, too.

Grilled ham and provolone on sourdough bread with a little mayo on the outside, fried in butter.

Sometimes we slip thin slices of Granny Smith apples inside these sandwiches before frying, but not this week.

The string beans are finally looking less wretched, though, so we had just washed and trimmed them and ate them raw. Dreaming of the garden, if the snow ever leaves.

SUNDAY
Porchetta pork roast, farro salad, garlic bread

This was most certainly a bright spot. Best porchetta pork roast in the world. A few weeks ago, the Herreid clan was in the area for a wedding, and John stopped by with a bounty of leftover food. The Herreids are all, as far as I can tell, food geniuses. Ben is the chef at Wildflour artisan pasta restaurant in Leavanworth, WA, and this porchetta is one of his dishes. If you’re ever in the area, I highly highly recommend going to Wildflour. I’ve had the chance to taste Ben’s dishes a few times, and they are outstanding.

Damien recreated the porchetta this week, with a few minor adjustments. I’ll put a card at the end (probably later today. I can’t seem to ever finish this post!).

I was working while Damien cooked, and didn’t get a lot of pics of the pork, so here are some from John Herreid, when he made the same recipe at his house:




Eh? Eh? Have mercy; it’s the food of the gods.

I couldn’t find a nice big roast so we could roll and tie it like you’re supposed to, so we just had some sort of slabs to fold in half; and I couldn’t find white pepper, so he used black pepper and a little red pepper. I always think I don’t like fennel, but when it hangs around with the right flavors, it’s heavenly. So this was fennel root with onions, sweetened with apricot preserves and golden raisins, and heated with the peppers, along with sausage, white wine, coriander and garlic. Amazing. The smell alone will absolutely murder you, in the fun way.

He prepped the meat the day before, and then started it cooking in a 185 around 8 a.m. on Sunday and cooked it until about 5:30, turning it up to 500 for the last 20 minutes. Then you blast the heat and the end and crackle up the fat until it’s ready to melt under the crust. Hot damn.

For a side, I made this farro salad which was good, but not really the right accompaniment to this particular porchetta. They both had very strong flavors which didn’t complement each other as I hoped. The porchetta was more dusky and autumnal, I guess, and the farro more piquant and summery, or something. Anyway, next time I’ll probably just serve plain bread and asparagus or spinach or string beans with the porchetta, and save the farro salad for steak or grilled chicken or something with less complex flavors.

The farro salad was gorgeous, anyway, and really fed my hunger for color. Check out the vegetables:

and check out the dressing:

I do love farro. It’s like if barley and pasta got married and had a kid, and everyone’s like, “Whoa, look who got all the best genes!”

Overall an excellent meal.

I say the combination wasn’t ideal, but yet I also ate a lot of it. A LOT.

MONDAY
Chicken burgers, fries

Monday got eaten up by the locusts, so we had some late, hurried frozen chicken burgers. Which are actually pretty tasty.

TUESDAY
Calzones, banana splits, fried cheese balls

Tuesday was Irene’s birthday, and she asked for calzones. Recipe card at the end. I made some plain, some pepperoni, and some olive. I had a lot of help from my kitchen buddy.

I made sixteen calzoni, using four balls of readymade pizza dough cut into fourths. Sheesh, I love calzoni. Is there any friendlier food?

Then you brush a little egg wash on top and they are so plump and shiny.

Notice those little balls on the plate. I had a bunch of cheese filling left over, so I added a few beaten eggs and some panko bread crumbs to it, rolled them into balls the size of ping pong balls, and rolled them in bread crumbs again.

Then I chilled them a few hours and deep fried those suckers.

They were good! I wasn’t sure if they would hold together, since they were mostly ricotta, and I wasn’t sure if the crust would be thick enough, since I didn’t bother dipping them in egg; but they turned out really nicely. I think the small size and the chilling helped them hold together.

They were very light and tender, as tasty as fried mozzarella sticks but not so heavy. We dipped them in hot marinara sauce.

The only down side was that they were absolutely overkill as a side dish for calzones! It was like going to see a Shakespeare play and then stopping off for some sonnets on the way home. I would make these again as a side dish to something that wasn’t already mainly hot cheese, and maybe stick a little pancetta or basil or something in them.


WEDNESDAY
Ham, mashed potatoes, peas

Benny asked for this dish very ardently.

I think mainly because I found some Wooly Willy dishes at a thrift store. I went looking for an Amazon link out of habit, and this is what I found:

Decorative use only, you guys. You’ve been warned.

The only useful advice I have about ham is this: if you buy a pre-cooked one, you can slice it up and then heat it, and it heats up much faster. You don’t want to know how long it took me to figure that out.

THURSDAY
Beer brats, smoked wings

Damien made this outside on the grill. Very delicious. He used his sugar rub for the wings and let them sit for several hours before grilling. He boils the brats in beer and onions before grilling. I’ll put recipe cards at the end at some point today.

I feel like we had an assortment of chips. It was only yesterday, but my memory is foggy. I blame the locusts. You can see the lengths we went to to prepare an attractive table, too. Ehh, the meat was good.

FRIDAY
Waffles, eggs, home fries

That’s what it says on the blackboard, anyway. Looking back, this week’s menu was designed to kill us quick, but here we still be.

And now I find out if the formatting is completely screwed up. I updated my blogging system and now everything takes an extra four steps and sometimes doesn’t work! It’s awesome. Everything is awesome.

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you’d like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point – pepperoni, olives, etc. – if you haven’t already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

Ben Herreid’s Porchetta pork roast

Ingredients

  • 1 deboned pork shoulder
  • 2 sweet Italian sausages, removed from casings
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced like the onion
  • 2/3 cup apricot preserves or quince paste
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • kosher salt

spice rub (makes a little less than a cup)

  • scant 1/2 cup ground fennel
  • 1/4 cup ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp ground white pepper OR black pepper with some red pepper flakes thrown in

Instructions

  1. Directions:

    Cut open pork shoulder so that it can be rolled up. It should be cut sort of like a tri-fold brochure, keeping the fat as the outside layer. Season liberally on both sides with spice rub and kosher salt.

    Make filling by sautéing fennel, onion, sausage, garlic. Once sausage is browned and both fennel and onion is soft, set aside and let cool. Mix in golden raisins and apricot preserves. Season with salt.

    Put fennel/sausage mix inside pork shoulder and roll tightly. It will be messy. Tie with baking twine as you would a roast. Transfer to a covered roasting pan.

    Roast at low temp (185) in covered pan with three cups of dry white wine for 7-10 hours, or until the pork is fork tender. Drain the drippings and set aside.

    Uncover and roast at 500 for 20 minutes or so, rotating the pan midway through. You want to crisp the exterior up and render the outside fat.

    Slice and serve.

    If you like, reduce the drippings to add back in on top of the pork.