What’s for supper? Vol. 179: Stuffed grape leaves and Käsewegfall

Let’s have a pahty! Here’s what we ate this week (and don’t miss the video of Benny and Corrie rolling grape leaves like pros):

SATURDAY
Hamburgers and chips

I know I always say I have no memory of Saturday, but this time I really mean it. 

SUNDAY
Chicken sandwiches with basil and tomato

This was supposed to be chicken caprese sandwiches, but I tragically forgot to buy mozzarella. They were still good, but the Käsewegfall loomed large. I had mine with salt and plenty of pepper, balsamic vinegar and olive oil on ciabatta bread.

I also like this sandwich with salami instead of roast chicken, which makes it even easier and cheaper.

Then we went to see Toy Story 4 at the drive in movie, where we discovered, as we re-discover each year, that my vehicle simply will not play the radio with the lights off. The movie was just okay anyway. Our popcorn game, though, was on point. 

MONDAY
Pork ramen

Meh. Sometimes this is a really enjoyable meal, but it fell a little flat. Maybe it was just too humid for ramen. I sliced the pork thin and sautéed it lightly in sesame oil, then finished cooking it in soy sauce. We had soft boiled eggs, scallions, crunchy noodles, pickled ginger, and sesame seeds.

Anyway, I produced hot food. Two cheers!

TUESDAY
BLTs and tiramisu

Birthday! The birthday girl requested BLTs and tiramisu. I can’t claim we have any particular family recipe for BLTs, except that I think we’re up to seven pounds of bacon, which seems excessive to me, especially since I didn’t get the memo that it was okay to take more bacon because somebody went out and bought two more pounds. 

Damien made the tiramisu using this recipe. Pretty tickled that the kids often choose this as their birthday treat. When I was that age, my heart’s desire was a cake in the shape of Garfield. My mother rented a pan and spent an entire day following a guide for where to put little blobs of icing in Garfield colors. Man, I hope I thanked her. 

Here’s an unglamorous shot of the tiramisu in the middle of being demolished.

People added shaved chocolate to their individual pieces.

WEDNESDAY
Pork gryos, fried eggplant, stuffed grape leaves

It had been a big week of being hunched over a computer screen, so I was really glad to throw myself into a big kitchen project. 

I’ve been wanting to make stuffed grape leaves forever. The wild grapes in the yard are having quite a year, so the kids had no trouble finding some fine, clean specimens. We followed this recipe from Saveur, more or less, which makes 60 grape leaves. It’s not hard, but there are many steps. You have to make the rice filling and let it cool, then boil the grape leaves, dunk them in ice water, and dry them, then roll them, then steam them. 

Here is Benny gathering mint, which, as always, is also having quite a year:

And here she is drying off the grape leaves:

The girls did so well rolling them! I was truly impressed at how good they are with their little paws, and also how good Benny is at explaining what she’s doing. At one point, Corrie shouts, “I have a idea! Let’s have a pahty!” She says this several times a day, every day, just in case. Check out her proud smile at the end. 

You know, we’re all having quite a year.

The recipe says to put three layers of leaves in the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching, but I had run out, so I used parchment paper instead. We only made about 30, since I didn’t think people would eat them. 

They turned out so well! You squeeze a little lemon juice on top and have them with yogurt sauce. These are not perfect grape leaves, but they held together and tasted good, and we had a nice time making them. 

I don’t know how to describe the flavor of grape leaves. Not cabbage, not asparagus. They have a sort of cool, woody, herby taste, and they are much more tender than I was expecting. The filling we used was packed with herbs, and the whole thing was somehow both oily and refreshing. I’d like to start making these at least once a year, when the leaves are abundant.  

We also had pork gyros. I marinated the meat in the morning and Damien cooked it outside on the grill. So zippy and tasty. I’ll add a recipe card for the marinade at the end.

I used up all the tomatoes in the marinade, so we had the meat wrapped up in pita with just cucumbers, french fries, yogurt sauce, and hot sauce. Tasted perfect to me. Although honestly I have never gotten used to french fries being in there, and will probably skip it next time. So sue me. My mouth thinks it’s weird to have fries and bread in the same bite. But overall, this was a stupendous meal.

While he was cooking the meat, I fried some eggplant. You have to cut and salt the eggplant ahead of time to draw the moisture out, but the batter is simple and they fry quickly. I love this recipe because it tastes a little bland with the first bite, but this amazing warmth starts to sneak up on you until it’s quite a little pahty in your mouth. Wonderful texture, too — crisp and knobbly, with soft, tender eggplant inside. Very, very fond of fried eggplant. Recipe card at the end. 

THURSDAY
Tuna noodle

I promised the kids tuna noodle, but then realized we’d be out of town on Friday. But a promise is a promise. Damien and I went out for an evening run at dinner anyway, so I really wasn’t hungry when we got back. I think I had beans and pita bread and a plum or something around 10 PM. Summah! 

FRIDAY
And away we go. Oh, there are still adults in the house, so there, robbers. 

Here are some recipe cards:

Fried eggplant

You can salt the eggplant slices many hours ahead of time, even overnight, to dry them before frying.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • salt for drying out the eggplant

1/2 cup veg oil for frying

2 cups flour

  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp veg oil
  • optional: kosher salt for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Cut the ends off the eggplant and slice it into one-inch slices.
    Salt them thoroughly on both sides and lay on paper towels on a tray (layering if necessary). Let sit for half an hour (or as long as overnight) to draw out some of the moisture. 

  2. Mix flour and seasonings in a bowl, add the water and teaspoon of oil, and beat into a batter. Preheat oven for warming. 

  3. Put oil in heavy pan and heat until it's hot but not smoking. Prepare a tray with paper towels.

  4. Dredge the eggplant slices through the batter on both sides, and carefully lay them in the hot oil, and fry until crisp, turning once. Fry in batches, giving them plenty of room to fry.

  5. Remove eggplant slices to tray with paper towels and sprinkle with kosher salt if you like.. You can keep them warm in the oven for a short time.  

  6. Serve with yogurt sauce or marinara sauce.

Yogurt sauce

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. 

Marinade for pork gyros

Marinate thinly-sliced meat for several hours, then grill over the coals or broil in the oven. Serve wrapped up in pita with cucumbers, tomatoes, french fries, hot sauce, and yogurt sauce. This marinade is enough for about five pounds of meat. 

Ingredients

  • 4 medium tomatoes diced and smashed a bit
  • 2 onions grated
  • 2 Tbsp oregano (or a large handful of fresh oregano, chopped)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • 12 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • kosher salt and pepper

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It’s fairly easy to get carried away by whatever kind of flow our life is busy with. The agitated flow of busyness, the aimless flow of boredom, the flooding flow of panic, the swirling flow of temptation. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that unmoving God has planted the rock of his Church, creed and all, for the express purpose of disrupting that flow.

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Image by David Dixon (detail) (Creative Commons)

Disgraced priest, Luke Reese, now caretaker for Church charity

By Damien Fisher 

The disgraced Roman Catholic priest Luke Reese, who was convicted of beating his wife and holding her against her will, is now living as a “caretaker” on a property listed as the headquarters for a charity under the legal control of the Archbishop of Indianapolis.

Also living on the property, according to the records we reviewed, is Sister Judith Ayers who is listed as treasurer of the charity, and who publicly defended Reese’s innocence.  The charity in question, Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc., has not filed federal tax returns in more than a decade.

Reese was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism with his wife and seven children, and was ordained as a Catholic priest in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in 2016. He served as Parochial Vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis. Reese’s status was somewhat ambiguous, as he served in the Indianapolis Archdiocese but was under the authority of the Ordinariate, which is based in Houston. In September of 2017, he was placed on leave after assaulting his wife. The Ordinariate bishop, Steven Lopes, then removed him from Ordinariate ministry and suspended his faculties.

Neither the Ordinariate nor the archdiocese have agreed to answer any questions about Reese’s current living situation, and both institutions have been uncooperative since we broke the news of Reese’s arrest 

We found the information about Reese’s new home as the Indianapolis Archdiocese finds itself mired in scandal over the treatment of gay teachers at Catholic high schools. The archdiocese is currently being sued by one teacher fired from an archdiocesan school, and the diocese stripped Jesuit Brebeuf Preparatory School of its official Catholic identity when the Jesuit leadership refused to fire a gay teacher at its school. The two teachers in question are married to each other.

Reese was convicted last year after a trial on a felony charge of criminal confinement with bodily injury, as well as misdemeanor charges of domestic battery and battery resulting in bodily injury, according to court records.

On the day he was convicted of beating his wife, Holy Rosary offered a Mass to commemorate the anniversary of Reese’s ordination.

Reese was sentenced to one year of house arrest, as well as probation. On June 20 Reese’s request to transfer his probation to Owen County was granted by the court in Marion County. The new address, according to the court’s order, is in the town of Spencer in Owen County. The same address Reese gives for his new home in court records is also given as the principal address for an legal entity named Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc.

Because of privacy concerns for the Reese children, we are not disclosing the address.

According to documents on file with the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office, Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc., is a charity with a sole member, the Archbishop of Indianapolis. The articles of incorporation, filed in 2009, list John Jay Mercer, the archdiocesan attorney, as incorporator, and Monsignor Joseph Schaedel as the registered agent. Schaedel’s address is given as the Archdiocesan offices of 1400 North Meridian. St. Sister Judith Ayers is listed as the treasurer. Ayers, according to the Archdiocesan magazine, “lives a life consecrated to God outside of a religious order.”

According to the articles of incorporation, the only “member” of the charity is the archbishop. The “member” is given authority to set the bylaws for the charity. While the charity is supposed to have a three-person board of directors, the “member” can designate one person to operate the charity, according to the articles of incorporation.

We do not know how the charity is set to operate, either with a board, or with one person designated by the archbishop. That is up to the archbishop. The board, or designate, control the charity using the bylaws set by the archbishop. 

Schaedel has since been replaced by Monsignor William Stumpf, and Stumpf lists the same North Meridian Street address. Stumpf did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did Mercer. 

Archbishop Charles Thompson was not the archbishop at the time Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc. was formed in Indiana, but when he became archbishop, he assumed the mantle of sole member under the charity’s terms of the articles of incorporation.

The documents do not give any indication as to what, exactly, Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc. does as a charitable organization, and the group has not filed a federal tax return, a 990, since 2002. That return was not immediately available. The only constant is Ayers. The principal address of the organization listed in Indiana state filings often mirror Ayers’s own address.

Ayers was listed as the treasurer of the organization when it was active in Arkansas in the 1990s. It is not clear how much money the organization collects in revenue, where that money comes from, or how it is spent. 

Heart of Mercy Solutide Inc. listed the Spencer property as the principal address for Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc. in October of 2018, according to state records. The property is described as a 30 acre property with two houses on site, one for Ayers, and one for Reese and his children when he has them for visitation, according to the notice for relocation Reese filed in court as part of his divorce case.

Reese touted the property in the relocation notice, stating that there is ample outdoor recreation, and enough space for his children to have their own living space as they get older. Reese’s filing does not disclose what he pays, if anything, for rent on the property.

“Father was offered a position as caretaker for the property which offers him access to the property’s amenities such as fishing, hiking, and gardens. The home is more affordable yet has many amenities,” his filing states.

The term “father” for Reese in the relocation notice notes his parental status and not his clerical state. However, as recently as January, Reese identified himself as a Roman Catholic priest in good standing in court records, even though his faculties have been suspended.

The owner of the Spencer property told us he is renting the property to Ayers, though he declined to disclose the monthly rent. The property is more than 50 miles from Indianapolis, where five of the children live with their mother, and where Reese works as a manager in a restaurant.

Ayers has a history of supporting Reese, and has made public statements blaming the victim for the assault, which Reese himself has also done. Using the screen name “Soli Beata,” Ayers said on this site:

“There is a lot of misinformation regarding this article. I am a member of that church… The alleged incident as reported sounds like author is a writer seeking sensationalism and being fed intentionally to garner sympathy for an adulteress.”

Ayers also said: 

“The events alleged regarding Father beating wife never happened either in church or elsewhere. The church was descecrated, by the two adulterers… But that was not covered by this article.”

Ayers’ assertions about the case are not backed up by the court records. 

Ayers did not respond to an email seeking answers about the charity and about Reese’s living situation.

Archdiocese spokesman Mike Krokos initially said he would get answers as to what Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc. actually does, and what Thompson knows about the charity and the Reese matter. Three days later, Krokos said he would not be answering questions about Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc.

Krokos does not answer our phone calls unless we block the caller ID function. 

Representatives for the Ordinariate, based in Houston, declined to comment on this new development.

Last month, A.G. Stockstill, Business Manager for the Ordinariate, which ordained Reese, stated in an email that Reese’s faculties were suspended in 2017, soon after his arrest. 

“Father Luke Reese was removed from ministry in the Ordinariate by Bishop Lopes on September 27, 2017, at which time his faculties were suspended.  Any further or permanent determination of Father Reese’s status as a priest is the competency of the Holy See,” Stockstill wrote.

 

Did Fulton Sheen witness and cover up the sexual assault of a child?

BY DAMIEN AND SIMCHA FISHER

Did Fulton Sheen witness and cover up the sexual assault of a child?

Less than a week after Sheen’s beatification was announced,  Rebecca Bratten Weiss’ Patheos blog echoed recent chatter on Twitter, sharing text that alleges Sheen saw a priest sexually abusing a child. The text claims Sheen walked in as the abuse happened, but he merely told the priest to put his pants back on, called the victim a “slut,” and proceeded to help cover up the crime. The text alleges that the Cause for his canonization knew about the allegations and did not respond to them. 

“I knew there was something fishy about Fulton Sheen,” tweeted Mary Pezzulo, another Patheos blogger, after the documents were shared. 

We are well aware the Church has an abysmal record of abuse and cover-up. We also believe that allegations of abuse should always be taken seriously and investigated if possible. But we do not believe these allegations are credible. Here’s why.

The only reference we can find to these allegations comes from that text, which was posted on BishopAccountability.org sometime in 2007. BishopAccountability.org is an invaluable clearinghouse for documents regarding sexual abuse and cover-up in the Church, and we are grateful for its work; but it does not claim to vet or verify any documents it shares. According to the site:

“It is our goal to assemble on the Internet a collection of every publicly available document and report on the crisis …
Our standards of inclusion are broad … BishopAccountability.org makes no claim regarding the accuracy of any document we post, and we have tried to include the full range of viewpoints, so as to provide a fully documented landscape of the crisis.”

This is not a criticism of BishopAccountability.org, but merely a clarification of what they do.

The allegation against Sheen is part of a lengthy text that purports to be a lawsuit complaint prepared by New York attorney John Aretakis sometime in 2007 on behalf of former priest Robert Hoatson. Who are Hoatson and Aretakis, and what is their history?

Hoatson and Aretakis first filed a $5 million federal RICO lawsuit in December of 2005 against The New York Archdiocese, Cardinal Edward Egan, the Archdiocese of Newark, Archbishop John J. Myers, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, the Congregation of Christian Brothers, and a number of individuals. The federal complaint was amended a few weeks later. 

Neither the original December 2005 complaint nor the amended January 2006 complaint mentions Sheen at all.

In February of 2007, the RICO lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning they may not file those claims again. The court also sanctioned Aretakis and ordered him to pay $8,000 ($2,000 to each of the major defendants). 

The presiding judge, Judge Paul Crotty, had harsh words for Aretakis’ behavior and credibility when he dismissed the case, saying in his ruling: 

“Taking Mr. Aretakis’s behavior in this case as a whole, it is clear that his conduct is sanctionable because it is sloppy and unprofessional; the pleadings are so far removed from adequate that they cannot be said to have been filed in good faith or after a reasonable inquiry; the bulk of the allegations dealing with sexual abuse are wholly irrelevant to the RICO claim, and; the Title VII claim is admittedly without basis in law.”

Crotty noted in his ruling that Aretakis and Hoatson made a splash the day they filed the lawsuit, holding a high profile press conference. He also noted that Aretakis has a history of filing RICO lawsuits that get dismissed.

Crotty’s ruling did not dismiss all the legal claims Hoatson brought, allowing him to refile the lawsuit in state court. In 2007, Aretakis filed a New York State lawsuit on Hoatson’s behalf against many of the same defendants.

While we can independently verify that Aretakis did file a state lawsuit on Hoatson’s behalf, we have been unable to find a verified copy of the complaint. We do not know if the complaint text on BishopAccountability.org, where the sole public accusation against Sheen exists, is the actual complaint filed in court. It was provided to the site by writer Matt C. Abbott, who has written copiously about the abuse scandal in the Church. Abbott himself said: “It should be noted that I do not necessarily agree with every assertion/conclusion made in the complaint.” Abbott referenced the document in a column he wrote for Renew America, but the column is no longer available online

Let’s assume for the moment that the complaint that appears on BishopAccountability.org was actually filed in court. Here is the section that mentions Sheen, which is part of a long litany of allegations against several different priests:

“The plaintiff is counseling a victim of a New York Archdiocesan priest whose sexual abuse continued for over ten years. One day, while the victim was being abused in the offices of the Propagation of the Faith in New York City, Bishop Fulton Sheen walked in on the abuse, called the victim a slut, told the priest to put his pants on, and did nothing to report the incident or comfort the victim. Bishop Sheen covered-up the crime. The priest abuser remains a pastor and had a prominent role in national television coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II. When the plaintiff wrote to the promoter of the cause of canonization of Bishop Sheen to inform him of Bishop Sheen’s actions, his letter was ignored and went unanswered. Bishop Sheen’s sainthood is steamrolling ahead despite his cover-up of child sexual abuse, while the plaintiff continues to be harassed, retaliated against, and fired.”

There are no names, except for Sheen’s. This is not a first hand account, but claims to speak on behalf of Hoatson supposedly counseling an unnamed victim. It is hearsay, not evidence. It is precisely how one would operate if the goal were to create buzz for a potentially lucrative legal case by making accusations against a famous dead man. Judge Crotty, in his federal RICO dismissal ruling, specifically chides Aretakis for using this strategy:

“Finally, further evidence of Mr. Aretakis’s motives is the drumbeat of publicity which Mr. Aretakis has sought. The day he and his client filed this complaint, he held a press conference to announce his lawsuit. This appears to be his common practice. The immediate link between the filing of the complaint and the press conference support the inference that Mr. Aretakis’s intention was to injure. That intent is confirmed by Mr. Aretakis’s statements in which he describes himself as an activist for clergy sexual abuse victims and is quoted as intending to ‘continue to humiliate and embarrass the Church’ by bringing incidents of sexual abuse to light, even if he cannot bring them in court. This intent to humiliate and embarrass is further manifested in the amended complaint which is littered with wholly irrelevant, inflammatory, and embarrassing facts concerning defendants and non-defendants alike that have no bearing on the actions brought, such as ‘it was widely known that he [one of the defendants] was an alcoholic.”

The state lawsuit was dismissed in October of 2009, and the New York court ordered Hoatson to pay the defendants’ court costs. 

In October of 2009, a sexual abuse survivor sued Hoatson, claiming he used his position as founder of his non-profit, Road to Recovery, to extort sexual abuse settlement money from him, according to public records. The case was dismissed without prejudice, partially because the victim was seeking $10,000, while the minimum for federal lawsuits of this nature is $75,000.

Road to Recovery, an organization set up to help survivors of sexual abuse, collected  $117,907 in contributions in the last reported year, paid out more than $100,000 in management expenses, and paid another $13,000 for program expenses.  Yesterday, I erroneously stated that its tax exempt status has been revoked. It has not. I regret the error. According to the NJ Consumer Affairs, Road to Recovery is listed as “compliant” as a charity in the state.

According to public records, Aretakis’ law license suspended for one year in 2008 after he was found guilty of professional misconduct by the New York Committee on Professional Standards. Among the charges was that Aretakis made false accusations against judges, engaged in frivolous conduct, and entered into court actions meant to harass people. 

We cannot confirm independently that the accusation against Sheen is actually part of a real lawsuit. The information contained in the text which includes the allegations against Sheen appear to come solely from Hoatson’s account of what he says various sex abuse survivors told him. Hoatson was using these stories in his $5 million lawsuit.

In summary: There is no actual evidence that a crime occurred or that there is a victim, and there is no evidence that Hoatson or anyone else contacted the cause for Fulton Sheen and was ignored, as is asserted. The allegations of abuse and cover-up, and the allegations that the Cause didn’t respond, come entirely from a text that has yet to be verified, by a source and his attorney who both have significant credibility problems. 

We reached out on Friday to the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation and to Monsignor Soseman, who was delegated by Bishop Jenky to oversee the Cause, to ask if they had heard of these allegations and whether they were investigated. But the team tasked with investigating and recording information regarding a candidate for beatification are sworn to secrecy, in order to encourage people to divulge sensitive information; so we suspect the office of the Cause would not be able to tell us if an investigation had taken place, or even whether Hoatson contacted them, as he claims. If he did approach them with the same information he claims to have shared in court — that Fulton saw an unnamed priest abusing an unnamed child in an undisclosed year — it’s unclear how any investigation could proceed.

Regardless, we have not yet heard back. Since the text making allegations have been circulating, we thought it was important to follow up quickly with more information; but we will update this story if and when more information becomes available. 

We continue our call for complete transparency from the Church. Justice is not served by covering up the truth, but neither is it served by eagerly believing the worst.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION July 14, 2019 3 PM eastern:

I erroneously stated that Road to Recovery’s tax exempt status has been revoked. It has not. I regret the error.

Monsignor Soseman responded from Rome:

I do know that no such letter [as the one Hoatson says he sent] ever arrived at the office in Peoria,  nor have I ever heard of any such allegation, in any of the extensive testimonies we took.  I finished my work with the cause in 2008. Since then it has been at the Vatican. I do know that both offices of the propagation had open floorplans with very few doors. 

 

***

We will continue to update this story as necessary. 

Image: Fulton Sheen by Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain] via Wikepedia (image cropped) 

Skip the semantics.The Jeffrey Epstein case is about victimizing girls, not “young women”

Cui bono? Who benefits from squeezing language until it bleeds jargon? The guilty, of course.

But another important question is: Cui plagalis? Who stands to lose? Whose suffering is likely to be minimized if normally careless people suddenly become very careful about their word choice?

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Image: by Linnaea Mallette  CC0 Public Domain

What’s for supper? Vol. 178: Food, lol

Here’s what we et this week:

SATURDAY
Cookout leftovers

You’ll never believe it, but we made too much food for July 4th. Good thing, too, as Saturday turned out to be one of those ridiculous days of sudden downpours, changes in plans, awkward encounters with strangers, and a shopping trip that started five hours late and then ended before any food was purchased, because I locked my keys, phone, and wallet in the car. But don’t worry! I also locked in the snacks, so when Lucy got an urgent low blood sugar reading while we waited for AAA, all I had to do was contemplate going back into Aldi (where, recall, I had not done any actual shopping) to say, “Hey, thanks for letting me use your phone three times. Now can we have some free food so my kid doesn’t pass out?” But IT ALL WORKED OUT. But I didn’t do any shopping. So I was happy we had plenty of leftovers in the house to eat. 

SUNDAY
Berry chicken salad

It’s a damn fine salad. I think the family is tired of it, but I’m not!

Roasted chicken breast, mixed greens, toasted almonds, feta cheese, blueberries and strawberries, and a balsamic vinegar dressing. 

MONDAY
Bacon, eggs, and Brussels sprouts in balsamic honey

An old favorite we haven’t had for a while. I got the idea from Damn Delicious, where you will find plenty of simple and tasty one-pan dinner ideas.

I adjusted the proportions and cook time, so I’ll put a recipe card at the end. 

You sprinkle it with parmesan and hot pepper flakes. If you don’t overcook the egg, you can break open the yolk and dip forkfuls of bacon and Brussels sprouts in it. RECOMMENDED. 

This meal would be great with a hearty bread like challah. (I didn’t actually make challah. It’s way too hot for that But it would have been good!)

TUESDAY
Muffaletta sandwiches, onion rings, pineapple

When I was drawing up my shopping list, I asked Facebook for sandwich ideas. The first one that caught my eye was muffaletta sandwiches, but if you want some other ideas, there are 82 comments on this thread!

What I made was probably more muffaletish sandwiches than anything else. You’re supposed to have softer bread and far more meat and oil, and you’re supposed to wrap it up and let the olive salad juices seep into the bread before eating. Me, I just slapped it together and wolfed it down. We used salami, ham, capicola, and provolone on ciabatta rolls with olive oil and olive salad. 

The sandwich here looks like it was shouting, but it wasn’t really, except for that silent cry of “EAT ME” that so many sandwiches convey.

Wait, wait, here:

Have I told you I’m an award-winning writer? It’s true. 

I made the olive salad with black and green olives, some giardiniera vegetables, some capers, and a little olive oil, chopped up in the food processor. In a stunning and radical departure from my typical habits, I made way too much of it; so later in the week, I gobbled up the rest for an evening snack with crackers. And that’s why they make ranitidine. WORTH IT. 

On Tuesday we finally had a long-promised campfire with marshmallows and spooky stories.  Corrie told a short but terrifying(?) story about werewuffs:

 

Not everyone likes onion rings, so I got some, well, I got some emoji potato things. 

The package said that they mash and season potatoes and form them into fun shapes and then cook them and YOU WILL BE PROUD TO SERVE THEM TO YOUR FAMILY. Like, they came right out and made that assertion. I guess it’s normal to feel defensive when we see clearly what we’re doing.  

WEDNESDAY
Meatball subs

Wednesday was one of those miraculous “how is this my life” days, so I made sure to relish it. Damien got all his work set up in the morning and then took the kids to the beach for several hours to write, and Lena made meatballs while I sat in my room in front of a fan, writing my stupid little heart out with only the cat to interrupt me. 

I’ll post my basic meatball recipe at the end. The only thing unusual about it is that I cook them in a hot oven on a broiler pan, then transfer them to a pot or crock pot with sauce. It’s so much easier, neater, and faster then frying or boiling. 

I had accidentally bought two sizes of roll, and Wednesday was the day I discovered it’s amusing when your aging mother makes reference to “long bois,” but distressing when that same mother goes on to offer you a bag of short bois. The ways of the young are shrouded in mystery. 

THURSDAY
Pork nachos with lime crema

I put a half pork loin in the crock pot with a can of Coke and let it cook all day. Actually, I turned the crock pot on and then, a few hours later, my husband asked me if I had intended to plug it in. I told the kids I would take them out for their free 7/11 Flushies, but we ended up making something like five stops first, and I felt so bad about dragging them around in the hot car, we went to the playground. 

Man, it’s been too long since we went to the playground. We used to go five days a week! Walking over a mile with the double stroller and the back carrier to while away the long, long hours, desperate to see another adult and do something besides mop up juice and wipe bottoms. Now it’s more like five times a year that we find time to go to a playground in between errands and everyone’s work schedules. This playground is cool and piney, with a little stream, and lots of trees to climb and rocks to scramble up and hills to roll down, and no end of places to hide.

After a somewhat contentious game of hide and seek, they resurrected their old Billy Goats Gruff game, using the wobbly bridge on the play structure, and man oh man, life is so different now, I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I guess I’ll cry. Not that I want things to go back the way they were. But still. 

Some things haven’t changed, though, and one of those things is that children would rather die than give you a decent photo, even if you bought them Flushies. Well, free Flushies. 

Just kidding. I love this. I love how Corrie has the same patient, forbearing expression as Elijah. 

Anyway, by the time we finally got home, it was quite late and I suddenly had some unexpected editing to do, so I asked Damien to finish up supper. He shredded the pork, seasoned it heavily with chili lime powder, and put it in a pan under the broiler to brown up. So we had tortilla chips with shredded meat and melted cheese, with the option to add jarred jalapeño slices and corn, salsa, and lime crema.

Recipe card for lime crema at the end. I thought it was a pretty swell meal. I vastly prefer pork to beef on nachos. 

FRIDAY
I unno.

It says “pasta” on the blackboard, but it feels too hot for that. Maybe we will just have popcorn, made in the microwave. The microwave, which we can now use again, after they told me it broke, and I asked them several times if it was maybe just not plugged in, and they swore up and down that it was truly broken, so after being annoyed about it for a month, I bought a new microwave, and when we went to plug it in, we discovered . . . well, you know what we discovered.

Yeah, I think they’re getting popcorn. 

 

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve. 

 

 

Bacon, eggs, and brussels sprouts in honey garlic balsamic sauce

Adapted from Damn Delicious.  An easy and tasty one-pan meal that would work for any meal. Great with a hearty bread like challah. 

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 3 lbs uncooked bacon, cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces
  • 18 eggs
  • oil for greasing pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed

Garnish (optional):

  • parmesan cheese, grated
  • red pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Grease two large oven sheets. 


  2. Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Mix Brussels sprouts and bacon together, spread evenly in pans, and pour sauce all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

  3. Cook until bacon is almost done (almost as crisp as you like it) and Brussels sprouts are very slightly browned, 18-20 minutes.

  4. Pull the pans out of the oven and carefully crack the eggs onto the Brussels sprouts and bacon, here and there.

  5. Return pan to the oven and cook a few minutes longer, just enough to set the eggs. The yolks will get a little film over the top, but don't let them cook all the way through, or you'll have something resembled hard boiled eggs, which isn't as good. You want the yolks to be liquid so you can dip forkfuls of fod into it.

  6. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes and serve. 

 

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.

Don’t miss the downhill

My husband and I are runners. You know, more or less. We don’t run fast and we don’t run far; but we do run pretty often together, and we almost always run the same course, which has a lot of ups and downs. 

This being New Hampshire, there is hardly any level ground to travel. Most of it slopes up or slopes down, or up and down and up and down, and at both ends of our normal route, there are significant hills — one in the middle that’s short and steep, and one at the end, that’s long and very steep.

A serious runner told me that running downhill for too long — down a mountain, say — gets to be just as hard as running uphill, and you need a whole new set of muscles just to keep yourself from tipping over.

I will take her word for it. In my moderate little routine, downhills are pure bliss. Gravity does much of the work, and all you must do is point yourself in the right direction and off you go. On the downhill, my breathing comes closer to normal, my muscles relax, my stride lengthens, my vision clears. By the time we reach the lowest point and it’s time to circle around and chug right back up again, I feel refreshed, encouraged, and ready.

Except sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, before we get to the downhill, I’m struggling so hard mentally and physically, the chance to ease up doesn’t even register. Maybe I’m stressing out over some unrelated problem, or maybe I’m even worried about how I look, and next thing you know, I’ve gotten the lowest point of the loop, and I don’t even know how I got there. I’ve wasted my chance to take it easy, and now it’s time to start pushing again. I forgot to enjoy the downhill.

So I try to make a point of reminding myself where I am. To really feel my thighs loosen up, to really rest in the sensation of not having to fight against gravity, to relax my chest and my lungs as we descend.

There’s even an actual field of wildflowers at the bottom of the hill, and while I don’t stop to smell them, I do make sure I feast my eyes on them, and search out any new arrivals that have sprung up since last time. There’s always something: White and pink and purple clover, flaming orange hawkweed, purple cow vetch with its fantastical tendrils; Queen Anne’s Lace, bunches of silvery cinquefoil, some early asters, tenacious ranunculus, and clusters of jewelweed with their little orange lanterns. Hardy mulleins stand like sentinels in the tasseled grass, and you’re enveloped in the hot, sweet smell of wild weeds coming into their own.

And then sometimes you come to the bottom of the hill and it’s all been mown down, flattened and carted away by the other people who spend their time on this road, and that’s worth enjoying, too. By proxy, I enjoy the hot, hectic industry of gathering grasses in to make ready for winter. I do enjoy the downhill, when I remember to.

It’s a good motto, “Enjoy the downhill.” Most people have hills and valleys in their life, times of struggle and times of rest — maybe not absolute rest, but at least times when gravity takes over for a while, when you can push less hard, breathe more easily, see more clearly.

When you’re on the downhill, maybe a child still has a chronic illness, but the current crisis has passed. Maybe there are still unresolved problems in the family dynamics, but there’s a temporary truce under your roof. Maybe the Lord has been coming at you with brilliance and heat, but then the downhill comes, and he retreats for a while and lets you be. Maybe things are just easier for a while. There are no pressing bills for once. You’re sleeping through the night. You’re making it through the week. It’s the downhill! It’s not the same as stopping and resting completely, but it’s still so good, so refreshing, if you can recognize that’s where you are. 

But sometimes the struggle takes so much out of us, we forget to notice when the  eases up. And next thing you know, that time is already past, and now you must start chugging upward again.

If you’re struggling right now, no one needs to point that out to you. You’ll know it when you’re on the uphill, when you have to push with everything you’ve got just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

But if you’re on the downhill, you may be in danger of missing it. So do look for it. Do enjoy it. Do relish the relief it gives, and do take the chance to loosen your muscles and bring extra air to your lungs. You know darn well you’re going to need it when the road starts to rise. 

And do, oh do look for the wildflowers. See what has bloomed on its own while you were busy toiling elsewhere, and enjoy that, too. Not everything has to be done by your own two hands. There’s always something to enjoy, even if you didn’t make it yourself. 

And remember, a life of nothing but existential downhill is hard on a person, too, just like physical downhills are. It’s understandable to envy  people whose lives offer very little challenge, very few obstacles, but believe me: in a life like that, it takes a whole other set of muscles just to keep from tipping over. I have seen them tip over. And they never do get that sweet pleasure that comes with a reprieve.  

Are you on a downhill? Can you loosen up, breathe better, see better, let yourself be carried for a bit? Take note, and enjoy! You know there are more hills to come. 

Photo (color altered) by Camila Cordeiro on Unsplash

The crepuscular nihilism of E. B. White

“I’m drankful they didn’t clip Serena’s wing,” said my four-year-old at evening prayers. “Drankful” is her fusion of “grateful” and “thankful,” and Serena is the wife of Louis the Swan in The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White, which we’ve been reading aloud. And her whole sentiment was my signal that, no, the weirdness in the book hadn’t flown harmlessly over the kids’ heads.

The Trumpet of the Swan tells the story of Louis, a trumpeter swan born without a voice. He can’t communicate, which means he can’t live a full swan’s life. So he goes to school with a boy who befriends him, and, after some initial skepticism from the teacher, he learns to read and write, using a small slate and chalk that hang around his neck. But none of the other swans can read, and he still can’t talk to them; so his father steals a trumpet for him, and he uses it not only to vocalize like a swan, but to play human music. Burdened with the guilt of the theft, Louis leaves home to play music for humans until he earns enough money to pay back the trumpet. The trumpet also allows him to woo Serena, who is also attracted by the slate, a lifesaving medal, and a moneybag that hang around his neck along with the trumpet, setting him apart from other swans.

At one point, Serena is in danger of having her wing clipped to keep her at a zoo; but Louis, who works for the zoo, strikes a bargain: If they let Serena go, the couple will return and donate a cygnet to the zoo from time to time. 

My kids were not okay with that, and neither was I. 

This book — and E. B. White’s other books, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little — are not the first ones to deal with the problem of sentient animals living in a human world, but I find myself repelled by how he does handle it.

Let’s switch for a moment to Charlotte’s Web, which aggressively insists that children to think about mortality and, specifically, about being killed. When Wilbur realizes he is going to be slaughtered someday, he is quite reasonably horrified. Charlotte, with her creative weaving, manages to find a way to spare him, and that’s a comfort; but every other animal on the farm, who is just as sentient and emotionally and psychologically whole as he is, will be put to use as farm animals are. Many of them will be killed and eaten. That’s just the way it is. Charlotte dies, too, but Wilbur has some comfort when a few of her children stay behind as friends for him.

As a kid, I read this book compulsively, with fear and loathing. I could see what a good story it was, and how sensitively and beautifully the story was told, but I also felt guilty and ashamed for not being moved and satisfied by how it plays out.

It’s not that I couldn’t get comfortable with the idea that everything passes. I did as well with that idea as any child or any human could be expected to do. It’s that I was angry to be presented with two contradictory realities: That animals are just like us, only we don’t realize it because we can’t understand their language; and that humans can kill and eat these animals, and that’s fine. That even extraordinary people like Fern can penetrate the wall between human and animal . . . until she grows up a little and meets a boy, and then she stops caring, and that’s fine.

That friendship and other relationships between two souls is extremely important, and are what gives life meaning — but someday this will be cut short. And that’s fine. 

It’s really not fine. It’s not just that Charlotte’s death is tough. It’s that the entire book is steeped in a kind of mild nihilism, brightened by the suggestion that sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can put off death for a while. How is this a book for children?

The same theme is present in The Trumpet of the Swan, although it’s more in the background. The central problem of the story is communication: Louis and his father both feel that Louis cannot be whole unless he can communicate. When the father swan goes literally crashing into the human world, through the plate glass window of the musical instrument store, he brings back something which allows his son not only to converse with other swans, but to enter into the world of humans as an entertainer and a businessman — which, in turn, allows him to pay back his debt, lay down the human burden of the moneybag, and return to the world of swans and live in peace with his family in the wilds of Canada. 

Except that he made that deal that sometimes he gives some children to the zoo. Dammit, E. B. White! There it is again: The reader, and specifically children, are forced to work out some kind of uneasy truce with the contradictory world he builds. We are asked to accept that swans are fully sentient, with ideals and ethics, consciences and desires, and that a wild swan living in a zoo with clipped wings is a kind of servitude so undesirable that my four-year-old recognized it as a dreadful fate. And yet this is the fate Louis proposes for an indeterminate number of his future children, and that’s fine.

White is a good and imaginative story-teller, and he could have come up with some other plot device to extricate Louis and Serena from their dilemma. But he chose to use a trope familiar to anyone who reads fairy tales: child sacrifice. This is in Rapunzel; it’s in Rumpelstiltskin; it’s in Hansel and Gretel. Heck, it’s in Iphegenia and Psyche and Andromeda. Heckity heck, it’s in the Old Testament, when Jacob lets Benjamin go to Egypt. I have no other choice. Here, take my child.

And it’s never presented as a good or reasonable solution. We may recoil in horror, or we may writhe with pity and sympathy, because we can imagine what it feels like to be in such a tight spot; but it’s unequivocally a wrong choice, or at very least a dreadful one, made with anguish. You’re really, really not supposed to sacrifice your children to save yourself. 

Not so in Trumpet. Louis and Serena, who love and dote on their children, who know them as individuals, who have real relationships with each other and even with their own parents, and who cherish their beautiful and peaceful life in the wild, travel across the country once a year and sometimes drop off one of their babies at the zoo, as per their agreement. And that’s it.

We don’t even have the comfort of knowing that this is fantastical world where the rules are different when magic intrudes, as we do in fairy tales. In fairy tales, everyday life and hardships smack up against supernatural rule-breaking, and it’s easier to accept some hard truths that wouldn’t play well in real life, because magic is present, and magic has rules of its own. Sometimes cleverness beats magic; sometimes humans are helpless before magic’s inexorable logic. But even when the results are weird and scary and unsettling, we can tell our children, “It doesn’t happen that way in real life. It’s just a story.” 

But E.B. White, with his clean, lucid, reporterly style, is at pains to present his world as the actual world, where there are seedy jazz clubs and spoiled campers, where Louis frets over the appropriate tip for the bellboy, and must remember to clean his trumpet’s spit valve. He’s not a magical creature, and he’s not exceptional, except that his defect propelled him to take the trouble to learn English. His creatures rejoice in the world, especially the natural world; but it is very clearly the real world. There’s no otherworldliness to reassure us that we may approach the ethics of this particular story through a modified lens. Again and again, he presents troubling questions to us, and does not answer them. 

I keep wondering, how much is White aware of the plight he’s creating for his readers? 

Sam Beaver, the boy who befriends Louis and helps rescue him from an ignominious life of muteness, has the endearing habit of writing a question in his journal every night, something to mull over and he falls asleep. In the final scene, he come across the word “crepuscular,” describing a rabbit, and he doesn’t know what it means. He falls asleep wondering what it might mean, planning to look it up later. Then the book ends.

After we finished reading, I followed the obvious prompt from the author looked it up. It means animals that are most active during twilight. 

And there it is. E.B. White is a crepuscular writer, who leads us, for reasons of his own, to live in a twilight world, where nothing is clearly one thing or the other, but we’re still expected to live our lives in the half-darkness.

Maybe it’s not nihilism; maybe it’s more like some kind of American zen buddhism. But it’s not especially well-suited for kids, either. Kids can handle the idea of death; but they can’t handle the idea of being content with semi-meaninglessness, and neither can I. 

***

Some interesting responses to this essay:

from Darwin: In defense of E. B. White’s talking animals
and from Melanie Bettinelli: Children’s books in Parallax

From The Boy Who Lived to Beatification: Fulton Sheen’s First Miracle

“Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen,” prayed Bonnie Engstrom. She had just given birth, and her baby boy was dead, his umbilical cord tied tightly around his neck.

He did not breathe; his heart did not beat. His leg was necrotic from a misfired epinephrine shot intended to revive him. Sixty-one minutes after delivery, his heart still did not beat, and the monitor showed nothing but “pulseless electric activity.” He could not be revived, and the ER doctors turned away to call the time of death. 

Still his parents prayed to Fulton Sheen. Then the baby’s heart began to beat.  

His mother and father believe it was the intercession of Fulton Sheen that brought him back to life – not only back to life, but back to health. The child, James Fulton Engstrom, shows no physical or mental defects from the hour he spent among the dead nine years ago.

James Fulton Engstrom (photo courtesy of Bonnie Engstrom; used with permission)

On Friday, Pope Francis decreed that it was indeed through Fulton Sheen’s intercession that James Engstrom was healed after his parents prayed to Sheen for help.

Sheen, the telegenic archbishop known for his groundbreaking evangelization via TV and radio, will now be beatified — the final step before he is declared a saint. 

Fulton Sheen in 1956. Photo by ABC Radio [Public domain]
The cause for Sheen’s beatification was put on hold after the archdiocese of Peoria and the archdiocese of New York both claimed his body. A five-year legal tussle ensued, and it wasn’t until June of 2019 that New York renounced its wish to keep Sheen’s body at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Weeks later, his remains were moved to St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, and the cause for his beatification immediately moved forward. On July 6, the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints promulgated the decree approving Sheen’s miracle

Beatification is formal recognition that a person is in heaven, and it means that we may now pray to him for intercession. Those who are beatified may be referred to as “Blessed [Name];” and they may be venerated publicly “in places closely associated with his or her life and ministry.”

With his beatification, Sheen is now one step closer to sainthood. Before he is canonized, the Vatican must approve a second miracle attributed to his intercession. The second miracle must take place after the beatification ceremony. 

How does the Church actually decide who should and shouldn’t be beatified or canonized?

“Some people think that there’s a ‘wink and nudge’ attitude in the Vatican,” said Omar Gutiérrez, who is the notary for a tribunal working through the beginning stages of another cause for beatification, this one for Fr. Edward J. Flanagan, Founder of Boys Town.

“But the remarkable thoroughness of the process took me aback,” Gutiérrez said.

I interviewed Gutiérrez back in 2014, along with Msgr. Richard Soseman, who oversaw the cause for Sheen’s canonization, and Bonnie Engstrom, whose book describing her family’s experience will be released in the fall The interview originally ran, in a somewhat different form, in Catholic Digest

I’ve included a glossary of terms at the end. 

wherever the evidence leadS

Bonnie Engstrom and her husband have always believed it was through the intercession of Fulton Sheen that their son’s life was restored; and a thorough investigation into the details of their story has borne out their theory. A rigorously trained team of investigators pored over every aspect of James Fulton’s seemingly miraculous recovery before adding his case to the cause for the beatification of Fulton Sheen. One tribunal charged with collecting information about a holy person examines alleged miracles, and another one focuses on the life and works of the person himself.

When a candidate’s name is suggested for veneration (the step before beatification), a petitioner asks a bishop to get permission from the Vatican to open a cause. If there is no objection, the petitioner names a postulator to oversee all the logistics of the cause.

Gutiérrez said that the process is like a legal investigation.

“We go wherever the evidence leads us,” he said. “We’re instructed not to cover over anything, but to be forthright. We took a vow of secrecy, because we want people who might have unpleasant information to feel free to come forth.”

In the cause for the beatification of Abp. Sheen, Msgr. Richard Soseman was delegated by Archbishop Jenky of Peoria to oversee all facets of the cause for canonization, and to compile evidence about Sheen’s life for review by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) at the Vatican. Msgr. Soseman, who is an official of the Congregation for the Clergy, said, “We were in contact with around one hundred people who knew Archbishop Sheen personally, and took testimony in the way prescribed by the Church from the greater part of them.”

Sheen at the Toe of St Peter’s statue in St Peter’s Basilica. Photo by Heather Cowper www.heatheronhertravels.com/ (Creative Commons)

Once the diocesan phase is done and the postulator has submitted his argument in favor of the candidate, and once a team of historians, theologians, and prelates for the CCS unanimously agree that the candidate led a life of exceptional virtue, he is referred to as “Venerable.” Then (in the case of non-martyrs) the CCS will consider evidence about any allegedly miraculous events brought about through the intercession of the Venerable in question.

the case was strong

This is where James Fulton Engstrom came in.  James’ mother, Bonnie, said, “My mom told me that I needed to contact the Sheen Foundation, so they would at least have a record of his story. I sincerely thought they would just write it down in a book somewhere in a back room, and that would be that.”

In many cases, that is precisely what happens. Msgr. Soseman said that, when he worked for the archdiocese, he got requests for inquiries into causes as frequently as once a month.

“There are some Causes which ‘fall apart,’ he said, “and perhaps they should at the time that they do. There are some which start a bit slowly, and others which stall at various stages in the process.  I believe there are about 800 causes at the CCS waiting for a miracle or other progress.”

But in the case of James Engstrom, one person talked to another until the postulator in Rome determined the case was strong.  The cause has moved forward with unusual speed – but with no lack of thoroughness. Engstrom was interviewed countless times, and spent years answering detailed questions about her son’s health, and about her and her husband Travis’ devotion to Fulton Sheen. 

The tribunal discovered that Bonnie’s entire pregnancy had been dedicated to Sheen.  She said, “Several witnesses were called who could testify to the fact that Travis and I had a growing devotion to Fulton Sheen; and questions were asked about when and how we and others prayed.”

No natural explanation

The allegedly miraculous event itself is scrutinized in great detail. The tribunal interviewed experts and witnesses to testify about the medical aspects of James’ ordeal.

Engstrom said that the panel of physicians searched hard through witness testimony and medical records, looking for some natural, medical explanation for what happened to her son. Engstrom said she appreciated how hard the panel worked to flush out the truth.

“In some ways it was a lot of fun,” she said. “But every time I tell James’ story, especially the more detail I share, it is difficult. My little boy went through a lot.  It was difficult to watch, and it is difficult to remember.”

Msgr. Soseman said, “The Church is quite rigorous in this process, to make sure that no error or over-enthusiasm creeps in, which might cloud the issue.”

In March of 2014, the panel of physicians appointed by the CCS unanimously agreed that there was no natural explanation for James’ revival and healing. In June, the panel of theologians agreed that the alleged miracle occurred through the intercession of Sheen.

Miter worn by Fulton Sheen. Photo by Nic Wilson (flickr.com/photos/66335735@N07/) Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode)

“We had no idea what to expect!” said Engstrom. “We were totally blown away by the beauty of [the process] — the language used, the sealing wax. We were really impressed with how earnestly the Church wants only the truth. That was really beautiful to watch, too.”

a mountain of Paperwork

Along with the ceremony and beauty, there is a mountain of clerical work involved in a cause for beatification and canonization. 

Gutiérrez said that one aspect of the process that raises eyebrows is the cost. “One complaint I often hear,” he said, “is about the money involved. But the money goes toward paying for postulator’s salary, and for printing. The amount of printing involved is immense.”

When  Msgr. Soseman worked with the Congregation for the Clergy in 2008, he said his office prepared multiple copies of the 6,500 documents gathered in the local phase of the cause alone.

After those thousands of pages for the cause are read and considered, and the theologians and physicians recommend that the cause continue, the cardinals and bishops who are members of the CCS must vote on whether to present the case to the Pope.

everything rests with the Pope

If they vote to continue, they will recommend that the Pope make a Decree of Heroic Virtue – which he may do even before a miracle is declared. Ultimately, everything rests with Pope Francis: he may do nothing, or he may declare that the miracle is valid, and the candidate will be called “Blessed.” For the candidate to be declared a saint, a second miracle is required.

A date has not yet been set for Sheen’s beatification. The ceremony will take place in Sheen’s hometown of Peoria, IL, near where the Engstrom family lives; but the canonization would be held in Rome.

Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria. Photo by Farragutful [Public domain]

Engstrom said in 2014, “If James’ healing is declared a miracle, I think there’s a good chance James would get to present Sheen’s relics to Pope Francis. As a mom, that is both incredibly exciting and terrifying!” 

At the time, no one knew how much longer will it would before the Pope make a pronouncement about Fulton Sheen.

“In the end,” said Engstrom, “This isn’t about James or our family. It’s not even about Fulton Sheen. In the end, this is about Jesus Christ. All of this — the canonization process, the miracles, saints — it’s all a means to an end, and that end is for every person to know and love Almighty God, to live lives that bring Him glory and honor, and to find salvation through Jesus Christ.”

***

Glossary of terms 

Once secret and mysterious, the beatification and canonization processes  are now more familiar to laymen – but some of the terms can be confusing. Here are some of the words and phrases you may hear:

Servant of God: title given to someone for whom a cause for beatification and canonization has begun

Venerable: someone whose martyrdom or heroic virtue has been formally recognized by the Pope

Beatification: recognition that a person is in Heaven. We may pray for intercession in the name of someone who has been beatified, and refer to him as “Blessed So-and-So”

Canonization: recognition that a person is in Heaven and may be universally venerated. Canonization does not make someone into a saint; it infallibly declares that his life is worthy of veneration and imitation

Congregation for the Causes of Saints: the body that oversees the entire process and turns all materials over to the Pope

Petitioner: appoints a postulator and pays for costs associated with the cause

Postulator: Initiates a cause for beatification or canonization and guides it through the process, documenting all relevant information about the candidate, identifying witnesses, and generally organizing and coordinating everything, and formally presenting documents to the CCS

Tribunal: Officials appointed by the bishop to consider evidence for and against canonization

Positio:  The comprehensive document that the postulator presents to the CCS, describing the person’s heroic virtue and the alleged miracle attributed to his intercession

Nihil obstat: (“nothing stands in the way”) A formal declaration by the CCS that there is no impediment to proceeding with the cause   

Theological Commission: Body of theologians appointed by the bishop to examine the writings of the candidate, to be sure there are no theological problems

Historical Commission: Body of scholars appointed by the bishop to examine the acts, visits, and timeline of the candidate

Both commissions report to the tribunal set up by the bishop who has taken up the cause.

Relator: the “reporter” who assembles documents pertaining to the candidate’s life, history, era, and circumstances. Performs many of the tasks associated with the now defunct “Devil’s Advocate” 

Special thanks to Omar Gutiérrez of the Archdiocese of Omaha for his patient and invaluable help in explaining and clarifying the process.