Activism without ego

The other day, I happened across a brief summary of the stories of Ida and Louise Cook, a pair of British sisters. They were a secretary and a romance novelist who lived with their parents. And they quietly saved the lives of dozens of European Jews in the 1930’s.

“Quietly” is the operative word. They knew they were plain-looking, dowdy and unremarkable, and they finagled that knowledge into a scheme.

On Friday nights, they would fly into Germany, and then return home by another route before Monday morning, having spent the weekend secretly working with persecuted people trying to flee.

They would find someone in England to vouch for the person in danger, and secure their legal status as refugees; and they would travel back home wearing the soon-to-be refugees’ furs and jewels, which could later be sold to help them start a new life after they escaped.

They were smugglers, and directly responsible for making the difference between death and survival. But their whole operation depended on not drawing attention to themselves. If they did gain attention, they encouraged people to think of them as harmless and rather silly, the last person you’d suspect of being a radical activist.

Who do you know who is like this? Probably somebody! But you probably don’t know what they’re up to. That’s the point. They’re effective because they don’t draw attention to themselves.

It’s probably very easy, however, to name several people you know who are extremely noisy activists, who make a huge point of taking selfies wearing the colors or flag or scarf of the day, or putting trending frames on their profile pictures, or writing posts or making videos or putting up lawn signs telling the world what side they are on.

It’s very easy to get sucked into some form of this behavior, especially if we frequently spend time on social media. In some circles, you can actually get lambasted for not behaving this way.

Noisy, public activism isn’t always bad. Sometimes it even takes some courage, if the people who do this kind of thing are surrounded by pushy crowds who think otherwise. As I said, when trying to untangle the difference between “speaking the truth even though your voice shakes” and simply engaging in empty virtue signaling:

I have heard from people who identify with the victims—from people raising black kids, for instance—that it gives them great comfort to hear a crowd of people loudly defending them. It would hurt, and be frightening, not to hear it. That in itself is good reason to speak up.

I have also heard from people who’ve said, “I have been too timid to speak up in the past. I’ve let racist jokes slide, and I’ve let insults go unchallenged. Now I see where silence leads, and I’m not going to be silent anymore.” This isn’t posturing; this is conversion of heart. Not virtue signaling, but a sign of actual virtue.

But in general, I’m intensely skeptical of heroism that is deliberately designed to look like heroism, and activism that draws attention primarily to the activist. And I’m skeptical of groups and movements that encourage everybody to speak and act in a certain way, and that condemn anyone who doesn’t speak or act in that exact way.

I keep returning to two ideas that mesh with what we’re taught as Catholics… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

image: Detail of photo by Karolina Grabowska

What’s for supper? Vol. 373: Little lamb, who ate thee?

Happy Friday! This week at our house was A DOOZY. Possibly multiple doozies. Luckily, most of it was scheduled dooze, except for both cars having issues (my sliding door stopped closing, and one of Damien’s tires blew out spectacularly, and also his alternator lost its will to alternate) and also Damien has been working on Dora’s car, so, you remember how Damien once added “and cheese” to every item on my shopping list? It was like that, except every day had “and everybody needs a ride” added to it. 

BUT IT IS SPRING. And that counts for so much! We had a big snowstorm last week, but it slowly warmed up over the weekend, and it’s been raining for a few days, so the snow is now mostly gone. 

I tried THREE new recipes this week and a new decorating technique, and Corrie had TWO sacraments, and NO ducks died, although some of them tried to kill each other. I think there is a dead mouse somewhere in the WALLS. And we are having SPAGHETTI for supper. We are all pretty TIRED. But it is spring, for real! 

SATURDAY
Pizza? 

Saturday I did a monstrous shopping because I skipped shopping last week. I feel like there was something else big going on, but I don’t remember what. We had just regular pizza. 

SUNDAY
Banh mi, german chocolate cake 

Sunday we celebrated Lena’s birthday! They had pork belly on sale at Aldi, so I poked around for recipes and decided to try the Crispy Pork Belly Banh Mi from Recipe Tin Eats, because Nagi has never failed to delight, and also because, despite our best efforts, we still had chopped liver in the house.

Before I forget, here is my chopped liver recipe. Chicken livers are cheap and this is an easy recipe. Why not make up a bunch, separate it into servings, and keep some in the freezer in case of banh mi? I think you should. 

So, pork belly is the cut of meat that’s made into bacon. If fat upsets you, you will not like this recipe! But if you are someone who has fond and lavish imaginings of what could possibly be meant by “crispy pork belly,” then I urge you to give this a shot. It was magnificent. And easy! But it did take some planning. 

You have to let the meat dry out in the fridge overnight, or at least several hours. Then you rub the flesh side with oil, kosher salt, white pepper, and Chinese five spice, and make a sort of foil packet to enclose the sides and bottom, so none of the juice will escape while it’s cooking. Then you cook it in a low oven for two hours.

You’re supposed to check it halfway through and tighten up the foil, because it shrinks as it cooks, but I forgot. The pork will have changed shape at this stage, so you level it off by putting balls of tinfoil under the lower side. 

Then you turn the oven way up to 465 and let it brown up for about half an hour, rotating it halfway through and using foil to protect any spots that are browning too fast. You salt it at some point, but I forget when. 

Sooo, here is how it came out:

ooooh. 

Probably could have let it get a little browner, but I really have no regrets.

This particular dish is meant to be cut into chunks, rather than shredded, so I cut it up

and served it on toasted baguettes with mayo, cilantro, pickled carrots, cucumbers, jalapeños, chopped liver (paté) and the wonderful, velvety sauce suggested in the recipe (hoisin sauce, coconut milk, and a little soy sauce), and also some crunchy fried onions from a can. 

Amazing. Pretty different from the banh mi I usually make, which has fish sauce and is a different texture. 

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This was sweeter and less bitey but also richer and more complex. An excellent, excellent sandwich, and the sauce was so good. I did make the pickled carrots using her recipe, and I think I prefer mine, which are less sweet,

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but it was a negligible difference. 

The pork belly chunks were sublime. The fat layer on top was salty and crackly, and the flesh inside was so juicy and succulent, and it had layers of fat inside that were meltingly tender. No chewiness in any part, and each individual piece of meat was, I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but almost like a layered sandwich in itself. So it was like a sandwich full of little baby sandwiches. Not, uhhhhh, an everyday food, for a variety of reasons. But I enjoyed it so much. 

And I made a cake! I decided to use the Tastes Better From Scratch recipe for German Chocolate Cake. I actually made the two frostings on Saturday, to save time, but then left them sitting on the stove all night by mistake. One has egg in it, and I wasn’t crazy about the texture anyway, so I decided to remake it. Because I was being smart. 

I then proceeded to be very dumb and decided that, when I got to the part of the cake recipe where you add a cup of boiling water to the batter, I would use a metal measuring cup without a handle.

Do you know, boiling water is hot? I didn’t realize this. So I basically tipped a little water in and then shrieked and flung the measuring cup into the moving mixer, with predictable results

So I wiped down every single surface of every single thing that was in the kitchen and then I remade the coconut pecan frosting. I made a double recipe of the cake, and it came out, like so many of us these days, a little too fragile. Also the chocolate frosting was so thick, you couldn’t really spread it, but you could squish it, so that is what I did. So the resulting cake looks a little like someone held it at shoulder level and then dropped it

but everyone assured me it was delicious! You have to agree, this is definitely a lot of cake. I have finally started on Emgality, so who knows, maybe some day I will have chocolate again, and find out for myself. 

MONDAY
Eclipse! 

Monday, if you recall, was the eclipse! We were in the 95% range, and we’ve seen a partial eclipse before; so I decided to excuse the kids from school and hop in the car to see totality. Our goal was St. Johnbury, VT, which is normally about two hours away. It took about 3.5 hours, so I deployed the car DVD player, which is reserved for the longest trips, and we watched Ice Age, which holds up, at least if you’re only listening to it. 

We were thrilled to see clear skies, and it was one of the warmest days of the year so far, so we felt very lucky. Staked out a spot, ate our sandwiches, checked out the craft tables and information booths, and then the moon started to steal across the sun, and then . . . 

I don’t know if you guys realize this, but the sun is what is making us alive, and when it gets covered up, things change DRAMATICALLY and IMMEDIATELY. We went from sweating in the sun to shivering, and the light was . . . not twilight, like when the sun is going down. It also wasn’t “there’s a storm brewin'” light. It was light I have never seen before in my life, and there above me were immense heavenly bodies silently moving themselves in a completely new way. Everybody stood up. People shouted and cried out. I wept. It was quiet and cold. I don’t know what to say.

I did take a few pictures

but of course they aren’t anything like what it was like. Neither, I may say, are the dramatic, high resolution pictures that people have been sharing. If you haven’t seen a total eclipse, it is simply not like anything else

We did bring a colander and use it as a pinhole projector to make the little crescent shapes before totality.

Strange, strange stuff. The whole thing was just so strange. And it was just the sun, and the moon! The sun and the moon, that we already know about and have lived with all these years. If this is how strange the physical world can get, it makes you wonder what other surprises may be in store. Phew. Phew. Quite a day. 

Lots of people turned right around and zipped off to their cars the very second totality was over, but we hung out and kind of caught our breaths, and then headed over to the Fairbanks Museum, which is a strange little natural history museum full of taxidermy and cultural oddities from all over the world. I enjoyed every bit of it, including the document hand written by Robert Louis Stevenson deeding his birthday over to a little local girl who had the misfortune of having been born on Christmas. Sweet man. 

 

Oh, I forgot to mention that just before totality, we saw strange ruby-red gems of light on the bottom edge of the sun. These turned out to be something called Bailey’s Beads, and it is the sunlight leaking out between the crags of the moon just before the moon moves totally over the sun. 

So after the museum, we plunged back into traffic and spent another 3.5 hours getting home. We watched Help on the way back, and Corrie lost a tooth, and we sampled Wendy’s Orange Dreamsicle Frosties (exactly what you’d expect), and then we came home and collapsed. 

TUESDAY
Chicken burgers, chips

Tuesday I was like, wow, I’m not even that tired. I got the kids to school, took one kid to a rather fraught doctor appointment, cleaned out the car for the first time in months because Corrie lost her tooth and then lost it again, and was pretty distraught about it; and then I decided that it was time to do something about the duck house, which was in a truly shocking state. And then I thought I would sit down for a minute, and of course I fell asleep. SO asleep. So ASLEEP. It was such a deep nap, I feel like I’m still waking up several days later. Man. 

So yes, chicken burgers and chips for supper. It was finally warm enough to eat outside, so that is what I did!

WEDNESDAY
Hot dogs, fries

Wednesday was the rehearsal for Corrie’s First Communion and confirmation right around supper time, so I got Elijah to manage supper and we got it done! Wednesday was supposed to be nachos for supper, but I had so many other things to do, we didn’t even have time for that, so hot dogs. 

After dinner, I made a cake for the next day – just a box mix, which are really quite good these days. I made some kind of white cake that uses just egg whites.

THURSDAY
Qeema and rice with minty sour cream and coriander chutney; white cake 

Thursday I just . . . didn’t want to make nachos. I don’t know why. So I went back to Recipe Tin Eats begging for a ground beef recipe, and dear Nagi said I could make qeema. 

I’m telling you, that lady does not miss. I minced up a bunch of garlic and ginger, cooked that a bit, added finely diced onion, cooked it some more, and then added the ground beef along with kosher salt, cayenne pepper, garam masala, cumin, coriander, and turmeric, and browned up the meat. Then you just add some water and simmer it until most of the water evaporates.

And that’s it! I set up some rice in the Instant Pot for Damien to start while I got the kids, and I wanted to make some yogurt sauce, but since I had been planning nachos, I had bought sour cream, and we didnt’t have yogurt. So I defrosted a couple of the mint cubes I had put away last fall

and stirred that in with the sour cream (I froze them with a little olive oil. I also found a bottle of coriander chutney in the cabinet and chopped up some cilantro, and IT WAS ALL DELICIOUS.

Definitely making this meal again. I told the kids it was like Korean Beef Bowl

Jump to Recipe

except Indian, which is sort of true, but also kind of a silly thing to say. It was not spicy, but was absolutely bristling with garlic and ginger, which I love. Just a wonderful, warm, homey taste, and the sauce from the meat soaked right into the rice and made the whole thing savory and good, and so nice with the cool chutney and minty sour cream. Great meal, and really quick (or a great make-ahead meal). 

I also realized that I’m very tired of not really knowing how much meat I actually have (the ground beef was in a ziplock bag from last week, after I divided a giant package and used the first part on areyes. So I got a cheap kitchen scale, and I’m looking forward to seeing if this improves my baking, too, if I can measure dry ingredients by weight rather than volume. Probably not! I think I’m just a mediocre baker, and I’m mostly okay with that. But who knows, maybe this will change everything. Anyway, I’ll know how much meat I have. 

We ate really early and then headed off for Corrie’s confirmation and First Holy Communion! 

Bunch of pictures here. 

It was lovely. Just lovely. Clara was her sponsor, and she chose the name Casilda, who is a saint she learned about from Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s excellent book Saints Around the World. It didn’t ring a bell at the time, but Saint Casilda of Toledo is the subject of this famous painting by Francisco de Zurbaran

which was the reference for a painting by Roméo Mivekannin which we saw in person a few months ago at the Currier Museum in Manchester.

 We do get around. 

For the cake, I often make a stained glass cake for sacrament parties. You cover the cake in royal icing to make a stable surface, let it dry, pipe lines in black, and the carefully fill them in with various jellies whipped up with a little water. This isn’t the greatest example, but it gives the general idea:

I wanted to try something different, so I frosted the cake and then melted some white candy melts and just kind of dabbed them onto parchment paper

When they were dry, I peeled them off and arranged them into a flower. 

I thought it was pretty, if a little rough; but it didn’t really say “Catholic” to me. First I attempted to make crosses out of candy melt. They looked pretty terrible when I cut them out with a knife; and when I tried to use a cookie cutter, they kept breaking when I tried to release them. So I found some gum paste and

behold, it’s THE LITTLE LAMBY OF GOD. 

This is the cutest religious cake I have ever made. Corrie loved it, and I’m happy to have a new way to decorate cakes. I see many possibilities. 

I’ve been on a poem-printing kick lately. I follow several poets and poetry lovers on social media, and the printer has been amazingly obliging lately (= it prints things???), so any time something strikes my fancy, I print it out and stick it to the wall. Here’s The Lamb by William Blake, if you’d like to do the same. When we were at the Fairbanks and I pointed out the Robert Louis Stevenson document to the kids, I reminded them that he was the one who wrote At the Sea-Side (“When I was down beside the sea/A wooden spade they gave to me…”) which is the poem that’s been hanging in the bathroom for several years, and my favorite poem of all time; and one of my kids said, “Oh, I have it memorized. I stare at it every time I take a dump!” So I guess you could say [looks smugly at fingernails] I really know my stuff, parent-wise. 

And now, my friends, all ten of my children have been baptized and confirmed and they’ve all been to confession and received Communion. And they’ve memorized at least one poem. I’m not saying my work is done, but it sure feels like a milestone. 

FRIDAY
Spaghetti? 

I believe we’re having spaghetti. I gotta clean up the kitchen from yesterday (it was Benny’s turn, but we got home so late), and the ducklings are meep-meep-meeping and the dog is whining and I’m still in my pajamas and there are things overdue and there simply isn’t time for it all, but I am so glad for my life. What a life! 

And look at my flowers, which did NOT DIE.

The greens are daffodils and possibly red tulips, I don’t remember. Some of my winter sowing jugs are finally poking out of the dirt. And the buds on my peach tree look fine! We had a freeze and I was rushing around in the dark, draping sheets over things and weeping, as one does, but it looks like everything survived. 

Happy Friday! I’ll pray for yez all at adoration this afternoon. 

 

5 from 1 vote
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Korean Beef Bowl

A very quick and satisfying meal with lots of flavor and only a few ingredients. Serve over rice, with sesame seeds and chopped scallions on the top if you like. You can use garlic powder and powdered ginger, but fresh is better. The proportions are flexible, and you can easily add more of any sauce ingredient at the end of cooking to adjust to your taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar (or less if you're not crazy about sweetness)
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 inches fresh ginger, minced
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 lb2 ground beef
  • scallions, chopped, for garnish
  • sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, cook ground beef, breaking it into bits, until the meat is nearly browned. Drain most of the fat and add the fresh ginger and garlic. Continue cooking until the meat is all cooked.

  2. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes the ground beef and stir to combine. Cook a little longer until everything is hot and saucy.

  3. Serve over rice and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. 

5 from 1 vote
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Pork banh mi

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce

Instructions

  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 

5 from 1 vote
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quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

When the darkness passes, do not forget the Lord

It was four years ago, at this time of year, that COVID social isolation began in earnest. Remember?

First we started staying home from Mass, then from school, then from everything else. The thing that brought me up short, though, was when it dawned on me we wouldn’t be back to normal in time for Easter. It seemed so terrible not to be present for my favorite day of the liturgical year, such a loss.

Then my father died suddenly, just before Easter, and I had to adjust my views on loss.

It was a strange thing. Instead of planning for my father’s visit, we were planning his funeral. All through the Easter Vigil, live-streamed on a laptop, I was aware that this wasn’t ideal. We should be inside the actual church, actually receiving Christ’s body and blood, and instead we were crammed into our living room watching a tenor singing out “Christ our light” into an empty building.

But I couldn’t stop smiling.

It was a strange thing. The seminarian started to read from Genesis, telling us how the world was empty and void, and then God spoke, and there was light. He told us how God made the water, and fish to swim in it, the land, and creatures to crawl on it, and sun, moon, and stars to rule the day and night, and man. And breath for man, the breath of God. It was a good story, and I wanted to hear more. I was spellbound through the entire Mass, as if it were all new. Out of the void, God made something firm, something real, something for us to stand on. And then he gave us life.

When I got the call that my father was dead, even as I cried, I kept finding little stepping stones of joy. It was like trying to make your way across a dark, formless swamp. No one would dispute that death and grief are dreadful and cold, but there was always something to stand on, something good.

I kept thinking: At least he died at home in his comfy chair, not hooked up to the beeping hospital machines he loathed. At least he was a praying man, and he had been to confession. At least the last thing I told him was that I love him. There was something for my feet to stand on amid the grief.

At least I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. It’s a good story, and I want to hear more. I kept thinking of it at his burial, where my siblings and I stood six feet apart, in an almost comically tragic scene straight out of a Russian novel, with fog and mud and solitary mourners by an open grave; and I smiled then too.

That was the year when one thing after another started to unravel in my life. I kept losing things, precious things, that I thought I utterly depended on; but I also kept finding firm ground under my feet. Not a lot of ground! But enough…. Read the rest of my latest for Our Sunday Visitor.

Image via PickPik

On speaking the Holy Name

I’m a big believer in small, achievable goals. There are times when it’s appropriate to take a giant leap and commit to drastic changes, and there are times when drastic changes are forced upon us, and we have to decide whether to handle it poorly or well. But most of life is about little things. It’s the little things that end up being big.

The name of Jesus is one such “little thing.” I say it’s little because it comes into our life so rapidly, and then disappears again. It takes a fraction of a second to say; it takes up a tiny space in print or on your phone screen. Just a little breath of air, a precarious second on the lips and tongue, or a little sliver of dark pixels on a bright field, and then it’s gone again: Jesus.

So, how do we treat this name? Carefully. Carefully, is my advice. I hope that most Catholics will, at least, refrain from using the Holy Name as a curse word, or as an exclamation of surprise. If not, that’s the place to start. When you say “Jesus,” mean Jesus, and not anything else.

(I’m thinking of my mother, who willingly took her elderly Jewish parents into our home to care for them, but eventually got fed up with hearing her father use “Jesus” as an expression of irritation. She eventually blurted out, “You know, Dad, if you keep calling him, he’s going to show up.” That made him stop!)

If you can eradicate actual profane use of the name of Jesus from your own vocabulary, a reasonable next step is to make a commitment to show reverence to the name when other people use it, either rightly or wrongly. Some people will say “Blessed be the name of Jesus” as a small act of reparation, if they hear someone using the name irreverently.

If you’re not up for that (and it can be very awkward, depending on the situation), you can probably manage to bow your head whenever you hear the name. Bowing one’s head at the name of Jesus is a good practice on any occasion, whether you’re making reparation for irreverence, or simply showing reverence when someone uses the name appropriately. It doesn’t have to be a big, showy thing. Just lower your eyes and bow your head briefly.

What is the point of all this? It’s a practice that I think of as putting things in their proper order. Order doesn’t sound like much until you’ve lived with profound disorder…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: A male face with head bowed, expressing veneration. Engraving by M. Engelbrecht (?), 1732, after C. Le BrunCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s for supper? Vol. 372: MEATSTER

Happy Friday! Happy Friday that is within the octave of Easter, and you know what that means: Every Good Boy Deserves Flesh. And that’s why, right now, there are two giant racks of pork ribs rubbed all over with sugar and spice, waiting for the heat. Resurrexit!

HOLY SATURDAY
Seder!

Actual Passover is not for several weeks, but because our family celebrates it both to mark the liberation of our people from slavery, and as a precursor to Easter, so we have it on Holy Saturday; and we don’t have it on Holy Thursday, because there’s so much food. It also marked the liberation of the freezer from an enormous stock pot and a growing number of foil-wrapped bundles. 

First we do the ceremonious part of the seder, and then we eat. All my Passover recipes except for the sponge cake are here!

The menu:
Chicken soup with matzoh balls

Gefilte fish, because it’s spectacularly unphotogenic;

Chopped liver

Cinnamon garlic chicken

Roast lamb

and Charoset, which I also didn’t take a picture of, even though it’s quite beautiful (actually it doesn’t look like anything much). 

I did make spinach pie, but while making it suffered several of what my friend Francesca calls a “menty b,” and it was so bad. Just tasted truly bad. So I threw it out! For the vegetable, we had giant pickles, instead. 

Then for dessert:

Citrus sponge cake

This is a new-to-me recipe, and it turned out excellent. Passover baking is tricky because you can’t use leavening agents, so all the airiness comes from egg whites. It is pretty fussy, but the results were worth it. I made it on Thursday and it was still soft, fluffy, and tender on Saturday. I had one angel food cake pan, and one springform pan which I lined with parchment paper, and then I put a can full of rocks in the middle. Both worked great. Definitely using this recipe in the future. 

For dessert we also had chocolate caramel matzoh, with and without almonds, and various store-bought macaroons, halvah, jelly rings, and fruit slices.

Then we went to the Easter Vigil! It was three hours long! Five baptisms and confirmations, and two confirmations, and it was great. Nothing like the Easter Vigil, man. 

EASTER SUNDAY
Feast of leftovers!

Everyone got up at a leisurely pace and got to work on their Easter baskets. The little basket gifty this year was a Lady of Guadalupe mirror key chain, very classy. 

For supper, there was enough soup and matzoh balls for everyone to have one bowl, and there were plenty of leftovers of everything else, phew. We made SO much charoset this year, to everyone’s delight. I think we went through 15 pounds of apples. 

The rest of the day was just for eating candy and making eggs. This year I got one of those EggMazing egg spinner things, which the younger kids really enjoyed. 

I got it into my head to try embroidered eggs, which unsurprisingly turned out to be extremely fiddly and time-consuming, so I only made one. I cut an access hole in the back of a raw duck egg with little curved nail scissors, emptied it and washed it out, dried it, and coated the outside with Mod Podge. Then I used the nail scissors to make holes, and then embroidered it, getting a little confused about the design as I went.

With egg embroidery, you can only do stitches where the holes have space in between, obviously, or else you’ll wreck the shell. You could do cross stitch, but I really hate the look of cross stitch for some reason. It just pisses me off. So instead I made this thing, and now I can stop thinking about it, which is the main reason I do crafts. 

I also made an eclipse egg and a sort of Medieval astronomy egg,

which I wish I had planned out better and added some red, but, again, now it’s out of my head. I made the designs with clear nail polish. 

The reason I’m mainly showing my eggs and not the kids’ is because they did eggs that were like “Frasier’s Red Scare Egg” and it’s bad enough I have to know about it. They are just so weird. 

THEN I DID SOME DISHES.

Not pictured: The other kitchen counter, which also looked like this. But I was fueled with jelly beans, so I powered right through the first layer and then left the rest for the kids. 

MONDAY
Shepherd’s pie

We had quite a bit of leftover lamb, so I diced it finely and made shepherd’s pie. I checked out a bunch of recipes and decided this is something I can definitely wing. And, for the first time in my life, I used instant potatoes. 

Guys. Guys. I may never mash another potato. At very least, I’m definitely using instant for shepherd’s pie. Everybody just loved the taste, and it was ten thousand times easier than peeling, boiling, and mashing all those potatoes. I know the rest of you have already long since figured this out, but it’s a revelation to me! 

So I whipped up three packs of potatoes with cheese, heated up some frozen corn, and made a savory sauce for the lamb

threw it all in a greased dish, and baked it until it was bubbly and the top was browned

and it was completely delicious. 

Very glad I wrote down the recipe as I made it,

Jump to Recipe

because I’m going to do it exactly like this next time. 

TUESDAY
BLT’s, nacho chips, birthday batcake 

Tuesday was Irene’s birthday, and she requested BLTs. That’s a can do. 

(You can see that, at this point, we had washed the Passover dishes, but not yet put them away. It’s a process!) 

She also asked for Batman-themed cake, leaving the details up to me. So, uh, I immediately thought of this:

and it turned out kinda, well, look. It had homemade cream cheese frosting. Let’s lean on that. 

You can’t really see it, but I molded a little can of shark repellant spray out of gum paste, and tucked that into Batman’s hand. 

The little signs are labels identifying everything on the cake

Did I mention it had homemade cream cheese frosting? I used a sifter and everything!

WEDNESDAY
Areyes with yogurt sauce, Jerusalem salad

Wednesday I tried a new recipe. I think I saw a video on Instagram, alerting me to a food I never knew existed: Areyes, which is Lebanese street food. It’s just seasoned ground meat fried inside pita, and I didn’t see how that could fail to be delicious. And I was right!

I used the recipe from RecipeTinEats, which is almost always good stuff. Pretty basic seasonings, nothing too exotic: onion and garlic, coriander, cumin, paprika, allspice, cayenne pepper, and kosher salt. I put the onion through the food processor, since I was making a lot of it, and then you just mix everything all together

and divide it up into about 1/4 cup per sandwich.

Cut the pitas in half and carefully open them, and then press the meat flat and slide it in. 

The recipe called for spraying them with oil spray and then frying them. I did this, but they didn’t come out as crisp as I was hoping. 

Still extremely delicious, though. Just about everybody liked them. I made a Jerusalem salad for a side (cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh lemon juice and parsley, and a little salt) and a big bowl of garlicky yogurt sauce, and it was a lovely meal

Definitely making this again, but I need to figure out something to make them more crisp. Maybe still use the oil spray, but cook them at a lower heat so they spend longer in the pan, or possibly fry them in butter. Anyway, the idea is that you fry them up with the meat still raw, so it kind of melds with the inside of the bread, more like a quesadilla than a hamburger. Brilliant. 

Also on Thursday I managed to pack up all the plates and glasses and whatnot! It’s not really that hard! But I hate it!

THURSDAY
Chicken and salad

Thursday I just roasted some chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and served it over salad, and I got some rolls from the store. I hardly ate any because I broke down and completely abandoned myself to gobbling down a childhood snack: Matzoh smeared with butter and sprinkled with salt. The incredible power of food to turn you six years old again. What a thing. 

I also got the kids to haul all the Passover stuff back up into the attic. It has to be a week-long ordeal; it’s a tradition. 

FRIDAY
Pork ribs, risotto, asparagus

And today is MEATSTER, as I said, so Damien is making those ribs. I’m gonna make some risotto — not sure if I will go whole-hog and do it on the stovetop

Jump to Recipe

or take a shortcut and make it in the Instant Pot,

Jump to Recipe

which is quite good but not sublime like slow stovetop risotto — and some asparagus, the first of the season (from the store, I mean. My own asparagus bed is under about six inches of snow right now, alas). I will probably just lightly saute it in a pan and serve it with lemon wedges. 

Oh, and last weekend I processed the last of the maple sap. I had about four gallons and made a little batch of maple sugar candy, which is quite simple, as long as you have a candy thermometer: You just boil the sap until it’s syrup at 220 degrees, and then you keep boiling it until it hits 235. (You can start with syrup! No need to start with sap.) 

Then you let it cool to 175, stir it up until it turns light and creamy, and pour it into your molds. I let mine cook a little too long, because I was goofing off, so it dried out a bit and was somewhat crumbly, and I had to smoosh it into the molds, rather than pour it. It was still undeniably candy, though. I stirred in a bunch of finely-chopped walnuts, and I was pleased. It tasted intensely of maple, and it melted in your mouth like it’s supposed to. 

And now that’s something else I can stop thinking about!

Still thinking about those ribs, though. 

All my passover recipes are here, and here are the recipe cards for the week. 

I woke up in a little panic, thinking it was eclipse day and we were missing it. But that’s Monday! Some of the family is going to the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, where they’re supposed to have a good ninety seconds of totality. We are bringing tons of food, extra gas, and possibly one of those portable women’s urinals, because I really don’t know what the traffic will be like, but I’m guessing horrendous. But, AN ECLIPSE. I AM EXCITE. 

Leftover lamb shepherd's pie

This recipe uses lots of shortcuts and it is delicious.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.

  2. Prepare the mashed potatoes and set aside.

  3. Heat and drain the corn. (I heated mine up in beef broth for extra flavor.)

  4. In a saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Stir in pepper.

  5. Add the flour gradually, stirring with a fork, until it becomes a thick paste. Add in the cream and continue stirring until it is blended. Add in the cooked meat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.

  6. Add enough broth until the meat mixture is the consistency you want.

  7. Grease a casserole dish and spread the meat mixture on the bottom. Spread the corn over the meat. Top with the mashed potatoes and spread it out to cover the corn. Use a fork to add texture to mashed potatoes, so they brown nicely.

  8. Cook for about forty minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the meat mixture is bubbly. (Finish browning under broiler if necessary.)

Instant Pot Risotto

Almost as good as stovetop risotto, and ten billion times easier. Makes about eight cups. 

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground sage
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups rice, raw
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • pepper
  • 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Turn IP on sautee, add oil, and sautee the onion, garlic, salt, and sage until onions are soft.

  2. Add rice and butter and cook for five minutes or more, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly opaque and butter is melted.

  3. Press "cancel," add the broth and wine, and stir.

  4. Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 9 minutes.

  5. Release the pressure and carefully stir in the parmesan cheese and pepper. Add salt if necessary. 

 

Suppli (or Arancini)

Breaded, deep fried balls of risotto with a center of melted mozzarella. 
Make the risotto first and leave time to refrigerate the suppli before deep frying. 

Ingredients

  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 8 + 8 Tbs butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 4 cups raw rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese

To make suppli out of the risotto:

  • risotto
  • 1 beaten egg FOR EACH CUP OF RISOTTO
  • bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs
  • plenty of oil for frying
  • mozzarella in one-inch cubes (I use about a pound of cheese per 24 suppli)

Instructions

  1. Makes enough risotto for 24+ suppli the size of goose eggs.


    Set chicken stock to simmer in a pot.

    In a large pan, melt 8 Tbs. of the butter, and cook onions slowly until soft but not brown.

    Stir in raw rice and cook 7-8 minutes or more, stirring, until the grains glisten and are opaque.

    Pour in the wine and boil until wine is absorbed.

    Add 4 cups of simmering stock and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost absorbed.

    Add 4 more cups of stock and cook until absorbed.

    If the rice is not tender by this point, keep adding cups of stock until it is tender. You really want the rice to expand and become creamy.

    When rice is done, gently stir in the other 8 Tbs of butter and the grated cheese with a fork.

  2. This risotto is wonderful to eat on its own, but if you want to make suppli out of it, read on!

  3. TO MAKE THE SUPPLI:

    Beat the eggs and gently mix them into the risotto.


    Scoop up about 1/4 cup risotto mixture. Press a cube of mozzarella. Top with another 1/4 cup scoop of risotto. Roll and form an egg shape with your hands.


    Roll and coat each risotto ball in bread crumbs and lay in pan to refrigerate. 


    Chill for at least an hour to make the balls hold together when you fry them.


    Put enough oil in pan to submerge the suppli. Heat slowly until it's bubbling nicely, but not so hot that it's smoking. It's the right temperature when little bubbles form on a wooden spoon submerged in the oil. 


    Preheat the oven if you are making a large batch, and put a paper-lined pan in the oven.


    Carefully lower suppli into the oil. Don't crowd them! Just do a few at a time. Let them fry for a few minutes and gently dislodge them from the bottom. Turn once if necessary. They should be golden brown all over. 


    Carefully remove the suppli from the oil with a slotted spoon and eat immediately, or keep them warm in the oven. 

 

sugar smoked ribs

the proportions are flexible here. You can adjust the sugar rub to make it more or less spicy or sweet. Just pile tons of everything on and give it puh-lenty of time to smoke.

Ingredients

  • rack pork ribs
  • yellow mustard
  • Coke
  • extra brown sugar

For the sugar rub:

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp white pepper

Instructions

  1. Coat the ribs in yellow mustard and cover them with sugar rub mixture

  2. Smoke at 225 for 3 hours

  3. Take ribs out, make a sort of envelope of tin foil and pour Coke and brown sugar over them. close up the envelope.

  4. Return ribs to smoker and cook another 2 hours.

  5. Remove tinfoil and smoke another 45-min.

  6. Finish on grill to give it a char.

He’s Not Sorry: New Lawsuit, New Church Militant, Same Michael Voris

By Damien Fisher

Church Militant is dead. Viva Church Militant.

The defunct Catholic news outlet is embroiled in a brand new lawsuit, and its disgraced founder is still battling a defamation case while trying to restart the business in Texas. But none of these tribulations is Michael Voris’ fault, according to Michael Voris. 

In November, Voris publicly apologized for the tawdry behavior brought about by his “demons;” but he isn’t to blame for publishing the defamatory article that helped bring ruin to his career, destroyed his Church Militant news outlet, and wrecked the lives of his employees, Voris says.

Niles in a recent YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=shared&v=GtyUGel2Ygo

Instead, Voris blames former News Director Christine Niles for the story that defamed New Hampshire’s Rev. Georges de Laire. But this claim is directly contradicted by damning sworn testimony of a key witness in the defamation lawsuit: Michael Voris.

What remains of Church Militant, meanwhile, is facing a new lawsuit brought by its former web hosting contractor, who says the new owners, conspiracy producers Truth Army, owe $3 million for rebranding services.

Voris blames Niles, Niles blames Voris

As Saint Michael’s Media, the non-profit that operates Church Militant, was settling its end of the lawsuit with de Laire for $500,000, Voris was also in talks to reach his own settlement with the New Hampshire priest. But those talks broke down when Voris refused to take full responsibility for defaming de Laire.

According to records filed in the United States District Court in Concord, New Hampshire, Voris told de Laire’s attorney Howard Cooper that Niles’ failure to vet the story written by Marc Balestrieri is not his responsibility.

“It was Niles’ total responsibility to review and vet the content—not mine,” Voris wrote to Cooper. “Just like she did not hand over multiple things in discovery thus bringing us all to this point, she also failed in her duties to vet the article and raise any concerns to me in advance.”

Voris did not respond to requests for comment.

Both Niles and Voris were caught violating discovery orders by holding evidence linking them to Balestrieri. During a deposition last year, Niles finally handed over numerous text message exchanges she had with Balestrieri. The following day, Church Militant’s lawyers quit the case.

Niles maintains she never intentionally hid the texts, but misunderstood the communications from Church Militant’s lawyers, according to a statement she previously filed in court. Niles had handed over other relevant documents, but she thought only Voris was required to hand over his texts.

Voris refuses to apologize, tanking possible settlement

Voris recently emailed Cooper to reject a proposed apology to de Laire as part of a settlement then under negotiation. Voris told the attorney he would not sign the apology since he could not truthfully take full responsibility.

“I will not present a falsehood in any statement and I’m very confused and disturbed by your insistence that I take responsibility for something I have no responsibility in,” Voris wrote.

Cooper wrote a proposed apology for Voris to sign in which he took full responsibility for the article. Cooper’s draft was in response to one Voris wrote which placed blame on Niles. The original Voris draft is not filed in court, but Cooper wrote to Voris explaining it was not sufficient for a settlement.

“Please understand that it is unacceptable to use the apology to assign blame to Ms. Niles,” Cooper wrote.

But Voris maintains he did not see the article before publication, and relied on Niles to vet the story. Voris offered to take responsibility for hiring Niles, but not for her failures.

“I’m responsible for her being in her post. SHE is responsible for failing in her duties,” Voris wrote.

Niles is not surprised

Niles got wind of Voris’s blame game and sent her own letter to Cooper with receipts from Voris’ sworn deposition in the case which contradict his latest version of the truth.

“While it greatly saddens me that he would make me the scapegoat in all this, it doesn’t surprise me,” Niles wrote to Cooper. “He is a very vindictive man. Considering I was the one who blew the whistle on his misconduct – he would likely still be the president and CEO of St. Michael’s Media had I not brought forth evidence of his misconduct to the board of directors – it is unsurprising that he would try to pin the blame of the lawsuit on me.”

Niles in a recent YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=shared&v=GtyUGel2Ygo
Niles in a recent YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=shared&v=GtyUGel2Ygo
Voris’ sworn testimony puts the onus on him

The misconduct Niles refers to is what former employees called Voris’ “homosexual double life while posturing as a beacon of Christian virtue,” sending unsolicited shirtless selfies to a prospective donor, and other  misdeeds, both sexual and financial. Voris published an emotional video in November of 2023 acknowledging his personal demons. 

“Sometimes it takes very horrible events, even at your own hand, to surface certain things that need to be faced,” Voris said. He announced plans to seek professional help. 

But while Voris took responsibility for the scandal ignited by his more sensational transgressions, he’s steadfastly refusing to acknowledge his part in the actions that directly led to his media empire’s demise. Voris is now claiming he never saw the defamatory article before it was published and had no idea of the exact contents — but he’s contradicted by his own testimony under oath.

In the deposition transcript, Voris had the following exchange with de Laire’s lawyer: 

“Q: Did you review the article before it was published?

Voris: I don’t remember if I did or not. I remember discussing the article before it was published.

Q: I asked you if you reviewed it before it was published, and you said you don’t recall, but that you know you discussed it before it was published.

Voris: [Deponent nods head.]

Q: And I’m asking who you discussed it with?

Voris: Marc.

Q: Did you discuss with anyone internally?

Voris: I—yeah, I would—I would have discussed it with Christine. 

Voris also said that he was still unsure the defamation article was inaccurate. 

What about Marc?

Aside from not taking full responsibility, Voris also told Cooper he could not agree that Balestrieri’s article is actually wrong.

“(I) cannot sign into a statement saying what MB [Marc Balestrieri] said was false because I do not know that. Sitting here today, I still have no reason to believe what he said was false,” Voris wrote. “All I know is that after he repeatedly told me and others he had these sources, he simply refused to provide them. That does not mean there weren’t any, nor does it mean the claims are false.”

Marc Balestrieri

Saint Michael’s Media and former Church Militant reporter Anita Carey both settled with de Laire in February, apologizing for the Jan. 19, 2019 article “New Hampshire Vicar Changes Dogma Into Heresy.” Saint Michael’s Media paid de Laire $500,000 as part of the settlement. Church Militant’s website went offline in March, weeks ahead of schedule.

The article claimed de Laire, who is a New Hampshire parish priest and the judicial vicar for the diocese, is incompetent, emotionally unstable, and known in the Vatican for making errors, among other disputed points. The anonymous sources for these claims have never been identified, and the claims cannot be corroborated. Voris got involved in New Hampshire when the diocese took disciplinary steps against the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a radical traditionalist sect which adheres to the teachings of anti-Semitic Fr. Leonard Feeney.

At the time of Voris’ first foray into the controversy, Balestrieri was reportedly working as the canon lawyer for the Slaves. According to court records, Balestrieri wrote for Church Militant for years using pen names, and he worked as a canonist for Voris and at least one other Church Militant staffer. However, Balestrieri now claims he is not the author of the defamatory article and Voris knows more about the article’s reporting, writing, and sourcing.

“I am prepared to testify to a far different version of events than those claimed by Michael Voris,” he wrote in an email.

Balestrieri also now claims he was never the canon lawyer for the Slaves, despite statements from de Laire, Church Militant, Voris, and the Slaves to the contrary.

“I have retrieved written proof that I was never effectively mandated procurator (representative) or advocate (lawyer) of the Saint Benedict Center or any of its members,” Balestrieri wrote. “Second, there is no correspondence of the Diocese of Manchester recognizing me effectively in canon law as the procurator or advocate of the Center or any of its members.”

Balestrieri has yet to share this “written proof” despite multiple requests.

Voris gets a medical delay and a new (old) lawyer

With no settlement in sight, Voris got a delay on the trial, which was scheduled for April. Voris appears to now be living in Houston, Texas, and he explained to the court he cannot represent himself or assist in his defense as he recovers from back surgery. 

“As my neurosurgeon states, I am on narcotics and will be until the physical condition is overcome (sciatic nerve in right leg) and his sound medical advice is I participate in no legal matters whatsoever until such a time has passed,” Voris wrote to the court.

Voris provided medical records and a letter from his Houston doctor to verify his condition.

Voris had previously attempted to represent himself in court, but New Hampshire attorney Richard Lehmann is now again representing him in the defamation lawsuit. Lehmann, who the third Church Militant lawyer to leave the defense, quit the case after he cited a potential conflict of interest in defending both Saint Michael’s Media and Voris. At the time, Church Militant’s board was considering pursuing criminal charges against Voris.

Voris has cycled through a total four lawyers, including Kathleen Klaus and Neil Nicholson, who abruptly quit because they “could not continue due to the conduct of one of the parties in the case,” and porn lawyer Mark Randazza, who was barred from the case because of his own ethical issues

Lone Star State of Mind: Veritatis Splendor connection?

The Houston relocation comes as Voris launches a brand new media venture also calling itself Church Militant, with a mailing address at a UPS Store in a Houston mini mall. 

Voris was once rumored to be moving Church Militant to Texas to be part of the Veritatis Splendor Catholice mega-development. That project collapsed when Veritatis Splendor’s Keri Beckman was forced out in her own scandal involving an extramarital affair with Jim Graham, the former head of Texas Right to Life

Graham has been named by numerous people close to Church Militant as an advisor and possible money man to Voris. 

The New Church Militant leans into a reactionary brand of politics mingled with right-wing Christianity. The GOD & COUNTRY website’s “about” page says:

“We know if a Communist, totalitarian state takes over, although some will persevere, enormous numbers will simply abandon Christ as we have seen in many instances throughout history when the power of the state is brought to bear against the faithful.”

There is a “donate” button front and center on the site. 

 

The new site includes blog posts by Michael Voris and also Barbara Toth and former Church Militant personality Jules Gomes. Gomes is a former Anglican priest who was disciplined for his allegedly abusive behavior toward colleagues and staff. 

Voris, who uses his legal name “Gary Michael Voris” on the GOD AND COUNTRY site, most recently posted a meditation on the prison of fear, guilt, shame, and self-recrimination

Original Formula Church Militant 

When the de Laire settlement with Saint Michael’s Media was announced, it was also learned Church Militant would cease operation in April. However, the website went dark in early March with no explanation.

A lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan revealed the reason for the blackout: A lawsuit between Church Militant’s new ownership group and its web hosting contractor. Missouri-based Patmos Hosting claims Truth Army, Geoffrey Sando and Joe Gallagher owe at least $3 million for services.

Gallagher, who attended Franciscan University of Steubenville, is a former Church Militant personality who left last year and started Truth Army, a media website that pushes conspiracy theories such as Jews trafficking children in secret tunnels, and Taylor Swift acting as part of a government psychological operation against U.S. citizens.

When Truth Army bought Church Militant in February, as the settlement with de Laire was finalized, Patmos was finishing a large project to help the company rebrand. After a meeting on March 4 in which Patmos sought payment, Truth Army shut down Church Militant’s website on March 5, according to the  lawsuit.

“On March 5, 2024, Truth Army, Joseph Gallagher, and Geoffrey Sando began to disable the Church Militant website and posted media content stating that Church Militant subscribers should access the Truth Army website. In other words, Messrs. Gallagher and Sando, both Church Militant board members, disabled paying customers’ access to Church Militant and encouraged them to pay Truth Army instead,” the lawsuit states.

None of the old Church Militant content currently appears on the Truth Army site.

Voris, who now inexplicably appears in a football helmet in his Twitter profile, is now the last defendant in the defamation lawsuit. He had been represented by Church Militant in a joint defense until he was fired, but he was always a separate, named defendant. Church Militant and Anita Carey settled, and Marc Balestrieri was found liable by default because he hid from process servers, at one point running into the woods to avoid them. Voris is the last defendant left. 

 

“My conscience will not allow me to make boring art for God”: Artist Daniel Mitsui

Daniel Mitsui likes drawing on calfskin vellum the best.

It’s popular with artists who, like Mitsui, create works in a medieval northern European style. But it’s not mere tradition or attachment to history that makes calfskin so appealing to Mitsui.

“It’s really, really, really nice,” he said. “It’s a very precise medium because, on a microscopic level, it’s an organized layer of skin cells. You get a more precise line, and you can make corrections easily by scraping away a layer with a knife.”

Try that on paper made from vegetative matter, and you’ll tear your picture up. But calfskin vellum is forgiving.

“People sometimes say, ‘How can you be so precise?’ That’s part of the secret. You draw on a better surface,” Mitsui said.

Mitsui, 41, has spent decades doing the work of carefully sorting, modifying and balancing tradition with innovation — or, more precisely, “combinations of influences, rather than wholly new ideas,” he said.

His work is distinctly medieval but brings in elements of Persian, Celtic and Japanese art.

“I think of it as a living style, rather than a historical one,” he said.

“In religious art, there’s a requirement that you try to uphold tradition in some manner, but I think that tradition is mostly in the content and the arrangement of the picture. It’s not really stylistic, so much as what you are showing, and with what associations,” Mistui said.

Thus he brings his audience “Great Battle in Heaven” in the style of a Japanese woodblock print.

On his site, he explains how he synthesized the appearance of the angelic warriors, who look like the heroes in prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, with a composition from one of Albrecht Dürer’s apocalyptic works. The result is at once arrestingly unusual and weirdly familiar, like a vivid but coherent dream where the mind feels free to draw on any meaningful image.

He is aware that not every viewer will be well versed in the Patristic writings and artistic conventions that enrich his work, so he tries to write descriptions to help the viewer understand more fully what they are seeing.

“It’s something I’m not as on top of as I’d like. I’m a relatively fast artist and a relatively slow writer,” he said. “I’m always behind.”

He said that medieval art is full of well-established symbolism, which is not necessarily obvious when you first look at it, but a little bit of analysis will provide the background to show how well it corroborates with what the Church Fathers have always taught.

“I very strongly value tradition as a theological concept, as the basis of Catholic epistemology. It’s how we know what we know as Catholics. That underlies my artwork; that’s part of what I’m trying to communicate,” he said.

But his work enjoys enormous appeal across a wide range of audiences because the images themselves are so compelling. And remaining faithful to tradition doesn’t mean limiting his scope.

“There’s really very different views on artwork even in traditional Catholicism,” he said. “If you even go back to the 12th century, the Victorines and the Cistercians had very different notions of aesthetics. I can’t just say, ‘My work depicts traditional Catholicism.’ Well, which part of it?”… Read the rest of my latest artist profile at Our Sunday Visitor

***

Image: “Jesus Christ in Majesty with Cherubim and Seraphim” by Daniel Mistui

 

***

This is the ninth in a monthly feature on Catholic and Catholic-friendly artists I’ve been writing for Our Sunday Visitor. 
Previous artists featured in this series:
Mattie Karr
Jaclyn Warren
Daniel Finaldi
Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs
Chris Lewis
Kreg Yingst
Sarah Breisch
Charles Rohrbacher

If you know of (or are) a Catholic or Catholic-friendly artist you think should be featured, please drop me a line! simchafisher at gmail dot com. I’m not always excellent about responding, but I always check out every suggestion. Thanks!

Small ways to make your Triduum better

How do you keep the Triduum well? The obvious and maybe best way is to take advantage of whatever your parish is offering on these three final days before Easter: Holy Thursday Mass, veneration of the cross, stations of the cross, Tenebrae, adoration. Or if you can’t do these things with your fellow Catholics in person, you can certainly do many of them at home. Here’s Tenebrae; here’s stations.

But some of us are just barely hanging on, and getting up and going to a service that’s not obligatory could very well just be too much. And many of us are doing okay, but we have multiple obligations that keep us from dropping everything mundane and plunging entirely into spiritual exercises. We have to live our everyday lives while still somehow preparing ourselves and maybe our families for the most holy and solemn and meaningful three days of the entire year. How do we pull that off?

Here are a few ideas that require no preparation, and you can do them immediately, and they may help put you in the right frame of mind for the Triduum. 

Don’t denounce anybody. If you spend any time on social media, this one is harder than it might seem. So many people are so ripe for denunciation! But you can just take a pause and remember that all sins, all the ones you detest in other people, and all the ones you excuse in yourself, all are accounted for in the cross. So take a pause, and let the cross account for them, rather than doing it yourself, just for now. It doesn’t mean you’re condoning evil or looking the other way or being one of those much-maligned good men who says nothing. You’re just acknowledging that this is the one week when right and wrong is bigger than you and your wagging finger. 

Quiet down. Just . . . quiet down, everywhere. Quiet your voice, quiet the radio, quiet your music. Take everything down a notch, or turn it off altogether. Opt out of anything optional that’s raucous or frenetic, just for a few days. Triduum is a short, strange, unsettling time, and it’s good to help ourselves feel the strangeness of it by removing some of the ordinary bustle and noise of our everyday life if possible. 

Listen. Make a particular effort to listen to the people around you. Give them your full attention when they are talking to you, and try to respond to them as humanely as you can. When you go outdoors, listen to the sounds of the natural world, and be more aware of the complexity of the millions of little lives that surround you. And try to be ready to listen to the tiny, easy-to-ignore voice of the Holy Spirit that patiently waits and waits for you to be ready to listen. 

Go to bed a little bit earlier. Not everyone can. Lots of people have no choice about how much sleep they get. But many of us, me included, stay up late for no good reason, and it has a bad effect on them and everyone they interact with the next day. In a small act of self-discipline, try sending yourself to bed sooner than you’d like. It’s not self-indulgent. Even Jesus rested over Holy Saturday. He didn’t die for our sins and then bounce right back up again out of the grave, but he rested. I know He was busy scouring the underworld, but I do believe he was also taking a break. Rest is very much baked into who we are and who God is, so if we’re ever going to make a point of doing it, let’s do it before Easter if we possibly can. 

Be content with whatever your Lent has been. If you haven’t used your Lent in any especially admirable way, there’s not really any such thing as scrambling to make up for lost time at the last minute. That was never what it was about anyway. We all show up empty-handed. You can offer up failure to the Lord, too, and He receives that as graciously as any great achievement or sacrifice. The point is to show up. Always show up. The only mistake you can make is to stay away. 

Pray for me, and I will pray for you! 

Image: Pieta tryptich by Luis de Morales, 1570, Museo Nacional del Prado via Picryl

Superstitious practices tell God what he can and cannot do (and it’s not just for trads)

Last week we celebrated the feast of St. Joseph, and I found myself thinking about all the little resin St. Josephs scattered across this country. The poor guys are just hanging around upside down with a faceful of dirt, saying hello to passing worms, waiting to be remembered and dug up.

They are part of “home selling kits” that consist of a crudely crafted St. Joseph statue and a card with a specific prayer. Burying the statue upside down, some Catholics believe, will help them buy or sell their house.

This practice is a superstition, and superstition is explicitly named as a sin by the Catholic Church. Yes, even if you do it gently and don’t scowl and shake a fist at the statue before you bury him, and even if you pray to God to get you a good deal on your home. You can pray to God through the intercession of St. Joseph for a speedy sale; just keep his statue on the mantel.

Superstitious practices are prohibited, in part, because they “attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The church today is rife with superstitious thinking. I didn’t grow up with the St. Joseph statue tradition, but I certainly read stories about great sinners who wore a brown scapular because they believed it would save them from hell no matter what they did.

I was at a baptism last Sunday. I heard only bits and pieces of the rite of baptism, but I was still suddenly gripped by a tremendous thrill, realizing I was present to witness a real, powerful, ineradicable change taking place in the soul of the little one whose tiny bald head I could barely see. I wanted to get up and cheer, but instead, I thanked God for doing what he does.

Then some sullen shadow passed a wing over my thoughts, and I recalled how many times I’ve heard the complaint that the “novus ordo” baptism just doesn’t have the same oomph as the extraordinary form. The older form has more references to exorcising the devil and sometimes involves blessed salt, and it is therefore allegedly more powerful.

How could it be more powerful than what just happened, I wondered? This little baby just went from death to life, from dark to light, from drowning to rescue, from burial to resurrection. I believe this. This is our faith. What more could there possibly be?

I want to return to that question, but not before I say two things.

One is that superstition is something more than overtly pagan practices like putting your faith in a lucky rabbit’s foot or doing some quasi-religious ceremony like burying a statue. And it’s more than treating a scapular like a magic charm. Superstition can happen even in outwardly liturgically sound sacramental practices like baptism. Asserting that one rite of baptism is more powerful than another is claiming that we can lure or manipulate God into doing things he wouldn’t otherwise do…Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image: Detail of St. Joseph statue via Wikimedia commons

We are the temple Jesus wants to cleanse

We all know the story of Jesus making a whip of cords and knocking over the money changers’ tables in the temple. People do love this passage, and generally imagine themselves as Jesus, wrecking the place when sinners aren’t acting right.

Let’s think about this. It’s not quite the story people think it is. It’s much more frightening, but not in a bad way.

First, what, exactly, was so awful about having money changers there? They were conducting business in what was supposed to be a sacred place, and that was horrific enough. But the other offense was that it was an exploitative business, extracting unlawful interest from people who had a religious obligation to spend their money on pilgrimage.

The other people Jesus chased out, the dove sellers, were also hurting the poor, in particular, because doves were the animals that the very poor would offer in sacrifice if they couldn’t afford a lamb. So it was a double profanation: Not only making the temple into a place of business when it was supposed to be a place of worship, but doing it in a way that specifically targeted God’s especial beloved, the poor.

Jesus’ anger matches up perfectly with what he tells us about the greatest commandment. When the Pharisees asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

You could express it this way: Our purpose is to worship God, and the way we are to express this worship is by being good to each other. Precisely the opposite of what was happening in the temple: Rather than praying to God, they were doing business—literally crowding worship out, and taking up the space that was meant for prayer, and making it into something else. And they were using that space—and also their heart, soul, and mind—to exploit their neighbors.

So, what about that idea that we are like Jesus, crashing into a scene of profanation and letting our righteous anger blaze as we topple tables and employ the whip on the sinners we find, in defense of the good and holy and pure? Isn’t it sometimes our job to be like Jesus?

Actually, Jesus is like Jesus. That’s always the safest assumption to make, when we’re meditating on the Gospels. Only Jesus is like Jesus. But if you think I’m going to say that we are the money changers and the dove sellers, and we’re about to get our butts whipped and our tables overturned?

Maybe. But here is another thought: We are the temple. Our hearts are the temple. Our souls are the temple…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Christ Cleansing the Temple by Bernardino Mei Getty Images (public domain)