Divine Social Distancing: Medjugorje apparitions cease as pilgrim stream dries up

After an unbroken 33-year run, the Virgin Mary will cease her punctual monthly visits to Medjugorje visionary Mirjana Dragičević, according to the Italian non-profit La Luce De Maria. The source said:

Our Lady on March 18, 2020 in Medjugorje, announced to the visionary Mirjana that the apparition of the 2nd of each month has ended.  

The news began to circulate after 14:30 today, at the end of the extraordinary apparition to Mirjana, which took place exceptionally in her home, given the absence of pilgrims due to the blockade of the borders due to the Coronavirus.  

According to some estimates, 30 million pilgrims have come to Medjugorje since the alleged apparitions began in 1981, and the once-sleepy town has been transformed into a bustling and profitable mecca.  But the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Bosnia on March 5, and travel is now tightly restricted. The news that the visions will cease came a day after the state of emergency was called on March 17. 

It’s not the first time the Gospa (“Lady”) has changed her schedule to accommodate the convenience of human crowds. One eyewitness to Marijana allegedly receiving a scheduled vision describes how the Virgin apparently kept her visit short enough to fit within the time allotted to the Joyce athletic center at Notre Dame:

Near the middle of the basketball court a dais was set up; on the right side was a crucifix, on the left side was a podium, and in the middle was a large statue of Our Lady.  To the left side of the dais was a piano which someone played in order to lead the people in singing hymns.  In front of the dais, in the center, was a prie-dieu set up for Marija to kneel during her vision.

The organizer of the event greeted us by letting us know that we would pray a rosary, and then Marija would talk a bit, lead us in a few prayers, and then go into her vision.  He also noted that there was going to be another event in the Joyce Center around 8 or so, and that they had promised the Joyce Center people that the crowd would depart by 7:45.

The eyewitness also notes that, after the Gospa apparently departed,

“organizers were wondering if people would be willing to ‘donate’ money to Marija to cover the costs of her flight out.  Not for any of the churches over in Medjugorje, not for some charitable organization, but to cover her flight.  A couple hundred check books came out.”

Mirjana, who claims to have seen the Mother of God on the second of every month as well as on her birthday since 1987, divides her time between Italy and Medjugorje, where she owns several hotels. One, a four-star hotel named “Magnificat,” has 54 rooms. According to the hotel’s website, “It was born as the home of the Queen of Peace, so that every guest can feel His maternal benevolence both spiritually and materially.” A travel brochure for the hotel promises, “Marija Pavlovic … will be often present in the center to give her testimony.”

Marjana and her husband live on an island in a seaside villa with a pool, which the couple rents to tourists. Vicka and Ivan, two of the other seers, have also invested heavily in real estate and hotels. Vicka still gets daily visions; Ivanka, the fourth, had daily visions for several years, but now only sees the Mother of God once a year. In total, the alleged seers have logged close to 50,000 visits. 

In 1983, the Virgin Mary allegedly told Mirjana:

“Assemble about twenty young people who are ready to follow Jesus without reservation. Bring them together within a month’s notice. I will initiate them into the spiritual life. There can even be more than twenty.”

But in 2020, a crowd of merely twenty may not be large enough to make it worthwhile for the Mother of God to appear.

She will, however, continue to visit Marijana on her birthday every year. It’s not yet clear whether, as with past apparitions, pilgrims will be allowed to live stream Marijana receiving her scheduled vision. 

***

More reading: “The Lady of Medjugorje is not your mother” explores the alleged good fruits and the copious red flags surrounding these alleged apparitions.

Image: “Apparition Hill” in Medjugorje, photo by Michał Maksymilian Gwozdek / CC0

The Lady of Medjugorje is not your mother

This morning, we had a blizzard. I lay blissfully in bed and heard my little girls clomp past the bedroom door in their heavy boots. “Don’t forget to cover your ears,” said one to the other.

“Why?” the second one asked.

“Mama always says to,” the first one replied. “So our ears don’t get cold.”

I was thrilled to the core — not only because my daughters’ nice little ears would be protected from the swirling winds, but because they used those nice little ears to listen to me. They had listened to me, and spontaneously decided to obey! If you’re a parent, you know how sweet and rare an event this is. “Cover your ears” is advice they could get from anyone; but there is no replacement for the loving, trusting relationship between a mother and child, and I was so grateful for even this small evidence that our relationship was secure.

Now, imagine that same scene, except instead of hearing, “Mama always says to,” I heard my daughter say, “Oh, Mama told us to. Or, maybe it’s not really Mama, but she said to call us Mama, so — [shrug] — we do. She’s the one who said to wear a hat. She’s in the kitchen right now; the boys are still talking to her.”

Okay.

Even if she told them to wear a hat. Hell, no.I would be up and out of bed faster than you can say “Bosnia and Herzegovina,” blazing with rage and terror while demanding to know who the hell was in my kitchen pretending to me be. Someone who looks like me and acts like me is telling my kids what to do, and telling them to call her ‘Mama?’” Hell, no. Hell hell hell no no no.

Friends, this describes the situation we have in Medjugorje today. For almost forty years years, someone calling herself our mother has been turning up over and over and over and over again, passing along mundane and useful information to three folks who call themselves “seers.” A typical message from “The Gospa” goes like this:

Dear children, Let all the prayers you say in your homes in the evening be for the conversion of sinners because the world is in great sin. Every evening pray the Rosary.

Nothing wrong with that, right? It’s a perfectly good message. We all should pray for the conversion of sinners. It would be a good thing if more people followed this advice. Good fruits can come from visiting Medjugorje. The conversions, the deepening of faith, even the possible healings — all are due to God’s mercy, His willingness to send the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit in through any crooked little crack. He will show up wherever He is welcome, even when He’s welcomed by pilgrims who’ve been deceived.

So yes, there are good fruits. But nobody gets to pretend to be my mother. There aren’t enough good fruits in the world to justify sitting back and letting that happen.

If you care to see it, there’s mountain upon mountain of evidence that the apparitions are false — either a hoax perpetrated by the seers, or something diabolical.

Bishop and exorcist Mons Andrea Gemma on Medjugorje says:

It is an absolutely diabolical event, around which numerous underworld interests revolve …

I’m referring to ‘the Devil’s dung’, to money, what else? At Medjugorje everything happens for the sake of money: pilgrimages, overnight stays, the sales of trinkets. In this way, abusing the good faith of the poor people who go there with the idea of meeting the Madonna, the false seers have set themselves up financially, they have married and live a wealthy life, to say the least.

When Our Lady first allegedly appeared to the six youths in 1981, she reportedly told them she would only appear three more times.

She has since appeared, according to the alleged visionaries, 47,000 more times.

Local religious authorities who have studied the alleged apparitions and their effect on its devotees have uniformly said what Bishop Peric of the Mostar diocese again said recently:

Considering everything that this diocesan chancery has so far researched and studied, including the first seven days of alleged apparitions, we can say: There have been no apparitions of Our Lady of Medjugorje.

Crux reports that Bishop Peric has noted:

the “apparitions” have been studied by several commissions: in 1982-1984 and 1984-1986 at a diocesan level, and in 1987-1990 by the Croatian bishops’ conference. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied the phenomena from 2010-2014 and again from 2014-2016.

The local and national commissions arrived to the conclusion that there’s nothing supernatural to the apparitions.

Devotees of the alleged apparitions are quick to point out that the Church has never formally pronounced the visions to be false; that Bishop Peric’s words are only his opinion. True, but the Church generally does not issue a formal position on apparitions until after they have ceased; and three of the alleged visionaries claim Our Lady keeps turning up like clockwork every day for decades.

Unless there is a conflict with an important college basketball game. Then she obligingly changes her plans and shows up somewhere else.

When CDF ordered a St Charles, MO parish to cancel an event where Dragicevic had promised Our Lady would appear, telling the faithful “they are not to participate in events that promote the so-called visionaries of Medjugorje and in particular Mr. Ivan Dragičević,” and said “No other such events should be scheduled,” Dragicevic simply changed the venue to his own home and invited 75 of his closest friends, and waited while Our Lady snuck past the CDF and showed up once again.

The local bishop, Pavao Zanic, judges the apparitions false and has deplored the disobedience encouraged by the seers and their adherents:

[T]he Ordinary had come to the firm conclusion that the apparitions of the Madonna in Medjugorje are not a reality . . . [T]he Bishop’s Office expressed its desire, and even demanded, that the propaganda stop because of the disobedience of the pastoral personnel and the “visionaries.” This was a futile attempt.”

None of the seers have discerned a vocation to religious life. They all make a good living solely from their association with Medjugorje, especially Ivan. Ivan’s home in Massachusetts is valued at over $800,000 and was paid for in less than a year. His sole income is related to Medjugorje. He sells tickets to the (air conditioned! Wine included with meals!) house where she allegedly first appeared.

The alleged seers’ spiritual director, Father Tomislav Vlasic, was laicised after facing allegations he impregnated a nun and after he was ruled guilty of promoting “dubious doctrine, the manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders.”

This Mother of God giggles. She goes through lots of wardrobe changes. She lets people step on her robe, and then appears grubby from being touched. She moves up and down, here and there, at the behest of the seers. She shares her opinions on local politics and calls a fornicating, philandering priest a “saint”. And she’s a little careless about that baby she likes to drag around.

And whenever she’s faced with the choice of encouraging her children to respect and obey their bishops, or appearing in the air as paid ticket holders look on, this Mother of God always goes for more ticket sales.

In the Gospels, she says, “Do whatever He tells you.” In Medjugorje, she snickers and says, “You do you.”

Forty-seven thousand times.

When Pope Francis visited the region in 2015, he came within twenty minutes of the Medjugorje shrine but did not make a stop, presumably not wanting to lend it credibility by his presence, especially after the apostolic nuncio said “clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”

The Pope is now sending a Bishop to Medjugorje purely to assess the pastoral needs of Catholics who travel there on pilgrimage. He will not be making any pronouncement on the validity of the alleged apparitions. In other words, he’s going to make sure that, no matter who’s appearing and telling the Church’s children what to do, at least everyone should have a hat on so their ears don’t get too cold.

This is the true work of a loving papa: To care for the children. It does not mean that we children can just shrug and decide to call just anyone our mother, just because she also gives common-sense advice about keeping our ears covered. Cover your ears, by all means; but keep your wits about you. Use your brain; remember Our Lady’s example of humble obedience.

The Lady of Medjugorje is not Our Lady. She is not our mother.

***
This essay originally ran in The Catholic Weekly in 2017 and is reprinted with permission.

 

Go and find a bell to ring

Some people are hoarding hand sanitizer in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some people are making wills, and some people are slowly retreating into nail-gnawing panic. My husband went and found a handbell.

This is because the new coronavirus, along with all its deprivations and terrors, has given my family something rare and wonderful: Everyone is home together at noon every day. That means we can say the Angelus. And if you are going to say the Angelus, you need a nice, loud bell to ring—especially when you have college kids home who think of noon as early morning.

I am not trying to make light of the pandemic. I spent part of my morning tumbling into a spiral of fear, telling myself a bleak story about my family’s wonky immune systems and the shortage of hospital beds. I have two elderly parents with underlying health conditions and friends whose livelihoods and mental health are in serious peril. Maybe worst of all, I see people saying you are only afraid if you lack faith in God. As if Jesus himself never felt fear when there was reason to fear.

God bless my husband, he went and found a bell to ring. Sometimes we have to halt what we are doing and forcibly remind ourselves that isolation does not have to mean we are forsaken. When we say the Angelus, we remember that God did not abandon mankind. He sent an angel to Mary, and Mary gave a savior to us. So we are making an intentional effort to keep sight of that, when it is so easy to slide into terror and distress. We are not abandoned.

Let me share a few things that brought me up short in the last few days and reminded me how much good there is in the world. Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image: Philip de Koninck, after Rembrandt “Woman with a Rosebud” / Public domain

Lent Movie Review Vol. 3: THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS

See previous installations of our Friday Night Lent Film Party series: I CONFESS and THE ROBE

Everyone disliked The Robe pretty thoroughly and we wanted something very different, so we went with The Trouble With Angels (1966). No one in our family had seen this one before. We streamed it through Amazon for $3.99. Warning, this post will contain a spoiler.

 

The plot: Mary, a born leader and troublemaker (Hayley Mills), and Rachel, a willing follower (June Harding), are high school girls deposited at St. Francis Academy for Girls, where they immediately begin to hatch “scathingly brilliant ideas” for how to subvert the peace and stability of the school. The imperturbable Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell) is their particular nemesis whose patience is put to the test more and more.

The story is an episodic series of pranks and escapades, but it is gradually revealed that the various teaching nuns aren’t just all quirky in their own ways, but many of them have poignant, sometimes tragic pasts that led them to the convent. This is not lost on Mary, even as she continues to torment them and flout their rules. Eventually, Mary and Rachel’s mischief goes too far; but when their guardians are called in for an expulsion interview, Mother Superior discovers that Mary, too, has her reasons for being the way she is, and she has mercy on her (and sees promise in her). At the end, when the girls are graduating, Mother Superior announces that two girls will be joining the convent as novices, and one of them is Mary. Rachel is furious and feels betrayed, but Mary is at peace with her decision, and it’s clear that she can be who she is but may still have a true vocation. 

So, this is a very 1966 movie. It’s very mannered, and some stretches are tedious, and the some of the sight gags are painfully dated. There are some uncomfortable moments where the camera lingers on young girls’ thighs and bottoms for laughs. The accents are a mess, and it’s unclear exactly where the school is. There’s not a scrap of subtlety in sight.

At the same time, the movie doesn’t steal any bases. All the elements are there for the story of Mary’s gradual maturation, and Mother Superior’s growing affection, to make sense and feel real (and it is, in fact, based on a memoir, Life with Mother Superior by Jane Trahey). Haley Mills is a much better actor than I realized, and there were a few truly moving moments, as well as several funny ones. I liked that it showed true friendship between the nuns, as well. I would have liked it better if they cut about twenty minutes out, but I did like it.

Overall, recommended. The animated opening and closing credits are a lot of fun, too.

Next up: I don’t know! I’ll probably push for Babette’s Feast.  The kids somehow manage to read subtitles when they’re watching their Dragonballs, so they can’t beg off on those grounds.

Some of us also re-watched Hail, Caesar, which I appreciated even more after having seen The Robe. I love Hail Caesar so much. The Cohen brothers are upfront about not knowing what to do about God (“Divine presence to be shot,” it says on the screen of the religious epic they’re filming, to mark the place where they’ll add in God later), but it’s less nihilistic and less yearning, overall, and very sweet and very funny. Everyone is just doing their best, according to their very varied abilities. Recommended all to pieces, probably for ages 10 and up.

 

 

Acts of contrition for Catholic toads

In the story ‘Alone’ from the beloved children’s book Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, Toad goes to visit his friend Frog, only to discover a note on his door saying that Frog wants to be alone.

Toad, as is his wont, immediately falls into a panic, assuming Frog no longer cares about him. He puts together an elaborate lunch and hitches a ride on a turtle’s back, launching himself out across the water toward the island where Frog is, intending to win his affection back. As he comes in earshot of the island, he shouts,

“Frog! I am sorry for the dumb things I do. I am sorry for all the silly things I say. Please be my friend again!” Then he slips and falls, sploosh, into the water.

Every time I read this story, I laugh, because Toad’s words are so familiar. They are, in effect, an act of contrition, and I am Toad.

We are all Toad. What we may not all realise, though, is that an act of contrition can be expressed in many different words, including something like what Toad shrieks out in his misery. Many of us were made to memorise a particular prayer when we were growing up (or when we joined the Church), but we don’t have to say that specific prayer.

When the Rite of Penance describes a sacramental confession, it says, “The priest … asks the penitent to express his sorrow, which the penitent may do in these or similar words . . .” and it suggests 10 possible prayers, and leaves room for anything that expresses contrition.

Many people in my generation can rattle off something like this one:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell [or: because of thy just punishments]; but, most of all, because they offend You, my God, Who is all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, to avoid all occasions of sin, and to amend my life.

or this shorter one:

Oh my Jesus I’m heartily sorry for having offended thee, who are infinitely good, and I firmly resolve, with the help of the grace, never to offend thee again.

About 93 per cent of Catholic children hear “hardly” instead of “heartily.”  A few enterprising children thread this needle by saying, “I am hardly sorry for having been a friend of thee.” And that works. It’s the sincerity that matters, not the getting it perfectly right.

As Fr Kerper says:

“[T]he Act of Contrition is not primarily a magical formula rattled off thoughtlessly to guarantee instant forgiveness. Rather, it expresses in words a deeply personal act that engages a person’s affections and will.”

So it’s less important to have something memorized, and more important to think deeply about what we intend. A good act of contrition should include an expression of sorrow, a renunciation of sin, and a resolution to change; and there are many different ways you can say it.Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Introducing WITHDRAW2020: A daily art challenge for COVID-19

Welp, looks like we’re sticking close to home for two weeks at least. We’re not quarantined, but we feel a strong obligation to help flatten the curve, so we’re doing school at home (including the college kids), making a spiritual communion rather than going to Mass, and cancelling all the appointments, social events, and trips we possibly can. 

Seems like a great time to get back to daily drawing. Let’s draw something every day and share it with each other. Introducing #withdraw2020! Withdraw, but draw with, get it? Take that, social distancing! Thanks to the brilliant Rebecca Sachiko Burton for the title pun.

Here are the WITHDRAW2020 rules:

1. Draw something every day.
2. Use the daily prompts (literally or as inspiration), or just draw whatever you want. 
3. Any medium is fine, as long as it’s your own work.
4. Share it on social media and tag it #withdraw2020.

That’s it! As you shall see when you see my stuff, you don’t have to be an accomplished artist. If you miss a day, just pick up the next day. 

Here are the daily prompts. They are COVID19-themed, but I tried to choose words that are open-ended, so you can go in whatever direction you like. Or of course draw anything else that strikes your fancy.

This is four week’s worth of prompts, just in case. 

  1. home
  2. wash
  3. mask
  4. distance
  5. patient
  6. curve
  7. beans
  8. hoard
  9. sing
  10. calm
  11. fever
  12. spread
  13. soap
  14. gouge
  15. neighbor
  16. toilet paper
  17. retreat
  18. alcohol
  19. bored
  20. separate
  21. catching
  22. test
  23. clean
  24. flatten
  25. breathe
  26. swab
  27. hands
  28. share

I’ll share mine on Instagram and on my Facebook pages:
facebook.com/simcha.fisher
facebook.com/SimchaJFisher/
https://www.instagram.com/simchafisher/

and my kids, who are far better artists than me, are
instagram.com/clarascuro/ (who made the graphic)
instagram.com/bubblegumscout/

I’m also sorta on Tumblr but I always forget I am: simchafisher.tumblr.com/
and I’ll probably post a few reminders on this site. 

Feel free to share your instagram or Facebook handles in the comments so we can follow each other! I know that’s not how social media works, but I don’t care. JOIN US!!!!

Kids’ first confession? Here’s how to make it easier

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

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

Make sure your kids fully understand that confession is a place you go for help, not a place you have to go when you’re in disgrace. Mercy mercy mercy. Tell them until they’re sick of hearing about it. 

Practice ahead of time. Nothing eases anxiety like familiarity; and humor helps, too. Let the kid take turns acting out confession playing the part of different penitents with appropriate sins: Their two-year-old sister, for instance, or Indiana Jones. Let them know the routine inside and out before they make it personal.

Let them have as many crutches as they like, including a cheat sheet with the act of contrition or even the entire form of confession written out. They can bring in a paper with their sins on it, and throw it away or burn it afterward. 

Let them check out the confessional during “off hours,” so it’s not a mysterious or terrifying place. Or arrange for confession in a setting that is familiar. Confessions don’t have to be in a confessional to be valid.

Remind them repeatedly that father has heard it all before, and remind them that he’s used to people being nervous, too. It’s okay to say, “I forget what I’m supposed to say next,” and it’s okay to tell the priest you’re scared or embarrassed, too.

Sometimes the waiting is the hardest part. If a child finds it truly excruciating to wait in line, consider making an appointment where he can just pop in and get it done.

It’s okay to avoid difficult or unpleasant priests and to seek out helpful, reassuring ones. Yes, it’s always really Jesus in there; but it’s also a particular man. If your kid likes and trusts some particular priest, he may be willing to schedule a confession if that’s what make the difference between going and not going.

But for some kids, knowing the priest makes it worse.  Some kids would rather have an anonymous experience with less social awkwardness. If your kid would prefer to confess to a stranger, make an occasional pilgrimage to another parish for this purpose.

In any case, remind the kid about the seal of confession and what dire consequences face a priest who breaks the seal. Remind them that the priest can’t tell the penitent’s parents what was confessed!

If you’re going as a family, let an adult go first and alert the priest there’s a nervous kid coming up next, so he can do everything in his power to make it a good experience.

Make it sweet, not bitter. Associations are powerful things, for good or ill.  The Jews have a tradition of giving children honey as they learn the Torah, so they will know that the law of God is sweet. It’s not bribery; it’s helping children internalize something true. So celebrate at least the first confession with a small treat, and consider making subsequent confession trips as pleasant as possible. It may not be practical to include ice cream every time, but at last don’t make it wretched.

If necessary, wait. Some kids simply aren’t ready when most of their peers are ready. A young child isn’t going to be committing mortal sins, so it’s far better to wait an extra year or so than to force a traumatic first confession. If you have to literally drag your kid into the confessional, or if you have to threaten or coerce them into going, you may be harming your child’s relationship with God, and making it less likely that they’ll go at all, once they’re old enough to choose.

Make it a normal normal normal. Let them see you and their siblings going regularly, and then going about their day. Talk about it like it’s the normal thing it is. Let your kids hear you say things like, “On Saturday, we’ll pick up some cat food, then get to confession, then do a car wash,” or “I remember going to confession at St Blorphistan, and boy, those kneelers were squeaky.” No good can come of making it rare and unfamiliar, or speaking as if it’s some kind of mysterious, arcane experience that doesn’t fit into everyday life. Many people (not all) find that frequent confession is easy confession.

Be open about your own struggles and joys surrounding confession. If confession makes you nervous, acknowledge this to your kids. If you feel intense relief when it’s over, talk about that. If you ever feel grateful to God for the gift of forgiveness, talk about that. The last several times I went to confession and the priest said the words, “I absolve you from your sins,” I had to fight down the urge to shout, “JUST LIKE THAT?” It seemed like such an incredibly good deal, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Every time I feel this way, I talk about it to whichever kid is with me.

Let it be a standing offer. Remind them they can always ask to go to confession, and resolve to bring them any time they ask, no questions asked, no fuss, no complaints, no exceptions. Acknowledging and overcoming sin is hard enough; the last thing a kid needs is for her parents to add obstacles by embarrassing her, or making her feel like she’s causing trouble.

Mind your own business. Yes, you have to educate them in a general way about what kind of things they ought to be bringing to confession, but it’s not a great idea to shout, “Ryan, you apologize to your sister’s hamster right now, and you better be confessing that next week!” It’s the penitent, the priest, and God in there. Parents aren’t invited.

But do check in. Without asking for any personal details, occasionally make sure the experience they’re having at confession is okay. If they seem distraught when they come out of the confessional, ask if anything happened that makes them feel weird. Kids should know that confession can be difficult and intense, but it’s not supposed to be excruciating or humiliating. And they should know that safe adults never ask children to keep secrets.

Take anxiety seriously. If a child is showing severe reluctance or anxiety around confession, don’t assume it’s because he’s a reprobate who’s resisting spiritual improvement, and don’t be sarcastic or dismissive of his anxiety. Maybe something bad happened to him in confession, in which case you need to find out what happened and address it swiftly.

Or maybe he’s suffering from anxiety in general. If confession is just one of many things your child can’t bring himself to do because of anxiety, then you should be talking to a pediatrician to figure out what the next steps are. Put confession on the back burner until you have a better idea of what’s really happening, rather than cementing the association of confession with fear and misery.

When a penitent meets Christ in the confessional, it’s about a relationship. Like any relationship, it takes time to develop naturally over the years, and there will be highs and lows. Sometimes helping our kids through the lows helps us become more comfortable with this great sacrament, too.

***
Image by Michael_Swan via Flickr (Creative Commons)
This essay was originally published in a slightly different form in The Catholic Weekly in 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

Lent Movie Review #2: THE ROBE

We watched our second Mandatory Lent Film last Friday. It has come to my attention that I titled the first post in this series “Lent Film Movie Review #1: I CONFESS.” If you don’t see anything wrong amiss with that title, then you, too, need to get more sleep rest, too. 

No one in our family had seen The Robe before, but we are all very fond of The Ten Commandments, so we were prepared for it to be similarly spectacular, clunky, cheesy, and heartfelt. But we all came away feeling icky and discontented. Here’s the trailer:

They set about to make a movie about the early Christians, beginning with just before the entry into Jerusalem and ending after the Ascension. You never really see Jesus; you only see Him pass by briefly in a few scenes. Instead, the story follows people who have seen Him, and whose lives are changed forever because of it.

Do they pull it off? No, they do not. (I have no idea if the novel on which it’s based is any better.) 

The plot: An alleged ne’er-do-well Roman tribune, Marcellus Galio (Richard Burton), pisses off Caligula by arrogantly bidding against him for a Greek slave, Demetrius (Victor Mature), and is punished by being sent to Jerusalem. Demetrius, who sticks with Marcellus out of honor, sees Jesus pass by on a donkey, makes eye contact, and converts on the spot. But Marcellus is ordered to crucify Jesus, and then wins his robe in a game of dice. Sadly, the robe (The Robe) apparently makes him go cuckoo, and this causes no end of troubles for him, as cuckoo tribunes are not considered the best tribunes, even in Very Degenerate Rome.

He staggers around the middle east and Capri for a while, and meets a bunch of Christians, including a gauzily serene Peter (“The Big Fisherman;” Michael Rennie) who has the highest cheekbones on the whole continent and who glides around like he’s on castors. Eventually Marcellus comes to realize that his problem isn’t The Robe; it’s guilt. Marcellus then feels better and stops pawing at himself all the time.

But Demetrius gets captured. Marcellus stages a putatively daring rescue, and Peter heals Demetrius, who has been tortured almost to death. This impresses Marcellus’ girlfriend, Diana (Jean Simmons). To be fair, everything impresses her. I’m not sure she even has eyelids.

Diana, introduced early on as his childhood sweetheart, was originally supposed to marry Caligula, but is in love with Marcellus, so she pulls strings to get him out of trouble, but then risks her own hide to stick up for him when he’s eventually arrested for treason against Rome. I forgot to mention her sooner because the chemistry between Diana and Marcellus is like the chemistry between, I don’t know, a piece of toast and a yoyo. You can push them up against each other, but nothing much happens except a sort of dry crunching sound. 

This lack of chemistry partially explains is why the ending was is so distasteful. Marcellus refuses to renounce Christ, so he’s sentenced to die, and Diana sticks with him, so she has to be executed, too. She doesn’t know much about Jesus, but she [checks notes] just loves Marcellus so much, especially the way he’s always gripping her by the upper arms. In the final scene, off they go, up a sort of celestial ramp of spiritual winning, looking drugged out of their gourds while a chorus screams hallelujah. And that’s the end. 

What the movie was supposed to show was the widening circle of influence that Christ has. He’s so compelling and life-altering that people he meets meet other people and they become Christians too, and it spreads and spreads, because it’s so powerful and new.

But you only know this because people keep saying so. The Christianity the show you in The Robe is incredibly weak tea. It’s vague idea of justice and freedom and something better. You do see some example of people being good to each other, and you see a lot of blissed-out, thousand-mile gazes, but that’s it. The dry, crunching sound of zero chemistry is how the movie presents the entire faith. Nothing I saw on screen would explain why anyone was willing to give up power and prestige and family and die for it. If the movie were about a short-lived cult that, through the use of some dubious magic tricks, inexplicably made a ripple for a few years before dying off, it would be a lot more persuasive.  

Richard Burton is painfully miscast, and never stops looking uncomfortable (even for Richard Burton). You know almost nothing about him, before, during, or after his conversion. His guilt is manifested mainly as Shatneresque convulsions and shouting, and his newfound faith is simply the absence of convulsions, with calm shouting. By the end of the first hour, I was ready to lean on my influence with the emperor to get him off that movie set.  

There are some fighting and action scenes that are complete snoozers. Clang, clang, clang, you really just don’t care. And the corn was just SO CORNY, even for a 1953 Biblical epic. Early on, we meet someone any halfwitted cat would immediately understand is Judas, but it takes several minutes for him to announce that he’s named “Judas,” and then when he says his name, there is such a deafening clap of uh-oh thunder, Cecil B. DeMille would have gasped at the excess.

Oh, here it is. The kids laughed their heads off. 

There were parts I enjoyed. Despite myself, I liked the scene where the gal is sitting in a house with new Christians, strumming a lyre and singing about Jesus. It was corny and faux-exotic, but it was also kind of nice, and I can believe that this was how the Gospel was spread at least sometimes. I liked Demetrius’ conversion, and his character was pretty solid in general. He was one character who seemed to have some specific personality after his encounter with Christ. I liked the kid who just kept shouting, “KICK HIM! KICK HIM!”

I liked the crucifixion scene best. It was eerie and upsetting, and Victor Mature did a good job with a not-much role. (Careful, don’t touch the screen. The paint is still drying on the mountains.)

 

The sets were fakey fun, very dramatic and nice to look at. And oh my heart, those costumes. If you are the kind of person who will watch anything as long as it’s draped well, then this is the movie for you. So many miles and flowing miles of silk and linen. So many shimmering colors. It really made me want to be a wealthy ancient Roman, which I don’t think was the goal. 

Welp, that’s it. It was just a turkey. Now we know. 

We streamed it through Amazon for $3.99. Have you seen this movie? What did you think? If you like it, how old were you when you first saw it?

Next up: Probably Babette’s Feast or Calvary. The older kids really hated The Robe, so I want to show them something good. We’ll probably watch Calvary first on our own, so we can decide which age group it’s appropriate for. 

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 204: Get yer carnal desires here

Here please insert a joke about carnitas, carnal desires during Lent, incarnation, whatever. 

SATURDAY
Waffles, scrambled eggs, sausages, hash browns, OJ

Nice and easy. 

SUNDAY
Carnitas, pico de gallo, guacamole and chips, honey sriracha pineapple

This is a recipe from John Herreid, who posted it as an extra on his Facebook art account, J.R.’s Art Place, which you should definitely be following. He shares a very wide range of fine art, things you’ve never seen before, often with illuminating or amusing little tidbits of information. You should follow it!

The carnitas recipe was very easy. You just chunk up some pork, sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and oregano, and cook it in a pot with a cup of oil and Mexican Coke or some other soda containing cane syrup; and orange wedges, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves, and simmer for several hours. Take out everything but the meat and cook it a bit longer, until it gets a dark, glazey crust. Then shred it and you’re set. John’s recipe said to drain it, but the meat I made had absorbed just about all the liquid by the time it was done. 

Oh my land, the smell. 

It just got better and better, and the flavor was intense and wonderful. 

I couldn’t find Mexican Coke and ended up using root beer, so it had a sort of anise-y tinge to it. Most definitely making this recipe again. 

I made up a big batch of simple pico de gallo

 

Jump to Recipe

 

and also a big batch of guacamole.

 

Jump to Recipe

 

Fantastic meal. I had resorted to cooking bland pork and seasoning it after shredding, because I just couldn’t seem to get much flavor into the meat itself. Those days are gone, my friends. 

I served one pineapple raw and just grilled (actually broiled) a few pieces, because Lena and I are the only ones who really like it, and I suspect Lena’s just being polite. I made a little sauce of olive oil, honey, and sriracha, and rolled the pineapple spears around in it, then put them under the broiler, turning once, for a few minutes. 

You get a little caramelization on the charred ends, and it’s just nice. 

 

Jump to Recipe

 

MONDAY
Hot dogs, potato salad, string beans

A few of my kids are pretty passionate about potato salad. So I made some, partly to assuage my guilt for serving hot dogs. Then I ruined everything by accidentally drowning it in pepper. 

It wasn’t actually ruined, but it kind of separated the men from the boys.

I don’t really have a potato salad recipe. I throw a few whole eggs in with the potatoes to boil. I made a dressing out of mayo, apple cider vinegar, salt, and of course pepper. I like it with diced red onion and celery or even some diced pickles, and fresh dill, but no one else likes any of those things, the monsters. At least I managed to make a sane amount this time around, so it was gone by day 2, rather than lingering around getting icy in the back of the fridge and then getting thrown out by a wrathful child who is the onnnnnnnly one who ever throws things away around here. 

TUESDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs, fresh bread

I sort of got tricked into making bread.

 

Jump to Recipe

 

Lena is home from college this week, and she and Corrie made some plans over the weekend to make bread. I said Tuesday would be a good day, since we’re having spaghetti. But when it came down to it, Corrie didn’t really want to stop watching Scooby Doo, so it was left to Lena, who doesn’t actually know how to make bread. So I showed her, but I had to keep leaving the house and shouting vague instructions as I went out the door. The upshot was that the rising loaves got moved around from pan to pan a lot, which is not something that rising loaves enjoy. So we ended up with some rather dense, earthy bread. 

You know what, fresh, hot bread is fresh, hot bread! No ragrets. 

Oh, the meatballs:

Jump to Recipe

WEDNESDAY
Pizza

Tuesday’s meal was really a ruse to make leftover meatball pizza on Wednesday. Meatball pizza is unreasonably delicious. 

THURSDAY
Chicken tortilla soup

I really like this recipe, which I have adapted from Two Sleevers.

 

Jump to Recipe

 

You make a puree in the blender or food processor

(uh, it might be smarter to do this in batches)

then cook the puree up in oil for a bit, add the water and chicken, and pressure cook it. (Of course you can easily adapt this for the stove top; just simmer, rather than pressing buttons.) Fish out the chicken, shred it,

and throw it back in, and there it is. I wish I had cooked the puree a little longer to develop the flavor, but it was still pleasantly spicy and warming.

Tortilla soup is, um, supposed to have tortillas in it. You’re supposed to use corn tortillas, which thicken the soup up. But I just don’t like corn tortillas. They taste bad and sour and gritty to me. So instead, I made spicy, crunchy flour tortilla strips and put them on as a topping, along with sour cream, shredded cheese, scallions, and cilantro. I really wanted avocados, which I used up making guacamole earlier in the week, but I had this overwhelming, passionate need not to stop at Aldi on a Thursday afternoon. 

Oh no, you’re onto me, I’m not a real Mexican! 

I made the tortilla strips by cutting them into slices, drizzling them with olive oil and sprinkling them generously with Tajín chili lime seasoning, which is just chili powder, sea salt, and dehydrated lime juice, so if you can’t find it in stores because of COVID-19, you can easily make your own by running some limes through your dehydrator three days previously and then pulverizing it with your butt. Write this down, it’s important. Then you spread them on a pan and bake them slowly in a medium oven, stirring occasionally, and then you burn them. Every. Single. Damn. Time. 

Everyone still liked them, though. 

FRIDAY
Tuna noodle

Today is Elijah’s birthday. His birthday almost always lands in Lent, but this year is special, as it’s a Friday in Lent. Also, he has to stay after school to do some work with his math teacher. It’s hard out there for an Elijah. We’ll whoop it up on Sunday, though. 

 

 

Pico De Gallo

quick and easy fresh dip or topping for tacos, etc.

Ingredients

  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced OR 1/2 serrano pepper
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • dash kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients together and serve with your favorite Mexican food

 

White Lady From NH's Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 4 avocados
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, diced

Instructions

  1. Peel avocados. Mash two and dice two. 

  2. Mix together with rest of ingredients and add seasonings.

  3. Cover tightly, as it becomes discolored quickly. 

Spicy honeyed pineapple with ice cream

You could drizzle this with a caramel rum sauce and maybe sprinkle with pralines, but it's good just with fruit and ice cream, too. You can also serve the pineapple as a side dish (without ice cream!) for many Mexican foods.

Ingredients

  • 1 pineapple, cut into spears or rings
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • sriracha sauce to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat the broiler; or, if grilling outside, let coals die down.

    Mix olive oil, honey, and a few dashes of sriracha sauce, and slather the sauce all over the prepared pineapple.

    Spread in single layer on pan or over grill and cook, turning once, until it's slightly charred. 

    Serve hot with a scoop of ice cream. 

 

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. 

 

French bread

Makes four long loaves. You can make the dough in one batch in a standard-sized standing mixer bowl if you are careful!

I have a hard time getting the water temperature right for yeast. One thing to know is if your water is too cool, the yeast will proof eventually; it will just take longer. So if you're nervous, err on the side of coolness.

Ingredients

  • 4-1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 10-12 cups flour
  • butter for greasing the pan (can also use parchment paper) and for running over the hot bread (optional)
  • corn meal for sprinkling on pan (optional)

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, put the warm water, and mix in the sugar and yeast until dissolved. Let stand at least five minutes until it foams a bit. If the water is too cool, it's okay; it will just take longer.

  2. Fit on the dough hook and add the salt, oil, and six of the cups of flour. Add the flour gradually, so it doesn't spurt all over the place. Mix and low and then medium speed. Gradually add more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is smooth and comes away from the side of the bowl as you mix. It should be tender but not sticky.

  3. Lightly grease a bowl and put the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp towel or lightly cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until it's about double in size.

  4. Flour a working surface. Divide the dough into four balls. Taking one at a time, roll, pat, and/or stretch it out until it's a rough rectangle about 9x13" (a little bigger than a piece of looseleaf paper).

  5. Roll the long side of the dough up into a long cylinder and pinch the seam shut, and pinch the ends, so it stays rolled up. It doesn't have to be super tight, but you don't want a ton of air trapped in it.

  6. Butter some large pans. Sprinkle them with cornmeal if you like. You can also line them with parchment paper. Lay the loaves on the pans and give each one several diagonal slashes with a sharp knife. This will allow the loaves to rise without exploding.

  7. Cover them with damp cloths or plastic wrap again and set to rise in a warm place again, until they come close to double in size. Preheat the oven to 375.

  8. Put the pans in the oven and throw some ice cubes in or spray some water in with a mister, and close the oven quickly, to give it a nice crust.

  9. Bake 25 minutes or more until the crust is golden. One pan may need to bake a few minutes longer.

  10. Run some butter over the crust of the hot bread if you like, to make it shiny and even yummier.

Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup

Adapted from twosleevers.com. This is a very flavorful chicken soup. It has a little hotsy totsy burst of spice with the first taste, and then the more complex flavors come through slowly. Magic.

It's fairly brothy, and then you heap up all the garnishes you want on top.

This is a little over a gallon of soup.

Ingredients

  • 2 med onions
  • 1 lb (4 medium) tomatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 3 chiles in adobo sauce plus some of the sauce
  • 1 jalapeño pepper (include seeds for more heat)
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • water
  • salt to taste
  • garnishes: avocado slices, sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, tortilla strips, chopped scallions

Instructions

  1. Cut the onions and tomatoes into chunks so they will fit in the blender or food processor. Put the onions, tomatoes, jalapeño, chili pepper and sauce, garlic and cilantro into a blender or food processor and blend it until it's a thick sauce. You may need to do it in batches, or just keep poking the big pieces down so everything gets blended in.

  2. Add enough oil to the Instant Pot pot to cover the bottom. Press "sauté" and let the oil heat up for a few minutes.

  3. Pour in the tomato mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes, until any liquid is mostly absorbed. You may need to press "sauté" again to keep it hot.

  4. Cut the chicken breasts into pieces and put them in the pot. Add six cups of water.

  5. Close the top, seal the valve, and press "pressure cook," then the + button until it goes to 20 minutes. When it's done cooking, let it naturally release for 10 minutes, then release the remaining pressure manually.

  6. Open the top and fish out the chicken. Shred it and return it to the pot. Add salt to taste.

  7. Serve the soup with garnishes: avocado slices, sour cream, tortilla strips, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, and chopped scallions.

Lent Film Movie Review #1: I CONFESS

We are watching an edifying, religious-themed movie with the family on Fridays in Lent. Complete list here. Review #1: I CONFESS (1953). Every time I number something, it peters out pathetically, but this time will be different. I can feel it. 

Honestly, I didn’t expect a lot from this movie. I expected some rather stilted drama and rushing around and dramatic lighting, but not a lot of plot. Silly me, it’s Alfred Hitchcock. It wasn’t absolute Grade A Hitchcock, but it was tightly constructed, compelling, a little weird, and unpredictable throughout the whole movie, with lots of yummy dramatic camera work. I wanted the kids to see a movie where the priest is the hero, and it did a good job of portraying a priest (Montgomery Clift) who is pretty noble and brave, but is also a regular guy. Not only does it show him struggling with the choices he has to make, but it shows him before he was ordained, as a soldier and as a normal guy with a girlfriend.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but once the painfully suspenseful part is apparently over and Fr. Logan has come out victorious, and you think, “Ah, he’s passed the test and done what a good priest ought to do!” . . .  that’s when the really awful part begins for him. It doesn’t last long, but it’s pretty rough! Good stuff. A solid and engaging movie, and the final scene packs a good punch. 

The whole family watched this (youngest is five and oldest is 21) and they all seemed to follow it easily. Some of these kids do get squirrelly when we try to show them a black and white movie, but they seemed interested and engaged throughout.

It turned out a few of the kids were a little wobbly on the details of the seal of confession, so we did stop the movie a few times and reinforce that what they were seeing on screen was accurate (if somewhat more dramatic than what most priests face). They were impressed.

The only weensy theological complaint I had was that, when Fr. Logan is staggering around Quebec going through his agony, he doesn’t run to the tabernacle for solace, which is what I would expect a priest in dire straits to do; but he just kind of suffered around town.  He speaks and behaves as if God is very real to him, but it doesn’t actually get shown much in the movie itself. He does pass under a statue of Christ carrying the cross at one point. I just would have liked to see more of the spiritual side of his suffering. What we see is mostly the emotional side. But it’s not really that kind of movie, I guess. 

Oh, and I feel the gal (Anne Baxter) ought to have had a lot more comeuppance than she got, but in a Hitchcock movie, you should just be glad he didn’t have her skinned and made into slippers or something, I guess.  

It was odd and sad to see everyone on screen behaving as if a Catholic priest is the last one you’d ever suspect of doing something wrong (and there are so many priests! Just priests everywhere!). But the central plot was a good reminder that the priesthood itself hasn’t changed, and I know priests nowadays who would absolutely do just what Fr. Logan did. They just don’t happen to look like Montgomery Clift.

All around, entertaining and yes, edifying. Recommended. 

We watched this through Amazon Prime. It was $2.99 to stream it as a rental. 

Next up: Either Song of Bernadette or Babette’s Feast.