The womb of the world is a private place

Somehow at one and the same time, He is the flower of all creation, the open, shining blossom of the Father’s love, and also the tightly furled kernel of blessed humanity, ready to become anything we need Him to be.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Detail  of Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Evermore and evermore!

This is He whom Heaven-taught singers
Sang of old with one accord;
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the Long-expected;
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore!

My dear friends and readers, Merry Christmas to you! May the baby born on this night draw us always closer to Him, and may we always let Him.

With all best wishes, prayers, and gratitude for your support,
from the Fisher family, who aren’t necessarily 100% photogenic

 

Nativity icon Photo by Ted via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A lot to ask from a baby

Listen, world.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Hilarious family game: Fictionary

Here’s an excellent game for family night, especially if you have older kids home for Christmas: Fictionary. It’s the basis for the boxed game “Balderdash,” but simpler, and the only equipment you need is a large dictionary, paper, and something to write with for each player. It’s best for players at least 8 years old and up, and you need at least four players to make it fun. More is better.

BASIC RULES: The person who’s “it” finds a word that no one is familiar with, and he writes down the real definition. Everyone else writes down a fake definition. The person who is “it” reads them all out loud, and everyone but “it” has to guess which one is real.

Then “it” reveals the true definition. You get a point if you guess the real one, if someone votes for your fake one, or if you’re “it” and no one guesses the real one. Everyone gets a turn being “it” to complete one round of play.

Details: Proper nouns, foreign language words, acronyms, and abbreviations are out. Spell and pronounce the word for everyone, and say what part of speech it is.
If you’re “it,” you can simplify the real definition a bit, as long as you don’t significantly change it. Read all the definitions over silently to make sure you understand and can pronounce everything before reading them aloud. Be sure to shuffle them before reading aloud, so there are no clues about who wrote what.
You can’t vote for your own definition. The person who’s “it” does not vote. If there is one person who is head and shoulders above all the others when it comes to guessing, that person can vote last, so as not to influence the others.

The brilliance of this game is the psychology that goes into it. You have to use your knowledge of the people involved, not just your knowledge of language. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t care about the score and just wants to mess with people.

Here’s some examples from last night:

Smilax:
The real definition turned out to be:
-A kind of oak or bindweed
Fakes:
-A state of disquiet, nervousness
-A smiling climax
-A substrate of xylem in some ferns
-A type of mountain sheep bred in Algeria
-A kind of soap commonly used up until the 19th century, when industrialized factories rendered it obsolete [this one was a joke, as the smarty pants who wrote it thought the pun on “rendered” was too good to pass up]
-wiggly worm

Purdah
The real definition:
-In India, a curtain used to screen women from men and strangers
Fake definitions:
-Disgrace
-Keeping from one another
-A type of ink used commonly in newsprint
-a fog, especially one though to carry illness
-Scottish term for spitting noises
-A very purdy thing

Drogue
Real definition:
-A cone-shaped device towed behind an aircraft as a target
Fakes:
-A unit of measurement equal to two miles
-Boring, dull
-Dreaded, a tyrant
-The feeling of morning dew
-Swamp, marsh, Elijah

At one point, the person who was “it” had to drag one of the less scholarly players into the other room to find out what was meant by “MARGOLD GROWING PLAL.”

Have fun! It’s a good game, and thorough.

In defense of the corporal works of mercy, for crying out loud

A few weeks ago, a fellow complained that the winter concert at my kids’ school shouldn’t include any songs about Christmas, because here in New Hampshire, it’s cold, people are hungry, and some of them don’t even have a place to sleep at night. We should be focusing on them, he argued, not on Christmas.

That won a pretty strenuous eye roll from me. But I assumed he was so mistaken about Christmas because he is a secular guy. A secular person could easily believe that “Christmas” means only tinsel and lights, steaming hot chocolate, and extravagant electronic toys. Surely, I thought, any serious Christian could see the connection between the Christmas story and the desperate search for a warm, safe place to sleep in a cold, dark, world. It’s right there, right in every nativity scene you see.

Surely? Nope. It’s not only ignorant pagans who can’t see the connection between celebrating Christmas and caring for the needy. The Vatican nativity scene, which includes a large group of rather gaudy instructional figures acting out the corporal works of mercy, has been irritating many of my Catholic friends. One friend said that the corporal works display has “stolen Christmas” and “placed the emphasis on liberal social justice themes.”

Spoken like someone with a full belly and warm feet.

It’s very easy, when your body is already well-cared for, to dismiss the corporal works of mercy as some kind of SJW pocket sand used to distract Catholics from the actual faith. Try being naked, hungry, lonely, or dead, and get back to me about how open you are to hearing the Gospel. It’s hard to pray when you’re very hungry, and it’s really hard to pray when you’re hungry and someone who’s already eaten is chiding you for your spiritual flaws.

These tiresome “liberal social justice themes” come directly from the mouth of Jesus:

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Faith without works is dead. Even at Christmas!

Fr. Longenecker has a slightly more nuanced take on this idea that Christmas is no time to think about the corporal works of mercy. He says:

The biggest temptation in Christianity today is to make the church relevant by focusing on good works rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hold up. “Good works rather than the Gospel”?  Because the two are . . . different? Opposed to each other? Mutually exclusive? I kept reading, because I thought I must be misunderstanding. He says:

We quietly forget the message of a lost and sinful humanity alienated from God and in need of redemption, and we substitute a religion of helping people, and making the world a better place.

He’s right, you know. This kind of thinking is just poison to the Church. Helping people, pshh. I know a guy who claimed that this pagan hooker was doing God’s work just because she let a couple of guys hide in her apartment.

Oh, um, that was St. James who said that.

[W]as not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Faith without works is dead. Yes yes yes, even at Christmas.

Fr. Longenecker continues:

The corporal works of mercy are important, yes, and theologically it can be said that they flow directly from the nativity of Christ. Because Christ took corporeal form we are engaged in the corporal acts of mercy. Because he took a human body we care for the human bodies around us. Because he entered this world of matter–matter matters.

And before the Incarnation . . . matter didn’t matter? In the old testament, you could just let people starve and it was no biggie? In his haste to condemn people who care too much about pandas and global warming (yes, he specifically mentions both), Fr. L has stumbled into some choppy theological waters here. St. James also says that

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”[d] And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Serving God with your body is not some newfangled idea cooked up recently to put an extra polish on man’s relationship with God. Matter has always mattered. What we do is not some kind of also-ran. Faith and works go together. Even at Christmas.

Corporal works are not optional extras in your spiritual life, like nuts nestled in a cake. They are the bare minimum that we are required to do for each other, if we want to serve God. They are what we absolutely must do, if we can, before we can even dare to start putting our fingerprints on someone else’s soul. If we are not at least willing to perform corporal works of mercy for each other, then our spiritual lives are hollow.

Faith without works is dead. I’m not making this up.

But Fr. Longenecker continues:

So follow the logic. If everyone is going to make it to heaven in the end, what’s the point of all that talk about sin, hell, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? None of that matters is everyone is going to heaven in the end.

And all that is left therefore of the Christian religion is to be kind, preach a sort of bland message that every cloud has a silver lining, look on the sunny side of life and let’s solve the problem of climate change if we can.

I can’t follow the logic, because it’s not there. When we give a homeless guy sandwich before we bring up the topic of confession, that’s the same as saying everyone goes to heaven? I read this four times, and I can’t make any sense of it.

Here’s that lame-ass social justice warrior St. James again:

1If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does itprofit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Look. I know there are some Catholic parishes that have become the Church of Christ without Christ. It’s all about fellowship and donuts and new playground equipment, and God doesn’t enter into it, except as a kind of ambient lighting designed to flatter aging skin. This is not what Christ died for. I get it. I’ve heard those sermons, where sin is largely imaginary, but if you can’t sleep, you can cut a check to Catholic Charities, amen.

But I’ve also been at parishes where there is nothing but talk about spiritual things, and if someone needs help — tough shit. Someone shows up at Mass wearing skanky jeans, because that’s what she’s got? Tough shit. Someone doesn’t have a car and can’t make it to the six required baptism preparation classes?  Tough shit. Someone smells bad, someone is weird and noisy, someone’s kid with autism makes the other parishioners uncomfortable? Again I say unto thee: Tough shit.

I have been at parishes that have acres and acres of crushed red velvet and every last inch of everything is covered with gold, but if you say you want a wheelchair ramp, they roll their eyes and cry poverty. I have been at parishes where they pride themselves on jam-packed perpetual Eucharistic adoration, but no one signs up to make a casserole for the single mom with a baby in NICU.

Dead. They are dead. Because faith without works is dead.

Fr. L complains that the corporal works of mercy

swamp the Nativity–over ride the Nativity and make it take second place. The good works are literally front and center. The nativity of Christ the Son of God and Son of Mary is in the background.

Does he have a point here? Is it appropriate for the corporal works of mercy to be set up in front of the creche?

It reminds me of something that happens routinely with my kids. I ask them to clear the table. No response. I ask them again to clear the table. Nothing. I ask in a slightly louder voice if someone will please clear the table. Still nothing.

So I start to yell. “CLEAR THE TABLE NOW!!!!” And everyone looks at me like I’m some kind of maniac. What is she making such a fuss about? Like clearing the table is the most important thing in the world all of a sudden! Sheesh, lady. Try and have some perspective!

Well, I would, if you would listen to me the first time.

Even the demons know what baby was born on Christmas morning. But do we know that, in His name, we’re obligated to care for each other? Every day, even Christmas day?

Faith without works is dead. If you don’t like being shouted at, then listen the first time.

***

Image: Coptic icon of Christ feeding the multitudes, author unknown, via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t spend Advent grousing about secular Christmas

If it’s wrong to gorge on cookies and electronic toys on December 25th, it’s also wrong to gorge on cynicism and criticism in the name of Christ.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Images: Christ Child by Waiting for the Word via Flickr (Creative Commons) and complainer via Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 65: The importance of being parchment paper

Ooh, I’m in such a hurry! We’re headed out for a day trip as vacation week wraps up. I’ll just have to talk about food and skip the jokes, to save time.

SATURDAY
Chicken burgers

We decorate the tree on Christmas eve, and then we went to “midnight Mass” at 10 PM. Part of me was sad and a little irritated that the parish wasn’t giving us our rare and special twice-a-year midnight liturgy this year; but the other part was like, HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT, WOOOOO! Because we did manage to get all forty presents wrapped, but there were still ten stockings to fill . . .

SUNDAY
Christmas brunch; Pupu Platter for 15

Our traditional Christmas morning brunch is  cinnamon rolls, bacon, grapes, orange juice, and egg nog.

christmas-brunch

 

Tip: The way to keep kids from drinking egg nog until they throw up is . . . buy tiny cups. Cheers!

eggnog-small-cups

I made Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon roll dough the day before, and rolled out the rolls in the morning.

cinnamon-buns-red-pan

I made a double recipe, which was insane. I make this same mistake every year. We ended up throwing out both unused dough and uneaten cinnamon buns, and we brought a pan to my mother-in-law’s house, too.

We ordered Chinese from the restaurant down the road. We used to do the whole “Thanksgiving recreation” meal, or sometimes a glazed ham with cherries and pineapple rings, until we realized nobody wanted a huge, formal meal, and also it was kind of crappy that everyone else gets to relax and have fun on Christmas, but I was spending all day cooking. So, Pupu platter!

pupu

MONDAY
Leftover chinese food, leftover chicken burgers

Plus some extra frozen pork rolls my husband picked up because he is crazy. I also threw in some sad peppers and avocados I found in the fridge, because it felt like we hadn’t eaten vegetables in six years. Somehow the vegetables are always the first to drop out.

leftover-pupu

Finished making caramel chocolate-covered almonds from Smitten Kitchen today. This project had been lagging on and on for weeks. We eked out a few batches in time to give to teachers, and finally finished the rest on Monday.

If anyone’s interested, I have a series of photos showing exactly what the caramel should look like while it’s cooking. It goes through an alarming series of transformations, all of which are normal. Just say the word and I will share the pics.

I made the first few batches right, but then I got lazy and didn’t separate the caramelized almonds properly. So I just broke it up into clusters, rather than individual almonds and dipped those into chocolate, which was way easier and faster and just as good. I thought the gold sugar was especially pretty.

almonds-done

This recipe could be used for any time of year — just change the colors of sugar and sprinkles you use.

TUESDAY
Hamburgers, chips

Husband ran out to the store for meat while we all lazed around eating chocolate and playing video games.
We also made stained glass cookies, on the principle that it is better to make Christmas cookies late and slightly crabby then not to make Christmas cookies at all. We used this foolproof sugar cookie recipe for the dough. Then we sorted out some Jolly Ranchers by color, bagged them, and smashed them.

candy-crush

Then we cut them out and used smaller cookie cutters or knives to make cut-outs inside the cookie shapes. You’re supposed to bake the cookies part of the way, then fill them with candy bits, and then finish baking, but I forgot, and filled them before baking.

filling-cookies

They turned out great! Note the parchment paper.

cookies-baked

Look, I even made a corny pro-life cookie.

baby-cookie

That baby head-to-pelvis ratio is pretty accurate for Corrie, as I remember it.
Irene, of course, made a skull with glowing red eyes:

skull-cookie

Murry Christmas, weirdo. The key to the success of this recipe is, and I cannot stress this enough, USE PARCHMENT PAPER. Not wax paper, and not (brrr, your poor molars) tin foil. Parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, do not make these cookies!

WEDNESDAY
Bacon, Brussels sprouts, and eggs; french fries

How I love this one-pan dish from Damn Delicious. It would make a wonderful brunch, but I think it’s super for supper, too. Bacon needs balsamic honey, eggs need hot pepper, and everyone plays well with Brussels sprouts, what do you know about that?

bacon-eggs-pan

I had microwaved leftovers for breakfast the next day, and had a banner day for productivity. I owe it all to protein, and Brussels sprouts. Even kinda congealed, it was so very good.

bacon-leftovers

THURSDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs, salad

I stuck with Fannie Farmer’s recipe for meatballs, which is basically one egg and half a cup of breadcrumbs for every pound of meat, plus whatever spices and herbs. I used about 6.5 pounds of beef and a little ground turkey, and made 85 wonderful meatballs. Rather than frying them, I put them on a broiler pan and cook them in a medium-hot oven. They keep their shape and don’t get all greasy, and it’s so much easier.

meatballs-pan

Yum yum. We were pretty much snowed in all day, so I was happy to have a very hearty meal.

spaghetti-meatballs

Speaking of snowed in, here is my recipe for completely delicious hot chocolate: Put into a pot one heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder and two heaping tablespoons of sugar for every mug of hot chocolate you want. Add enough water to make a thick syrup, and mix over low heat until the sugar is all melted. Then add the milk and a glug of vanilla. Stir and heat until it’s hot.

Benny insisted on drinking out of her doll tea set. As I mentioned before, the key to success and happiness in life is and always will be TINY CUPS.

FRIDAY
I think pizza.

And now my poor family is waiting for me in the car! Happy trails. Hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas and using parchment paper like I said. I’m not kidding.

Remember Syria on the feast of Stephen

 

Today is the feast of St. Stephen, first martyr of the Church. That’s what kind of faith it is: One day we celebrate the birth of the Savior, and the very next day, we celebrate the death of a man who died for that Savior’s sake. It’s an especially poignant feast to remember as we see the images of Syrian Christians celebrating Mass in a church half-filled with rubble, the roof blasted away.

Imagine if this were your church?

This is your Church.

This is the Catholic Church, and these are your brothers and sisters. After this footage was taken, the Catholics remaining celebrated Mass on Christmas eve, in a roofless, blasted structure that’s safer than it’s been for a long time. Christians have not been able to enter for years, but they came back to Christmas to find it still standing, still waiting for them to come and worship God. They brought in flowers and candles from God only knows where, and they assembled a nativity scene out of scraps of rubble, covering it with branches from the trees that are still putting out green leaves.

Do not forget Syria. Catholics suffering around the world don’t want to take away the joy of us Christians who enjoy peace and plenty on Christmas. But do not forget them. Do not forget what kind of faith this is. The Savior does not promise to keep our bodies safe; but He does promise that the Church will always prevail against evil.

The ornament featured above was painted by Erica Ploucha (more of her work is here). Her husband Nick sent me the photo, saying “I can’t see this ornament and not think of Syria.” God has not forgotten the people of Syria, and neither should we.

And in His hand, the golden ball

I’m not sure if you want to cry, or what; but if you do, you might consider reading Tomie dePaola’s The Clown of God. (If you don’t own the book, you can hear and see it read aloud in this video.)

Quick summary: In Renaissance Italy, a ragged street boy falls in with a travelling show troupe, and as he grows, he becomes an expert juggler. Eventually he strikes out on his own, and becomes a celebrated performer all over the country. He has a complicated routine, but always ends with a rainbow of balls and then “The Sun in the Heavens,” a single golden ball that he tosses impossibly high.

He enjoys his fame; but then times get hard, the clown gets old, and no one cares about his act anymore. He even drops “The Sun in the Heavens,” and the crowd jeers. Now a ragged beggar, he stumbles back to his old hometown, where he takes refuge in a dark church and falls asleep. He wakes up in the middle of the night to blazing lights and music, as a procession of villagers and religious present Christmas gifts before a statue of Mary and a somber Child Jesus.

When they are all gone, he gazes as the statue; and, remembering that he once made children smile, he suits up and goes into his old juggling routine one last time. He works his way through all his tricks, and finishes with the rainbow of colored balls. Finally he adds “The Sun in the Heavens.” He juggles it higher than ever before and cries out, “For you, sweet child, for you!”

And then his old heart gives out and he falls dead to the ground. A sacristan finds him and calls a priest, who blesses the old man’s body.

But the sacristan backs away in fear: The child Jesus is smiling, and in His hand, He holds the golden ball.

***
Among other things, it’s a story of when things are almost too late — when we almost miss Christmas, because of all the hustling and costume changes and juggling and fuss.

If you can, remember that phrase: “For you, sweet child!” — and toss Him one golden ball.

Apologize to someone if you were rude.
Put your phone down and read a book to your kid.
Let an insult pass without comment or retaliation.
If a street person asks for one dollar, give him ten.
Stop and pray for someone, or give a word of encouragement, before you go on with your juggling routine.

For you, sweet Child! He will catch that ball, and smile.

Can we celebrate Christmas as Syria burns?

Trying to tamp down the guilt that rose like a cloud of evil dust, I mentally ran through my week, comparing it to the week that my brothers and sisters have endured in Aleppo. I shouldn’t have bought any presents, I thought. How could I even dare? How can we light our Advent candles and sing “O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel?” We are not captives. We are healthy, wealthy, safe, pampered. Our walls our intact. We are home. Our children are with us, safe and warm in bed. The Syrians, they are the ones who need rescuing, Lord. Lord, isn’t there something I can do?

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly here.

***
Image: By Ahill34 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons