Treats for the poor

If you’re not living in dire poverty, you probably found yourself having recourse to little treats throughout this pandemic, to cheer yourself and your family up. Maybe you splurged on a tasty but extravagant snack or dessert, or something to brighten up the house, or a new book or movie or game you’ve been wanting. Little treats can’t fix the problem, but they can make it more tolerable.

It’s not that they’re hugely important in themselves, but they help because they remind us that, even though so much of our day is clouded and burdened with problems and anxiety, there is still good in the world, still sweetness, still calm, still satisfaction.

Little treats also remind us that we’re worth putting a little bit of effort into, and that our current state of misery and distress is not normal and not desirable, but should be remedied.

Well, my friends. Whether there’s a pandemic on or not, why not give little treats to the poor? Why not offer them small, unnecessary consolations, just because they’re poor, and that sucks, and it will cheer them up to have a little treat?

It’s very common for financially comfortable people to have a conscious or unconscious policy of denying even the smallest of treats to the poor. I think some folks don’t even realize they harbor these thoughts, but they believe deep down that it’s okay for comfortable people to give themselves little treats as a consolation when times are hard, but it’s somehow not okay for poor people to enjoy the same. That there’s something unhealthy or unhelpful or unseemly about the poor receiving any charity beyond the bare necessities.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image by frankieleon via Flickr (Creative Commons)

10 ways to let the pandemic shape your Lent

Didn’t we just have Lent? Aren’t we going through it still?

It comes as a shock every year when I look at the calendar and see that it’s almost Ash Wednesday; but this year feels especially unreasonable. The pandemic and all its wretched offspring have made most of 2020 and all of the new year feel so very penitential.

Almost everyone I know has lost someone to COVID. And we’ve lost so many other things that make life pleasant and rich: Eating together, gathering with friends, traveling, visiting family. Many of us can’t even go back to Mass yet. Adoration isn’t safe; confession takes massive planning and coordination. Weddings and other sacraments have been postponed or sadly muted. Even if we haven’t lost anyone we love, we have all lost so much.

So when I think about what we will do for Lent this year, I feel dull and discouraged. What to do? I know intellectually that people throughout history have suffered through much tougher times, but that doesn’t make it easier to muster up any enthusiasm for the coming season of penitence.

The only sensible plan I can think of is to accept that the pandemic is going to make things different this year, and to lean into that. To try to accept our situation as a gift from God, and to use the pandemic as a framework for Lent.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 
Image by mfbj from Pixabay

Things I hope my family is doing while I’m in quarantine

It’s usually infuriating to be “overtaken by events” — i.e., to have the news cycle rush ahead without you, so the timely article you’ve written becomes irrelevant before you have a chance to publish. Today, though, I’m thrilled to announce that my COVID test came back negative before I was able to submit the essay I wrote while waiting in quarantine.

But this means I can’t even lean on your sympathetic instincts and plead that you should read it anyway out of pity because I have COVID, because, uh, I don’t. So just do me a favor and pretend the time difference between Australia and the United States is even longer than 14 hours, and here you go.

So HERE I AM IN QUARANTINE [let’s say], and I’m lucky enough to have a house bursting with able-bodied adults who can easily handle everything I normally do, and who aren’t allowed to leave. Still, it’s hard for a mother to give over the reins of control, and I can’t help thinking about what’s going on beyond my bedroom door. I’m doing my best to keep busy with soothing, productive, restorative activities (shut up, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is too productive. It produces feelings of awesomeness), but part of my brain is keeping up a little list of things I hope they are doing while I’m in quarantine.

You think I’m going to say “I hope they are flossing every night!” or “I hope they are dusting behind the antimacassar, or I’ll know the reason why!” But no. This is a different kind of list.

  1. I hope they are crunching all the things…

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image:https://www.needpix.com/photo/703020/eat-noodles-children-pasta-spaghetti-italian-food-noodle-dish-plate

The perfect quarantine movie: DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME

Here I am in quarantine like a dummy. I have some symptoms that aren’t going away with reasonable treatment, so I’m getting tested for COVID tonight, and I’ll have the results in 48 hours. This is boring for me, but really hard on Damien, who has already been doing all of the driving because my dumb car is in the shop, and now he has to do everything else, too, and sleep on the couch. I sure hope I get a negative. I sure do. 

This note just slid under the door:

*sigh*

Here in NH, school is closed for Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day, which is how you do it if you know you’re not going to change anybody’s mind and you don’t want no trouble. My friend posted this link where you can enter your zip code and it will tell you which native tribes or nations originally lived there. Normally on this day I’d be starting the suppli around now, but I think in the future we may make a stab at cooking some sort of Abenaki-based meal on this day and have our Italian Feast on some other day. Damien and I both spent time in Rome and both love food and cooking, so we have to have a big Italian meal at some point. We’ll see. My current thinking, subject to change because I am human, is that the “Columbus was just 1490’s-style Hitler” stuff is dumb, and I see how it made sense to choose Columbus to celebrate in the 1860’s, when the word on the street was that Italians are barely human, much less real Americans; but that message isn’t urgent in 2020, whereas “don’t you go killing people” is, so it doesn’t make much sense to have a Columbus Day right now. It’s okay to change. And if you’re going to have a day to remind the world that people are real and important, then you really can’t make an argument against Indigenous Peoples Day. But, suppli. 

Anyway, gosh, all I meant to say was: Hey, we watched a really great movie last night, and you should watch it, too. 

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2010)

[Where to watch]

I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a movie so thoroughly. Damien and I were both streaming it in different rooms, and we kept texting each other things like “meteor hammer!” and “magic deer!” and “spooky pandemonium!” and “WHAT!!!!” 

The story is a bit convoluted and I didn’t completely follow it, but that didn’t detract from the experience. A bunch of people are mysteriously burning up from the inside out, right before the new empress’ coronation, so she brings a celebrated detective out of exile to find out who’s doing it and how. You’re kept guessing the whole time about who’s on whose side, and why, and also, WHAT!!!!

Every single scene is completely gorgeous. The trailer makes it look a little depthless, but the actual movie draws you right in. There is tons of CGI, but it’s done in a style that makes you think fondly of those labor-of-love video games from the late 90’s, or of some completely bonkers amusement park ride where they went all in. 

I was trying to figure out what sets this movie apart from superhero movies that show you incredible worlds and heart-pounding action and insane special effects, and it’s just kinda dull and repellant after a while. Part of the difference is that, in Detective Dee, they also went all in with the stunts and costumes and sets and props, so you felt like you were being given something, rather than tricked into believing something. There’s something very generous about the way it was put together. Also, part of the plot involves sorting out what’s actually supernatural and what is trickery, so maybe that explicit awareness that there’s an important difference between real and fake factored into how the spectacle was presented. 

Anyway, it was witty, silly, exciting as heck, constantly surprising, scary, occasionally moving, and overall an immensely satisfying movie, with gripping characters. The empress is SO INTERESTING, and I’m now mulling over some of the themes of the story, because it wasn’t just all action and spectacle (although you could just sit back and enjoy the action and spectacle, and that’s plenty). One character is unwillingly plucked from a sort of underworld and keeps insisting that HE’S FINE, and doesn’t need to get involved. Another one keeps insisting “I HAVEN’T FAILED” even when… well, you’ll see. And the empress and Dee and the courtesan/assassin/shapeshifter Shangguan Wan’er have several conversations about what is and isn’t allowable or forgivable, when you have higher aims in mind and are trying to set the world right again. A lot of the movie is about the struggle between your personal desires and the greater good. Gosh, I loved Detective Dee. You love to see a hero who isn’t invincible or impenetrable, but who completely understands who he is and what he wants to accomplish in the world. 

As for the suitable audience: It does have subtitles (and a few of the translations are a little goofy, which adds to the charm). It’s violent, and some of the special effects are scary, so maybe ages 9 and up for that, depending on how sensitive they are; and there is a short “they almost had sex” scene, and then a discussion of that scene later. No naughty bits, and it turns out to be important to the plot. Overall less graphic and sleazy than Indiana Jones. There is also a character named “Donkey Wang,” and I was not entirely sure what they meant by that, but it was funny. 

If you are desperate to think about something other than current events, this movie will fix you right up. It truly felt like a gift. The story, or at least the characters, are apparently based loosely on actual history from the Tang dynasty, which just makes it better. AND, there are two others! Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings(2018), and Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon(2013). I see a new fandom rising in our house. 

If you’re still taking this seriously, you’re not alone

Tonight I am making a huge amount of manicotti with fresh herbs, garlic bread and salad, and a fancy cake decorated with melted candies meant to look like flames. Three of my daughters have new dresses and shoes, and there are wrapped presents waiting for them. What’s the occasion? Oh, nothing.

Really, nothing. Three of our kids were supposed to be confirmed tonight, but one of them has a cold. Probably. Or maybe it’s COVID. The protocol for school is to stay home if you have fever, congestion, cough, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, or basically any other symptom, and then either get a negative COVID test, or else stay home for ten days after onset of symptoms, as long as no other symptoms develop. Come to think of it, Damien and I both have colds, too. A confirmation Mass is definitely long enough for us to pass along whatever it is we have to someone else. Even if it is not COVID and it’s just a cold, we might give it to someone who then feels the need to stay home from work for ten days or fourteen days until they find out if it is COVID, and maybe that would be a huge burden for them. So we’re staying home, and no Fisher kids will be confirmed this year.

But I’ve been confirmed, and so has my husband. The gifts of the Holy Spirit we received are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, and we’re calling on at least three or four of those to make this decision. We don’t really think we have COVID, but if everyone made decisions based on letting themselves wiggle out of protocols, then we’d  . . . uhhh . . . we’d have a pandemic on our hands. Yeah. 

I’m not trying to persuade anyone to take the virus seriously. I see people in town claiming no one’s really sick, that touchless thermometers are frying your pineal gland, that masks are part of a satanic ritual, etc. etc. You can’t talk to people who believe this stuff, and I’m not even going to try.

Instead, I’m talking to people who do take the virus seriously, and are starting to feel insane, because they feel all alone. The sourdough togetherness fest is all over. No more evening balcony concerts; no more friendly baskets of sanitized books and treats for the housebound. People are wearing masks when they’re absolutely forced to, and they’re not COVID deniers, but they sure aren’t acting like anything much has changed. They’re going to parties, sneezing on produce, having sleepovers, hugging friends. I see it every day.  That waitress who sent our son into quarantine for over a week was spotted hanging out in crowded bars while she waited for her test results to come back. Maybe she heard that people her age are just hard wired to be sociable, and it’s just not reasonable to expect people in their 20’s to modify their behavior for the sake of others. And anyway, she eventually got a negative, so what’s the big deal?

You see and hear enough stuff like this, and you can really start to doubt yourself. Is it really necessary to miss out on so much? Are we being a little bit paranoid?  Are all these efforts even doing anything worthwhile?

Hello. I see you, as they say. You are not alone. You are doing the right thing. I don’t even have any great words of encouragement for you, because I’m feeling pretty beaten down, myself. But I’m here. We’re making these assessments every single day, and we’re missing out on all kinds of stuff, because we think it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll keep on doggedly doing it as long as we think it’s necessary.

So if you’re making these wretched, unpopular choices and feeling completely alone, you’re not. There’s always the friggin’ Fishers doing it, too, feeling stupid and paranoid and discouraged, but still doing it. So there’s that. I’d make you some garlic bread if I could. 

And that’s all I got. Come, Holy Spirit. Come get some garlic bread, because I made plenty.

Returning to school? Don’t worry: It’s impossible

When I first started home schooling, my mother told me, “You know, the thing about home schooling is that it’s impossible.”

She was not only experienced but a pioneer, one of the first in the region to even attempt such a thing as home schooling. So she knew what she was talking about. But a ray of sunshine she was not.

It was the last thing I wanted to hear, that my new plan was impossible. Who could wake up each morning and willingly set out to do a thing that cannot be done? I knew I was born to home school my children. We would be courageous explorers on the sea of ideas, ravenous guests at a banquet of wisdom and culture. My children’s 12 years of school would be only the beginning of their education, and they would graduate with a lifelong thirst for learning.

Well, we did make a sundial one time. And a bean mosaic. All my kids can read and add and tell jokes, and no one has once suggested they would be better off learning how to make brooms. After six years of home schooling, we realized it was time for a change, and since then, we have tried private school, charter school, public school and this coming year, parochial school. We have at least dipped our toes into just about every form of educating children, and guess what we learned?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

What I learned on Corpus Christi this year

The first Sunday we went back to Mass was the feast of Corpus Christi. I was delighted to realize we could mark this feast, one of my absolute favorites, by receiving the actual corpus Christi inside the church building at last, back where we belong.

I have never been angry or bitter at our bishop for keeping Mass closed to the public. If we’re Catholics, we can’t just go get what we want and ignore the risk to the vulnerable. Even if it’s the body of Christ we want. Especially if it’s the body of Christ we want.

But oh, it was good to be back, even with masks, in alternate pews, with the sweet smells of early June roses and candle wax blending strangely with the increasingly familiar scent of hand sanitizer. I was so glad our separation was over, so glad we could be moving forward and starting to figure out how to safely make life more normal again.

Then came the first reading, and it hit me right between the eyes.  It’s a short reading, and very pointed. Moses exhorts the people to remember how God brought them out of Egypt, and how God dealt with them in the desert.

It’s a reading chosen for Corpus Christi because it reminds us: Look, from the very beginning, God has been leading you and feeding you. God doesn’t mind his business up in heaven, but he comes to us in the desert and gives us manna, and then he brings us home. Perfect for the feast day.

But it hit me so hard because of how it’s framed. It doesn’t just tell the story of how God cared for the people. It’s also the story of why God treated them as He did, and it’s a command to think about it and remember it, learn from it…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Returning to Mass after a long separation can be an emotional experience. Or not.

It’s been a long, dry spell. Many Catholics have never gone this long without receiving the Eucharist since before their first communion.

Now that more and more parishes are finding ways to safely offer public Mass or some form of communion service, many Catholics are taking to social media to describe what an overwhelming emotional experience it has been for them. Some are even sharing photos of themselves with tear-stained cheeks, overcome with emotion after receiving communion again.

Much of this emotional response is surely sincere, a spontaneous outpouring of joy and gratitude after a time of trial and deprivation. It’s understandable to want to share our delight in the Lord with people who will understand.

So let’s set aside the question of how spiritually healthy it is to take and share selfies of pious displays, and look instead to Catholics who aren’t coming to pieces over the opening of churches.

There are a lot of them. There are a lot of Catholics who most certainly want to return to the sacraments, but they aren’t feeling wracking pangs of longing as their separation continues.

They aren’t spending their days in misery and distress, ceaselessly imploring the Holy Spirit to open the church doors again. And when they do receive the Eucharist again after a long time away, they aren’t going boneless with spiritual bliss. They believe in the saving power of God with all their hearts, but they’re not getting very emotional about it.

I’m here to tell you that if that’s how it is for you, it’s okay. It doesn’t prove there’s something inferior about your faith. It doesn’t mean you’re lukewarm or spiritually mediocre. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the sacraments, and it doesn’t mean you don’t understand how precious they are. It might mean any number of things, but it’s certainly not automatically a sign that you’re the wrong kind of Catholic.

Emotions are just emotions. They are not nothing, but they are not the same as faith. Sometimes emotions come to us unbidden from the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they are given to us as a gift. But sometimes…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

Want to wake up the sheeple? Fill in the blanks.

These are [adjective] times. Everyone is suffering, but no one more so than [name of your specific cultural and socio-economic group]. 

Look around you, and you’ll see all the signs of an [adjective] chastisement. The economy is floundering. [Name of favorite sport] may never recover. It’s been [number] weeks since we’ve been able to purchase [name of snack you have argued should be excluded from food stamp purchases].

The last time people endured trials like this, christians were in the arena with [name of wild animal], and [name of democrat] looked on and laughed. 

Worst of all, people are watching Mass on [streaming platform you can’t figure out how to work]. As [name of internet priest who claims to be based on a houseboat in the Bosphorus and therefore doesn’t have to obey his bishop] has clearly stated, this practice is extremely spiritually dangerous, because so many pre-[name of favorite ecumenical council]-type Catholics are already so easily led astray by outrageous offenses like the wearing of [clothing in 99% of modern closets], [a practice that even Pius XIII specifically said is fine, gosh], and nail polish in the perfidious color of [name of perfidious color]. 

Those who aren’t already deeply mired in the [name of heresy]-rooted sin of [name of sin that occurs below the belt] will readily realize that this is no normal crisis. It’s an [adjective] crisis! According to the elocutions of [name of woman recently arrested for mail fraud], our Lady of [European town that could use an influx of tourism cash] clearly warned us that if we didn’t immediately stop [name of sin that holds no appeal to you], she would be in danger of losing the arm-wrestling match with [name of person of the Holy Trinity] and we would be chastised with terrible [name of disease].

And now look. NOW LOOK, you [name of invertebrate]. You brought this about with your [perversion you recently looked up on Urban Dictionary for purely academic research] and your [frightening ethnic food people are now selling on the street corner where you used to play stickball as a lad].

I hope you’re [emotion].

You should be ashamed. Yes, you, you [name of liquid]-spined [name of unimpressive animal]. We’re onto you. I can tell by your [description of basic courtesy] that you probably read [creative spelling of “Simcha Fisher”]. Maybe you don’t know that [name of Catholic celebrity who acts like complete jackass on social media] came back from the brink of death specifically to warn us about people like [you].

[onomatopoeia for spitting]. 

Enough. If you’re an American with blood that is [color], ask yourself, “Who could possibly be profiting from this?” And the answer is, as always, [euphemism for Jews]. Of course, [euphemism for black people] are also suffering, but they brought it on themselves by [verb describing action necessary for existence].

But because of them, we’ll all be subject to mandatory [name of routine medical treatment] which has been conclusively proven on YouTube by [name of person who is not a doctor] to cause permanent flaccidity of the [name of favorite body part].

Friends, there is only one solution. If you love [name of religious devotion] and the [document you once paid the EIB network six easy installments of $43 to purchase an authentic reproduction of], let’s cast off the shackles of [name of basic medical hygiene] and say no to this [name of crime against humanity that you read about in American Girls].

Let’s Make America [adjective] Again, one [name of pathogen-spreading behavior] at a time.

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Image: from Agricultural Research activities book (via Flickr) (no known copyright restriction)

 

 

All your Q’s about live streamed Mass, A’d

I know we’ve been doing this “watching Mass on our screens” thing for several weeks now, but some people still have some questions. This is your lucky day, because I have the answers!

Q. It was hard enough keeping the kids in line when we were physically present at Mass. Any tips on keeping them engaged when we’re watching it in our living room?

A. With kids, it’s the little things that cue them in, so make some effort to supply some strategically-chosen touches to make it seem “really real.” For instance, tell them to get nice clothes on, and then just before Mass begins, discover that their Sunday best does not include underwear, just like at regular Mass. You can also let them sit on your lap, ostensibly so help the see better, but actually so you can obsessively inspect their scalps and ears for ticks the whole time, just like at regular Mass. And if they have to use the bathroom during Mass, let them go, but make them do it in the basement, and set up a table of donuts they have to walk past. In this way, your eventual reintegration to regular Mass will be seamless, and you won’t have COVID-19 or ticks.

Q. I know that if we have a dispensation from Mass, that means we don’t have an obligation to go, and live streamed Mass wouldn’t fulfill our obligation anyway, so there’s no way in which we can be obligated to live stream Mass. So I’m not some kind of rigorist or anything. My question is, should we turn the laptop so it’s facing in such a way that, when we kneel during the consecration, we’re actually facing the actual altar, which is two towns away?

A. I mean, the world is round? And Catholic churches are everywhere. So if you’re kneeling, there’s a 100% chance you’re kneeling toward an altar somewhere. This may be the best thing you hear all week. 

Q. Our Mass is broadcast live, but you can also watch a recorded version of it later in the day. If, hypothetically, I accidentally stayed up until 2 a.m. watching Buffy and eating questionable salami, is there anything shabby about sleeping in and catching Mass on the liturgical flippity flop, as it were?

A. No, but you’ll be missing out on your chance to be the first one to see your pastor’s astonishing new look after he broke down and cut his own hair on Saturday night. So, make your choices.

Q. I am fairly new on The e-Internet. I want to keep up with The Cyber and participate in an appropriate “virtual” way! Can you teach this old dog some new “online” tricks?

A. Absolutely, and thank you for your service! If your liturgy is being broadcast on the Book of Faces that your handsome grandson set up for you, you will see a row of faces along the bottom of the screen. These are called “Sacramenticons,” and Pope Francis has promised a partial (7/8) indulgence for anyone who times them exactly right, under the usual conditions (no attachment to sin, fast modem, etc.); i.e., during the Memorial Acclamation, it is right and just to respond to “Christ has died” with a “sadface,” “Christ is risen” with a “wow face,” and “Christ will come again” with a “happyface.” It is not essential that you do this, but I guarantee it will give your handsome grandson some enjoyment if you do.  

Q. As a representative of the humble flock who have been abandoned in this vale of tears by a weak and faithless episcopate, I am willing, in my humility, to patiently await the restoration of the most precious sacrament, even though I have every right to get as much body, blood, soul and divinity as I want, when I want it, under the exact conditions under which I feel like getting it. I am, as I say, humbly willing to endure this current scourge, and I have been strongly suggesting to the Holy Spirit that he use my intense sacrifice for the conversion of sinners, especially my pastor, who has squandered this incredible opportunity to give one of those really blistering sermons about modest and Marylike attire, because I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that those same hussies who used to show up to Mass with their squalling brats and their collarbones hanging out for all and sundry to see are probably at home right this minute wearing God knows what, probably elastic bloomers and one of those so-called t-shirts promoting satanism, and I’m not there to do anything about it and it’s KILLING ME. 

So my question is, how many poor souls do you think I’m releasing from purgatory with my humility? I’m estimating four hundred.

A. At least. Have you considered asking the Holy Spirit to sign your petition? Assuming he’s not too intimidated by your spectacular humility.  

Q. Can I drink coffee while live streaming Mass?

A. Yes, but in a very counter reformation way, no. 

 

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