Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday homily

On Palm Sunday, some priests don’t give a homily, 
because the readings are so long and intense.

But I want to offer some brief thoughts, if only to give you a breather.

So I offer you this to consider: 
there is no Christianity without the Cross.

If we try to talk about Jesus Christ only in terms of teaching, 
or healing, or kindness – without the Cross – 
we’re not talking about Jesus, but someone else entirely.

It’s all about the cross and our need for Christ. 
And that’s what our whole Lent has been about.
So – if you’ve come this far and not had a good Lent? Start now. 

Now, I might have made a different point: 
that just as Christ makes no sense without the Cross, 
so humanity makes no sense without God. 
Without God, we have no anchor, 
nothing to hold onto but our own uncertain selves. 

Yet that is what our contemporary society is trying to do: 
to understand ourselves without God. 

It won’t work; it will end in grief; but we’re trying all the same. 
By the way: this fully explains 
the growing conflict between what our Catholic Faith asks of us, 
and what the world insists is true.

Now, the world has one good indictment of God. 
We see human suffering and we want to know: where is God? 
It’s a question that haunts us.

Yet, without God, the suffering remains. 
Pushing him aside doesn’t help. 
There seems no way out!

This is why the one word 
God wanted to speak to humanity is the Cross. 
God on the Cross.
Right in front of us.

Face it. Embrace it. This is the only hope we have. 

You don’t have to come on Holy Thursday 
or Good Friday or the Easter Vigil, 
but I invite you to come. 
This is the heart of our Faith.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Practicing chants

Good Friday and the Easter Vigil bring several chants that only happen once a year. Specifically:

"Behold the wood of the Cross..."; "Exult, let them exult..." and the blessing of the baptismal water.

Today I am practicing.

Will this be the year I try chanting the Eucharistic Prayer again? Stay tuned...


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My most ambitious cooking endeavor so far...

Neapolitan Ragu...

I found the recipe here. From what I've read, Naples is the source of much of what Americans know as Italian, so I thought, let's try something as authentic as I can find. In any case, it sounded delicious!

First I had to get all the ingredients. I had to go to a second Krogers for the pecorino romano. Guess what? Not in Sidney, but in humble Piqua! Hah! (Turns out I had enough pecorino already in my fridge that I'd forgotten about, but this is delicious cheese; it won't go to waste.) Fresh basil was unavailable at either store, and I wasn't going to drive to Troy or Dayton for it; so, I used dried basil.

First I get out all my ingredients:


Included in that cornucopia are a pound and a half of round steaks, six meaty spare ribs, some fresh parsley, garlic, the blasted dried basil, salt and pepper, onion, olive oil, some tomatoes, and cheese, celery and carrots. Oh, and some string (you'll see). Some of this I already had; I just got it all out so I wouldn't have to go hunting for it.

So, first it said to pat the round steaks dry with a paper towel, and then rub them with salt and pepper. It didn't specify regular or Kosher salt; I opted for the latter.


I also had to mince some parsley and grate some cheese. I did this by hand. (I think it's time to get a food processor.) What do you think -- would the Osterizer have worked? I was reluctant to use it, for fear it would liquify the parsley. I didn't get these ingredients as fine as I might have liked, but that means it's "rustic," eh?

Anyway, all that goes on the steaks, like so:


Here's where I needed the string. The recipe said to roll them up like a jelly roll, and tie with string. I have no idea how to do that, but I figured the main thing was to keep the cheese and parsley inside. Here's what I came up with (along with the spareribs, sprinkled generously with salt and pepper):


Next, some olive oil goes in the pan to heat up, then the meat goes in to brown. My pan has a raised area in the middle, that's a pain, but I made it work.


Because there was so much meat, I took some of it out once it was reasonably well browned, and brought it back later. I'm thinking the recipe intended smaller spareribs, but it said, four "meaty" ones, on the bone...

Next the celery, carrots and onion, cut "roughly," go in (I cut all this before I even turned on the stove):


You can see all but one piece of meat was removed. I was to cook this in the oil till the vegetables began to get soft.

While the meat and vegetables were cooking, I prepared the tomatoes. I had bought whole tomatoes, so I had to crush them. Yes, you can get them crushed; but I wanted to use this particular type of tomato: San Marzano; and I only found whole. So I squished them with my hands, which proved a bit more hazardous than I expected. Then the recipe called for a half-cup of dry red wine. I opted for Cabernet. What do you think?

Oh, I forgot something. When I took the meat out, that raised area in the middle had some nice brown bits; I decided to deglaze that. So I used a bit of the wine for that. A little more wine could hardly hurt, right?

After the vegetables had cooked awhile, I added the garlic and basil -- wow, did that smell good! -- then after a minute or so, the tomato-wine mixture.

This I brought to a boil, and then turned down to simmer. For at least an hour and a half. Dinner looks to be about 9 pm (after an 8 pm meeting).


And, lest you think I created LOTS of dirty dishes, here's my sink:


Those are clean dishes, which I leave for the angels to dry. They always do a great job!

Update, 7:57 pm...

It's still cooking; the sauce is thickening, but the meat isn't quite at the "off the bone" stage. Stay tuned...

Update, the morning after...

The recipe called for taking the meat out once it was falling off the bone, which I did. It also called for cooling the meat in the fridge, so it would be easier to cut. If it hadn't been past 9 pm at that point, I'd have done so (it would have given the sauce more time to cook); but I was ready to eat.

While I sliced up the meat and put it back in the sauce as called for, I cooked some spaghetti -- al dente, of course -- and poured some wine. Here's the sauce with the meat back in:


Here's the plate:



Verdict?

Oh. My. Heavens!

This is probably the best thing I have ever cooked!

If this is anything like what Ragu is like in Naples, I can't wait to visit Naples.

This is amazing! (Remember, I'm writing this the next morning. I was going nuts over this when I ate it, and when I went to bed, and when I woke up this morning. I told the servers about this before Mass.)

You'll notice I didn't put any cheese on it. My understanding is that in Italy, they don't always put cheese on pasta. I tried it without, and it was delicious. I had a little more -- to use up the remainder of the spaghetti, of course, because it was too little to put away -- and I did put some parmesan/romano cheese on it. Wonderful, but not really necessary.

I've got a lot of it left over, so I'm going to enjoy this for several days.

Here are the things about this that excite me:

> This wasn't all that hard. Rolling up the round steaks and tying them was the most tedious. If I recruit another set or two of hands, very easy (are you paying attention, seminarians who will be here this summer?). And, I could easily double the quantity.

> I think I can improve this a little. The sauce had a little separation; there could be a couple of reasons for that, but I think I can fix that. Also, the round steak rollups were a little bit of a disappointment (but the rib meat was wonderful); I might try a different cut of meat (more expensive), or even try using meatballs or sausage.

> Best of all, this gives me the basics of the sauce, which I am eager to experiment with. I'd never made a tomato sauce with celery, carrots and onion; but anyone who cooks knows these are the basics of any good sauce. Now I know how to do it.

Here's what I don't understand: why haven't I ever had anything like this till now? I don't see why a sauce like this couldn't be marketable; I don't know why Italian restaurants don't have anything like this. It's not that hard to make, and it'll keep.

Postscript: I have two spareribs left I didn't cook. Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why do we Christians talk about death so much? (Sunday homily)

One of the striking things you surely noticed 
coming into church this morning is that the statues are all covered. 
Maybe everyone knows why; 
but I’m betting there are at least some who don’t.

So why do we cover the statues?

For one, it’s part of the fasting of Lent. 
We don’t just fast from food; 
you may have noticed there aren’t flowers on the altar during Lent. 
And the music is simpler. 
As we go along, we leave more and more behind.

It’s also a kind of dying. 
Little by little, shedding more and more, 
until we are alone, as it were, with Jesus, in his suffering and dying. 

Why do we talk about death like this? 
In the Gospel, Jesus talks about it. 
A lot of our Catholic Faith talks about it; 
we always keep an image of Jesus, dying on the cross, in front of us. 
Why do we Christians do this?

Some people will say, 
that’s because death is part of nature and the world around us. 

And while that’s a true statement, so far as it goes, 
it ignores something else we Christians believe: 
that God, in the original plan, did not want us to die. 
Death becomes part of this world 
because of human rebellion against God. 

No, there’s a very different reason. 
The reason Jesus talks about dying 
is because of what he teaches us about ourselves. 
That rebellion from God means 
that we have a shallow, shadow understanding of life. 

Rebelling against God doesn’t mean living without God; 
it means replacing the God who actually made us, and the universe, 
with the god of my own will, my own desires, making myself my god. 
And what do you get 
when you have a world centered not on one God, 
but a world of seven billion gods? 

That’s a world of greed, injustice, war and murder. 
And what Jesus came to tell us was this: 
that’s a shadow “life,” unworthy of the word life. 
You want life—real life? 
You have to be prepared to die to what this world thinks is life. 
Die to that—live true life, fullness of life, forever.

I can’t speak for you, but – I like pleasure! I like the absence of pain. 
I like being fed rather than being hungry, 
I like being rested rather than being tired; 
and I like being healthy, and not being sick.

Still, this is where God’s mercy is at work, if you think about it. 
When humanity turned from God to self, 
that’s when death became part of the course of our life on earth. 

I don’t want to romanticize any of this, or minimize suffering. 

But here’s something many of us understand. 

As we get a little older, and our eyes aren’t so good, 
our hearing fades, our body doesn’t do all it used to, 
and we can’t eat like we’re 20 any longer – 
maybe, like me, you have to cut out the caffeine 
because it keeps you up at night, 
and after a certain age, 
a good night’s sleep is not something to take for granted!

My point is, life has a way of humbling us, and teaching us: 
you really aren’t god, you know that? 
And if we listen, and accept the lesson, we grow wise. 

And we are reminded: this life isn’t my destination; 
it’s a part of the journey to something bigger and better. 
What’s truly good in this life is but an echo of what lies ahead. 
It is in letting go of this world that we gain the world to come.

Above all, what we die to is self. 
All the sins we confess, they all come to that. 
When we gossip, it’s because we think what we have to say 
is awfully important; and it’s something everyone needs to hear. 

How many arguments are because we simply cannot imagine 
that how we see things might not be correct? 

When we embrace a mindset that justifies doing something immoral
because of the good we claim to be aiming for…

And if you’re wondering what I’m talking about, 
how about when our government uses torture? 
Or when people seek to conceive a child in a laboratory – 
which in turn led to taking so-called “leftover” embryos 
and destroying them for research? 
Doesn’t it really boil down to this: 
we think we’re entitled to play God, if only for a short time. 
Only a little bit; trust us, we won’t go too far!

We do this because we grow impatient 
with how God is doing his job. 
He isn’t giving us what we want, so we’ll take it!

It might be a good exercise for each of us: 
to look ourselves in the mirror, and ask the question: 
“Who is God?” 
And then tell ourselves: “Not you.”

Dying to self is the very hardest thing we do: 
we fight it from the first word many of us learn – “No!” – 
to our last breath.

The good news is, God put us in a world 
that does a lot to help us learn this lesson. 
Human beings, by design, need each other. 
Love only works with dying to self; 
and then family teaches us that even more. 
We see what our parents did for us; 
then it’s our turn to do likewise.

What did we hear the Lord say in the Gospel? 
“Unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains only a grain of wheat.”

But it’s not just what Jesus said; it’s what he did. 
This is why, as Jesus told us, from before the foundation of the world, 
God planned to come as our savior, and to go to the Cross for us. 

He goes where we go. He goes ahead of us, lighting the way. 
Remember what he told the Apostles: 
I go to prepare a place for you. 

If you lost your focus during Lent, it’s not too late. 
We have two more weeks. 

If you need to go to confession, but have been procrastinating, 
there are plenty of opportunities the next two weeks. 
During Holy Week there will be many extra hours for confession. 

Do I live for me, for here, for this? Or do I want to live forever?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cooking for the Lord

Courtesy Jantoo.com
It's time for the Saint Remy Casserole Crusade!

Last time I made two casseroles; today I decided to make five -- four for the soup kitchens, and one to keep in my freezer.

The recipe says to do the following:

Bring two quarts cups of chicken broth to a boil, then add a one pound bag of egg noodles. Bring back to a boil, then turn off for 20 minutes.

Then strain out the noodles, mix with one can of cream of mushroom soup, one can of cream of chicken soup, and two cups of chicken meat. All that goes in a foil pan that they passed out in the back of church.

Well, as always, I decided to jazz it up just a bit:

While the noodles were cooking, I chopped up some onions and some celery. I cooked these nicely in some melted butter, adding a bit of garlic powder. And in place of chicken broth, I used chicken stock, for added flavor. And since I didn't have any cooking oil spray for the foil pans, I used butter. Only the best!

Well, with enough fixings for five casseroles, I had some major quantities of food going on here; plus a lot of cans to open up while the noodles were cooking. That meant getting out every big pan I have, plus several smaller ones.

This also meant mixing everything in two large pots, and doing some switching back and forth so that the proportions were even in both pots. It worked pretty well.

One "oops" -- I was tasting it as I went along, only to remember: it's Friday! Sorry, Lord!

So, finally, I'm ready to pour the stuff into the pans; only the pots are too large for pouring; so I had a small strainer which worked pretty well for a scoop, and scooped it out into one pan, then another...

Now I'm scrambling for counter space...

When I got to the third one, I'm thinking, there's not enough for five casseroles! Sure enough, I had just enough to fill the four. (I guess I overfilled them.) I did get a couple of spoonfuls, just to see how it tasted.

Verdict? Good, but too bland for my taste. I'd have added more salt, more black pepper (I'd thrown in a bit), and some red pepper. But from my experience, it's not a good idea to make food for large groups overly seasoned; some people just don't care for it. Now that I've got it all sealed up and in the freezer, I think some grated parmesan cheese would have been good over the top of it.

In telling this story, I don't mean to brag. This wasn't a big deal -- it took about 90 minutes.

I'm letting you know that if I can do this, so can you!

Update, 3/21/15...

Working on those casseroles has got me on a cooking jag this weekend. That's what happens, I guess, when I get my homily finished on Friday, and I haven't any appointments for today.

After finishing the noodle casseroles yesterday, I had a lot of leftover chicken stock; plus I had some chicken meat I hadn't used in the casseroles. So that means soup!

I always keep a bag full of "soup junk" in the freezer: sorry looking onions, carrots and celery, onion skins, and any bones I might have, all of which are good for adding flavor to soup stock. So I got that out and dumped it into the leftover stock, and cooked that several hours yesterday. Last night I strained it, and put the pot into the fridge. It was a lot of stock.

So this morning, before getting my breakfast, I put it back on the stove. It's still there, simmering; I'm trying to cook down the liquid before adding some cut up carrots and celery (I'm all out of onions), some pasta, and later, the rest of the chicken. I may add a bit of parsley. I'm tempted to try tarragon, but I think that's better in chicken salad. What do you think?

I'm not watching it at the moment, yet it still won't boil.
Oh, and inspired by a comment in one of my other cooking entries, I decided to make up some cornpone. I did it the super-easy way: using a Jiffy mix. Is that bad?

Here's the pone, fresh out of the oven:



Right after that, I cut me a slice -- ow, hot! -- and cut off a blob of butter. Yes, it really was as it good it as you think it was! There's nothing like the crust you get with cornbread when you cook it in an iron skillet (after melting a generous amount of butter first).

Update, 1:45 pm...

The soup is "finished" -- at least, enough to try. It will certainly be better after it sits overnight, but as you can see, the pot is so full, I dasn't try to put it away like this. So I'll have a bowl, and I'm keeping it on the burner to simmer some more. Then I'll put it away to feed the staff on Tuesday. If there's enough left.

Here I am, stirring it up a bit so you can see something more than parsley floating on top.


And, yes, it is rather good! It would have been nice to have chopped onions, there's plenty of onion flavor in the broth. I'm resisting the temptation to doctor it up any further with either red or black pepper.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Posting comments

I've had more than a few readers tell me they find it hard to post comments. Basically, you've had to sign up for an account; and not everyone wants to do that.

The problem is spam comments, which I'm guessing are generated by computer programs.

Just now, I clicked one of the options; it allows anyone with a Google account. A Google account is free; I've had one for years. I am pretty sure nothing bad will happen to you.

Let's see how that works.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How to change bad habits

This is from the website, The Art of Manliness; a hard-to-explain site, beyond the name. Just check it out. Bad habits are a plague, and a lot of us get really discouraged by being unable to overcome them. This video makes a lot of sense. Do you find the method described plausible? Have you experienced any of this in your own life -- either the stages of bad habits, or success in applying this method? What do you wish the video talked about more?

Perfect French Toast

As I'm getting back to cooking more, one of the things I'm doing is perfecting some dishes I like to make. You see, most of the time, I improvise. So when I'm adding a little of this, or more of that, it's hard to remember just how I did it. That's how my soups tend to come out.

But it's nice to be able to have a way you like to do something, and do it that way each time. I know how I like certain cocktails, for example. And, lately, I've been perfecting French Toast.

Monday night I ate out, and I brought back some bread I knew would make good French Toast. So I let it dry out on the counter yesterday, and this morning I whipped it up. Here's my recipe:

Four good slices of bread, cut thick if possible (you can make more slices if they are thinner; your preference)
Two large or extra-large eggs; if in doubt, add an egg
A little less milk than egg -- judge by appearance
A 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla, maybe a little less
Cinnamon
Butter
Maple syrup

Cooking utensils:

A wide, flat bowl
A good frying pan
A small bowl or measuring cup or glass that can go in the microwave.

1. Crack your eggs into a bowl and add milk and vanilla; whisk up nicely. It doesn't have to be perfectly blended, but I like to get the whites broken up fairly well.

2. Set bread slices into this mixture. This is the key: you want to be sure your bread is completely soaked through with the milk and egg. Better to have too much egg-milk mixture than to have it all get absorbed with the bread wanting more. 

3. When your slices are well soaked, add a good amount of butter to the frying pan you'll use, and heat it to medium or medium low -- whatever setting will make the pan hot, but not so hot as to burn the butter. (I've never tried using clarified butter, but that would avoid this problem. In my experience, keeping the temp from going too high makes for very nice toast.)

4. When the pan and butter are nicely hot, add slices of toast. If any liquid remains, you can do two things with it:

a) Use a fork and jab the pieces in the pan. You can try pouring a bit more over the bread, and it may absorb. Not too much -- because, if you did your job right beforehand, the bread won't be able to take much more. If you pour too much, that leads to...

b) Pouring the remaining mixture into the pan anyway; it cooks sort of like a crepe, and is tasty by itself, although not as tasty as the French Toast.

5. Sprinkle as much cinnamon over the toast as you like. (Note: you also could add the cinnamon to the milk-and-egg, but I like the cinnamon on the surface of my toast. It doesn't bother me that it's only on one side. Any suggestions?)

6. Fry the bread till it's got a good color on one side, then flip; finish other side. Since the temperature isn't high, this isn't a rush. And it smells delicious!

7. When your toast is about finished, take some butter -- whatever amount you'd usually spread on the toast -- and some Maple Syrup, and add these to the cup or bowl you've got ready. Pop in microwave for about 20-30 seconds. Keep an eye on this, it can boil up very fast. All you want to do is melt the butter and have the syrup-butter mix be good and hot.

8. Plate your toast and when the buttery syrup is ready, pour over the top.

It should look something like this:


This was my breakfast this morning. You can see I had a bit of the egg mixture left over.

So, how was it?

Good, but I was much more successful the last time with getting the eggy goodness all through the bread. That makes a huge difference. When the bread is really soaked, the result is just wonderful. In fact, one night last week, I decided to make French Toast for dessert. This morning, I was hungry and rushed it. Still good, but not awesome.

Now, if you want to be even fancier with this, you can heat your plate ahead of time. One way is to set it in the oven for awhile. Another is to put a little water on the plate and nuke it in the microwave. Is that bad? It's quick at least.

A lot of folks would like this with sausage or bacon, which is always good, but I just wanted the toasty goodness -- plus it's Lent. While French Toast seems pretty luxurious, it's really pretty simple.

Other than soaking it well, it's also critical, I think, to use good ingredients. Fake "Maple" syrup? Are you crazy? Margarine? Bah. Even using oil in the pan -- nothing wrong with oil, but it won't add as much flavor as the butter, which always gives nice color.

And if you want a "healthy" version of this, I think you end up with an empty plate. If you have a different experience, by all means share it. And please feel free to offer any refinements you know of. I'm still perfecting this.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mercy is meaningless without conversion

This past week Pope Francis made some news. 
He announced that 2016 will be a special year of Jubilee, 
focused on mercy.

This Holy Year of Mercy will begin December 8,
the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 
and conclude November 20, the Feast of Christ the King.

The idea of the Jubilee 
comes from the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. 
Every 50 years debts would be cleared and slaves set free. 

Pope Boniface VIII began the practice of a Catholic year of Jubilee 
in AD 1300; he proposed one every 100 years. 
Later, someone had the idea of doing it every 25 years.

What Pope Francis has in mind is a special year of Jubilee,
focused on mercy.

Notice something in the first reading. 
It’s a line that might be the saddest passage in Scripture:

“But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, 
and scoffed at his prophets, 
until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed 
that there was no remedy.”

There was no remedy. What does that mean? 
Does that contradict what I just said about God’s ever-ready mercy?

Not at all. God’s mercy is always a remedy – except when it’s refused.

What do you think the “messengers of God” were telling his people? 
What were the “warnings” about? 
What was the task of the prophets he sent, one after the other?

Doing exactly what Pope Francis is doing: 
inviting, begging people to seek his mercy.

Many people misunderstand this whole subject. 
No doubt you are aware of the discussion going on among the bishops 
about whether the Church should change her teaching and practice 
regarding who can receive holy communion; 
in particular, when folks are in second marriages 
after having been married and divorced.

And many folks say, just let everyone come to communion. 
Isn’t that merciful?

Here’s the problem. 
Mercy has no meaning when it is disconnected from the truth. 
It has no meaning when it isn’t connected to conversion – 
which simply means, turning back to the truth.

So on this question of receiving communion. The problem is delicate. 
People make decisions, they make mistakes, 
and they don’t have an easy way to undo that. 
People have unhappy experiences in marriage, things come apart, 
and they wonder, why can’t I marry a second time? 
Am I being punished?

This is a good time to point out 
that many people have that reaction 
when they look at what the Christian Faith asks of us. 
What Jesus asks of us. 
If someone has a same-sex attraction, he or she asks, 
am I being punished? 
There are times when being honest in business, 
or being truthful with one another, is costly. 

Jesus told us to count the cost. 
We don’t follow Jesus because it’s easy, but because he’s worth it! 
And almost every day, in this new age of martyrdom, 
we read or see images of fellow Christians, 
who pay the full price with their very lives.

Why should it be costly to follow the Lord? 
Because being faithful to the truth can be costly. 

Right now, more and more Christians are losing their businesses, 
losing their livelihood, 
because they won’t agree with the government redefining marriage. 

The founder of a large company, Mozilla, 
was forced out of his own business 
because he believes marriage is a man and a woman. 
If it happens to someone rich and powerful, 
what can the rest of us expect?

The truth at stake in the question of divorce and remarriage is this: 
is marriage for a lifetime, as Jesus himself said 
to the shock of his listeners, or not? 
And another truth is at stake: 
is sharing the Eucharist a real communion with the Lord Jesus – 
again, that is what he taught. 

Because if so, then how can it not matter if we’re living the truth –
his truth – or not, when we receive the Eucharist?

That’s also the reason, by the way, 
that we must actually be Catholic to receive communion. 
Not because folks who aren’t Catholic or Christian are bad people. 
But because to take holy communion is to say –
in this solemn ritual – I am right now a Catholic; 
and I am, right now, living my life according to the teaching of Jesus. 

That’s why we must bring mortal sins to confession 
before coming to communion. 
And if someone is not Catholic, the first step, 
before receiving communion, is to decide: 
do I believe what the Catholic Church believes? 
Do I want to be a Catholic? If so, welcome! Become Catholic! 
But first, count the cost. Learn the Faith. I’ll help you.
Then come to communion.

There are those who will say that my message isn’t merciful. 
I talk about laws and rules and truth, 
and if we were really merciful we’d just get rid of all that. 
But again: mercy makes no sense without reference to the truth – 
and conversion to the truth.

What is mercy? It is compassion, yes; it is generosity; 
it is God saying to us – and us to each other – “I forgive you.”

Forgive me? Forgive me of what?
Of sin.
What is sin?

We often say, sin is what offends God. 
Yes, but why? Why does sin offend God?

When we talk about God being hurt, or angry, or sad, 
realize we’re ascribing human emotions to God. 
We do it because it’s hard to talk about God any other way.

Nevertheless, realize that we do not have the power to injure God. 
Recall what Jesus said to Pilate: you would have no power over me, 
except that it was given to you from above. 
No one could lay a hand on Jesus, unless he allowed it.

Sin “offends” God precisely because of the harm is causes us; 
either in how my sins harm myself, or they harm others. 
Every single thing God tells us is a sin, is a sin for that reason. 
Sin isn’t just something that “bugs” God – 
like playing the radio too loud. 
Sin distorts us; and without repentance and conversion, it will ruin us.

That’s what hell is. Hell isn’t God’s penalty box. 
Hell is the end destination of drinking the poison of sin 
and refusing all the remedies. 
And to stop warning people about that poison 
is the polar opposite of mercy! 

I’ve talked too long, and yet there’s so much more to say about mercy. 
Which is why the Holy Father’s idea sounds like a good one. 
As he himself said, mercy “is the best thing we can feel: 
It changes the world…
A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. 
We need to understand properly this mercy of God, 
this merciful Father, who is so patient.”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Friday dinner, Saturday breakfast

Last night the local Catholic War Veterans had a fish fry. I am sorry I couldn't go, but without realizing that was this week, I defrosted some Perch I'd bought weeks ago.

I don't recall ever cooking Perch. I don't know what a Perch looks like. Wait; according to the Almighty Internet, it looks like this:


But what I got out of the fridge looked like this:

These aren't the fillets I cooked; this is a stock photo.
I found a recipe online that looked easy, something like this: dredge the fillets in flour, mixed with pepper, red pepper and salt -- I threw in some garlic and parsley -- and then cook that in some butter that is browned first. I had that with some green beans I found in the freezer, and a couple of gold potatoes I steamed up in the micro. Butter and lemon over everything, pretty much. White wine would have been nice, but this is Lent.

It wasn't bad, but I wanted more salt, pepper and garlic.

As I'd cooked up a pound of fish, I had a good bit left over today. What do you do with leftover fried fish?

How about an omelette?

So I took a couple of the fillets and broke them up, and put them into a frying pan with some melted butter and a little Olive Oil. (I add the oil both to keep the butter from burning, and to give a little different flavor.) Meanwhile I stirred up some eggs with some pepper, salt, garlic and parsley -- sometimes I add Tarragon to my omelettes, but not this time -- and then poured all that over the fish. I thought about cheese, but decided to omit it.

Spiffy in a jiffy!

So how was it?

It didn't turn out of the pan so well (that's why I didn't take a picture, sorry), but it tasted pretty good. I actually liked the Perch better this morning than last night. At any rate, I used some leftovers, which is always good.

Now I really must whip up a homily!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What wine is valid for use at Holy Mass?


I was reading something online today where the question came up regarding whether something called "sulfites" in wine render that wine improper for use at Holy Mass, or, worse, mean that the wine is "invalid" for the sacrament--which means it doesn't become the Body and Blood of the Lord.

It's a relatively obscure question, but one that has some importance to me. As a priest, occasionally you'll find yourself without wine and need to get hold of something in a hurry. It's good to know what will suffice.

Someone made a comment on a story I was reading asserting that sulfites render an otherwise valid wine invalid for Mass. I didn't believe this, so I went looking myself.

Since I thought someone else might find this interesting -- and so that I could keep track of this information in case it came up again -- here's what I found. You can follow the links and read the rest at your leisure.

Oh, what's that you ask? What are sulfites? Here's what Wikipedia says.

According to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, sulfites don't render wine invalid or illicit. The Diocese of Davenport says the same, but with more explanation. And this thread at Catholic Answers is interesting, both because of what someone reported a sacramental wine purveyor said (i.e., that sulfites are in pretty much all wine, including sacramental wine), as well as the citation of a 1922 ruling by no less than the Holy Office -- now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- in Rome.

So the ruling seems to be, any true grape wine, without any other ingredients of note, miniscule amounts of sulfites excepted, is valid for Holy Mass. Not cherry, not elderberry, but grape. Red or white, sweet or dry.

Update (3/13): I found this today from Father McNamara, of Zenit, who is usually careful about these things. Just to add to the file. And if you're wondering why I'm giving so much attention to an obscure subject, two reasons. First, because I know what happens when I run into someone who is on a tear about things like this: you can't back them down unless you really have your facts nailed down. And, second, I'm trying to come up with a homily, but my muse is AWOL. When that happens, I fiddle around with other stuff while I wait. It does seem to work.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Italian dinner

The other day I pulled some Italian sausage out of the freezer; it sat in the fridge for a few days, so I figured I'd better cook it up. I was planning on making some sauce, but I didn't have time for that. So I pulled some Marinara sauce off the shelf, and boiled up some fettucinne.


Here's the plate, with some shaved Pecorino Romano, with some leftover wine.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Reviewing the Ten Commandments (Sunday homily)

With the first reading reminding us of the Ten Commandments, 
this seems a good time to review them. 
Since many of us wrestle with just when something is a mortal sin, 
I’ll give some guidance on that. But I can’t cover everything. 

As you leave Mass, you’ll see some booklets that look like this. 
We don’t have enough for every single person, 
but we want to give these away till they are gone. 
If you don’t have one, and you will use it, feel free to take it.

When we talk about mortal and venial sin, 
it’s like the difference between something that makes us ill, 
and something that kills us; 
both are bad, but one is really bad. 

Likewise, both are good to bring to confession, 
but mortal sins MUST be brought to confession.

I. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods before me.

The commandment is plain enough. What are some ways we disobey it?

Not making time for prayer. 
Trusting in ourselves, in money or luck, rather than in God. 
When we put our judgment over that of God’s and his Church. 
Participating in things like fortune-telling, 
tarot cards and other occult practices.

When we deny God exists, 
or when we deny a defined teaching of the Church, 
these are mortal sins. 
When we intentionally take part occult practices, that is a mortal sin. 

When we receive holy communion in a state of mortal sin, 
or when we enter into marriage contrary to the laws of the Church, these are mortal sins. 

Pride—which leads to wrath—is making ourselves our own god.

II. Do not take God’s name in vain.

In addition to the obvious—misusing God’s name 
as “just an expression” or a curse-word—
this also applies to blasphemy, 
which is deliberately insulting God or his saints; 
and that is a mortal sin.

Because saints are consecrated to God, 
their names, likewise, deserve reverence. 

III. Keep holy the Lord’s Day.

This is the basis for the Church’s teaching 
that failing to take part in Holy Mass on Sundays 
or holy days of obligation is a mortal sin 
if we don’t have a good reason or a dispensation. 

If we prevent others from coming to Holy Mass, 
that too is a grave sin; 
so, for example, not taking our children 
when they are old enough to enter into it; 
or when we prevent employees from worshipping on the Lord’s Day.

Sanctifying the Lord’s Day also includes 
observing the whole day, as best we can,
as a time of rest and spiritual reflection, 
and refraining from unnecessary work. 
That part is a venial sin.

IV. Honor your father and mother.

This applies not only to disrespect, but also refusal to help our parents. 
By extension, it applies to anyone who deserves respect, 
and anyone we are responsible for, especially our children.

Honoring our parents means praying for them. 
And when our parents become dependent on our help, 
it is wrong to neglect their spiritual needs. 
And when our parents come to the end of their time on earth, 
they deserve a priest to give them Last Rites 
and a Mass and Christian burial, 
and to be remembered in prayers ever after.

Anytime our neglect causes grave harm, 
then that makes it a mortal sin.

V. You shall not kill.

This applies to anytime we take a life, or help someone do so—
including an unborn child, and mis-named “mercy killing” 
of the aged or disabled. 

The Church teaches that while there’s nothing wrong 
with rejecting experimental or burdensome medical care, 
it is gravely sinful to deny anyone the basics: 
food, water and pain relief. 
And this applies to taking our own life.
All these are mortal sins. 

So-called “in vitro” fertilization—
is a grave sin against this commandment 
because it involves the manipulation, 
and often the destruction, of human life at its very beginning.

This commandment also applies to when we injure other people 
through violence; and if that injury causes serious harm—
if someone goes to the hospital 
or can’t get back to normal life right away—that’s a mortal sin. 

This applies when we injure people with words: 
revealing other people’s faults or telling things we don’t need to repeat. 

Beware of malice, which is one of the most grave and deadly sins.

When we treat our own lives with contempt, 
not caring for ourselves properly, or taking foolish risks, 
that is sinful. So is mutilating our bodies. 

As Jesus taught, when we wish someone dead, or harbor hatred, 
we violate this commandment too. 
We might think of the ways we can injure other people: 
through contempt, ridicule, physical, emotional or verbal abuse, 
bigotry, refusing to forgive, or cruelty.

VI. You shall not commit adultery.

Obviously this is about being unfaithful in marriage—
and that is gravely sinful. 

But it applies also to any use of sex outside of marriage, 
and apart from the marital embrace, 
because that’s what it was created for. 

God’s design is that we are open to life, 
and we give ourselves to another person; 
this gift is not about pleasing ourselves in a selfish way.
Because it’s about new life, it’s about man and woman.

Any deliberate use of this gift apart from marriage, 
or in a way that is closed to the gift of life, is a mortal sin. 
This includes contraception and sterilization, and—as mentioned before—
artificial means of conceiving life. 
Pornography, too, is gravely sinful.

All this explains why modesty 
and keeping custody of our eyes are important. 
Getting comfortable with venial sins leads to mortal sins.

VII. You shall not steal.

It’s always wrong to take what doesn’t belong to us; 
if the value is significant, it’s a mortal sin. 
This also applies to failing to pay a fair wage, 
Not giving a fair day’s work, or cheating on our taxes.

Trickery in business matters; 
taking advantage of other people for financial gain;
Destroying someone else’s property;
Failing to help the poor and needy. 
All these are a kind of stealing.

VIII. You shall not lie.

Sins of the tongue are among the easiest and most frequent. 
In addition to old-fashioned lying, 
this applies to flattery and gossip that harms others. 
It’s not sinful to repeat other people’s good qualities, however!  

When is this a mortal sin? When the harm our words do is grave.

IX. Do not covet another person.
X. Do not covet others’ things.

These are the sins that tend to lead us to the others. 
We covet, and we steal; we lust and we act on it. 
We envy, and we come to resent and hate another person. 

In the Gospel, Jesus really goes to town cleaning the temple. 
Some people were shocked. 
But the temple is God’s sanctuary, 
and it’s where we go to be with God.

Should not our lives—our souls—deserve the same reverence? 

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Should we put a woman on paper money?

New Yorker Magazine: A Campaign to Put a Woman on the Twenty-Dollar Bill

If you were going to do this, two questions:

1) Which woman would you choose?

2) On which bill?

(FWIW, I don't see that it has to be an American woman, although that would seem far more likely.)

I'd choose Rosa Parks; and I'd put her on the $50, instead of Grant. Between Grant and Jackson, the latter was far more consequential. Plus, he represents a period of history that is otherwise overlooked.

What are your answers?


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Things pastors do...


...Include researching electric rates.

Did you know?

> That you can shop around for different companies to sell you electricity and natural gas? The local utility still delivers it; but you contract with someone else at a lower price.

> How complicated electric bills are?

> "Business" customers get ripped off?

> How important it is to be able to remember where documents are filed -- such as, the contract made with the existing electric supplier? (We're still looking.)

FYI, none of the above was news to me; I learned all this years ago.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Hidden glory always there (Sunday homily)

There are a lot of mysteries in the readings today. 
What do we make of them?

Mystery number one: 
why would God tell Abraham 
to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice?

It would be fun to go through this passage line-by-line, 
but that would take too long. 
But I would argue that God had no desire 
for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac; 
God had no need for Abraham to do that. 

Rather, it was Abraham who, after a long struggle of faith, 
Needed finally to pass the test of his own faith, 
after having failed it so many times. 
And so, God, understanding that Abraham needs this, allows it. 
Only at the last moment does he stop Abraham and say, 
“I know now how devoted you are.” 

God didn’t learn anything he didn’t already know; he knew all along. 
But what do you suppose it meant for Abraham 
to hear those words from God? 

And that leads to mystery number two: 
what is the transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospel about? 
What does it mean?

Jesus knows who he is. The Father knows who he is. 
But do Peter, James and John? 

This happens after Peter has said to Jesus, 
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 
And yet, when the Lord reveals to Peter 
that he will be crucified, Peter is aghast; he can’t accept that.

An ancient tradition holds 
that this event happened 40 days before Jesus was executed; 
that’s why we read it every year on the second Sunday of Lent.

This revelation of Jesus’ glory was something the Apostles needed. 
They would be shaken to the core by the crucifixion. 
In this they see a promise of the Resurrection.

Again, Jesus didn’t need this; 
but to ask the question I posed about Abraham: 
what must this have meant for these Apostles?

These three apostles would all suffer greatly for their witness; 
Peter would be crucified; James beheaded. 
Jesus wanted them never to forget what they witnessed.

And that leads to mystery number three.
In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus unveils a glory 
that was already there, yet hidden most of the time.
Do you think that is true for us as well?

I tell you that it is! 

All around us is God’s Creation. 

I don’t know if you pay attention to these stories, 
but I notice almost every week there’s an article about scientists 
trying to unravel the mysteries of how the universe began; 
and more than that, what the universe is made of. 

Do you realize that most of what makes up the universe 
is completely a mystery to science? 
They call it “dark matter”—
meaning, its nature and properties are hidden to us.

Still, what you and I do know is pretty marvelous. 
We’re learning more all the time about the complexity of our world, 
including the complexity of what keeps us healthy. 
I can’t explain the wonders of what makes me able to see you, 
or you able to hear me. Most of the time we don’t even think about it; 
yet those wonders are there, all the same.

When God created the world and everything in it, 
he called it all “very good.” 
There is something to be said for respecting and valuing 
the treasures of our environment. 
That doesn’t mean we have to endorse every law or regulation 
someone wants to propose; 
but we must never forget what the word “Creation” means: 
all this was created by God, entrusted to us, and deserves respect.

When God created man and woman, he stamped us with his own image. 
Do you want to know what the face of God looks like? 
Look around you. 
Every face of every human being you ever meet looks like God.

When you were baptized, 
you were clothed in the glory of the Lord. 
The priest puts a white garment over the child; 
but that is merely a poor symbol of the hidden, true glory. 

In baptism we are clothed with Christ! 

Parents, if you could see it, when your child was baptized, 
he or she would radiate the same blinding radiance 
that Jesus revealed to the Apostles.

When you and I sin, we mar that glory; we soil it. 
When I had my first new car, 
I remember how unhappy I was to see the first scratch. 
Would that we were as sorry about the sins that soil our souls!

But that’s all the more reason 
to give thanks for the sacrament of confession. 
If we could see the hidden glory, 
what would it look like when the priest gives absolution? 
Something like the hidden glory of baptism, I think; 
and maybe something like what the Apostles saw. 

Jesus showed his glory to the Apostles 
because he knew what darkness lay ahead for them. 
Are you facing darkness and trial? 
John would stand at the foot of the cross a few weeks after this; 
many of us are standing by family or friends who are suffering. 
The crosses many of us face are pretty harsh; 
it’s so tempting to give up.

You and I, too, need to see the hidden glory. 
We need it so we remember what we stand for; 
what we live and die for; what lies ahead for us.