Sunday, February 03, 2019

Speak -- or be silent -- but only out of love (Sunday homily)

Prophet Jeremiah in the cistern (Jeremiah 38). Picture links to where I got it.

Jeremiah had to do it; and so did Jesus.
That is, they had to say things that upset people.

Pretty obviously, of course – 
there is a difference between the “have to do” and the “want to do.” 
That’s where so many of us get messed up.

So let’s get this straight right off the bat:
What happened in the Gospel is not permission to be a jerk.
Let me say that again:
Don’t point to Jesus, or Jeremiah, 
or for that matter, any part of the Bible, as an excuse to be a jerk.

Because that is not what happened in the Gospel.
Yes, Jesus sure did provoke them. They wanted to kill him!
But why did he provoke them? What would justify it?

Jesus was trying to make them think – 
to see something they weren’t seeing, and weren’t going to see, 
unless someone really shocked them out of a kind of mental sleep-walk. 
To get them to say, “wait, what?!?”

A lot of us go online, and maybe we post comments here and there.
Or maybe we get into family discussions and maybe they get heated.

So maybe you’re thinking, 
“yeah, it’s good to stir things up.”
Someone was hurt? “Don’t be a snowflake!”

Well, here’s the test.
Before you say – or post – anything that is going to set people off, 
ask yourself this question: 
Where is the love?

How is what I am saying or doing grounded in love?

And maybe you’ll say, well, I’m saying this because I love God – 
or because I love the truth. So far, so good.

But then take it one more step:
How is what I want to say about loving this person, right here?
Can you answer that question, first?

And more than that, maybe make that the first thing you say?
Instead of leading off with, “Here’s why you’re wrong!”
Try, “Because I care about you, I want to say thus-and-so…” 
and explain why what you’re saying is really about love.

You may not have thought about it this way, 
but everything you and I stand for, as Catholics – 
everything we get beat up for believing – is about love.
Love for real, flesh-and-blood people.

So, for example, we take a stand about what marriage is. 
That, in turn, is directly related to what a man is, what a woman is.
There is a love properly shared between a husband and wife; 
another love, proper for two men, and for two women.
Likewise, yet another love proper being parents and children,
And between brothers and sisters. 

So what are we doing today? Mashing all that up, saying “love is love.”
No, that is a lie.
And encouraging people to live a lie is never the loving thing to do.

Yes, it’s true, Jesus would hit a subject pretty hard.
But never forget: at the very moment he said and did those things, 
he was planning to die on the Cross for those very people!

So that’s the test: how much is what we’re doing and saying 
really about love in a concrete way, for real, living human beings?
And if not, maybe hold our tongue?

Look: some people never speak up. 
So some people listening right now, the message you need to hear 
isn’t to hold back; because that’s what you always do.

The message for you is, speak up! 
Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the courage and the inspiration. 

But some of us – I include myself here – speak up ALL THE TIME.

Before I was in the seminary, there was this girl, and this date.
We were in Virginia, and our plan was an early breakfast, 
and then to drive down to Kings Dominion – like Kings Island here – 
and ride roller coasters all day.

When I woke up that morning I could not talk.
I felt fine otherwise; but no voice. Nothing.
So we went to the park, and for that whole day, 
she had 100% of the conversation. For about 15 hours.
If you knew my friend Mary, you’d know this did not intimidate her!

But here was the great revelation for me:
The world did not stop spinning because it was deprived of my opinions!

More important is to absorb what we hear St. Paul say:
If what you are saying and doing isn’t first and last about love – 
not abstract love, but concrete love of flesh-and-blood people – 
then what is it worth?
Nothing, says Saint Paul.

It’s not the greatest segue, but let’s recall the opportunity 
you and I have for practical, concrete acts of love, right here, 
in the form of the Catholic Ministries Appeal. 

Two weeks ago I talked about the good works this is making possible: 
assisting the poor with food and utilities;
Keeping faith alive for college students, people in prisons and hospitals;
Supporting more priestly vocations, and St. Rita School for the Deaf, 
and the retirement fund for our elderly priests.

Talk about showing love: this isn’t abstract; it isn’t pie-in-the-sky; 
it’s here and now, flesh and blood. 

I spent most of my time today talking about ways our words hurt;
Or we don’t speak at all, when there really is a need.
But let me give you an opportunity, right now, 
To use words in a loving way.
There are envelopes with pledge forms, and pencils, in your pews.
They look like this. If you want to do this now, 
someone will pass it down.

Your words – your name and contact information – 
on this form are an act of love. 
So are the numbers you write on there: 
the amount of financial support for this cause.
You can include a check right now; 
or you can write in your credit information.

I make my check payable to the seminary, 
so that I can direct my gift there.
Without saying how much, I will say my gift is a lot for me.
That doesn’t mean you have to do the same; 
But I want you to know I’m serious about this.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Chicken report

Let's pick up the thread of my last post. In my account of the Pot Roast, I provided commercial interludes of my chicken preparation. I did not forget the advice given me by my readers after my last quest for chickeny excellence. (By the way, is "chickeny" really the best adjectival form of chicken? Suggestions?) And so, after letting the chicken dry itself in the fridge the past few days, I drew it out today for final preparations.

I ran my fingers carefully between the skin and the flesh, on both sides of the chicken, separating the skin. If you do this, be careful, especially on the breast side, or else you may tear the skin. Then I took some butter and some fresh rosemary, and mashed it all together. I kept some of the rosemary to insert in the cavity, along with a cut up lemon. The rosemary-butter combination I jammed up under the skin. I did tear the skin a bit, but a toothpick works well to hold it together:


After this, I sprinkled a bit of baking powder on both sides, but much less than before. Then I coated everything with generous amounts of olive oil; then generous amounts of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper:


You will notice the chicken is now breast-side down. My usual method is to cook it back up for most of the time, and then flip it breast-up for the last 30 minutes or so. I am going to try this one more time. My goal is to get reasonably good skin on all sides, and I want the breast side on the gravity side of the drippings. But what I don't know is whether I can achieve the excellent skin that I want. We'll see.

And, yes, it would look better if it were trussed, but I figure that the skin gets crispier in more places if it isn't. In the end, I care less about how it looks when it comes out, and more about how it looks and tastes on my plate -- and in my belly!

In a few minutes, I'm going to pop it in the oven at 450 degrees for about a half hour, then turn it way down, as low as possible, because I must leave it unattended while I hear confessions and offer Mass. I'll be back around 6 pm or so.

UPDATE, 8:06 PM...

Here is the chicken, right out of the oven...


And here is the spinach, being sauteed...


So, the chicken was really, really good. Very juicy, just right in every way, except...

The skin wasn't crispy enough. Really good! But, not quite there. The quest continues...

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Cuisine au presbytère de Saint Rémy

Here's what's cooking this week...

Tuesday (I ought to have done this Monday), I began the preparation of a chicken, thus:
 

This is a regular Perdue chicken -- the fattest one in the case -- brined with water, lots of coarse salt, red pepper, and dry rosemary. How much of each? "A lot." Sorry my measurements aren't precise. (If this bothers you, google brine for chicken, and you'll get an idea of the sorts of quantities. The only ingredient I'd worry about not getting right would be the salt, and I don't worry much about that in any case. Also, in case you're wondering, just visible is the package of chicken innards. Those went in the freezer for another day.)

Sometime on Wednesday, the bird came out of its bath, and was placed on a beer-can stand in the fridge, to dry out. We'll check on that in a moment...

Meanwhile, Tuesday's dinner was out. Last night I had a steak. Sorry, no pics, but it was a ribeye, sliced 1-1/2" thick. It ended up being a huge steak; I should have cut it in half, but...it was pretty good. I overcooked it, alas. I'll just have to try again. 

Thankfully, my excellent staff gave me this for Christmas:



Alas, I haven't yet figured out how to use it! After last night's misfire, I am motivated to put it to use. I am sure you are wondering, what's the holdup? I am kind of a klutz at times, and without ample preparation, there's just that chance I'll actually manage to ruin this fine tool the first time out. So I've learned: read the instructions first!

Now to today, around noon. 

I prepared these...


Meanwhile I started melting some bacon fat in a dutch oven ...



Meanwhile, I prepared a portion of Chuck roast, with plenty of ground pepper and coarse salt, and then dredged in flour. Don't be cautious about the seasoning! Go big or go home! Here, I haven't yet floured both sides. But when I did, this went into the sizzling fat.


I tried to get a picture of the meat browning, but it was too dark and steamy. But what you want is to give the meat really good color. Color = flavor. After browning it all around -- even on the edges -- In went the vegetables. Then a container of beef stock, and about a cup or so of dry Vermouth. But any wine will do; but if you use a sweet wine, the sweetness will be concentrated. For whatever reason, I like white wine better for this, but I use anything leftover. This is especially a good use for dry Vermouth, unless you make lots of Martinis, because Vermouth is a wine, and once it's opened, it will slowly degrade. Excellent Martinis demand fresh Vermouth.



So here is the resulting combination, which will soon be Pot Roast.


Also with this went a bunch of dried garlic. I mean, LOTS. Plus a generous amount of red pepper flakes, some Thyme, and some bay leaves. I might have put some Rosemary, but I didn't this time.

This went into the oven at about 250 degrees. I don't really care about the temp, other than not too high, so it doesn't dry out. I've had this cooking about 5 hours now. We'll check it soon...

Remember Smell-O-Vision? No, I don't either, but I didn't make this up. Anyway, I wish I had Smell-O-blogging, because the aroma of this dish has been absolutely wonderful. Better than I remember; I think I haven't used Thyme before. If this ends up tasting even half as good as it smells, I'm keeping Thyme with this recipe.

Meanwhile, I checked on el pollo, which will be dinner either Friday or Saturday:


The goal is to get the skin dry. I think Saturday. At which time, I will resume my pursuit of chickeny excellence. (Should that be "chickenish"? "Chickenlike"? Discuss in comments.) As before, the prep will involve Rosemary, lemon, salt and black pepper, and either butter or oil. I'll try some of the ideas discussed and suggested the last time (see link in last sentence).

By the way, does any of this seem fancy, or luxurious? All these ingredients (well, not the unpictured steak) are reasonably priced and readily available. And all this is really pretty simple, although it does involve some planning. 

Oh, in case you didn't guess at it: the mushrooms were also used with the steak, last night. Here's how I prepared them. I washed them (very important!) and sliced them, not so thin. I prepared a wide fry pan with olive oil and butter; got that bubbling. The temp was medium -- you don't want to cook these too fast or too high, or you'll burn them. The goal is to get some of the moisture out of the mushrooms, and make them the texture you like. Once those go in, I apply generous amounts of garlic. I use garlic powder, because it adds no more moisture. We want less of that. Also some black pepper and salt, and sometimes just a touch of cayenne pepper. 

All that simmers; I turn them over and stir them around, till they look right to me. About ten minutes, which you can easily do while your steak is cooking (another reason to keep the heat not so high, so you don't ruin them by being distracted too long), or even after, while you rest the steak. A delicious side with the steak!

So, the pot roast is nearly finished. I just checked it -- oh, you're going to lick the screen when you scroll down to the picture I'm about to post! Be patient! Meanwhile, you may be thinking, couldn't I make pot roast in a crock pot? Certainly; but I don't own a crock pot, and to be honest, I don't really want one. I have too much stuff on my counter as it is (admittedly, several items I use rather less than I thought I would, such as the ice-cream maker; but oh, how nice that is when I do use it!). Even so, I don't need a crock. My dutch oven in the, er, oven, works just fine. What's more, most of the meals I make involve either the stove top or the grill outside. For example, had it not been so very cold, I'd have grilled my steak. Instead I cooked it in the oven, finishing it on the stove top. And in case you're wondering, the reason I didn't cook outside isn't what you think. It wasn't because I would be cold -- because there is zero need to stand over a steak on the grill. Much better to leave it alone.  Rather, the problem was getting the grill hot enough. The last time I tried to grill in bitter cold weather -- combined with sharp winds -- the grill didn't reach the temp I wanted; worse, once I opened it, it lost about 200 degrees instantly and couldn't climb back up. 

Meanwhile, guess what I did to pass the time? Work? No, silly:



When I first powered it up, it started acting crazy, as if the meat it thought it was measuring the temperature of was being incinerated. Turns out the little plug in the side wasn't all the way in, creating a short.  I also discovered it doesn't approve of me cooking pork medium rare, and so refuses to give me the suitable temperature. Don't impose your morality on me, Digital Food Thermometer!

OK, well, I was just passing time while the pot roast finishes. It's time to unveil the results of today's cooking:


Stop licking the screen! That's disgusting!

What you can't tell from this picture is how tender the meat is. If I wanted to, I could further thicken this gravy, but that means carbs, and I'm trying to avoid those. As it is, this has some flour, and the vegetables have some carbs -- so does wine -- but, overall, this isn't too bad, Adkins Diet-wise.

Here is my plate:



And here is best part: leftovers!


If I were having wine, I'd want something dry, maybe Chianti, or a Cabernet? Really, I'm not good at that sort of thing; especially as I usually just make do with whatever I have on hand. I like wine, and I'm always glad when the server at the restaurant can suggest the right one; but I'm not particularly good at doing that. 

Verdict?

My best Pot Roast yet! I really did want wine with this, but all things considered, I decided to hold off. I have confessions and Benediction yet tonight. As it was, it still needed a little salt -- to my taste, anyway. More flour to make thicker gravy -- and maybe some bread and butter, or hot rolls or biscuits? Hmm. And since I used the Dutch oven, I easily could have tripled this recipe, and served this for a dinner party. Now that I have it just the way I like it, I think I'll do that. (I would probably back off the red pepper a bit; it's at the upper end of what I like, so it would be too much for some.) I may tweak it a bit, but I think this is where I want it.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Are you ready to be liberated? To help liberate others? (Sunday homily)

Jesus chose this passage to announce: he is the Messiah.
That’s what he did in that synagogue that day.
People were waiting for something like this.
It must have been an electric moment.

Notice what Jesus identifies as the heart of the Gospel:
Liberation. Redemption. Freedom.
But what does that mean?

We know he’s not talking about political freedom.
Jesus never organized a demonstration or circulated a petition.
Not that political freedom isn’t worthwhile – 
but it was not Jesus’s starting point. 

Jesus focused on changing lives.
If you are poor, what counts as good news?
Maybe having that threat of no heat, no water, no home, go away?
A week’s groceries is good news.
Even better news is that you aren’t treated as “less than”; 
that you are treated with dignity; you matter.

Would it shock you to hear that there are people 
who don’t come to St. Remy – 
and the same could be said of Holy Angels, or St. Michael, 
or St. Boniface or St. Mary in Piqua – 
because they think they won’t fit in?

They don’t have nice enough clothes.
They aren’t sure they know anyone who is here.

So if you want to bear “good tidings,” think about people 
who may not feel welcome in “our” circle – and change that.

Who are the “captives” to set free? Lots of people.
What about folks who need alcohol – too much?
Or people hooked on food? Or sports, or work? 

How about addiction to the Internet? 
Either to the latest news, the latest gossip or outrage 
on Facebook and Twitter;
or to dark materials on websites
you don’t want anyone else to know you look at.

How do we get free from these addictions?
Only Jesus Christ can set us free.
Only he can give you and me the strong enough “want to,” 
to be willing to change what needs to be changed, 
to confess our sins without holding back,
and be willing to ask another human being to help.

Alcoholics Anonymous originated something called the Twelve Steps. 
And the first step goes like this:
“We admitted to ourselves that we were powerless over alcohol – 
that our lives had become unmanageable.”

People in AA recite that, and the rest of the Twelve Steps, 
to one another in regular meetings.

A lot of people are captive precisely because 
they aren’t ready to take that first step. 
How does this work?
The obvious starting place is the Sacrament of Confession.
After that is looking for people we trust who we can talk to.

Jesus wants to set people free. 
He asks you and me to be the face of that liberation;
To be the hands that help lift people out of the prisons of their shame.

I am convinced that lots of people – here, listening to me right now –
could experience that freedom, 
if only they are willing to open up to another human being and say,
“I need help. I’m addicted to…” fill in the blank.
“And I need a partner to hold me accountable and help me get free.”

How does this work?

Well, I’m in the confessional about six hours each week.
I’d be thrilled to be forced to add more hours. Keep me busy?

But after that, then all of us – all 1,600 parishioners of St. Remy – 
it’s on all of us. 

Are you ready for a friend or family member to come to you?
To trust you?
Ready to say, I’ll listen; I won’t judge or reject you?
I’ll keep my ears wide open and mouth tight shut?

Twelve-step groups are all around for alcohol.
For people dealing with drug addiction, 
there are meetings in Piqua, Greeneville and Sidney.
For people wrestling with porn and similar addictions, 
meetings are harder to come by, but there some, 
along with online resources.

I prepared a blue sheet that looks exactly like this.
This has websites for Alcoholics Anonymous, 
Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous.
These will be in the confessional. Help yourself.

These Twelve Step resources are one tool to help,
Along with prayer, confession and Christian fellowship.
There are things we can do to be set free – if you are ready.

In the first reading, when Ezra was reading God’s Word to his People, they were crying! 
Why did they cry?
Because they realized how far they were, in their lives, 
from what God had for them.

But remember what Nehemiah said:
“Do not be saddened: 
because rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”

Jesus coming to be with us, to bring us complete forgiveness, 
and to give us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us –
That is our joy. 
Sadness? Because we’ve missed out? 
Because of what enslaves us and others? Absolutely.
But replace that sorrow for sin with rejoicing for mercy!
Christ forgives! Christ liberates! Christ is with us to set us free!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

About the Covington Catholic Boys

This article in Reason looks like the most balanced and dispassionate account of this now infamous event. Based on this, I think everyone who vilified these boys should be ashamed of themselves and apologize. It looks like they face libel suits if they do not.

Here's a key quote by the author:

It would be impossible to definitively state that none of the young men did anything wrong, offensive, or problematic, at some point, and maybe the smiling student was attempting to intimidate Phillips. But there's shockingly little evidence of wrongdoing, unless donning a Trump hat and standing in a group of other people doing the same is now an act of harassment or violence. Phillips' account, meanwhile, is at best flawed, and arguably deliberately misleading.

I might point out that Reason.com is really neither right-wing or left-wing; the folks there are libertarian and line up either conservative or liberal, depending on the issue.

And, I might further point out that since this article, Mr. Phillips has been caught in some lies and shifting stories, so his credibility is, I think, shot. On the other hand, the statements made by the boys in the situation seem to line up with the video, so their credibility looks pretty good.

Let me also add that elsewhere, Glenn Beck laid out a minute-by-minute account. And he makes an additional point: the crazy-vile-vicious "Black Israelites," who are the real bigots and haters in this story, were initially directing their vile attacks on the Native American group -- not the high school boys, who were just a handful at the beginning. In his account, the boys' cheers were intended to drown out the hate; meaning, they were trying to be helpful to the "Indigenous Peoples" group. You may not like Beck; I don't necessarily like or agree with him. But you are welcome to refute him.

Also: at least one of the high school boys in the group was African-American, and the "Black Israelites" singled him out, calling him the n-word and saying his so-called friends were going to kill him. His friends -- who have been libeled before the world as racists, stood by him, hugged him and can be heard saying on the tape, "but we love you!"

There are a lot of people who have backed away from their initial attacks, but rather than apologize, pure and simple, they hemming and hedging, while they latch onto whatever the latest rumor or innuendo is that might discredit the Covington Catholic boys, even by the loosest association, all in order to avoid the right thing, which is a clean, full, unambiguous apology.

I was really sorry to see the bishop of Covington and the administrators of Covington Catholic High School react so rashly and throw their students under the bus. That decision is nearly impossible to defend. Again, all they had to do was say, we take this very seriously and we want to know what happened. We are going to find out. After their first, rash statement, they did issue a second statement that was more measured. I'm hopeful that after a full investigation, they will -- if the facts bear it out -- give a genuine apology.

Folks on the left better wise up. This sort of thing isn't going to be forgotten. Lots and lots of parents, who aren't particularly political, are watching this and saying, "that could have been my son." The scary and sad thing is that all this plays precisely into the hands of "white nationalist" nutballs. Think their recruiting is going well this week?

Oh, and by the way, anyone notice what I did? I waited. Lots of (self-) important people couldn't move fast enough to share their hot takes with the whole world. Do they imagine that if they don't, something terrible will happen? What egos they must have! I'm beginning to think the most dangerous place to be is in the path between Father James Martin and a microphone or his ability to send a tweet.

But it isn't just celebrities and professional opinionators who are guilty of this. Lots of people, including friends of mine and relatives, are awfully quick to share a sensational video or news item or whatever on Facebook or Twitter or wherever else. You might want to learn to forebear. First, as a matter of conscience. If I had helped smear these high school boys, I would not sleep well and I would be racked with thoughts of what I needed to do to put it right. As President Calvin Coolidge said, no one ever got in trouble for what he didn't say. Hyperbole, but it makes the point. Sometimes the right thing to do is to keep your yap tightly shut. The world will get along just fine without your immediate contribution.

But if not for conscience, then for your own well-being. The pendulum is going to swing on this, and sooner or later, there will be consequences for those who thoughtlessly or recklessly participate in these pile-ons. I'm not an attorney, but I'm guessing that you don't have to be anyone famous to be sued. If you post something online, I'm betting you can be held responsible.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

God has great power available for you! (Sunday homily)

Click on the image to go to the site where I found this artwork.

On a particular day in Cana, in Galilee, 
there was suddenly a super-abundance of wine. 
In a trice, these families celebrating a wedding, 
went from having none, to a flood; 
and not just any wine, but the best of all vintages.

I’ve often wondered: what did it taste like? Wouldn’t you like to know?

When I meet with a couple preparing for marriage the first time, 
we look at this passage together in some detail.
There is a lot here. We see Jesus revealing himself as our Messiah.
Jesus gives his benediction to the good things of life, 
especially marriage and family life.

But perhaps the singular detail is the quantity of wine.
Approximately 150 gallons. That is 750 bottles!
The point being that Jesus is providing in great abundance.
Extravagant and overflowing.

This is a powerful sign of God’s grace. 
Of what happens when our cooperation with God is complete.
Saints experience this flood of God’s power; this is why the saints, 
even in their earthly lives, were so fruitful in miracles.

To be clear, I’m not giving you some sort of “prosperity” message, 
the way some TV preachers do. 
They claim that if you have the right kind of faith,
God will give you health and wealth.

No, the wealth God gives is, in the end, himself.
What else is there? What better riches can we ask from him?

The point I’m making is that life in this world, as good as it can be – 
and it can be really awesome – 
is only a shadow of the fullness of life 
that we gain in uniting our lives with Jesus Christ! 

How else do you explain that the apostles, 
when they met him and heard him, left everything to follow him?
It was not worldly riches and full bellies they expected.
Eventually he promised them the Cross. 
And they followed him to that end.

That wine – flowing, flooding, everywhere – 
is a sign of God’s power available to us. 
A lot of us only have the spigot barely turned on!

This sign of water to wine, of nothing to cups overflowing,
is also an image of what happens to us, not as individuals, 
but as members of the Body of Christ.

In the second reading, Saint Paul talks about 
an abundance of spiritual gifts – but also, a diversity.
None of us has access to these gifts by ourselves.
It is when you and I are together, as a Body, that it happens.

This is a good time to mention the annual Catholic Ministry Appeal. 
Every year at this time the Archbishop kicks this off.
He sends out a homily which some parishes will play on tape.
I don’t play it, not out of any disrespect to the Archbishop, 
but because I think it isn’t the best way to get his message across.

So let me take some time now to share some of what he has to say.

Just to explain, the Catholic Ministry Appeal is a special fund 
that provides for six vital ministries in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. 
These ministries include: 

Catholic Charities and Catholic Social Services;
Campus, Hospital, and Prison ministries;
Our Seminary and Vocation programs;
St. Rita School for the Deaf;
Retired Archdiocesan Priests; and
New Evangelization Programs. 

Each of these projects is worthwhile. 
Now let me quote Archbishop Schnurr:

You and I 
are to use the ordinary water of our own resources
to pour out joy, healing, and transformation to a world in need.
We need only be like the servants at the wedding feast of Cana,
following Mary’s instructions: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus tells us, as members of his Body, to feed the hungry.
In our Archdiocese, we do as he tells us by putting food on the table
for families endangered by poverty and unemployment.
We feed the spiritual hungers of Catholics
by supporting the formation of priests, deacons, and lay ministers,
and by sending campus ministers to our universities.

Jesus tells us to visit the imprisoned and heal the sick.
[You and I] support pastoral care in our prisons and hospitals,
and healing education for those with communications disabilities.
We also care for the needs of our retired priests.

Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger.
We welcome refugees torn from their homeland
by war and religious persecution.
We assist women with crisis pregnancies,
provide adoption support services to children and their families,
and care for the elderly who are lonely.

The truth is, most of these things are beyond each of us 
to do by ourselves, or even as a parish.

Quoting the Archbishop once more: 
That is why God calls us together, 
into communion with the Lord. Alone, we are just ordinary water. 
In Christ, we are transformed into a wine of hope and resurrection, 
poured out and shared in abundance. 

Well, of course, there’s the key to the Catholic Ministry Appeal. 
Together you and I can do amazing things.
There can and will be a flood of life-giving wine poured out, 
precisely because we act, not alone, but as the Body of Christ.

As usual, mailings will go out with more detailed information, 
and you will be able to review these materials 
and make your own decision.
Maybe you’ve noticed, I don’t give a plug for every fund 
that we’re asked to kick into. 
This is one I give my own money to, every year. 
I think it’s all worthy, all on the up and up.

Back to the Gospel, and that flood of God’s wine, God’s gift, God’s life.
As I said, you and I can see amazing things happen 
if only we turn that spigot on all the way:
Making powerful things happening in each of our own lives,
And in the lives of others around us.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Aiming for chicken excellence

Some time ago I picked up a recipe from Father Zuhlsdorf for baked chicken. It is on this blog somewhere, but as it is awkward to compose this post on my tablet, as I am, there will be no hyperlinks, sorry. But it involves rosemary, lemon, butter, salt and pepper.

That said, I have finessed this recipe. I routinely brine the bird first, using red pepper, rosemary, black pepper and, of course, salt. No sugar. After brining, I allow the chicken to sit naked in the fridge for several days, to dry out the skin. Brining makes the flesh moist and flavorful; yet I crave crispy, crackly skin perfection. I have not achieved it yet.

Fr. Z recommends blasting the pullet with high heat for the first 30 mins., but I have neglected that lately. Thing is, I frequently have to leave it unattended -- i.e., to hear confessions and offer Mass, as was the case last night -- so I have opted instead for a low temp at first, and blasted it at the end. So I may return to this method.

In the meantime, I have tried other expediencies, such as the lengthy drying-out of the skin. Oh, and I might add here that I usually cook el pollo upside down; that is, breast down, and then flip it for that last bit. This is primarily aimed to make the breast even more juicy, as it is both protected, and the deposits of fat on the bird's back are melted and thus cascade down over the creature. This has the subsidiary benefit of the back skin being more cooked, and not soggy.

However, this works at cross purposes to my goal of parchment like skin. So my experiments continue.

With this last chicken, I tried several things:

- For the drying, I used the beer-can chicken stand, so the bird sat more or less upright, and thus dried on all sides. I don't know why I didn't think of that before.

- Le poulet sat a-drying two days longer than planned. I wondered if that was too long (it wasn't).

- I applied a technique I have left unused forcawhile. Before baking, I loosened the skin on the front and back, and shoved some butter and rosemary between the skin and flesh, and smoothed it out a bit. This does risk tearing the skin, but it works if you are careful.

-- On advice of friends, I rubbed the whole thing with baking powder. First time I tried this.

-- As a result of the latter, I wondered if I should still rub it all over with butter or oil as per usual. I opted not to.

-- When I then sprinkled salt and pepper, the seasoning did not adhere to the powdered skin. I did not anticipate this.

So what happened?

About three hours later -- after confessions and Mass -- the chicken was almost ready, but the skin still looked too pale. I could see the baking powder still. Not good. What to do?

I took out el pollo, as it was time to flip it. I decided not applying fat to the skin was a mistake, but I remedied this by spraying it with cooking oil. I hiked the oven to over 400, and put back in while I made a Martini.

Well, the chicken was soon sizzling away. After a while, I flipped it, sprayed more oil, applied salt and pepper, and used the broiler to give the breast side -- now up -- some crisp and color.

When time came to taste it, with a side of sauteed spinach and a glass of Chardonnay, it turned out to be very tasty,one of mybest! Not overcooked at all. The skin was better, but not there yet.

So what next?

I will try the baking powder again, but follow it with butter or olive oil (better than whatever bland oil was in the spray can). And I may return to using high heat at the outset. I am not ready to give up on the upsidedown method.

Any suggestions?

What does Jesus' baptism mean to you? (Sunday homily)

Today we recall the moment Jesus showed up 
on the banks of the Jordan River and asked to be baptized.

We might wonder, first: why did he do this, and second, 
why is this important to us? What does it mean?

First, consider the scene, as it is so striking.

John was baptizing people as an expression 
of their sorrow and repentance. 
In other words, they were admitting they were sinners. 
A crowd of them were waiting on the riverbank for their turn. 
And Jesus gets in that line.

It would be almost exactly like coming into church 
and people are waiting for confession – and Jesus himself joins them!  
The obvious question: Jesus, what are you doing here? 

And the answer is simple: 
Jesus came into the world to save sinners – namely, us. 
To that end, he puts himself squarely with us; in our situation. 
We recall that Jesus was always willing to go wherever it took, 
and he was criticized precisely for this. 
“How can he eat and associate with such people?” they said.

But this is a sign of something even more profound. 
Jesus came to earth as the new Adam. 
The first Adam rebelled and failed to keep God’s law, 
and that set the whole, sorry story of human history in motion. 
Jesus is the Son who is obedient. 
He fully does his Father’s will. He chooses God’s will over his own. 
And even more than that, Jesus accepts the punishment for sin 
that otherwise was due to Adam and all the rest of us.

So when Jesus came to be baptized, this meant he was accepting – 
before heaven and before the world – 
his vocation as the faithful Son, the new Adam, the Messiah.

So what is this baptism about? It’s about who Jesus is.
And, who you and I are when we belong to Jesus.

In his baptism, Jesus accepts the Cross, and all that would go with it.

Remember, that is precisely what your baptism and mine mean, too.
You didn’t realize it, but when you were baptized, 
you rejected sin and the devil, and you accepted the Cross.

You became part of Jesus; born again of water and the Holy Spirit.
In baptism, you died with Christ!
And you rose again to the new life 
he showed us in his own resurrection.

You didn’t know you did that, then.
But every time you renew your baptism, you choose it anew.
So that’s what the sprinkling of water a few minutes ago meant.
And that’s what our Creed means at each Mass.

You are accepting the Cross with Jesus.
He took our punishment and death; we take his, 
so that we may share his Resurrection. That’s the deal.
What’s more, in baptism, when we become part of Jesus, 
you and I also gain God as our Father. 
As Saint Paul said, we become “heirs of hope of eternal life.”
When Paul calls us “heirs,” that is no metaphor.
He means that literally.

Children not only inherit all the material wealth their parents owned, 
they inherit all that their parents are.

When children are conceived and born, 
What do people say? “You have your mother’s eyes!”
“You look just like your daddy!”
And as we grow to adulthood, like it or not,
it becomes more and more evident that we are their children.

So just think about what it means, then, to say, 
You and I are “heirs” with Jesus! 

It means, for one, that when the Father said, 
"You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased,”
He didn’t only say it to Jesus!
He said it to you and me, too!

He said it to you and to me, too!

That’s what it means to be a Christian.
Jesus takes our life with all that is shameful;
He gives us his life, with all that is glorious.

Of course, when we sin, when we forget Jesus, leave him behind,
the Father does not say, “I am well pleased.” 

But he did say that when you were baptized.
And when we come home again? When we go to confession? 
“I am well pleased,” he says.
When you and I live our vocation, however uncertainly, he says:
“This is my beloved son or daughter: with you I am well pleased!”

There are a lot of things that are hard about being a Christian, 
and challenging in each of our vocations.
Maybe you are single and wondering, what does God have for me?
Are you called to be a priest or in religious life?
That seems so scary and you may think, I’m not holy enough.
And by the way, you’re not. No one is. Don’t let that stop you!

Or, you are married, 
and you despair of ever being a good enough parent. 
Every mistake is always on your mind.

Perhaps you are a young person, and you hate being asked, 
“what are you going to do with your life?” Because you have no clue!

In recent homilies, I’ve talked about 
how sometimes people don’t fit the usual mold, the usual expectations. 
That can be really, really difficult, 
and by our words and actions, you and I can make it worse, 
or we can be a beacon of hope and friendship.

But here’s the thing. A lot more people, especially young people,
find they don’t fit in, feel like they are odd or different.
No one wants to admit it, but everyone feels that! 

No matter who you are, Jesus got in line with you!
The Holy Spirit came down on you!
And the Father says to you: “You are my beloved child. 
With you I am well pleased!”

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Movies I'm watching

Today is "fun with photos" day in Russia!

I suspect I'm one of the last six people worldwide who subscribes to Netflix DVD. I've been working through a long list of films, and I was just checking my queue. Here it is in three screenshots. What do you think?




I'm going to watch A Matter of Life and Death tonight. Shape of Water isn't here yet, I expect it on Monday. I can watch The Wild Bunch on Netflix streaming anytime. FYI, the last set aren't available. Sometimes they become available. Meanwhile, I look for them on other streaming services.

Feel free to ask any questions, such as, "why in the world is THAT on your list?" Sometimes these decisions are on the spur of the moment. Sometimes months lapse between when I slot the film in the queue, and it finally gets to the top; and I have no earthly idea why I chose it. (That happened last night.)

Snowy in Russia (Ohio)

It's finally snowing in Russia. That is, today is the first real snowfall of the winter; we had a little in December. This looks to be several inches. So many times the weather channel threatens snow -- and everyone on Facebook gets worked up! -- and it fizzles. No fizzle here.

No problem here, either. Folks in these parts don't intimidate easily; certainly not at snow. Saturday morning Mass was about the same number of folks, including older folks who have every legitimate excuse to stay home on a day like this; and no one but me had to be there. Still, they came!

After a busy morning, I decided to take a walk. I was delayed by a headache with my voice mail. It seems that if you call the emergency number, and it starts recording a message, even the sound of hanging up counts as a "message"; and then the office voicemail calls my cell phone over and over. I fixed it.

This is a monument to one of my predecessors, Father Didier in the cemetery (two of my predecessors are buried here). It usually has a large crucifix on it, but that was taken down so the stone capping this monument -- which is badly cracked -- can be replaced. The cross itself is also being repaired.



Mine are the only footsteps I find in the snow...




A view of St. Remy:



Bushurs' Market is in full operation; I stop in to say hi. Steaks on sale!



As I sat down to write this post, I heard some loud thumps from outside. It's the company that clears our parking lots. They are very reliable! Alas, I suspect I'll hear those thumps again at 5:30 tomorrow morning, but I'm grateful all the same.

And here's me, with some hot tea, finishing this post...


After posting this last pic, I examined it closely to be sure nothing embarrassing or confidential appeared! I didn't find anything; but you may find some curiosities, if you care to ask...

Update 2 minutes later...

I decided to take this picture:


Which led to this picture...


Can I achieve more repetition of the images? My gears are working...

One more:


I suppose I could keep going with this, but I have better things to do, and anyway, the tea is gone. I'll "have to go" soon, in more ways than one...

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

'Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria' -- the latest 'transgender' menace

Things are moving fast. I'm just going to link this by Rod Dreher, writing at The American Conservative. (I don't endorse everything at that site, or even in Mr. Dreher's blog.) He is doing great work sounding the alarm. He, in turn, points to this site: 4thWaveNow.

But what Mr. Dreher points out is that "gender dysphoria" -- i.e., the phenomenon in which individuals, often children, begin to question whether their true identity is actually other than their biological sex -- is spreading as a kind of "social contagion." Parents are waking up to the sudden declaration by their teenagers -- more often girls -- are doubting their identity and already several steps down the road to "transitioning." These parents are finding NO help or support anywhere. Indeed, in many states it is illegal for therapists to challenge the young people's self-perception; rather, they are required by law only to "affirm" it.

This is happening in small towns and the "best" of families. Don't think for a second that it will only be someone else. This is real. Go check out the links I gave you; there's a lot more there.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

What do you want to be? (Epiphany homily)

Click on the image to buy this scene at Etsy. See? I didn't steal the image; I'm giving free advertising!

Let me start with a straightforward question:
“What does it mean to be a faithful Christian?”
If you were pressed to answer, what would you say?

Maybe someone would say, you receive your sacraments.
Or, you go to Mass faithfully and go to confession.
Or, you give to charity and the church, you live a good life.
Or some combination of the above.

These aren’t bad answers, but they are incomplete, 
especially if people end up talking about following rules 
or checking off items on a spiritual to-do list.

Here’s the answer I’m going to propose to you:
To be a Christian is to be another Christ;
And I want to put a big, bold line under the word “be” in that sentence.

This isn’t just a matter of things we DO.
Rather, it’s all about who and what you and I are:
It is what you and I become
which happens with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Today is the Solemnity of the Epiphany.
Epiphany represents the first 
revealing and sending-out of the Good News of a Savior, 
of God coming into the world to set a longed-for change in motion. 

Or to put it another way:
If on Christmas we were given the present,
On Epiphany, we open it up and shout out to others around us, 
“Hey, look at the great gift God sent me! And you! And you!”

On Christmas, I called to mind the startling words of St. Athanasius: 
“God became man so that men might become God.”
Epiphany – with the arrival of foreigners to venerate the child King – 
is when this astounding news, seemingly too good to be true – 
began to be revealed to the world.

Now, someone might say those words sound a little dodgy. 
After all, isn’t that what the devil wanted? To be God?
Here’s the difference.
Satan wanted to kick God out of heaven.
What God wants is to have us join him and be united to him.
So when God offers you heaven, it’s not a sin to accept!

So back to my opening question: 
What does it mean to be a faithful Christian?
It’s about who we become. Little Christs. 
People filled with the light of Christ, changed by it, 
made pure, made new, made heavenly.

A few days ago I watched a great Christmas movie – 
You’ve probably seen it, even in the last week – 
called “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

At one point, the hero, George is trying woo his wife-to-be, Mary.
He romantically offers to lasso the moon for her.
And then he says, “you could swallow it, and it'd all dissolve, see? 
And moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes, 
and the ends of your hair.”

Let me ask you:
Am I the only one who, hearing that, thinks of the Holy Eucharist?
God gives us, not the moon, but the light of heaven. 
He literally gives himself to us, holding nothing back.
What happens when we receive God fully, not fighting him?

If there is a challenge or an “action item” here, how about this?
In this new year of our Lord 2019, pray and think about 
how you will let that heavenly light penetrate you, change you – 
and to shine out of you.

Let’s you and me think about our life as a Christian, 
not in terms of what you have to DO – although that is important – 
but rather, in terms of WHO YOU ARE, and who you WILL BE.

All of us go to confession. I go, you go. We all need it.
But sin isn’t just about things we do; it’s about what we will become.
If I lie, once, twice, five times, over and over…
At some point, it’s what I am. I am a liar.

If I get into the habit of sneaking glances at dark things on my phone;
I’m bored with my job, my family, I’m at odds with my spouse, 
and I’m seeking pleasure and happiness in images and videos?
At some point, it is a part of my life. 
And if you think your wife, your husband, your kids don’t know? 

They may not know the whole story, 
but they know something is getting part ownership of you.
Is that who and what you want to be?

Last week I gave a homily on a tough subject.
There are grave trials ahead for us as Christians.
Being a Catholic – not just checking the boxes but living the Faith – 
has always been a challenge, and so it will be in the time ahead. 

If you and I make it only about checking boxes and following rules,
There will come a time when you suddenly realize,
“I don’t know why we do these things.”
And people don’t usually do the tough things without a good reason.

The “why” comes from knowing who you want to be:
who and what you are willing to make sacrifices to become.

Jesus came into the world to show you, me, everyone 
what it means to be not twisted and broken, but fully alive in God. 
Truly free, not enslaved by sin and habit.
Full of grace; full of life. Full of heaven. Full of God. 
“God became man so that men and women might become God.”

So, the choices we face? That’s how we sort it out: 
These things don’t get me there. They take me nowhere!
So as much as I love them, I want something else more.
If I want to become that person, I need Mass every Sunday.
I need time talking and listening to Jesus every single day.

Who do you want to be? What will you do to get there?

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Sad Christmas songs and perfect Martinis

Image "borrowed" from Epicurious

No, Christmas is NOT over, not by a longshot. Are you confused? See? That's what you get when start Christmas the day after Labor Day. Today is just the last day of Christmas DAY. Sunday is Epiphany, just as big as Christmas itself. Then another week till the Baptism. I am in the CENTER of Christmas here. Too bad you are missing out!

So, after a busy morning, I have been reading and listening to Christmas music. A channel called "Rockin' Christmas" on Pandora, with stuff like the Ronettes, Michael Buble, Elvis, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and whatever else Pandora's box spits out. If it goes off focus, I down-vote it. Works pretty well, and free! (To me.)

After a few hours of this, I hopped in the shower. Ever notice how a shower works both ways? I mean, if I shower before bed, I go right to sleep. But if I feel like a wrung out rag, a shower can perk me up. Now I am well perked. This motivated me to prepare a little antipasto and a perfect Martini.

What IS a perfect Martini (actually, I should say near-perfect, because I believe the perfect Martini is impossible. I don't know if I will get around to explaining that in this post), I hear you longingly inquire? Well, as it IS Christmas, I will tell you. Here is my recipe, never published anywhere before:*

Five parts vodka (use something cheap like Smirnoff, not expensive stuff that you barely know is there), 1 part gin (I like good stuff like Tanqueray). Booze must be chilled at least. I keep mine in the freezer. Shake vigorously on ice, but not too long. Since the liquor is already really cold, the purpose of shaking it is some dilution, and those nice little chips of ice. If the hootch is warm, it will get too diluted. I like my drink to taste like a drink, not water. Then take a fully chilled Martini glass and swirl a little dry Vermouth in it. Pour out excess. You want -- that is, I want -- just a little Vermouth. Strain drink carefully into glass and garnish with two olives, stuffed with bleu cheese. Stuff them yourself, the store-bought kind are worthless. Now, if only I had a Martini glass that stayed frosty cold for an hour, then I would really have something! But, probably not perfect even then, as that is likely impossible.

So, I am enjoying my Christmas music, and I was thinking earlier about sad Christmas songs. There are so many of them! Why is that? Obviously, lots of people are sad at Christmas. I have been, too. I wonder, though, if there is more to it than that?

For Christians, Christmas is JOY JOY JOY JOY JOY, right? (The answer is yes, trust me, I am a certified expert.) So why so much sadness? Beyond the ordinary sadnesses of life, felt so much more acutely at this time of year, there is the sadness of unbelief. It always strikes me, when I read what passes for literature, especially in the last 100 years, how many authors are wistful about their loss of faith. Thats how Updike and and that bore from Mississippi -- Faulkner, it just came to me -- and others like them struck me. How can you not be sad at Christmas if you don't believe in Jesus, yet you celebrate? The only really happy part of Christmas comes from believing in Him!

Still, even for Christians, there is sadness: we know Jesus is born to die, we know Mary will suffer, the martyrs will suffer, beginning with the Holy Innocents. Right during the Christmas Octave, we have three martyrs' days. And then, we are sad because the Messianic Age Jesus promises to bring is obviously not here, amd we, ourselves, are not who wish to be.

Oh well, these are usually not what sad Christmas songs are about. They are about wrecked romance, or being unable to come home, or people being poor, hungry or lonely, or family members treating each other badly, or people dying...

Oh, hell, now I am depressed!

Haha! No, I am not! I feel great! But anyway, what do you think about sad Christmas songs? I think even "I saw mama kissing Santa Claus" is sad, don't you? What about "White Christmas," do you find it a little melancholy? What Christmas songs do you find sad? And, if you prefer, what "sad" songs do you actually not find sad?

If you want to hear about my Martini theory, you will have to ask in the comments. Mine is getting warm.

* This may not actually be true, but I don't care.

Our consecration to Mary (Mother of God homily)

As you probably know, during the past month, 
many of us have been reading together the book, 
Thirty-three Days to Morning Glory
all in preparation for making a consecration to Jesus through Mary, after this Mass, 
or after the 11 am Mass tomorrow.

I realize not everyone here will participate, and that’s OK. 
You may want to make your consecration privately, 
or on your own timetable.

But for those who will be staying after Mass tonight 
or coming for the consecration after the 11 am Mass, 
here are a few particulars.

We’ll pause a few minutes, as folks make their exit.
I’ll have some business to tend to in the back of church.
Then I’ll come back into church, and I have some papers to pass out.
It will have the prayers we’ll pray together, 
and it will also give you a copy of the consecration 
you can sign and keep for yourself.

From what I can gather from the cards turned back in, 
it looks like maybe 50 to 100 folks will take part in the consecration. 
And I assume many others will do so on their own.

By the way, I also want to mention that many said 
they’d like to be part of a Militia Immaculata prayer group; 
and I’ll follow up with each of you on that in the next couple of weeks.

I’m excited, because I believe this will bear great fruit for our parish, 
and for each person taking part.

But what does a “Marian Consecration” mean?

Well, let me first point out what it does not mean.
It doesn’t mean that after today, you will no longer face
struggles in prayer, or in finding time to learn the Faith, 
or against temptation. 

This consecration doesn’t replace the daily tasks of the spiritual life.
Rather, what we are doing is inviting Mary 
to take a special role in helping us in our spiritual lives, going forward.

Some people may not be entirely sold on this – and that’s OK!
No one has to do this. This is an opportunity, not an obligation.

But I might mention, that whether you like it or not, 
Mary already is taking a role in your spiritual life!
Today we honor her as Mother of God, and so she is:
This affirms that her Son is not only certainly and 100% human, 
having taken flesh from Mary herself – 
but he is also divine: True God from true God, begotten, not made.

Yet there is more! Mary is not only Jesus’ mother, she is ours.
Jesus himself says so. 
He said that whoever hears and keeps the word of God, 
is his mother, and brother and sister.

And he tells us that we are members of his Body.
Jesus came to make us one with him, and one with the Holy Trinity.
Remember the quote I shared on Christmas?
“God became man so that men might become God.”

And of course we remember that Jesus himself 
gave Mary to us as mother at the cross, when he said, 
“Behold your mother,” and to Mary, he said, “behold your son.”

That means each of us! Without doubt, from the first instant 
Mary became aware that she would conceive 
and give birth to the Messiah – as soon as she became a mother – 
all her thought and prayer was on this mission.

It occurred to me the other day that when she was a girl, 
Mary surely realized there was something special about her.
We don’t know exactly what she knew, or how much, 
but she knew something. 

She could see that her parents were older when they had her.
Surely Joachim and Ann must have told her all they knew.
Mary saw that she was an only child. 
And then her parents brought her to the temple.
She must have realized she was powerfully graced, 
long before the Archangel called her, “Full of Grace.”

So when Gabriel said, you are to bear the Messiah, 
I just wonder if that’s when all the lights starting going on for Mary?
And she realized, Ah! THIS is what it’s all been about!

Maybe this is one reason Mary was preserved from Original Sin.

Imagine being her, realizing how everything, from the very beginning, 
from Adam and Eve, down through the centuries, all led to YOU?
That you were at the hinge of all history?
That you were chosen to be the God-bearer?
What a colossal temptation that could have been!

So instead of it being all about her: “Look at me! I’m the Queen!”
Instead, Mary is all about being mother – 
to Jesus, and all that would be begotten by faith in him.

“Mother” isn’t just a title – it is who she is; not just one child, 
but all the brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Whether you knew it or not, she has been involved with you, with me, 
from the beginning – from before the beginning!

So what is this consecration? It is our response. 
Mary already has given her all to Jesus, and to us.
For 33 days, we’ve been praying and preparing 
so you and I can take this moment to imitate her giving all.
We want to be like her, the most devoted disciple of Jesus.
She is always at his side; so if we stay with her, 
that’s where you and I are sure to be.

And if you’re here, and listening, and wishing you’d taken part, fret not!
Some of the books are still at the exits; or you can order a copy;
And you too can start the journey 
to your own consecration to Mary our Mother whenever you wish.