Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Thursday, June 25, 2015

When life gives you beets...Make chocolate cake!

Cake City by Ivan Bilibin, 1912

Today's produce  box from the farm co-op arrived today. I unpacked lettuce, green beans, squash, blueberries, cherries, peaches, eggs, and beets. About those beets... I am just not a fan. I have tried. I roasted them. I boiled them. So what else can I do with beets? I can make chocolate cake!

With the help of Google I found this recipe for chocolate-beet cake. As far as I am concerned, chocolate covers a multitude of sins and this was a wonderfully moist, fudge-like chocolate cake. The recipe called for topping it with creme fraiche and poppy seeds, but I just made a sauce from a few of the fresh cherries I had. It was lovely!

I feel a little guilty about using my vegetable to make chocolate cake. But I did use cherries to make a salsa to serve with grilled chicken so I guess it evens out. In any case, I think everyone in my household is now looking forward to finding beets in our farm co-op box if it means chocolate cake is on the menu.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Eat your vegetables!

Market Woman at a Vegetable Stand by Pieter Aertsen, 1567
Pope Francis asked us to receive his encyclical, Laudato Si', with an open mind.  We need humility to accept God is the Creator and we are the created. We need enlightenment to see all life is a gift but human life is uniquely made in the image of God. Because of our exceptionalism we need wisdom to be good stewards of life on earth.

The entire encyclical is a call to conversion which means each of us needs to take an honest look at our lives and lifestyle to see where our relationships with God, with other people, and with nature need improvement. This evaluation must be based on reason, not emotions. For example, many of us want to do our part and recycle and we feel good when we throw our paper, glass and plastics into the  big blue recycling bin. Yet, this article in the Washington Post shows how our emotional need to do something and be "green" may lead us to misguided efforts that accomplish little and may actually harm the environment. Pope Francis points out in Laudato Si'  our efforts to be good stewards must be based on science that is truly free from ideological and political biases.

One area that I have been working on for the last several years is to make my eating habits more ecologically friendly. Now, I must say that I chuckle every time I see an environmentalist rallying around meatless Mondays as if abstaining from meat one day a week is new innovation. We Catholics have been going meatless at least one day a week for centuries. We just do it on Friday as an act of penance to join our sacrifice with that of Christ. But there are some new considerations for planning my family meals that I think make our meal times more environmentally friendly.

I have become a huge fan of shopping for locally grown meat, dairy, and produce. When we insist on eating strawberries in December, we end up with bland pale orbs that offer but a subtle reminder of what strawberries are supposed to taste like but cannot compare to the freshly picked juicy red berry that shows up in the farmers markets in spring. In addition to offering second-rate flavor, the out-of-season strawberry shows up in our grocery stores only after great expenditures of energy to transport them hundreds or even thousands of miles.

In addition to making our lives more energy efficient, eating what is in season and locally grown makes our lives richer as we celebrate the arrival of our favorite fruits and vegetables. We rediscover the rhythms of nature. In Germany, the arrival of asparagus is the cause of grand celebrations and festivals. Here in Virginia I savor the berries of spring followed by the corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash of summer followed by the apples, pears, pumpkins, and other squash of autumn. I am becoming more adept at freezing and canning produce when it is in season so I can still enjoy it when it is not.

I joined a farm co-op and get a weekly box of produce straight from the growers. I am learning to cook vegetables that I would never have tried otherwise. I found out I really like both turnips and collard greens. I have also learned that while produce can make a beautiful still-life paining, fruits and vegetables do not have to be picture perfect to be both healthy and tasty. I was appalled to learn how much of our food supply is plowed under because it is not pretty enough to sell. Being willing to eat "ugly" produce prevents the waste of both perfectly edible food and the resources required to grow it.

Buying local food does not have to be an all or nothing endeavor. Here in Virginia I will never have locally grown bananas, avocados, and mangos so I will still rely on imported produce. But if there is a local alternative, I will try to wait for the season and celebrate the bounty of home.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si'

I have finished my first, albeit quick, reading of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si'. My first thought is no one should draw any conclusions about this encyclical unless you read it yourself. There are enough phrases and ideas that can be cherry picked to support diametrically opposed ideologies and media news outlets are already doing so. This encyclical is not wed to any ideology. This is not an encyclical about climate change though climate change is discussed. It is a statement about the reality of Man and his place in the world. Such truth transcends politics.

The overarching  theme is that as human beings we are in a relationship with God, in a relationship with each other, and in a relationship with the natural world. These relationships are intrinsically interconnected and any distortion of one of these relationships will distort the others. They cannot be addressed in isolation from each other.

The Pope reminds us we are called to be good stewards of creation. A consumerist-focused culture that does not take into account the larger impact of more production of consumer goods is disordered. We cannot expect to have wealthy segments of the world population generating large amounts of waste at the expense of the environment for the poorer, less technologically developed societies.

At numerous points in the Encyclical, Pope Francis goes to great lengths to state that genuine concern for the environment must be accompanied by a genuine respect for all human life. He pointedly states that concern for endangered species is meaningless if such concern is not also extended to the most vulnerable humans including the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

The Pope is not anti-technology but he states over and over again that technology must be our tool and not our master. The one paragraph that I would like to quote right now seems strange to do so on this digital platform of communication but perhaps because my work requires me to have such an extensive presence on the internet it strongly resonated with me:

 Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. (47)
There is a great deal of wisdom in this Encyclical but many will miss it because they insist on reading it through the lens of politics and power.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Saga of Anna's Promise

I am going to admit that I sometimes buy a bottle of wine because I like the cutesy name or the clever label or the pretty bottle. Likewise, I am a sucker for roses named for people or places or ideas that are special to me. Which is why I bought the rose pictures above. This is Anna's Promise, named for one of my favorite Downton Abbey characters. 

The fact that I am now seeing my first blossom on this rose seems like a miracle. I am not sure naming a rose after a character who always seems to be facing a traumatic experience is a good idea. I ordered the roes online and it arrived as a seemingly healthy bare-root rose with no leaves but several very thorny canes. I promptly planted it in a large pot with quality soil and gave it a good feeding. Alas, Virginia had an exceptionally long winter which subjected this poor rose to multiple snowfalls and numerous freezing nights.

I waited and waited for signs of life after the temperatures warmed. All of my other roses were sprouting leaves and buds within a month or so of our last frost. Not Anna's Promise. Months passed. Thorns fell off the canes. Green canes turned black. I kept wondering if I should just throw it out since it looked much more like it was dying than growing. I just couldn't give up on it. I scratched at the base and there was still a bit of green, evidence of a living plant. I just kept cutting away the black dried canes. 

Then one day I saw it. A small sprout. And before I knew it sprouts were coming up everywhere. Buds formed and I anxiously awaited the first blossom. But this is Anna's rose. The first bud on the top looked like it would be a gorgeous long-stemmed flower when an inadvertent bump against the plant chopped the bud off. It didn't kill the plant, but I was going to have to wait a bit longer to see my first flower.

Then there are the pests. I have a love-hate relationship with roses.  I absolutely love the flowers but they require so much attention. They are the fragile needy residents of my garden. One day as I checked on Anna I found the telltale evidence of sawfly larvae. Leaves were spotted with the brown webbed chewed lesions. I picked off and squished the small worms that I found and then gave Anna a good spraying with a natural insecticide.

Success! I now have a thriving lovely rosebush offering me this beautiful flower whose color reminds me of the sunrise. I am sure there is a life lesson somewhere in there if I think about it enough. But right now I think I shall just pour my morning coffee and enjoy gazing at Anna's Promise.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lord, to whom shall I go?

Penitent St. Peter by El Greco

Here is my contribution to the discussion of #WhyRemainCatholic instigated by Elizabeth Scalia.

Essentially, I believe the Catholic Church is who she says she is: the one, holy, catholic apostolic church founded by Christ. I trust the words of Christ when he declares that He will found his Church upon the Rock of Peter. Peter and his successors hold the keys to the Kingdom. That which they pronounce bound on earth will be bound in Heaven. That which they pronounce loosed on earth will be loosed in Heaven. (Cf. Matthew 16:17-20)
I have a lot more to say about this so head on over to Catholic Stand and read the whole thing!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Gardening Lessons

I come from a long line of gardeners. I have happy memories of spending time in the garden with both of my grandmothers. Sometimes we were tending vegetables that would eventually end up in cans or frozen so that the fruits of summer could be enjoyed long after its warmth had faded into the cool gray of winter. Even as a child I found this self-sufficiency very satisfying. I still always have a pot of something edible growing. This year it is jalepeno peppers and lots of different herbs.

My real passion, however, has been growing flowers. My goal is to always have something blooming from spring through fall. Most of my plants are perennials so it is fun to welcome them back each year. The daffodils are first. Then the peonies. Eventually the azaleas begin to bloom. Early spring also features the bleeding hearts, amsonias,   and wisteria. I supplement with a few annuals, especially those that either reseed themselves like morning glories or allow me to gather their seeds in the fall for planting the next year like marigolds.

The front yard is a very orderly, manicured garden with trimmed hedges and color coordinated pots.

The backyard, however is my playground. It is a mass of vegetation with no particular plan other than to see what will grow.

Right now I have these red hot pokers blooming. Their official name is kniphofia. They provide a splash of color but the blooms always look a little raggedy. The lower edges are dying off as the top top florets bloom. Still, I like them. They require little attention and come back reliably every year. 
I also have my first moonflower bush blossom. This is different from the moonflower vine. The scientific name is Datura inoxia. I bought this plant at a farmers market many years ago. It produces these huge white trumpets in the evening. They last through the next morning. Such a beautiful flower produces a wicked spiny seed pod. I have shared the plant with my mother-in-law and my father and they have thoroughly enjoyed its nightly show in their own gardens.  A word of caution, this plant is highly toxic. The Aztecs used it as a hallucinogen and it is apparently easy to overdose. My dogs leave it alone but I would be cautious if there were small children around.

I really do love sharing plants. My favorite gardening books is Pass-Along Plants by Steve Bender and Felder Rushing.  I love sharing plants with friends and especially with family. I have irises and lilies in my garden that came from my mother-in-law. This climbing rose came from a cutting of a rose bush my parents planted when my daughter was born. (I have no idea why I can't get the rotated version of this photo to upload!)

I once visited a home where the entire backyard garden had been created with plants propagated from cuttings or seeds of plants from other family members. It was a gardening family album. I loved that idea. Unfortunately, I am in a different gardening zone from most of my family so our ability to share is limited. It is special, though, when gardening allows us to connect generations.

 I know the saying is "bloom where you are planted" but sometimes you have to make a change. This white hydrangea was having a tough time when I planted it against the back of the house a couple of years ago. I purchased it in a 10-inch pot and it didn't get much bigger for an entire year. I moved it to the more open garden and now look at it!
Take a look at these two pots of morning glories. They were planted on exactly the same day in the same kind of potting soil with exactly the same number of stray seedlings that sprouted from last year's morning glories. They get the same amount of water and fertilizer. Yet the one on the right is twice as big as the one on the left. I think the difference of just a few feet changes the amount of sun they get with the one on the right spending more time in full sun. A small adjustment can have huge results!

Among my other backyard bloomers are the astilbe filling in the shade
and the bee balm thriving in the sun.
Every one has his niche. You just have to find it.

 I am loving this pot of Gerbera daisies. It was a gift from one of my last semester students. I enjoy the bold bright flowers and am cheered by the gratitude with which they were given. An expression of gratitude lasts far longer than the moment it takes to offer it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Why I want my grandchildren to remain Catholic

Madonna and Child by Parmigianino, 1525

Elizabeth Scalia has challenged Catholic writers to expound on why they remain Catholic. I will probably join in that discussion more directly in the next few days but first I wanted to combine this theme with another that has cropped up among Catholic authors--the Benedict option (Saint, not Pope Benedict). The Benedict option suggests that the future of Catholicism will be small enclaves of faithful believers who withdraw from the world in order to nurture and grow the faith.

In my latest article at the HLI Truth & Charity Forum I address why not only will I remain Catholic, but I pray that my grandchildren and their children and their children will remain Catholic as well. I cannot withdraw from the world when there is work to be done and battles to be waged to protect my grandchildren's religious freedom and spiritual future.

While being faithfully Catholic may have created some social hurdles for my children, there was never a real threat to their lives or livelihood. I have no confidence that will be true for my grandchildren. The secular culture is aggressively narrowing the window of tolerance for the public exercise of faith...Those of us who work now to defend the faith, defend religious liberty, defend the dignity of marriage, and defend the sanctity of human life do so to profess the truth and to perhaps ease the road ahead for our children, our grandchildren and the generations beyond.
I invite you over to the Truth & Charity forum to read the whole thing. What is your own response to, "Why do I remain Catholic"? How do you envision the Catholic experience of future generations in America?

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything May Not Be for Everyone.

The Miracles of St. Ignatius by Peter Paul Rubens

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ. There is so much wisdom here that I always come away with a valuable insight. Yet, I hesitate to recommend this book freely. My problem is not with Ignatian spirituality. My difficulty lies with Fr. Martin's application of this spirituality. As always, the devil (quite literally) is in the details.

For example, I found Fr. Martin's discussion of an Ignatian approach to prayer to be inspirational. The idea of bringing everything to God, holding nothing back, and of taking quiet time to listen to God's response caused me to slow down. It is similar to the reminder to pray a Rosary, not just say a Rosary. The difficulty comes with the lack of discussion of discernment. Fr. Martin speaks of our desires as urgings from God that we should listen to rather than resist or dismiss. He leaves the poorly catechized reader with the idea that one only truly desires what God wants. There is no mention of the fact that desires need to be carefully evaluated to see if they truly emanate from the Divine or if they are, in fact, part of a deception by the Devil.

In a discussion of the lectio divina method of prayer, Fr. Martin seems to suggest that reading the passage about Jesus preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth could give you courage to dissent from Church teaching. You are just being prophetic like Jesus was and you will be rejected by your hometown just as Jesus was, but in the end, you will be justified. As is often noted, the Devil can quote scripture just as well as the most faithful Christian. No single verse of Scripture can suddenly change something that is wrong to something that is right.

I am still reading this book and I am enjoying it, even though I am uneasy with much of the presentation. Fr. Martin writes the book with the hopes of it being accessible to believers and nonbelievers alike. I have not yet finished reading it, but I do not think I can make such a universal recommendation. I would hand this book to an atheist or agnostic because I think it would effectively challenge some of their misconceptions about believing in God. I could offer this to someone who is well-grounded in their Catholic faith because their understanding is sophisticated enough to recognize the gaps in the discussions of prayer and discernment and appreciate the heart of Ignatian Spirituality.

At this point I would not offer this book to the lukewarm Christian or the poorly catechized Catholic because Fr. Martin's words can easily be misunderstood as a rationalization for doing almost anything and calling it the Will of God or consistent with Catholic teaching. I still have a little more to read before I finish the book so I will let you know if my perception changes.

Any thoughts?