Post 266

Even He: Reflections on Hell

Are you for Trump or against him?

It seems like a reasonable question, but the simplistic yes-or-no, all-or-nothing, heaven-or-hell approach, which is necessary to make a decision for voting (choose candidate A or candidate B), is a dangerous way to think about people the rest of the time.

A politician, is, after all, a person.

People are complicated.

People are multifaceted, torn between doing the right thing and the wrong thing, always. Choosing the right thing when well-rested, in a good mood and under close supervision, and choosing the wrong thing when hungry, irritated or in Las Vegas — that’s people for you, God have mercy.

While alive, people are constantly changing; they make new choices and decisions all the time. These variations in intention, both minor and major, have consequences. All of your changes in intention, both slight and significant, have the effect of reshaping the future — both your own and that of others.

People so often wish they could know the future. The thing about this is that the future is constantly changing. So even if you could see the future right now, in all likelihood, you would be seeing merely the future as it currently stands, and the future is very much contingent upon what happens between now and the future that you’ve been permitted to see.

What’s the advantage of seeing the future if it comes with fine print: “Subject to change without notice”?

God is very careful about not revealing the future, as a general rule, for the reason that most people would make worse choices by knowing it. If you knew you’d win the race, would you continue to train? If you knew you’d lose the election, would you continue to campaign?

Besides, as I said, visions of the future are unreliable because they are not guaranteed. This is what Jonah found out, according to Scripture. He could see the destruction coming for Nineveh, and he ultimately did deliver the warning to the people of Nineveh, that they must repent, or else. Being inspired, his words had an authority and weight that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Jonah’s words struck fire into the hearts of the Ninevites, and they did the unthinkable: they repented.

So then what?

So then the future changed. Nineveh wasn’t destroyed, and the prophesy wasn’t fulfilled.

Jonah was bummed. He had chosen a spot, a good long way away, from which to eat popcorn and watch the destruction of Nineveh. He wasn’t happy that people had heeded his message; he would have preferred to have been right.

The point is that even a revelation from God can turn out to be ‘wrong,’ in the sense that it can be replaced by a new plan. God always has a plan, and within it, there are an almost infinite number of sub-plans, in the same way that white light contains a rainbow of colours.

This means that if you fall out of one plan that God has for your life, he’ll adjust everything so that he can ‘catch’ you on the next go round. If Sidney rejects God’s first plan for Sidney’s benefit, which consisted of early exposure to good values, then God will be waiting around the corner with a good friend who will show Sidney how to reform his life. If Sidney rejects that, God will arrange it so that an inspiring and transformative book falls across Sidney’s path. If Sidney rejects that, he’ll arrange it so that a TV evangelist is on air just when Sidney is laid up with two broken legs and the remote control batteries are dead.

I simplify, because I just don’t have the space to write about the lengths to which God will go.

You see, God’s real smart. He’s also resourceful, and he has as many ideas about how to captivate your heart as there are grains of sands on the beaches.

For this reason, an atheist has only himself to blame. Don’t tell me that God hasn’t reached out to him. Don’t tell me that God hasn’t tried.

I won’t believe you.

Why not?

I won’t because I know that God is good, and he’s not going to leave anyone behind. Anyone who chooses to remain as an agnostic or an atheist is making a choice. Such a person makes, in fact, a series of choices to continue in ‘doubt.’ The atheist makes a choice to ignore that “stupid coincidence” and makes a choice to reason away anyone who speaks well or poorly about such issues; indeed, believe me when I say that an atheist looks for reasons not to believe. Christians are cautioned about being a good example, and this is well and good, but it must be borne in mind that personal choice requires one to not be a ‘victim’ of the bad examples that are out there. In other words, at the end of the day, don’t imagine that it will be impressive or admirable or manly to say, at the end of your life, “The Christians I met were really dreadful, and no better than anyone else, so I decided to reject Christ.” Choose what is best, regardless of the examples around you. Blaming the poor example of those who should know better will only get you so far. When an atheist chooses to ignore the voice of conscience, and to mentally argue against those who make a case for Christianity, and to mentally argue against, in fact, every single thing that might be persuasive, from the beauty of nature to the writing of hundreds of intelligent and reasonable men and women, then that atheist makes a choice for himself.

And that’s my whole point — it’s a choice, not a random situation where some people are born with a genetic predisposition to believe while others are not. It’s true that the world has changed, but God presents himself as an option to everyone. He presents himself as an option to everyone every day. For this reason, the Catholic Church recognizes that there is such a thing as ‘baptism of desire.’ Even someone not exposed to Christianity can choose to live a righteous life, obviously. The Church knows this.

God’s methods, nevertheless, are often subtle, and he is, as C.S. Lewis said, “unscrupulous,” meaning that he’ll not limit himself to the usual and ‘legitimate’ methods of winning your heart. His methods are poetic and often humorous.

The dog winks at you, and you wonder whether there’s more to this than meets the eye.


So I’ll check back on you later, without worrying in the meantime about your soul. You may be stubborn, but God has time (more than you), and he hasn’t given up. He’ll bring about a change in the most unexpected and unpredictable of ways. He’s the indefatigable suitor, the persistent, witty and resourceful lover, the long-suffering and patient Father.

Did I say he was efficient? He is, and there is, in the end, no waste. His efforts are not wasted because everyone eventually comes home. The father of the prodigal son is not waiting for nothing. I’ll return to this point, but for now, let me continue with the theme I raised initially.

God knows the inner workings of every person. Every person is complex.

Nobody, not even Trump, is a caricature, or a symbol for something else.

Even Hitler, so often used as a symbol of evil, is not without some spark of goodness. People are complicated, and this is especially the case over the trajectory of an entire life. Was Adolf not, at one point, a toddler? Was he not, later, a boy, and then a young man of 12? Take the most evil ruler from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and North America, and consider every aspect of his life. Will you fail to find one scrap of goodness? Will you fail to find one kind deed, one kind word? Will you find selfishness from birth until death?

Give me anyone, even the one with the bloodiest hands, say, Morgentaler or his type. Give me even someone like Margaret Atwood, who is, to my mind, in a worse class than many who destroy the unborn. Give me the most arrogant of archbishops or atheists or atheistic archbishops, and I will show you that even he is complex. Even he has a spark of good.

Even Judas.

Even Judas was not all bad.

And yes, I did just go and say that.

And I heard you just go and ask about the doctrine of hell.

Hell exists, sure. It’s not necessarily a physical place, but Christ didn’t lie when he referred to fires that burn forever.

As for the people, are there any who will burn forevermore?

Here’s Pope Benedict, in a Catholic News Agency article from February 11, 2008:

“Perhaps there are not so many who have destroyed themselves so completely, who are irreparable forever, who no longer have any element upon which the love of God can rest, who no longer have the slightest capacity to love within themselves. This would be hell.”

In other words, don’t get your hopes up, people at LifeSite News, that all of the ‘bad guys’ are going to hell. There are so many ‘good’ and ‘holy’ people who have been gnashing their teeth at the thought of people not going to hell. Ever since they heard or read that the 2016 Amoris Laetitia says, “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel,” they have been convinced that Pope Francis is Wrecking Everything.

They are like Jonah, entirely pissed off that Peter’s successor says God might not run hell the way they expect, the way they have understood the afterlife works. They make sweeping statements that Pope Francis has made sweeping statements. They’re not paying close attention, because, like atheists, they have made up their mind.

But I say to those who are scandalized at the words of Pope Francis, be thankful, for your own sake, at the wording used by Pope Francis’ predecessor, who is accepted by those who attack Pope Francis. Be thankful for the wording here. Notice how Pope Benedict writes that it’s pretty damn hard to be damned forever. It’s presented in many ways, and here I’ll ask you to note certain words:

1) “destroyed themselves SO completely”
2) “who are irreparable FOREVER”
3) “who no longer have ANY element upon which the love of God can rest”
4) “who no longer have the SLIGHTEST capacity to love”

Do you see? Most telling is the third phrase above. It’s saying that yes, if God can’t find anything about the person to love, then sure, hell would be the answer.

So you see.

Without saying it in an ultra-obvious way, Pope Benedict described the conditions for eternal damnation very strictly. Impossibly strict, as a matter of fact.

When you look more closely at passages such as Matthew 25:41, (‘Then He shall say to them also that shall be on His left hand: Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’) you’ll see that it refers to the fire itself being eternal, but not the punishment.

And it makes sense that Pope Francis would say that annihilation would follow death, rather than an eternal hell, because it is God’s love that keeps everything in existence. God’s love for Bob keeps Bob in existence; without it, Bob wouldn’t be anywhere — not even in hell. God’s love for Lucifer keeps Lucifer in existence; without it, Lucifer would go poof. Not existing is worse than hell.

So I believe in purgatory, heaven and hell.

It’s the tally, kept by Those In the Know, that I question. And just for a moment, let’s stop and think about what kind of person would be aghast at the thought of people not being tortured forever. Does this mindset not bring to mind the leaders of empires and -isms who ordered the imprisonment or torture or deaths of scores of people?

The words that God delivered to Jonah are worth seeing again:

And the Lord God appointed a plant, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm which attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint; and he asked that he might die, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”

And he said, “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nin′eveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

– Jonah 4: 6-11

It is good news that we will all, ultimately, be together. It’s the fairy-tale ending that every good person wants. Yes, it can be confusing, because we thought we understood everything that there was to understand about the mysteries of heaven, hell and purgatory.

However, the words of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict remind us that these things are mysteries, and that what we knew before might not be complete. These words remind us that the future can change. God’s mercy extends further than you can imagine; it extends even to the depths of hell.

God can change the future.

Hell is a lot emptier than people think, especially nowadays. As a matter of fact, I said so in a post that predated the publication of Amoris Laetitia.

Indeed, I think hell is empty of human souls.

Satan is still there, of course, as are his support staff. He’s the administrator of the bonfire called hell, and he continues to spread his lies on earth, which are embraced by some.

One day, however, even Satan will be welcomed back into the flock. He’ll be last, of course, but he’ll be there.

As for the fire, it’ll never be extinguished, thank God.

We’ll roast marshmallows in heaven, together.

See you there.

Post 265

Here We Go Again?
Reciprocity Revisited and a Recipe for September

When two people enter into a relationship, there is, you could say, a sort of delicate dance of politeness and small exchanged pleasantries, smiles and kind words. Sometimes, this is where it ends, and the acquaintance, now formed, is not strengthened. Will these people meet again? Perhaps. If they do, the relationship will either progress or stay at this pleasant but superficial level. For whatever reason, at least one of these two people would prefer to leave things as they are. And indeed, there are many good reasons for some relationships to never progress beyond this. The handyman, as nice as he is, never needs to know Mrs. Customer very well. Let her remain a mystery. Similarly, the students should not feel compelled to befriend their teachers in order to get an A on their essays. Let the personal lives of the students remain a mystery.

However, sometimes there is more. Sometimes both parties are pleased to have the relationship advance. The pleasantries become more meaningful, and the topics and revelations become more personal. The kindnesses become more deliberate and labour-intensive or expensive.

It’s still a delicate dance, though, because there are steps. Unlike young children (especially girls), who say to each other in the school yard, “Do you want to be friends?” adults and older children show that they want a stronger relationship by their words and conduct. It’s a careful dance of reciprocity, because one knows to not greatly exceed the warmth shown by the other. You don’t buy a pearl bracelet for a person whose last name you haven’t learned, for instance, no matter how nicely they say “Good morning” to you every day at the bus stop.

There are positive actions and words which are chosen in order to advance the relationship. These are outward signs of positive feelings and intentions on the inside.

And so here’s where it gets complicated.

This inside-outside stuff often does.

Not all relationships are what they seem to be. Do you know for certain that the outward behaviour of your cousin or your neighbour or friend is a true reflection of the inward intentions and disposition? Alas, it is often the case that people who are in frequent contact with one another are going through all the motions of the dance without having the corresponding internal disposition.

I think you’re with me so far.

That clock on the mantle is ticking and working perfectly fine, but what is revealed on its face isn’t the truth. It’s been off for more than a month. But how would you know? Unless you have another clock with the accurate time, you won’t know whether this clock is feeding you a line.

With people, it’s harder; you don’t have a ‘double.’ You don’t have a version of Jim or Jerry or Jake that’s not a fake. You don’t have a version that you can use to compare. You don’t have a version that’s been calibrated and tested and verified and warrantied to be exactly what it should be, where what you see outwardly accords with what would make sense inwardly. All you have is the externals.

And the externals have been stellar – exceptional, with almost never a dropped line (other than that one time, and that other, and I suppose if you want to be picky, those other few times). Based on that, you have given and loved, with all your heart. You have admired and praised and felt entirely surrounded by people who are well-meaning, honest and fair, or even holy and good beyond compare.

Pagans of the very best sort.
Christians of the very best kind.

So it seems. Is it the case?

How will you tell whether your friend is a genuine friend? How will you tell whether your friend loves you as much as you love your friend?

I wonder. Do I recommend

That you never try to find out?


You may wish to carry on the way you carry on now. Don’t check and don’t wonder, perhaps. Don’t wonder whether your friend would always be there for you. Don’t wonder whether your aunt would do for you what you would do for your aunt.

Do you really want to know?
Do you really want to read his mind?
Do you really want to read her soul?

Years ago, I began writing a play; it was to be called “Filters.” The idea was that the audience would be able to read the thoughts of the characters, and some characters would speak in ways that were 180 degrees different from their thoughts, while others would speak more closely to how they actually felt and thought. We speculated what it would be like to know the thoughts of those around you. “You’d go crazy,” was one notion, but I said, “I think you’d get used to it,” with the idea that people can get used to almost anything.

As it turns out, the first notion is definitely wrong, because if God chooses to reveal to you the thoughts and intentions of those around you, then it is always for your benefit, and you won’t go crazy. He’ll reveal what you can bear, and often it will be amusing and astounding. As for getting used to it, this is partly true. Patterns appear and become less surprising because you’ve seen them before. Having said that, wasn’t Julius Caesar surprised that Brutus was no different from the others?

In any case, if you’re inclined to test the quality of your friendships, there are various ways in which a friendship can be quickly tested.

Go and get hospitalized, or get diagnosed with something that’s potentially fatal. That will be an eye-opener for you, and will clear out some of the false friends. They’ll act in ways that you would never have predicted; some will suddenly be inexplicably busy. You’ll lose more of your fair-weather friends in proportion to the likelihood that you’ll be gone by next Christmas. By this, I mean that if they expect you to make it, they’ll sign a “Get Well” card. If they expect you to croak, they’ll be thinking about who’s getting your truck.

Another way to quickly test your relationships is to change the game. There are various ways to do this. Behind Door Number One: Say no when you are expected to say said yes. Assert your own preferences this time around, and say that no, you won’t in fact have bridesmaids at your wedding. Say that no, you’d rather eat at a restaurant than at their place. Say that no, you won’t take their photographs. Say that no, you won’t waive copyright. Say that no, you won’t make an exception this time round. Say that no, you won’t work at their book sale and no, you won’t help them move.

Behind Door Number Two: Challenge a lie or an insult or some very Curious Behaviour when you are expected to look the other way. Say that the story doesn’t add up, if it doesn’t, or say that you’re hurt, if you are.

The reaction?

What you’d expect?

Or not?

Hey, what’s with your eyes? Why did the whites go yellow and the irises turn red? And hey, what’s with your hands? Why are they all twisted and claw-like all of a sudden, Grandmother dear? Grandmother dear, why are your teeth so large and so long and so very sharp?

(Little Red Riding Hood was freaked.)

Now you’ve done it! Now you’ve asked! You were never supposed to notice!

Look out!
Back away!
Back away, little girl!
Open up that door and


Things aren’t as you thought!
There was no reciprocity of heart!

Actions, yes — they were like yours
Words, yes — they were like yours
Smiles, yes — they were like yours

But it was fake!

It was all, so, so fake!

Run, little girl!
Run, Little Red Riding Hood!
Run to where you’ll be safe!

Run to the place
Where smiles are honest
Where tears are real
Where secrets are kept
Where love overflows
Where love is returned
Where love is unending


Bear no more gifts to those
Who don’t love you back

Bear no more gifts to those
Who don’t have your back

My advice to those who have found, to their dismay, that a friendship or relationship was not what it seemed, is to proceed with caution. Do not dam up your love, for you can love from afar, and you can forgive while you’re at it, but you may want to reconsider your plans for the future.

I know that Grandma keeps calling and sending you cards. I know that she says she’s just as Holy as Ever, praying for you daily, yeah whatever. I know that she says she’s just Looking Out for You (“all the better to love you, my dear”),

But you may want to be careful, you know.

“Here, stick your hand in this blender. I won’t turn it on this time.”

You know what I mean?

So does it end here?

Can a relationship ever be rebuilt, when the trust has been broken? Can it ever be as good as it was?

I am sure that the answer is yes. I am sure that after an act of infidelity, a husband and wife can move on to have a relationship which is deeper and more authentic than the one they previously had. The grace of the sacrament of matrimony offers, as one of its great strengths, the ability to heal.

Further, I am sure that after a betrayal of any sort, two people can move on to have an improved relationship.

This is because God is good, and he can regenerate anything.

Nevertheless, there is a precondition. What is it?

It is simply that there must be a willingness, on both sides, to repair and restore the relationship, beginning with special attention to what went wrong.

Consider that the good Jesus could not ‘pass over’ Peter’s betrayal as if it had not happened.

He asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Makes sense.

The repetition was confusing and hurtful to Peter at the time, but it makes sense. God is poetic. The three affirmations serve to undo, or at least address, the three denials.

And this is as it should be. Despite Peter’s enthusiasm and joy at seeing Jesus again (he jumped into the water and swam to the shore), the previous wrongs needed to be addressed first. That was a priority. The relationship had suffered a serious breach and both justice and naturalness required that what was wrong be righted.

In the same way, the Catholic Church will issue formal apologies when its members have failed a particular group of people, even if the wrongful behaviour was committed decades ago. This is healthy, and anyone who calls himself a Christian would be wise to imitate this example.

Sadly, we have a tendency to admit small failings (especially inadvertent ones) while ignoring and wanting to sweep aside large betrayals and wrongs. This is not healthy.

No relationship can continue as before after a large fall-out unless the people in the relationship are prepared to address what has happened. The Christian ideal does not involve turning a blind eye to betrayal or deceit. These things need to be confronted, not ignored in the name of peace, meekness, mercy or moving forward. Indeed, moving forward necessitates dealing with the reality and mercy does not begin with pretending that there is nothing to forgive. A judge does not grant a pardon to someone who has committed no crime.

Nobody was as peaceful, meek or merciful as Jesus, yet Jesus required that Peter affirm his love, three times. You see, by his betrayal, Peter had shown that his love for Christ was not as deep as he had professed. He had announced that he would never leave Jesus, but those were merely words. When the real test came, Peter showed that his heart did not correspond to his words. He lied three times and publicly detached himself from Jesus, in order to save his own skin.

For this reason, Jesus later questions Peter’s love, three times.

When Peter answers now, he can honestly say, “You know I love you,” because his love has been increased by his experience of his own sinfulness and his need for mercy. His love has been purified by observing the suffering and death of Christ and knowing that he contributed to Christ’s suffering. He has been changed by the experience and he can now better respond to Christ’s love for him.

In the same way, then, a broken relationship can be restored, but the first step is for the people involved in the relationship to address and repair the injury to the best of their ability. The dialogue must be authentic and open, not token and vague. It’s not terribly difficult to achieve this type of dialogue, provided the intention is there.

And what is intention? Intention is desire and decision. If the intention to revive the relationship is mutual, then honest dialogue will break through all barriers and the relationship will advance to a new and improved level, with greater understanding of the other.

Sadly, however, the intention is often not what it should be. Instead of having, in the aftermath of a breakdown, an intention to truly heal the hurts of the other, an intention which is in itself one manifestation of love, some people have something else: an intention merely to return to how things worked before, an intention to return to the way things appeared to be before.

In this case, there has been no transformation, enlightenment or desire to be better. The internal disposition is no different, and what is sought is merely that external appearance of reciprocity.

Let’s dance again, they say.
We’ll talk the way we used to talk.
We’ll act the way we used to act.
It’ll be just like old times.

However, following a break or a problem of any significance, things cannot return to being the way they were. They must be better, or they will be far worse.

After all, Little Red Riding Hood is older now.
All grown up.
Gig’s up.
You blew it.
She knows it.

Your lines about her welfare
Your lines about how much you care

All designed
To mislead
To deceive

You wanted to look good
You wanted the goods
The attention
The admiration and respect
The cookies in that basket
The heart of the girl
And more

But she’s escaped
With her heart
And her cookies

So there

And here

And here
Is a recipe
For you


I still love you
From afar

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies (from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

MAKES: about 20 large cookies
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 40 minutes plus cooling time

Quick-cooking rolled oats can be substituted for the old-fashioned oats here; however, they will have a little less flavour.

11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
11/2 cups raisins

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. Beat the butter and sugars together in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.

3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the oats and raisins until just incorporated.

4. Working with 1/4 cup of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls and lay on two parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced about 21/2 inches apart. Flatten the cookies slightly using your palm. Bake until the tops of the cookies are lightly golden but the centers are still soft and puffy, 22 to 25 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.

5. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Post 264

A Plea from the Pew: Reflections on Homilies

There is a moment during the Mass which occurs after the Gospel has been read. By this time, the congregation has sung (or heard, at least,) a few songs and heard the Mass readings read aloud. By this point, even the most distracted of parishioners probably has a few words, ideas or images in his mind that are worthy.

At this point, everyone is seated and waiting for the priest to begin his homily.

One hopes, at this point, that the priest doesn’t blow it. I often hope this.

After all, the very air is permeated with so many good ideas! Regardless of the visual setting for the Mass, the words we have heard sparkle and glimmer like many-sided gems. So many interesting themes! Three readings and a psalm to work with! Lush fruit hanging down, within easy reach and ready for the picking!

Now it’s time for a multiple choice quiz. What do you think is the best way for a priest to begin his homily?
a) with a joke
b) with a story
c) with a prop
d) with the Word of God

WHY, oh WHY, do priests insist on beginning their homilies with EVERYTHING OTHER THAN the readings?!?! They are given these beautiful words and treasure chests full of ideas and the first thing out of their mouths are references to — smartphones! Really! I kid you not.

Oh please, Father! Come on! Stop trying to “meet us where we are”! Stop trying to “get our attention”! You have it. Do you doubt this?

When a priest begins his homily, he has the attention of the congregation. The first five seconds are guaranteed. The priest is not a busker in a subway station, trying to grab the attention of commuters rushing for a train. The priest stands, generally, on a raised area, akin to a stage, above a group of people who are looking at him, and waiting for him to begin (and finish) talking. They are not even on their phones.

And indeed, the congregation is not only attentive, but has just been fed with the Word of God. It’s ‘prime time,’ you could say. The congregation is, figuratively, at the top of the mountain, or, at least, the top of the hill, depending on each listener’s personal disposition. Some people, you could say, are even in the clouds, in a good way.

Why, then, bring everyone down to the ground? Why begin by returning everyone to the everyday world of movies and work jokes and Reader’s Digest type anecdotes and Chicken Soup for the Soul stories? Why are you trying so desperately to talk about everything else other than the readings?

I know. I know why. You believe that we laypeople are in a different world and you will ‘break into’ that world by showing us that you are really kind of just like us. Sporty, like us. Connected, like us. Fun, like us.



Be different.

Be like, say, a priest. A priest should pour out of himself a love of Christ. His love for Christ should be almost contagious. It should radiate outwards and make him eager to seize every opportunity to tell everyone how sweet Christ is. It should make him eager to seize every opportunity to tell everyone how merciful and noble and loving and strong and brave and admirable Christ is.

Tell me, please, about Christ.

Tell me, please, why I should love him.

Remind me that he is the Light, the Truth and the Way.


Don’t begin your homily by wearing sunglasses. That’s just painful. Don’t begin your homily by whipping out your cell phone. That wasn’t pretty either. You don’t need props, Father. You don’t need to go for shock value or drama. You’re not an actor. You’re not, in fact, on stage. Further, this is not an interactive type of moment, in the sense that it’s not time to ask the congregation to repeat after you, to raise their hands or to take out their smartphones and look at their apps.

Most of the parishioners are at Mass because Sundays are days of obligation. You will not find most of these same parishioners at Mass on other days. This does not mean that they are bad people, or that those who attend daily Mass are holier than those who do not. It’s not as simple as that.

My point is that those people who feel drawn to Mass (or obligated to attend) will be there, and they’ll listen to the homily. You’ve already got a subset of the population that is ready to accept a homily about God, Jesus, the Blessed Mother, saints and angels and demons and Satan. It’s okay to go there. It’s okay to start there.

Why start with some “cute” story about a little boy who whatever and whatever?

How many stories have I heard about ‘little Johnny’ or ‘little Tommy’?

Enough, already!

You don’t need a new story when you’ve got the readings of the day. Let’s start there. Get on with it.

Currently, the situation is too often something like this: You show up at the dentist’s office. You are greeted by the receptionist. You sit down in the waiting area. You stand up again and go into the dental chair. You are given a bib, and possibly some sunglasses. You submit to x-rays. The dentist arrives and he asks you to open your mouth. You open your mouth.

He says, “You know, I went canoeing for three days, down the North Saskatchewan. “


Is this what we’re here for?

Or – you go to the symphony. You take your seats and you are so thoroughly bored already that you turn to the program booklet as a means of some relief. The pianist enters. You clap. The pianist takes his seat at the bench, flipping the tails of his tux away as he does. His fingers are in position and he nods to the conductor. The conductor raises his baton in the air and . . .

. . . and suddenly turns to face the audience, saying, “A survey that was done recently showed that many teens want to become bloggers when they grow up.”

Wait a sec. Where am I again?

My point is that people who go to Mass are wanting God, in the same way that people who go to the dentist are wanting to have their teeth checked or repaired, and in the same way that people who go to the symphony are wanting to see and be seen.

It is a misguided notion that in order to ‘connect’ with the congregation, the priest should give the congregation more of what we already have — more references to the signposts of our everyday life, more reminders of the news or the tabloid headlines or the Hollywood products or celebrities, more topical topics about nothing.

Totally misguided.

It is, further, a misguided notion that in order to ‘connect’ with the congregation, the priest should become personal, and tell us what he did lately. Part of the problem with doing so is that these tidbits are almost too interesting, and distract from the liturgy. So if you’ve gone camping or shopping or travelling and didn’t wear your clerical collar for two weeks (is that like a married man not wearing his wedding ring?), tell that to me in a chat after Mass; the story about how for the last two days you didn’t get a good sleep because you were at two retreats, the first one being the priest’s conference and the second one being a retreat for the next World Youth Day to be held in Panama, because it was “too hot and too cold and too hot and too cold” and sometimes it was too noisy because people were walking around and that as a result you were awoken every hour, and a lack of sleep can make you feel grumpy, is a story which is not actually going to illuminate the readings of the day. It might help us get to know the priest’s personal life and personal preferences better, but since when has this been the goal? No matter how great the priest is, Jesus is better. Let’s get to know him instead.

The homily is a chance to talk about the supernatural world, using the readings as the starting point. We’ve just heard the readings, so now let’s talk about them. We’re prepped. We’re wearing our bibs and we’re tuned in.

It’s your chance.

Tell me what the readings mean. Tell me what they show, prove and suggest about God and Jesus and supernatural things. If you do it well, you’ll make me fall in love with Jesus all over again. I’ll be full of ardour and eager to receive him in the Eucharist.

You see?

It’s like a date, and you’re the matchmaker. Tell me why God is worthy of my time. Convince me that God is good and that God has a plan for me and my life. Tell me that God loves me (even if you don’t). Tell me that heaven is real and tell me that Mary is my mother. Yes, I know it, but remind me. Remind us. It’s only once a week, and Church is the one place we can go to hear it again.

Show me that this week’s readings are beautiful because they show the mercy of God, or his generosity or his justice. Show me that Christ is loveable and that he’s the best friend in the world. Bring me into the readings in a deeper way. Don’t tack them onto your blog-post style homily as an afterthought or cleverly work them into an unrelated topic, such as why I need to give 10% of my income to the Church (seriously – a priest referred to “our tithing,” as if it were a given). The readings themselves are supposed to point the way for the homily. They are the jumping-off point. Moreover, the readings are connected to each other; often the New Testament readings clarify or answer questions raised by the Old Testament reading. They aren’t placed together randomly. Show us themes in the readings, if you can. But no matter what, show that the readings are an invitation or an appealing challenge to do better, to be better, to refresh our relationship with our Maker.

Today’s readings, for instance, were very interesting. The first was about the prophet Ezekiel. He was told that if he knew of wrongdoing, then he must speak. If he knew of wrongdoing, and did not speak, he was partly responsible.

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name. If I say to a wicked man: Wicked wretch, you are to die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin, but you yourself will have saved your life.’

— Ezekiel 33:7-9

The second reading was about true love, which suggests to me that true love has to do with telling the truth. After hearing the first and second readings, I thought to myself, I wonder what the Gospel reading will be? Will it run parallel to what I’ve already heard, or will it run perpendicular, seeming to ‘contradict’ what we’ve already heard?

Well, how about if you take a look? The Gospel reading today was this:

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’

— Matthew 18:15-20

Do you see? The theme is there. In this case, the theme has to do with being responsible to your brother by calling a spade a spade. The Gospel repeats, with emphasis, the notion of speaking up in the face of wrongdoing.

As Christians, this is more important than ever, in light of everything that the Catholic Church has learned from the scandals she has endured. Shame on us if we are afraid of saying that a sin was committed. Shame on us if, out of fear of offending those who are ‘holy’ or ‘good’ (which is often another way of saying ‘powerful’ and ‘connected’ in Catholic circles), we silence ourselves, afraid to question words or conduct that is suspicious or obviously wrong. Indeed, silence in the face of sin is the basic recipe for what ultimately becomes a scandal. Consider every scandal the Catholic Church has had. In how many cases were there others, both clergy and laity, who noticed that something was amiss but who closed their lips? How many innocent people were harmed due to the shortage of people willing to speak out and challenge those “good” priests? The Catholic culture cannot and must not be a culture of silence, where we tremble to say that something isn’t right. If it’s not right, it’s not right, and those who say so should not be intimidated into silence. In the first reading, God says that Ezekiel is “the watchman,” (or “the sentry,” depending on the translation used) but the Gospel expands this, and says that we are all called to challenge our brother. We are all asked to take the position of Ezekiel, to warn and admonish our brother when warranted.

That was the theme for today.

In other words, the theme for today had nothing to do with camping.

The camping Gospel comes later, on The Feast of the Transfiguration:

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

— Mark 9:5

Post 263

Zucchini Cuisini: A Recipe for August

Mary was the one who told me about zucchini pizzas. It’s a casual recipe that can serve as a solution for the garden zucchinis that grew too big while you had your back turned, conscientiously coiling up the hose.

Big zucchinis aren’t something that gardeners boast about. You see, the best zucchinis are small. They are tender and cooperative.

Big zucchinis have an attitude.

You haul them in and they land on your countertop with a bowling-ball thud. They say, “Heh.”

I’ll admit that I did have one of those. That big guy was the first one I brought in. Sliced lengthwise, he was salted and put into the oven for a good long while. Then I took him out, added a meat and tomato sauce and lots of cheese. Cheese covers a multitude of sins, especially when melted.

So I subdued him and it was good.

I could have made zucchini pizzas. That’s where you slice the raw zucchini and treat each disc like a pizza crust, decorating it with pasta sauce, pepperoni and/or mushrooms. You always add cheese. Put it in the oven for a few minutes to soften the zucchini and melt the cheese and you’ve got a pretty tasty snack (or meal, depending on how many you have).

I didn’t make them because I wanted to make a few other things instead. After I had the gigantic zucchini out of the way, I went back to the garden to collect some more and made a Korean recipe called “Ehoba Pak Jon” (or “Hobak Jeon” or “Jun”), as well as zucchini bread and a Turkish recipe. I knew that my August recipe would involve zucchini, but I wasn’t sure which one to pick. (Does that count as a pun?) At one point, I toyed with giving you all three recipes, but things are always more interesting when you’re forced to choose.

Life is about choices, of course. Limits, of course.

So today I made “Peynirli Kabak” and that’s what I offer for August. The cookbook is called Mediterranean Cooking and it’s written by Paula Wolfert. It’s easy, but you need to be intentional about it, because doing it right means stopping at the grocery store to get the two cheeses involved: feta and Gruyère. The cheeses, tangy and flavourful, are the star in this recipe. The zucchini, if tender and appropriately small, will be soft and a pleasant background. I didn’t make the paprika butter, but if you want to give it a try, then I won’t stop you.

As for the amount of time needed under the broiler, I kept opening the oven door to check on it, and I think it worked out to about 6 minutes in total under the broiler.

Peynirli Kabak
Zucchini stuffed with cheese (Turkey)

You can prepare parts of this refined first course the day before, but don’t fill the shells until ready to set under the broiler to brown.

Serves 8 as a first course

4 zucchini, each about 4 1/2 inches long
1 cup feta cheese, rinsed, drained and crumbled
1/3 cup of Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
Bread crumbs
1 tablespoon paprika butter (see note)

1.Wash the zucchini. Drop into boiling salted water and cook at the simmer for 15 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and allow to cool.

2.Mix the cheeses with the flour, dill, garlic, pepper, and very little salt. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Arrange cut side up in a buttered, 9 by 12-inch ovenproof serving dish. Sprinkle the shells with pepper and very little salt. Fill with the cheese mixture. Dust lightly with bread crumbs and dot with butter. Glaze under a hot broiler until the cheese is sizzling. Dribble a tablespoon of paprika butter on top. Serve hot.

Note: To make paprika butter, melt 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon sharp paprika. Spoon off the clear red-hued butter and discard the butter sediment and the paprika.

Oh, it’s so good.

“Serves 8,” it says.

Ha ha ha.

. . . not if I get there first.


Post 262

A Recipe for July

So what do you like? Apricots, strawberries, peaches or plums? The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook tells you how to make fruit cobbler with nine different fresh fruits.

Here’s how you make the filling part:

Apricots: Take 1 3/4 pounds of apricots, halve and pit them and add 2 teaspoons of cornstarch, half to two-thirds of a cup of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/2 a teaspoon of almond extract.

Blackberries: Take 6 cups of blackberries, rinse them, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, 1/3 to 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Blueberries: Take 6 cups of blueberries, rinse them, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, 1/2 to 2/3 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

Cherries (sour): Take 1 3/4 pounds of fresh sour cherries, stem and pit them and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 2/3 to 3/4 cup of sugar and 2 teaspoons of almond extract and 1 tablespoon of kirsch (cherry brandy).

So alphabetically, the next one up is plums, but I think won’t go there because four choices is enough. You can always go online for more recipes if you want more.

Besides, you know what St. Hildegard of Bingen said about plums.

I always wondered, after hearing that plums were described as a fruit to avoid, what the deal was with plums. Aren’t all foods equally good?

Sure, sure.

Just ask Adam and Eve.

: )

Seriously, though, not all foods are good for all people at all times. We know human instances of this, but we also know biblical instances of this. It’s about context and about intention. Is there anything wrong with pork? Not really, but Tobit was right in refusing to eat it. How about ‘strong drink’? Again, it depends on the context. St. John the Baptist acted rightly in refusing that. It was revealed to St. Peter that all foods were fair game, but that does mean that, from then on, all foods are fine at all times?  Well, let’s see. You don’t have a full-on barbeque on Good Friday, do you?

So what about plums?

Ah, it’s complicated, as Shakespeare would say.

I figured it out about plums. If you are (or should be, due to your calling,) highly sensitive to the spiritual quality of various objects, in the sense that you are aware that this painting is inspired and that one with multiple heads is very much not, and in the sense that you are aware that this textile design is inspired and that freaky snaky one is very much not, and in the sense that you are aware that this lattice work is inspired and that one is very much not, then you might want a break when you turn to your food, and it might be best if maybe you do. It might be best to take a pass on the black fruit whose insides are golden but stained with red.

That’s all. It’s nothing weirder than that. Sure, all fruits are good, in the same way that almost everything in nature and most man made practical objects are good, given the right context and use.

Some people are just meant to avoid certain things which are fine for others. In the physical realm, little Pip might need to avoid cabbage, while little Estella might need to avoid caviar. The doctors and scientists are stumped as to why. Is the spiritual world more or less complicated that that? Does it not have its quirks and its mysteries? Indeed, it does, and you won’t catch WiseOne eating any lamb.

As for the reason for these spiritual quirks, at the risk of delaying this time-sensitive post past midnight Mountain Standard Time, let me explain.

It’s simple. It’s a test. How do you react upon hearing that such-and-such is off-limits for you, right now? How do you react upon realizing that eating this snack will jeopardize your pre-Mass fast? Are you looking forward to your Ash Wednesday ‘meal’? The Church regulations about food are minimal if you’re Catholic, and certainly they are nowhere near the modern in-vogue notions about cholesterol and omega-3 and anti-oxidants and fermented everything, but there are still a few hurdles. There are still a few times when a Wanna will battle a Mustn’t.

In the same way that you can see the caring of a mother who prepares special meals for her sensitive child, though it costs her extra time, money and effort, you can sometimes see the devotion that a person has for Christ in his dealings with food. Mind you, food is so often a very private matter, so you may not see or hear about a sacrifice like that. And indeed, hopefully you won’t be quite so vocal about all of your Lenten choices. Only God should know if you gave up that cup of coffee today and yesterday and the day before yesterday and you’re not counting, but . . . (An addictive drink is good because why again?) Only God should know if you skipped a meal just for him. My point is that our lives are full of choices, as they should be, and though it is true to say that all foods are good, one of the expressions of our love for God can be through our use or avoidance of food. It’s all about context and intention.

Okay, so let’s say you have the intention to make a dessert, but you’re undecided as to which one to choose.

Let me suggest:

Fruit Cobbler

Serves: 6 to 8 people
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes (includes 50 minutes baking and cooling time)

While the fruit is baking, prepare the ingredients for the topping, but do not stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until just before the fruit comes out of the oven. Baking a cobbler on a baking sheet helps to catch any juices that spill over, and lining it with foil makes cleanup a snap.

1 recipe fruit filling [see above for 4 examples]
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fruit filling in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Place the pie plate on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet and bake until the fruit begins to release liquid, 20 to 30 minutes.

2. While the fruit is baking, whisk the flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla together. In a third bowl, toss the cinnamon with the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar.

3. Once the fruit filling has begun to release liquid, gently stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula unti the dough is just combined and no dry pockets remain.

4. Remove the cobbler filling from the oven and stir. Pinch the biscuit dough into 8 equal pieces and place them on top of the hot filling, spaced 1/2 inch apart. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon sugar.

5.Remove the cobbler to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown on top and cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Let the cobbler cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before serving.

If you don’t have fresh fruit, this cookbook (America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook) tells me that you can use 2 pounds of frozen; you just have to remember to double the amount of cornstarch stated in the fresh-fruit version of the recipe. Preparation is a breeze because you don’t have to thaw the fruit before using it, as long as you increase the baking time in step one to 60 minutes.

And it also mentions that if you want to make this ahead of time, then you can bake it, cool it, wrap it in plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature. To reheat it, put it into a 350-degree oven until it’s warm, about 10 to 15 minutes.

There’s nothing like a warm fruit cobbler with vanilla ice cream.




Post 261

Right to Rewrite?
Reflections on a Revised Version of
The Merchant of Venice

If I say, “The other night, I went to a performance of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice,” then I am saying that 1) the play ‘belongs’ to Shakespeare and 2) the main character is probably the Merchant of Venice.

Prior to going to the play, I read it. When I read it, I saw that the main character was the Merchant of Venice. His name is Antonio, and he proves himself to be incredibly selfless and, for the most part, noble. He is obviously intended to be Christ-like in some of his attributes. We see this in the symbolism used and in his words and actions. He is willing to give anything to his friend, and he is the embodiment of the line from Scripture, being someone willing to give up his life for the sake of his friend. He has little to say during the trial, even though his own flesh is being demanded by his brutal and heartless enemy.

Antonio’s enemy is named Shylock. Shylock is utterly devoid of mercy. He has some good lines, but there is no doubt that Shakespeare intended us to understand that the Jewish Shylock has a black heart, set on money and revenge. Yet when Shylock must choose between money and revenge, he embraces revenge. We see this twice. First, we see that his hatred of Antonio is such that Shylock would prefer to personally do physical harm to Antonio (extract a pound of flesh near Antonio’s heart using his knife) than accept double or triple the payment of his debt. Second, we see that when Shylock’s own daughter elopes with a gentile, Shylock is more concerned that she has taken his jewels and money than he is with her well being. As a matter of fact, he wishes she were dead at his feet, with the jewels nearby.

At the end of the play, Shakespeare unites the three couples we have met. Each of these relationships needed to undergo some testing, but this is a comedy, which means happy endings for the good guys (and gals). As for the bad guy, we’ve seen his evil plan come to naught. This is Shakespeare’s version. It’s Shakespeare’s play.

However, what I saw the other night wasn’t Shakespeare’s play. I’ll say it was a pretty good play, but it wasn’t his play. (For the record, I’ll say I liked the costumes and the set. The casting choices were good, though I would’ve chosen differently for Antonio and Solanio shouldn’t have become Solania. John Wright was impressive as Shylock.)

The real play ends with a rhyming and rather silly poem from the rather silly Gratiano. It ends on a comic note, with all the happy people planning to stay up all night talking and laughing about everything that’s happened.

The play I saw didn’t end happily. It had been quite true to the script, but at the very end, it went in a different direction entirely. Two of the three romances fell apart and did not recover. The play ended by giving centre stage to a character named Jessica.

(Jessica is Shylock’s daughter. She has very few lines in the play, and, as a character, isn’t very important. We learn next to nothing about her as an individual. She defies her father, whom she does not respect, in eloping with Lorenzo, a Christian. That’s the main thing about her. She steals some of her father’s possessions on her way out the door and is embarrassed at her disguise, but that’s about it.)

When this version of the play ended, all the characters, other than Jessica, left the stage. Lorenzo left and so did the main character, the merchant of Venice. The lights dimmed, leaving a spotlight on Jessica, who sat down on the steps with her guitar. She sang. She’s got a nice voice and the song was poignant. La la la. The tree is alone. All the birds have flown.

The only thing is, this is not the way Shakespeare intended his story to end.

We see her father in the background. It’s night. He’s packing his bags. He’s a broken man, is the point. He’s sad. She’s sad. La la la.

Why are we focusing on these two? Why the change? We were supposed to see all the ‘good’ characters finally united without any threat to their happiness. Instead, our attention is directed here, to the merchant and his daughter. Shylock is alone, Jessica is alone and they’re sad and the play ends and the audience claps and leaves, a little bit sad.

The Money Lender of Venice and His Daughter?

Where’s Shakespeare? What would he think? Is this when he comes back from the dead and says “Wait, wait! It ends not thus! All ends well! All ends well!”

Is this when Blogger goes up on stage and says, “People! People, it’s not like this! It’s not supposed to go like this! There’s no sad song at the end! Jessica is happy at the end, and so is Lorenzo! People, Nerissa doesn’t storm off, leaving her husband dismayed! She’s happy and so is he! Happily ever after, times three!”

Ah. I think I’ll pass. No onstage time for me.

I’ll write instead. It’s what a blogger does. The page is my stage.

[Enter Blogger.]

The play is, on some level, a mess. Is there a character who is entirely clean? In his play, The Surprise, Chesterton wrote two versions of one story. The external circumstances are the same in each story, but in the first version, each person acts his best. Nobody commits a moral error. In the second version, everyone is a worse version of himself, choosing wrongly and reaping the consequences.

So I thought I’d give you a list, a list of everything that everyone does wrong in The Merchant of Venice. I’m not talking about innocent errors. I’m talking about sins.

I group them by role, since there are so many. Also, I make a note where it is unclear whether a sin has been committed or not.

Sometimes it’s clear that the person chose to be immoral. As in real life, most situations about right and wrong are pretty clear. They may not be easy situations, but they are clear. You don’t have to lie, cheat, steal and kill. True, circumstances are important, but we know that the end doesn’t justify the means. In other words, you might think that you have a good reason for lying, but that decision to lie is the first thing. For another example, if you call someone less than human, it doesn’t matter that you were provoked. The context is important, but the decision to choose those words is the key thing, and the context cannot absolve you completely. When, in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare has Bassanio encourage the judge “to do a great right, do a little wrong,” (IV,i) Shakespeare knows that it’s a flawed principle.

Nevertheless, there are other things which may appear to be sinful, but which are, in fact, fine. If Shylock says he hates someone, that is also not necessarily a sin, because one has very little control over whom he likes and dislikes. To dislike someone is not a sin. To intensely dislike, i.e., to hate someone, might not be a sin either, but of course it begins to get more culpable the greater the intensity. Also, to deliberately feed one’s dislike or hatred of someone is a sin. To fail to curb one’s desire to act on that dislike is, usually, a sin. In addition, hating someone because they are a member of a particular group, nation or religion, is sinful.

Criticisms or insults are very tricky, because it depends on the exact wording and on the motive of the speaker. Some sets of words are not saved by a good intention, whereas other words can be. Often the distinction comes down to whether the truth has been spoken. If I call you treacherous, that can be fine, if it’s true. If I call you dishonest, that can be fine, if it’s true. If I call you greedy, that can be fine, if it’s true. If I say something that you don’t want to hear, but which is nevertheless true, then the issue comes down to motive. For what reason do I say what I do? Do I say it to make you feel badly, or do I have another motive? It is simplistic to say, “Ah, here is something unpleasant to hear; the speaker is being mean.” It may be the Canadian way of evaluating right and wrong, but it’s not in fact the Christian way. As I’ve said more than once, ‘niceness’ isn’t the test of holiness. There are many Scriptural exhortations to say what is true; have we forgotten? The fact that we’ve lost our nerve to speak plainly or to challenge each other directly doesn’t mean that Scripture is wrong. Saying what you mean isn’t always mean.

To return to Shakespeare’s play, in more than a handful of cases, we just don’t have enough information about fact and intention to tell whether a sin has been committed. When, for example, Portia negatively describes her suitors, what is her intention? How does she feel towards them? I’ll mark those “IC” (It’s Complicated.)

So here we go. Alphabetical, shall we?

ANTONIO, the merchant of Venice
1. agreeing to a contract in which non-payment of debt by the due date gives Shylock the right to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh (I,iii)
2. spitting upon Shylock (referred to at I, iii)
3. being unrepentant for spitting upon Shylock, and saying he might do so again (I,iii)
4. calling Shylock a cutthroat dog (I,iii)
5. being unrepentant about calling Shylock a cutthroat dog (I,iii)
5. (According to Shylock): laughing at Shylock’s losses, scorning Shylock’s nation and hating Shylock on the basis of his nation (III,i)
6. making Shylock’s conversion to Christianity a condition to reduce Shylock’s monetary punishment – specifically, he says he will use Shylock’s money only during Shylock’s life, instead of having it absolutely if Shylock converts to Christianity (IV,i)
7. encouraging Bassanio to give away the ring, saying that it would be better to value the assistance of the judge and the love of Antonio over Bassanio’s wife’s command (IV,i)
8. swearing on his soul to Portia that Bassanio will never again intentionally break a vow that he has made (V,i)
9. (IC) minimizing the possibility that his ventures may fail, especially in light of what is at stake (I,iii)
10. (IC) according to Shylock, railing against Shylock for charging interest, even in public (I,iii)
11. (IC) according to Shylock, hating Judaism (I,iii)
12. (IC) calling Shylock a misbeliever (I,iii)
13. (IC) being unapologetic about calling Shylock a misbeliever (I,iii)
14. (IC) according to Shylock, calling Shylock an usurer (III,i)
15. (IC) according to Shylock, disgracing Shylock, hindering and thwarting his business, cooling his friends, heating his enemies (III,i)

BASSANIO, in love with Portia
1. indebting Antonio to Shylock, to the tune of three thousand ducats ($6,000 USD)
2. spending beyond his means in order to impress a woman (I,i)
3. participating in a lottery for marriage (III,ii)
4. referring to Shylock twice as a devil (IV,i)
5. giving away the ring he promised to keep his whole life (IV, i)

BELLARIO, a doctor of the law
1. writing a deceitful letter, full of lies, saying that Portia is a learned young man named Balthasar (IV,i)

JESSICA, daughter of Shylock
1. lying to her father when he asks what Launcelot said (II,v)
2. stealing two bags of double ducats and two rich and precious stones from her father (II,vi)
3. using a ring, given to her father by her mother before they were married, in order to purchase a monkey (III,i)

GRATIANO, friend of Antonio
1. saying to Shylock, “O be thou damned, inexecrable dog” (IV,i)
2. saying to Shylock that he is like a reincarnated wolf who had slaughtered people
3. wishing his wife were dead so that she could entreat someone in heaven to change Shylock (IV,i)
4. telling Shylock that he should beg for leave to hang himself and ridiculing Shylock’s new poverty (IV,i)
5. recommending a noose for Shylock (IV,i) and trying to dissuade Antonio from being merciful
6. talking about having additional godparents in order to bring Shylock to the gallows (IV,i)
6. giving away the ring he promised to keep his whole life (IV,i)
7. (IC) saying that the ring his wife gave him was of little worth (V,i)

LAUNCELOT, servant of Shylock and then Bassanio
1. attempting to trick his father by pretending that he was not Launcelot (II,ii)
2. telling his father that Launcelot was dead (II,ii)
3. attempting to read his future by studying his own palm (II,ii)
4. thinking that Shylock is an incarnation of the devil (II,ii)
5. saying that Shylock deserves a noose (II,ii)
6. saying that the conversion of Jewish people to Christianity is a bad thing for the reason that the price of pork would rise (III,v)
7. causing an unwed woman to conceive a child (III,v)
8. (IC) in playing stupid and playing with words when Lorenzo asks him to ensure that dinner is prepared (III,v)

LORENZO, suitor and then husband of Jessica
1. calling his wife a shrew, jokingly or not (IV,ii)

NERISSA, maidservant of Portia
1. agreeing to participate in a deceitful scheme (III,iv)
2. pretending to not know how Gratiano parted with the ring (V,i)
3. accusing Gratiano of giving the ring to a woman, when she knows that she was in disguise as a man (V,i)
4. saying that she shall be unfaithful to Gratiano if given the opportunity (V,i)
5. telling Gratiano that she will not sleep with him until she sees the ring, which she knows she has (V,i)
6. lying that she has slept with the doctor’s clerk

PORTIA, the heroine
1. agreeing to follow her father’s lottery scheme for marriage, abdicating her responsibility to choose a husband to the best of her ability (I,ii)
2. lying to Lorenzo about her plans (III,iv), saying that she plans to pray at a monastery while waiting
3. writing to her cousin Doctor Bellario and requesting that he write a false letter to the Duke, and requesting that he supply court garments to her so that she can appear to be someone she is not (III,iv)
4. saying, seriously or in jest, that she will deceive people with her boasts while costumed as a man (III,iv)
5. involving her maid, Nerissa, in a deceitful scheme (III,iv)
6. appearing dressed as a doctor of the laws, misleading by her appearance and speech (IV,i)
7. demanding that Bassanio give away the ring he promised to keep and taunting him when he doesn’t (IV,i)
8. pretending to not know that Bassanio gave away his ring, and then pretending to not know the circumstances (V,i)
9. telling Bassanio that she will not sleep with him until she sees the ring, which she knows she has (V,i)
10. accusing Bassanio of giving the ring to a woman, when she knows that she was in disguise as a man (V,i)
11. saying that she shall be unfaithful to Bassanio if given the opportunity (V,i)
12. accepting Antonio’s oath and giving the ring to Bassanio through Antonio (V,i)
13. saying that she has slept with the doctor (V,i)
14. scolding Gratiano for exclaiming about adultery when she was the one who created that impression (V,i)
15. (IC) criticizing the suitors (I,ii)

1. restricting his daughter’s marriage choice by requiring that she marry the suitor who chooses the correct treasure box
2. restricting the marriage choices of Portia’s suitors by requiring that they vow to never propose marriage to another if they fail in their bid for Portia

PRINCE OF ARRAGON, suitor of Portia
1. participating in a lottery for marriage (II,ix)

PRINCE OF MOROCCO, suitor of Portia
1. participating in a lottery for marriage (II,i)
2. believing that he ‘deserves’ Portia, as if anyone can ‘deserve’ another

SALERIO, friend of Antonio
1. (IC) calling Shylock a creature who bears the shape of a man (III,ii)

SHYLOCK, Jewish moneylender and enemy of Antonio
1. choosing to hate Antonio because: a) Antonio is Christian, b) Antonio lends out money and doesn’t charge interest, thereby lowering the interest rates in Venice (I,iii)
2. plotting to entrap Antonio in order to “feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him” (I,iii)
3. suggesting a contract in which forfeiture of debt gives Shylock the right to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh (I,iii)
4. (According to Launcelot): failing to provide proper food for his servant (II,ii)
5. being more concerned about his stolen ducats than his daughter (II,viii)
6. saying he would use Antonio’s flesh to bait fish (III,i)
7. saying, “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! Would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin!” (III,i)
8. thanking God for Antonio having the misfortune of losing his ship and becoming bankrupt (III,i)
9. plotting revenge against Antonio, “I’ll plague him; I’ll torture him.” (III,i)
10. plotting harm to Antonio “I will have the heart of him if he forfeit” (III,i)
11. calling Antonio the fool who lent out money without charging interest (III,ii)
12. swearing an oath that he shall have his bond, when the bond involves physical injury and potentially death to Antonio (III,iii)
13. swearing an oath “by our holy Sabbath” to collect Antonio’s flesh (IV,i)
14. (According to Jessica): swearing that he would rather have Antonio’s flesh than twenty times the value of the sum that he owed him (III,ii)
15. wishing harm upon the Duke’s charter and the freedom of Venice if he fails to obtain Antonio’s flesh (III,v)
16. referring to Antonio’s body as “carrion flesh” (IV,i)
17. refusing payment for his debt, and instead preferring Antonio’s flesh (IV,i)
18. (IC) saying, “What says that fool of Hagar’s offspring?” when speaking about Launcelot (II,v)
19. (IC) saying his daughter is damned for rebelling against him (III,i)
20. (IC) calling the jailer corrupt (“naughty”) (III,iii)

SOLANIO, friend of Antonio
1. suggesting that the devil could turn into a Jew (III,i)
2. saying that the devil was appearing as a Jew, referring to Shylock (III,i)
2. referring to Shylock as “the dog Jew” (II,viii)
3. addressing Shylock as “old carrion” (III,i)
4. calling Shylock the most impenetrable cur that ever kept with men (III,iii)

1. calling Shylock “an inhuman wretch” (III,v)
2. requiring Shylock’s conversion to Christianity in exchange for the pardon of his life (IV,i)

It’s quite the list, hey? If you were here, then I’d answer your questions about why such-and-such an item is on there, and what factors are aggravating ones and which factors are mitigating ones. As it is, I won’t do more than list the moral failures here.

So what are we to make of all this? It’s complicated, because, as I said, Shakespeare gives Antonio, the hero of the story, many Christ-like attributes, and uses symbolism which directly makes reference to the story of Christ’s suffering and death. However, Shakespeare wanted us to notice that Antonio is rash, in twice binding himself for the benefit of Bassanio, who isn’t the most sensible person in the world. The first time, he dismisses the risk that his ships might fail to come in, and, above Bassanio’s objection, agrees to make an unthinkable deal. (The deal is that he’ll pay with his own flesh the penalty of being overdue on the payment of a debt.) The second time, in case anybody missed it, Antonio swears that his friend Bassanio will never again break an oath to Portia, and accepts her ring on his behalf. It’s reckless, and Shakespeare did it on purpose to show us that Antonio hasn’t learned from his first mistake.

As for Shylock, he uses his religion as an excuse to be unmerciful. It was unnecessary to commit himself to revenge by means of an oath. Nobody required that he swear upon the Sabbath to obtain Antonio’s flesh if he is in a position to do so. The Jewish faith did not and does not require vengeance like this. Yet Shylock shrugs his shoulders and uses his oath as an excuse to justify his obsession with revenge. Someone should have told him that nobody is bound by an oath which is bad from the get-go.

The main difficulty that modern directors will have with The Merchant of Venice is the fact that the bad guy is Jewish. You can’t do the play well pretending Shylock is swell. He’s not. If he hates you, then he looks forward to maiming you. If there’s a risk of death, so much the better; Shylock is unhappy when the judge requests that a doctor stand by to give assistance. That’s what you call a creep. Compounding the problem is that Shylock uses his religion to justify his mercilessness, repeatedly reminding everyone that he’s sworn an oath to his faith.

Having said all that, is it not the case that there are evil people in the world, of all faiths and races? Is it the case that we cannot bear the thought of a script which portrays a non-Christian in the worst light? Let’s think this through. Are certain combinations not allowed? Where, then, is realism? Must we pretend that every person of indigenous background was upright and noble? Must we pretend that every Buddhist is peaceful and prayerful? Why?

To do the play as Shakespeare wrote it is to show that Shylock is evil. The fact that he is Jewish should not justify a rewriting of the play to change Shylock into a sympathetic character by means of sad music and a mournful added scene of him leaving his home. It’s not acceptable to rearrange the play so that both Jessica and Shylock are noticeably alone and sad.

The play is what it is. It’s a play where trickery is funny and is rewarded. It’s a play where the good guys do wrong things and get away with it and even benefit. Jessica steals her father’s jewels and spends them as she likes. The man who elopes with Shylock’s daughter and converts her will inherit Shylock’s estate. Everyone ridicules Shylock and nobody, other than Shylock, says it’s gone too far. It’s a play where jokes about adultery are supposed to be funny and almost everyone lies. The woman who dresses up as a judge receives praise from everyone for her sham trial, and she and her friends have a laugh at the end. Indeed, Portia is said to be virtuous, but she scares me more than any other character, as she drags her maid-servant into imitating her worst behaviours, convinces the doctor of the law to be dishonest, and tempts Bassanio into breaking his promise. She blames her father for his post-death control over her, but she certainly seems to relish pulling strings herself. When she feels herself to be in the driver’s seat, she plays little cat-and-mouse games while everyone around her agonizes. Instead of taking the first opportunity to reveal the truth, she draws things out.

There is no sober voice in this play. Even the learned doctor of the law, stationed in Padua, lends out his robes and writes a false letter in order to dupe the Duke, Shylock, Antonio, and everyone in Venice. The Duke also falls short, and seems to defer excessively to the wishes of Antonio. When Antonio suggests altering the monetary component of the punishment if Shylock converts to Christianity, the Duke goes even further, and says that if Shylock fails to convert, then the Duke will reverse his pardon. The pardon had the effect of sparing Shylock’s life. This last aspect is the most disturbing detail of all. Freedom of religion is everything because it relates to one’s soul so directly. To force anyone, especially on pain of death, to either take on a religion or relinquish one is an affront to human dignity, and violates, entirely, the spirit of Christianity.

Religion is not something to be imposed against one’s will.

Shakespeare’s play is, at the end of the day, a disappointment, sending mixed messages about doing the wrong thing in order to do the right thing. It’s a play where trickery is applauded and where the good guys are arguably more underhanded than the bad. The people who are in charge make things worse, not better.

The play is something like Lewis Carroll’s nightmarish Queen of Hearts scenario. Portia is the queen, and she pulls all the strings. Yet the format is a comedy, and so we are meant to understand that her interventions have been positive. The men have been suitably chastised, the romances will proceed, the selfless merchant has been spared, the selfish Jewish moneylender will no longer be in a position to abuse by lending, the merciless Jewish villain will convert to a more merciful religion and all the good guys will have enough money. Some of Antonio’s ships turn out to be safe and sound, as Portia can prove. Portia and her sidekick are compared to God, raining down manna. As Lorenzo says at the end of the play, “Fair ladies, you drop manna in the way / Of starvèd people.”


The play has, of course, its good parts, and the distinction between “flesh” on the one hand and “blood” on the other, is a very Catholic one, as every Mass we celebrate repeats the distinction. It’s interesting and the importance of the distinction between these words would have been the very seed of the play in Shakespeare’s mind.

As for other parts that I like, I like what Antonio says here at I,iii, 94:

Mark you this, Bassanio,
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart,
O what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

And I like the inscription on the box of lead, as a description of marriage.  The inscription says, “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” (II, vii)

I like the challenge to the concept of ‘deserving,’ and of course the discussion of mercy (IV,i) is great. And of course, who can dislike Shylock’s compelling speech at the beginning of Act III? “. . . I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? . . . ” It’s a gem.

Gratiano’s dismissive description of the ring is also masterful, but in a different way. Gratiano gets things so thoroughly wrong, in missing the power of the “hoop of gold, a paltry ring / That she did give me.” That he finally grasps, at the close of the play, that “Well, while I live I’ll fear no other thing / So sore as keeping safe Nerissa’s ring” is the signal to the audience that things are going to work out all right after all.

And this last point brings me to the last point of the play I saw on Saturday night. The Merchant of Venice is supposed to end on a happy note, and even if I agree that the play is unsatisfying in failing to correct the injustices and in almost ‘blessing’ wrongdoing, I disagree with rewriting the play to change the outcome of key events and changing the mood of the ending.

I have my own issues with the play, having to do with the portrayal of right and wrong, and having to do with the portrayal of the imposition of Christianity as depicted by Shakespeare, among other things.

Nevertheless, one cannot alter significant aspects of the play without rewriting it, and that’s not right either. It is not right to take the creative work of someone else but then mess with it in the parts where it doesn’t say what you want to say. Take it or leave it. If you want to say something different from what the original writer said, then write your own play.

I have heard that The Merchant of Venice has been used by those with an anti-Semitic agenda as a way of furthering their goals. In order to do this, they must distort the play, because the play is complex. No character really comes off completely well, and Shakespeare’s eloquent passage about the equal dignity of all is perhaps the most memorable part of the play.

Those who alter the play to promote anti-Semitic views do a disservice to Shakespeare and art in general, but I do not limit my criticism to those who use the play in that way. Any director who knowingly rewrites someone else’s play to make it correspond with their own views is on thin ice. It is the job of a director to refuse to alter someone else’s voice to match their own. The fact that copyright doesn’t apply does not mean that the writer’s voice can be set aside.

This should be obvious.

After all, it was William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. If you think it is a worthy story, then present it well. Keep the integrity of the story and the moods.

If you are opposed to the story, and think it unworthy of being shown for this reason or that, then don’t show it. Lay it aside. Don’t distort it and present your own version.

Find another Shakespearian play to present or find another tale altogether. Run it at the Fringe. Let the main character be a humble and selfless Jewish man and his family. (It’ll be set in the 8th century B.C. but the critic will say it’s a Christian story.) Express your own views through your own characters.

Not up for the task? Then how about something simpler? Put together a short story. Write it this weekend and revise it over the course of a month. (You can do better than what is currently being served up for Canadian youth: pointless, disturbing and bleak.)

Still too much? Then how about a poem? Free verse – irregular lines and irregular beat. Barely any punctuation; won’t it be neat?

Say what you think. Make it real and make it your own. Don’t be afraid.

If you want to write, write.

Ignore the lies that say what you write won’t be any good. Begin. Once you’re done, ignore the lies that say what you have written isn’t any good. Such lies are inevitable. You needn’t write for anyone beyond yourself. Write because you want to record what you felt or thought.

Don’t worry about your audience. Sharing is a secondary consideration, always. It is commonly said that the first consideration is your audience, but this can be dangerous and distracting. If you begin with “what do people want me to write?” then you will wind up somewhere bland or weird. Your voice is unique, and to be original, you must think of yourself as the main audience for your writing.

Write as you feel led
Do your best.
Pray it’s good and
Hope that nobody will
Rewrite what you’ve said.

[Exit Blogger]


Post 260

A Post that Roams and a Recipe for June

I suppose I should really be giving these recipes at the beginning of the month. This is the recipe for June, but I’m sitting down to write it out at 7:33 p.m. on June 30th. If June had 31 days, then I’d probably be sitting down to write this tomorrow.

As it is, however, tomorrow is not June 31, but July 1st. Tomorrow is Canada Day and it’s a bigger deal than usual this year because it’s Canada’s 150th birthday. To its credit, Canada didn’t begin via war or revolution. Our start was Confederation, and it’s a bit-by-bit story that probably felt really exciting if you were a politician or a businessman hoping to get some of the money that would be flowing to build the railway.

There are a lot more Canadian flags up than usual around town, and some people have even attached hardware to their homes in order to put up the flag. It’s kind of neat.

I’m not a fan of the specially-made flag, which was created to commemorate the 150th. It’s red with a multi-coloured version of the leaf. The first time I saw it, I thought it was some kind of sporting event logo. Are we hosting another curling event? Lacrosse? Softball? My view is that there’s no need to start again with a new flag when we’ve got a perfectly good one already. Besides, the regular flag won’t be out of date when this party’s over. It’s a classic.

So what have you been up to today?

I was gardening again. It was a big day for it actually – a couple of hours of weeding and a couple of hours of planting new things. Things are looking nice. I’m doing a mix of vegetables and flowers in my garden boxes, some from seed or bulb and some not. The large semi-circle garden is for perennials — a mix of roses, daylilies and several other things, such as bellflowers, hydrangea and even clematis. I’m not sure how I feel about clematis. They’re on probation.

The weather’s been hot, so daily watering is necessary even though we’ve had some good rains. Watering is enjoyable because you get to look at everything again. I coiled the hose up nicely when I was done, just for the record.

Hmm. What else? Errands included a trip to Goodwill to donate some clothing, a trip to Home Depot for lightbulbs and a little pot of pink petunias (to fill an empty spot), and a stop at the tailors. The tailor always wants to know what I’m up to. It’s always casual, but it’s there. As I left, she was checking out my shoes. (They’re espadrille wedges, bought online.)

Yeah, that’s what I find. Some people really want to know what projects I’ve got going, but almost nothing else, and other people are frightened that I might tell them what projects I’ve got going. They’d rather hear about anything else. Strange.

Anyway, today she wanted to know what I’ve got planned for the Canada Day weekend. She’s going camping.

I’m not, thank God.

I’ve got fresh sheets on my bed and ready access to clean water, both hot and cold. I’ve got sandwich fixings in the fridge, Revellos in the freezer and food growing in the garden. You don’t have to convince me that Shelter is a good thing. I like being able to go inside when it gets cold or hot or windy or buggy. I’ve never been a fan of pretending I need to survive the elements.

Animals, on the other hand, do tend to live outdoors. They don’t seem to mind it, and you might say that they seem to prefer it. They don’t even have campers with mini stoves and mini fridges. No tents, even.

It’s true. I saw bison the other day. I stopped off at Elk Island National Park and there they were. They didn’t have anything. No sunscreen, no shades. They just stood there in their fur coats. They swished their tails and looked like they had really No Plans.

Nobody was making supper and there was not a plastic fork to be seen. Instead, grass abounded.

Consider: dinner everywhere. What’s for dinner? You’re standing on it.

I was on my way home from Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. You know, I really wanted to like it. I had heard good things and I really felt it was worth going to see. I was proud of myself for finally heading there, and I paid the admission price with high hopes. Soon I’ll be seeing a friend from Europe, and I was wondering if this tourist attraction would be worthy of inclusion on the schedule.

It’s been a few days since I was there, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on the problem. How could it be changed to make it better?

I think that one of the biggest problems is that the people who are stationed in various buildings throughout the Village have been instructed to pretend that they are villagers from the past. The website says, “Costumed role-players recreate the life of early Ukrainian pioneers that settled in east central Alberta from 1892-1930.” Sadly, it doesn’t work.

Let me explain. You walk into a building, and the woman tells you, in a fake English accent, that the constable is away. You walk into a building, and the woman says to you, “Are you looking for Olena and Borysko?”

No, I’m not. You know I’m not, and I know that you know I’m not.

At this point, you have a few choices. One choice is to be a good sport and ‘play along,’ saying, “Ah yes, I am looking for them; where have they gone? I badly wanted to borrow some eggs because I need them for my recipe and the fox killed all my hens.” A second choice is to ignore the fact that she just asked you a nonsensical question and instead ask her something that she can answer within the alternate universe that she’s creating now. In this alternate universe, she was born a long time ago, and she lives in this village. In this alternate universe, you are apparently looking for Olena and Borysko, which means that you were also born a long time ago.

Any questions?

Here’s one. Does the typical tourist want to pretend to be looking for Olena and Borysko? Here’s my guess. My guess is: no. The typical tourist is, generally, wanting to see things, with very little personal expenditure of effort. The typical tourist goes to observe, almost all of the time, not to participate. The typical tourist doesn’t want to play improv games. If you go to a show, and the person on stage asks for volunteers, what percentage of people raise their hands? People do not, generally, enjoy being part of the show.

Thankfully, the churches on site were game-free zones, and the hosts did not pretend to be anything other than the individuals that they were. You could carry on a normal conversation with them. They were a sane refuge from the rest of the village.

I don’t know if I’ll ever return, but I know that I won’t be bringing my friend there. Instead we’ll go to Elk Island National Park.

We’ll check out the bison. You know – see what they’re doing. I think I know what we’ll see.

This little bison will be running the food processor until the salmon is finely minced but not pureed.
This little bison will be trying to shape the mixture into little round patties, roughly 2 1/2 inches wide.
This little bison will be dredging the patties into flour, dipping them into egg and coating them with breadcrumbs.
This little bison will be freaking out because the patties are hard to handle with hooves. Aaand . . .
This little bison will be cooking them until they are golden on both sides.

Making these patties are a bit of an adventure, but they are so incredibly good. They’re just lightly crunchy on the outside and perfectly delicious on the inside. If you haven’t had homemade salmon fish cakes made with fresh salmon, then perhaps now is the time.

Here it is, from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

Pan-Fried Salmon Cakes

Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes (includes 15 minutes chilling time)

A wedge of lemon is the simplest accompaniment to these salmon cakes, but any one of the sauces on page 673 will also taste great. If you don’t have a 12-inch skillet, cook the salmon cakes in batches.

1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets, skin removed
1 1/4 cups plain dried breadcrumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise [I make mine using homemade mayonnaise, but that’s just me finding it difficult to defy the last murmurs of the Weston A. Price voices.]
1/4 cup grated onion [essential!]
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Lemon wedges (for serving)

1. Remove any pin bones from the salmon. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels, then cut into 1-inch chunks. Carefully pulse half the salmon in a food processor until finely minced but not pureed, about 4 pulses. Transfer the salmon to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining salmon.

2. Gently stir 1/4 cup of the breadcrumbs, the mayonnaise, onion, parsley, lemon juice, and salt into the salmon to form a cohesive mixture. Form the mixture into 8 patties, roughly 2 1/2 inches wide. Lay the patties on two plates lined with plastic wrap. Freeze, uncovered, until the patties feel firm, about 15 minutes.

3. Spread the flour, eggs, and remaining 1 cup breadcrumbs in three separate shallow dishes. Working with one patty at a time, dredge through the flour, dip into the egg, then coat with the breadcrumbs. Press on the breadcrumbs to make sure they adhere to the fish. Lay the breaded patties on a clean plate.

4. Heat the oil in a 12-inch non-stick [I don’t have non-stick; the recipe can be done in a normal pan] over medium-high heat until shimmering. Gently lay all the salmon patties in the skillet and cook until golden on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes. Let the cakes drain briefly on paper towels before serving with the lemon wedges.

Post 259

Celestial: Reflections on Corpus Christi

Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Quantum potes, tantum aude:
Quia major omni laude,
Nec laudáre súfficis.

Laudis thema speciális,
Panis vivus et vitális,
Hódie propónitur.

Quem in sacræ mensa cœnæ,
Turbæ fratrum duodénæ
Datum non ambígitur.

Sit laus plena, sit sonóra,
Sit jucúnda, sit decóra
Mentis jubilátio.

Dies enim solémnis ágitur,
In qua mensæ prima recólitur
Hujus institútio.

In hac mensa novi Regis,
Novum Pascha novæ legis,
Phase vetus términat.

Vetustátem nóvitas,
Umbram fugat véritas,
Noctem lux elíminat.

Quod in cœna Christus gessit,
Faciéndum hoc expréssit
In sui memóriam.

Docti sacris institútis,
Panem, vinum, in salútis
Consecrámus hóstiam.

Dogma datur Christiánis,
Quod in carnem transit panis,
Et vinum in sánguinem.

Quod non capis, quod non vides,
Animósa firmat fides,
Præter rerum ordinem.

Sub divérsis speciébus,
Signis tantum, et non rebus,
Latent res exímiæ.

Caro cibus, sanguis potus:
Manet tamen Christus totus,
Sub utráque spécie.

A suménte non concísus,
Non confráctus, non divísus:
Integer accípitur.

Sumit unus, sumunt mille:
Quantum isti, tantum ille:
Nec sumptus consúmitur.

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inæquáli,
Vitæ vel intéritus.

Mors est malis, vita bonis:
Vide paris sumptiónis
Quam sit dispar éxitus.

Fracto demum Sacraménto,
Ne vacílles, sed memento,
Tantum esse sub fragménto,
Quantum toto tégitur.

Nulla rei fit scissúra:
Signi tantum fit fractúra:
Qua nec status nec statúra
Signáti minúitur.

Ecce panis Angelórum,
Factus cibus viatórum:
Vere panis filiórum,
Non mitténdus cánibus.

In figúris præsignátur,
Cum Isaac immolátur:
Agnus paschæ deputátur
Datur manna pátribus.

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserére:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuére:
Tu nos bona fac vidére
In terra vivéntium.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales:
Qui nos pascis hic mortáles:
Tuos ibi commensáles,
Cohærédes et sodáles,
Fac sanctórum cívium.
Amen. Allelúja.

It isn’t often that you’ll hear a Sequence sung at Mass, but this Sunday is the feast of Corpus Christi (= “Body of Christ”), and so after the second reading, instead of standing for the Gospel reading, you’ll first hear a Sequence being sung. The above words were composed by St. Thomas Aquinas more than 750 years ago. (Isn’t that neat? Catholicism preserves the inspired work across centuries, so that new generations can enjoy it afresh). He wrote them in Latin, but if you don’t know Latin, then hopefully you’ll hear the English version on Sunday. (Latin is beautiful, of course, but comprehension is better, of course.)

It’s sometimes called the “Lauda Sion” or “Lauda Zion.” Here are the first three lines again:

Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Here’s one translation of those first three lines. It’s a non-literal translation, partly to make it rhyme in English.

Sing forth, O Zion, sweetly sing
The praises of thy Shepherd-King,
In hymns and canticles divine;

Here’s another:

Sion, lift up thy voice and sing:
Praise thy Savior and thy King,
Praise with hymns thy shepherd true.

And here’s another, from the Lectionary for Australia and New Zealand. It is by James Aylward (1813-1872):

Zion, thy redeemer praising
Songs of joy to him upraising
Laud thy pastor and thy guide;

Putting the sequence into the sequence we’d use with modern English diction, would give a result something like this:

“Sing, Sion! Praise your Savior. Praise your leader and shepherd with hymns and songs.”

The name “Zion” appears in the Old Testament and referred to a geographical location, but you’ll hear “Sion” referred to by the Catholic Church sometimes, and you can take it as a reference to God’s kingdom as led by Christ. So when we hear the invitation to sing, then we can understand that it is directed at us.

The next lines, in Latin, are: Quantum potes, tantum aude: / Quia major omni laude / Nec laudáre súfficis. One translation is this: “All thou canst, do thou endeavour / Yet thy praise can equal never / Such as merits thy great King.” The Australian translation is: “Swell thy notes most high and daring / For his praise is past declaring / And thy loftiest power beside.” I prefer the first translation because I think that in prose, it would be something like: “Dare, to the best of your ability, to do what you can, because (He is) above all praise. No praise is enough.”

“Laudis thema speciális / Panis vivus et vitális / Hódie propónitur,” appears in English as “Today no theme of common praise / Forms the sweet burden of thy lays – / The living, life-dispensing food –” or “See today before us laid / The living and life-giving Bread / Theme for praise and joy profound” but could be written as “Today we present a special theme of praise: Bread, living and vital.”

These lines form the introduction. St. Thomas Aquinas was asked to write this Sequence, along with other parts of the Mass, specifically for the Feast of Corpus Christi (by Pope Urban IV), and so that’s why it fits so perfectly.

What I find rather amusing is how much theological content it has. Instead of lots of rhymes for the sake of rhyming, you can count on the good doctor to give us a catechism class in itself. Aquinas doesn’t do fluff. So it’s long, but when you consider what it teaches, you have to admit that this big saint is very efficient with his words, not to mention inspired. In 288 rhyming and perfectly ordered Latin words, he presents, among other things, foundational principles relating to the Eucharist:

  1. Christ instituted it.
  2. The bread changes into the Body of Christ and the wine changes into the blood of Christ. It is dogma, and although it cannot be understood or seen, the faith confirms this.
  3. The whole of Christ is received, when one receives the Body or the Blood
  4. No matter how the Body and Blood are divided, Christ is not divided or diminished, and each person receives the whole amount in even a fragment or portion of the Eucharist.
  5. That although both good people and evil people receive it in the same way, the results are completely different.

For most of Christianity’s 2000 years, being Christian meant that you believed Christ meant what he said when he said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Being Christian meant that you knew that Jesus was claiming that he was able to defy all the rules of human logic and science and past experience in order to create a new way to be with human beings and to change them.

When St. Aquinas wrote this Sequence, there was no such thing as Protestantism. There was no such thing as a Sunday service which reenacted the Last Supper by pouring grape juice into hygenic and disposable mini cups.

You always got the Real Thing. Real wine was changed into Christ himself. Real bread was changed into Christ himself.

It was done for hundreds upon hundreds of years, and it all began at the Last Supper, which we could say was the First Supper, being the first time that bread and wine were much more. The last shall be first, indeed!

Nevertheless, wherever you have had the Eucharist, or mention of it, you have had doubters and haters.

As proof of this, you’ll notice that the reading for Corpus Christi this year doesn’t bring us to the Last Supper, to the institution of the Eucharist. Instead, it brings us to the time Jesus spoke about the truth that was to be. The gentle Jesus was describing what he would soon be offering, and the response was one of incredulity and negativity. They were scoffing at the best gift that would be given. The Trinity itself comes to you, and you’re not even in Heaven.

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.

There are other Gospel passages which show that some of his disciples left him. Some of those who had followed him when everything was easy and pleasant decided to be done with him. Why? Well, he didn’t say what they wanted to hear.

He challenged their human understanding with something which sounded bizarre.

Who talks like this? They dismissed him because he no longer fit into the box that they had made for him.

Miracles to watch, interesting stories to hear, multiplied loaves and fish? Sure! We’re in! Bizarre words? Not so much.

The fact that what Jesus said was a cause for controversy shows us that it was a big deal from the beginning. It sounded strange because it was strange. It still sounds strange, because it still is strange.

Jesus wasn’t talking symbolically. Symbols can be explained. Go ahead and explain your paper cups filled with grape juice. As for this chalice filled with Blood, well, even a saint as big as St. Thomas Aquinas can’t explain it all. It’s a mystery and he must acknowledge that this miracle of miracles “baffles nature’s powers of sense and sight.”

Miracles and the truth just sit there, staring you in the face, watching what you do.

So Jesus didn’t alter his words. He didn’t alter his words to suit his listener, to soothe his listener when his listener felt discomfort. No. It was the listener who needed to change. The listener must enlarge himself to accept the Truth. It’s a choice.

When Jesus saw that some of his disciples were abandoning him, he didn’t reword or ‘reframe’ what he had said.  What he had said did not need alteration.  Instead, he asked his apostles whether they too, would leave. What a moment of sorrow! He didn’t know whether those closest to him could handle everything about him. Would they leave too? He asked because he wanted to know. His apostles had to decide; it was all in their hands and Jesus would not spin his words to avoid a painful parting. He had already spoken what was true, and it was now time for his followers to decide whether they could accept Him.

You see? What Jesus was saying was astonishing and disturbing. It was weird. It made no sense.

And indeed, the Eucharist defies our five senses, because here we notice that the Bread looks like bread, feels like bread and tastes like bread. The Wine looks and smells and tastes like wine. How can something have all the external qualities of something and yet be something entirely different?

I show you an ordinary wicker basket, and I say to you, “Do you see this basket, which looks and feels like a basket? Well, it is not a basket. It has all the qualities (the ‘accidents’ if you want to use the terminology) that a basket should have, but it is in fact (in its essence) a candle, and this candle is shining its invisible light upon you and the whole room.”

You would conclude that I was either completely confused or messing with you.

Do I mess with you?


Celestial Now

I’ll tell you what the sun looks like

The sun becomes larger and
extra bright

With precision
I’ll write

The inside
Is white

The outside
Is a soft and pleasing pulsing mix
What is it?
Pinks and blues and yellow?

The rim
The boundary
Is thin

The rim
Is silver and flashing
Whirring quick

Can you follow it?

What does it mean?
Why me?
I know

You wouldn’t want to believe me if I told you
I know
So I won’t

I’ll tell you what the sun looks like

Believe me
Sometimes the sun looks like

The Eucharist

Post 258

A Recipe for May

Manicotti is yummy. It sounds and looks impressive, but it’s not very complicated. (I am assuming, of course, that you’re not making your own pasta or milking your own cow to make the cheese.)

As a matter of fact, after making it a few times, you can do it pretty quickly. You make the filling, put it into the cooked pasta tubes and then arrange the tubes on a dish with some sauce on top. Then you put it in the oven. As for the actual filling part, there are a few ways to approach it. I don’t recommend buying any kind of kitchen equipment to do it, though probably there is such a thing. You can get by with using a little ziploc bag with one corner snipped off. That’s the method recommended in my cookbook. (“Spoon the filling into a zipper-lock bag, cut a hole in the corner of the bag, and squeeze gently from the top to pipe out the filling.”) I’ve done that before, but you can also use a combination of spoon and fingers to push the filling into place. You could, I suppose, even slice the manicotti lengthwise on purpose, fill it and then place them into the baking dish seam-side down. Whatever you do, the end result will be scrumptious.

This one is from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, 2010 edition:

Cheesy Baked Manicotti

Serves: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour (includes 30 minutes baking and cooling time)

When buying manicotti, examine the package to make sure the noodles aren’t broken or cracked. Any type of tomato sauce will work here, including your favorite jarred brand. You can substitute a 12-ounce box of jumbo pasta shells for the manicotti.

12 manicotti (8 ounces)
22 ounces ricotta cheese (2 3/4 cups)
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
3 ounces mozzarella, shredded (3/4 cup)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
4 cups tomato sauce (see note above)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for the pasta. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the manicotti. Cook, stirring often, until the manicotti is almost tender but still a little firm to the bite. Drain the manicotti, spread the tubes out over a baking sheet, and let cool.

2. Meanwhile, mix together the ricotta, 1 cup of the Parmesan, the mozzarella, egg, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

3. Following the photos, squeeze about 5 tablespoons of filling into each manicotti tube (or spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into each shell). Arrange the filled pasta in an oiled 9 by 13-inch baking dish.

4. Pour the tomato sauce over the filled pasta. Wrap the dish tightly in foil and bake until the sauce is bubbling around the edges and the ricotta filling is hot, about 25 minutes.

5. Let cool for 5 minutes, then sprinkle with the parsley and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.

To Make Ahead
Assemble the casserole as directed through step 3. Wrap the dish tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Allow the manicotti to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding with step 4.


Post 257

Cubits Upon Cubits

Noah pondered the message that he had heard.
Death of flesh, an end to corruption and violence.
A boat to be built, cubits upon cubits.

A covenant. A flood.

Noah pondered the meaning of it all, and he imagined.
He imagined all the people he would save.
Had this not been his prayer, once?
Had he not prayed for a boat large enough to take
Everyone he knew
To the Lord?
Indeed, he had.

That, however, was a metaphor, and this,
Well, this
Was not.

This was cubits upon cubits, animals and food.
He imagined all the people that would fit
In such a ship.
He knew many people.
He imagined it would be
Rather like
A party.

He knew that his own family
Would be safe,
Along with Mr Bull and Mrs Cow

But he was quite convinced
That others, though unmentioned, would naturally be there
Out on the water.

Cubits upon cubits.

Noah started building.
His friends pretended
Not to notice.
He was amazed and utterly stunned.
Not to notice
This enormous thing?

Noah kept on building.
Finally, someone appeared.
At last! Good old friend!
(We’ll play cards when we’re on board.)
Greetings and blessings to you and yours!
So much for that.

Cubits upon cubits.
Noah didn’t stop.
Where was everyone?
Eyes averted. Strangers now.
Who were these people?
They were unchanged, but now Noah
Saw their hearts.

He kept building.
Cubits upon cubits.
Is it for real?

Did the Lord really say?
How did it go?
Animals, food, a flood and a covenant.
Animals, food, a flood and a covenant.
His sons, their wives, his wife but
Come to think of it,
Nothing more.

The Lord spoke again. It was time.
His family gathered.
With them were the animal kinds.

They closed the door upon the world they knew
And here we ask,
Who appeared as prisoners
When really free?
In any case
One week of nothing was
An eternity.

But the boat
in all its Mass
Was soon afloat.

Noah marvelled at the ark and at floating in the sea
Above his earthly abode.
Noah praised the Lord for poetry and beauty and justice and family.

As for friends,
He remembered them.
He remembered everything.

He remembered what had been said and what had been done
And he had
No regrets
For himself.
What he had
Was regrets
For them.

The smooth surface of the water
Hid many secrets
And many misdeeds.

Noah remembered.
The thing that pained him most
Was the memory of the laughter

The jokes about the beards and flying fruit, about tattoos and magic mushrooms and the Tabasco sauce cure. The jokes about the feet in the air and the wide bicycle chair. The jokes about the aunt stuck in the dirt and the dogs splattered on the windshield. Too many to count.

Memories upon memories, cubits upon cubits

The barbeque in the backyard the dinners at the restaurant and one last royal party. The photographs taken everywhere and the music playing loudly. Conversations about every moving thing and theories and analogies and good-natured chatter. Or so it seemed.

Past now

The water was still
It contained everything
And nothing

Noah now had nothing and everything
For he had everything worth having
In the whole wide world

He had his Lord
He had his family
And he had his dog.