Lent 2013 Challenge Days 24-26: Lo, How the Mighty Have Fallen

If you want to tempt someone to failure, here are some helpful phrases:

  • I could never do that.
  • I don’t know how you do it.
  • I am in awe.
  • I tried to do what you’re doing, but I just couldn’t.
  • I can’t do that. That’s too difficult.

I am confident that the people who say these sorts of things mean really, really well. The problem is that these phrases are isolating. They push away the people who need encouragement far more than they need the top of a lonely pedestal.

Phrases like these imply that there must be something special about the person doing whatever it is that they’re doing. Not use birth control? I could never do that. Have more than two kids? I don’t know how you do it. Stay Catholic when even the priests sin? I tried doing that, but I just couldn’t. Deny very real sexual urges here and now in the hopes of eternal life? I can’t do that. That’s too difficult.

See what I mean yet? Normal people can’t do any of those things. There must be something special about you. I could never be special like you.

So when really sweet, really well-meaning people gave me several of the phrases from the list above, I wavered. A lot. I’m not as special as these people seem to think I am, so I need to stop kidding myself that I can do this Lenten Challenge. I need to get my kids McDonald’s on a busy Friday, because I’m not special enough to feed them yet another dinner out of yet another Thermos. If I’m at a wedding and they give me the chicken instead of the vegetarian dish, I’m not special enough to ask them to take it back.

Or am I? It’s scary to think that I might be. Because that would make my life even harder than it already is.

You know what? It’s probably scary for you to think that you might be that special, too. If you are, that means… you might have to try harder. And you’re probably already trying so very, VERY HARD!  So what do you DO?!?


Do you really believe Philippians 4:13? If not, spend some time with Romans 12: 2. God doesn’t want other people’s definition of “normal” to limit how much you let His light shine through the stained glass of your actions.

And that has been my lesson in falling this Lent.  This picture has been a bit of a comfort:





Two for Others Tuesday: A Thursday Edition

Serve others in Christ's name

The Love Project:  There is so much ugly conflict out there in the ether, so much delight in what is wrong.  If you’re looking for a way to rejoice some more in the truth, take a look at The Love Project.  What started as one blogger’s (that blogger being Heidi Hess Saxton) New Year’s resolution has become my personal way of taking a moment each day to think with more charity.  Heidi is taking a Catholic look at all the charitable kinds of love, both humans and divine.  The posts are efficient in their brevity and often end with a challenge for you to carry with you through the rest of the day.

Have altar, will travel:  The Travel Altar is an adorable idea.  I met the Travel Altar ladies on my airport/hotel shuttle ride at CMN.  It’s a little trifold card, kind of like a paper triptych, into which you can slide three of your favorite holy cards.  It’s a great way to organize your holy cards and keep them rotating, especially if you’re a “collect ’em all” sort but don’t have a practical means of displaying them all at once.  Now with the Travel Altar, you don’t have to.

Easter Rising

I feel like I don’t know where to begin with this one.  It’s our Easter post after successfully meeting the Lent 2012 Challenge.  I had sausage pizza and soda today, wine with dinner, and a lot to think about since Mass yesterday.  The homily was about how we can either choose to find the Risen Christ, or we can keep looking at the tomb, keep saying, “They’ve taken Him and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.”  We can believe in transformative living, or we can believe that nothing will ever change, especially not that which inside of ourselves seems dead. 

I’ve been trying to practice searching for Him instead of staring at the empty tomb.  Instead of thinking that I’ll never have the time or energy or willpower to live the life I want to offer to Christ, I have been looking for new life–His life, hiding in the garden.  It’s not hard to find right now, in Spring.  He’s in the garden of the silly giggles of my youngest.  He’s in the garden of my husband’s determination to power through a day of work and a night of yet more work while battling a sore throat.  He’s in the garden of creativity that my older kids display when performing a well-rehearsed “Easter show” in our basement (it was mostly special effects–pretty awesome). He’s in the trees that bloom along the highway.  He’s in the Eucharist I can hide within myself as strive to carry it to others. 

I had better not be a tomb.  I had better be a garden. 

Speaking of people who are gardens and rise again in our own lives, my best friend from college shared with us her mom’s recipe for pineapple filling.  She gave this to us years ago, shortly before her mom was diagnosed with the brain tumor that eventually passed her from this life to the next.  This recipe has since become an Easter favorite.  Please enjoy it and remember to pray for those souls who are in God’s purifying care. 

Peg’s Pineapple Filling

12 slices of white bread
1 large can of crushed pineapple, undrained
1/2 c butter (veganize with margarine)
1/2 c sugar
4 eggs

Coat a 9X11 baking pan with cooking spray, and preheat your oven to 350F (or you can cook this alongside your ham, as we usually do).  Cut bread into cubes.  In a large bowl, mix remaining ingredients and fold in bread cubes.  Pour all into coated baking pan and bake at 350F for 60 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. 

Now that it’s the Easter Season, I am going to take a hiatus from blogging.  The Lent 2012 Challenge was great.  Now I am looking forward to some other projects.  First I have two First Eucharist dresses to sew by early May.  In the meanwhile, I have a large writing project I’m hoping to have completed by July 1, followed by another I’d like to have mailed to the publisher by November 1.  I’ll be back with more Meatless Fridays and Wednesday Desserts after Pentecost!

“Sensational” Stuffed Shells and Seder Foods

Happy Passover to our Jewish friends & family! Today we celebrated this Good Friday with our Little Flowers Girls Club. Our virtue of the month is Wisdom, and our saint is St. Edith Stein, a convert from Judaism. What better way to get to know her (and how she felt led into the Catholic faith) than to take a look at the types of foods her family would have had on their seder plate when they celebrated the Passover?

First we had a quick refresher of what Passover means and why our big brothers & sisters in the faith celebrate it. We also reviewed that this was the meal Jesus shared with His disciples when He gave us the Eucharist. As I explained each symbolic food to the girls, I asked them to “find” how that same symbol shows up in our faith life as Catholics.


  • First we made the (hypoallergenic) charoset out of chopped apples, cinnamon, grape juice, and honey. This reminds us of how the Israelites had to mix things together to make the mortar they were enslaved to produce. As Christians, we remember that we are slaves to sin until we are born in Christ.
  • Next we talked about the maror (our romaine lettuce was wilting, so we dipped into our Easter horseradish early) and how it reminds us that the Israelites’ slavery was bitter and took up all of their senses—they could “taste” nothing but the bitterness.
  • Karpas: Some of the girls picked fresh parsley from our deck pots, and another mixed Kosher salt into a mug of water. Then we talked about how the parsley is green, the color of life, but the Israelites were sad about being slaves. That’s why the karpas (green vegetable) is dipped into the salt water. We missed the parallel with our baptism, but that’s probably because I didn’t think of it until now. Next year I’ll remember. Maybe.
  • Our zeroah was a beet. I explained how usually it’s a piece of roasted meat on the bone to remind us of how the Israelites sacrificed a lamb for the Passover. The lamb’s blood would sluice down into a fountain of water at the base of the temple, and the blood and water would just pour out the side of the temple during all the Passover sacrifices. I asked the girls if they could think of anything in our faith as Catholics where water came pouring out the side of anything, and one guess correctly: Jesus on the cross, when His side was pierced. So what does that make Jesus? The new temple! They got it. I was so proud.
    We also talked about how Jewish vegetarians use beets because of how their red juices remind us of the blood of sacrifice, and how we picked a beet over meat because as Catholics we do not shed animal blood on Lenten Fridays, in honor of the original Good Friday.
  • The roasted egg, or beytzah was given a visual aid boost by my middle child, who picked it up while it was still warm and promptly dropped it. Among other things, the beytzah is a reminder that the temple was destroyed, and just like an egg can’t be put back together, neither can that temple. However, Jesus is the new temple and the new sacrifice, and He rose again and can’t be destroyed!
  • Last came the matzoh, the unleavened bread that is eaten as a reminder of the speed with which the Israelites had to escape Egypyt. I showed the girls how three matzoh are placed together, and one of the girls immediately referenced the Trinity. Then I told them how the middle matzoh is broken in half—they immediately identified it with Jesus—and one piece is hidden, to be found at the end of the meal.

When all that was said, they each took helpings of the foods and sat down with cups of grape juice, and we talked about how wine plays a part in both the seder and our Mass. Then we talked about the ten plagues, each one taking away from the happiness of any innocent Egyptians who were hurt by them due to their pharaoh’s stubbornness. Then with our fingers we put ten drops of wine with our fingers for each of the plagues. Midway through, we had to make another batch of charoset. I’m a little weirded out that they also ate all the parsley. When it was time to find the afikoman, the hidden half of matzoh, I reflected on how these were little girls looking for missing bread, and how Mary Magdalen was a woman looking for her missing teacher in the garden that first Easter Sunday. I wonder if she needed as many hints to find Him as our club needed to find our afikoman–the mom who hid it was good is all I can say!

There was so much more that could have been said, because it’s such a rich experience. I’ve been blessed to have attended two seders in my life: one as a child and one as an adult. Each time I look at the seder, I learn something new about my Catholic faith. Jesus came not to abolish other religions but to fulfill them. Think of that next time you hear someone complain about how Catholics “hijacked” another faith’s celebration.

Okay, now for “Sensational Stuffed Shells


The “sensational” part is not self-congratulatory. It’s a reference to the reality that some kids have different sensory needs, and we can either write them off as “picky” or try to find foods that meet those needs. My kids have hyposensitivity, so they prefer strong flavors. This recipe was written to fit that bill.

½ lb of jumbo pasta shells, cooked
24 oz jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 pint ricotta cheese
2 c mozzarella cheese, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 T garlic powder (feel free to reduce this and all seasonings to your liking)
2 t each of dried parsley, thyme, oregano, basil
½ t salt
generous pinch of black pepper

Let shells cool enough to handle. Pour half of sauce into the crock of your slow cooker. Combine ricotta, 1 c mozzarella, eggs, and seasonings and spoon into cooled shells. Place shells seam side up into sauce. Pour remaining sauce over all and cook on low 4 hours. About ten minutes before serving, sprinkle remaining mozzarella on top.

No spiritual significance to this meal. After planning for our seder foods, I was all significanced out.



Burying the Dead

It’s Spy Wednesday, which is a term that I’ve heard occasionally through the years but never really focused on  until today.  Today is when we remember the betrayal of Judas.  I find it interesting that the straw that broke the Judas’ back seems to have been an extravagant and apparently meaningless gift to Jesus via the woman with the alabaster jar.  Oh, the things we’ll do for money, saying we want it for “the poor” when really we just mean ourselves. 

I’ve heard Judas called the first bishop gone bad.  What amazes me is that, unless I have this wrong, Judas made up his mind a day before his ordination to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew this.  Jesus… ordained him anyway? What the what?  It’s a reminder that it doesn’t matter how much sacramental grace Christ dumps on your heart; if your heart’s not open, you won’t catch a drop of it.  We must participate in grace, with grace, and through grace.  There is no other way to The Way. 

Today we finished our Corporal Works of Mercy by actually burying the dead.  The father of middle child’s godmother passed away, and today was his funeral.  I did not debrief the kids much on the experience.  I probably should have, but I kinda whimped out and hoped that the experience would speak to them more than words could have.  All I really did was, when it was our turn to say goodbye at the casket, lead them in saying, “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.  May the divine assistance remain with us always, and may the souls of the faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace, amen.”  That’s probably the next set of prayers to teach. 

The funeral luncheon was so filling, and the running around afterwards was so extensive, that we just ended up picking up hoagies and such for our dinner.  No recipe tonight.  Please pray for my friend’s dad, her family & his loved ones.

Ugly Shoes

Against You, You alone have I sinned. I have done what is evil in your eyes. –Psalm 51: 6

Second Shift of Kid put these things on my feet one morning shortly before we were heading out to a music class.


Oooh!  Minty fresh!

I was so busy that I forgot to put on more sensible less hideous shoes. I really only use these while gardening, because I can hose them off. So when we showed up at class and I looked down at my feet… I cringed, then I offered up my embarrassment. Jesus was stripped of his garments in front of a blood-thirsty audience. Wearing ridiculous shoes in order not to hurt my toddler’s feelings is nothing.

Today many bishops are calling for a day of fast and abstinence for religious freedom. I want to participate, but I’m already doing a modified fast all Lent-long (2 small meals, one moderate meal, no snacking) and abstaining from flesh meats (because it’s Friday). I’m hypoglycemic, so an outright fast while flying solo with children would be unwise. So what should I do? Am I already doing enough? Do I even need to add anything?

So I decided to wear ugly shoes.

Don’t get me wrong: I love capitalism. There are worse ways to fund a culture. The problem with captialism is that it can poison our idea of what is right versus what is wrong. In our quid pro quo culture, we have lost the idea that we could possibly sin and only hurt God by doing it. The cry among even Catholics is, “But it’s not hurting anybody! What’s the big deal?”

Now even when we try to do penance, it has to have some sort of benefit for me: “If I fast, I’ll lose weight. If I stop buying meats, I’ll have more money to give to the poor and won’t have to give up movies or whatever. If I give away my extra clothes, I’ll be more organized.” This may be why we’re having a hard time expressing why we as Catholics think that poisoning a body into malfunctioning is wrong. Life without children seems easier, less risky, and less expensive to our culture’s eyes. Where’s the immediately visible benefit to living in harmony with biological reality? There is none. It’s more expensive.

So I decided to wear ugly shoes.  I get no benefit from wearing these goshawful things. Well, St. Philip Neri got no benefit from shaving off an eyebrow or half of his beard in penance. He got stared at, and I bet I got some looks, too. These shoes won’t help me lose weight, I won’t make any money to give to the poor, and they won’t simplify my life. They will help me to remember that not everything has something for me in it. They will help me to remember that I’m not as selfless as I should be. And they will help me to pray that all of us, no matter what faith we profess, can live more in harmony with our bodies, ourselves, and each other–even in the ways we don’t see we are hurting.


Calzone Catechesis for the Feast of St. Joseph

This is less of a recipe and more of a “how-to,” but feel free to use our recipe for the pizza dough. 

You will need:

1 batch of pizza dough
Shredded pizza cheese
Parmesan cheese (the sprinkle-from-a-can kind.  Yes, it matters.)
A little bit of water
Tomato sauce

Preheat your oven to 425F.  With your kids, divide the dough into eight separate pieces and stretch each piece into a circle.  Say, “This is bread dough, which reminds us that Jesus is the Bread of Life.  But just like we’re forming the dough into circle shapes, St. Joseph, as the foster father of Jesus, had to form Jesus into the good man he was called to be.”

Now ask the kids to think of ways that parents “form” their children:  protect them, teach them prayers, feed them, give them clothes, take care of them when they’re sick… and then discuss how St. Joseph did all of these things for Jesus.  And just like the circles of dough will break if we’re too rough with them, St. Joseph had to be gentle with Jesus.  Then ask your kids, “What are some ways you think St. Joseph was gentle with Jesus?” 

Then say, “One of the things St. Joseph did for Jesus was teach Him how to be a carpenter.  So both St. Joseph and Jesus had wood shavings in their clothes and in their hair.”  Now sprinkle the shredded pizza cheese on the center of each circle.  Then as you sprinkle the centers of the circles with parmesan cheese, say, “They also had sawdust all over the place!” 

Now have the children moisten the edges of each circle with fingers dipped in water.  Say, “Now, we can tell from the Bible that St. Joseph must have died before Jesus began His public ministry.  So Jesus had to take care of His sick daddy and then watch him die, knowing that heaven wasn’t open to him yet, knowing that the Sacrament of Baptism hadn’t been established yet.  How do you think that made Jesus feel?  How do you think Jesus then felt about going to His death on the cross?”

Pierce each calzone with a sharp knife and talk about how much it must have broken Jesus’ heart to see his gentle, earthly father die, knowing He would have to wait to see St. Joseph again.  Then, as you fold each circle in half and pinch the edges together, talk about how St. Joseph would have been wrapped in a shroud just like Jesus was after His death, and both were placed in tombs.  [At this point, put your calzones on a baking sheet and bake at 425F for 20 minutes or until golden brown and they sound hollow when tapped.]  Allow them to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. 

Serve with tomato sauce for dipping.  This next part might gross you out, so feel free to  skip it, but my kids figured it out on their own without any prompting from me.  Anyway, feel free to remind the kids of how the blood of Jesus covers all our sins, even the sins of St. Joseph–who was a holy guy but still an imperfect one.  You can also talk about how St. Joseph is highly revered in Italy, especially Sicily, where his intercession is credited from saving the people from famine. 

Speaking of famine and fasting, traditionally, in our archdiocese, the Lenten fasting rules are suspended for the Feast of St. Joseph in recognition of his special status among the Italian people of our area.  Since we’re holding our Lenten challenge to those standards, we really could have had a meat meal for dinner, but much to my surprise, I didn’t really see the point.  When we first started the PreVII Lenten challenge, I honestly didn’t think we could do it the whole Lent.  How could I feed this picky family without all that meat?  Would we give up by the third week in and run to McDonald’s for burgers and nuggets?  But we’re past the Laetare Sunday midpoint of Lent, and it’s only gotten easier.  I went into this thinking, “Oh, I could never do that,” and here we are, thinking that keeping this up during the rest of the year wouldn’t really be all that hard. 

Some things, you just never know unless you try.