from tonight’s reading

“The future depends on love.”

The Jeweler’s Shop
by Andrzej Jawien
(aka Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II)

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Finger food

I am a pretty competitive person.  I’m not particularly athletic, but I get very into spectating at sporting events.  Just ask my friends in high school and college who would leave basketball games with bruises on their arms (I have a tendency to hit and grab people’s arms when I get nervous or excited).

Since I can’t necessarily compete in athletic competitions, my drive to win comes out at other times.

Like cooking competitions.

I don’t remember ever participating in a cooking competition before, but when I heard we were going to have a finger food contest among the faculty and staff, I knew I had to win.

Not having much time to look for recipes and having zero time to practice, I spent a little time on Sunday looking through cookbooks and the internet for ideas.  I toyed with the idea of making Pioneer Woman’s bbq stuffed jalapenos, thinking that they would probably be popular.  But since I don’t like jalapenos, I wasn’t crazy about spending time making something I wasn’t even going to want to eat.

I soon realized it was going to be easiest to make a dessert.  I didn’t want to worry about keeping an appetizer warm all morning or reheating for the judging at 11.  So a dessert it would be.

And I wanted to make something easy; I had a pretty busy week ahead of me, and while I had all Monday evening to work on my creation, I wanted something straightforward and something I couldn’t mess up.

I’m not sure when the idea hit me or what inspired it.  I think I was trying to think of a good finger food and how to apply that to dessert.  I decided to focus on the “creativity” category of the contest.  We were going to be judged on taste, creativity, and presentation.  I figured if I nailed creativity, I might also succeed in the other two.

So I decided to make dessert breadsticks with a variety of dips.

My friend Tess makes parmesan breadsticks out of puff pastry that are always a hit.  So why couldn’t I do something similar, substituting sugar for the Italian spices & parmesan cheese?  The dips came together in my head pretty easily as well– something fruity, something with Nutella, and something with coffee, as a tribute to my dear colleagues in the St. Joseph building (we’re known for our coffee).

After deciding on my flavors, I spent some time looking around the internet for recipe inspiration.  I came up with a good recipe for a lemon dip, using a half of a lemon dessert that featured phylo dough.  I figured I could make the filling and not bother with the phylo.

I found several Nutella recipes online but was dissatisfied with all of them for one reason or another.  So it was clear I was going to have to take inspiration from some recipes, yet at the end, take a leap of faith that my tweaking and altering would work.

I made the coffee one first.   It was going to have a Cool Whip base, so I brewed some Italian coffee in my Moka on the stove and let it cool.  I worried that melted chocolate and espresso would be too much liquid and would alter the Cool Whip’s consistency, but I couldn’t imagine making a coffee dessert without espresso.  It was fun to pour the chocolate into the Cool Whip and then pour the espresso over it – it looked very much like my favorite drink in Rome — the caffe completo at Cafffe Camerino.

While the espresso gave the Cool Whip a bit of a kick, the chocolate was a bit more pronounced than the coffee.  Afraid to add more liquid to the already compromised Cool Whip, I ended up stirring some Maxwell House International Cafe mix in as well.  It gave it a nice layered coffee taste.  I stuck it in the refrigerator and hoped it would firm up a bit.

I knew the lemon would probably work, since I was following a recipe.  It had a whipped cream base.  I added more lemon curd than the recipe originally called for, so the dip was pretty tangy.  Again, I stuck it in the refrigerator and hoped it would firm up a bit too.

The Nutella one was going to be the trickiest.  I had decided to pair it with mascarpone, wanting all three dips to have a different base.  I wasn’t sure how the two would work together, although I thought I had seen a Nutella-mascarpone cheesecake once, so I figured it would somehow work.

When I started throwing stuff together- mascarpone and some whipping cream, mostly– I had my doubts.  But as soon as I threw in the Nutella, the whole batch reached an incredible consistency, and it looked so heavenly I wanted to dive right in.

After it hung out in the refrigerator for awhile, the flavors became even richer and it was hard not to eat the whole bowl.

Each day, the dips changed a bit- this one kept getting thicker and thicker.  I think it was best this first night, after just an hour or two in the fridge.

The breadsticks were by far the most time consuming.  Rolling out the puff pastry dough, brushing it with egg white, sprinkling sugar over it, cutting it in small little strips, twisting the strips up, then sprinkling the whole cookie sheet with more sugar…  When someone asked me the next day where I bought the sticks, I almost had a stroke.  I made them.  with my bare hands.

So here’s the finished product– I wish I had a cute little jar to put the sticks in, but I didn’t.  I’m sure I could have worked on the presentation a bit more, but it was late and I wanted to go to bed:

They were calling out for cute little labels, so I got to make up names for each dip and create signs.  The coffee one was named after my favorite drink (I just hoped that everyone would be able to translate caffe).

For as competitive as I am, I don’t like being judged.  I was a little nervous when I took my dessert over to the main building to set it out with the others.  A lot of the entries were purchased at the store, so I felt okay about my chances.  But I still ran back to my office as soon as I put it out, not wanting to hear first impressions.   I eventually returned to where everyone was chowing down and marking ballots for their favorites.  And thank goodness I did return — several people asked me not only where I bought the breadsticks, but where I bought the lemon dip!  So while the store-bought entries weren’t a threat to winning, they did skew reality for people.  I had to reassure everyone that nothing but the ingredients was purchased at the store.

The next morning, the winners were announced– and in the “sweet” category, yours truly brought home the prize.

So until the next contest, I’ll rest on my laurels.  And maybe make some more dip, because I have a few other ideas.  Like Grace Ann’s amaretto pie filling…

Blue Angels, Chuckles, and other friends

Turn up your computer volume and check out these fellas:

If that doesn’t give you a little twist in the pit of your stomach, I’m not sure what to say to you.

Last week, my friend Mary and I headed to a small airport south of town for an air show.  I’d never been to an air show before, but I had seen the Blue Angels practice over my friend Lizzie’s house in Pensacola, and I knew they would be well worth the trip and the cost of admission.  And I’m generally up for doing something new, so I was game.

Unfortunately, it was raining … and there was no sign of it letting up.  But Mary is much more optimistic than I am, and we headed out to see what we could see, despite the precipitation.

One of my favorite parts of the air show was that it was a chance to thank the men of our military.  I don’t know much about air shows, but I don’t think all of them are directly linked to a branch of the military.  This one was to celebrate the end of “Navy week” around the city, so there were Navy officers and pilots from across the country who came to show off their planes and helicopters.  It was nice to be able to show our appreciation for what they do for us every day.

So we walked around in the rain and checked everything out.

While the little planes and helicopters were impressive in their own right, the queen of the tarmac was the enormous transporter-thing below (on the left — I should have gotten a better picture of it… and remembered its name:

It was enormous.  I still can’t imagine how it gets off the ground and into the air.

We were able to walk through the cargo part of it — the pilots fly it from above, on the second level.  I was amazed.

A little stunt plane went up at 11:30, when the show was supposed to start, to test the “ceiling” (a term we became quite familiar with that day) to see if flying would be possible.   Almost as soon as he went up, the rain started again.

It rained off and on for several hours, and I had given up all hope of seeing the Blue Angels.  But Mary doesn’t give up easily (thank goodness), and we stuck around.  We made some new friends, like two pilots from California — one of whom was named “Chuckles” and laughed a lot.

Mary remained optimistic.  And then she suggested praying 9 Memorares.

Guess what?  The rain that was headed towards us broke up, the clouds lifted a little, and by 3, the stunt planes were back up in the air.

As the planes prepared to go up, they had this random side-show fellow.  It reminded me a bit of Talladega the week before.  Of course, he was also serving a practical purpose– it’s a great way to dry the runway.

After a variety of stunt pilots, which were all really impressive, it was time for the Blue Angels.

Everything they do is in sync — even the crew chiefs walking out to the planes and the pilots getting into the cockpits.  It’s quite a show.  But what I really appreciated was the fact that this was not just a show or a stunt.  They were showing us the training of the Navy pilots.   This wasn’t just something fun they did on the side — the precision, the discipline, the skills were things learned by every Navy pilot.

And these guys* didn’t disappoint.

The show (narrated by one of the Blue Angels) started with their Lockheed C-130 taking off.

She was beautiful — I still can’t fathom how she got off the ground. : )

Then six Blue Angels took off.  And took our breath away.  (cue Top Gun)

You might have to watch this one twice:

*There are two female Blue Angels, but they weren’t in the group that flew for us.

I still can’t get over how close they fly!

They flew for about thirty minutes — in front of us, then right over our heads, then disappearing into the clouds, only to reappear and do something else incredible.

After the show, the pilots came out to answer questions and sign autographs.  They handed out brochure/posters, but kids were having them sign everything — including their clothing and arms. : )  I’m sort of amazed they were able to do what they did and then just walk out and talk to us.  I would need some time to sort out my head and my stomach and my nerves.

And as we were leaving the parking lot, we were treated to one last show– some of the helicopters were taking off to head back to Virginia or California.  So we pulled off the road and stood a few yards away from them — close enough to have a pretty healthy breeze as they lifted up and headed off into the clouds.

I’m very happy Mary convinced me to go despite the rain — and convinced me to stay despite the rain!  Now I just need to find those Blue Angels later this week when I’m in Pensacola…

thoughts after scandal

I was writing a post in my head this morning.  This is not that post.

In fact, I never wanted to write this post.  Ever.

My mom shared very sad news with me at noon, when it broke on the Catholic blogs.   By this evening, it was one of the lead stories when I opened my email provider’s website, so it seems to have made it mainstream.

Father Thomas Williams, LC, has admitted to fathering a child.

Now, Father Williams would probably not know me if he passed me on the street.  But readers of this blog and my Rome blog know that I attended his Mass in English every Sunday night while studying in Rome.  When I went back to Rome in October, one of the first things I did after settling details like airfare and housing was to email Father and see if he was still having 6pm Mass at San Giovanni.

Father even named this blog, in a way — the “Ordinary Time” comes from a homily he had about being saints in ordinary time, in our normal daily lives.  So once I returned from Rome (my “feast,” if you will), my sister suggested I turn JoaninRome into JoaninOrdinaryTime.

When I received the news, I sat in complete shock.   The expression “speechless” doesn’t refer to me very often, but it’s an adequate description here.   I tried to say something to my friend Liza, who works across the hall, but words wouldn’t come.  I managed to tell her, still not able to formulate full sentences or process my own thoughts.  The sick feeling came right away, the shaking began soon after.  I did what I always do in situations like this.  I called my mom.

My thoughts are still haphazard.  Why did this blow me away?  Why did this news cause me to reel like it did?  Shouldn’t we all be used to priests disappointing us?  Especially “celebrity” priests?

I respected Father.  Not because I knew him personally — I had maybe one conversation with him outside of Mass.  But because he celebrated Mass reverently and he had the best homilies I’ve ever heard from a parish priest.  After returning to the States, I was actually “homesick” for his Sunday night Masses and his homilies.  I looked forward every week to his homilies, and when I no longer had them, I missed them terribly.

I put Father on a pedestal.  I know that now — and I knew it then.  Here was a priest who knew the truth, and not only knew the truth, but had the ability to preach it well. He didn’t ramble or preach generic homilies.  He was one of the most articulate priests I knew, and each week, he said exactly what I needed to hear.   Only two things stopped me from asking him to be my spiritual director while I was at Rome – 1) his busy schedule and 2) he was too good looking.

His book on conscience is fantastic.  His appearances on CBS and NBC were great.

I was a fan.

And now this.

I sat in my office and kept repeating, “no,” as if that would make it go away.  I looked over to a little note, posted near my computer.   It was his email to me, telling me he still said Mass and that he would see me in October.  On the top of the email, I had written a countdown to my departure to Rome and had put it by my computer as daily inspiration.  I never took it down, even as the October trip came and went.

I sat there in shock, and suddenly, the feeling of betrayal set in. Was it all an act?

As I’ve sorted through my emotions, I realize that my intellect has grasped the situation and has sorted everything out.  My heart – not so much.

So Father has fallen.  So have we all.  Assuming this was a sin of his past, assuming he’s gone to confession and reconciled with Christ and His Church, shouldn’t I extend the same forgiveness?

His book on right and wrong and the formation of conscience — does this sin degrade that work?  No.  In fact, perhaps it gives it more credibility, in a way.  (If he has repented of the sin, that is — and to tell you the truth, it never occurred to me that this wasn’t a sin of his past until the Huffington Post pointed out that he never specified if he was still seeing the woman.   I hope I’m not giving him too much credit to think that if he says “a number of years ago” he had a relationship with a woman… he isn’t still in a relationship with her.)

Our culture will tell us that the sin of Father Williams (and the other priests before him) is proof that we hold our priests to a standard set too high.  No one can be expected to live a celibate life.  Sometimes it seems as if everyone lies in wait, ready to pounce on the next victim of the sex-less life the Church demands.  When is a single man’s consensual affair with a woman and a child out of wedlock front page news?  When that man is a priest.

As Catholics, we must deal with this difficult dichotomy — we do ask a lot from our priests, and yet they are fallen human beings, just like us.  The life they have agreed to live is not an easy one.  It is the life of  the Cross.  As a result, it bears much fruit.  But it is still the life of the Cross.  It is possible through the grace of his vows.  But it is still the life of the Cross.

Through the hands of the sinful priest, Christ comes to our altars.  There is no one else on this earth with that power.  The priest is not like us.  We honor him, respect him, care for him – for without the priest, there is no Eucharist.

At the same time, we can’t put him on a pedestal he doesn’t deserve.  As soon as we expect him to be sinless, we will be scandalized.  Priests have access to great graces, but they’re not immaculate.  They are living, breathing, passionate males.

The priest does not act on his own.  He does not preach his own Gospel.  He does not confect the Eucharist of his own accord.  All he has is Christ’s.

Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out, “Ordination is not about the development of one’s own power and gifts.  It is not the appointment of a man as a functionary because he is especially good at it, or because it suits him, or simply because it strikes him as a good way to earn his bread … Sacrament means: I give what I myself cannot give; I do something that is not my work; I am on a mission and have become the bearer of that which another has committed to my charge” (emphasis mine).

So even priests who fall, even priests who disappoint us, do not discredit the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church.  Because the message doesn’t depend on them.  Nor do the sacraments.

There’s a reason why we understand that even a sinful priest can dispense the sacraments.  Even a priest in mortal sin can change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  Jesus chose to use sinful men as His instruments, as His means to give us the sacraments.  Why would He punish us by making those sacraments dependent on the worthiness of the minister?

So Father has fallen.  He has sinned.  So have I.

Does that mean I don’t hold priests to a high standard?  No.  Does that mean I condone what he did?  Of course not.  Does that alleviate the heaviness in my heart and the feeling of betrayal?  Not much.

But Christ has chosen to make men priests, not angels.  And if anyone needs some guidance and wisdom tonight, as I did, I encourage you to read Bl. John Henry Newman’s essay “Men, not Angels, the Priests of the Gospel.”

I’ll close with a rather lengthy excerpt.  My heart still hurts, but I go to sleep with a prayer — a prayer for Father, for his child, for the mother of his child, and for all those who are tempted to lose the Faith because of this new scandal.

~~~

“[Christ] came and He went; and, seeing that He came to introduce a new and final Dispensation into the world, He left behind Him preachers, teachers, and missionaries, in His stead. Well then, my brethren, you will say, since on His coming all about Him was so glorious, such as He was, such must His servants be, such His representatives, His ministers, in His absence; as He was without sin, they too must be without sin; as He was the Son of God, they must surely be Angels.  Angels, you will say, must be appointed to this high office, Angels alone are fit to preach the birth, the sufferings, the death of God. They might indeed have to hide their brightness, as He before them, their Lord and Master, had put on a disguise; they might come, as they came under the Old Covenant, in the garb of men; but still men they could not be, if they were to be preachers of the everlasting Gospel, and dispensers of its divine mysteries. If they were to sacrifice, as He had sacrificed; to continue, repeat, apply, the very Sacrifice which He had offered; to take into their hands that very Victim which was He Himself; to bind and to loose, to bless and to ban, to receive the confessions of His people, and to give them absolution for their sins; to teach them the way of truth, and to guide them along the way of peace; who was sufficient for these things but an inhabitant of those blessed realms of which the Lord is the never-failing Light?

And yet, my brethren, so it is, He has sent forth for the ministry of reconciliation, not Angels, but men; He has sent forth your brethren to you, not beings of some unknown nature and some strange blood, but of your own bone and your own flesh, to preach to you. ‘Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?’ Here is the royal style and tone in which Angels speak to men, even though these men be Apostles; it is the tone of those who, having never sinned, speak from their lofty eminence to those who have. But such is not the tone of those whom Christ has sent; for it is your brethren whom He has appointed, and none else,—sons of Adam, sons of your nature, the same by nature, differing only in grace,—men, like you, exposed to temptations, to the same temptations, to the same warfare within and without; with the same three deadly enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil; with the same human, the same wayward heart…

Had Angels been your Priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathised with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you, who have been led on themselves as you are to be led, who know well your difficulties, who have had experience, at least of your temptations, who know the strength of the flesh and the wiles of the devil…

Ponder this truth well, my brethren, and let it be your comfort. Among the Preachers, among the Priests of the Gospel, there have been Apostles, there have been Martyrs, there have been Doctors;—Saints in plenty among them; yet out of them all, high as has been their sanctity, varied their graces, awful their gifts, there has not been one who did not begin with the old Adam; not one of them who was not hewn out of the same rock as the most obdurate of reprobates; not one of them who was not fashioned unto honour out of the same clay which has been the material of the most polluted and vile of sinners; not one who was not by nature brother of those poor souls who have now commenced an eternal fellowship with the devil, and are lost in hell. Grace has vanquished nature; that is the whole history of the Saints. Salutary thought for those who are tempted to pride themselves in what they do, and what they are; wonderful news for those who sorrowfully recognise in their hearts the vast difference that exists between them and the Saints; and joyful news, when men hate sin, and wish to escape from its miserable yoke, yet are tempted to think it impossible!

…And O, my brethren, when you have taken the great step, and stand in your blessed lot, as sinners reconciled to the Father you have offended (for I will anticipate, what I surely trust will be fulfilled as regards many of you), O then forget not those who have been the ministers of your reconciliation; and as they now pray you to make your peace with God, so do you, when reconciled, pray for them, that they may gain the great gift of perseverance, that they may continue to stand in the grace in which they trust they stand now, even till the hour of death, lest, perchance, after they have preached to others, they themselves become reprobate.” (all emphases mine)

Sunday at the races

I thought I would combine last Sunday and this Sunday into one post, but since I’ve already titled a post “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” I couldn’t think of a good enough title for a post that combined a Nascar race and an air show.  So I’ll give both their own posts.

Last Sunday my friend Dan and I traveled down to Talladega, AL for the Aaron’s 499 — 500 miles (don’t let the name fool you) of pure Nascar heaven.

We started the trip before the sun started the day, since we had a 3.5 hour trip ahead of us.  The rain came early and didn’t let up.  I watched the radar like a hawk — every five minutes, I checked it to see if the storm was breaking up at all.  Once we arrived at the track and parked, we sat in the car for about an hour, watching the pre-race show on Dan’s phone, talking, and praying the rain away.  (and checking the radar)

Finally, the rain stopped… there was a bit of a window (that’s an old Indy 500 term), and then that window got bigger and bigger.  The storm was breaking up!  Hurray!

So we headed out to the souvenir trailers, the merchandise tents, the manufacturer displays, etc.  We knew there would be a bit of a delay to the start of the race, since there was a 2.66 mile track to dry after all the rain.  So we weren’t in a rush.  After awhile, we headed into the track to see the front stretch and then to walk around to the back stretch, where our seats were.

Superspeedways are big places.  We both knew we had quite a hike ahead of us.  I didn’t think about the fact that counterclockwise around the track wasn’t equal to clockwise around the track, since Talladega is a bit of a D-shape.  And the signs coming into the track didn’t indicate that we should have parked on the other side.  Dan and I didn’t mind walking, so we didn’t think much about the hike we had ahead of us.

But we wanted to make sure we could walk all the way around the track on the inside of the gate, so we stopped to ask an official-looking man.

He was astounded that we were sitting on the back stretch and were planning on walking over there.  He was even more astounded that we had parked where we had.  (I wanted to see the souvenirs, okay?)  He told us he would take us back to our car so that we could re-park.  Neither Dan nor I really wanted to do that, and we knew after the race we would be fine (we would just walk the other way around the track, which was a shorter distance than what we were doing at that moment)

So the guy took us to our seats!  It was great!  He told us to hop in his 15-passenger van – he had someone he needed to check on, but he said, “It’ll only take 5 minutes to take you.  Hop in.”  We were waved through credential check points as we drove along (we never would have made it through walking) and he told us we were sitting in the newest section of the track (that equals the newest bathrooms), although some people didn’t like sitting there because it was in the sun the whole race.  It didn’t seem like that would be a problem, though– since the clouds were still pretty thick.

As we drove, someone came over his walkie-talkie and said something about not being able to find Dale.  I’m still convinced it was Dale Jr.  But I suppose it really could have been anyone named Dale.

He dropped us off, we thanked him for his hospitality, and we were ready to head to our seats to watch the jet dryers.

I won’t bore you with details of the race.  There weren’t many cautions, so it went pretty quickly.  The roar of the engines at the first green lap always makes my hair stand on end.  You can feel it in your stomach.  It’s incredible.

The saddest part of the race was when my two favorite drivers, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards, got caught up in the same wreck.  It was a crazy moment — people were running out of gas right in front of us, then suddenly there was a wreck in the third turn.  (We were sitting near the second turn – see above – but could see pretty much the whole track, except for part of the front stretch after turn 4)

The last handful of laps turned kind of crazy, although they were still pretty tame compared to the usual Talladega craziness.  Dan was rooting for Kurt Busch because his car looked exactly like Ricky Bobby’s.  But Kurt spun out.   I like most of the field, so after Gordon and Edwards wrecked, I wasn’t really rooting for anyone, but was okay with most anyone winning… except for Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, of course.  I wanted Dale Jr to win, but it didn’t look like he had what it was going to take.

On the last lap, Brad Keselowski was leading, Kyle Busch was in second, and I kept repeating, “No, no, no…”

But it happened.  Of all people.  I would have preferred 41 other people to have won or finished second.

*sigh*

Then Dan and I made our long trek back to the car.  And we wondered where our friend had gone.  We should have asked him where he would be picking us up at the end at the race.

Despite the finish, it was a good day.  And after a rainy beginning, there was plenty of sun in the afternoon.  Enough sun to get a little burned through 50 spf.

Top: turn two, with the Alabama mountains

Bottom, left to right: Larry McReynolds, former crewchief and current analyst for FOX, went by us on a golf cart, then took an elevator up to the broadcast booth – not before handing an autograph to a boy in a wheelchair; the Talladega sign over one of the entrances to the track; Tony Stewart

Let’s go racin’, boys!

Sunscreen: check

Lunches and plenty of bottled water: check

Earplugs: check

Sunglasses: check

Tickets: check

This time tomorrow, I’ll be on my way back from Talladega, AL.  2.66 miles of asphalt in the middle of the Alabama wilderness.

Perhaps I’ll have witnessed Rick Hendrick’s 200th cup win.  Or Dale Jr break his 134 race losing streak.  Or Carl Edward’s victory back flip.  Hopefully I won’t witness this.

Regardless, I think it will be a good day.  Well, unless Brad Keselowski or Kyle Busch wins, that is.

St. Frances of Rome, patroness of motorists… pray for us!