What’s the big deal?

Today’s first reading was one of my favorites, and one of the most dramatic in all of Scripture.  This week we’ve been hearing from Maccabees, and after the inspiring story of Eleazar yesterday, I knew we were due to hear about one of the bravest mothers in the world.  (Please, go read it now — here — it’s straight out of a movie.)

After watching her sons die before her eyes, she is encouraged to dissuade the youngest from his heroism.  She goes through the motions of dissuading him, then bends down and whispers in his ear, “Don’t disappoint me, boy.  Have the courage to die.”  And he did.  He had the courage to resist eating the pork and face the executioner.

To our modern ears, while we may be impressed by the courage of these people, but we might also be tempted to ask, “Really?  What’s the big deal?”  After all, this is supposedly just about pork.

Eleazar died at age 90, willing to be killed rather than eat pork.

Really?  What’s the big deal?  It’s just a little pork.

But it was so much more… as evidence by the lengths to which Antiochus goes in order to dissuade the aforementioned youngest son:

“The king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office.” (2 Mc 7:24)

Really, Antiochus?  What’s the big deal?

At the heart of it, it wasn’t about pork.  It was about obedience and faithfulness to God rather than Antiochus.  The Jewish people were a threat because they recognized that true freedom came not from this world.  They understood their loyalty belonged to a power far greater than any government.

The parallel is clear to us.  The Church is a threat to our modern world.  Do we really think this fight is about birth control?  A simple pill?

We’ve been asked by the modern world — is that Pill really worth losing insurance, jobs, businesses, hospitals, schools?  A Pill? What’s the big deal?

We could ask the same same of the Administration.  Just let us run our businesses the way we believe we should.  Is the Pill really such a big deal?

The battle is not about the Pill.  It’s about Christ and his Church.

Are we ready to follow in the footsteps of the seven brothers?  Or better yet, their mother?  Go back and re-read 2 Maccabees 7.  Because it’s on.




Opening act

I slept really well the past two nights.  It could have been the fantastically comfortable king bed I was enjoying at the hotel where I stayed while I taught in Chattanooga.  I have a theory that when I sleep really well, I remember my dreams really well.  That could be a bunch of bunk, but it sounds about right to me.

So last night I had this hilariously random dream that wasn’t so random once I woke up and pieced together the origins of the various parts of the dream.  The gist of it was that I was back at the St Paul Center for Biblical Theology, where I worked in graduate school (of course, it wasn’t really the SPC- typical for dreams – it was some place I have never seen before, but in my dream I just knew it was the SPC).  There were lots of people there, apparently for some book signing by someone – I never really figured out whom – and I was just there to visit everyone.

Dr. Hahn was standing off to the side, and I went over to say hello. [This is all because someone asked me at the teacher inservice yesterday where I studied and learned everything, and I gave Dr Hahn pretty much all the credit for the talk I gave, I told them about the St Paul Center, and then told them to read his books].

He was happy to see me, and we began talking about his speaking engagements.

I got really excited, because I thought he was going to ask me to open for him.

HA!  Clearly, I’ve been living in Nashville too long.  Open for him?  What is this, U2?  Okay, so he does play the guitar…  And if the Catholic speaker world worked like the music world, he would be the hot ticket to open for if you were a brand-new speaker (like moi).

But he didn’t ask me to open for him.  He wanted to know if I thought he should go on tour with Graham Greene.

Hm.  I think I’d be a better opening act than a dead novelist.

30 days to 30

Well, here we go.  I’m in the home stretch.  One month left of the roaring 20s.

As I mentioned before, while I don’t know if I’m where I thought I’d be at this age, I don’t think I ever really thought about it when I was growing up.  When I was little, 18 seemed old.  I didn’t really think about what I was going to do after that.

Well, 18 has come and gone.  So now what?  I’m fairly certain I’m supposed to be teaching.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.  In high school, I dreamed about being an author.  So there’s that goal.  I have the best family I could ever pray for, I have fantastic friends, and I love where I live.  Win, win, win.

Yet while I think I’m okay nearing 30, I will likely go through a teeny crisis as it approaches.  After all, while it wasn’t in my thoughts when I was little, after 18 came and went, I did expect to be married by 30.  It almost seems surreal that I’m going to be turning the big 3-0 and still be single.

But if a crisis hits, I’m going to be surrounded by reminders of the blessings of the single life.  I made an intentional decision to get away for the birthday weekend and spend it with my girlfriends, footloose and fancy free.

The grand adventure to New York City is still on — although we couldn’t find a place to stay in the city within our price range, but we have at least a day trip to the city in the works. (Anyone have a spare apartment they want to loan us for the evening? yeah, I thought so.)  And the cast of Downton is supposed to be roaming around the city at the same time — think Branson and Lord Grantham want to take me out for the big day?  I think they should.

30 days.  Here’s to the last month!

Waiting for Downton

Tonight was Theology on Tap, and it was a smashing success.  Well, it was if you consider we had over 70 people and a fantastic speaker.  If you consider that we ran out of room, maybe it was less of a success.  But we rolled with the punches.

Next month I’m speaking on the Art of Waiting.

And in that vein, I thought I’d post the new teaser that PBS released introducing the new characters of Season 4 of Downton Abbey.  It’s kind of funny to think that these are all new characters for you all… because I just spent the last two months with them. Speaking of the art of waiting…. ahem.

It’s just that I hate, hate, hate spoilers, and I know that if I waited until January, I would know way too much about the season.  So I had to imbibe early.  There’s still one episode left — the Christmas episode — and then just when I’m sad it’s over, I can rewatch it all with America!

More thoughts on change

I’ve posted here before about how I dislike change.   For example, every time I move I kind of inwardly freak out, even if it is obviously a better situation (like the last two have been).  There were some office moves at work this summer and it put me in a grouchy mood for quite some time.  I like constancy, I get used to the way things are, and I don’t want anyone messing with it.

Most of us can probably pick out certain times in our life when change turned our lives upside down and we were less than happy about the alterations.  In the midst of change, it can be hard to see where the road ends up.   I intellectually know that if we never had change, we couldn’t have the good things in life, either.  But often I can only see change as disruptive.

Today is my brother and sister-in-law’s 16th wedding anniversary.  It’s really hard to believe it’s been 16 years. In some ways, it seems that my sister-in-law was always part of the family.  On the other hand, it seems like their wedding was just last week.

I wish I had a wedding picture to post, because it’s a pretty clear reminder to me that it was not last week.  Jim and Regis haven’t changed much, but thank goodness I have.  Awkward glasses, braces, and the gangly limbs of a 13 year-old could only be hidden so much with an up-do, make-up and a bridesmaid dress.  It’s funny to think back to those days.  I know I hated my hair, but I must not have been affected by the low self-esteem that is supposed to plague your pre-teen years, because I pretty much convinced myself at that time that my brother’s friends were the coolest people on the planet and surely those feelings were reciprocated.  Right.  Thankfully, my brother’s friends are pretty great, so they didn’t seem to mind that they were walking an eighth grader down the aisle instead of some gorgeous single gal their age.

Thank goodness change occurs.  Not only have I lost the braces and tamed my hair a bit, my family has changed too.  Since Regis had been part of our family since I was seven, I didn’t really think that much of her entering our family formally that day.  The day was all about a dress that didn’t fit me and getting to dance with a handsome Notre Dame guy.  But regardless of what I was cognizant of that day, our family was forever changed.

More change followed when Jim and Regis giddily announced the imminent arrival of the first grandchild.

To have a nephew when you’re only a freshman in high school is pretty spectacular — it gave me the chance to be that big sister I never was and made me feel really grown up.  After all, every aunt I had ever had was an adult.  This was clearly a step up to the grown-up table.  Two nieces followed Jimmy, and our family continued to grow.

Another sister...

Another sister…


look, now he’s as tall as I am.

So… change is okay, I think.  Sixteen years ago, my family was changed by a sacrament between my brother and the woman he loved.  I never could have dreamt of the joy, love, and blessings God would shower us with in the sixteen years to follow.  But we had to be open to change before He could do it.

The Music of Friends

Sunday evening my friend Maria and I attended one of the neatest gatherings in Nashville.  It was my second year to attend, her third, and I hope we can continue to make it an annual event for us.

Chamber Music Underground is presented by the Eastwood Ensemble, a group of musicians from East Nashville – many of whom are in the Nashville Symphony.  As you might be able to tell from the name, it’s an event that spreads mostly word of mouth (no advertisements were done in print form), and it features chamber music in its native habitat: the parlor of someone’s home.

Chamber music is composed for a small group of instruments, to be played in a chamber.  But how often do we get to enjoy it that way?  Usually we hear it in a large concert hall, on a large stage.  Instruments are far away, and there’s a wall of sorts between performer and listener.

Not in Chamber Music Underground.

On Sunday night, thirty or so of us gathered in a beautiful home in East Nashville.  Perched on chairs in the front parlor, we were an eager audience for the Eastwood Ensemble as they played for us, revealing in the pieces a depth of beauty found only in such an intimate setting.


We began with my favorite– the cello.  Xiao-Fan Zhang, a cellist in the Nashville Symphony, played a beautiful pastoral piece from a Chinese composer (I wish I could remember the name of the piece or the composer), a piece by Liszt, and finished with one by Mendelssohn.  I love the cello, and being that close to it is so much better than hearing it in a concert hall.  You could feel it.  If I try to say more, I’ll just sound dumb.  It was incredible.

Then the violinist and bassoonist joined him, and we were treated to a beautiful piece featuring the bassoon.  How often are you that close to a bassoon? Probably never.  (It reminded me of Peter and the Wolf.  Not the piece itself, just hearing the bassoon.)


I hope I don’t go to jail for this, but I did record a snippet… I titled it “bassoon trio,” but it wasn’t a trio of bassoons, just a trio that featured the bassoon.

Then we heard from the two clarinetists of the group (one of whom, Tia,  founded the Eastwood Ensemble), then a few pieces on violin & piano, then finished up the evening with the bass clarinet and a fun Schumann piece that took me back to my days playing the piano.

After the concert, everyone mills around, drinks wine, eats food, and talks.  My friend Jenny has provided her candy and granola bars every year, which is how we heard about this fancy secret event in the first place.  Her little hazelnut chocolate balls are pure bliss, and I may have eaten four of them tonight while typing this blog post.  May.

While small talk terrifies me, it is really nice to be able to talk to the musicians afterwards.  Xiao-Fan remembered us from the year before and came over to talk to us.  When I told him the cello was my favorite, he told us about a neat event the Nashville Symphony does that also includes wine and talking with the musicians.  So if we hit that up, I’ll make sure to blog about that, too.

I intended to blog about this event last year … so here are some shots from a year ago:

IMG_2391 IMG_2419

Wikipedia says that chamber music has been described as “the music of friends,” because of its intimate nature.  If that’s the case, Chamber Music Underground is doing something right in Music City.

Peter, Paul, and Paola

Hands down, the best time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica is when it opens at 7am.  Especially these days, when the tourist crowds are overwhelming (I’ve never seen the likes of the crowds I saw this trip, except maybe during Holy Week and Easter), the earlier you go to the Basilica the better chance you have to actually pray.

Armed with a good night’s sleep, we headed out to St. Peter’s bright and early Thursday morning, hoping Father was able to secure an altar for us.  As we approached the sacristy, we saw him waiting for us, fully vested in Sts. Cosmas and Damian red, with a server waiting by his side.

The server led us to the first free altar, the altar of St. Wenceslaus (whose feast we’d celebrate a few days later).

IMG_5453Once again, it was moving to experience this through the eyes of the pilgrims.  Morning Mass at St. Peter’s is not exactly a new experience for me.  But experiencing it with the pilgrims reminded me how incredible it is — to be at a small, intimate Mass in such a grand, beautiful, immense place — to hear the dozens of other Masses taking place simultaneously — to hear the different languages, witnessing the universality of the Church … Yes, 7am Mass at St. Peter’s is a morning Mass like no other.

I knew that since there was so much to point out in the Basilica, just giving the highlights while outside wouldn’t suffice.  Yet I wanted them to have the chance to really take in the Basilica before getting a nitty-gritty tour.  So after Mass I gave them all an hour and a half of free time to pray and wander around, taking advantage of the calm before the tourist storm.  After that, we left the Basilica and headed to get coffee, then got back in the now very long line to return to the Basilica.

The line was long (and it was only 10am!) but while we waited I gave a overview of the history of the basilica, pointed out things in the piazza, etc, and it timed perfectly — when I was finished with the “exterior of St Peter’s” tour note cards, we were heading into security and ready to go inside.

Tour groups are required to use whisper mics now, which is actually really nice– tour guides just whisper into their own little microphone and their groups can wander around more freely.  It was fun to use them — it made me feel important, and it was nice to be able to talk without worrying if everyone could hear me.

 It definitely means less noise, and even traffic jams are somewhat lessened, since tour groups don’t need to stick together as closely.  There are simply so many tourists these days, though, the basilica is still very, very crowded and hard to maneuver.


photo courtesy of Cathy

We worked our way around clockwise, starting at the baptismal font and ending at the Pieta.  There is so much to point out in the basilica — from the tombs of Popes Pius X, John XXXIII, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, John Paul II, not to mention Sts. Simon and Jude, to the works of Bernini, to the history (“that’s where Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor…”) to the the fun statistics (“you could comfortably fit the space shuttle, with all its external rockets and fuel tank, in the space under the dome…).  There are also plenty of fun stories, like the one about the tomb of Pope Gregory XIV.   Supposedly the Pope ingested gold dust and ground gems to cure his stomach maladies.  As a result, there was nothing left in the papal coffers to build him a proper tomb…

In order to compare, you can see the tomb of Gregory XIII opposite it, in all its glory (namesake of the Gregorian calendar, the commencement of which is depicted on his tomb).


tomb of Gregory XIII
photo courtesy of Cathy


Tomb of Gregory XIV
photo courtesy of Cathy

I don’t know if it’s true, but it sure makes a good story.

The tomb of John Paul II is still roped off so only people who want to pray can linger.


After battling the crowds, we deserved every bit of our lunch.



After a morning at St. Peters, it only seemed fitting to spend the afternoon with St. Paul.  I gave them the highlights while we stood in the beautiful courtyard out front, then we headed in to look around, pray Vespers, etc.  They were having a large multi-lingual Mass imminently, so we spent about forty five minutes in the basilica and then left to hit up the gift shop as Mass was starting.


We took the bus back (I avoid the B Metro line) and, as usual, they were great sports while we sought out the best bust stop and waited for the bus to come.  Twice in the trip we took the wrong bus (or at least the bus didn’t go where I thought it was going to go…) but everyone was pretty easygoing about it.


photo courtesy of Cindy

For dinner, a group of us went to a place called Trattoria der Pallaro.  It’s near Campo di Fiori, so we had nice night walks to bookend our meal.  The secret of der Pallaro is to go for the experience.  It is a tiny kingdom run by a queen named Paola.  What she says, goes.  Don’t come looking for menus — your five course meal is going to be whatever Paola made that night.


Paola loves nuns and priests, so we had it made.  She was constantly hugging and blowing kisses at the Sisters, and she gave Father an enormous bowl of pasta.  We laughed all night — whether it was Paola’s cat that sat at the table next to us (that’s pretty Roman, so that didn’t faze me much) or Paola ordering a Dutch priest to come speak with us (it actually turned out really neat, because he knew a priest the Sisters knew — but it was so random… Paola just told him he had to go talk to us), we definitely just rolled with the punches.

Five courses, all pretty typical Roman.  A mix of antipasti including lentils and yummy fried rice balls, two types of pasta, a secondo course that included two types of pork and fresh mozzarella, and a nice cake and fruit juice to finish it all off.


I love pasta so much.


oh, fresh mozzarella, I love you too.


Our dining companion didn’t really surprise me, but I suppose through American eyes, it is rather alarming to have a cat eating its dinner at the table next to you.


Paola likes priests:IMG_5481

Paola misses Pope Benedict, just like I do.  In fact, she started crying as she talked and talked and talked about him (all in Italian, so I don’t really know what she said).  It was really nice to talk to an Italian who loved him, because you only hear about people who didn’t.  Although maybe this slightly-crazy woman shouldn’t be my consolation. Hm.


Photo courtesy of Rick & Julie

It was good we had a nice walk back home, because we were pretty stuffed.  If I’m staying remotely close to St. Peter’s, I try to visit it every night.  My favorite approach is across the Bridge of the Angels and up Via Conciliazione. So that’s exactly what we did. Rick captured this shot — just incredible.


Photo courtesy of Rick & Julie

All in all, a good day.