Tuesday, January 15, 2013

THE HOLY INNOCENTS AND THE MARTYRS OF NEWTOWN & BEEF STEW





This post is written with the utmost respect and sympathy to the parents and families of the 20 children and 6 adults who were attacked and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, on Friday morning, December 14, 2012. I am sorry beyond words for this loss.

I offer not answers for us brokenhearted bystanders, but perhaps steps to take in the direction of personal coping and social strength.

My December 28, 2013 update can be found below after the recipe.


The feast day of the Holy Innocents commemorates the massacre of the babies of Bethlehem shortly after the birth of Jesus. It's honored in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches on December 28, the West Syrian Christian churches on December 27 and the Eastern Orthodox churches on December 29. The event is the second of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, a Roman Catholic Devotion.

 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men (astrologers, magi), he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
  “A voice was heard in Ramah, 
    wailing and loud lamentation,
    Rachel weeping for her children;
 
    she refused to be consoled,
    because they are no more.”
                             
                                       Matthew 2:13-18

Herod was the King of the Jews in a district of the Roman Empire. He was brutal. Killing not only members of his own family, but thousands more, including these babies in or near Bethlehem. Completely irrational. And yet, it occurred.

Historians believe, based on the population of Bethlehem and the surrounding areas at that time, that the number of babies killed was around 20. Did any adults die trying to protect their children? Probably, but it isn’t historically noted.

These babies are considered the first martyrs because they were the first to die for Jesus Christ. They are martyrs in fact, but not in will, as they were so young. St. Augustine of Hippo considered the Holy Innocents, “buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

Are the 20 children and 6 heroes of Sandy Hook Elementary School modern-day martyrs? Yes, not by will, but in fact. And, in fact, only if we make it so.

“Every once in a while, there’s something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did it in a way like nothing I’ve seen in my career. The president and I are determined to take action – We can affect the well-being of millions of Americans and take thousands of people out of harm’s way if we act responsibly.” 
                                             Vice President Joe Biden

I owe it the babies of Newtown, (those heroic adults were someones' babies) to take a stand. Taking a stand is the only way to create sense in such a senseless brutal, horrifying act. Taking a stand now, when I didn’t before, due to feelings of inadequacy and people-pleasing tendencies, gets me off the couch where I sat staring out of the window crying for these babies and their families and our country and how we allowed it to get this bad.

Here is my stand:

It is enough with the guns already. United States civilians need only hunting rifles and handguns which should be licensed and locked up appropriately.

I voted for and support, President Barack Obama. Whatever plan he presents in tightening our country’s gun control regulations, I support 100 percent.

This past month, I’ve read and listened to many opinions. “You can’t police crazy,” was a really good one because it’s true. But we can keep the assault weapons with large ammunition magazines out of the hands of anyone who might take a turn toward crazy and then act on it.

The quote that fills me with regret and a new strength is from director Michael Moore in relation to his pro-gun-control documentary Bowling for Columbine, “I never thought I would have to, a decade later, stand here and say that that film of mine did no good. That to me is personally heartbreaking. Every word in it stands true to this day, which is the saddest thing.” 
                                                         Michael Moore

I had my chance to take a stand 10 years ago, and all those times since then, and I didn’t do it. I didn’t even watch that movie as I thought it would be too disturbing. I turned away and went about my business.

I owe it to all those babies killed by guns to do whatever I can to prevent this terrible act from ever occurring again. If it does, I may end up on the couch looking out the window and crying perhaps for many days, but in my heart, at least I’ll know that I took a stand and said, “Enough.”

Join with me and instead of imagining a future where we’d have to protect ourselves from our own government, or the walking dead, or a space alien invasion; imagine that zombie apocalypses occur only in works of fiction.

If we’re going to imagine a future based on science fiction, imagine this:


 Ah, Starfleet Academy. I will continue imagining and taking incremental steps every day towards this socially evolved future created by Gene Roddenberry.

Oh, and did you notice? It’ll be located in San Francisco, named for St. Francis of Assisi – a saint for all time.

And that brings this post back to God, where it belongs and never truly left.

How did I get off the couch on Saturday, December 15th? Well for one thing, my husband made us an exotic Indian dinner (quite the extraordinary feat) and it smelled really good simmering on the stove. (A recipe for a later post.)

Later I reread my post about St. Julian of Norwich and when she asked God how if sin (and bad stuff) is from God and God is all Goodness, why does He allow it? His answer implies that it will all make sense to us someday:

“Sin is inevitable,
but all shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of all things shall be well.”


    Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love by St. Julian of Norwich
                                          
Julian did not understand, but through faith, she accepted. I could accept it, too.

But nothing I do seemed to matter any more in the wake of such terrible violence directed towards such innocent life.

The next morning I went to church and in his sermon my priest asked for all of us, “What do we do now?” 

In answer, he quoted Fred Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

He summed up, “Look to the helpers. Be a helper.”

A few days ago, I read in New York Times editorial by Rev. Kevin O’Neil, C.S.S.R., “One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence.” 

He doesn’t know why God allowed this tragedy to happen either, but he concluded, “What I do know is that there is an unconditional loving presence which soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift we can all give, particularly to the suffering.”
                                               New York Times - Opinions

I received Anne Lamott’s latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers for Christmas. In it I found what I was looking for – instructions, “We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering, -- a sweet brown-eyed Jew who will want you to get glasses of water for everyone, including yourself.”

Water and perhaps something just a little more hardy that can be prepared at home and delivered to someone going through a rough time:

SIMPLE BEEF STEW



Ingredients:

4 pounds beef stew – trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces 
1 cup all-purpose flour
About ½ cup of olive oil
2 cups diced onions (2 large)
4 cups of Yukon Gold (or your favorite) potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 large potatoes)
2 cups sliced or baby carrots (about ½ pound)
3 cups beef broth
½ tablespoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

Instructions:

1.     Coat the beef in the flour.

2.     Pour a light coat of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

3.     Brown the meat in batches, adding more oil as necessary, place in a large sauce pot on stove or in a crock pot (slow cooker).

4.     Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot.

5.     If using a crock pot, cover and cook on low heat for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 or 5 hours. Do not uncover or stir.

6.     If using a sauce pot on the stove, cook over low heat for 2 ½ to 3 hours. Gently stir frequently.

Can be cooled, frozen in plastic containers and thawed when needed.

Or serve hot along with a nice loaf of bread.

Once I get the crock pot going, I start a batch of bread in the bread machine. It’s difficult to remain in the house during that last hour as the aromas coming out of those machines seem to say, it’s time to eat! But the display still says, 37 more minutes.   

This simple recipe can be jazzed up or substituted in any way that appeals. Use it to help follow the instructions in this blessing my friend prays over his congregation at the end of Sunday services:

Remember that life is short,
and we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who
travel with us.
So be swift to love, 
and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
and who travels with us
be with you now and forever.
Amen
.

Based on the words of Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-1881). I’m pretty sure it’s also in The Book of Common Prayer, but I can’t find it.

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Sources:

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

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Update December 28, 2013

I can't help but see the naivete that runs through the above post written in January, 2013. I had believed real change would occur after the horror of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT.

But I am sad to sum up that there have been 28 shootings in U.S. schools in the last year since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. How could that possibly be after our country was shocked into awareness and action? There's no answer to this except to say that some folks used the fear of this situation to grasp tighter to their guns.

Every time I heard about a school shooting during the last year I "self-medicated" with distraction, denial, and rationalization. I also focused on the good news -- 23 Gun Safety Victories Since Sandy Hook.

When the latest school shooting happened on December 13, 2013, I was saddened particularly by the irony of the date and yet again "self-medicated" with denial, rationalization, and the belief that the injured victim would be okay - just like Gabrielle Giffords and Malala Yousafzai.

But she wasn't okay. Claire Davis died on Saturday, December 21, 2013.

I could no longer block my emotional reaction as I visualized over and over again the random shooting of a 17-year-old-girl sitting with her friends in a high school hallway waiting for first period to start. The horror of that image gave way to tears on Sunday. I cried before church, during church, after church and intermittently throughout the day. I spoke to my teenagers about it and they assured me that they felt safe at their schools. That made me cry all the harder as I understood that Claire Davis probably felt just as safe at her school. Why aren't people getting it? Why haven't we stopped this yet? What do I do now?

The next morning, I called my best friend and discussed with her my feelings that it all seemed so hopeless and that there didn't seem to be anything we could do. She commiserated with me and then told me about a conversation she overheard between her 17-year-old son and a anti-gun control proponent. She said that while her own arguments for gun safety took on the emotions of mama bear protecting her young, her son's argument was a calm and rational discussion of facts and the countering of the opposing party's comments until the opposition had nothing left to say.

And that's where I found it -- hope for our future. Hope that with the viewpoints and the activism of the younger generation, we will look back on this period of our violent national history, shudder, and then be glad that it's all over.

I've also joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. This one appeals to me because they post specific actions plans for their members such as contact information of legislators and petitions to sign. They also balance the bad news with news of positive actions and goals achieved. They've recently joined forces with Mayors against Illegal Guns, making both groups that much stronger. Obviously, I'm recommending this group, but there are many other groups that might better appeal to your individual sensibilities. Check 'em out and let's work together to build on the positive steps of 2013 to real change in 2014.

Meanwhile, keep doing the good you were already doing and remember to get yourself a glass of water.


Update: 12/29/2014

Epidemic of Stupidity
I had such high hopes for this season of Advent a.k.a. the Christmas Season; my inner joy had come back to me after it had gone missing for several months. My family, work, and creative life were happily chugging along and then BANG, and BANG, and BANG, BANG, BANG!
How can I truly be happy with all this shooting going on? How can I keep getting up in the morning, shake my head at the news, say a quick pray for the departed and their families, and go about my day as if it doesn’t affect me because I don’t know any of them personally?
I can’t.
Instead, I can cry quietly in the kitchen as the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook School Massacre comes and goes while the incidents of school shootings in the U.S. continue at a sickening pace. I can fall to my knees weeping upon learning the news of the massacre of 132 school children in Peshawar, Pakistan.
And I can get up slowly, do my chores, smile at folks, and search for answers. And then BANG, BANG. I’m knocked down again by the assassination of two NYPD police officers. Why do their deaths bother me so much more than the deaths caused by accidents, gang and domestic violence? It doesn’t, it just hits closer to home. I have police officers and firemen in my family; their safety concerns me every day.
My children attend school. They are exactly where they are supposed to be. Yet, for some sick, sick, devastatingly sick reason, school children are targets.
What the hell?
Well, evil has something to do it, no doubt. But evil doesn’t work without a choice made with the free will God gave us so that our faith in Him would have meaning. And we, the bystanders have the free will to stop this epidemic of stupidity.
Step One: Accept that weeping for these losses is good for your soul. Then follow the example of Jesus upon hearing about the murder of his cousin, John the Baptist:
"Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowd heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick." -- Matthew 13:13-14
Jesus grieved. And then, He stepped up his ministry big time as this was the crowd He fed with five loaves and two fish.
Step Two: Understand that while we are not God, God can work through us in baby steps and ripples. Begin at home and spread it out from there.
Step Three: Understand that your children are A LOT smarter than you think. Lock up your guns. You cannot hide your guns or place them somewhere children can’t reach. They will find a way to get their hands on your guns.
Step Four: Ask about guns in the homes where your children go to play. Do not allow them to go in homes where there are unsecured guns.
Step Five: Join a gun sense movement. Or six. Join their boycotts and letter writing campaigns. Make donations to these groups. Buy their tee-shirts and bumper stickers. Let these items spark gun sense conversations. March with these groups. Attend their meetings and functions. Spread their words. Vote for gun sense laws. Celebrate every whisper of good news for the cause!
Step Six: Remember that you don’t have to run a chapter of one of these groups to make a difference, but you can support those who are so called.
Step Seven: As you are taking these baby steps and beginning to create positive ripples in the eradication of this epidemic of stupidity, ask yourself how far you are willing to go. Most of us would step between a child and traffic without even thinking about it. Would you step between a child and a bullet? Would you really? Even if it wasn’t your child? I’m pretty sure that most of us would do this as an instinctive act. It’s called fierce protection. Go with that.
Fierce protection will give you courage, without anger and judgment, to have uncomfortable social conversations about gun sense that may sink into debates on political, religious, and philosophical differences. You’re tough, you can handle it.
And you CAN boycott Harris Teeter and the other Kroger stores. You really can. And if you honor Kroger’s stance that they are following state gun laws, then use the power of your vote to change these laws.
Step Eight: Definitely pray for peace. Then pray especially for the courage and fortitude you need to take your baby steps and ask God to help you feel the ripples coming from fierce protectors across the nation as we step forward together.

Bonus Material: 


Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Every Town for Gun Safety
Sandy Hook Promise
Connecticut Against Gun Violence
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Thursday, January 3, 2013

ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI, THE FIRST NATIVITY SCENE & PANCAKES



Institution of the Crib at Greccio
Giotto di Bondone, Basilica di San Francesco, Circo, 1300

St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved and well-known saint throughout the world and is remembered for sparking the tradition of Nativity scenes. He was born in either 1181 or 1182 in Assisi, Italy. He founded the Franciscan Order of Friar Minors, lived the gospels in obedience to the Church, traveled in peace to the Middle East during the crusades, created the first Nativity scene, saw God in everyone and everything, received the Stigmata of Christ Crucified, inspired countless people in his lifetime, and continues to inspire us today.

St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and ecology. He's one of two patron saints of Italy (along with Catherine of Siena) and many other places throughout the world, including San Francisco, CA, in the United States. He's honored in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, and Lutheran Churches. He died on October 3, 1226, and his feast day, October 4, is usually celebrated with a Blessing of the Animals.


About three years after his return from the Middle East, Francis left the hermitage near Rieti and traveled to Greccio in December 1223. He probably traveled by boat.

In preparation as deacon of the Christmas Midnight Mass, Francis obtained permission from the sovereign pontiff to prepare a living nativity scene (presepio in Italian) as he was much inspired by his visit to the holy lands.

He asked his friend and former soldier, John of Greccio, to help him create a grotto modeled on Bethlehem with a straw-filled manger, an ox, and a donkey. This grotto was either placed inside the church near the altar or the service was held outside near a real cave because the church was too small for all the people. The manger was either empty or contained an image or icon of the baby Jesus.

On Christmas Eve, the townspeople gathered for the service with their torch lights or candles to look upon the scene. First the friars sang the Vigils of the Nativity, next Francis sang or chanted the Gospel and then he began to preach.

So overcome with emotion, he could not speak the name of the Lord, calling him instead “Babe of Bethlehem.” In the pronunciation of these words, many in attendance heard the bleating of sheep around the manger. He spoke of the poor King, the Son of God born in the flesh as a helpless infant in a stable with farm animals. Francis saw the entire life of God Incarnate in the precious gift of the Baby Jesus. He cried tears of devotion, piety, joy, and gratitude.

According to John of Greccio, Francis approached the empty manger and then Baby Jesus appeared, or the icon of the Christ Child that had been placed there came to life. Francis embraced the sleeping baby and held Him up for all to see.

As witnesses to this blessed miracle, many townspeople took pieces of the manger straw home as relics. Further miracles were reported as pieces of the straw were fed to sick farm animals who recovered, and women in labor touched with pieces of that straw had easy deliveries.

Years later, after the canonization of St. Francis, an altar in his honor was placed on the site of the Greccio manger.

To this day, Christians display nativity scenes or crèches, or take part in living nativity scenes or Christmas pageants. We can thank St. Francis of Assisi for helping us see the true meaning of Christmas each year.

Sources:

THE LITTLE FLOWERS OF SAINT FRANCIS by St. Ugolino
FRANCIS OF ASSISI: A NEW BIOGRAPHY by Augustine Thompson, O.P.

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For the sake of accuracy, I combined the two main versions of this event. But I find that it doesn’t matter which version is the most accurate as the story is the same in each.

This plays out in modern times as well. At one church, the Christmas pageant is beautifully performed with gorgeous costumes and well-rehearsed children looking out at the congregation over the baby Jesus doll in the manger. It makes a lovely picture either for our memories or our cameras.

At another church, the Christmas pageant is a bit less disciplined -- period costumes are mixed with superhero and circus animal costumes and the children are allowed a little self-expression in their performances. But they don’t think about that. They think about the real baby girl playing the role of Jesus. With their backs to the congregation, they gaze at her. They ask her mom questions about the sweet baby looking up at them. They certainly won’t turn around for a photo. And so, we put our cameras down and realize that once again the children have it right, and we focus our own attention on the Babe of Bethlehem.

My favorite version of the story of St. Francis and the first Living Nativity Scene is in the movie CLARE AND FRANCES. The event takes place as Francis travels home from the Middle East. He and his fellow friar, Brother Illuminato, do not make it home to Assisi in time for Christmas. They stop in Greccio because the village reminds Francis of Bethlehem. Francis’s creation of the Nativity Scene appears spontaneous as he arranges the animals of an indulgent farmer. Next, he places a young husband and wife behind the manger to play the role of Mary and Joseph. He says, “The ox, the donkey, and the manger. We have everything.”

Illuminato asks, “And the baby? Where’s the baby?”

“We have one, Illuminato.”  Francis looks up with clasped hands, “We already have the Baby.”

I see great value in this lesson from St. Francis who saw the crucified Christ in the Baby Jesus and vise versa for all eternity. One and the same, similar to when parents look at their grown children and see the baby they once held in their arms. God gave us the gift of his Son in human form, a beautiful baby who would grow to spread His Word and then die for our sins on the Cross. As we honor and celebrate His blessed birth, we can’t help but think of His death -- miracles both and a gift to each and every one of us.
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During a little pilgrimage to the North End of Boston, MA, in December 2012, I took this photo at the Peace Garden of St. Leonard's Church. St. Leonard's is the first Roman Catholic Church in New England built by Italian Immigrants. Franciscan brothers are responsible for the church while Franciscan sisters run the nearby school. 


(St. Leonard of Port Maurice was a Franciscan friar, born in 1676 and died in 1751. Called “The Apostle of the Way of the Cross,” he was a teacher of seminarians and a preacher. He's honored in the Roman Catholic Church with a feast day on November 27.)
  
Behind the crèche is a statue of St. Anthony of Padua holding the Christ Child. In his own words he explains why: 

The fruit of the bee is the Son of the Virgin. Blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Luke 1:42), it says; and Canticles 2:3, His fruit was sweet to my palate. This fruit is sweet in its beginning, middle and end. It was sweet in the womb, sweet in the crib, sweet in the temple, sweet in Egypt, sweet in his Baptism, sweet in the desert, sweet in the word, sweet in miracles, sweet on the ass, sweet in the scourging, sweet on the Cross, sweet in the tomb, sweet in hell, and sweet in heaven. O sweet Jesus, what is more sweet than you are?

In another sermon he wrote:

Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son; and his name shall be called Emmanuel. (Is. 7:14) that is God-with-us. God made himself a little child for us; he was born for us. There are many reasons why Christ is called a little child: and for briefness’ sake here is just one: If you hurt a child, make him cry, but then show him a kindness, give him a flower, a rose, or some other object he likes, instantly he forgets the hurt you did him, his anger is gone and he runs to embrace you. Thus it is with Christ. If you have offended him by a mortal sin or wounded him by some fault, but you offer him the flower of contrition or the rose of a tearful confession, at once he forgets your offense, he forgives your sin, and he runs to take you in his arms and gives you his kiss of peace. 
                                  St. Anthony's Sermons

St. Anthony, influenced by the teachings of St. Francis, took to heart the words of St. Paul who wrote that Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! 
                              Philippians 2:6-8 New International Edition

In fact, St. Francis's entire attitude, works, and spirituality were based on these words. Franciscan brothers and sisters devote themselves to appreciation of this gift and model their life and works on the Way of Jesus Christ.


Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
                             Collect, HOLY WOMEN, HOLY MEN: CELEBRATING THE SAINTS

See St. Francis of Assisi and Animals to learn why he’s the patron saint of animals and ecology. Learn about his final years in The Stigmata and Death of St. Francis.

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St. Francis loved Christmas and as strict as he was with himself regarding fasting, he feasted with the same rigor and celebrated with exuberance. Once when a brother referred to Christmas day as Friday, a day of fasting, St. Francis exclaimed, “Even the walls should feast on Christmas day!”

What would I serve St. Francis and the Holy Family on Christmas morning? Pancakes. Why? Because my dad tells a story of his father’s first morning in America when he was served pancakes with butter and maple syrup. With one taste, he realized he made the right decision to come to this country which had such delicious food. 

HEARTY PANCAKES



Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup melted butter

 1.      Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.

 2.      Beat the eggs in another bowl.

 3.      Add milk, sour cream and butter. Mix well.

 4.      Pour into dry ingredients. Stir until just blended.

 5.      Pour batter by ¼ cupfuls onto a greased hot griddle, flip when
          bubbles form on top of pancakes.

 6.      Cook until second side is golden brown.

 7.      Serve hot with plenty of butter and maple syrup.

Makes about twenty.

Options:  Mix a cup of blueberries or other fruit into the batter. As always, substitute ingredients as needed due to dietary requirements.

Enjoy with family and friends!


Bonus Material: