Friday, February 23, 2024

Sour Cream Pound Cake

 I first ran this recipe in 2004 and all these years later it is still my go-to pound cake. It isn't fussy but it is simply delicious. Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen!

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness. James Tissot.

As soon as [temptation] presents itself to us we should turn away from it and direct our glance towards Our Lord, who lives within us and fights at our side, who himself has conquered sin. … In this way temptation will lead us to prayer, to union with God and with Christ; it will not be loss but gain.
B. Baur, In Silence with God

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Notes on Mark: Word Study - Repentance

St. John the Baptist Preaching by Mattia Preti

MARK 1:4
Metanoia (Gk): literally a "change of mind". The word is used 22 times in the New Testament for a conversion of one's entire life to the Lord. Based on similar OT concepts, it involves a twofold movement of the heart: one who repents turns away from sin (1 Kings 8:35; Ezek 18:30) and toward God (Hos 6:1; Sir 17:25, 26; Heb 6:1). This entails genuine contrition for past failings and a firm resolve to avoid them in the future, and it may be accompanied by bodily disciplines like fasting (Dan 9:3-5; Joel 2:12; 2 Cor 7:10). Because repentance is a gradual process of transformation, God is patient with sinners struggling to make amends and redirect their lives toward holiness (Wis 12:10; Rom 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9). Repentance is inspired by the eternal life offered in Christ (Mk 1:15; Acts 2:38), and its genuineness becomes evident when lives are changed in accord with the gospel (Mt 3:8; Acts 26:20; Gal 5:22-24).

The Gospel of Mark
(The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)
by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch
Reading this I was really struck by the fact that "repentance is a gradual process of transformation". I tend to think of it as very cut and dried. I'm sorry, I won't do it again ... and then I should change my ways. Of course, often the sad fact is that I fail in changing my ways and lapse again. Thinking of it as a gradual thing is very helpful. A step forward here, a little improvement there ... and I am "in progress" rather than a total failure.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

I first read this in 2013 and then reread it six years later because it was the opening episode of Season 9 for A Good Story is Hard to Find. 

Here I am, rereading it yet another six years late. That must be my sweet spot for really getting a lot from this book. It was the perfect Lenten read, though I didn't plan it that way. Time to rerun my original review from 2013 in case you missed it or haven't reread it lately!


Two readers I trust, Will Duquette and Amy H. Sturgis, have strongly recommended both this author and book. I certainly am glad they did, although if Goodreads allowed it I would give it 4-1/2 stars instead of the full 5, simply because I feel the ending was rushed as if the author was ready to get this situation done and the book sent out. I felt this especially in the case of the romantic resolution for the protagonist.

However, overall I really enjoyed this tale of a bedraggled, galley ship survivor who, despite his best efforts to the contrary, finds himself in the middle of royal intrigue. If that weren't enough, he is also pulled into the the affairs of the divine as a result and this complicates his life as one might imagine. This is a land of various gods and strong, dark magic. It is, however, also a land where free will matters in the outcome of events.

I must admit that about 5 or 6 chapters into it I almost put this book down, thinking it was much of a muchness with other such tales. Luckily, Amy H. Sturgis picked that moment to comment that this was one of her favorite books. I was not going to be the one who quit on her after that. I respect her too much. I'd read to the end and either be bored by it or love it for the entire thing. Just about then was actually when it got more interesting, so if you find yourself in similar straits, just keep going.

The Curse of Chalion reminded me strongly in some ways of Barbara Hambly's Sun Wolf trilogy, especially in the author's examination of a mature man humbled by events and forced to learn who he is below the surface. However, Curse is altogether more layered and interesting.

How much did I like it? I gave the book's name to both daughters yesterday with the comment that I'd be looking forward to discussing it with them. 

Will Duquette's review of the sequel, Paladin of Souls, included this comment, which works pretty well for this book also:
See, this is a fantasy series, but it's almost what you might call theological science fiction. That is to say, Bujold has invented a theology (a very interesting one, I might add) and a religion to go with it--and then, having set up the rules, she's seeing where they take her.

Satan Tried to Tempt Jesus

Satan Tried to Tempt Jesus, James Tissot
Christ made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan. … If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcame the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him.He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.
Commentary on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Scott and Julie, freshly knighted, recorded this podcast even though their helmets didn't fit.

We discuss The Hedge Knight by George R. R. Martin in Episode 326 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

A (Time-Loop Thriller) Movie You Might Have Missed 93 — Maanaadu (Public Conference)

After flying in for a friend's wedding, Khaaliq stumbles across a plot to assassinate the Chief Minister  at a political rally (public conference). When he tries to stop it, Khaaliq is killed and unexpectedly wakes up on the airplane again. This second time around he's struck by a sense of deja vu and ultimately discovers that he's in a time-loop. Each time he comes across the plot from a different angle and struggles to stop the assassination attempt. And each time he is killed which returns him to the plane.

This is a really great time-loop thriller with fantastic action scenes and an unexpected twist that ratchets up the suspense and action.

As I was explaining this genre to my mother while we were watching, she asked, "But why is it happening?" And I realized that the time-loop genre doesn't bother to explain why. It is just how things are until the person is released. I mean, we all know why just from watching the story over and over. In Groundhog Day the person must mature. In Happy Death Day, she must figure out who murders her. And so forth and so on.

Maanaadu has an actual explanation that makes sense in the world of the movie (especially, one assumes, if you are Hindu). It gives all the more resonance to the reason Khaaliq wants to solve the problem and find his way to tomorrow.

I really enjoyed the pacing. Often time-loop films drag when they repeatedly show us what is happening or changing in each iteration of the day. This movie quickly gets you up to speed — and speed is the right word — because once we've gone through two or three versions of the day, the director begins each section right at the point where it went wrong before. It doesn't take long to catch on that this is happening and it speeds us right past all the repetitive bits.

The film is self aware enough to mention many time-loop movies and we especially enjoyed when one of the characters complained, "You are confusing me more than Christopher Nolan's Tenet." That Tenet was a confusing mess has never been more universally acknowledged than when it is zinged by a Tamil film. Thank you, Venkat Prabhu!

This is available now on Amazon Prime for $2.99 and it is money well spent.


"Confession" by Wlastimil Hofman, 1906

 It's Lent. This is a great reminder that confession is about meeting Jesus to talk over the things that get in the way of our meeting him more fully.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Rereading — Art and Prayer: The Beauty of Turning to God by Timothy Verdon

I read this long ago, in 2014, and thoroughly enjoyed rereading it recently. I highly recommend this way of combining art and prayer.

There is an “art of prayer,” when faith and prayer become creative responses by which creatures made in the image and likeness of the Creator relate to him with help of the imagination. ... Richly illustrated, Monsignor Verdon explains that images work in believers as tools that teach them how to turn to God.
They had me at "richly illustrated." Over the years I have become more and more attracted to paintings as keys to helping me connect more honestly and deeply with God.

The book has many gorgeous pieces of art which are wonderfully explained and made personal by the text of the book. For example, looking at both the inset and whole painting of Piero della Francesca's Baptism of Christ, the author takes us through what the painter hopes to show us, the importance of the original setting for the piece and it's possible impact on the monks who would have seen it daily, and the importance of interior transformation for every one of us. He then uses the painting's landscape to segue into nature, Scripture, and imagination before moving on to the next piece for inspiration. All this is by page 6, by the way.

Needless to say, it is a thought provoking, eye opening, and inspirational gem.

The Church Window

"The Church Window" by Hans Baluschek, 1915.
Via J.R.'s Art Place
All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labours with vast power and perpetual success—in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.
J.R.R. Tolkien, from a letter to his son Christopher in 1944

Sunday, February 18, 2024

3rd Sunday of St. Joseph

Reflecting on St. Joseph on the seven Sundays leading up to his solemnity is an old tradition. 

 Lorenzo Lotto. Madonna and Child with St. Jerome, St. Joseph and St. Anne.

Joseph, Husband of Mary

Painters have traditionally depicted Joseph as an elderly man in order to emphasize the perpetual virginity of Mary. Yet it is more likely that Joseph was not much older than Mary. You don't have to wait to be old or lifeless to practice the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love; and the strength and joy of youth are no obstacle to a noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company, respecting the integrity God wished to give the world as one more sign that he had come to share the life of his creatures. (St. Escriva, Christ is passing by)

Let us ask the Holy Patriarch to teach us how to live this kind of love in the circumstances to which God has called us. We want this love that lights up the heart (St. Thomas, On Charity) so that we may perform our ordinary work with joy.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Linguine with Chickpeas and Zucchini

 The combination sounds odd but it is delicious — and meatless for Lent! Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

There is great joy to being a penitent

 This is for anyone who has had to endure the lukewarm homilies or RCIA classes as Lent approaches. They talk about not worrying about giving things up, about just adding things on — hey, those aren't mutually exclusive, by the way. Anyway, they reflect the spirit of the 1970's which is trying to make the Church easier and more fun. What they forget, or perhaps don't know, is that these are all to help you get closer to God. There's often little spoken of about that goal.

As a convert, I was intrigued by the rituals, the symbols, the sacraments, and, yes, the sacrifices. All contributed to the glories of the Catholic faith in one way or another. I never look forward to Lent but I take the proscribed penances seriously and I always give full consideration to what I'm "giving up." When Lent hits, I'm always surprised at how the struggles result in clearing away the cobwebs, opening the way to greater faith and a more personal experience of God.

All that is an introduction to why I loved this piece from Ed Condon at The Pillar. It ran a long time ago but is pertinent throughout Lent.

Happy first Friday of Lent friends, And enjoy your day of penance. I mean that.

Penance is one of those things which, at least in the West, has become an almost uniquely Catholic concept. The idea of a day of penance, let alone marking a whole season of it, strikes our wider society as maudlin, weird, and full of “Catholic guilt.”

And while it is neither maudlin nor weird, guilt — especially in the context of Lent — is a good thing, something to be embraced.

We all have a lot to feel guilty about, I am sure. Not just in the superficial sense of “I was so bad when I did that,” but in the much fuller sense of living in the light of an informed and well-formed conscience which is, or should be, our internal impulse to convert, to reorient ourselves to God, and to embrace the better nature we are called to have.

Penance, with its works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is uncomfortable, for sure. But it’s not meant to be miserable. Little actions, small offerings (or large ones) attune us to a right understanding of who we are, and who we need — God.

Modern social media psychobabble is full of talk about “mindfulness” and “being present,” which are themselves vacuous terms. To the extent they ever scratch the surface of human existence, they usually concentrate on “centering yourself in the here and now” to distract from the chasmous void at the heart of a human experience that knows not God, the unbearable weight of our imperfections without hope of redemption.

For us, Lent is the celebration of a great gift: the knowledge that our flaws, our jealousies, our petty vanity, and even what some might call our astonishing hubris, merit a great savior — one who is coming with power over the fear of death which rules and directs our baser natures.

Finding our place relative to that cosmic truth, and preparing to accept it, may not be a comfortable experience, but it can be joyful.

There is great joy to being a penitent when we are sure of His response, when each act of penance isn’t so much a plea for clemency before a wrathful master as a gesture of faith in the love of a Father whose nature we are striving to imitate.

In this sense, Lent is a time of relief, of rest, of remembering who we actually are, and for what purpose we were actually made — to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him forever in the next, as we used to say.

I think the Meghan Markle crowd would call this “self-actualization,” or maybe “resting in your truth.” The Church calls it “conversion,” and it’s great.

Special Fish Fridays During Lent

A little help for those who aren't used to meatless Fridays during Lent.
Aw Shucks and Big Shucks Oyster Bar will be offering a weekly grilled tilapia special, featuring two fillets with rice and vegetable medley for $9, available on Fridays from February 16 through March 29. They'll also have soups: Maria's Clam Chowder, a New England-style chowder topped with bacon and parsley, or Caldo de Mariscos, a fish and head-on shrimp concoction with vegetables in a spicy broth. At all locations in Dallas, Richardson, Lewisville, and Frisco.