St. Cecilia and Baptism

Apologies for the long interval of posts–let’s just say a certain someone decided to play with our laptop, thus resulting in a shut down of all computer activities for a while.  Anyway, we’re back and running.

November 22nd is the feast of St. Cecilia, patron of musicians and Church music and what a glorious thing of which to be patron!  It is said she earned this patronage because she sang to God while she was dying.  She was an early Christian, dying sometime around the late 1st century (can’t get much earlier than that, no?), and we know there was a church dedicated to her in Rome as early as the 5th century.  She is a splendid saint, with a myriad of devotees (especially amongst musicians), but our little family will always have a special place in our hearts for her because her feast is also Teddy’s birthday into the Church.

No, November 22nd is not Teddy’s actual birthday–that is November 19th (the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungry).  The feast of St. Cecilia is his baptismal birthday.  I can hear you doing the simple math now…yes, Teddy was three days old when he was baptized.  Oh shock, horror!  I can’t tell you how many people of our family, friends, colleagues, and even simple acquaintances were so surprised to hear of Teddy’s baptismal date.  Even some of our Catholic friends couldn’t believe it.  The response was always the same: “Oh but why?  You really don’t think anything will happen to him, do you?  He’s a healthy baby.”  Well, let me, once and for all, answer those questions (especially considering we’re still getting them).

First, for those of you who don’t know/know but don’t agree, let me quickly outline the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of baptism:

  • It is one of the seven sacraments, instituted by Christ (we see this in John 3:5 and Mark 16:15-16).
  • Baptism washes away the guilt of original sin (and actual sin, if any have been committed).
  • Baptism is essential to salvation (although we leave all judgment to God)
  • Water, the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and a proper intention all must be present for a baptism to be valid.

Ok, so that’s the very, very basic understanding of it.  Catholics do not view baptism merely as a symbol of our personal relationship with God, but as an actual grace-giving function that provides the necessary initiation into the Body of Christ.  I refer you here for a more academic discussion.

Second, we had a lot of people ask us, as “traditionalists,” if we believe in Limbo, and that’s why we baptized Teddy so early.  The short answer is no…and yes, in a way.  Limbo has never been a defined doctrine of the Church (meaning, it has never been declared a doctrine or dogma by any pope).  Many popes and Catholics throughout the ages, however, have viewed Limbo as a good explanation to the question about innocents who die without baptism (because baptism is necessary to salvation).  In a way, it makes sense.  In another way, however, it doesn’t–why would God create a soul only to keep it separated from Him forever?  Not being God, I don’t know.  Our yes and no answer simply means the Church has never required us to believe in Limbo, but it has never forbidden us from believing in it either, and that being the case, we simply don’t know one way or the other for sure.  My gut tells me no, but then, what does happen to the soul of an unbaptized baby?  Again, not being God, I can’t know.

Which brings me to point three: babies die.  It’s tragic.  But, it does happen.  No, we don’t live in a world with high levels of infant mortality, and yes, Teddy was a healthy newborn.  But, he (or any of us) could die any minute–a car accident, SIDS (when he was a newborn), choking, etc.  The point is no one ever knows the hour he will be called.  And as parents, Jon and I see it as our supreme duty to try to ensure our son’s salvation.  Yes, he has free will, and yes, he may (well, probably will) lose the innocence of his baptismal vows, but it is our role as his parents to do everything within our power to put him on the path to Heaven.  And that’s really what it’s all about.  We need to feed, cloth, and shelter our son; we need to love, support, and educate him.  But we need to make sure he spends eternity in happiness with God.

Therefore, point four, why wait?  Just so we can throw him a bigger party and have him smile for his baptism picture?  No thanks.  And let me tell you, we all three slept peacefully that night almost one year ago.

Teddy being held by his godmother as he is baptized.

Me (still looking horribly pregnant) holding our little Christian, with a proud uncle and aunt looking on.


St. Martin de Porres

Well, it was a relatively busy All Saints Day and All Souls Day–hence the lack of posts.  I was going to post on Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead (aka All Souls), which, as many people know, has its own traditions and customs in Latin America.  But, not being Hispanic, I would have had to do a lot of research to make the post correct, and frankly I just didn’t feel like it.  Terrible, I know.  Motherhood, even stay-at-home motherhood, has its demands after all.  I do hope to learn more about the traditions associated with the Day of the Dead though, especially considering that I live in California.

Anyway, today is the feast of St. Martin de Porres.  I never knew that much about him until university, where I met my very good friend Adrian.  St. Martin is his patron saint, and he had a statue of him in his room (we were also flatmates).  He was kind enough to tell me about the good Dominican brother.  St. Martin was a Dominican tertiary in Lima, Peru during the late 16th and early 17th centuries.  His father was Spanish and his mother was a freed black slave.  He grew up incredibly poor, and when he was 15, entered the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima as a servant boy, but was soon promoted to almoner and later, the Convent lifted its racial limits to accept him as a full Dominican.  St. Martin is known for his extreme love of charity, even going so far as to give his own bed to beggars and the sick.

He was also gifted with the miracle of bilocation as well as levitation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures, and the ability to communicate with animals.  There is a story that St. Martin, through his gift of bilocation, was seen as far afield as Africa (and also China, Japan, and Algeria). An African slave said he had known the saint when he came to minister to and console many like himself, telling them of heaven.  When later the slave saw St. Martin in Peru, he was very happy to meet him again and asked him if he had a good voyage; only later did he learn that he had never been outside his native Lima.

St. Martin’s body was exhumed 25 years after his death and found to be incorrupt.  He was beatified in 1837 and declared a saint in 1962.  He is the patron saint of innkeepers, barbers, and public health as well as, most famously, those of mixed race.  I decided to make a marble cake in his honor today, symbolizing the mixture that produced such a noble and charitable solider of Christ.

St. Martin de Porres…oro pro nobis!

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All Hallows Eve Part II

So today was a busy day.  No, we did not take Teddy trick-or-treating; perhaps because he is yet to be able to eat candy in any form in addition to Jon’s continued resistance to the idea.  I’m not too upset, although I did make Jon take us (Teddy and me) down the street to my aunt and uncle’s to deliver some soul cakes–and he actually enjoyed the atmosphere outside.  It was a lovely Northern California autumn evening, the temperature being cool but by no means cold, the leaves changing, and the smell of freshly carved pumpkins hanging in the air.  The street was filled with families, the children going excitedly from house to house, the parents talking to each other congenially.  Halloween in suburban America is more like this than the monster parties/pranks/devil worship that a lot of the world thinks it to be.  Sure, I didn’t see one saint or angel costume, but the worst I saw were a few…er…suggestively dressed mothers as nurses or cats.

Today, in addition to being All Hallows Eve, is the feast of Christ the King in the old calendar.  I know this feast assuredly takes precedence over a vigil, so in honor of Our Lord’s kingship I made Jon one of his favorite treats–a quiche.  Yes, that’s right, a quiche.  I figured that the butter pastry, cream, bacon, and cheese concoction was a lordly dish, as well as knowing it would please my husband.  I even skipped the whole wheat flour this time and used all white, making it that much more decadent (ah, the small things in life).

But, tradition is also tradition.  I had to make soul cakes, even if I wouldn’t be giving them out to our little beggars so they could pray for our dead.  A soul cake, by the way, is nothing more than a homemade doughnut.  Some recipes or variations of the tradition call for a fruit bread, but never having been fond of fruit bread (who is?), I opted for the doughnut option.  The story goes that a baker in merry old England wanted to reiterate the reason for soul cakes (i.e. praying for the dead).  He made a cake in a circle, symbolizing eternity, and dropped it in boiling fat, symbolizing either the burning purification of Purgatory or the torments of Hell (yes, purgatory isn’t going to be like your doctor’s waiting room–we’re talking some cleansing by fire people).  So, a soul cake, a soul cake, pray for Christian souls for a soul cake!

Above is the rolled out and cut dough for the cakes.  I had to use biscuit cutters, so the rings ended up being a bit on the skinny side.

Here they are frying…I certainly hope I do not share their fate.

And here they are, finished with cinnamon sugar.  I also went ahead and fried the holes.

Next came the pumpkin.  Every year of my life, including those I spent in Scotland, I have carved a pumpkin for All Hallows Eve, and this year was to be no exception.  We had the great privilege to hear a homily by one of the Dominican priests of the Priests for Life at Mass today.  This inspired me to carve a pro-life lantern, using this template from the American Life League.  It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

The unsuspecting pumpkin…

…becomes a…what is that exactly?

Baby in the womb.  Caught some moms of trick-or-treaters taking pictures of it.  Yeah, it’s awesome.

Hope everyone had a blessed and safe All Hallows Eve.  Even though tomorrow, All Saints Day, is not a holy day of obligation in America this year, I hope you’ll try to make it to Mass.  I’m thinking of pulling out some recipes from my new favorite, A Continual Feast.  We’ll definitely start tomorrow’s dinner with some freshly roasted pumpkin seeds, perhaps spiced with some chili powder to represent the saints’ fire for the faith!

All Hallows Eve Part I

In pretty much any Christian tradition, no date on the calendar causes more controversy than Halloween.  You’ve got your hard core anti-group and your more permissible “oh, it’s not that bad, it’s just costumes and candy” group.  There is always debate about it, however, regardless of your stance and denomination.

Some Christians (and some non-Christians) refuse to celebrate it all together, thinking it is some how evil or demonic.  Jon’s family was one of those families actually (but, to be fair, when Jon was growing up Halloween as we know it wasn’t really a thing in the UK).  Jon’s mom comes from a pretty conservative Anglican/Baptist/(and now) Catholic background, and didn’t want the kids to have anything to do with it.  My family, on the other hand, let us go trick-or-treating, carve pumpkins, etc., but we were never allowed to dress up as devils or witches or any other nasty thing.  Nor were any of the more unsavory parts of modern Halloween (blood, gore, ghouls) brought into our home.  Also, just as another example, the Lutheran school I went to growing up usually had harvest parties as opposed to Halloween parties.  So, my little family (Jon, Teddy, and I) has a very mixed bag of Halloween traditions.  In fact, I will even go so far as to say Halloween was a point of contention when were discussing children (so is Santa Claus, but that’s another post).  I maintain it won’t do Teddy any harm to be able to dress up like a lion or pumpkin or even St. Dominic and get some free candy; Jon doesn’t want to encourage a something-for-nothing or entitlement mentality (begging door to door like an urchin, as he put it), nor does he agree with the modern twist on Halloween.  Ok, for that matter, I certainly don’t agree with the “celebration” of Halloween as it is now, but this little argument lead me to do some research.

Using Joanna Bogle’s Feasts and Seasons, Meredith Gould’s The Catholic Home: Celebrations for Feast Days, Holidays, and Every Day, and Mary Reed Newland’s The Year and Our Children, I was able to get a better picture of Halloween and its Christian roots.  I think most people know that  Halloween is simply a term born of All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saint’s Eve, November the 1st being the feast of All Saints, one of the greatest feasts of the Church.  The celebration of keeping the vigil on the eve of a great feast has been part of the Church’s life since the beginning.  The feast of All Souls (or those souls still in Purgatory) is on November 2nd.  Since a vigil cannot be kept on a feast day, and since these two feasts are consecutive, the vigil for both is kept on October 31st, hence the somewhat deathly nature to Halloween–we are keeping the vigil of all dead, not just the saints, and all the departed who need prayers.

Now, the feasts of All Saints and All Souls were not formally established by the Church until the seventh century.  Until then, however, it was always a Christian tradition to pray for the dead, as seen in Scripture and sources contemporary to the early Church.  Why did the Church choose to put these feasts at the end of autumn?  There are many theories, the most well-known being the Christianizing, or baptizing, of Celtic Samhain and other pagan holidays saluting various gods of death.  It is certain that the Church Christianized various pagan holidays to symbolize the triumph of Christ over the old, so I’m pretty sure there is some merit to this theory.  My favorite, however, is the understanding of the seasons and their symbolism to man.  Mary Reed Newland writes, “She [the Church] chose this time of year, it is supposed, because, in her part of the world, it was the time of barrenness of the earth.  The harvest was in, the summer done, the world brown and drab and mindful of death.  Snow had not yet descended to comfort and hide the bony trees or blackened fields; so with little effort, man could look about and see a meditation on death and life hereafter” (The Year and Our Children, page 288, Sophia Institute Press, c. 2007).  I think that’s great.  I love the way the Church uses our natural surrounding and the passing of the year to teach us our faith.  Take Christmas for example–the darkest time of the year is when we celebrate the Light being born into the world.  But I digress…

Anyway, I can prove to Jon that Halloween does in fact have Christian origins.  I doubt, however, he ever disagreed with that.  What I need to prove was that one can in fact celebrate Halloween in its modern form without re-paganizing it (e.g. haunted houses, scary movies, witches, devils, etc.).  Is trick-or-treating a terrible thing?  Maybe I won’t be able to totally convince him, because really he takes issue more with the entitlement thing (as a trick-or-treater so aptly proved to us last year when he demanded a particular kind of candy…).  But, I can try.  Jon, honey, trick-or-treating is…wait for it…ENGLISH!  HA!

Yes, the origin of trick-or-treating developed in England as far back as the seventh century (the origin of the feast) when people went door to door begging for “soul cakes.”  If you gave the beggar a soul cake he or she would pray for the dead of the household (a small aside here: I realize this gets into rather heavy theological stuff regarding the afterlife.  I’m sure a lot of my Protestant family and friends will dismiss the premise that prayers for the dead are helpful or even wholesome.  We Catholics, however, believe this is a good and charitable thing, and that our prayers can actually help our loved ones achieve Heaven.  If you’d like more info regarding this teaching, write so in the com box or email me).  The refrain of the song sang at the door varied from “A soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake” to “Soul, soul an apple or two/ If you haven’t an apple a pear will do/ One for Peter and two for Paul/ And three for the Man who made us all.”  The trick part of trick-or-treating is a very modern invention indeed, but the practice of begging door to door is in fact part of our Christian heritage.

Some believe that the tricks and other Halloween shenanigans developed as a “post-Reformation contribution to plague Catholics who kept the vigil” (Ibid.), but there’s not a whole lot of proof for that.  We do know that Elizabeth I forbade all All Hallow’s Eve celebrations and merriment following the break from Rome.  Despite this, Shakespeare slips in a mention in his Two Gentleman of Verona when Speed tells Valentine that he know he is in love because he has learned to speak “pulling like a beggar at Hallowmass.”

Suffice to say, Halloween is an ancient practice for Christians, and there is nothing wrong with keeping this vigil.  In part II of this post, I will attempt to make soul cakes as well as list some other ways to celebrate.  Let me know if there is any way you keep the vigil that you would like included in the next post.

I’ve been slacking a bit these past few days on the posts, but, in my defense, we have been very busy.  I didn’t post on the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (this past Sunday) because we were away at a friend’s house having a lovely dinner, and because I’ll post more about her when we talk about the Sacred Heart.  I didn’t post yesterday, St. Luke’s day, because, well, after a very enjoyable weekend of activities, there was a pile of laundry, dirty dishes, and a fussy baby.  The joys of domesticity after all.  So, apologies.

Before I get into St. Jean and his companion martyrs, there is an interesting story connected with St. Luke’s day (yesterday) that I thought I should mention.  Joanna Bogle, in Feasts and Seasons, writes that because the weather generally warms up slightly this time of year we call it St. Luke’s little summer.  This is also where we got the term “lukewarm,” something that is neither hot nor cold.  Like I said, interesting…or at least I think so, but then again I am a renowned dork when it comes to etymology.

Anyway, today is the feast of St. Jean de Brebouf and companions in the new calendar.  These men were all Jesuits, missionaries to the Iroquois, and some of the first martyrs of North America.  After initial success with the natives, the Iroquois turned on the priests.  Their martyrdom is a truly horrific story–they were slashed with knives, scalped, mock-baptized in boiling water, and had red-hot tomahawks tied around their necks.  Throughout this torture, it is said that St. Jean uttered not a word, which amazed the Iroquois warriors who, after his death, cut out his heart and ate it in hopes of gaining his courage.

Despite their martyrdom being their most famous story, St. Jean and his companions did a lot of good in Canada.  St. Jean himself left behind some beautiful writings encouraging his fellow Jesuit priests in their trials in the New World, writings that emphasize the joy of abandoning one’s comforts and conventions for the sake of Christ, and preaching Christ to all people.  When I was little, I very much wanted to be a missionary and I have always been a little disappointed in myself that I have not become one.  However, after I read some of the things St. Jean wrote, I realized his zeal and missionary spirit could be applied to any walk of life–be it in the wilds of a new land, or simply at home–where ever people need to hear the word of God.

I decided against the slightly vulgar suggestions of baking a heart-shaped cake in St. Jean’s honor.  Instead, I made some cornbread–a staple of almost all of upper North America in early colonial times, Indian or settler.  There are a variety of recipes to be had, all promising the perfect contrast of tender and fluffy to crunchy and firm cornbread, but this tried and true recipe is my favorite:

  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg

Combine the corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Mix the oil, milk, and egg together in another bowl, then add to the dry mixture.  Bake in a greased pan (any will do really, but I always use a pie dish) in a  400 F degree oven for 20-25 minutes.  I like to serve it with butter and honey.  You can’t get much better than cornbread and honey.

St. Jean de Brebouf and companions…oro pro nobis!

Finished cornbread

St. Teresa of Avila


"Ecstasy of St. Teresa" by Bernini, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.


Today is the feast of St. Teresa of Avila.  She was a 16th century Carmelite nun, mystic, and reformer.  In 1970, Pope Paul VI named her a Doctor of the Church, one of three women (the others being St. Catherine of Siena and St. Therese of Lisieux).  She is well-known for her writings on the contemplative life, fueling the Spanish Renaissance in literature, along with her spiritual advisor, St. John of the Cross.

A favorite story of mine about her childhood is her quest for martyrdom.  She and her brother, Rodrigo, so loved hearing the stories of the saints from their parents that they set off to seek their own martyrdom amongst the Moors; their uncle soon retrieved them when he saw them outside the city walls as he was riding back into Avila.

St. Teresa stressed the necessity of a rich prayer life, and in her writings you can see the various levels of contemplation she describes.  Now, in the home, I think it’s near to impossible to achieve full “mental prayer,”  or the “withdrawal of the soul from without and specially the devout observance of the passion of Christ and penitence” (Autobiography 11.20).  We can, however, use her feast day as an attempt to focus our minds better during family prayer, and pray for the graces to be better united to God through our devotions.

I am also using this post as a tool for humility.  Looking back over my previous posts I seem to have presented myself as some sort of baking/cooking queen who can whip up a delicious meal at any time.  Er, not so.  There are some disasters, as today so aptly proved.  I attempted to make Yemas de Santa Teresa from Schuegraf’s Cooking with the Saints.  It looked like a relatively easy recipe and an intriguing one.  So, I gave it a go.  Yemas are a popular dessert/snack in Spain, but in the Avila region especially.  They are essentially sugar and egg yolk balls rolled in more sugar.  Couldn’t be too hard to make, right?  Well, here was my attempt:

It’s a sticky egg yolk mixture.  Not sure what went wrong, but perhaps I didn’t stir it enough…

Here’s what they’re meant to look like:

And, well, I just didn’t want to waste another four of my very expensive organic eggs on a second attempt.  So, sorry St. Teresa, we’ll be without Yemas on your feast day.  I’ll try to make something Spanish for dinner though…something I know I can cook.

Also, this is what happens when I try to do my posts while Teddy is awake:

St. Teresa…oro pro nobis!

Miracle of the Sun


Crowd witnessing the Miracle of the Sun, taken by journalists present


Today we celebrate the fulfillment of the promise of Our Lady of Fatima–that she would perform a miracle so that “all may believe.”  That miracle was called the O Milagre do Sol, or the Miracle of the Sun, in which nearly 100,000 people witnessed the sun “dance” while they waited in the fields of Cova da Iria near Fatima, Portugal.  One account says, “The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceedingly swift and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat” (Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, writing for the newspaper Ordem).  October 13th, 1917 was the final and most amazing apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.

I could write at length about Fatima.  In fact, there are numerous books devoted to the subject–the apparitions themselves, the children, the prophecies.  I am not a scholar, however (despite my dissertation adviser telling me not to devote an entire chapter of my master’s thesis to the Fatima prophecies in relation to Russia and John Paul II’s pontificate), so I’ll simply refer you here for any further explanations on Fatima.  What I will say is this–Fatima is awesome.  As Catholics, we are not bound to believe in any apparition, but once one has been approved by the Vatican, I don’t see why we shouldn’t embrace it.  There are many blessings to be gained from a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, as well as some sound truths to absorb.  One of the most important is the Rosary.  Again and again, we see the Rosary as a weapon to battle the evils of this world.  Let us not disregard the message of our blessed Mother, and let us use the tool she has given us.

So in addition to our rosary today, there are a few ways we celebrated.  I was going to make a Miracle of the Sun cake, but I think Jon is getting a little tired of the sweets.  Instead, I decided to go a Portuguese route for dinner, albeit a very Anglicized one.  We had carnitas, which is essentially just a braised, shredded pork, much like anything akin to pulled pork, luau pork, or barbecue pork.  The Portuguese version, I believe, is slow cooked in milk until the meat is super tender.  I remember attending the Portuguese parades in our town with my good friend Kelly, who is half Portuguese (and, I always thought this way funny–her mother is one of five girls who all have the first name Fatima.  They all go by their middle names so as not to confuse people); there would always be a big banquet at the end, with, of course, carnitas.  Like I said, however, my version is not so authentic.  This is my grandmother’s recipe for “Sweet and Dry Ribs”:

  • 2 1/2 lbs country-style pork ribs (I use boneless, but any will do)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp sherry
  • 1/4 cup orange, pineapple, or other sweet juice

Combine the ribs, water, soy sauce, and salt in a large pot and bring to a boil; simmer 1 1/2-2 hours (at least).  Remove the bones and fat from the meat, shred, then return the meat to the cooking liquid and add the sugar, sherry, and juice.  Cook over high heat until the liquid evaporates, stirring frequently as the ribs get “dry.”  Allow the ribs to slightly caramelize by browning at the end of the cooking process.

So, not exactly authentic Portuguese carnitas, but it was in the same ball park.

Today is also the feast of St. Edward the Confessor, so we could have gone the English route for dinner, but honestly, I can’t get too many bangers in a row (see feast of the Guardian Angels), and the weather is still far too hot in Northern California for a roast beef dinner.  Maybe next time!