Sunday, May 10, 2015

Love Can Change the Word

 This is an approximation of the homily I delivered at St Luke the Evangelist Mother's Day Weekend.  The readings are for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time and can be found here:

I have two very brief stories to tell you that at first may seem unrelated. A young men and a young woman meet and are attracted to each other. They begin to develop a relationship.  He thinks she is beautiful, she thinks he is handsome.  She makes his heart go pitter pat.  They date. He makes her happy.  In fact, she makes him feel so good, that after dating for a few weeks,  he tells her that he loves her.  She says that she loves him too.

Here is the 2nd story. It’s about me.   I really love going to the beach. I don’t necessarily love the sand and the sun however. I can me happy sitting on the balcony overlooking the ocean, reading a good book, having a frozen drink or a glass of wine, being with my family, children, and grandchildren.  In fact, if I were ever to come into  money, I would love to buy a place of my own right on the ocean to go to when I retire.

These stories have one thing in common –  the concept of Love – that is  completely backwards.  In each example, the word love is directed at one’s own pleasure rather than at the good of someone else.  In the first story, the young man and young woman may have affection, passion, fondness, excitement, happiness.  Not love, at least not yet.  In the second story, I find pleasure, happiness, maybe peace and serenity on the beach.  Not love.   None of the uses of the word love in these stories is appropriate.  Using the word Love in this way completely distorts the true meaning.

As a people of faith, we need to both understand and practice the meaning of love as it is proclaimed in the scripture

Looking at the 2nd reading and the Gospel, a form of the word love is used 18 times. In these 18 times, today’s readings tell us essentially 3 things: God is love; God loves us; and we are to love one another. That's it.  It is simple. Unless you do not know what love really means.

Image result for love sacrificeIf you look up the word love in the dictionary, there are 29 different meanings.  And exactly  none of the 29 meanings reflects the Christian understanding of love. None of them. The dictionary is just as confused as the 2 stories that I told .   Jesus says in the Gospel – “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Thus, the true meaning of real love ---- is interwoven with sacrifice.  Sacrifice in the sense of denying oneself for the sake of someone else.  Sadly, the word “sacrifice” has become almost a profanity in our society.

And it is not just sacrifice like giving up candy for lent. The love we to which we are called as Christians is total self-giving, where all is offered and nothing is expected in return. On this Mother’s Day weekend, I cannot think of a better example of this than the love that a mother has for her child. She sacrifices her very body to give her baby life knowing that she will receive nothing in return.

Most would agree that society in general is in decline and needs another transformation, but most cannot agree on the cause OR have a clue at the solution.

I propose that we first look at ourselves for the cause. This spirit of love for God or neighbor is not evident today in our society.  We live in make me happy, give me pleasure, what is in it for me culture.  Christians have not able to give of ourselves unconditionally or to separate ourselves from the overall society. We have fallen into all of the things that St Paul says love is NOT in 1 Cor 13 – jealousy, pompousness, rudeness, self-seeking,  quick-tempered, brooding  to name a few. By our actions, we same to have forgotten that love is patient, kind, that it bears, hopes, and endures all things The concept of self-giving love has no more meaning.

Love plays a central role in living with "neighbor," not only with individuals, but nations as well; not only with people of the same faith or color, but among all the peoples on earth – even those that hate us and our way of life.  If true Christian love became the norm in the world, we could start to eliminate most wars, hatred, greed, jealousy and fear.  

So, who in here would like to dramatically change the world and make it a much better place in which to live?  Here is the homework that will help you do just that.

First, pledge that you and your family to stop now and forever using the word love in place of concepts such as gives me pleasure, tastes good, looks attractive, makes me happy and sexual attraction.  Stop using the word love as if it a common preposition or conjunction, and use it for what it really means. We cannot love if there is confusion as to what it means.

2nd, We must accept that we are loved by God unconditionally, love him back. The scripture today tells us how we are to do that – keep His commandments.

3rd Go home this week give that love to our families – our parents, brothers, sister, spouses and all those in our extended family.

If we all start  with these 3 things, Christian love will spread through the world like a virus and you will indeed change the world.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Is Being Fair A Good Thing?

 This is an approximation of the homily I delivered for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 14-15 at the 4:00 PM and 7:30 AM Masses at St. Luke the Evangelist in Slidell.  The homily is based on the scripture readings found by clicking this link.

That's not fair!  Have you every had someone say that you?  All I want is to be treated fairly.  I've probably said that more than once in my life. gives the following definition of the word fairness  free from bias or injustice; evenhandedness  I think we can agree on a working definition of fair is that people gets they deserve.  Whether is fairness in employment opportunities, fairness in pay, or fairness in punishment, fairness is a good thing, right?

Let’s look at it another way…. Imagine that you are driving down the street (or riding in the back seat if you are too young to drive) . You are in a hurry.  The car is noisy because the children are playing loudly in the back seat.   You are not quite paying attention and you accidentally run through a red light.

Your friendly police officer happens to be at that intersection at the same time.  Is your first thought, Ow wow!!! I just ran that red light and that police officer was right there! I am so excited! I am going to get the opportunity to pay a $300 traffic ticket and my car insurance is going to go up for the next 3 years.  I am so lucky to get what I deserve. This is really fair. 
No, you are probably trying to think how you can talk your way out of this situation and are hoping that the police officer shows you…. A little mercy.

 As a society, we seem to have brainwashed.  We think that being just being fair is a good thing, don’t we? You see as opposed to fairness, the definition of Mercy is 1 the power to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment 2. Compassionate forbearance to an offender and 3.) Something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing

We all make mistakes, we all fall short of perfection..  We all want mercy from others, and mercy from. God.  As people of faith mercy not fairness is what we need to show to others.

St. Paul writes in the second reading today “Brothers and sisters: God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, …. brought us to life with Christ

Paul reminds us that we have been saved through no merit of our own, but through the mercy of God. Our good works, no matter how magnificent, have no power make God love us more.  Have you ever seen this situation – a little child does something wrong – his parents maybe get angry, maybe they punish him. The child now mistakenly thinks that the parent does not love him.  The child does all sorts to of nice things so that parent will love him again.

Many believe that Catholics have a similar view of our relationship with God; that we believe we earn God’s love, or our way to heaven, by doing good deeds.  That is not true, in fact it is backwards. For Catholics, we respond to God’s love and mercy that is already there, by offering ourselves and our good works in His service.  Our good works do not bring about God’s love or our salvation, no more that a child doing nice things can make his parent love him any more. 

In today’s Gospel we hear that verse made famous by Christians holding up signs at sporting events around the world and written under Tim Tebow's eyes, JN 3:16.   It is one of the central themes of our faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”   Was that fair?  God sent his son to die so that we might have eternal life?  No, that was not fair to God the Father, not fair to Jesus… it was the ultimate act of Mercy. Both Sts Paul and John make it clear – God is not fair. He is way more than fair. He is merciful. Thank God for that.  How fortunate are all of us that we do not have God who is merely fair. And we are called to be merciful.  What can we do in response do God’s love and mercy for us?

That is why it is now time for your homework assignment.

And this is a long homework assignment.  In Catholic tradition, these are 14 works of mercy divided into corporal, meaning those directed at the needs of the body; and spiritual, those works mercy directed at the needs of the soul.  I encourage you to listen as I go through this list, and for the rest of lent work on perfecting one or two of these. If you do so, in the next 7-14 years, you will be perfect in mercy!

feed the hungry
Instruct the ignorant
give drink to the thirsty
Counsel the doubtful
clothe the naked
Admonish sinners
shelter the homeless
Bear wrongs patiently
care for the sick
Forgive offenses willingly
visit the imprisoned
Comfort the afflicted
bury the dead
Pray for the living and the dead.

14 is a lot to remember.  So try to remember 2 – Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy.  And if you can’t remember two, remember this:  try, when you leave this Church today, and for the rest of this week, and for the rest of lent, stop treating people fairly, treat them with Mercy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday: What are YOU giving up for Lent?

 This is a very short homily / reflection that I wrote for Ash Wednesday.  It is not my turn to preach and will not be delivering it.  It is based on the readings for Ash Wednesday that can be found here.

Most of you probably heard about the embellished claims that NBC announcer Brian Williams was caught in that has cost him at least a 6 month suspension without pay, and maybe his career.  I have seem hundreds of jokes on-line about it, depicting him being present at every event from the parting of the Red Sea to the landing on the moon.  At first, I though these little cartoons were FUNNY.  But seeing so many of these made me think:  How easy it is to sit in judgment of others. We read and hear so much about people’s wrongdoings in the media. We gossip about people at work or in in our families.  It stirs us up to ridicule them if not to outright condemn them. It seems like such a natural reaction for us to cast stones at others.  I think in a manner,   it’s often our way of avoiding facing up to the reality of our own wrongdoing.

And so in this period of Lent, as people if faith, we’re encouraged to stop pointing the finger of accusation at others, and instead to take a good look at our own lives.

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word which means “lengthen” or “springtime” so it reminds us of spring cleaning and the new life in nature during spring.  When it comes to sin, we’re all in the same boat – “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, as Paul puts it.  Is that “white lie” you told to keep yourself out of trouble at its roots any different than the stories that Brian Williams told? The reality is that sin is sin, whatever form it takes – we all need to come before the Cross of Christ, for forgiveness and reconciliation.

In the Old Testament when people left sin behind and turned over a new leaf they used ashes to symbolize their repentance. Job said, “I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) Daniel “turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.”
The words of the Lord through the prophet Joel in our first reading are words that have special significance for us today as we begin this season of Lent and are words that we can easily see the Lord speaking to us personally. “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.”

Sometimes people ask, “What are you doing for Lent?”  “What are you giving up? There is one thing to give up during Lent – sin. And any of those things that lead you there. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Home Made King Cake

Why would someone in South Louisiana go to the trouble of making their own king cake when they are available in almost every store, bakery and gas station in town? For me, there are several reasons. 

Reason 1 Cost -The price of king cake continues to go up and up and up.  A large cake from the most popular king cake bakeries cost around $30.  For me, that is just not a good value. This recipe cost between $3 and $5, including the electricity for your oven, depending on the quality of ingredients.  Makes me want to get into the organic king cake business!

Reason 2 Ingredients - My rule of thumb with cooking and baking is if the ingredient did not exists when my grandmother was around and cooking actively, I don't use it and try not to consume it. I knew that the grocery store king cakes were full of not so savory ingredients such as artificial colors, artificial flavors, multiple preservatives, dough conditioners, etc.  I was astounded when I read the wrapper of some of the most popular king cake bakeries. To the left is a picture of the ingredients of a king cake from a very large and popular king cake bakery in the city. 

Reason 3 Satisfaction - There is always, for me, a sense of accomplishment for doing things myself.

If none of these reasons apply to you, skip the king cake part of this recipe. Go buy one from the store, pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and start eating!

 This recipe looks complicated.  It is actually not. Although I am a fairly decent cook, a baker I am not.  I am starting to make bread, rolls, and a few things.  I would consider myself just past a beginner when it comes to baking. My wife Pam normally is the dessert maker in our family.

 This recipe makes the equivalent of 1 large Randazzo’s King cake.  I find that it is easier that after the first rising, cut the dough in half and make two king cakes.  They are easier to handle, easier to braid, and you don’t have the problem of finding oversized pans and plates to put them on.

For the cake:
1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dry yeast
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
½  cup melted butter
½ cup melted coconut oil
5 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
A few pinches of ground nutmeg

For the filling
A few tablespoons of melted butter or coconut oil
The filling is just a cinnamon sugar mix with a pinch of nutmeg. I have never measured these ingredients so you will just have to use your judgment.

For the Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
6 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the Baker
Coffee or Red Wine for drinking!

1 fava bean or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking

Comments on the ingredient and alternatives:
If you don’t know how to zest a lemon, here is a Youtube video on zesting citrus. . If you don’t want to do that, you can substitute 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon for the zest.  If you do, you may have to add a pinch more floor in the kneading process.

I have made these with all coconut all, all butter, and the ½ and ½ blend that I have in this recipe.  I like the ½ and ½ blend the best.

I use organic flour, oil, sugar and butter.  The rest of the ingredients are the best quality that I could get.

Save the egg whites and have an omelet with them!

Mix the Cake
I do not have a proofing oven, so I usually put my regular oven on Hold Warm and then turn it off when it comes to temperature.  I do this as the first thing when I start taking out my ingredients, so that by the time the dough is ready to rise, the oven is at about the perfect temperature. I use this as the place to do the first rising of the dough.

I do all of the mixing in my awesome Kitchen Aid Stand mixed.  The first steps use the regular mixing paddle, the rest are done with the dough hook. Put the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.

Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, oil, egg yolks, vanilla, and lemon zest.

 Add the remaining flour, and nutmeg and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

Switch to the dough hook in your mixer.  Kneed for about five minutes on speed 1.  The dough should form a ball and come clean away from the sides of the mixing bowl.  If it is sticky and not forming a ball, add flour about a teaspoon at a time.  If it is dry and clumpy, add a few drops of water or milk.

Windowpane Test
The dough is done kneading when it passes the windowpane test.  If you are going to knead this by hand, it will probably take 10 or 15 minutes.  After you have done this a few times, you will be able to tell by the way the dough balls and pulls away from the side of the mixing bowl that it is done.

Put the dough in a bowl in the previously warmed oven and let it proof, or rise, for 1½ hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.  Go have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and relax.

Preheat the oven to 350°.
 Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough in half. Roll the half dough out flat until it is approximately ½ inch thick, 18 inches long, and 6 inches wide.  The size really does not matter except that I find that it bakes best when it is about this size.

Using a brush, paint the top of the flat dough with the melted butter or coconut oil.  Sprinkle the sugar / cinnamon /nutmeg mix generously on the dough. 

Fold it over and roll it again until it is approximately the original size.  Cut the dough in three strips lengthwise.

Roll and Braid the Cake.
I found that this was easier if you dust your fingers with a little flour before doing the rolling and braiding. Everything was a little less sticky and easier to handle.

Roll the strips into “ropes”. 
Lay the three strips on a counter and braid them the same way you would do a hair braid.
Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal.

Put braided dough on a cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.  I like to put parchment paper down on the cookie sheet because I hate the clean up.

Have some more coffee or another glass of wine.

Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes.  That time is going to vary depending on how thick you make the braids. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Glaze the Cake
For the glaze, while the cake is cooling, use a wire whisk and mix together the powdered sugar, milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and pourable.  Add extra milk or sugar if the icing is either too thick or too thin

Once the cake has cooled, use a spoon or your favorite implement to drizzle the icing over the top of the cake. Tuck the fava bean or plastic baby into underside of the cake and slide the cake onto a platter.  I plan to experiment next time with some natural ingredients to add some purple, green, and gold coloring.

Just  a note of warning - there are no chemicals or preseravative in this recipe so, it is only going to taste fresh for a day or so.  If you go the route of making two cakes, after you glaze it, you can freeze one uncovered until it gets hard, and then wrap it up for later.  Or, you can just pig out and eat it all!

The king cakes should look something like the pictures.  If they don't, no worries. They will likely still taste good.  And I promise that after you do this a few times, they will start looking better and better.

King cake goes well with…. Coffee or a glass of red wine!