Last Nag of the Old; First of the New


This is a Public Service Nag:

January 1 is an Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord, and the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

It is a Holy Day of Obligation. (Translation: Faithful Catholics are Obliged to attend Mass today!)


According to this illustration, St. Joseph circumcised our Lord.

Incidentally, the Basilica of St. Mary Major houses relics from the crib of Jesus in an ornate container made of gold and silver, which is shaped like a crib. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the relics were likely brought to Rome in the pontificate of Pope Theodore (640-649), who was a native of Palestine. The relics consist of five pieces of wood board taken from a Sycamore tree, “of which there are several varieties in the Holy Land.” These pieces might only have been “mere supports for the manger itself, which was probably made from the soft limestone of which the cave was formed.” The relics are exposed for veneration by the faithful every Christmas Eve. DSC_0029


“Easy” Dec. 31 Plenary Indulgence

There are two (principal) types of indulgences: partial and plenary. In the vocabulary of the Church, an indulgence removes some (or all) temporal punishment for sin. What that means is that in gaining indulgences, we can shorten (partial) or eliminate (plenary) the consequences of sin (i.e., time in Purgatory) for ourselves, or, for the souls already in Purgatory.

Through original sin, and in our own lives in which we commit various sins, our soul suffers under the weight of sin, but the ultimate punishment (death and separation from God) is no more, because we are saved by Jesus Christ. However, just because God forgives sin does not mean that He removes all of the consequences of sin for us. Just like the lad who hits the baseball through his neighbor’s window, we must “pay to repair the window” — we must face the consequences of our sin.

God is infinitely merciful, so that even His “consequences” are especially helpful and loving to us. Purgatory exists so that we might “work out” the consequences of sin and its stain on our souls before entering into heavenly beatitude with God. It is a promise that even if we fail to allow ourselves to be perfected in this life, we need not worry about work yet to be done, because God will help us get there even after death. Purgatory is the fire that “purges” all that remains as separation between us and God. It is the final Clorox cycle on our souls. It purifies and whitens!

And, don’t forget that Purgatory is not a proving ground. It is not a place where God decides whether we are saved; rather, our salvation is already guaranteed — we’re on the way to Heaven!

However, souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves, which is why it is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the souls there.

On the last day of the year, you can gain a Plenary Indulgence (the best kind!) if you recite the Te Deum, an ancient hymn of the Church:

O God, we praise Thee, and acknowledge Thee to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships Thee.
All the Angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the Cherubim and Seraphim, continuously cry to Thee:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
The wonderful company of Prophets,
The white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges Thee:
The Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest it upon Thyself to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb.
Having overcome the sting of death, Thou opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all
Thou sitest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou willst come to be our Judge.
We, therefore, beg Thee to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy
Precious Blood.
Let them be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.

V.  Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thy inheritance!
R.  Govern them, and raise them up forever.

V.  Every day we thank Thee.
R.  And we praise Thy Name forever, yes, forever and ever.

V.  O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
R.  Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.

V.  Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.
R.  O Lord, in Thee I have put my trust; let me never be put to shame.

One Year Ago Today…

I was alone and in the Eternal City. I spent the day walking from church to church, admiring the intricate nativities and decorations for Christmas. As I walked, I prayed: for the Church, for my family, for my friends, for the Holy Father’s intentions. I attended mass. I prayed for my own special intentions. Then, in the evening, I managed to secure a ticket to vespers, with His Holiness Benedict XVI.

His Holiness Benedict XVI on December 31, 2012

His Holiness Benedict XVI on December 31, 2012

Observing the Holy Father that night (wheeled in on the movable platform during the procession), he seemed frail, and tired. He coughed during some of the prayers, and his voice was thin and wispy. I fretted a bit over his condition, and brought home a new prayer intention — for his health and strength.

Following Vespers, the Pope rode the Popemobile into St. Peter's Square to greet the faithful, and bless the Nativity

Following Vespers, the Pope rode the Popemobile into St. Peter’s Square to greet the faithful, and bless the Nativity

I love Pope Francis; he is what the Church needs now. But Benedict XVI holds a special place in my heart. I love how he writes and how he thinks. I love how he reminded us that Catholicism is spiritual and intellectual, how nothing the Church teaches should be dumb or fail to make sense, how we can apply the light of reason to our faith and receive illumination and enlightenment.

And he did all of these things quietly, with humbleness, without ever trying to be anything other than what and who he was. He is the counterpoint to the Catholic “star quality” of JPII and Francis.

He is, in a sense, the only pope who could resign, and that absolute freedom and trust that he placed in God is something the entire Church will continue to draw from in the future. His legacy is the dismantling of the papacy as a power structure and its restoration as that of Universal Pastor, Servant of the Servants…

Please, for the new year, offer a prayer for His Holiness Benedict XVI, and also offer a prayer for His Holiness Pope Francis. We are blessed this year that two popes live and breathe, and that this reality strengthens the Church is her mission at this time.

Buon Natale! Some Roman Nativity Scenes…

Nearly every church in Rome has a Nativity. Most are incredible marvels. Little lights in every village window and stars in a field and some even have animation. Walt Disney could’ve hired as “Imagineers” some of the craftspeople who build these things. Some favorites from last year (2012):


This one was definitely one of the most intricate:IMG_0018

This isn’t a Nativity, but something else really cool (I’ll have to check my notes/pictures to see if I have the correct info, but I think it’s a model depicting the various rites and cultural aspects of the Church, thus all the little spires and towers and things surrounding the massive dome in the center):IMG_0016

One of the more charming things about the Nativity scenes is that some are shown in the context of the local scenery, like this one with a basilica in the background:IMG_0014


This was the Nativity in the Piazza Navona (it’s fun to look at the little plaques and signs showing what group or church committee is responsible for the display):IMG_0012

Part of the Nativity inside St. Peter’s Basilica:

The Nativity outside, in St. Peter’s Square:IMG_0002


Christmas Giving Opportunity: a Reader and Friend writes about new venture “The Harmonium Project”

HarmGroupThis is from my friend Emilio Marquez (the guy in the middle of the picture with the striped tie, a student at Franciscan University at Steubenville). He writes:

I’d like to tell you a little about the project I’m a part of back in Steubenville.
The city of Steubenville was once a bustling steel town, but after the steel mills closed really nothing was left; the economic backbone of the city was broken.  That was about 30 years ago and yet still we are seeing the depression inflicted on the city and its people. There is major economic depression and as a result many youth have turned to the thriving drug market run by the many very active gangs in steubenville, all aided by even larger gangs from the Chicago area. There is a lot of violence (shootings occur more regularly than you’d think) and hatred on those streets. We are trying to in some ways curb this.

The city is finally realizing that it is no longer a steel town and is slowly beginning to embrace the university, accepting that it is a college town. Me and 6 of my peers from the university have created what we have named The Harmonium Project, its aim is to act as a catalyst in the economic revitalization of downtown Steubenville as well as offer something alternative and more solid to the children of Steubenville which will hopefully reduce their attraction to becoming a part of gangs and the ugly cycle therein.

We are seeking to do this in this way: we have a large pool of students who want to spend money, on food and a good night out with their friends, however because of the gang violence in other parts of Steubenville, the students have the misperception that the downtown area is unsafe, thus they do not venture down there and discover the amazing restaurants and businesses in the downtown area. We would like to give them a really good reason to come to downtown to show them that there is indeed a lot offered by downtown and that it isnt dangerous like the rumors have it, and that reason is music!


We have a beautiful old building right in the middle of downtown that we are leasing and remodeling, turning it into a music venue to hold concerts, thus attracting the students, community members, and even people from all around including Pittsburgh. This will bring people to the downtown area to discover and support the great businesses there thus spurring other business leaders to put up shop in the downtown area. The way in which we hope to help curb gang involvement is not only by starting the economic revitilation and bringing in businesses for the parents and teenagers alike to have better jobs and income but also by bringing the kids of steubenville into the beauty of music by offering free music lessons for anyone, thus not only taking them off of the streets but keeping their mind, body, and soul focused on something that is truly beautiful: beauty is truth, and truth is God. 

We are currently running our main fundraiser campaign to finish all the work we have already started on this project. We are seeking to raise this money to buy the building, put in the sound and lighting for the music venue, buy instruments for the music lessons (many have already been donated but we will still need to buy more) and any other expense that will arise to keep this project going. 


It would mean a lot to me if you went to our fundraiser site and watched our video, considered donating (even $10 goes a long ways), and spread word to anyone and everyone you know!

Please, visit The Harmonium Project Site, watch the informative video and please consider making a donation to this worthy cause. There are special “incentives” offered for each level of contribution. For example, you can donate $20 and receive a music CD from Audrey Assad or Sam Rocha. For $30 you can receive a magazine subscription. And for larger contributions you can get free tickets to future events, the opportunity to have something in the building named after you (or the person you designate), and all sorts of other acclaim and appreciation.

Final Christmas Prep: Apples and Oranges

Holidays and tradition go together, and at Christmas more than any other time. We are drawn into the homes of loved ones and friends, where we find warmth and comfort, and many reasons to celebrate. Final Christmas Preparations are under way, and I thought I’d share a little bit of detail on what our holiday visitors can expect this year.

A few weeks back, I blogged here and here about an experiment, making “dry-hopped cider”. After completing the primary and secondary fermentation, I recently kegged the cider and dry-hopped it with about 2 ounces of “Calypso” hops. The Calypso is one of the newer hop varieties with an extremely high Alpha (i.e., potential bitterness) — 17%. Since dry-hopping doesn’t involve boiling the hops, very little of the potential bitterness goes into the (in this case) cider, instead imparting the “volatile esters” of the hops which are associated with subtler flavors and aromas. Characteristic flavors and aromas of the Calypso include tropical fruit, citrus, apple and pear.


Apples (Dry-Hopped Cider) and Oranges (Religious Liberty Ale)

I’m very happy with the results from this experiment. The cider has a light, perfectly clear, light golden straw color, and the carbonation is crisp and reminiscent of sparkling wine. Aromas include apple (obviously) which give way to a wider bouquet of citrus and melon. The first thing that came to mind when I tried it was an off-dry white Italian wine (sometimes frizzante) from the Moscato grape. Because the cider itself is so light, there is a slight bitterness from the hops, but it is not at the expense of the underlying fruit. Especially on the back of the palate, the cider mimics some characteristics of a light lager. Success!

Second, I also kegged five gallons from the latest batch of Religious Liberty Ale, a “flagship” beer in the Quartermaster portfolio. The ingredients of the beer are rather simple: 2-row, 40L (and a little toasted), and a single hop: the Cascade. In this case, the Cascades are fresh from the 2013 harvest. As a pale ale, it provides the best of both worlds: sufficient flavors of malt and biscuit to balance the 40 IBUs from the Cascades, and then a nose full of oranges and citrus from dry-hopping with an ounce-plus of additional Cascades. If I were forced to choose just one beer to drink forever, this would be it.

Apples and oranges! Beyond compare, and yet complementary to the other.

Did you know that in the history of the Church, December 23 and 24 were often considered days for fasting? On Christmas Eve, we try to make something special and festive without it being “over the top” (which we save for the feasting on Christmas), and so we invite everyone to come and have a bowl of New England Clam Chowder later in the evening before heading off to midnight mass. Because we all love chowder, it doesn’t feel much like fasting at all. 

roastFor Christmas Dinner, an entire bone-in USDA Choice standing rib roast is currently air-drying in the beer refrigerator in the Brewhouse, on its way from an initial weight of just over 22 pounds down to about 17 or 18. Beef contains an awful lot of excess water, and you can concentrate that delicious, roasty, beefy flavor by allowing it to age in a cold, dry environment for a period of days, or even weeks. I generally try to age a roast this size at least a week, but even two or three weeks is good. While the meat loses excess moisture and concentrates flavor, the microbes actually begin breaking down the tough protein fibers. As it does this, it develops a rind and the exterior color of the roast darkens which imparts a funky smell. Beef (but not ground beef) and funk is a good thing.

IMG_2824With a standing rib roast, and Yorkshire pudding, and brussels sprouts and confit potatoes, our family Christmas Dinner has a definite British quality to it, and so we traditionally have a steamed pudding. This year I got around to making the pudding a little later than usual, but it has had a couple weeks to “ripen” and should be great as usual. I always use suet to make the pudding — because any other way it’s not truly a Christmas pudding — as well as enormous red, purple and yellow raisins, dried cranberries (I know, not traditional), chopped green apples, citron, spices and brandy. On Christmas Day it will get steamed again for about two hours, we’ll light it on fire using flaming brandy, and serve it with hard sauce also made from brandy. Every year, a 19th-century silver shilling goes into the pudding. The slice containing the shilling wins a prize. We always cut a slice “for Jesus” so that the prize has a chance of going to the church.

Merry Christmas!


Congratulations to His Eminence Francis Cardinal George…

20130820-154956.jpgOn his jubilee: the 50th Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

He’s my favorite cardinal. He’s also the only cardinal I’ve ever personally met (I think) and he received me and my wife into the Catholic Church in 2000. He survived polio as a child and cancer as a cardinal. As a holy and courageous bishop (and also a scholar and polyglot), his primary handicap for placement among the papabile was his nationality. And unlike some other American cardinals who will remain unidentified, he also had the distinction of not wanting the job. Fortunately for him, God had in mind another Francis. It’s really a beautiful thing when God stacks the deck in our favor. To think that at least a dozen men could have emerged from the conclave to become excellent popes should put in mind the promise of Our Lord…..

A Lamentation: Pope Francis Thwarted My Only Financial Aspiration…

With all his talk about quieting clericalism, you’d think he wouldn’t go ruining the earnest plans of orthodox Catholic laymen like the Quartermaster with his new “Fancy Catholics Only” policy over at the Vatican Bank.

I was so excited when I learned that the IOR was finally getting a website. It was really hard to find a branch the old way. I thought I was a step closer to my ATM card with a big picture of St. Peter’s Basilica on the front, with options for dispensations of cash in euros and Vatican postage stamps (no fees!).
20131219-153552.jpgI guess it’s no bank statements in Latin (with figures in Roman numerals, and little ad inserts for things like rosaries from the Vatican Museum Collection — only 3 easy payments of 19 euros) for show-offs like me. I will never make a mobile deposit using the VatiMammon App on my iPhone or ever get my home improvement financing for the backyard shrine to Our Lady that I keep hoping to build.

Meanwhile, it’s a free-for-all of special Curial wall calendars for all the fancy clerics (you know who you are). C’mon Holy Father, lemme open an account! PLEASE? But if you send me one of those calendars, or one of these, or follow me on Twitter, I promise I’ll try to forgive and forget.

ACA: “most plans only provide local medical coverage”

Maybe you liked your insurance and your doctor. Maybe you still do, but don’t know for how much longer. Consider that most plans in the ObamaCare Exchanges carry increased deductibles, higher premiums, unsecured access to private health information by “Navigators” (not mention other government and private entities), and now we also learn that “if you need routine medical services, they will not be covered when you leave your local area.”

So if you want to do something besides stay home, watch tv, and suck the government teet, you’ll need to make other arrangements.

“Wrongful Birth”: Anathema to Human Dignity

Our culture, with its emphasis on individual choice and freedom, allows people to misuse our systems (and each other) for gain and advantage. There have been stirrings of legal claims like this one before, but I’m not aware anything so record-setting.

In summary, a jury in Washington state awarded $50 million to a couple who alleged that if they had known that their now five-year-old son had a genetic defect, they would have aborted him.

The couple had their child tested in utero for genetic abnormalities, and the test results indicated that there was a 50-50 chance that he would be born without any issues. But he was born in 2008 with “unbalanced chromosomal translocation”, which means that he has missing or extra genetic material, cannot walk and has an IQ of about 70. It appears that he will require special care during his life.

A fair result would have been to take the boy from the parents and place him with an adoptive family who will love and cherish him. Parents who publicly state (for mammon) their wish for the death of a minor child are not fit parents. They would have preferred to have been given the opportunity to kill him, when it would have been legal. And now they are profiting because they missed their opportunity.

And it’s not just the parents. This result wouldn’t have been possible but for 12 jurors who agreed that boy should be dead, and at least one lawyer who had the temerity to raise such an argument, and a judge who permitted the whole farce to happen. Cases like this call into question whether justice can exist in such a broken society.

Meanwhile, a little boy with diminished mental capacity may or may not understand that he was never wanted by his parents. So sad.