Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Sometime back in the 80s, a co-worker and I were having lunch at a Mexican restaurant in the college town next door to OurTown; a Beatles tune (I forget which one) was playing on the piped-in music. As we enjoyed the music and waited for our food to come, while munching on some blue-corn tortilla chips (with a delicious jalapeño cheese dip, in case anyone is wondering), we overheard two college kids in the booth behind ours. . .

Kid1: Hey, that sounds just like McCartney!

Kid2: You doofus, that IS McCartney!

Kid1: No it isn't - that's the Beatles.

Kid2: Idiot, McCartney was in the Beatles!

Kid1 (impatiently, condescendingly): Nooo, McCartney was with Wings!

While my co-worker (who was the same age as me; for the record, I’m pretty sure neither of us was 30 yet) and I banged our heads on the table. . .


And just because that's the kind of generous guy I am, I'll post Molly's recipe for Jalapeño Cheese Dip, which is really good (and posting recipes is a sure sign that your blog has 'jumped the shark', isn't it?). . .

1 24oz container cottage cheese
1 16oz container sour cream
2 cups shredded cheese – Monterrey Jack or mozzarella
(Pepper Jack is also good, for a spicier kick)
3-5 chopped green onions or scallions
3-5 garlic toes, pressed or minced
1-3 jalapeño peppers, chopped (mix in habañero peppers for a hotter bite)

(This is the basic recipe; we have also occasionally added other ingredients, like salsa, chili powder, or cayenne powder, as variations; feel free to be as creative as you feel like)

Combine ingredients at least 24 hours before serving, and refrigerate; serve with tortilla chips (we like blue corn best, but we’re not dogmatic about it), and DON’T rub your eyes without first washing your hands, preferably a few times. . .

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dance With the One That Brought Ya. . . Or Not. . .

A couple of my blog-friends, Lime and Cocotte, have recently posted a meme about their high-school days, which has piqued a few memories in me, and a good story or two. So ladies, you may consider this post to be my extended answer to Question #22 - 'Did you have fun at the Prom?' . . .


I really enjoyed high school. Mostly for the academic stuff - I was sort-of the resident Math Whiz in my class, but really, my interests were pretty eclectic. It was in high school that I started to become aware of all the intellectual wonders that were 'out there', waiting for me to explore. I wasn't an asocial nerd, by any means, but I was never a candidate for Homecoming King, either. My social life tended to center around my church youth group, and the sports teams - I played football and baseball (and I hung out with the basketball team, although I wasn't remotely good enough to be on the team. . .)

I never had a steady girlfriend in high school - at least, not at my school. I met my GF1 the summer between junior and senior years, and we carried on a long-distance relationship during senior year; the following summer, after I graduated, we were able to see a bit more of each other. In my school days, I had one serious crush, on a girl named Cindy, which I'd carried since 7th grade, but since she was going steady with one of my best friends the whole time, I had to keep it pretty much on the down-low. I did go on a few dates, with girls I liked, but nothing ever 'took hold'. Which was a bit disappointing at the time, but in retrospect, I don't feel like I missed all that much (I mean, you know, Molly didn't go to my school, so what was I supposed to do, right?). . .

I think it was my junior year, that a girl named Bev, who wasn't in the youth group, started tagging along with one of the other girls in the group. In early December, the youth group had an activity of some sort, and in the course of the evening, Bev and I wound up together quite a lot. Before the evening was over, I had the distinct feeling that she liked me. Which, if you're 15 and never particularly been liked by a girl, is pretty darned cool. . .

The following week, the youth group had a Christmas Caroling outing, and this time, Bev and I just stuck to each other the whole evening, intoxicated as I was on the sweet elixir of 'She likes me; she really likes me'. We might have even snuck a kiss or two. Or three; I forget how many. A couple times during the evening, while we were briefly separated from each other, a couple of my friends, who'd known Bev longer than I had, came to me, warning me not to get too carried away with her, that she wasn't all that she seemed to be. But, hey - I was in love; what did they know?

In those days, our school had what we called a Winter Prom (I think my kids' school calls it a Winter Ball, but we thought that having two proms every year was cool; besides, in those days, the whole tux/limo scene hadn't gotten all the way Up North yet, so it wasn't like there was a huge major outlay of cash involved). Which, coincidentally enough, was just a couple weeks away, by the time Bev and I got together. So I asked her if she would go to the Winter Prom with me, and she said she would. Which was all sorts of cool, and I was walking on air.

I did my duty and procured a corsage for her to wear, but there was an immediate logistical problem - I was only 15 (I was young for my class) and didn't yet have my driver's license. I explained my conundrum to Bev, and she said no problem, we could double with another couple she knew who were going, and he could drive. Which was just fine with me (greenhorn of romance that I was).

At the appointed time, the other guy (his name was Gary) showed up at my house, and we went to pick up his date, and then Bev (I will confess to having had a mildly-elevated heart rate when I had to slip my fingers inside the neckline of her dress in order to pin the corsage on her). On the way to the dance (which was held at the high school), Gary and his date (I forget her name; call her Laura) sat in front, and Bev and I were in back. I thought perhaps we could renew some of our kissing experiments, but she seemed preoccupied with something or other, and oddly distant.

We got to the school, and grabbed a spot at a table, Gary and Laura on one side, Bev and I across from them. When the music started, I took Bev out for a dance, and Gary and Laura danced right near us. The whole time, Bev was making small talk with the two of them, and, other than the physical proximity entailed in dancing with me, she pretty much completely ignored me. Back at the table, it was more of the same - Bev chattering away with Gary and Laura, while I sat by like a third wheel.

After a while, Bev suggested that we switch partners for the next dance - I could dance with Laura, and she could dance with Gary - so we did. I barely knew Laura, who was in the class above Bev and me, as was Gary, and we didn't find much common ground to talk about.

When the music ended, we went back to our table, but Gary and Bev never returned. I mean, they never returned. After a few minutes, Laura and I were scanning the room, looking for our respective dates, but they were nowhere to be found. Which was odd at first, but quickly moved into 'Annoying', just before Laura and I looked at each other and realized that we'd been had. Which kinda killed the mood for the two of us, after that. I tried to take a 'make-the-best-of-it' approach, and took Laura out to dance a couple more times, but that was a pretty futile proposition.

It also put us in a very awkward spot, since Gary had been the driver for the four of us, and it was apparent that he and Bev had vacated the premises. I didn't have a car, and I couldn't have driven her home, even if I did. It wasn't so bad for me - I only lived about six blocks from the school, so I could walk home - but Laura was kinda stuck, in heels and a prom dress, and she lived on the other side of town. I hung with her while she tried to work out a ride home, and once she did, I said good night and thanked her for such enjoyment as I'd had, and walked home.

And that, my friends, is the story of my Prom. The girl I took to the Prom went home with another guy, leaving me and his date to fend for ourselves. I have been known to use my Prom story to tell my kids not to have such high, lofty romantic expectations of the Prom, so it wasn't a total loss. And besides that, you can't buy that kind of education - I learned volumes about Human Nature (most especially including my own) over the course of two weeks; besides learning that my friends had my back, even when I didn't want to think that they did.

The Winter Prom happened during the Christmas break, so we didn't have to go immediately back to school the following Monday. Which was probably merciful. By the time I saw Bev again, my heart had had some time to heal of its bruises. For her part, Bev picked right back up where she'd left off at the Prom (and, coincidentally enough, where she'd been before I came along) - acting like I didn't exist. Which suited me just fine; if she'd wanted to make all 'friendly' with me, I might have puked in my own mouth. And she and Gary were suddenly an 'item'; which was her plan all along, I suppose. And it was a wiser young Desmond who roamed the halls of Up North High after that. . .

I have no idea what ever became of Bev (and honestly, not to be all snide about it, but I don't feel particularly poorer for that lack of knowledge). I've kept in touch with a few of my close friends from high school, but my parents moved away from Michigan even before I'd graduated, and my occasions to go back to my old hometown have been pretty few.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Christ Is Risen!

An Easter homily of St. John Chrysostom -

Let all pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first.

He gives rest to him who comes on the 11th hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first. Yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; He repays the deed and praises the effort.

Come, all of you - enter into the joy of your Lord! You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today!

The table is richly loaded; enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one; let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of His goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom. He has vexed it, even while allowing it to taste of His flesh.

When Isaiah foresaw this, he cried out, "O Hades, you have been vexed by encountering Him in the nether world." Hades is vexed because it is frustrated; it is vexed because it has been mocked; it is vexed because it has been destroyed; it is vexed because it has been reduced to naught; it is vexed because it is now captive. It seized a body and lo! It discovered God. It seized earth and behold! It encountered heaven. It seized the visible and was overcome by the invisible. O death, where is your sting?

O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished; Christ is risen and life is freed; Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead. For Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

At the Name of Jesus

A hymn/poem for Holy Week. . .

At the Name of Jesus, by Caroline Noel, (1870)

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess Him King of Glory, now.
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners, unto whom He came.
Faithfully He bore it, spotless to the last.
Brought it back victorious, when through death He passed.

Bore it up triumphant, with its human light
Through all ranks of creatures to the central height;
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone Him; there let Him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true.
Crown Him as your Captain in temptation’s hour;
Let His will enfold you in its Light and Pow’r.

Jesus, Lord and Savior, shall return again
With His Father’s glory, o’er the earth to reign.
For all wreaths of empire meet upon His brow,
And our hearts confess Him King of Glory, now. . .


For a Catholic, Holy Week (between Palm Sunday and Easter) is just a liturgically-rich environment, just packed full of significance to drive home what Christ has done for us. . .

Starting on Holy Thursday, with the Mass of the Last Supper, in which we commemorate Jesus' institution of the Eucharist (or Holy Communion), and his washing of the disciples' feet - our priests actually take a basin and water and wash the feet of a dozen parishioners, which just makes it all the more 'real' that what Jesus did for the Twelve, he does also for us. One year, I was one of the foot-washees, and I completely understood Peter's impulse of, "uh, please, you can't do this to me. . ."

On Good Friday, at noon, we have the Good Friday service. Good Friday is the only day of the year that Catholic churches don't have Mass - the altar, and the church building generally is stripped bare. The priests enter and leave the church in silence, and the entire liturgy is just somber, as we reflect on Christ's work on our behalf, on the cross. There is a liturgy of veneration of the Cross, and a communion service. Just because I'm the kind of goofball that I am (and may God have mercy on me), I always get a wry chuckle from the General Intercessions in the Good Friday prayers. There is a series of intercessions that follow an apparent 'progression' - first, for the Catholic Church, then for the pope, the bishops and all clergy, for those entering the Church this Easter, then for all Christians, for the Jewish people, for those who don't believe in Christ, for those who don't believe in God, and lastly, for those in public office. I'm pretty sure that the prayers don't have quite the 'significance' that seems apparent to me from the 'progression', but I always get a chuckle from them. . .

On Good Friday evening, we go to a Tenebrae ('shadows') service. Most parishes don't have a Tenebrae service, and ours doesn't, either, but one of the perks of living in the see city of our diocese, is that the Cathedral is right downtown in OurTown, and they have a Tenebrae service there. Tenebrae is a powerful liturgy, symbolizing the apparent 'Triumph of Darkness' as Christ is in the tomb, and His impending ultimate Victory. Through a series of prayers, the candles on the altar (and the lights in the entire church) are progressively extinguished, until a single candle remains lit, in an otherwise pitch-dark church. And then, that single candle is hidden behind the altar, symbolizing Christ hidden in the tomb. The first time I attended a Tenebrae service, and the last candle was hidden, it provoked a sense of utter despair, as I could mentally/spiritually 'place myself' in the situation of the first disciples, who had placed their hopes in Jesus, and to see him brutally killed, and placed in the grave - very much a sense of, what are we gonna do now? And then, the single candle re-emerges from its hiding place, so much as to say, 'Not so fast; wait till you see what comes next'. . . And the service again ends in silence.

And after sunset on Holy Saturday is the Easter Vigil Mass - the richest, most wonderful liturgy on the entire Church calendar. I won't bore you with all the details, but it begins in darkness. The Easter candle is blessed, and the fire from the Easter candle is distributed to everyone in the church, as they light their candles from its flame, until the church is lit by the light of all the candles. The candles are extinguished, and the Exsultet - the ancient Christian Hymn of Victory - is sung, followed by a series of readings (in our parish, we usually do three readings, but there could be as many as seven), which collectively tell the story of Salvation History - typically beginning with God's creation of the world, and including the story of the Exodus, and a passage from one of the prophets. After this, the lights are turned on (in symbolism of passing from the Old Testament to the New, and the Advent of Christ, and His Resurrection) and the Gloria is sung, followed by a reading from one of the New Testament Epistles, and a reading from the Gospel.

The Easter Vigil is also when people are typically received into the Catholic Church, and baptisms and confirmations are also included in the liturgy. This year, our family has been 'instructing' a young man, in preparation of his being received into the Catholic Church. A friend of 4M's decided he wanted to become Catholic, but there wasn't a 'neat' way to handle his instruction - he was too old to just include him in the regular confirmation class (typically 8th/9th graders), but still a bit young to just have him follow the regular 'adult' course of instruction. So, they asked our family if we could just handle his instruction, and for the past several months, we've had him over every Sunday to join our family for brunch, and then we retire to the 'study' for the week's instruction. And this Saturday evening, at the Easter Vigil, it all comes to its culmination, and our young friend will enter into life as a confirmed Catholic Christian. It has been a rich and rewarding time for our family (it always seems that you learn as much, or more, by teaching something, as you do from being taught), as well as for him.

Sunday, we'll host as many members of Molly's family as come, for Easter dinner, and family celebration - Easter baskets for the kids (over the years, Molly has developed a tradition of a 'hunt' for the Easter baskets, using Bible verses as clues, the final one leading them to where the baskets are stored), and a dinner of roast lamb (the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, dontcha know).

All together, it's just a wonderfully rich time in the life of our family, and the Catholic Church more generally. Blessings to all of you, whether Catholic or not, during, and through, the holy days to come. . .

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In Dying We Are Born to Eternal Life

For many years (going back at least to when 1F was a small child), I have been, in my parish church, what is called a cantor. It isn’t a terribly demanding role – mainly, I just lead the congregation in singing/chanting a few of the liturgical prayers during Sunday Mass – but it is a pretty visible one. And, from time to time, being a cantor has its wonderful, humbling perks, as when I get to sing the Exsultet, the ancient Christian hymn of victory, at the Easter Vigil Mass (the richest, most wonderful liturgy of the entire Church calendar) – “Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!”

Because the cantor’s role is so visible, and perhaps because I have always believed that men ought to sing like men – vigorously and strongly – I’ve gotten quite a few compliments over the years. For which I’m always grateful, but the point of being a cantor is not to draw attention to my singing, but to point worshippers toward the proper object of their worship (ie, God). A few times, after Mass, I’ve had a couple grab me and ask me to sing at their wedding, and if I can, I’ve generally been happy to do it; I’ve been tapped to sing at Confirmation masses and First Communions, and various other liturgical celebrations, all of which have been my grateful privilege, and my joy, to be a part of.

A few years ago, a woman (call her Loraine) collared me after Sunday Mass, and asked me to sing at her funeral. At the time, she was elderly – her children are my age, and one of her grandchildren had briefly dated one of my kids – but still very lively and active; by no means ‘on death’s doorstep’. She hastened to say that she didn’t expect to be dying right away, but she was old enough that making plans seemed a prudent thing to do. She liked how I sing, and wanted me to be a part of her moving on from this life to the next. I was sincerely honored, and I told her that, if I possibly could, I would be honored to sing at her funeral.

I’m not sure I particularly expected to hear from her again, or if her family even knew of her request, but every few months, I would see her around the parish, and she would smile, and remind me, “You’re still OK to sing at my funeral, aren’t you?” And I would always tell her that, if I possibly could, I would be there. It actually served to build a bit of a friendship between us. Molly and I were honored guests at her 80th birthday party a couple years ago, and it was actually pretty amazing. Her kids put up a display – sort of a retrospective of her life, similar to (but much richer than) the ‘shrines’ that graduating high-school seniors put up at their parties – and we were amazed to learn where this woman, whom we had only ever known in her ‘elder-hood’, had been, and what a substantial woman she’d been, in her youth, and as a wife to her late husband (who died before we ever knew her), and a mother to her many children.


In recent months, I noticed that I hadn’t seen Loraine at church recently, and then Molly, who’s around the parish on a day-to-day basis much more than I am, told me that she was in hospice care, and probably in the waning weeks of her life. A few days ago, I came home from work to find a message on our phone from one of Loraine’s daughters, saying that her mother had taken a turn for the worse; that they were finalizing plans for her funeral, and they knew that Loraine had asked me to sing at her funeral, and just to let me know, so I could plan for it.

I was crest-fallen. Because of my company’s recent struggles, I couldn’t take time off work for her funeral, like I’d have wanted to do in a second. And even if the funeral were to be on Saturday, I was already committed to visit with my own aging parents that weekend. “Well, is there any way you could sing for her?” the daughter asked me. Well, what’s she doing right now? I asked. And so we arranged that I could go to her house, where a couple of her daughters were attending to her, and sing for her. Which I was delighted to do.

Molly and I arrived, and we were brought to her bedside. I was shocked at how frail, how fragile, how delicate, she looked; not at all like the bright, vivacious old woman that I’d come to know. She was only semi-conscious at best, and labored for every breath. It was evident that Loraine would not be with us much longer. We greeted her, and sang three hymns for her, that her daughters had told us were her favorites.

It was, in all truth, an amazing, transcendent experience. There was very much a sense that we were on something like Holy Ground – that Loraine, for all her evident fragility, lay on the edge of an awesome transition to something beyond our understanding, and we were privileged to be in the presence of it.

It brought to mind standing at my ‘first mother’s bedside a few weeks ago. I have never been present when anyone took their last breath, but everyone I know who has been, speaks in the same awe-struck tones of being in the presence of something awesome or transcendent. Or holy.


The experience also reminded me strongly of something I read in one of my all-time favorite books – Love Is Stronger Than Death, by Peter Kreeft. In it, Kreeft develops an amazingly insightful analogy between birth and death (and one that I have not encountered anywhere else). A child in his mother’s womb, says Kreeft, is warm and comfortable and secure. Outside the womb is – he knows not what (although he might have some inklings of a ‘world beyond’ – muffled voices, and the like). Being born involves some not-insignificant pain, and quite probably a swirl of confusion as to just exactly what is happening to him. Yet he is born into a world infinitely wider and richer than the womb, and he is infinitely freer in the ‘outside world’ than he was in the womb.

Just so, in this world, we are comfortable; and, at any rate, this world is all we know (although we may have ‘inklings’ of a ‘world beyond’). And death, like birth, involves considerable pain and confusion. Is it possible that death, like birth, brings us into a wider, richer, freer existence than we had before?

And consider the relationship of the child in the womb to his mother – he draws his very life from her, and is, virtually unawares, in constant, intimate contact with her, yet he cannot see her face, much less know her as a person. Until he is born. And one imagines that, once he is ‘outside’, his mother’s voice will ring very familiar to his ears – “so that’s what I was hearing!” Is it possible that, just as in this world, we can’t see God, from whom we draw our very life, death brings us into a new, clearer relationship with Him – “Then we shall see Him face-to-face”?

I don’t know if this analogy, suggestive as it is, points to ‘deep reality’ or not; even if it does (or maybe, especially if it does), I’m still ‘in the womb’ – I can’t see ‘the other side’ with any clarity. But it is at least food for contemplation, and perhaps even cause for hope. Isn’t it?


The next morning, I went to work as usual. In the early afternoon, I got a call from Molly, telling me that Loraine had died that morning, only hours after we'd sung at her bedside. . .