Friday, November 30, 2012

Just breathe: good advice, great song

Things are kind of reaching a fever pitch in my life right now, and sometimes I can't even be sure I'm breathing. I feel like I'm in a constant state of breath-holding near panic. So when I got in the car this morning and this song was on the radio, I took its message to heart. Just breathe.

The fact that this particular version is from Austin City Limits makes it that much sweeter since I was lucky enough to sit in that studio audience for various great artists during the years I lived in Texas. (Not for Pearl Jam, but for other favorites -- Lucinda Williams being at the top of the list.)

So listen. And just breathe.

Foodie Friday: Kale, it's what's for dinner -- and breakfast

Kale, kale, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Kale is one of my favorite dark leafy greens, and, surprisingly enough, it's also a favorite among my kids. So it's a winner all around. I will throw kale into just about anything. And to prove I'm not kidding, how about this breakfast smoothie recipe:

1 cup almond milk
1 banana
1 tablespoon of almond butter
1 big handful of raw kale

Pure green deliciousness. I'm not kidding. If you can get past the electric green color, you will be pleasantly surprised. I also put kale in green juice, but that's a whole other blog post.

Mainly I put kale with pasta in order to get my kids to eat it. I have created a seemingly endless array of crazy kale and pasta combinations. It started with beans and greens, but we have expanded to oh so many different combinations, one better than the next.

So...Beans and greens. So easy. So delicious. So healthy.

Beans and Greens
Like my Stone Soup recipe, this one changes every time I make it, depending on what I have in the pantry and fridge. Here's one version:

1 big batch of kale, rinsed, tough stems removed, cut into wide ribbons
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
A handful of sundried tomatoes, soaked in boiling water to reconstitute and then sliced
(If I don't have sundried tomatoes, I'll just use a can of diced tomatoes. Another easy and delicious option. In fact, my kids prefer canned or fresh tomatoes to sundried.)
Baby bella mushroom, sliced
Six cloves of garlic, thinnly sliced
A splash of white wine
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pound pasta, something short and chunky -- ditalini, farfalle, shells, even rigatoni
Parmesan cheese (for the table)

Put a pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, prep the rest of your ingredients. When water comes to a boil, salt it and toss in kale to blanch quickly. Just a minute or so. Then drain and set aside. (Keep the water so you can boil the pasta in the same water/pot.)

In a large frying pan, add a swirl of olive oil and heat the garlic slices.
Add mushrooms and sundried tomatoes and saute for a bit over medium heat.
Don't allow garlic to brown.
(Around now you should be putting the pasta into the already boiling, kale-scented pasta water.)

Add the beans to the frying pan and saute a minute or so more.
Throw in a splash of wine (if you like) or a splash of veggie or chicken broth.
When the pasta is close to done, add the kale to the saute pan.
Season with salt and pepper.
If it seems dry, take a little pasta water and add it to the saute pan.

Drain the pasta when it's al dente and add it to the saute pan, if it's big enough.
Otherwise, dump all of it into the serving bowl.
Serve with grated parmesan cheese on the side.

Add a nice salad and some crusty bread and you have an awesome dinner. (And at our house, the meat eaters had a link of chicken-pesto sausage on the side. Olivia and I had a tofu sausage, but it really didn't need it.) You could also skip the pasta and make this as a side dish.

Most recently, however, I made a kale recipe that was declared the all time favorite version by the children. This one included butternut squash. Here are the basics:

Kale with Squash
Cube butternut squash, toss with olive oil, roast for about 20 minutes in 425 degree oven.
Blanch washed, trimmed kale in pasta water for about three minutes.  Meanwhile, saute some diced onions in EVOO. Strain out kale and add to saute pan. Cook pasta. When everything is done, toss squash with kale mixture and serve on top of pasta. Feel free to add some toasted walnuts or pine nuts and grated cheese when it reaches the table. Yum.

Still have more kale to use. How about this?

Kale Chips
Preheat over to 250 degrees.
Wash kale leaves, remove center stems, dry thoroughly.
Toss with a little olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt.
Place on a cookie sheet and pop in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until crispy.

So there you have it: Kale, the wonder veggie. Do you have any favorite kale recipes?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The perfect soundtrack for Advent

This is just beautiful -- not only for the music but for the glimpse of these holy women and their prayerful way of life. If you want to purchase the CD, which I plan to do right now, go HERE.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Big changes are a'brewin' here at NSS

Not Strictly Spiritual is on the verge of a re-launch. Over the past month or so I've been redesigning my site at an undisclosed location in an effort to merge my website and my blog into one super cool megaplex of Maryness. We're almost there. My plan is to unveil in time for Advent, so expect new things this weekend.

However, and this is a big HOWEVER, if you have this site bookmarked under the old address (which means it has the word "blogspot" in the url), you will not be redirected to my updated site, and you will just keep coming back to the last post on this site, sort of like Groundhog's Day in the Catholic blog world. So, please, please, PLEASE be sure you bookmark this site at its most recent address:

Also, Networked Blogs is getting the heave-ho. Too many issues, mainly that people can't comment if they enter through Networked Blogs (and I've heard from quite a few of you). So please, please, PLEASE bookmark NSS instead so you don't miss a single minute of the excitement you usually find here. (Yes, I'm being facetious.)

I'm especially excited for you to see my new NSS logo, which I think captures the feel of my blog in an elegant and simple way. I have been blessed with talented friends who have been willing to help make all of this happen. I'll tell you more about them at the launch.

So stay tuned. I know you're at the edge of your seat. Now you have something to look forward to this weekend. (See facetious comment above.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

N.Y. Times plays politics with Dorothy Day

Icon hanging over my office computer
I was happy to see a front page New Times story on Dorothy Day this morning when I came down for coffee. Of course, I began reading with trepidation, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Didn't take long. By the first line of the second paragraph, I was annoyed by the lack of understanding of all things Catholic.

"But Day has found a seemingly unlikely champion in New York's conservative archbishop, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who has breathed new life into an effort to declare the Brooklyn native a saint." 

"Unlikely champion?" Really? Dorothy Day lived what our Church teaches, and although Cardinal Dolan may make headlines for his statements on abortion and contraception and other "conservative" issues, he also preaches on the rest of Catholic teaching, which isn't flashy enough to make the front page -- things like poverty and immigration and war, things that Dorothy Day made the center of her life's work.

I find it funny that the Times, with all its great authority, still doesn't understand some of the most basic things about Catholicism and about the people we call saints. My goodness, they don't come more radical than Francis of Assisi and look how popular and beloved his is. He stripped himself naked in the middle of town when he renounced his family's fortune. He was, like Day, radical about poverty and yet firmly entrenched in Catholic teaching and faith. Let's face it: All saints are radical. You don't get to be a saint by being lukewarm about anything.

Then we get a little deeper into the story where the Times talks about Day's canonization "even though, as some bishops noted, she had an abortion as a young woman and at one point flirted with joining the Communist Party." Yeah, okay, please see above paragraph. Of course she can be a saint even though she had an abortion. We are a faith of forgiveness. St. Augustine, anyone? That's what makes her story so powerful. Conversion to Christ transformed her life.  (P.S. When I was young I once went to a Cesar Chavez boycott-grapes rally in Austin sponsored by the Communist Party, so if I'm up for sainthood at any point, please be aware of this skeleton in my closet.)

Here's a fun sentence from the New York Times story:

"Cardinal Dolan is often depicted as one of the most visible symbols of the rightward shift of America's Catholic bishops."

Depicted by whom? The Times, I guess. If they think Cardinal Dolan is a symbol of the "rightward shift," clearly they need to meet some other American bishops. Give me a call; I have a list of names.

Finally, if you make it to the jump of the story, there's what may be my favorite part, where the Times says that promoting Day's sainthood "is politically useful" for Cardinal Dolan. Sigh. Cardinal Dolan is the third Archbishop of New York to promote Day's cause for canonization. Cardinal John O'Connor and Cardinal Edward Egan also promoted Day's cause. Three very different men in three very different times. Sometimes a cause is just a cause.

Here's a snippet of what Cardinal Egan said back in 2005:

...the parish priest who had encouraged me to enter the seminary gave me a copy of "The Long Loneliness" and told me to read it and tell him what I thought of it. I do not recall exactly what I told him, but I know what was in my head: "This is a saint if ever there was one."

Here's what Cardinal O'Connor told the New York Times in 1997:

The Cardinal first raised the idea of sainthood for Dorothy Day a decade ago, but at the time he went only so far as to ask for comment from parishioners and others. In his homily yesterday, the Cardinal said he had received many letters as the centennial of Miss Day's birth drew near, one from a supporter who called her ''the Mother Teresa of Mott Street.''

''And the more reading I've done, the more saintly a woman she seems to me,'' the Cardinal said.

So Cardinal O'Connor -- who was also "depicted" as a conservative -- began the first steps toward Day's canonization 25 years ago, during very different political times. So much for that argument.

Regardless of whether you agree with the push for Day's sainthood -- and there are many among her followers who are uncomfortable with the idea -- these basic misunderstandings on the part of the Times about simple Catholic thought and teaching take what should be a story of faith and Gospel teaching and turn it into politics and calculation.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Win Lisa Hendey's book in time for Advent

Every year when Advent rolls around, we set our Advent wreath at the center of the kitchen table, and before dinner each night, we pray. But I have to admit that more often than not we resort to our traditional grace before meals or an Our Father or some other old standard because we didn't have time to pull something more appropriate together (not that the Our Father could ever be inappropriate).

This year Lisa Hendey does the heavy lifting for us. Everything we need to make our nightly wreath ritual meaningful is right there in her lovely new book, "O Radiant Dawn," from Ave Maria Press. For each day of Advent, you'll get a short Scripture reading, reflection questions, a special suggestion for those with younger children, and a closing prayer. And if you go to Lisa's blog right now, you can enter a contest to win a free copy just in time for the start of Advent this weekend.

Click HERE to go to Lisa's blog, "A Good Measure," over at Patheos. While you're there you might want to stick around and read some of her other great blog posts.

Cyber Monday goodies with a spiritual bent


If you're anything like me, right about now you're probably making a list and checking it twice and realizing you have way too many Christmas gifts to buy. Some of this has to do with very hard-to-buy-for loved ones. (You know who you are.) But more of it has to do with the fact that I hate shopping malls, hate shopping in general, to be honest. If I could get everything at our local bookstore, and, believe me, I've tried, I would do it in a heartbeat. But it would look a little odd if I gave every person a book or stuffed animal.

So...We need to get creative, right? Well, the good news is that I've got some alternative gift ideas that will not require you to leave home. In fact, you don't have to leave the chair you're in right now. How's that for easy? And the gifts are better than anything you'll find at some lame-o super store.

I have to start with Monks' Bread made by the Trappists at the Abbey of the Genesee in western New York. When I went on retreat there last year, I loaded up my car with two dozen loaves of pure deliciousness -- everything from traditional white bread (see photo above) to sunflower with rolled oats to maple cinnamon, which makes the best dang French toast ever. There a few other varieties as well, each one better than the next.

For the coffee lover, head over to Mystic Monk Coffee. As you NSS regulars know, this is a favorite of mine. They have sampler sets and value packs, mugs, and sweatshirts. And there's a blend for every coffee lover on your list -- from the "light-bodied" Breakfast Blend for the coffee wimps, er, I mean, light-weights, um, never mind, to the Midnight Vigils Blend. If it can keep the Carmelite Monks of northern Wyoming awake for prayers in the middle of the night, it should keep you awake for the drive to work.

Of course, the Trappist monks don't just make bread. You can go for the Trappist cheese (made by the monks of Gethsemani) or Trappist preserves (made by the monks at Spencer) or for any number of Trappist food items (like fudge) dipped and soaked and rolled in bourbon.

Close to my neck of the woods geographically but ever so slightly over the border theologically are the Orthodox Nuns of New Skete, who make kickin' cheesecake in oh so many flavors -- amaretto, chocolate, chocolate amaretto. You get the idea.

If you'd like something other than food, try the soaps and lotions made by the contemplative Dominican Nuns of Summit, N.J. They also sell Dominican books and medals, if you are so inclined.

If you're looking for something religious but you're not quite sure what, head to Monastery Greetings, where you'll find everything from the coffee and preserves mentioned above to prayer shawls, wind chimes, books, cds, incense and lots more.

Now, I've given you quite a few creative gift ideas, but equally important is to tell you what you should NOT buy: "Nativity Rubber Duckies." I'm not kidding. They actually make such a thing. Here's a photo, in case you don't believe me.

Why? Why, I ask you, would anyone need or want rubber duckies dressed as the Holy Family and assorted shepherds and magi? It's beyond bizarre. Almost as strange as the Maximilian Kolbe doll for children. Some things just shouldn't be toys. Enough said.

And this leads me to my next suggestion. Perhaps, if for any reason we feel compelled to buy something like a Nativity rubber duckies, we have simply purchased far too much. Perhaps we should reconsider Christmas and what our giving is all about. One organization, Redefine Christmas, is promoting that idea full force at its web site, which you can visit by clicking HERE. Redefine Christmas is all about giving gifts of charity. Maybe the person who already has everything doesn't need another sweater or tie. Maybe he'd get more satisfaction out of knowing that his gift helped someone who doesn't have enough money to buy food or who can't afford to give their children books. Check it out, and if you don't like any of their ideas, pick your favorite charity and strike out on your own.

Christmas shopping shouldn't be about checking off names on a list in record time. It should be about finding the perfect gift for someone special. And if you can do it without fighting someone for a parking space, even better.

But in the end, it's not about the gifts; it's about the Gift.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

You had me at 'Nativity play set'

The begging has begun. PLLEEAASSEEEE...Can't we play Christmas Elf...get out the decorations? And my answer to every question is a frustrating (for the kids), "Not yet." I don't care if Thanksgiving is over; Advent isn't quite here yet. That means no decking the halls until Dec. 2, or, if we go to vigil Mass on Saturday evening, Dec. 1. And even then, I'm talking only about the Advent wreath and the Advent calendar. The tree and other assorted angels and Santas and snowmen won't show up until we're well into December.

This morning, however, Chiara came into the kitchen and began begging for the Playmobil Nativity set. After a few minutes of trying to convince me that she knew exactly where we would find it in the Christmas boxes because it was clearly in view through the plastic bin (and yet so far out of reach for a tiny 7-year-old), I caved. How can I argue with a kid who wants to play with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the assorted angels, kings, and barnyard animals tucked away in the collapsing blue cardboard box with them, remnants of Noah's early years.

And so I gave one tiny little inch, but I figure it's all in good time. After all, it's the Feast of Christ the King. What better way to celebrate than with childlike enthusiasm?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

So much local shopping to love. No mall required.

So it's Small Business Saturday, but even if it were just any other Saturday, there are so many small businesses here in New York's Capital Region (where I am based) to keep you from ever needing to darken the doorstep of the dreaded mall. Or Walmart.

I know, sometimes you just can't get something anywhere else, but most days you can. I usually make it my mission to get through the Christmas season without ever going to the mall. I challenge you to do the same. If it's too late and you've already stood on line for 12 hours to get a half-price electric toothbrush, pick yourself up and start over.

Or, better yet, drive down to Bethlehem for a little local shopping that's sure to leave with you armfuls of unique gifts you know won't be duplicated by anyone else in your family. (And if you can't get to Bethlehem, a lot of these folks have Etsy shops, so check the links below.)

Every Saturday through Dec. 22 at the Delmar Farmers Market, you can find a collection of organic, homemade, and homegrown foods (think artisan cheeses, beautiful fresh Brussels sprouts, winter squash, and more), stunning dried flower arrangements (also homegrown and made without dyes), handmade jewelry, hand-dipped candles, delicious-smelling soaps, pottery, mosaics, collages, and so much more. Just head to the Bethlehem Central Middle School on Kenwood Avenue between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Drive around toward the back left side of the school, and enter over there.

Here are a few things I picked up last weekend at the Delmar Farmers Market:

Peyster Street Designs jewelry by Ricky Talmage. Actually, these earrings were purchased previously from Ricky. Last week I bought a stunning necklace with a polished blue gem, a freshwater pearl, and a compass charm. But, alas, my son gave it to his girlfriend before I could take a photo. Lucky girl. Go to Ricky's booth at the Farmer's Market, or visit her Etsy shop HERE. Her designs as so beautiful you'll find it hard to choose just one, and you're likely to end up keeping what you buy instead of giving it away (which is what happened with those earrings below.)

These soaps from Tandj Soaps by Theresa Novish smell so good it's going to be hard to part with them. Well, the Nag Champa soap in front is mine, which came free when I bought the others and the cedar soap dish. All sorts of awesome smells -- from Christmas scents (peppermint, cinnamon, etc.) to standards (lavender, lemon, oatmeal) to interesting (Chinese dragon blood, clary sage, rain). I was thinking of making a spiritual soap mix for myself with nag champa, frankincense and myrrh, and minimalist. Theresa has an Etsy shop HERE, but she also has a brick-and-mortar store in Troy at 271 River Street.

I don't have a link or even a name for the dried flowers below, but if you go to the Farmer's Market, they'll be right next to the entrance. Such beautiful arrangements and wreaths and big, lovely bunches of eucalyptus. Breathe deep.

The collage cards below are going to end up framed in my house somewhere. Or at least some of them will land on the walls. One in particular is meant for a friend. You can find lots of handmade note cards, plus prints and more over at Nicolette Callaway's table. If you want to see more of her work, which features lots of animals and colors and some cool hidden designs here and there, visit her Etsy shop HERE.

After you hit the Farmer's Market, head over to the Delmar Reformed Church for the Fair Trade Bazaar and then go down the street to I Love Books, Perfect Blend, and around the corner to Peaceful Inspirations. I've posted about some of my favorite items from those places in a post over HERE. I'll be back early next week with my favorite online Christmas shopping haunts. Happy shopping.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Remembering the 'oldest altar boy'

The beautiful post below by Elizabeth Scalia reminded me so much of my grandfather, who was known in our family and around our home parish church as "the oldest altar boy." Every day without fail throughout his retirement and until he was too ill to leave home, he opened the church in the morning, locked it at night, served at each of the three daily Masses, and then sat before the tabernacle in prayer.

He was my confirmation sponsor, chosen by me because no one in my family was so profoundly devoted to God and to the Catholic faith. He oozed faith out of his pores. When my mother died and the rest of us were losing faith, he never wavered. He stood looking down at his dying daughter, sad but unshaken, assuring us that God did answer our prayers, just not the way we would have chosen. Always a tough sell, but especially so on the deathbed of a mother still in her prime.

When I see him in my mind's eye, he is doing what he loved most, kneeling in church -- the church where his own father helped build the stone wall, the church where his children and grandchildren were baptized, the church where he returned home to God. Today that church has a mosaic hanging above the tabernacle in honor of my grandfather and grandmother, a convert with a powerful faith all her own. It's a beautiful image of two peacocks, a Christian symbol of immortality and resurrection, and a concrete reminder to me of what my grandfather valued above all else -- the Eucharist.

So on this day before Thanksgiving, I want to thank Elizabeth for her post and for reminding me of my grandfather, whose faith was such an important part of my own formation as a Catholic.

Here then is "The Mass of Very Old Men" by Elizabeth Scalia:

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 6:25 AM: In the palest light, I follow footprints left in the season’s first frost, just a few minutes behind the regulars. The church’s glaring overhead lights are softened by the flame-glow of a few dozen candles—real wax, seven-day candles that burn a constant supplication—and by the shimmer of one gloriously large and eye-catching Icon of the Crucifixion scene. I wait to stand my candle as a slope-shouldered older man first places his own and then remains a few moments in wonder before all that beauty. He bows low; his eyes close and his hands press together in prayer, but imperfectly so. Form follows function, and these hands, roughly callused, with knuckles gnarled by age and decades of hard work, reveal the laborer who grounds the esthete.

6:36 AM: To the right of the altar, on a worn kneeler, another gray-haired man. He too has lit a candle—electric, this time—before an image of Saint Joseph, patron of husbands and fathers and workers; of immigrants and the whole church and a happy death. There is suppleness to the arc of the man’s body that suggests both comfortable familiarity and ardent longing. He cannot know that in this mid-twentieth century, minimalist building, he is the closest thing to a gothic arch thrusting heavenward, or that his unconscious affect works to similar effect, on some.
Continue reading HERE.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cardinal Dolan agrees with me: No 'Black Thursday'

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in a beautifully written column in today's N.Y. Post, addressed the new "Black Thursday" phenomenon that is upon us. As I said in my post on this topic earlier today, it's anything but a good sign, this urge to break from our Thanksgiving family traditions in favor of consumerism. 

Here's what Cardinal Dolan said about it:

Experts in behavioral sciences and sociology seem to share my apprehension. These scholars write that personal contact — verbal, face-to-face quality conversation and healthy leisure where we simply “spend time” as family or friends — is going the way of the rotary telephone. Now we prefer to text, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter — with a personal phone call or letter even becoming quaint, and quality time in each other’s company rare.

And now the days that a classic, civil culture sets aside for such lofty projects as visiting, conversing or sharing a meal together — such as the weekly Sabbath and holidays such as Thanksgiving — are in jeopardy.

The stores, we hear, will open on Thanksgiving. Isn’t that a sign of progress and liberation? Sorry, but no — it’s a sign of a further descent into a highly privatized, impersonal, keep-people-at-a-distance culture, one that values having stuff and doing things over just being with people whom we love, cherish and appreciate.

Take the time to read Cardinal Dolan's entire op/ed piece, by clicking HERE.

Missed my take on this topic? Click HERE for that.

Black Thursday? Stop. Don't do it. I beg you.

Chiara came home from school yesterday and announced: "I'm going to the mall on Black Friday." Before I could even get past my stunned silence to choke out a response,  Olivia said, with some sadness, I must admit (because there's nothing she loves more than shopping): "We don't even go to the mall on regular days, why would we go on Black Friday?"

Precisely. I am anti-mall on any day. I just don't enjoy it. When I make a trip to the mall, I'm like a Navy Seal, going after my target and high-tailing it out of there as quickly as possible. Window shopping has never been my thing. But the thought of Black Friday at the mall sends shivers up my spine. The parking. The pushing. The same old stuff repackaged and repriced and shoved down our throats by desperate retailers. Ugh.

Then this week came the news that Black Friday wasn't enough; some of us apparently need Black Thursday. What gift could possibly be so important, so necessary that it would lure you away from your Thanksgiving festivities -- and all that delicious stuffing -- so you can stand on line for one more must-have whatever? I'm sorry but this sort of thing makes me beyond depressed. I hate to sound like an old person, but our world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket -- or an oversized reusable green shopping bag.

Please don't go shopping on Thanksgiving. I beg you. Please stay home with your family, and, if by some chance you don't have a family and are going to be spending the holiday alone, come over here. Seriously. We'll save you from shopping-at-all-costs. I cannot stand the thought of one NSS reader standing in line at Best Buy on Thanksgiving.

You have enough. You are enough. Nothing they're selling is worth your soul.

Maybe that's too dramatic. Maybe picking up a really cheap blouse isn't going to cost you your soul. Then again, maybe it will cost you a tiny little sliver of it. And what about all those people who have to go to work or lose their jobs so the rest of us can fill our closets with more stuff? Think about them.

Don't do it. Put on "It's a Wonderful Life" after dinner, gather the people you love around you, and just  be thankful for what's in your life right now. And I'll try to do the same, even if the house isn't as perfect as I'd like it to be for all our guests, even if the mashed potatoes are done way before the turkey is sliced, even if my youngest child thinks Black Friday is a holiday worth celebrating. It's a wonderful life, no further accessories required.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving with 'The Egg Lady'

With Thanksgiving right around the  corner, I got to thinking back to the first Thanksgiving Dennis and I  spent as a married couple. We had moved to Austin just a few months  before and decided to give thanks in a different way that year. So  today, I am rerunning a favorite Life Lines  column in honor of the holiday and in recognition of all those folks  who will not sit down to a feast of food on Thursday. Here it is:

In  the past, whenever the dolls and Legos would overflow our kids’ toy  bins, we’d give things away to charity. We figured it was a good way to  do something nice, clean our closets, and teach our kids the importance  of giving to others all at the same time.

Ever since Noah turned  2, he knew that many of his toys would eventually go to “the poor.” We  never really put a face on “the poor,” but whenever a toy was  conspicuous by its absence, Noah would ask if they had it.

We  thought we were teaching him a valuable lesson in Christian charity.  Then one night he took the globe off the coffee table, spun it around  and randomly put his finger on Egypt. “Is this where the poor live?” he  asked.

I tried to imagine what was going through his head. I had  visions of hungry children on the other side of the world opening boxes  filled with Teletubbies and beeping plastic steering wheels.

And  so began our quest to teach our kids just how many people are desperately poor, not just on the other side of the globe, but on the other side of town. We tried to find ways to drive the point home: a  brown bag full of cans from our pantry at Thanksgiving, a gift for the  Giving Tree at Christmas, an Easter basket for a needy child. They were  all lovely sentiments – and important in their own ways -- but hardly  enough to convey what the Gospel challenges us to do.

The first  Thanksgiving after Dennis and I were married we volunteered to serve  breakfast to hungry men and women who didn’t have plans for a  home-cooked meal, or a home for that matter. A woman who ran the  Catholic Worker House was happy for the extra hands and told us to be at  the day labor corner at 7:30 a.m. to hand out hard-boiled eggs, tortillas and hot coffee.

The woman was known around town as  “The Egg Lady” because she was out there with her eggs not just on  Thanksgiving but every day. She drove homeless people to AA meetings,  let them shower at her house, gave them clothes and offered them  prayers. She reached out a hand where many would recoil in fear. She  told us how one man she’d been helping stole her car. She said it  without a hint of anger, without an ounce of regret. Then she boiled  more eggs and went back out to the streets.

Now that is a lesson  in Christian charity. Talk about living the Gospel. It’s not nearly as neat and easy as throwing some canned corn in a paper bag. In fact it’s the kind of charity that I find downright scary. But it’s exactly the  kind of charity we need to embrace if we’re going to teach our kids about compassion and our duty to make sure people have eggs and coffee  and a generous serving of dignity and respect.

Maybe this year  we’ll hold onto the extra Elmos and try a different approach – like  talking about the fact that there are poor people right here, that  they’re just like us except they don’t have a way to pay for food or  doctor visits or heat during the winter. Bags of food and boxes of toys  are a good start, but they won’t end poverty. We end poverty, and not  just with a checkbook but with a change of heart. Maybe that’s a na├»ve  idea, but people like The Egg Lady put it to the test every day.

Unfortunately  there are plenty of opportunities to test our mettle. Spin the globe.  Put your finger down. Anywhere. That’s where the poor live.

Originally published in Catholic New York, November 2001. If you would like to learn more about the real "Egg Lady," click HERE.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's your favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner?

We're taking a survey at our house this morning: What's the best part of the Thanksgiving dinner?
Here's how the votes are breaking down...

Mary: Stuffing (without question). I can and will eat stuffing at every stage of the making/serving/storing process. I'll it eat half done, just right, ice cold. Nothing. Better. Than. Stuffing. (And my stuffing never enters or even touches the bird, just like my mama made it. Only better.)

Chiara: Cranberry sauce (the kind I blogged about on Foodie Friday this week.)

Chiara's friend: Mashed potatoes

Noah: Turkey

Dennis: Stuffing (Aw, we're stuffing soul mates.)

Olivia:  Stuffing (Mashed potatoes were a close second, but since she can have those any time, stuffing won the day.)

Leave your vote in the comment section.

So, why is it, if stuffing is the most popular food on our table by a vote of 3-to-1 in various categories, there are no photos of my fabulous stuffing. I guess I was too busy eating it. I'll be sure to get a shot this year in between bites. And maybe I'll even post my recipe.

Those braised and glazed Brussels sprouts in the photo above are pretty dang good, too. Very simple recipe from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian." If you're looking for a good veggie side, here's the recipe:

3 Tbs butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1/2 cup or more vegetable stock, white wine, or water, more as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine butter, Brussels sprouts, and stock in deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers; cook until the sprouts are just tender, 5 to 10 minutes, checking once or twice and adding liquid as needed.

Uncover and raise the heat to boil off the liquid so the vegetables become glazed and eventually browned. Resist the urge to stir them frequently; just let them sizzle until golden and crisp, then shake the pan and loosen them to roll over. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes four servings.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Grab a virtual donut and say hello

Two different Facebook pages used my comments about Facebook being the new parish hall to prompt new "likes" and start some conversations. I'm thrilled that anything I said inspired any part of those efforts.

First there was the Denver Archdiocese, which posted this message on its Facebook page:

"We’re ready to brew another pot of *virtual* coffee and put out more virtual donuts!!

“Facebook is the new parish hall,” journalist and blogger Mary DeTurris Poust told bishops, bloggers and media gathered in Baltimore this week for the U.S. bishops’ annual meeting. 
"INVITE OTHERS to the fellowship of Denver Archdiocese’s online parish hall by sharing this Facebook page!! Let’s see how quickly we can reach 2,000 likes!"

Last I checked, they were at 1,931. They're closing in on their goal. Why not join them and see if they can hit 2,000 by the end of today, or this weekend at least. Click HERE for that page.

And, my comments actually played a part in the creation of the all-new Catholic Fellowship on Facebook.  That group, which started just two days ago, is up to 107 members. Head over there and click "join." Here's how the group describes itself:

"This group is for Catholics to come and share and discuss anything related to the Catholic Faith. You can post prayer requests and pray for others here. We can offer support and advice to each other as well. Posts that are not in line with official Catholic teaching will be deleted. Christian posts that are not Catholic are permitted as long as they do not conflict with Catholic teaching. This is not a debate group but feel free to ask for input, help, or support in debates, evangelization efforts, or defending the faith. This group was started by a lay Catholic but clergy are very welcome to post here and offer guidance at any time. If you have another Catholic Group, feel free to post things from that group here. The group is closed, meaning non members can not see the posts. I think that will make members more comfortable in asking for support from other members here when needed."
While Facebook will never -- and shouldn't ever -- replace the parish or church, it certainly has become a meeting place for Catholics. These types of pages give us a place to gather, a group to share with, a page where intentions are put out into the world and prayed for by friends and strangers alike. It's all good, as far as I'm concerned.

Foodie Friday: Cranberry-pear sauce. Yum.

This recipe comes to you courtesy of my friend Michele B., but it has become a Poust family favorite. Everyone loves it, and it's so easy and so much better than the stuff that comes out still shaped like the can.

Put this on your Thanksgiving table and you just may be called on to make it every year, no matter where the holiday dinner is being served. And perhaps the best part of this Thanksgiving dish is that you can make it several days in advance. Just keep it tightly covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.

12 ounces fresh cranberries, picked over
3 Bartlett pears, peeled, quartered, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch strips
⅔ cup sugar
½ cup dried cherries
½ cup water

1. In a medium-sized, heavy bottom, non-aluminum saucepan, combine cranberries, pears, sugar and dried cherries and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

2. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until berries have popped and are tender, about 15 minutes. (I often let it go longer than this because I like the berries beyond popped, but be careful about burning if you choose that option.) Cool to room temperature.

3. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Makes 8 servings/4 cups

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Want to start over? It's easier than you think.

My youngest is preparing for the sacrament of reconciliation and happens to have the best faith formation teacher ever. Last night she came home with a little canvas bag filled with Bible books, a copy of the Act of Contrition, the eraser in the photo above, and a handwritten card with the message below. I think it's a message we all need to hear. Again and again.

"In reconciliation, God gives you a way to say you are sorry when you did not make a good choice. He gives you a way to make things right with His help. God erases away the wrong choice and gives you His forgiveness. Remember, in the word forgiveness is the word give. God promises to give you His forgiveness again and again and again. Even when you make a wrong choice, God still loves you. You are still perfect to God.

"Smile, God loves giving you His gifts and promises." 
Sometimes, in our weary human minds, we make the Sacrament of Reconciliation into something intimidating and ominous and scary. But, when you break it down -- and maybe even think of it on a second-grade level -- it suddenly becomes crystal clear that it's anything but scary or intimidating. It's renewing and cleansing and joyful. There's never been a time that I've walked out of confession and didn't feel more joyful than when I went in. What an awesome gift.

So, smile, as my daughter's faith formation teacher suggests, and let God wipe the slate clean.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'Like it or not, Facebook is the new parish hall'

Me with my fellow panelist at the USCCB event in Baltimore

I've decided to share the panel presentation I gave yesterday at "An Encounter with Social Media: Bishops and Bloggers Dialogue," sponsored by the USCCB in Baltimore before the bishops' annual fall meeting. A small (very small) snippet of my presentation was included in the CNS story on the event and also in the CNA story, but they can't give you a true sense of what I said.

So if you're interested in why the Catholic Church needs to be involved in social media and want to know what I told the bishops and bloggers in response to the CARA study on this topic, click HERE.

You can read it, print it, download it, or ignore it. But if you do take the time, please come back and comment or offer your own response. I'd love to hear what you think.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Learning to let God be God

"God is not God the way we would be God if we were God," said Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, at yesterday's Mass for U.S. bishops in Baltimore.

In a wide-ranging homily that covered many topics relevant to the day and our culture, especially in light of the divisiveness evident during the run-up to the recent presidential elections, these particular words stuck in my head. I kept hearing them over and over.

The reminder that we can't know God's ways but instead need to trust was one that hit home for me, maybe because I was only a few hours away from my part as a social media panelist in a meet-up between bishops and bloggers. Trust was a little elusive at that moment.

The bishop's words are good to remember not only when we're facing down our fears but during the everyday moments of our lives. We have to keep always at the fore what Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." And we have to let God be God.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Baltimore, bishops, and bloggers. Oh my.

I'm leavin' on a jet plane...Heading to Baltimore for what's being billed as “An Encounter with Social Media: Bishops and Bloggers Dialogue,” and I'll be one of the panelists making a presentation before the bishops and bloggers in attendance. The event will be held Sunday, Nov. 11, and will precede the annual Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Here's what the USCCB had to say about the bishops vs. bloggers smackdown. Okay, okay, I'm kidding. Don't get all freaked out about it. From the USCCB:

 “We hope this event yields fruitful discussion and a deeper understanding of how social media and the Church can enrich one another,” said Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Communications and moderator of the event.

The encounter will feature a new study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), “Catholic New Media Use in the United States, 2012,” and responses to the study by a panel. Panelists include Bishop Christopher Coyne, auxiliary bishop and apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis; Rocco Palmo, author of the blog Whispers in the Loggia; Mary DeTurris Poust, a Catholic journalist, author and blogger; and Terry Mattingly, author of the syndicated column On Religion and the blog Get Religion.

When, I ask you, will I ever get another chance to make U.S. bishops sit and listen to me for 10 whole minutes? Probably never. So I'm jumping on this chance and looking forward to hearing feedback from the bishops and my fellow bloggers, who cover a wide range of Catholic issues -- from politics to catechesis to spirituality and more -- on their popular blogs and websites.

Stay tuned for updates...mostly through Facebook and Twitter. If you don't follow me there, now's the time to come on along. Join my Facebook author "fan" page by clicking HERE, and follow me on Twitter at MaryDTP by clicking HERE.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Zen and the art of fall lawn maintenance

Backyard toadstool, photo by Mary DeTurris Poust
I was sitting in my office this afternoon, trying to ignore the constant buzzing, droning sound of the neighbor's leaf blower, when I remembered a section of Everyday Divine that focuses on the power of repetitive motion, specifically raking. So I thought I'd share it here for all those folks who will be piling and hauling and bagging leaves this weekend. And if you happen to be among those getting a little snow, there's something for you as well.

From Chapter 3:

For me, raking is a chore that's so naturally suited to prayerfulness, I often seek it out on fall weekends in upstate New York where the leaf drop can be a bit overwhelming. No sooner is the job done than it needs to be done again. I think that's what makes it the perfect everyday prayer opportunity. The movement itself is rhythmic and meditative, and the very fact that the job I do will be undone with the first stiff breeze gives it a deeply philosophical bent.

We have an industrial-strength gas-powered leaf blower, but I prefer to gather the leaves the old-fashioned way. I look forward on crisp October mornings to the feel of the rake in my hands, the sound of my work boots crunching against fallen acorns, the sight of the brilliant reds and yellows and oranges all around me. It's easy to feel God's presence when I'm standing in the middle of such awesome beauty.

Sometimes I listen to spiritual music; other times I listen to the silence and the scratch, scratch, scratching of the rake against earth. I may pray actively for someone in particular or for a special intention, or I may choose to do nothing more than listen for the whisper of the Spirit and contemplate God's presence in my life.

For the record, the same can be said of snow shoveling. While my husband opts for the noisy snow blower -- for which I am eternally grateful on those days when the snow is measured in feet, not inches -- I choose the plastic shovel. Walking back and forth from one side of the driveway to the other, pushing the snow, lifting and heaving, breathing in air so cold it makes the inside of my nose freeze, I sense God swirling around me like the snowflakes. "I am here," he seems to say to my heart, and as I watch my neighborhood slowly go from dismal gray to sparkling white, it seems silly that I could ever doubt that.

 More where that came from. Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality

Foodie Friday: Autumn-inspired Israeli couscous

Autumn couscous, photo by Mary DeTurris Poust
This is a personal fall favorite, discovered when I was looking for a way to use the very large container of Israeli couscous I'd picked up in the bulk section of Honest Weight Food Co-op. A quick search of the Internet turned up this recipe by Giada De Laurentis of the Food Network.

What I especially love is that this recipe is perfect for this time of year -- it combines cranberries, apples and almonds -- and yet it's a little off the beaten recipe path. The result was a truly delicious room temperature or cool couscous side dish. (I supplemented with raisins since I didn't have enough dried cranberries, and it was still delicious.) I even had the chance to use some of the fresh rosemary and thyme growing in pots on the deck before a frost finishes them off. And see how pretty it is? I snapped that photo before digging in.

Here's Giada's recipe:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Israeli couscous (or barley or orzo)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 medium green apple, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted, see Cook's Note

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

For the couscous: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally until slightly browned and aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to12 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the cooked couscous to a large bowl and set aside to cool. Add the parsley, rosemary, thyme, apple, dried cranberries, and almonds.

For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth. Pour the vinaigrette over the couscous and toss to coat evenly.

Cook's Note: To toast the almonds, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before using.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Striving for a new kind of perfect

"Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly." -- St. Francis de Sales

When I look at the magnificence of the delicate monarch butterfly above and read the wisdom of one of my favorite great saints, my first reaction is: "Easy for you to say." They're already pretty close to perfect by any objective standards, so they've got some nerve implying that little old perpetually imperfect me can do the same. But they weren't always perfect, were they?

That monarch started off as a little ugly caterpillar, inching its way around. Just by being itself, by allowing what God created to unfold before the world, beauty was borne from what appeared to be not all that beautiful, at least according to worldly standards.

And St. Francis? He wasn't always so perfect. He was just another human being, striving to be what God called him to be. But he recognized -- in a way that's remarkably relevant to our modern times despite the fact that he lived in the 17th century -- that if we try to be someone else's version of perfect, it's never going to work out for us.

So how to be yourself perfectly, especially when you recognize that yourself has a long, long way to go to get anywhere close to perfect. That's a tough call. We want to change. We want to be what the world judges as perfect -- beautiful, financially secure or maybe even rich, successful, happy, healthy. We want it all, but very few of us get it all. Even the ones who appear to have it all on the surface are usually lacking somewhere else. And some people have suffering beyond what any of us can imagine and yet still manage to see their life as perfect, or close to it.

I guess the place to start deep inside. Who do you believe you are? What do you want to be -- not professionally but universally? When you look back at the end of your life, what do you want to see in your wake? I think that's where we find the clues. And once we admit who and what we truly are, we can begin to accept it and perfect it, even if no one else thinks we're so perfect.

We may never have the grandeur of that monarch butterfly, but if we allow ourselves to emerge just as God created us to be, we will eventually spread our wings and fly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Here's an easy Election Day decision

Do you need something to take you away from all the partisan sparring? A little spiritual lift to whoosh through your soul like a cleansing breeze? A bit of grounding to help you deal with the chaos of day-to-day life, not to mention Facebook? Look no further.

Head over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and cast your vote for my newest book, "Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality." (B&N gets extra points for getting the title right in its catalog.)

Here's what I had to say in my introduction to this book, which really grew out of my own need to bring a little sanity, serenity, and spirituality to my rather crazy, chaotic, and confusing life:

"Developing a regular and ever-deepening prayer life sounds fantastic on the surface, but it can be a tough thing to put into practice. Life gets in the way. We get in the way. We may want to pray with all our heart, but when it comes down to it, there just aren't enough hours in the day. How do we fit prayer into our already busy schedules, and what's the right way to pray anyway?

"I wrote this book to answer those questions, not only for my readers but for myself...I began exploring everyday prayer practices, starting with a spiritual breakfast routine and expanding to prayer while driving, prayer while waiting, and prayer while cleaning. And guess what? It works....By weaving prayer into the actions of daily life -- showering, cooking, cleaning, driving, working, eating, jogging, and more -- you can bring a sense of the divine to everything you do. Suddenly life isn't the chore you might imagine it to be; it's a joy, because everyday prayer makes you grateful, shows you where God enters into your busy life, and helps you traverse the highs and lows with equal calmness."

Still not ready to put that book in your cart? Okay, here's what Jesuit Father James Martin said about "Everyday Divine" in his endorsement:

"I love this book because it's practical. Too often spirituality is seen as something reserved either for mystics or, well, 'someone else.' Mary DeTurris Poust shows us that the spiritual life is not removed from your daily life, it is your daily life. Her new book will invite you to try some simple, down-to-earth and accessible ways of encountering God in what you might consider your 'ordinary' life. But after you've discovered God while you pray, but also while you work, clean, hike, exercise, do yoga and look at a sunset, your life will begin to seem pretty extraordinary indeed. Because it is."
-- James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything
So, go ahead, cast your vote for my book and you'll be the winner today. (How corny is that?!?!)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Keeping my balance in an off-kilter world

The deacon who preached the homily at Mass this weekend used a story told by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to make his point. It was the story of a prophet who, of course, preached what people needed to hear but what they didn't always like to hear -- repentance and reformation and righteousness -- and little by little his audience disappeared. Some even turned on him.

One day someone asked the prophet why he continued to preach when it was clear that no one was listening. He replied that although at first he preached in hopes that he would change others, now he preached in hopes that others would not change him.

Whammo! That got my attention. That's exactly where I feel I am these days. Much of my "preaching" feels like nothing more than the conversations I have with myself in my own head or, on many occasions, in my own office or kitchen as I'm padding around checking emails or washing dishes.

I try to share my journey here whenever I can. Sometimes that means photos of kids doing silly things or close-ups of my latest cooking creations, but often it means divulging a little piece of my soul, which is never easy and always scary. I feel a bit like that fuzzy caterpillar in the photo at the top of this post, inching his way along the gravel road of a horse farm. Talk about putting yourself out there. But sometimes that's what you've got to do.

Like over the past two weeks. Several times I inched my way out into a sometimes-hostile world to talk about my political position of "independent" and what it means to me, to discuss the obvious connection between vegetarianism and being pro-life, and to "let my pro-life freak flag fly," the most scary of all my posts because I knew how much some would hate it. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Squish.

And I have to admit there was part of me that wondered why I would do that to myself. Why open myself up for the inevitable backlash -- whether through nasty comments or the silent treatment? What's the point?

When I heard our deacon tell the story about the the prophet (And, trust me, I know full well I'm not a prophet, so, please, no nasty comments about that!), it really hit me like a ton of bricks because I think that's exactly what I've been doing lately. I've been preaching my message, letting my freak flag fly in order to keep myself from being changed by the world around me. Even if I am preaching for no one but myself, I guess that's enough.

So I'm willing to take the occasional criticism, silence, or outright unfriending if that's what it means to be true to myself and to remember what it is that guides my core and keeps me centered in a world increasingly off balance.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." -- John 1:5

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mass like it was in the early Church

Sun room chapel
Last weekend we were lucky enough to have Mass celebrated at our home by Chiara's godfather, who was up for a visit. (He's vicar general of the Metuchen Diocese in N.J.) Olivia, Noah, and Noah's friend were the readers, and Chiara was the altar server.

Footlocker altar
If you ever have the chance to experience Mass in such a way, grab it. The closeness of the altar and the intimacy of the liturgy really make for a powerful experience, just like it must have been for those early Christians who gathered in homes to pray and break bread.

Godchild and Godfather

Foodie Friday: Mac and cheese and Mallomars

If there's one thing those of us on the East Coast could use right about now, it's comfort food. And what better than mac and cheese? I used to whip up my mom's old recipe, but then I discovered a Tyler Florence recipe over at Food Network, and I saw the light. It is the most amazing mac and cheese recipe ever, at least that's what my family tells me.

Here's the Food Network version of this classic:

4 cups (1 pound) elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups milk
1/2 medium onion, stuck with 1 clove
4 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups grated Cheddar, plus 1 cup in big chunks
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the macaroni in a large pot of boiling salted water until done, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and toss it with 2 tablespoons butter; set aside.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Coat a large baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter and set it aside. Put the milk into a saucepan and

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Year of Faith: Are you smarter than a fifth-grade religion teacher?

As part of our celebration of the Year of Faith and our commitment to reacquaint ourselves with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I thought it would be fun to post this catechism quiz that ran in Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly a short time ago.

See how well you do, and, remember, it's not just about content but about the process of producing the catechism, which was a lot more entertaining than you might expect. Check it out. This intro will jump you to the OSV quiz link, but be sure to come back here and leave a note in the comment section.

Here we go...

By Mary DeTurris Poust
Despite being a worldwide best-seller, the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be a little intimidating to the average reader, with its 900-plus pages and copious footnotes. I know from experience. Several years ago, when I was first asked to put the Catechism into “plain English” in what would become “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism,” I wondered if I had the stamina to get through it and understand it in such a way that I could “translate.” But something wonderful happened on my way through Church doctrine: I discovered the poetry and beauty of a book that weaves all of Catholic teaching into one magnificent tapestry of faith and morals.

It’s no wonder that even now, as the Catechism marks its 20th anniversary, it continues to sell in record numbers, inspire spinoff publications, turn up in various digital formats, and more. From teens devouring the new “YouCat” version of the Catechism, to adults going through RCIA, to lifelong Catholics looking to strengthen their already deep faith, the Catechism has proved to be the answer to a prayer, or, at the very least, the answer to the many, many questions Catholics and others have about the Church and its teachings.

If you’ve never read the Catechism from cover to cover — and even if you have — there are will be things inside its pages that will surprise and even amuse you. Just about every topic you can imagine, and probably quite a few you can’t, fit into the Catholic picture. Don’t believe me? Take the quiz below and see if anything stumps you. This is not your grandmother’s Catechism, and it was never meant to be.

The answer key at the end of this section will provide you with the correct Catechism paragraph numbers for many questions you may want to explore further.

Have fun and, remember, no cheating. But you already knew that. Click HERE for the quiz.