Language Learned, Passport Packed

Sunday, March 17, 2019:

This morning, the Second Sunday in Lent, Fr. Gabriel, our parochial vicar, began his homily at 10:30 Mass with, “How is your Lent going?” For the first time in a very long time, I felt as though I was fully prepared to say, “Good!” For a few weeks before Ash Wednesday, I thought about Lent and how I would live it this year. I wanted to enter Lent fully prepared to get as much as possible out of it. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to live a more prayerful life, and for me, that meant approaching Lent slightly differently than in the past.

Years ago, in my first career job after college, I was inspired by my roommate to attend daily Mass during Lent. For an early riser like my roommate, this didn’t seem to me like much of a sacrifice, but for a first-class night owl like myself, it was huge. I maintained this practice during Lent for many years after, but eventually, it fell by the wayside, partly aided by the birth of my two children. So, this year, on Mardi Gras night, I stunned my family by announcing that I would be getting up at 5:00 every day to go to daily Mass before school. I don’t think for a single moment they believed me.

After a week and a half of attending 6:30 AM Mass, and sitting in a relatively empty church filled with silence, I found myself really tuning in to the homilies. At morning Mass, particularly the 6:30 Mass, the homilies are shorter and much more focused. The celebrant’s main point has been sharpened and honed, better for sending out to people on their way to work. Much like poetry, these homilies demonstrate the idea that every word must count.

foreign languageLast weekend, our pastor Fr. Lee said something in his homily that really struck me: “The language of heaven is prayer.” As a language arts teacher, the metaphor of learning a language before traveling to a foreign place was not lost on me. If we, as Christians, are all on our path to heaven, and we’ve never been there before, do we need to learn a foreign language before arriving? Is learning how to pray our instructional course for our journey to heaven?

passportIn a subsequent morning Mass, Fr. Gabriel extended the metaphor. He first spoke of how important a passport is, particularly a US passport when traveling abroad. He said that if we were going to be traveling to another shore, a shore of perfection, we must be sure to have our passports in order. I reflected on his homily on my quick walk next door to school. The travel metaphor is an effective tool for my own Lenten journey.

In today’s second reading, Paul said to the Philippians (3:17-4:1), “Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…” As Christians, we all want to “go to Heaven,” something we’ve been taught since we were very young. Connecting this abstract idea to something concrete like traveling to another country is a bit easier. scotlandWhen I traveled with my parents to Scotland in 2000, where my maternal grandparents were born and raised, I got a passport, made flight reservations, purchased good walking shoes, and chose my weeks’ worth of clothing very carefully. I made sure to pack something wrinkle free and dressier to meet my mother’s extended family. I filled my carry-on with snacks and a book to read on the long plane ride. I brought small hospitality presents to hand out to our hosts.

I planned seriously for that one-week trip. These Lenten readings and homilies have made me think: am I planning seriously for my journey to Heaven? Have I learned the language of Heaven? Have I prepared carefully for my trip? Will my passport be in order?

Working for twenty years in the legal field, I did not think of prayer much during the day. I worked hard all day drafting and negotiating contracts and legal documents. My daily goals were quite different, finalize legal documents that would protect my employer. Sure, I said my prayers at night, and I went to Mass every Sunday, but was I actively learning the language of Heaven? Since becoming a Catholic school teacher in 2007, however, I pray many times throughout the day: morning prayer after the Pledge, the Angelus at noon, and the Act of Contrition before dismissal. We have school Mass every Friday at 9:00. Going to Adoration on Thursdays is just a few steps away in the convent chapel before I get in my car to head home. All school year, we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation the last Monday afternoon of every month. Every Friday during Lent, we walk around the church following the Stations of the Cross. My prayer life has been enriched greatly through my vocation as a Catholic school teacher. My daily goals now are to help make our students saints, to teach them how to navigate the path to Heaven.

Even though we are still early on in this season of Lent, I already feel that the blessings I am receiving outweigh my sacrifices. I do feel that I am preparing for my journey to Heaven. I practice daily the language of Heaven and my passport is in order. I receive the Eucharist daily to sustain me on my way. My response to Fr. Gabriel’s question this morning, “How is your Lent going” is most decidedly, “Good!”

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#LeaningintoLent

lent 40 daysIt’s Lent, and I’m a Catholic school teacher. That means I bring my faith and religion to work with me every day, and I bring my work to my faith and religion every day. At my school, we talk about our Catholic faith a lot, in all classes-not just in religion class.

what to give upMy middle school students were happy to discuss with me in literature class what they were giving up for Lent or what they were adding to their prayer life to make their Lent more meaningful. We were all ready to begin this liturgical season, all of us #LeaningintoLent together.

lent word cloudOur middle school religion teacher is also our assistant principal, and along with her administrative duties to support the principal, she is also our in-house spiritual guide. In our Sunday evening email entitled “This Week”, she outlines the coming week’s calendar and school events, ending it with a prayer, a reflection on a passage of scripture, or a quote from a saint.

ash wednesdayLast Sunday’s email reminded us that even though Wednesday was February 14th and therefore Valentine’s Day, it was also Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and as Catholics, we were to fast and abstain from eating meat. Abstaining from meat is the easy part…it’s the fasting that takes some discipline.

butternut squashI decided to make a big pot of soup to bring to school on Ash Wednesday to share with my colleagues, to help us all out with having a small snack-sized meal at lunch, something to give us the energy to make it through the rest of the school day. My husband had brought home two butternut squash from the grocery store and one of them was crying out to be made into a thick and creamy vegetarian soup!

leanintolentThere are quite a few butternut squash soup recipes simmering away on the internet, and after researching all of them, as usual, I took the things I liked from one, and added them to the things I liked from another, to come up with my own version. My original twists were the addition of herbes de Provence to season the aromatics at the beginning, and dans le style Belge, just before serving, the addition of equal parts of brown sugar and vinegar to brighten the flavors at the end of cooking.

It must have been a hit, because almost five quarts of my butternut squash disappeared that day!

If you need a belly-warming vegetarian meal for your Lenten Fridays, or if you just want to enjoy the last days of soup weather in a healthy way, try my version of butternut soup. Let me know how it turns out!

Curried Coconut Butternut Squash Soup with Apples

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium leek, well-cleaned and rinsed, dark green parts discarded and light green/white parts finely chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, dark green parts discarded and light green/white parts finely sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, finely diced
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • ¼ tsp herbes de Provence
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 medium-size butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1” inch cubes
  • 2 medium-sized Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored, diced
  • 1 14-ounce (414 ml) can light coconut milk
  • 2 32-ounce cartons of vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar (light or dark, either is fine)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a large, heavy pot (5 quart or larger) over medium heat.
  2. Once hot, add leeks, green onions, bell pepper, and celery. Season with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, herbes de Provence, curry powder, and cumin. Sauté until vegetables are soft, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add butternut squash and apples. Stir to coat. Then cover and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add coconut milk and vegetable broth. Stir well.
  5. Bring to a low boil over medium heat and then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes or until butternut squash is fork tender.
  6. Use an immersion blender, or transfer soup to a blender, and purée on high until creamy and smooth. If using a blender, return soup back to pot.
  7. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more curry powder, salt, or chili paste (or sriracha for heat). Continue cooking for 10 minutes over medium heat.
  8. Just before serving, add apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. Stir well. Serve as is or with garnishes of choice (toasted pumpkin seeds, grated fresh coconut, chili paste, etc.). Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or in the freezer up to 1 month.

Reflection and Renovation

Exciting news for me! One of my essays, Reflection and Renovation, made the front page of a local regional newspaper that publishes news about our area’s Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington.

As this is a newspaper for parents, faculty, and students of Catholic schools, this essay has a spiritual theme based on the current liturgical season of the Catholic Church, Lent. If you enjoy HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper, you might enjoy my lead in for this essay.

Check it out! Would love your feedback!