From the Pastor: Muskrat, Beaver, and Puffin for Lent
Some of you may read the following article and swear that you have read it before. You may be mostly correct. I pulled this out of storage, dusted it off, adjusted the dates and a few other little things and am presenting it to you once again. Of course, this comes from quite a few years back, and most of you would probably think it was all brand new if I wasn’t writing this opening paragraph, so I could have just passed it off as original, but I don’t want to be accused of plagiarizing my own writings!
Several years ago as Lent was about to begin (get ready, this coming Wednesday, February 26, is Ash Wednesday!) I wrote about a strange custom found in Michigan wherein Catholics could eat muskrat without violating Church laws on abstinence. [Hopefully, you all know that Catholics are, by Church law (rather than Divine Law, which cannot be “tweaked” in the same way) required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays in Lent. All other Fridays of the Year are considered penitential but we in the United States are allowed to choose a penance other than the traditional abstinence from meat outside of those days already mentioned. We don’t get off the hook, we simply get to choose our own penance. Really. Vatican II did not get rid of Friday penance!] This year another story has been making the rounds that beavers in Quebec long ago also received the honorary title of “fish” (like tomatoes being honorary vegetables though they are really fruit) so that they, too, can be eaten on Fridays in Lent.
Our Michiganders have yet to start up a Lenten muskrat Friday “fish” fry, much to the disappointment of every other Epiphany parishioner, I am sure, but perhaps one of our Canadian snowbirds would be willing to bring down a truckload of beaver for the same purpose. Stories vary about whether the whole beaver or only the tail was allowed to be classified as “fish” for abstinence purposes, so I suppose we would need an official clarification before we start cooking. I don’t know much about the laws regarding trapping and butchering either critter but if they are both in season right now it is possible that we could even get both of them brought down here to put on our menu. Imagine the envy of the other parishes when they discover that we offer a choice of either beaver or muskrat! The hardest part might be determining the side dishes. Both rodents are northern animals so it would seem strange to fix them with cheese grits and collard greens but what else would be a suitable substitute? For some strange reason, most of the vegetable dishes we find in local restaurants all seem foreign to our friends from the north. Just mention “stewed okra” and watch their noses scrunch up. Even something as normal as “fried green tomatoes” produces a look of bewilderment among the part-timers around here. Of course, it seems all the more strange that they don’t eat those great foods when they are the ones bringing the rodents to the table!
Not to be outdone by the crazy North Americans, though, people from other parts of the world have some unusual “fish” equivalents as well. Look at the Venezuelans. They are allowed to eat the largest rodent in the world, the capybara, for Lent. One website quotes a restaurant owner (who, presumably, has capybara on the menu though that is never made clear) as saying, “I know it’s a rat, but it tastes really good.” I wonder if people from Venezuela with such discerning palates would have the audacity to turn their noses up at grits they way our own Yankees do? Or how about some French cooking for Lent? France brings us stories about being allowed to eat puffins on Lenten Fridays. You know those charming little birds at SeaWorld which are found in the cold weather displays along with the penguins? Those are puffins. Like the rodents above, these birds are semi-aquatic and so probably taste like fish or duck rather than like chicken. Unlike articles about those “brave” souls willing to eat rodents, where reporters seem to revel in the “gross” factor of eating rat-like animals, the articles about those who eat puffins (yes, you can find them easily enough) show outrage that anyone would eat a cute little birdie. So it is probably best that, as far as I know, anyway, we don’t have any parishioners coming from northern France and we will keep the puffins off the Friday menu. Of course, now that I mentioned the controversial eating of puffins, I cannot go without mentioning that in some places whales, seals and even (gulp) porpoises seem to have been allowed on some Friday Lenten dinner menus as well.
Because our social hall only seats about 120 people around the tables and we would have to exclude way too many of you who would be clamoring to chow down on such delectable dishes, this year we won’t be able to host any of these Lenten dinners. But should we happen to have among our parishioners some avid muskrat or beaver trappers, puffin pursuants, capybara chasers, or seal stalkers willing to bring in a nice supply for next year, we might, with proper planning, be able to pull it off. Our Council of Catholic Women could bring back their tent for outdoor seating, the Knights of Columbus could do the cooking, the American Heritage Girls could serve, and, well, what a yummy penance!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Safe Haven Sunday
Last year about this time every parish in the diocese was asked to promote what was termed “Safe Haven Sunday.” Each priest and deacon was asked to use the topic of the evils of pornography as the basis of his homily that Sunday. Why? We were all encouraged to preach about it on the same weekend because it is a very difficult topic to deal with from the pulpit but it needs to be addressed as it is a huge and growing immoral problem in our society and in our Church. If all clergy addressed it on the same day, nobody could run to a different parish looking for a nicey-nicey sermon and demonize the priest/deacon who tackled the tough issue, because they would find the same tough issue no matter where they turned! Only about half of the parishes wound up actually doing it, though. I won’t speculate here why the other half did not. But I can tell you from discussions about the results at our deanery meetings and at other gatherings of priests that it was hard to preach but reaped great rewards. It also revealed a great level of ignorance about the seriousness of this sin among the active Catholics. So today I am writing here to let you know that next weekend is our second Safe Haven Sunday. All parishes have once again been encouraged to preach about the evil of pornography. Prepare yourself ahead of time and prepare your children as needed.
Today, besides the heads-up, I also want to enlighten you on some certain facts in a cut and dry manner. Here goes. Viewing pornography is, in and of itself, a mortal sin, and it very often leads to further mortal sins. Just by viewing such indecent material the person violates the Commandments numbered 6 and 9. Yes, you commit the sin of adultery by viewing pornography (“But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Mt. 5:28) and the sin of coveting thy neighbor’s wife (even if she is not, strictly speaking, somebody’s wife, for we are not to covet anyone’s husband, future wife, fiance, child, grandfather, etc., either). It often leads to other mortal sins such as self-abuse, rape, voyeurism, sodomy (with same- or opposite-sex partners), etc., and almost always with an increase in the vileness of the actions over time. (Don’t worry, these things will not be mentioned directly in the homily, for children don’t read the bulletins but they do hear the homilies.) This direct breaking of two commandments often is accompanied by breaking other commandments at the same time. For instance, can you really say you are honoring your father and mother (Commandment #4) if you are watching porn? Would they really be pleased to see you doing it, no matter your age? If they are, that explains how you got into this sin in the first place, yet it does not negate that it is a sin. If given the choice between pleasing God through chastity and custody of the eyes or pleasing yourself through pornography, which you know to be a mortal sin, which do you choose? If you put your own false “needs” above Him, have you not broken the first Commandment? Much of the visual “entertainment” of this sort purposely blasphemes God and His Church, encourages sick fantasies about clergy and religious, family members, and many other people, creatures, places and things which absolutely should never be seen in a sexual manner. Commandments numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 all quite often get broken by engaging in this seemingly private activity. Commandment number 3 is also often destroyed if this activity is done on Sundays or Holy Days or if, after engaging in this activity, the person receives Holy Communion in a state of serious (mortal) sin just because he or she is embarrassed to not receive, or convinces himself that he needs God in the Blessed Sacrament in order to get the strength to overcome the sin. (In case you don’t know, that is perhaps even greater than the other sins listed since it is almost always a premeditated sin. You can’t just receive Communion by accident and get sucked into it as you can with porn. You know ahead of entering the church for Mass that Holy Communion will be offered to those who can properly receive and you know ahead of time that you are not in a state of grace and should not go forward at that time. It pains me to have to warn you, but experience says that I must, that you may encounter a priest who says that it is not a big deal, not a mortal sin, or that, even if it is a mortal sin, you should feel free to receive Holy Communion anyway, as long as you are sorry and plan to go to confession sometime soon. Wrong. You must go to confession first. Period.
Finally, I want to let you know that the specific topic for Safe Haven Sunday this year is porn use among the young. Your children, your grandchildren, even the angelic ones, are, by all statistics, almost all viewing porn before they even know what it is or why people are doing the actions they are seeing. They are being hurt badly, becoming addicted to sexual sins, and being scarred for life or for eternity. What are you doing to stop them and to heal them if they have already been hurt?
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: A Sign In The Heavens For All To See?
Several weeks ago my news feed fairly exploded with news that Betelgeuse (the star, not the movie) might go supernova. Here is a snippet from Space.com.
One of the brightest stars in the sky has been dimming. But, while it might be signaling that it's ready to explode, it's probably just fading because of strange, stellar physics. Betelgeuse, a reddish star that's one of the brightest in the night sky, has been noticeably "fainting," or getting dimmer. The approximately 8.5 million-year-old star, which is part of the Orion constellation, has been one of the most recognizable stars in the sky because of its brightness and coloration. But this recent, dramatic fading has prompted scientists to suggest that the star might be entering a pre-supernova phase, dimming before it collapses and "dies" in a fiery supernova explosion. If the star does become a supernova, Betelgeuse would likely be as bright as, or even brighter than the moon for weeks or even more.
Every news agency gave differing bits of information about what happens with a supernova, what danger (or lack of it) we would be in, and other such things. Obviously, not everything can be explained in any one article. But this quoted part about how bright it would be and how long it may be that bright caught my attention. As I started looking for more information about that aspect of it I discovered that because it lies on the celestial equator, it is already visible just about everywhere. After a supernova Betelgeuse explosion, literally everyone on Earth might witness this bright blast. The Atlantic expanded on this with the following.
The view would be mind-boggling, day or night. The Orion constellation can be seen from nearly everywhere on Earth, which means nearly everyone could see the exploding star. It would easily cut through the artificial-light pollution that prevents 80 percent of the world—and a staggering 99 percent of the United States and Europe—from experiencing a clear view of the night sky. “At the predicted brightness of a Betelgeuse supernova, you could be standing in the center of the biggest city in the world, and you would certainly see it,” says John Barentine, an astronomer and the director of public policy at the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit that works to mitigate light pollution. “You couldn’t miss it.” Even more spectacular, the display would stick around. The gleaming orb would remain visible for more than a year, perhaps even longer. How strange it would be to witness day in and day out, to understand, for the most part, that the blaze is simply a natural wonder of the universe, but still feel, on a deeper, more primitive level, that the sky looks very wrong.
So as I am reading these sensational articles (they all admit somewhere long past the headline, that they may be off by 100,000 years or more in “predicting” that Betelgeuse will explode any day now), going through my mind was that if God wanted us to wake up and come to attention, this might be just the ticket. And, sure enough, I am not the only one thinking along those lines. Explanations are coming in about just how important the Orion cluster of stars might be to Catholic typology. Even Catholic sources vary a bit in detail, though they all agree that Our Lord put the stars in position and gave ancient men cloudy wisdom to spin tales about the constellations which in the future (our times) would be fulfilled, such as: Orion was regarded as the Loyal Shepherd of Heaven and he is battling Taurus, the bull, a symbol of evil, as he stomps on the rabbit Lepus (or maybe a serpent). All the while the constellation Eridanus River, a river of judgment leading to the underworld, flows nearby, into which is wading a monster named Cetus. There are so many details that I cannot possibly remember them, let alone try to explain them. Most of it is foreign to me, since I have very limited experience or education in astronomy of any sort, let alone in knowing the ancient myths concocted about them. But I find it quite intriguing to wonder if God would show such a spectacular sight as a supernova to all of mankind during such a dark period of humanity (dark in the spiritual and societal sense, though in the technological sense we have so much light as to obscure most of the stars which begat these myths about the constellations in the first place). What would be our general response? The Star of Bethlehem brought mostly yawns, yet it was a bright message from God. Will men of today see any of God’s handiwork in a new astronomical spectacle as has never before been witnessed by men? (Lk 21:25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves) Or simply pat themselves on the back for knowing the “science” behind what could otherwise be seen as religious superstitious nonsense? Will this be the time each man sees the state of his own soul? Three days of introspection, fear, love or hate? Perhaps we will see. Or perhaps there is just a dust cloud passing between us and Betelgeuse which is temporarily blocking its light and its imminent explosion of death is just the latest media frenzy about nothing.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka