“You’re not my Godfather!”

Tucking in my three-year-old Godson the other night, I reminded him of the fact that I am his Godfather. His immediate, passionate response at once brought me to laughter and convicted me.

“You’re not my Godfather! (long pause) Jesus is my God-Father!”

Let the reader understand, my statement had incredibly upset, even angered this child. I imagined a miniature Caiphas rending his clothes at my seemingly grave blasphemy. In his mind, I had called myself God. He couldn’t abide the outrage. Little does he know the humor behind his ironic misunderstanding and conflation of the term Godfather with the common prayer phrase “Father-God.” At the same time, the gap in his understanding exists from my own inept God-parenting. I have not given him a good enough category for what “Godfather” means.

Why mention this anecdote? The story is instructive when considering my own relationship to God. Consider…My higher viewpoint and greater knowledge made my Godson’s ignorant rejection humorous and endearing. His rejection kindled the desire to reach out to him more and better. I wonder if, in God’s providence our own rejections and foibles are as humorous for their being so ill-informed and weak. I was not threatened by my Godson’s rejection, in part because of the near inevitability of his eventually understanding the distinction between “Godfather” and “Father-God.” When it comes to God, however, our returns are by no means inevitable, yet God remains unthreatened by our passionate rejections, pitying my ignorance and patiently giving me (and other poor sinners) every opportunity to return to his kingdom. God’s patience is all the more incredible in light of the fact that my own rejection of God stems from sin rather than ignorance. While my Godson decried me due to a lack of knowledge, whenever I sin I reject God from a lack of love that amounts to contempt.

The whole episode reminded me, furthermore, of the second part of Evelyn Waugh’s classic Brideshead Revisisted. Waugh aptly titles part two, “A Twitch Upon the Thread,” (a reference to one of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories [1911, The Innocence of Father Brown]). For those who haven’t read Brideshead, I will say that it tells the story of the Flyte (Marchmain) family, including multiple members’ flight from and eventual return to God and his Church. At the end of part one, Cordelia’s dialogue with Charles Ryder suggests the higher viewpoint from which to see the wanderings  and spurning many of the characters offer to God:

"They've  closed  the  chapel at  Brideshead,  Bridey  and the  Bishop;
Mummy's  requiem was  the  last  mass said there. After  she  was buried the
priest came  in -- I was there alone. I don't think he saw me--and took  out
the altar stone and  put it in his bag; then he burned the wads of wool with
the holy  oil on them and threw the  ash outside; he emptied the holy  water
stoup and  blew out the lamp in the  sanctuary and left  the tabernacle open
and empty, as though from  now on it was always to be Good Friday. I suppose
none of this makes any sense to you, Charles, poor agnostic.  I stayed there
till he  was  gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn't  any  chapel  there any
more, just an oddly decorated room. I  can't  tell you  what  it felt  like.
You've never been to Tenebrae, I suppose?"


     "Well, if you had you'd know what the Jews  felt  about  their  temple.
Quomodo  sedet  sola civitas .  . . it's a beautiful chant.  You ought to go
once, just to hear it."

     "Still trying to convert me, Cordelia?"

     "Oh, no. That's all over, too. D'you know what Papa said when he became
a Catholic? Mummy told me once. He  said  to  her: 'You have brought back my
family to the faith of their ancestors.' Pompous,  you know. It takes people
different ways.  Anyhow, the family haven't  been very  constant, have they?
There's him  gone and Sebastian gone  and Julia gone. But God won't let them
go for long, you know. I wonder if you  remember the story Mummy read us the
evening Sebastian first  got  drunk -- I mean the  bad evening. Father Brown
said something  like 'I caught him' (the thief) 'with an  unseen hook and an
invisible line  which is long enough to  let him wander to  the ends of  the
world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.'"

Each of the wayward Flytes feels God’s twitch upon the thread, quiet, almost imperceptible to any outside observer. For each of these family members, God’s gentle twitch came as an experience of great loss. For Cordelia, it’s the loss of the Eucharist from her home’s chapel; For Julia, it was sudden loss (at her brother’s strong word) of the ability to silence any longer her muted conscience ; for Sebastian, God’s twitch was the unjust loss of a poor soul whom he had learned to care for in time of need; and for the family patriarch, the twitch came at the loss of his battle with the flesh, realized in the humility of inevitably-approaching death. In their raging, their railing, their rejection of God, the Lord’s patient providence saw the ever-present opportunity for grace. Especially interesting is the twitch God makes upon the thread of the agnostic, Charles Ryder. With no conscience, no beloved, and no paralyzing fear of death, God twitches his soul by the loss of beauty and the loss of culture he sees in the destruction of the art and structure of Brideshead mansion and estate at the hands of the military. In their effort to protect the nation, they have, for Ryder, killed her soul to make room for a new generation of vacuous men without experience of transcendent beauty. The moment of conversion then requires a moment of loss, because only in the loss of our idol (be it rebellious pride, inconstancy, confidence in the power of the flesh, or aesthetic culture), do we discover that God is our portion. He is the truth, goodness, and beauty each of us seeks.

Returning our wanderings, then, to where this blog started…Here, then, is my confidence as a parent, as a Godparent. There’s nothing I can do to make sure my children and Godchildren reign with the Lord in his coming Kingdom (pray God they do), but I must remember my role is to attest to and witness to the invisible line between their soul and their maker, between my soul and my maker, to invite them to be watchful and sensitive for God’s gentle twitch. Sever not the line, Lord, and twitch us back to Thyself, as deep cries out to deep.


Christmas Parties: A Last Hurrah

This being the last weekend before Epiphany, it is likely the last Christmas parties will take place among those determined to celebrate the full twelve days of Christmas. Since I’ve been promising my great-grandmother’s recipe for natilla (my favorite Colombian Christmas dessert) since the posts about the Advent novena, I suppose it is now or never, in case anyone wants to get adventurous this weekend. Without further ado, I give you Balin’s Famous Natilla:


200 grams of cornstarch (sorry to get all metric on you, the equivalent is just about 7 oz)
8 cups of whole milk
1 block of panela/piloncillo (A dark brown block of highly unrefined sugar, which can often be found in the Hispanic Foods section of a regular grocery store. Goya is one of the most common brands. If the regular supermarket fails you, try a specialty store. You should find it in flat, round blocks, but if you find it in the cone-shaped version, then get two cones.)
2 cups of sugar
3-4 sticks of cinammon
3 tablespoons of butter
Ground cinnamon for decoration (to taste)


Mix cornstarch in 2 cups of milk and leave aside in a bowl. Break down the block of panela into smaller chunks and put them, along with the sticks of cinnamon, into the remaining 6 cups of milk in a large pot. Stirring constantly, begin heating up the milk using medium-low heat. Keep stirring until the panela dissolves fully (this may take a while, but you can do it faster by breaking down the pieces of panela with your spoon once they start soaking through). Make sure the milk does not get too close to boiling until the panela is dissolved. Once it dissolves, pour in the sugar and the 2 cups of milk mixed with cornstarch. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Keep stirring constantly, and scrape the bottom of the pot with your spoon. Remove the cinnamon sticks before the mixture gets thick. Once the mixture has thickened to the point of a cream, add the butter. Keep stirring quickly until you can see the bottom of the pan when scraping with your spoon, and then pour the mixture into a large serving dish. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and let it cool for at least an hour.



In case you need some inspiration, a reader wrote to me recently, saying that not only had she and her boyfriend done the Advent novena together, but they had even dug up recipes for natilla and Colombian buñuelos online and tried them out. Here’s to making it yearly tradition!



The Mystery of Time

We belong to a story. We might describe it as a fairy tale that happens to be true. In this fairy tale, each of us has our beginning and end, only, the end isn’t really the end. We have the opportunity to live happily ever after. God draws us into his Kingdom to live with him forever. There is a progression to the story, yes, but in the end the happiness that is offered to us has no outer limit. St. Augustine wrote what is considered the first autobiography, his Confessions. In fact, it would be more accurate to describe the Confessions as the story of how God works through time to direct the life of a person he loves to a happy ending. God does this for Augustine and he will do it for you, because God loves you, too.

Many of us, I suspect, feel vaguely hemmed in by the ticking of the clock, limited by human finitude, perhaps even afraid that in the end there is nothing left and our story will turn out to have been meaningless. If we read Augustine closely, though, we will be reminded that God is the author of the story. He stands outside time and writes it by the power of his will. He brings all things to himself and imbues human time with the eternal. Our lives, marked as they are by a succession of moments, even as fleeting as the grass of the field, are given eternal significance.

The Confessions is a fascinating bit of writing that never fails to delight. Augustine dedicates book XI in particular to examining questions of time and eternity. As we ring in a new year, perhaps his thoughts will be helpful for us to consider the way in which we celebrate the passage of time.

New Years Eve

Am I doing this right?

Augustine begins by questioning if the experience of time is even in the divine repertoire, wondering if God understands the human calendar:

Lord, since eternity is Thine, art Thou ignorant of what I say to Thee?

The great saint then makes a complaint that all of most certainly have also; it is not fair that we live in a limited succession of moments. There are not enough hours in the day to pray and study as much as we want! (Okay, perhaps our complaints about lack of time and the uses we would put extra hours to are not so noble, but moving on…) Does God understand how difficult it is to know him, in all of his atemporal darkness? Perhaps he understands perfectly well and is more than willing to assist, but a prayer is nevertheless required:

 Grant thereof a space for our meditations in the hidden things of Thy law, and close it not against us who knock.

We find a way to understand the eternal even as we are in the midst of temporality. The only key to the door of wisdom is found with Our Lord, who himself entered time and experienced it with us. He fundamentally reorients the way we live in time because he somehow fits eternity into finitude. This is the miracle of the Incarnation. Augustine marvels,

Thou callest us then to understand the Word, God, with Thee God, Which is spoken eternally, and by It are all things spoken eternally.

Our Lord is a Word spoken in time that has infinite reverberations. Further, God creates the Church, the living Body of Christ, to bestow upon us graces that are foretastes of eternity. Sacraments actually create grace in our hearts that springs from the endless love of God. To have such grace in our hearts? To claim with a straight face that the God of the universe dwells in you? This ought to be impossible.

Grinch small heart

We are so many small-hearted Christmas Grinches

Our Lord chooses to work heavenly reality directly into ours by taking on flesh. He does not come to set up an eternal throne here on earth but chooses instead to live within the painful limitations of the human calendar. He is humbled to be a helpless child requiring the assistance of parents for survival. He experiences how all things come to an end and how the encroachment of death brings finality to our time here in these bodies. Each of us is granted a succession of moments, no more, no less. There is a beginning and an end. Within those moments there is a hidden path to eternity that we must unlock. He is that key.

Augustine writes that Our Lord,

Lingered not, but ran, calling aloud by words, deeds, death, life, descent, ascension; crying aloud to us to return unto him. And he departed from our eyes, that we might return into our heart, and there find him. For he departed, and lo, he is here.

Those who belong to the Lord are beholden by a different sort of calendar than that which governs the business of this world, one in which holidays truly are holy days instead of an equivocation that turns sacred feasts into an excuse to stay out all night drinking champagne and watching a giant, lighted ball on a pole. Holidays are not about us anymore. The Incarnation changes everything. We live by a calendar that sanctifies time and makes life a pilgrimage, the goal of which is not erased by death but rather finds its fulfillment in death as a personal encounter with eternity. Our Lord was made man in time, so too are we. He ascended to live with God the Father in eternity. So too will we.

St Augustine HippoAll of this is something of a mystery. We feel the pull of eternity. We can partially grasp the concept with the intellect. We believe in it by faith. As long as we are inside of time, though, our knowledge is notional; we will never be able to understand the whole of it and will never have more than a guess at what eternity may be like. To truly grasp it, we must stand outside of it.

Augustine won’t let the difficulty stop him from at least trying! He considers time in many different facets, discussing in turn what it means for the world to have a beginning, how the past and future relate to the present, and how we measure the succession of moments. He feels the frustration of not having answers to his queries, writing,

My soul is on fire to know this most intricate enigma. Shut it not up, O Lord my God, good Father; through Christ I beseech Thee, do not shut up these usual, yet hidden things, from my desire, that it be hindered from piercing into them; but let them dawn through Thy enlightening mercy, O Lord. Whom shall I enquire of concerning these things?

It perhaps seems to us that his concerns are arcane and pointless, so many angels dancing on the head of a pin. But Augustine was writing at a time when many heretics denied the reality of eternity. In their opinion, God must have had a beginning because all other things have a beginning. Others believed in eternity but failed to see how it is possible for it to have any connection to time. It is too different. The mistake they make is to misunderstand the nature of divine Being. He is the one who Is. His Being is not like ours and his manner of existence not like ours and yet he shares it with us and we participate in it. Our Being is neither the same as God’s nor completely different, but at the time of the writing of the Confessions these are theological points yet to be fully explained. Augustine goes some way towards doing so by first establishing the importance of holding to the real possibility of eternity and its connection with time. In doing so, he vouchsafes for us our own future.

I do not fully understand all of his thoughts, but appreciate that they remain applicable in different contexts today. In modern life, we too deny eternity even if we do so implicitly. There are various obsessions amongst us for living only for “the moment”, the use of medicine to live forever, surgery and cosmetics to avoid the appearance of old age, using contraceptives to deny the generative nature of the marriage bond, tattoos to assert independence and ownership of the body, turning funerals into long eulogies that avoid mourning and actually praying for our deceased, and so on. We are destroying ourselves. We forget that there is a God outside of time to whom we are beholden, live our entire story only for present pleasure, fail to contemplate the end, and so ultimately deny the Author. We end up either foolishly attempting to manipulate time or denying that it exists altogether. This is no fairy tale. It is a modern, nihilistic bore.

The Confessions provides a different perspective for the Church. She is a supernatural communion of saints who march forth to an eternal destiny. For us, the New Year with all its hopeful expectation is already reality through the steady pilgrimage of the Church to Heaven. New Year Resolutions are always so disappointing; we don’t lose the weight or stop smoking magically after January 1. But in the Mass our hope for the future is exceeded. We do taste eternity. We do commune with the saints. It is a wonderful coincidence that the New Year happens to be a feast in honor of Mother Mary. She, having already died (probably) and been bodily assumed (certainly) into heaven, is already eternally living in the beatific vision. When we look to her we see what we will be. It is a New Year Resolution already fulfilled on our behalf by Our Lord!

Our Lord comes like a thief in the night, breaking all rules, and bending time about him in such a way that during Advent it folds in upon itself and becomes completely shattered by the Christmas miracle. In this way the Church calendar contains a description of eternity, like an unbroken spiral in ascent to heaven. Contained within the first advent is already the seed and in some sense the completion of the second advent. The end of the world is upon us, released from the chubby, already-pierced grasp of a babe lying in a manger. For this reason St. Paul is quite clear that this is already the end times. We are held in the balance of the two comings of Christ, a timeless state in which we become what we already are. Sainthood is all but guaranteed by his promise and yet it is such a struggle to get there!

Augustine turns to God,

Oh how high art Thou, and yet the humble in heart are Thy dwelling-place; for Thou raisest up those that are bowed down, and they fall not, whose elevation Thou art.

In the end, the secret to living life to the fullest is not grasping time tightly and pretending that we never die, but a letting go, a humbling recognition that death brings us all low, and allowing the God who dies and destroys death and will come again to bring us into eternity to live with him forever. At this very moment in time we make one simple request: Come soon, Lord Jesus.

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 9

My sincerest apologies to all of you faithfully following the novena. It was simply impossible for me finish the translation for today and at the same time get ready for Christmas! I trust you the already existing translation, found here (scroll down to Ninth Day), will get you through tonight. I promise that by next year the couple of days that were missed this time around will all be done.

For the rest of the readings, click here.

P.S.: I was delighted to hear from a reader that not only did the novena, but actually went ahead and tried making some of the traditional foods that go with it. I will post the pictures she sent me in a couple of days, along with my great-grandmother’s recipe for natilla, so you can enjoy it during the Christmas season (remember that it doesn’t end tomorrow, it starts tomorrow).

Merry Christmas!

In For the Long Haul

Long HaulMy writer-friend Juanita McGregor draws a lot of her inspiration from holidays, seasons, and observances. Almost any time the schools are closed, she delights my inbox with some toothy morsel: pithy or poignant, poetry or prose. I liked her Christmas vignette enough, I wanted to share it with all of you.

Merry Christmas!





By Juanita McGregor


Odors of used tissue and drying oils teased his nose as he opened the door. The once taut rope of the curtained alcove sagged under the weight of rusty black pants and a wrinkled red striped robe.

Father Time sat before the lighted mirror surrounded by make-up.

“Hi, Old Man.”

“What say ye, Christmas?  Come on in. Have a seat.“

Pulling a chair from against the wall, he watched as Time’s practiced fingers filled the deep furrows on his face. Pancake once smoothed, powdered, and painted showed the man of March.

Sounds from the stage dribbled through the dingy corridors. Shortly the one-legged stage manager would knock and Father Time would enter stage left.

Makeup complete, Time pulled on jeans with steel cutting creases and a brown and gray plaid Ralph Lauren sweater.

“What’s in the house?”

“Dickens ‘Christmas Carol’, modern dress. The company’s hired 2015 to understudy. The kid’s dressing room is upstairs. Saw him standing in the wings yesterday. Just enough stubble on his chin; crisp, pale yellow shirt hanging out but his blazer’s cashmere and the shoes, high tops.”

Time walked through the memory: the new kid watching a tattered Marley burdened by frack or not, Ferguson, starvation, the Middle East, terrorism…

“Marley’s butt’s dragging and the kid smirked! Talk about condescension. I’ve seen his resume; you’d think that drama school…

Whoa! What am I talking about?  See that photo taped to the mirror? That’s me. Starry eyed as fifteen and convinced my own broom would sweep clean.”

Time picked up his muffler.

” I’m only doing one gig, but you signed a long term contract. Any regrets?”

Looking at the light reflecting from the bottom of the nearly empty paint pots, Christmas felt his cell vibrate: see stage manager.

Hearing uneven footsteps, he grinned at the old man, jammed the phone in his pocket, and said, “Nope.”

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 8

The following is the meditation for Day 8 (December 23) of the Advent Novena. For the full text of the novena, click here.

Day 8:

Mary and Joseph have arrived in Bethlehem seeking lodging in the inns and houses of the town. They are unable to find any, however, either because they are full or because of their own poverty. Still, nothing can shake the inner peace of those whose gaze is fixed upon God.

novena food

Hot chocolate, cheesy breads, and empanadas during the Advent Novena.

If Joseph was perhaps troubled and saddened out of concern for Mary and her unborn Child, as they were rejected time and again, he also smiled in holy tranquility as he gazed upon his most chaste wife. The sad noise of every door that was shut before them was at a same time sweet music to his ears.

This was what unborn Christ had come to seek. He had taken human form in His desire for these humiliations. O, Divine Child of Bethlehem, these days, which so many have spent in revelry and relaxation, your parents spent in toil and mortification! The spirit that ruled in Bethlehem is the spirit of a world that has forgotten God. How many times have we not let this same spirit rule within us?

It is the eve of the Nativity and the sun sets behind the roofs of Bethlehem. Its last rays touch the rocky hills around the town, turning them golden. Rough men rush to and fro, passing by Our Lord without care or notice in the streets of that remote town. They shut their doors when they see his mother at the threshold.

The vault of the heavens grows purple over the hills and knolls where shepherds watch their flocks. One by one, the stars begin to shimmer. A few more hours, and the Eternal Word will be present among men.

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 7

My apologies. Unfortunately, I once again was unable to finish the translation for the day’s meditation in time. In order that you may continue the praying novena, click here for an alternate translation (just scroll down to “Seventh Day”). This post will be updated as soon as I finish translating Day 7 (I am happy to report that Day 8 will certainly be posted tomorrow). For all the other prayers, click here.

A Christmas Carol

Madonna and Child - Titian

Madonna and Child – Our Lady gazes lovingly upon her babe. Painted by Titian, c1508

Every year at Christmas, GK Chesterton gave the world a gift. Without fail, like a Christmas miracle, he would produce a brilliant essay or poem. I would love to share them all with you right away, but let us pace ourselves, yes? The following is the poem “A Christmas Carol,” first published in the year 1900.

Upon reading it, I am reminded that all of my own joy finds its source in the virtue of love. First, it is found in the love of Our Blessed Mother upon whose breast I too would gladly rest my head. Second, it is given by the love generated from a contemplative gaze upon Our Lord. All of creation stops and looks upon him, darkness is made bright and all of the lesser stars pale in his glorious light. It is in the looking upon him and being seen by him that all of our happiness is to be secured. As the great Feast of the Nativity approaches, take a moment to direct your gaze upon the Christ Child. Happy Christmas!


A Christmas Carol

GK Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,

His hair was like a light.

(O weary, weary were the world,

But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,

His hair was like a star.

(O stern and cunning are the kings,

But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,

His hair was like a fire.

(O weary, weary is the world,

But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,

His hair was like a crown.

And all the flowers looked up at Him,

And all the stars looked down.

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 6

The following is the meditation for Day 6 (December 21) of the Advent Novena. For the full text of the novena, click here.

Day 6:

bethlehemJesus had been conceived of the Holy Spirit in Nazareth, home to Joseph and Mary, and it would have been there, in all likelihood, where one would have expected him to be born. God, however, had a different plan, and his prophets had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judah, the City of David.

That the prophecy might be fulfilled, God made use of a means that seemed to bear no relation to his purpose; namely, a decree issued by Caesar Augustus that all subjects of the Roman Empire should be registered in their place of origin. Mary and Joseph, being descendants of David, were required to travel to Bethlehem. Neither the Blessed Virgin’s condition, nor Joseph’s need for daily work to provide for his growing family, exempted them from taking this long and difficult journey during the harshest season of the year.

Jesus, who was not ignorant of the place in which He was destined to be born, inspired his holy parents to trust themselves to Divine Providence, that by obeying the emperor’s decree they might unconsciously further the accomplishment of God’s designs. Observe, faithful souls, how the Divine Child guides them, for it is of utmost importance to the spiritual life. Understand that those who have given themselves to God must no longer belong to themselves, must desire nothing that God does not desire, must follow Him with perfect trust, even allowing themselves to be led to whatever place He wishes. There will be plenty of opportunities to see such perfect dependence and fidelity modeled throughout the life of Jesus Christ, this being the fundamental disposition which in Him all saints and all truly devoted souls have striven to imitate, renouncing absolutely to their private wills.

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 5

The following is the meditation for Day 5 (December 20) of the Advent Novena. For the full text of the novena, click here.

Day 5:

We have contemplated already the life the Child Jesus led within the womb of his immaculate mother. Let us turn now to the life Mary herself must have led during this same period, in order to understand, to the extent possible to our limited powers, the sublime mystery of the Incarnation and the way in which we ought to respond to it.

Mary was filled with constant longing for the moment in which she would behold that earthly beatific vision: the face of God incarnate. She would soon see the human face destined to illuminate Heaven for all eternity. She would see the love of a child reflected upon the same eyes whose brightness was to bring everlasting joy to the multitude of the elect. She would see that tender face every day, every hour, for many years to come. She would witness in Him the apparent ignorance of childhood, the particular charms of youth, the thoughtful serenity of adulthood. She would even enjoy the freedom of doing as she liked with the Infant’s divine face: to press it against her own with all the liberty of maternal love; to cover in tender kisses the lips destined to pronounce judgment upon the world; to contemplate each one of his features, whether dreaming or waking, until she knew each one by heart. How ardently she must have longed for that day!

Such was the life of expectation that Mary led. It was a life in itself unheard of, and yet it did not for that reason cease to be a glorious model for every Christian life. Let us not be content to marvel at Jesus residing in Mary, but let us realize that he lives also within us in potency, essence, and presence.

Truly, Jesus is constantly being born in us and from us through the good works that He gives us the power to accomplish, through our cooperation with his grace, through the way in which a soul that lives in that grace becomes itself Mary’s womb forever, an interior Bethlehem without end. Let us realize that during those instants after receiving communion, Jesus really and substantially lives within us as both God and man, because that same Child who once lived within Mary, lives now also in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. What is such an existence, if not a participation in the life of Mary during those nine wonderful months, and a state of expectation, like hers, full of spiritual delights?