Friday, October 10, 2014

ST. PHILIP THE DEACON AND EVANGELIST & BOK CHOY

Rembrandt

St. Philip the Deacon and Evangelist was born early in the first century probably near Jerusalem. He is remembered as one of the first seven deacons of the Church, for converting a large Samarian community, and for baptising an Ethiopian royal official who later founded the Christian Church in Ethiopia. After raising a family in Caesarea Maritima, St. Philip became the Bishop of Lydia in modern-day Turkey and died on an unknown date.

He is honored in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches who celebrate his feast day on October 11. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, he is honored as one of the Seventy Apostles and his feast is celebrated on June 6.

Throughout history, people have mixed up St. Philip the Deacon with St. Philip the Apostle. Arguments in favor of this possibility are based on the fact that both were Greek, good with money, and that one Philip would have made the perfect link between the two groups. However, the passage from Acts about the Samarians wouldn't makes sense if he were the Apostle Philip. So we'll go with the general modern-day belief that they were separate individuals.

Philip appears for the first time in Acts when he is chosen from the Greek-speaking Jewish community to serve as one of the first deacons, although the word "deacon" is not used:

Now during those days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables (or keep accounts).

Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.

What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
                                                        Acts 6:1-6

In Acts 7:54-60, we read of the persecution and death of St. Stephen by public stoning, resulting in our honoring of him as the first Christian martyr who died for his public belief in Jesus Christ. To escape their own persecution, Philip and many other Christians left the city and spread the Word throughout the lands.

Samarians practiced Judaism with some added paganism. The other Jews considered them unclean, and so rejected and avoided them. Philip discovered that the Samarians were very much open to the teachings of Jesus Christ and baptism:

Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said, by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed: and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.

Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 

And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.
                                               Acts: 8:4-13

In Acts 8:14-25, the Apostles Peter and John traveled to lay their hands on the newly baptized to “confirm” their baptism with the Holy Spirit. It could also be that it hadn’t occurred to the Apostles that people outside their Jewish community were open to conversion so they wanted to check it out and get in on it.

The next passage shows Philip literally jumping in (to a chariot) to teach someone who was already open to learning. This is another instance in which Philip recognized someone’s Christian potential and helped him along his journey:

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Get over to this chariot and join it.” 

So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 

He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

        “Like a sheep he was led to slaughter,
          and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
          so he does not open his mouth.
          In his humiliation justice was denied him.
          Who can describe his generation?
          For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”

Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water: and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 

He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
                                            Acts 8:26-40

The eunuch traveled home and, according to oral tradition, later established the Christian Church in Ethiopia.

In Caesarea, St. Philip married and raised a family. Twenty-four years later, St. Paul and St. Luke showed up for a visit. St. Luke is the author of Acts and refers to himself in the first person:

The next day we left and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who had the gift of prophecy.
                                  Acts 21:8-9

It was most likely during this visit that Luke learned the details of Philip’s earlier activities which he included in the beginning of Acts.

This passage also shows how St. Philip encouraged his daughters in their good works as messengers of God instead of marrying them off as was the custom of their day.

It’s believed that some days after the visit of Paul and Luke, Philip went on a mission to Lydia (in modern-day Turkey) where he became the bishop of Tralles and died peacefully on an unknown date.

Some ancient texts also state that his daughters traveled on missions as well. Unfortunately, this was during a dangerous time for Christians. After creating a hospice for the poor in Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey), St. Hermione was martyred by the occupying Romans for spreading the Word of Jesus Christ. Her feast day is celebrated on September 4 in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  

Holy God, no one is excluded from your love, and your truth transforms the minds of all who seek you: As your servant Philip was led to embrace the fullness of your salvation and to bring the stranger to Baptism, so give us all the grace to be heralds of the Gospel, proclaiming your love in Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collect, HOLY WOMEN, HOLY MEN, CELEBRATING THE SAINTS

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Sources:

HOLY BIBLE: NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION
STARS IN A DARK WORLD: STORIES OF THE SAINTS AND THE HOLY DAYS OF THE LITURGY by Fr. John-Julian, OJN
ALL SAINTS: DAILY REFLECTIONS ON SAINTS, PROPHETS, AND WITNESSES FOR OUR TIME by Robert Ellsberg
LIVES OF THE SAINTS: Vol. II, COMPLETE STANDARD EDITION, by Rev. Alban Butler 

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An Ethiopian recipe would be perfect for St. Philip the Evangelist. Click here to see a variety of Ethiopian dishes.

Alas, dearworthy readers, having never tasted Ethiopian food, I didn't have time to learn about the food, enjoy a meal at an Ethiopian restaurant, and then try to recreate a recipe at home. But it’s on my list.

Instead I offer a recipe for sautéed bok choy because during a recent morning walk, I suddenly began crying over my nephew Phil. Grief comes at you like that sometimes, in unexpected waves.

Phillip Alexander Ross died on August 10, 2011, at the age of 28 due to sleep apnea only a year after his dear mother, Sandra, passed following a courageous battle with cancer.

Here’s the Remembrance I gave at his funeral:

            I became Phil’s aunt 20 years ago when I married his uncle Stuart. But I had met him five years before that when Phil was three years old at the beach house overlooking Duxbury Bay. One morning, we went outside to enjoy the beautiful day. The sun shone on the green grass while the soft sound of the ocean waves and the muddy scent of the marsh wafted up to us. Phil was an adorable bundle of energy. I’ll never forget that I convinced him to be my pillow so that I could lie down and look up at the clouds drifting across the blue sky above. Phil was totally into it. For about 5 seconds. I got him to do it three times. For about 5 seconds. Then he was off running to play. What nerve I had making him my pillow. But that he did it, even for the tiniest amount of time was a true gift.

            My next memory is of the family all gathered together to watch a video of Phil demonstrating how to cook bok choy for a school assignment. Bok choy. Never heard of it, never wanted to cook it. So I didn’t pay attention to his actual demonstration. Instead I focused on the serious and intense way that Phil handled the demo and the beaming pride on his mother’s face as we watched. It never occurred to me to tell Phil this, but whenever I see or hear the word “bok choy” I think of him. And in a real ironic twist, every now and then bok choy is delivered in our North Carolina Produce Box. I’ve tried different recipes, but every time I try to cook it, I burn the leaves. I should have paid attention to his demo.

            Phil had a particular silly sense of humor. It’s a Ross trait that occurs is only a few of the Ross’s. Don’t get me wrong, we all love to laugh and we all can be pretty funny. However, Phil had that particular sense of humor that his father had seen before in his little brother, Stuart. That’s why when young Phil was being really silly, he’d call him Stu. Then to complicate matters, a new Ross was born named Don the third. Soon little Donny was running around being silly and Don would say, “Calm down, Stu, I mean Phil, I mean Donny. Oh whatever.”  And then Papa, Don the first, recognizing a part of himself in that silly sense of humor, would sit back and giggle.

            Once when Donny was about seven, we were up for Christmas and playing our traditional Santa Swap game in which we buy mostly annoying presents to throw into the grab bag. Depending on your number, you can either grab from the big bag or take a present away from someone else so they’d have to grab from the bag again. This one year, careful to spend the correct dollar amount, Phil threw in a ten-pound bag of potatoes. What an amazingly annoying present especially to those of us who traveled by airplane. I thought that was absolutely hysterical. But Donny’s memory is stronger than mine and he remembers the rest of the story. Phil spent the entire game trying to win the potatoes back so he could give them to his brother, Andrew, who was just getting into gourmet cooking. And he did it.

            That’s the way Phil was – supportive of others and their endeavors. About 5 years ago; Phil was assigned to be my Secret Santa. He gave me this tee shirt that says, “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” I love this shirt because it’s a bit snarky and defiant. And I love it because he recognized me as a writer. Most people don’t recognize writers until they’re published, and sometimes writers believe that themselves. At the time, it was pretty powerful for me to know that Phil recognized and supported the writer in me. I wear this shirt whenever the writing gets particularly challenging.
            
            Donny never got around to telling Phil about his love of the Marx Brothers and especially Harpo. But if he had, we know that Phil would have found a way to recognize and support Donny in this interest. Donny’s in the process of growing out his hair so it will look like Harpo’s hair. We know that it would have been appropriate to get his hair cut for this service, but we feel in a way that we are honoring Phil who also had naturally curly hair. But, more importantly, we feel that we are honoring him because Harpo was funny and Phil loved to laugh.
            
            Our best, most consistent memories of Phil are in the playing of board games. Especially Balderdash -- a game in which players make up fake definitions in an effort to convince the other players that it’s the real definition to obscure words. As an early morning riser myself, I’m usually too tired to play when the rest of the gang pulls out the board, but I love to sit by and crochet so I can get in on the laughs. Donny called Phil the laugh starter. If Phil thought a definition was funny, the laughter spread like a warm flame across the table and around the room.
            
           We writers aren’t supposed to use clichés, but I believe that laughter is good for the soul. So Phil we invite you and your mom to swing down from heaven to listen in the next time we play Balderdash. From now on, every game we play together is dedicated to you.
           
            (I added a Celtic prayer I learned from my priest, Rev. Mark Powell. It’s adapted a bit due to my faulty memory.)
            
           Lord, help us to be swift to love and hasten to be kind for we do not know how long we have to gladden the hearts of others. Grant us your loving comfort and peace all the days of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Just like St. Philip acted upon the Christian potential in a group of Samarians (whom the Apostles originally considered unworthy of attention), and the Ethiopian who was curious, Philip Ross saw the potential in others and supported them along their path with his interest and a side order of humor.

I believe that saintly attributes are handed down generation by generation in the naming of babies after saints (or relatives who were named for saints). If I were to argue for that belief, I’d say - Where else would Phil have picked up his habit of supporting the potential in others?

And then I’d argue the other side and say - Watch the video again. Every member of Phil’s family, including his grandmother, helped him with their expertise and support of his potential (in this case to hold it together and not laugh too much).

Speaking of which, when I recently watched Phil’s cooking video again, I discovered why the bok choy segment stayed with me – let’s just say, not all of it made it into the pan. See Bonus Material at Time 5:00.

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Sautéed Bok Choy



More photos below.

Ingredients:

1 bunch of adult or 2 bunches of baby bok choy
4 teaspoons olive oil divided
Soy sauce to taste

Instructions:

1. Separate leaves and wash bok choy.
2. Separate green stuff from white stuff.
3. Chop into bite size pieces and keep separate.
4. Place 2 teaspoons of olive oil in frying pan over medium high heat.
5. Sauté white stuff until golden. Season with soy sauce.
6. Repeat Step 4 and 5 with the green stuff. Sauté for less time than the white stuff and stir regularly.
7. Combine golden white and green stuff in a serving bowl.
7. Served as a side dish or as part of a stir fry with rice, protein, and other vegetables.

Enjoy!

Photos:





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Bonus Material:

Phil's Video





Friday, October 3, 2014

YOUNG ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI & HOMEMADE BREAD


Prayer Before the Crucifix, Catholic Clip Art

(This post in an update/revision of St. Francis of Assisi: The Early Years.)

St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved and well-known saint throughout the world perhaps because he was so human about his difficult journey. He was born in either 1181 or 1182 in Assisi, Italy. He founded the Franciscan Order of Friar Minors, lived the gospels in obedience to the Church, traveled in peace to the Middle East during the crusades, created the first Nativity scene, saw God in everyone and everything, received the Stigmata of Christ Crucified, inspired countless people in his lifetime, and continues to inspire us today.

He is the patron saint of animals and ecology and he's honored in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, and Lutheran Churches. St. Francis is one of two patron saints of Italy (along with Catherine of Siena) and many other places throughout the world, including San Francisco, CA, in the United States. He died on October 3, 1226, and his feast day, October 4, is usually celebrated with a Blessing of the Animals.

Born sometime before or after the New Year, Francis was baptized on March 28, 1182, along with the other infants of Assisi, Italy, at the city’s annual Easter Eve Baptismal Service.

Originally named Giovanne (John), his father changed it to Francesco (Francis). It means “the Frenchman.” Although not common, it was a name in use at that time and it indicates his father’s love of all things French, including his wife. 

Francis’s mother, Pica de Bourlemont, came into the marriage with a large dowry upon which, his father, Pietro Bernardone, built a successful and profitable profession as a cloth merchant.

Francis probably attended school in which he learned business skills -- math, reading, French, and some Latin.

At age 14, he became an apprentice in his father’s shop and worked with his elder brother, Angelo.

As a young man, Francis lived up to his name by dressing in fine garments and taking great care with his appearance. He enjoyed an expensive lifestyle and probably traveled with his father to France on business.

In the evenings, he and his friends acted like French troubadours, singing, and entertaining people in the streets. Francis enjoyed amusing his friends with his performances and treating them to fine meals.

Although Pietro chided Francis for his frivolous and expensive behavior, he was proud of Francis’s antics because he acted like a nobleman’s son, rich and carefree.

Young Francis lived a full life, but it was not as carefree as his father believed. Francis was disturbed by the beggars who would come into the shop. He would give alms to them occasionally, as their suffering troubled him. But their filth and odor repulsed him.

Lepers were another group to be avoided and shunned. They had a type of skin disease that caused open, bleeding sores, and deformity. Francis was terrified of coming in contact with them and looked upon them with horror. Many lepers were treated in lepertoriums, and cared for by dedicated people who didn’t fear infection and could handle the sight and smell of their sufferings. Others were too poor for the lepertoriums and grouped together outside the city relying on alms for their survival.

At this time in history, the High Middle Ages, Italy was made up of individual city states, some of which formed alliances and others that battled each other over territory and rule.

Chivalry wouldn’t begin to die until the Late Middle Ages (during the time of St. Joan of Arc) and as expected, Francis hoped to achieve honor in battle so that he could become a knight. At age 20, he joined the young men of Assisi in a battle against the neighboring city of Perugia.

Although his mother feared for his safety, even she understood that his participation in a victory over Perugia would bring great honor to the family whether or not Francis survived.

The battle was fierce. Francis witnessed the killing and wounding of many of his friends. No doubt, he also inflicted wounds. The horrified Francis was captured along with some others from wealthy families and placed in prison for one year until his father arranged to pay for his ransom.

Upon Francis’s arrival home, he fell ill with, most likely, tuberculosis and spent a year in bed.

His body mostly recovered, as far as can be expected with medieval health care, but his mind remained greatly troubled. He had dreams and flashbacks in which he vividly re-experienced the horror of the battle. He felt great grief and survivor’s guilt over the brutal deaths of his friends and suffered much guilt over whatever battle wounds he inflicted himself.

Now labeled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for which treatment is available, no one in the Middle Ages would have known how to help Francis, least of all Francis.

But, he searched. He read the gospels and perhaps contemplated joining the nearby Benedictine monastery as his mother desired for him.

His father grew impatient waiting for Francis to do something. Anything.

Somehow Francis got it into his head, some believe he saw himself in a dream wearing white with a red cross, that he should join the crusades and fight in the Holy Land for Jesus. His father took great pride in outfitting him for this adventure.

After one day’s travel under the orders of a local property owner or lord, he realized that he wasn't supposed to wield a sword. He sold his horse and weapons and returned home. About two miles outside of Assisi he stopped at San Damiano, a church almost in ruins due to lack of use.

Francis was granted permission by Don Peter, the priest and caretaker of San Damiano to stay the night. Francis placed the money he received from the sale of his horse and armor onto a window ledge and promptly forgot about it.

The next day, Francis returned home, but not to his old ways. He no longer had fun out with his friends, lost all interest in the family business, and would not help out.

He spent much time alone suffering guilt and self-loathing. As was the common tradition of his era, he did acts of penance – almsgiving, prayer, and mortification of the body.

Further, in what appeared to be a compulsive manner, he often gave money, food, and the clothes he wore away to the poor.

His father demanded that he stop giving away so much and return to work. Francis refused.

As was also the custom of his times, Francis went on a pilgrimage to Rome which was about a four-day journey by foot. After praying at the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle, he threw an astonishingly large quantity of coins through the grate. Before he left Rome, he exchanged clothes with a beggar and begged for alms in the streets.

Upon his return, he sought advice from Bishop Guido II of Assisi and then began to spend all his time praying in the falling down church of San Damiano.

His family found out he was there and despite the anxiety of his father over Francis’s state of mind, they brought him food.

He prayed under an icon of Christ Crucified for direction:

Most high glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true Faith, certain Hope and perfect Charity; give me perception and knowledge, Lord, that I might carry out your holy and true command.
                                     Francis of Assisi: Early Documents

Icon Cross of Christ Crucified, San Damiano Church, circa 1100

He also meditated on the passion of Christ. He desired to be one with Jesus on the cross and in doing so, beat himself in acts of penance, fasted, and wept uncontrollably in spasms of empathy and grief.

At some point in his love for Christ, the Eucharist, and the sacred space of a church, Francis understood his mission from God to be, “Rebuild my church for it is in disrepair.” 

As is written in many religious biographies, it’s possibly that Francis heard the voice of God coming from the icon of Christ Crucified. However, the quote is a loaded phrase that’s poetic in its prophecy of how he would later change the Church, and therefore, most likely not what he actually heard. 

Nevertheless, he began to repair the church of San Damiano. His role became that of a private penitent attached to that particular church.

At this point, Francis’s appearance was in shambles -- his lifestyle that of an insane man on the fringe.

His father went to San Damiano Church and tried one last time to reason with his son.

Francis was too distraught to understand what his father was saying to him about the family fortune. He gave the money he received from the sale of the horse and weapons that had been on the window sill all that time to his father hoping to please him.

But Pietro Bernardone was freaking out about a fortune much larger than the worth of a horse and armor.

In Assisi at that time, by law, if Pica were to die before Pietro, the family fortune built upon her original dowry, would not go to Pietro, but to their heirs – Angelo and Francis. Pietro was afraid that Francis would squander away his half of the family fortune which would ruin the family’s business. 

So Pietro went to the secular legal court to have Francis declared insane and not eligible to this inheritance.

Francis claimed himself to be an ecclesiastic (associated with the Church) and under the jurisdiction of Bishop Guido II of Assisi. So the secular court turned the matter over to the bishop who became a mediator between father and son.

Pietro explained his worries to the bishop and the whole family, including Pica and Angelo.

Under the advice of Bishop Guido, Francis renounced his claim to any family money as he would now only rely on God.

Francis, being Francis, upped the drama of the moment by stripping down to his penitent’s hair shirt (a garment of rough cloth made from goat’s hair). He placed his outer clothes at his father’s feet and said:

Until now I have called Pietro di Bernardone my father. But because I have proposed to serve God, I return to him the money on account of which he was so upset, and also all the clothing which is his, wanting to say, from now on: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, and not, ‘my father, Pietro di Bernardone.’
                               LIFE OF ST. FRANCIS, Thomas of Celano

Renuciation of Worldly Good, Giotto di Bondone, Basilica di San Francesco, circa 1300

Everyone in the room cried. The bishop covered Francis with his mantle in a gesture showing that he was now under the Church’s protection.

Pietro said nothing, picked up the clothes, and walked out.

Possibly due to the Church’s PR team, many people believe that this was Francis’s defining moment. Eh, not so much. But it does indicate his love of and life-long obedience to the Church.

His defining moment came after more months wandering around near Assisi searching for his purpose when he found himself volunteering in one of the three lepertoriums near Assisi, San Rufino dell’ Arce, San Lazzaro, or San Salvatore della Pareti.

After a life time of visceral fear and physical repulsion of lepers, somehow he was able to care for their health needs in which he touched them, looked them in the eyes, and deeply understood that they were human beings and loved by Jesus.


St. Francis and the Leper, Piero Casentini

Francis realized that it was God who removed the physical repulsion and fear he had always experienced near lepers and replaced it with joy. His mental confusions about his path and his inner torments about his previous life ended:

The Lord granted me, Brother Francis, to begin doing penance this way; when I was in my sins, just to see lepers was very bitter for me. And the Lord himself took me among them, and I showed mercy to them. And on leaving them, what seemed bitter to me had turned for me into sweetness of body and soul. And afterwards I waited a little and left the world.”
                                                        Francis of Assisi, Testament

With no foresight as to where his path would lead, Francis took a deep, peaceful breath and began his journey forward. 

Most High, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
                                                     Collect, Holy Women, Holy Men

Sources:

FRANCIS OF ASSISI: A NEW BIOGRAPHY by Augustine Thompson, O.P.
THE LIFE OF SAINT FRANCIS by Thomas of Celano
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As with any real-life path toward Christ, Francis's journey was far from easy, but it was joyful. 

For his next few steps and his inspiration in the life St. Clare of Assisi, see here.

See St. Francis of Assisi and Animals to learn why he’s the patron saint of animals and ecology.

See the recently updated with a more significant recipe, St. Francis and the Sultan for his attempt to create peace in the Middle East. 

St. Francis and the Nativity describes the first time a scene was created to honor the birth of Jesus Christ.
   
Jump ahead to his final years in the The Stigmata and Death of St. Francis of Assisi. (Check the bonus section for a "secret" update.)


The need to revise my first early years post came mostly from improved research techniques and materials and my growing focus on writing saint biographies based more on history and less on the stuff of legends.

I recently realized that this unrecognized mission was the reason why I suffered through a Lent’s worth of writer’s block when I attempted to write a middle grade novel about the saints in early 2012. In other words, I couldn’t write a work of fiction about the saints because I didn’t want to. (It’s okay if that statement only makes sense to fellow writers – we are a strange, but lovable, lot.)

Toward the end of that Lent, the idea for a blog called Saints and Recipes came to me after prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is my name patron saint and my muse.

St. Francis of Assisi gives me the courage to “bare my soul” on these pages. I aspire to let myself be as crazy in love with Jesus as St. Francis was in life. Plus, he’s my birthday patron saint.

My daughter and I “fight” over who gets St. Francis of Assisi as our birthday patron saint. My birthday is October 3, the day he died and her birthday is October 4, the day of his funeral procession and feast day. So, really, he is the birthday patron saint of both of us.

And you know what, dearworthy readers? Many of you already love, admire, venerate, study, and honor him because something about St. Francis of Assisi appeals to you.

There should be no “fighting” over St. Francis of Assisi. Your take on his life and the inspiration he provides for you is valid and valuable. Because here’s the thing, if you discover that you built your love of St. Francis, not on particular historically documented facts, but on legend, that works because the legendary St. Francis of Assisi is built upon the essence of a human being named Francis.

The above biography is based on the latest research which is based on the oldest historical documents, some of which are secular. My original early years post was based mostly on a movie, Clare and Francis, in which historic facts are distilled into one poignant scene after another creating an extremely moving and spiritually uplifting story.

Most of our saintly legends come about via that same goal. The facts didn’t matter to the pious writers of antiquity, they were not writing biographic, historical documents to last down though the ages, but spiritual guidebooks for their own contemporary audiences. Their goal was to write stories filled with miracles and “perfect” people who became saints in Heaven to whom we can pray for intercession. To write about the humanity of the saints was at the very least disrespectful and certainly wouldn’t sell books.

But it’s their humanity that makes the life and works of a human being who becomes totally dedicated to Jesus Christ so inspiring. In other words, if it were easy to be a Saint, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes them great. 

(Click here for one of the most inspirational movie scenes of all time, according to me.)

So to the best of my ability at this time, I offered the true story of the first spiritual steps of St. Francis of Assisi. I offer the recipe for homemade bread from my original post, because I continue to associate St. Francis of Assisi with the bread of life and bread as alms for the poor. Plus this recipe contains my first steps working with yeast and my frustration at the time is still pretty funny.

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There’s something about St. Francis and his love for everyone and everything that seems symbolized in the form of bread, especially bread that is shared.

Even though I’m a baker’s daughter, before preparing for this post, I’ve never made bread from scratch before. It ain’t easy. If you consider how time consuming the process can be especially when factoring in the learning curve, it’s simply easier to purchase delicious bread from your local bakery. I’m partial to Great Harvest Bread Company.



My family loves when I use our bread machine, especially in the winter. Follow the instructions on the box of bread machine ingredients, dump them in, turn it on, make sure it’s not too close to the edge of the counter or else it might knock itself off while kneading the dough, breathe in the luscious smell of baking bread and enjoy with the meal you just happened to start off in your crock pot.     

Making bread from scratch is more in the category of hobby or, as I learned the hard way, a study of chemistry. Hint: Yeast is alive and very easy to kill. Once I learned the proper care and feeding of yeast, I enjoyed myself, especially the bit about the sharing and the eating.



SHARING BREAD



Ingredients:

1 package dry active yeast (NOT Quick or Rapid Rise)

1 cup water heated to 100 or 110 degrees F (check with candy thermometer)
1 TBS sugar
3 cups bread flour lightly packed leveled with knife
¼ cup bread flour to sprinkle on surface before kneading
1-1/2 TBS olive oil (1 TBS to mix into dough, 1/2 TBS spread on top of dough)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1/8 cup corn meal
1 egg white

 1.  Heat water in pot on stove until temperature reaches 110 or 115 degrees F. Measure out 1 cup. Add sugar. Stir. Add yeast. Stir and wait 10 minutes to proof the yeast.


 2.  Place flour and salt in bowl and stir.



 3.  If a bubbling foam layer has developed on the yeast mixture, pour it into a large bowl.*

 4.  Stir in the olive oil and mix the flour in gradually until it’s all absorbed, either with an electric mixer, a spoon, or your clean hands.


 5.  If you used your hands, wash them again. Sprinkle flour onto a clean flat surface as well as on the sticky ball of dough. Knead (squish, mash, push, pull) it for a full 10 minutes. Set a timer, if necessary. If your hands get too sticky “wash” them in more flour.


 6.  Place dough in a large glass or oven-safe bowl coated with olive oil. Roll dough ball around until it’s also coated with olive oil.


 7.  Cover bowl with a damp towel and proof (let rise) in a warm place (about 85 degree F) until it doubles in size, about 45 minutes.**


 8. Once the dough has risen, punch it down to remove the air. Let it rest on the counter for 10 minutes.


 9.  Form into a round shape on a cookie sheet sprinkled with corn meal on parchment paper, or spread into a loaf pan. If making a long loaf shape, flatten dough out with a rolling pin, then roll dough up. This will help the dough keep it high shape and not spread out on the cookie sheet. Coat with olive oil and proof again until it doubles in size about 45 minutes.***


10.  Remove proofed dough from oven. Place pizza stone in oven for even cooking. Place a pan of water on bottom rack to provide moisture during baking for a crispy crust. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.


11. Combine 1 or 2 teaspoons of water with egg white, stir with whisk and brush over dough.


12.  Make a few ¼ inch deep slits across the top of dough using a razor blade or very sharp knife so air can escape.


13. Place cookie sheet or loaf pan on pizza stone and bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes or until bread is browned on the bottom.***


14. Cool on a wire rack.


Troubleshooting:


*If the yeast does not develop the bubbling foam layer, then the yeast is dead and the bread won’t rise. Throw it out and start over. Check the date code on your yeast package, make sure it’s not Quick or Rapid Rise yeast, and confirm that your water temperature is not above 120 degrees. If you’re still having trouble, check the internet or make a phone call to a trusted baking source. I called my dad.


**A good place is the oven. Some newer ovens actually have a “proof” setting. Or you can turn your oven up to “warm,” then turn it off and place the dough in the warmed but not too-hot oven.


*** Temperature and bake time will vary according to your climate and oven. Don't use insulated cookie sheets as you want the bread to brown on the bottom. 


Comment below if you’d like to share bread baking advice or mishap stories.