The sensual allure of gluttony

The sensual allure of gluttony

One evening earlier this week, a friend and I were walking up Drummond Street in Carlton. The neighbourhood is very familiar to me, not only from my seminary years, but also from my university years.

We passed a building which once housed Shannyn Bennet’s famous Vue de Monde restaurant — before he relocated to the CBD. “This is where I enjoyed the greatest meal of my life,” I declared. It was a ten-course degustation menu focused on truffles. Yum! (I’m not usually given to blogging about food, but I have blogged about truffles before — here and here.)

This is when my friend surprised me. And by that, I mean he floored me. He described a French dish which is so luxurious — so excessively extravagant — that I thought he was making it up. Turns out he wasn’t.

Ortolans are a small songbird, similar to finches. Let me explain how they are served according to the finest traditions of French cuisine. You’ll probably have to read this twice just to process it.

1. The birds are caught with ground nets, set during their migratory flight to Africa. Then they are transferred to dark cages.

2. The Ancient Romans would gouge the ortolans’ eyes out, so that the poor birds would think winter had arrived early, and gorge themselves on grain. Enlightened moderns do not blind the birds, but they do keep them in complete darkness for a month or more.

3. When the gorging birds have tripled their original size, they are drowned in Armagnac, and allowed to marinate there for some time. Seriously. I’m not making this up!

4. The marinated bird is roasted for seven minutes, or eight minutes at a pinch.

5. The bird is promptly plucked and served on a plate, still sizzling in its hot fats.

ortolon-cooked

6. The diner handles the bird by its beak, and places the entire bird, feet first, into his or her mouth.

7. The bird is still very hot, and likely to burn the diner’s mouth. Its bones will often cut the diner’s gums and mouth, drawing blood. The pain and blood is supposed to enhance the flavours and culinary experience.

8. The ortolan is traditionally consumed with a napkin covering the diner’s head. There is a three-fold explanation for this strange practice:

ortolon-dining

An American chef, Anthony Bourdain, describes the experience in alluring terms:

“With every bite, as the thin bones and layers of fat, meat, skin and organs compact in on themselves, there are sublime dribbles of varied and wondrous ancient flavours: figs, Armagnac, dark flesh slightly infused with the salty taste of my own blood as my mouth is pricked by the sharp bones.”

I must confess I am simultaneously attracted to, and repulsed by, this extraordinary indulgence. I am resolved never to dine on ortolan, but I readily admit that my puritanical streak informs that decision. The whole exercise of preparation, cooking and dining constitutes an exquisite example of gross gluttony.

As a child, my understanding of gluttony involved an obese king, gorging himself on food, then deliberately bringing that food up so that he could gorge himself again. But gluttony is actually much more expansive. Truth is, I am not as innocent of this sin as I once thought, and maybe you’re not either.

Pope St Gregory the Great famously defined the deadly sin of gluttony as eating food too soon, too delicately, too expensively, too greedily, or too much. St Thomas Aquinas didn’t disagree. I’ve always struggled to conceive of gluttony in such expansive terms. Until I learned about ortolon.

The following video clip really takes the cake. It depicts a probably fictional meal hosted by French President François Mitterrand — a known fan of ortolon — and enjoyed by the Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who probably never ate ortolon in his life. But forget about its historicity. The clip is fascnating in its own right. It depicts the sensuality of gluttony, but also, in this instance, frames it as something deeply and disturbingly idolatrous.

I will never think of gluttony the same way again.

The case for gay marriage. Is it equality or freedom?

The case for gay marriage. Is it equality or freedom?

The latest issue of Quadrant is full of thoughtful and thought-provoking articles. As ever. This is why I read it.

Christie Davies approaches a topical issue from a secular conservative viewpoint: ‘Why same-sex marriage happened, and where we go next.’ (Subscriber only — sorry.)

Davies supports same-sex marriage for liberal reasons: personal freedom, and utilitarian benevolence. In other words, the state should not be empowered to stop two unmarried citizens from entering into civil marriage, which he defines as a secular contract between two individuals. Moroever, marriage will benefit gays and lesbians, adding to their respectability and reducing harmful behaviours. (His byline reads: “Christie Davies and his wife are very happy, which is why he wants others to enjoy the same felicity.”)

What’s interesting, though, is that while Davies supports gay marriage, he is dubious of gay marriage activists. He rejects the “marriage equality” argument, which derives not from liberalism, but from Marxism.

If you meet someone who says, “I care passionately about equality,” you can be sure that you are in the presence of an irrational and possibly dangerous person, who will sacrifice all aspects of the good society just to get more equality. They hate the freedom of capitalism because it produces unequal rewards. They hate the family because they see it as the transmitter of property and privilege. They are vocal in favour of same-sex marriage not because of any benefits it might bring, but only because it fits their egalitarian agenda.

Davies concludes by calling for a new alliance between conservatives and married gays and lesbians, who might be recruited to the conservative cause. Not unlike Andrew Bolt.

In significant ways, Davies’ case is marginal to the Catholic case. Secular conservatism is not, and never will be, synonymous with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, Davies’ article has clarified my thinking. In last week’s post on the Australian bishops’ letter, I was perhaps a bit too critical of Don’t Mess With Marriage. The letter is deficient in what it does not say, but it is nonetheless an excellent pastoral letter for what it does say. Credit where it’s due. Credit to our bishops.

The letter engages almost solely with the “equality” case for marriage. No wonder. The case for “marriage equality” has dominated the debate in this country and abroad. But Davies has me wondering. Maybe it’s the freedom argument which has earned broad public support, not the equality argument at all. I must say, from my perspective the argument from equality is patently spurious, and the bishops dispatch it masterfully. But the argument from freedom is another matter. It is coherent and even compelling.

In any event, I would maintain that the hierarchical Church’s primary task, at this juncture, is not to influence public opinion. That ship has long since sailed. Of course Catholic laity, acting in their capacity as citizens, can and should engage in the democratic process and continue to influence public opinion using secular arguments.

But the hierarchy’s duty, right now, is to persuade Catholics themselves. By that I mean we have to explain why Jesus teaches what he teaches. As I’ve said before: apologetics.

Balancing truth and love

Balancing truth and love

We’ve all had uncomfortable conversations which we’d rather avoid. In those moments it’s tempting to misrepresent one’s true thoughts and keep the peace.

Priests have lots of these conversations, though possibly no more than others. But priests have a big advantage. Priests minister sacramental confession.

When I am hearing confessions, I’m acutely conscious that I act in persona Christi. It is one of those very rare moments when I am enabled and obliged to judge another person. I certainly don’t do this on my own behalf, but only in service to the Lord, whose justice and mercy I minister.

No one on earth will ever know the advice I give to penitents. But God knows. This is one instance when the easy way out — acquiescence and agreeability — is not an option at all. Since I speak for God, not for myself, I am absolutely obliged to be faithful to God’s truth.

At the same time, the penitent is in a very vulnerable position. (I know, because I’m frequently a penitent myself!) They have just opened up their heart, and exposed their inner life. Not to me, but to our Lord. So I have another obligation, no less grave: to be kind. To minister the Lord’s mercy.

I do not remember the sins I hear in the confessional, because I ask to forget them, and the Holy Spirit grants me that favour. But though I remember nothing, the act of hearing confessions changes me. I am practiced in speaking the truth with love, which is often a very challenging task.

But of course this task, the duty to proclaim the truth with love, is not exclusive to priests. Every Christian is called to do this. Even in the most awkward conversations, the most unwanted confrontations, we must be faithful to truth, and faithful to charity.

I think veritas in caritate has a certain “look.” It is serene. It is good-humoured. And it is humble. But it is seldom easy.

An impressive account of veritas in caritate appeared in my Facebook newsfeed today. It was a shining beacon in the midst of an ever-rolling stream of ill-measured and inflammatory comments.

The other day we got together with a friend of mine from high school named Andrew, and his boyfriend, Tom. We caught up on life and work, Andrew and I clicking as well as we always have. I wore waterproof mascara because I knew I’d end up laughing to the point of tears, which, in fact, I did.

Then, when my husband and Tom went to pick up a round of drinks at the bar, Andrew had a question for me. “So,” he said, grabbing a tortilla chip from the basket in front of us. “What do you think of gay marriage?”

The last time we hung out, this unspoken topic was not as palpably present as it was now. Even though our gay friends knew that we’d converted to Catholicism, nobody cared enough to bring up potentially controversial issues. But now, the mood in the world around us had changed. Throughout our country the issue of same-sex unions was being debated furiously; it had become a defining issue of our generation, and thus the average person was no longer allowed not to have an opinion about it. It was too weird to sit at the table, two orthodox Catholics and two men in a gay relationship, and not bring it up. We could no longer ignore the storm that raged outside the cloister of our friendship; the doors had blown open, and the rain had come inside.

I shrugged, trying to keep it casual.

This is one of those awkward conversations we’d all rather avoid. But the author, Jennifer Fulwiller, doesn’t do this. Instead she attempts that elusive balancing act of truth and love.

Read it all. It’s worth it.

Create a civilisation of life

Create a civilisation of life

Some time ago, I contributed to a crowdfunding campaign which raised $2 million for the Gosnell movie.

Dr Kermit Gosnell, you might remember, is an American abortion doctor who was convicted of infanticide and many other crimes which occurred at his abortion ‘clinics.’ His trial, which exposed the horrors of abortion, was shamefully ignored by the mainstream media.

The Gosnell film makers have launched a new appeal, hoping to secure 100,000 financial backers. This isn’t about money — they have the finances they need to start the project. It’s about the number of backers, and gaining unstoppable momentum:

We have 27,000+ backers of the Gosnell movie. That’s a pretty impressive number. But it would be a lot better if it were 100,000. The biggest ever crowdfunded movie campaign is Veronica Mars, about a teen detective. They had 91,585 backers: that put them in a great position when seeking distribution.

We need to show distributors that there is a huge demand for the Gosnell Movie. Getting 100,000 donors would also get big name actors very excited about starring in the movie. And together we have the power to do this.

Hence this invitation to my readers. Please consider donating one American dollar to this project, and contributing to an important pro-life initiative.

Abortion is like war. Both are barbaric, and in a modern democracy, both are sustainable only so long as the truth is hidden. Since the Vietnam War, television has had a lasting impact on warfare. I think Gosnell could have a similar impact on the abortion industry.

Donate now.

When debate becomes “intolerant”

When debate becomes “intolerant”

To paraphrase Fulton Sheen, the modern world is not suffering from intolerance. It is suffering from tolerance. In a turn of events which is as bizarre as it is predictable (thanks George Orwell!), tolerance is now shutting down debate.

In today’s Daily Telegraph, Miranda Devine enumerates some recent attempts to stifle debate about same-sex ‘marriage.’

The intimidation and silencing of contrary voices in the same sex marriage debate is despicable and desperate.

The forced resignation of Mozilla’s CEO Brendan Eich after he was discovered to have once donated $1,000 to a political campaign against same-sex marriage is a case in point.

So is the taxpayer funded SBS’ refusal to run a gentle 30-second advertisement in favour of traditional marriage during its Mardi Gras coverage.

And the compulsory mediation Toowoomba physician David van Gend was forced to attend after he wrote an article saying a baby deserves both a mother and a father.

The latest targets of militant gay thought police are the Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who told an Italian magazine this month: “The only family is the traditional one.”

The condemnation was immediate, with an outraged Sir Elton John calling for a boycott.

It takes gay people to come out and say what straight people are too intimidated to say.

On Facebook last week, I posted a couple of lines on the Dolce & Gabbana media storm which elicited quite an impassioned, and increasingly tedious, comment thread.

For the most part, the online ‘debate’ was civil. There were a small number of comments which were mildly offensive, but instead of starting a flame war, the aggrieved parties protested and got on with their lives. In the world of Facebook and Twitter, that’s a real gift!

Nonetheless, I terminated the whole thread when one commenter started accusing another commenter of homophobia. I happen to know that the alleged ‘homophobe’ is a gay man, who lives with his boyfriend, and sympathises with some but not all of the queer agenda. His accuser is a heterosexual who apparently sympathises with much more of the queer agenda. This is what ‘tolerance’ has come to. Straight people calling gay people ‘homophobes’ because they are not sufficiently radical.

The good news in all of this is that I received many private Facebook messengers from participants and onlookers both. These private dialogues were much more constructive and, I must say, also more interesting, than the public thread.

The lesson I learnt from this? Although the public debate I started occasionally strayed into the offensive, and often strayed from the rational, people apparently noticed that my contributions were neither offensive nor irrational. Moreover, my remarks, which related nothing more than long-standing and sound Catholic doctrine, elicited surprise and curiosity. That’s the beauty of Catholic orthodoxy. It may not be universally acclaimed — much less accepted — but it is always intriguing.

I don’t like polemics. Which is to say I do like polemics — because who doesn’t? — but I don’t like that polemics can harden people against ideas. I’ve dedicated my life to not only serving the Truth, but also sharing the Truth, so I avoid polemics. But I think I should be less wary of provocative debate. In fact I think the need for the latter is growing.

Down with tolerance. Long live debate!

Fr John Hardon’s Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Fr John Hardon’s Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Father John Hardon SJ, Servant of God, 1914-2000, was a great man. With parents like his, it’s no wonder.

When he was still an infant, his father, who was a construction worker, was killed in a workplace accident. He apparently sacrificed his own life to save the lives of his colleagues.

To honour her husband’s memory, and the heroism of his death, Mrs Hardon resolved she would never remarry. So she scrimped and saved and struggled to support herself and her young son. As often happens, material poverty and solid faith produced spiritual riches.

Fr Hardon’s earliest memory is accompanying his mother on all-night vigils before the Blessed Sacrament. He would be tucked up, asleep on a pew, and wake occasionally to find his mother always in the same position — kneeling next to him, head bowed in adoration, deep in prayer.

Some Lutheran schoolgirls boarded with the Hardons, which provided some income. When he was still young, John demanded to know why they got to eat meat on Friday, and he did not. Mrs Hardon discreetly raised the issue with the girls and their parents. The girls would have to adopt the Catholic practice, or find somewhere else to live. The girls wished to stay, and their parents agreed. The girls were like sisters to John, whom he loved and admired. He attributed his early positive exposure to the Lutheran faith to a lifelong interest in ecumenism, long before it was mainstream.

After his ordination, he was sent to Rome to study theology, and he became an expert in Protestantism and in the oriental religions. Fr Hardon was a hard worker, a clear thinker, and a brilliant one at that. From what I’ve read, it could be fair to say that he is the English-speaking world’s answer to Joseph Ratzinger. By that I mean: Pope Benedict is the greatest theologian alive today, and the outstanding Catholic thinker of his generation. What can be said of Ratzinger at a universal level, may be said of Fr Hardon in the smaller pond of the Anglosphere.

Fr John Hardon, Servant of God

Fr John Hardon SJ, Servant of God

Unfortunately, Fr Hardon was a casualty of the culture wars which raged throughout the post-conciliar Church. He was deemed to be too conservative and divisive by his superiors, banned from teaching, and effectively exiled. (That happened to many Jesuits in the 80s and 90s. Pope Francis suffered a similar fate in the decade following his term as Argentine superior general. It was only his episcopal appointment which lifted him from obscurity.) Nonetheless, Fr Hardon’s marginalisation in America didn’t inhibit fruitful collaboration with three popes.

With Pope Paul VI, Fr Hardon produced The Catholic Catechism (1975), which was the normative English-language catechetical text until the Holy See produced a definitive Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992. (Fr Hardon contributed to that project too.) When Pope John Paul II asked Mother Teresa to expand her ministry to the poor to include catechesis and evangelisation, he referred her to Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger, in turn, referred Mother Teresa to Fr Hardon, who worked closely with the Missionaries of Charity for many years, developing catechetical means which are still in use.

Apart from his scholarly virtues, Fr Hardon was by all accounts a holy priest. He had a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, which isn’t surprising in view of his mother’s example. He was widely sought to lead retreats, hear confessions, and minister spiritual direction. His cause for canonisation was opened in 2005.

Fr Hardon’s scholarship, his catechetical expertise, and his interior life conspire to recommend, I think, his Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan (Amazon listing). This book-length plan was published in 1989, and it’s not so much a list of books as it is a list of 104 authors he recommends Catholics read.

I ordered this book several weeks ago, but I’m still waiting. I’m looking forward to learning why Fr Hardon recommends the authors he lists. He profiles each author in two or three pages, and includes their most recommended writing. Apparently the book also includes an exhaustive bibliography, with the details of all the significant works of each author. In the meantime, I’ve made do with the bare bones: names of the authors and the books Fr Hardon especially recommends.

You can download the document, or read it online:

  • Jonathan Aquino has blogged a very short profile of each work.
  • I can’t vouch for the historical categories of authors. These are Fr Hardon’s categories, but I’ve had to guess where they fit. For example, I presumed that Fr Hardon numbered St Thomas More as the last of the medievals, and St Ignatius Loyola as the first of the Counter-Reformation authors. But until I receive my copy of The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan, I can’t corroborate that.
  • The green authors and titles are cross-reference to an alternative Catholic lifetime reading plan I’ll post tomorrow.
  • Some of the titles are accompanied with a book symbol. This annotates a novel! (See yesterday’s post: The thrilling romance of orthodoxy.)

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