Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Fast and a Feast

Having a fast day during Lent may seem redundant, but our dear friend Jacobus de Voraigne makes a valid point in The Golden Legend: " ...these fastings here begin in March in the first week of the Lent, to the end that vices wax dry in us, for they may not all be quenched." Nothing like a little fasting do quench those vices. We already discussed the more penitential aspects of Ember days here, although we didn't touch so much on an another important aspect of the traditional Ember days: that is, their relation to the seasons and to the harvest.

Although de Voraigne does not explicitly link all of the Ember Days to traditional  cycles, with the exception of the Fall Ember Day, which corresponds to harvest time, they have been used as a predictor for the seasons and are even listed in the Farmer's Almanac. In fact, now that the Ember Days are not technically classified as days of fasting, our primary task as Catholics is " offer prayers to the Lord for the needs of all people, especially for the productivity of the earth and for human labor, and to give him public thanks," according to the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar. 

I find that prayers of thanksgiving for the bounty of the Earth always leave me longing for more. It's as if I am thanking Him for something that I haven't really touched with my hands and seen with my eyes. I know that the land is bountiful, that God has blessed it abundantly, and yet our distance from the Earth, from the dirt, becomes all too apparent on these days. We recently watched the short film "Fresh" (which is available to watch online for free until March 3rd if you haven't already seen it), at the recommendation of a friend, and it left us longing for the day when we can truly appreciate the bounty of God's creation. Until then, we join with the Psalmist in praying:

"Thou visitest the earth and waterest it,
thou greatly enrichest it;
the river of God is full of water;
thou providest their grain,
for so thou hast prepared it.
Thou waterest its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
Thou crownest the year with thy bounty;
the tracks of thy chariot drip with fatness.
The pastures of the wilderness drip,
the hills gird themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing toether for joy."

 Speaking of David and his namesakes, March 1st is the traditional feast of St. David, patron saint of Wales. St. David's birth was foretold by Saint Patrick, to whom it was revealed by an angel. Like most ancient Welsh saints, there are many legends surrounding Saint David. Here's a brief bit from New Advent about his later life as a monk:

"St. David journeyed throughout the West, founding or restoring twelve monasteries (among which occur the great names of Glastonbury, Bath, and Leominster), and finally settled in the Vale of Ross, where he and his monks lived a life of extreme austerity. Here occurred the temptations of his monks by the obscene antics of the maid-servants of the wife of Boia, a local chieftan. Here also his monks tried to poison him, but St. David, warned by St. Scuthyn, who crossed from Ireland in one night on the back of a sea-monster, blessed the poisoned bread and ate it without harm."

The Welsh have long been friends of the Scots in their fight against English and Saxon oppression, and they also have a wonderful flag. That's enough for us to consider them comrades. Traditionally, St. David's Day is celebrated with leek soup. According to legend, in a battle against the Saxons, St. David told Welsh troops to wear leeks in their hats to distinguish them from the enemy.  For Shakespeare fans, this should remind you of Fluellen from Henry V.   Here's one of our favorite recipes from Monastery Soups, with a few variations, that also happens to be appropriate for this penitential season:

Traditional Austrian Cheese Soup (we can pretend it's Welsh soup for now)

4 tbsp. butter
2 finely sliced celery stalks
2 leeks, sliced
2 large potatoes, cut into cubes
6 c. chicken broth
1 8oz. pkg. cream cheese, cut into small cubes and softened
1 8oz. container of yogurt
salt and pepper

Pour oil into soup pot, add veggies, and stir constantly for about 2 minutes. Add water and bring to boil. Lower heat to medium, cover pot, and cook soup slowly for 35-40 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add cream cheese, yogurt, salt, and pepper. Stir continuously until melted and blended thoroughly with rest of soup. Serves 4 to 6.

It's that simple! Make sure the soup isn't too hot when you add the cream cheese and yogurt to avoid clumps. And it really does help to soften the cream cheese.

To conclude, here are Saint David's last words to his fellow monks:

"Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil. Lords, brothers and sisters, be cheerful, keep the faith, and do those little things which ye have seen me do and heard me say."

St. David, Pray For Us!

St. David's Cathedral, Wales

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