My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Steaming away winter blahs

I picked up this great Crate & Barrel steamer for $2 with the tag still on, unused, at a local resale shop. A little cleaning with white vinegar and a rinse, and it was good to go. It's been a long winter, and I'm trying to tweak my cooking a little bit each day, to combat the blahs. Also, I refuse to let this little steamer gather dust on the shelf with the pasta maker I picked up about two years ago from the same resale shop. So, I did a little investigating online for some how-tos, and in just a few minutes, had steamed up some leftover Basmati rice. 

I'm a big fan of anything that expands my mind into the cooking techniques of other cultures and reminds me that the world is a very big, varied and fascinating place. Also, it's a lot warmer in parts of Asia right now than in these blustery Chicago suburbs! I like thinking about those sunny climes.

Trying and succeeding with this contraption was fun. Just put water in the bottom of a pan, layer in your vegetables with the longest to cook in the stackable steamer's bottom level, put rice on a lettuce leaf or parchment paper to steam in the level above, cover it up, and...success! Oh, and the rice had a lovely scent and flavor of bamboo. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Greet Each Day with a Smile -- In Memoriam, Joseph Francis Robin

My Dad, with older brother Alfred, in their
neighborhood near the Chicago Union Stockyards.
"Let's move!"

My Dad always joked these were his first words as an infant. He was raised "Back o' the Yards" -- the Chicago Union Stockyards. Imagine the smell on a steamy day wafting from thousands of lowing cattle into those little bungalows. It's easy to grasp Dad's wishes. 

Dreaming big led Dad many directions. He enjoyed life-long learning, settling in our overstuffed chair with a tower of books and a cat on his lap. He loved to stump his seven kids at the dinner table with physics and math questions, quizzed us on composers as music played, and always asked each child, "What did you learn today?"

I’ve been revisiting memories, jotting notes for the priest celebrating my father’s funeral Mass this weekend. My memories of Joseph Francis Robin, Sr., are bulging with good humor, because Dad approached life with a smile. Literally. A Mechanical Engineer and traveling salesman for machine parts, he wore a smiley face button under his lapel, and flashed it on all occasions. It was torture to my teenage angst, that he felt everyone should greet each day with a smile.

Born 1919, my father, Joseph
Francis Robin, learned from his
parents to live first for his Faith.

I shared my notes for the funeral Mass in a podcast for Deacon Tom and Dee's SQPN-affiliated Catholic Vitamins Show "I -- for Imagination." My experience of helping to pray my father through his final days was beyond my imagining in terms of beauty and power, all brought to my family through the greatest gift Dad offered us beyond our lives…the gift of His Catholic faith.
I posted little tidbits and memories of family life on my Finer Fields blogspot a couple years ago, in a post called Fifty-Nine Things Mom and Dad Did Right, because they did so many things well, by God's grace. But for now, I'll share a few bits from Dad's last lucid conversation with me, on July 10. 

"Dad, should I write this down?" I asked.

"Yes, these words are a part of you," he said. 
I grabbed my computer and took notes.

Dad encouraged me in my life as a writer, saying it was the right thing to do. I love his vision of a writer’s life:

"Oh, would that be something! Sitting there at a banister or on a brick wall and looking out at the world, and it's doing the thing you wanted to do. This is wonderful, Honey."

Then he reflected on the gift of family, asking, "How can a father be more satisfied than with a fulfilling life?"
 He talked about how people "bang their heads together trying to find answers, but it's right before them all the's all about family." He spoke of how God's plan unfolds through families. He encouraged me to write about our family saying, "It's a good story!"
A new building is dedicated at Mount Carmel's
High School in Chicago. My Dad won an all-

expenses-paid merit scholarship 
to attend this all-boys school. 
For a moment, he seemed to slip into a different time, and I believe he thought he was talking to Mom when he said, "It's a nice, nice home...and there’s room for us all, and we have the things to do that we like to do. It’s great, Baby, great."

Near the end of the conversation, Dad stopped and listened to a song a piano student was playing in the other room for Mom. To me it just sounded like the middle of a song, but he said, "You can tell they’re getting near the end." He smiled comfortably and said, "I don’t mind that a bit."

The last notes I took were when Dad said with great enthusiasm and joy: "Boy what a way to end the story, for us all to be in heaven…wouldn’t it be terrific?"

"Boy what a way to end the story, for us all to be in heaven…wouldn’t it be terrific?"

In Dad's life, God was first, his loving wife next, and then his children. Dad was an incredibly diligent worker. He would say later that Sister Mary Kostka from his childhood helped instill this quality. She gathered Dad and other bright children on Saturdays and drilled them in grammar, math, etc, to prepare them for High School. Dad won the only full-ride merit scholarship in a Chicago-wide competition for that year, for Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. 

Up at 4:30 AM, he worked out for an hour and more, tromping up and down the stairs for exercise. He stood at only around 5'5", but his strong frame could do exercises from the army well into middle age. I remember him doing a lateral balance on one arm, well into his 50's, and he was known for his bone-crunching handshakes.

At night, he always brought his paperwork to the couch to put in more time after dinner, before ending the night with poetry and a romp with kids and the cats. He chose to forego raises and promotions that required extensive travel, so he could spend more time with family.

Today, I visited Mom, and a piano student's mother was there with a big smile but tears in her eyes, talking about how Dad was a special friend. She kept exclaiming, "I loved your Dad!" She recalled his wit and how she enjoyed visiting with him whenever her children came to take a lesson. She said that after nine years, she looked upon Dad like another father. She also talked about how much he loved Mom and the family, and how they loved to talk about family together.

My friend Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy from India called Dad "Dad Joseph" and "Dad Joe" and they also enjoyed multiple visits together while Fr. Varghese visited the U.S. this May. Fr. Varghese was raised "Untouchable," the poorest of the poor in India. My father told me it was "very nice" I had such a missionary friend and he got a big kick out of the cultural differences we encountered. When I told Fr. Varghese my father loved to hear his stories, the priest was touched that my Dad would overlook his caste, poverty and ethnicity, and offer acceptance and friendship. Dad and Mom were encouraging to Fr. Varghese's outreach to five scattered outposts in Andhra Pradesh, India. They helped buy Catholic New Testaments for "Untouchable" monsoon victims in their Telegu language. 

On his consulate forms to apply for his Visiting Visa to America, Fr. Varghese listed visiting my sick Dad as one of his main reasons for coming to America. The missionary headed to the hospital to visit my parents right after dropping off his luggage at our house, and honored Mom and Dad in the traditional Indian way, placing shawls around their shoulders and giving them hand-drawn pictures and greetings from poor children in India.

I was so blessed to be at Mom's and Dad's home July 16, from 2 AM on, spending the night in prayer by my Dad's bedside. My brother John and I were singing the third decade of a Divine Mercy Chaplet with my Mom and Dad when he died peacefully at 11:20 AM.

Bright sunlight illuminated Dad's face for a long moment. The aid saw it on Dad's arm because Dad's face was blocked from her, but she exclaimed with me right after about how the sun had just appeared in the room for the first time that morning. Mom's eyes were closed as she held Dad's hand, and John was on the other side of the bed. But I saw the sunlight grow very intense upon Dad's face for a long moment. As the light faded, Mom suddenly said, "he's gone." The light on Dad's face was so striking and unusual in timing, I felt awed by the sight. 

Leading up to this moment, Dad had struggled, unable to communicate, through the night. In the morning, he was more rested. He grew intent and clear-eyed when Mom and I prayed a Scriptural Rosary at his bedside around 4:30 AM and sang Immaculate Mary and Here I Am, Lord. I sang Our God is an Awesome God  and even showed Fr. Varghese pictures to Dad one last time. Dad focused intently on a page, and then moved his eyes to look at the next page. 

After struggling with increased respirations and other discomforts all evening, Dad died peacefully at the end. His eyes grew alert as we pressed into the Chaplet, and then he seemed to just ease away. I had an unexpected reaction. I felt that someone had just given me a euphoria injection. I comforted Mom, but she needed very much some time alone with her Beloved. I took myself outside and praised God in the driveway. I felt I had just witnessed a miraculous passage. I learned many hours later, that my father, the Mount Carmel boy, who had his scapular on and a Rosary by his side, had died on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. 

But the biggest miracle was Dad's wonderful, long-lived life, and unshakeable faith.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

He Is Risen! Alleluia! Happy Easter!

Ah, the colors, sights and sounds of Easter! May you be blessed with great joy and a new meeting with Christ, this Easter...My Holy Saturday was greatly improved by putting house cleaning aside to take a mid-day walk, on this rare Spring day. Rare, because it was just snowing last week, in April! Perhaps the warm days are here to stay? I was so filled with hope to see the following flowers on my way to town....The top and bottom photos are from Easter vigil Mass...What a full and wonderful day. :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Can "Liking" War on Facebook Help End It?

Image by Taylor, War Office Photographer,
in public domain

Holy Trinity Church in Coventry, England
after WWII bombing.
A picture making the rounds on Facebook caught my eye. It's like an image straight from WWII: bombed buildings on a wide avenue, concrete and brick walls fragile as broken eggshells. 

In the Facebook image, stands a vast carpet of humanity. Just as people crowd to hail a visiting pontiff, these masses are lined shoulder to shoulder. The scene is gray. Slate sky, walls and people. Even the faces seem drawn and colorless.

This is Syria, and the people are in line for bread. It seems impossible to gauge their numbers, because the queue appears to stretch into infinity. Faces fill the length and breadth of the frame to the horizon, even peering from patches and holes that have been blown from structures.

“Apocalyptic” is the word that comes to mind. 

I always hate to hit the "like" button on such an image, because what's to like? But I went ahead and joined 6,003 others in "liking” the photo, and then 2,080 others in "sharing" it.

“Fr. Rocky" (Fr. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD), Executive Director of Chicago-area Relevant Radio, had shared this picture on his Facebook page, adding this comment:

"This is why Pope Francis wants us to pray and work for peace in Syria. War is very tough on the people of Damascus. Here they are the other day waiting for bread."

My "share" drew four immediate responses. Two people hit "like."

One lady I know to be mission-minded simply put this: :(

Another Facebook friend wrote, "Thank you for sharing Marianna. The face of war is often hidden from us."

I've written about regions in conflict before. See my post and poem on "Bridging Souls," my reflection "Pray the News in 2013," my piece on the New Evangelizers blog: "Missionary Friendship Changes Everything," and this Catholic News Agency post: "A For Arms." 

But because I know too little about Syria's particular “hidden face,” I did an online search on “Syria and Catholics.”

Up popped “A Prayer for the People of Syria,” on the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops website. Thank you, Facebook and U.S. bishops, for drawing me to prayer on this frigid, snowy Ash Wednesday. My cross of ashes is on my forehead, and my prayers are now with the war-torn people of Syria:

A Prayer for the People of Syria
Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion,
the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.
Hear the cries of the people of Syria;
bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
and comfort to those mourning the dead.
Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors
in their care and welcome for refugees.
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,
and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
O God of hope and Father of mercy,
your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs.
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence
and to seek reconciliation with enemies.
Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,
and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

For the people of Syria, that God may strengthen the resolve of leaders to end 
the fighting and choose a future of peace.
We pray to the Lord…
En Español:
Oración por Siria
Dios todopoderoso y eterno,
fuente de toda compasión,
nuestros corazones se llenan de esperanza
con la promesa de tu misericordia y de tu auxilio salvador.
Escucha el clamor del pueblo de Siria,
sana a los que sufren a consecuencia de la violencia
y consuela a los que lloran a los muertos.
Fortalece y anima a los vecinos de Siria
en su cuidado y recibimiento de refugiados.
Convierte los corazones de los que se alzan en armas
y fortalece la resolución de los que se comprometen a la paz.
O Dios de esperanza y Padre de misericordia,
cuyo Espíritu Santo nos inspira
a mirar mas allá de nosotros mismos y de nuestras propias necesidades,
inspira a los jefes a escoger la paz en lugar de la violencia
y a buscar la reconciliación con los enemigos;
inspira a la Iglesia por el mundo entero a la compasión por el pueblo de Siria
y llénanos de esperanza por futuro de paz construido sobre justicia para todos.
Por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, Príncipe de Paz y Luz del Mundo,
que vive y reina por los siglos de los siglos.

[This prayer is adapted from
 Catholics Confront Global Poverty, a collaborative effort of USCCB and Catholic Relief Services.]

Monday, November 11, 2013

Send Concrete Help to Philippines

Photo courtesy of Nasa/Wikipedia
Typhoon Haiyan as it made landfall over
the Philippines, November 8, 2013.
"Send concrete help," Pope Francis urged thousands of visitors at St. Peter's Square on Sunday, after Typhoon Haiyan left a feared 10,000 people dead across the Philippines. The Holy Father led faithful in prayer for the souls of the dead and survivors struggling without food, water or shelter.

Catholic Relief Services reported that 9.5 million people were impacted, and said its immediate focus is providing basic life-sustaining necessities. I trust this great relief group and have supported their efforts for years.

To get a feel for the scope of this typhoon's impact:

Wall Street Journal covers widespread devastation in the Philippines.
CBS News about one of the deadliest typhoons ever to make landfall.
New York Times Report says region was just recovering from an earthquake that shook the Philippines four weeks ago.

Let's keep our Filippino friends in prayer and send aid to rebuild their nation.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Find a Mission to Love this October

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Majestic and wild -- Lake Pend d'Orielle, Idaho.
A few snowflakes fell today in the Chicago area, but it's nothing like Idaho or Montana!

Weather is extreme in this Northwest Territory, presenting “severe highs and lows,” according to Montanta's Disaster and Emergency Survivor Guide.  “Add to that the high risk for flooding, wildland fires, earthquakes and a variety of other hazards, and you could have a survivor challenge.”

Now rewind to the 1840s, when sheltering from heavy snows and winds slicing through mountain passes or across unprotected plains meant chinking bark between fir logs in your cabin and stirring up the fire. Jesuit missionaries  Fr. Peter-Jean De  Smet, Fr. Adrien Hoecken and Brother Peter McGean suffered through such winters in a cabin near Idaho's Lake Pend d'Orielle.

Early photo of Kalispell Indians on
Lake Pend d'Orielle.
People dream about settling on “lake property.” But this location was not delightful. Here, the missionaries instructed and baptized Kalispell Indians, also known as Flatheads – not because the people manipulated their skulls to be flat, but because another nearby tribe shaped theirs from infancy, to be conical.

Working with the people was rewarding because they were eager to embrace the Catholic Faith. But that location! Even for the wild Northwest, the spot was desolate. Good soil for a garden was scant. Game? Scarce. So in 1854, the missionaries were happy to take the friendly advice of Chief Alexander of the Kalispell tribe, in relocating to Idaho's sister state of Montana, to a spot in the Lower Flathead River area. That town today is called St. Ignatius, home to St. Ignatius Mission.

Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet
On the Society of Jesus Oregon Province website, Fr. Hoecken’s impressions of their new home are quoted: He wrote that it was “a beautiful region, evidently fertile, uniting a useful as well as pleasing variety of woodland and prairie, lake and river--the whole crowned in the distance by the white summit of the mountains, and sufficiently rich withal in fish and game. I shall never forget the emotion of hope and fear that filled my heart, when for the first time I celebrated Mass in this lovely spot, in the open air, in the presence of a numerous band of Kalispels, who looked up to me, under God, for their temporal and spiritual welfare in this new home.”

The Kalispell wanted priests among them. They were so eager to have Black Robes come teach about Christ, they sent four delegations to the Jesuits pleading for missionaries. So, a beautiful, mutual friendship grew between the missionaries and the people.

There’s a saying: “All things grow with love.” This proved to be the case through those early decades, while Fr. De Smet’s little mission corps labored with the Indians to found a church, and to create Montana’s first saw and flour mills, the first hospital and the first residential schools.
Photo by Loren T. Vine
St. Ignatius Mission in Montana.
When the native peoples were not treated well, the missionaries took it deeply to heart. Fr. Hoecken grieved about the U.S. government breaking treaties. About a meeting he witnessed between a government envoy and the Indians, he later said, “neither side understood 1/10 of what was said.”

Real trouble came because the Native peoples looked to the treaty to reinforce existing friendship, building on those ties with the missionaries. But the officials came to assert claims on Indian land.

It’s proof of God’s grace that the Holy Spirit speaks a universal language. In spite of tensions between white man and Indian, the Faith flowered in the bitterroot Valley. Sisters of Providence came to open a school, and later shifted to Hospital work. Ursuline nuns came to teach and do outreach to the poor. Successes were tempered by trials such as when devastating fires destroyed school structures around the turn of the century.
Fr. Adrian Hoecken

But nothing stopped the missionaries’ walk with the people, through times of crisis and celebration. That process of teaching and learning the Faith continued. The people were open to receive, but operating from a vastly different worldview. On the Society of Jesus website, a little story tells about the 1882 visit of Archbishop Charles J. Seghers to confirm 40 people.

“While examining some Indians for confirmation with the help of Father Cataldo, His Grace noticed . . . an elderly Kalispell, whom he felt sure he had confirmed on a previous occasion. ‘But you, my son, have received the Holy Ghost already,’ said the Archbishop to the Indian. ‘Yes, Great Black Robe,’ answered the Indian; "but I lost Him; He got drowned crossing the river." The poor fellow was far from jesting or being irreverent: he only expressed himself as best he knew.”
Photo by Loren T. Vine
Miraculous murals in St. Ignatius Church.
Tribal people who could neither read nor write, learned salvation history from murals in St. Ignatius Church. Today, travel guides call these 58 murals worthy of European cathedrals. An untrained artist painted them. Brother Joseph Carignano, mission cook and handyman, spent precious spare moments between duties dabbing a brush to the walls. If you can’t visit this church in person, you have to visit virtually online. Within the heart of this remote little town of St. Ignatius, is this hidden store of masterpieces, all singing out praises to God through vibrant colors and scenes.

I’ve visited Montana several times over the years, on mission trips and vacations. Several images from my first trip to St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius; Sacred Heart Church in Arlee, and St. John Berchman Church in Jocko, remain imprinted in my mind. In St. Ignatius, I stepped quietly into church one evening, and saw a circle of men praying up toward the altar. Cursillo retreats changed many lives on reservations across the nation, and these men were experiencing conversion through Cursillo. I remember their quiet intensity in the dimness as they sought God, and the simple welcome in their smiles as they nodded to me. 

I also visited a nearby thrift shop run by a missionary sister and was so happy to find a Native American patterned shirt that I cherished for years. The shop provided a great opportunity for people on a tight budget to dress themselves and their children, and buy needed household goods.

Also, I recall going with a missionary to visit a sick Kalispell elder, and sensing the quiet peace of their prayers as the nun pulled a chair up to the sick bed.

And one of my last days at St. Ignatius, I attended an outdoor celebration where children danced native dances. A wiry, elderly priest sat grinning beneath a rather comical, wide brimmed white hat, perfectly happy to be with his people.
Photo by Paul Frederickson
Sun setting over Flathead Lake, Montana.
Falling in love with the missions and those who live and serve there, has made my life an adventure. Looking at problems in mission territory can be overwhelming: isolation, poverty, an eroding of family values, high unemployment, accompanied by high substance and physical abuse. But missionaries have a way of going into these areas, and loving people right toward God and their best selves. Like anything, sometimes the best outcomes don’t happen. But I’ve seen also seen faithful in mission territories be heroic in facing tough times, surviving, and giving their children better lives.

Learning about our Catholic heritage is a delight. Fr. Pierre de Smet? He’s a hero for the faith. So is Chief Alexander, who proved such a friend in those early years; and that humble cook who proved that, if Providence wills it, godly inspiration can be enough training to create a masterpiece. Also heroes, were those rather rugged looking Cursillistas in church, in plaid shirts and blue jeans, who bowed their heads and prayed for their loved ones and community.

Pope Francis encourages us to a radical love and a mission focus this October. Technology connects us to even the most hidden areas and heroes. Please, do an online search, and find a missionary or a mission area to love and keep in daily prayer.

This blog is adapted from my Missionary Moments podcast for Star Quest Production Network-affiliated Catholic Vitamins "D -- for Delight."