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Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Sacredness of Cooking




The Milton Conquest Boys Club recently took cooking one step further when a group of boys completed a three week advanced cooking class held at the the Longos Loft in Milton, Ontario. Under the supervision of Marvin Duarte, the club president, and the professional expertise of Chef Mike Killop, the boys were shown how to create some advanced culinary gems, both sweet and savoury, and very attractive to boot.

They learned how to make short pastry, and how to use a rolling pin for more than a weapon or plaything. They pounded chicken breasts with a mallet on the way to concocting a delicious chicken parmesan, and cooked up a wonderful tomato mushroom risotto from scratch.

But aside from learning how to prepare and cook, the boys were shown how to avoid waste. For example, they used left over dough to make pinwheel cookies, and they managed to reincorporate leftover tomato sauce into a tomato vinaigrette. They also placed all the chicken bones, and pieces of vegetables into a large pot and cooked up a wonderful chicken broth so that all the boys could take a container home with them. Chef Mike told the boys that it was not good enough to say, “I don't eat this,” and that it is very important to try things out, and that this too could avoid waste in the long run because fussy eating often leads to more discarded food.

And they also learned how to share, because all the prepared food was served up for lunch at the end of the class. For graduation day, the boys got to invite their parents to lunch, and as Chef Mike told them, this was a great opportunity to say thank you to them, and show appreciation for all the cooking they do at home.

And as their graduation certificate certifies, each boy who completed the Family Culinary Community program learned “the importance of food in that it provides nourishment, strength, and a way to connect to one another.”

For the final class, Chef Mike cranked up the work load and the concentration factor and asked the boys to work by a time line, as they would in a real restaurant kitchen. In other words, they were asked to be more realistic because of the pressure facing them, since their hungry guests would soon be arriving for lunch. This was an essential lesson for the boys because anyone who has cooked for a group of people knows that it is very important to know how to deal with the anxiety which results from the pressure of cooking to a schedule.

However, this was far from a “Hell's Kitchen” atmosphere. Chef Mike was a living example of the virtue of patience, always maintaining his composure in front of his apprentice chefs who varied in age from 8 to 15.

But above all else, this advanced cooking class showed the boys that food is sacred, that cooking is a privilege, and that the kitchen is a very special place indeed, because it is the working area which can feed the poor and the hungry.

As Saint Basil the Great said in the 4th century, the bread which we all possess belongs to the hungry. That indeed emphasizes the sacredness of cooking, and the need to avoid waste and all forms of greed.




Sunday, 20 October 2013

Grasp at nothing





    When I was a high school teacher, we used to get out the canoes and run the rapids of the Little Nation River on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. When the going got rough, we would take a swig of Nanuk from a little white whiskey bottle which had a polar bear pictured on its label. The fire water burned all the way down our esophagus, and was so potent that it could have been used to ignite our fires later on in the day. That was our crutch, and it got us through the narrows.

     And so when Marcus Grodi, Presdent of The Coming Home Network, told a canoe story during one of his speeches at the “In Search of Truth,” conference presented by Catholic Chapter House over the weekend at Canada Christian College in Toronto, I took it all in, hook line and sinker.

      Marcus had been steering a canoe down a treacherous part of a river while doling out the odd piece of advice on how to survive the rapids, to his inexperienced partner kneeling at the front.

      As the current pulled them closer to shore, they passed under an overhanging branch, and the girl grabbed it in an attempt to slow down the canoe. The canoe flipped and they were sucked down the river, but fortunately managed to make it to shore. Later on while being teased by his peers, Marcus kindly said nothing about the girl grasping the branch to the others, but he did have a lot to say about it to us.

      Mr. Grodi advised us to grasp at nothing, and this advice hit home with me because I am by nature a grasper. I have a strong grip, and have always grabbed things along the way, especially if I am afraid of falling, stumbling or tipping over. It seems to be a natural tendency, even if it is a crutch, and can be very dangerous, often stopping my progress in an instant.

      When Blessed John Paul II would exhort me to “Be not afraid,” I would still resist, and look for those overhanging branches to grab. It reminds of the movie “127 Hours,” when the hiker is suspended in a crevasse with his hiking boots pushing the rock wall on one side and his back pushing from the other. Below him is a drop of some sixty feet, all down a very narrow chute, ending in a cold pool of crystal blue water. Without any warning, he lets go, and free falls with the rock wall inches from his nose. The two female climbers who are with him look at each other as if to say, “Who is he kidding?” This sort of trust and bravery spooks me out.

      I ask myself, “Could I do it if I had to?” Would I have the guts to stop pushing out with my feet and back, and simply quit grasping the wall so to speak? Marcus Grodi's
message came through loud and clear and then some. We spend our lives grasping things, collecting, hoarding, and most of it is superfluous, and halts our progress towards Jesus' kingdom.

     As Pope Francis has told us, you will never see a moving truck in a funeral procession.

      When I was a high school teacher, and I felt tired from the grind, I used to tune into Billy Graham's Crusade, which was broadcast from different football stadiums across the USA. Reverend Graham spoke with command, and a seriousness which was unnerving at times. He spoke of the family, and what God meant it to be, and he always had the Bible by his side. I used to wonder how a non-Catholic could speak directly to me, and move me so much. I fact, I enjoyed Billy Graham a lot more than many of the homilies I was hearing at Mass on Sundays.

      Marcus Grodi is cut from the same cloth. Like Billy Graham, he uses his hands to emphasize his points, he lifts his Bible up for all to see, and he opens it up to the verses he wants to use. The Bible becomes his prop, and the medium is the message. This is the magic of their speaking style, and both men possess it to perfection.

      And even though these two preachers have not been anointed in the tradition of the apostles, directly from Saint Peter, they have a great deal to teach us about being faithful Christians in a secular society.

     So let us all pray that Billy Graham will one day come home to the Catholic Church, just as Marcus Grodi did, so that we can welcome him with open arms after his long journey home.

Now that would be cause for celebration.

Amen!



Monday, 14 October 2013

Milton Conquest Club Retreat: a day of sprituality and fun

     Milton Conquest ran its Club Retreat October 12, 2013, and the Club Youth Leaders and Club program boys provided a stellar example of what Conquest is all about.
     The boys led all the activities, and maintained order and control throughout the day. The younger boys had no problem listening to instructions, especially when they were being delivered by the youth leaders. As a result, the whole day seemed to run efficiently and smoothly, and the boys seemed to appreciate the chance to be led by people their own age. There just seems to be something magical about having  youth leaders in charge for a day, and the beaming smiles on all the boys' faces at the end of the retreat seemed to reflect this reality.
     I had the opportunity to attend the Eucharistic Adoration segment with one group, and I watched as Nathan Duarte led them in prayer and contemplation. The group gave him their undivided attention, and as they left the chapel, I could see that they had all changed in some small way, through the question and answer session and the quiet time of adoration, or "radiation therapy" as we like to call it. There were several parishioners in the chapel at the time, and it was easy to see that they were impressed by the seriousness and comportment of the group.
     Of course, the adults, led by Conquest Director, Marvin Duarte had planned the retreat to perfection, and Father Thomas Murphy LC and Brother Nathan Wayne LC, were instrumental in making this a very sacred and spiritual day for all involved.
     And so, the spirituality, the recitation of the Rosary throughout the day, the visitation to Mary's shrine and the presentation of flowers and special intentions, and the closing Mass were all strengthened by the spontaneity of the boys as they were led by their peers.
     And if there is one thing the boys will remember about the Club Retreat it will be Father Murphy's homily about the good wolf and the bad wolf which are in all of us, and how they vie for our attention day in and day out. The bad wolf howls when we are greedy and voracious, and the good wolf howls when we are generous and show gratitude.
     They will also remember that they should always ask God for one thing, and thank him for two.
That attitude of gratitude was probably the most important thing the boys brought home from the Milton Conquest Club Retreat, and we all hope and pray they maintain it throughout their adolescent years and adult lives.
     That is the magic of Conquest. That is just one of its gifts to the boys. Thank God for the Conquest Club Retreat and for the Club Youth Leaders and Club program boys.
    
    

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Radiation Therapy

     The Milton Conquest Club recently held its annual retreat under the guidance of Marvin Duarte and Father Thomas Murphy and Brother Nathan. The boys played soccer out on the dusty pitch, learned about the meaning of the mass, and about the real presence of Christ in the host, enjoyed pizza and ice cream and rubbed shoulders with their Conquest friends for the last time this season.
     But the most significant part of the day for me, besides the dedication of the boys to Mary was the Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel at Holy Rosary Catholic Church. It truly was radiation therapy because I could see the boys transform from a group of active, frenetic youngsters into a group of calm and reflective Christians.
     Father Thomas had reinforced the dogma of the real presence with the boys in a talk earlier in the morning, and then they were ready to enter the chapel in the right frame of mind. As I sat at the back watching them pray, I was impressed by their devotion to Jesus and their deep acceptance of the presence of Christ before them. There were adults in the small chapel, but they seemed to accept the group of boys, and the boys accepted them. It was beautiful to see. There was no anxiety, no noise, no competition whatsoever...just boys sitting in front of Christ being radiated by His overwhelming love for them, and His joy at their presence.
     And they were changed in a small way. They seemed more at peace, more tranquil, more serene.
This is the power of the Blessed Sacrament in action, and I am very happy that Conquest has reinforced this great gift in the boys, especially before the summer holidays.
     In a time of rampant consumerism, overwhelming commercialism, ramped up technological wonders which rob us of our peace and focus, and wonder of nature, and the loosening of morals and values and respect for our fellow man, a Conquest retreat is the real thing. And the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is exactly what the boys needed.
     Now they can go out into the world armed with the effects of the radiation therapy they have undergone, knowing that Jesus is with them, and that He is very well pleased that they took the time to sit with Him on a hot, sunny day just before the onset of the summer holidays.
     This is what the Catholic Church is all about, and Conquest Boys Club forms an integral part in the formation of the boys' virtues and love of Jesus for the rest of their lives.
     I thank God every day for that gift, and I thank Him for the marvelous gift of boys.
    
    

Monday, 10 June 2013

Boys on the road to manhood





What is it about the Conquest Club weekend at Camp Brebeuf that continues to draw more and more boys every year?

Is it the wild abandon and exhilaration offered by bush games like “Capture the Flag? Is it the knee-knocking challenge of the high ropes, or the true grit required to complete the rock climb? Or could it be the simple, basic pleasure of roasting marshmallows over the glowing coals of a pit fire nestled deep in the thick, dark forest which, as Gordon Lightfoot put it, is too silent to be real?

I believe it is all of these and much more. Once again, under the leadership of Carl Pinto, who, over the years, has perfected the Camp Brebeuf weekend into an art, and Marvin Duarte, Director of Milton's Conquest Club, boys from the Milton and Pickering clubs lived their faith in nature, far from the confusing and misleading racket of television and the internet.

Leading the spiritual component of the weekend were Father Thomas Murphy L.C. and Brother Nathan, both of whom gave their last ounce of energy to assure that the boys would come out of this weekend much more vibrant in their Catholic faith formation, and spiritual growth, well on their way to becoming strong Catholic men.

I recall one special moment as we sat around the woodstove in the log cabin chapel as Father Murphy told the boys stories about the lives of the saints. Here we were in a camp named after a Canadian Jesuit martyr in the year of a new Jesuit pope. Could it get any more relevant than that?

The only sound was Father Murphy's voice, and the snapping and crackling of the wood in the stove. All eyes were glued on this dedicated priest as he guided the boys' imaginations down the demanding path of sainthood, and its meaning for all of us. What he gave the boys were true role models for survival in a distracting, secular world.

Another memorable time was the Rosary being recited by the God Squad around the roaring pit fire after all the younger boys had left to prepare for lights out. I was impressed by the boys' concentration and focus on the mysteries and by their devotion to Mary. The chanting of the prayers seemed to bounce off the maples, and head up through the opening in the canopy along with the sparks, and on out into the dark ceiling covered in pinpoints of light. It truly was a very special time for us all.

On another occasion, the boys presented skits on the elevated stage in front of the fire pit. The orange flames flickering in the night provided excellent lighting, and added to the drama of the presentations. In one skit, we got to meet a fickle Pontius Pilate, and a rather despicable Barabus, and the boys got to witness first
hand the the injustice and cruelty of the whole scene, and got to experience it up close. In another, we saw the Good Samaritan do what all Christians are called to do, even though others have failed, and it is much easier to pass by. The magic of this occasion was watching the Bible come to life, and seeing the excitement and focus of the young boys who looked up to their older peers with admiration, and an obvious ambition to be part of future skits at Camp Brebeuf.

Saturday morning, as my eight-year-old grandson climbed the tall hydro pole, I checked in with Saint Michael asking him to guide the little fellow as far as he wished to go. When he reached the top, and it was time to cross the horizontal ladder, he began to shake, and asked to be lowered, and as he stood on the solid earth, people were telling him that he had done well and had improved a lot since last year. His father consoled him, and I could tell that he would be stronger for this experience, and that he was determined to better it next time around. I told him later that St. Michael had been there beside him, and that seemed to add extra comfort and solace, and lighten the load.

I would think that everyone at the camp experienced their own set of magical moments, and I do not know what they are; however, I am certain that Jesus witnessed them all, and that he was happy with them, and he saw that it was good.

For what on earth can compare with boys bonding with each other and with their fathers, praying the Rosary together, attending mass in the Pine Cathedral, learning to appreciate and give thanks for the food they receive, and growing side by side in their Catholic faith?

I guess the overriding question is what on earth can compare with a camp which leads boys on the long road to manhood, sainthood and beyond?

Very little, I say. Very little indeed.


Saturday, 11 May 2013

What Moms Really Want

     The second annual Momsquest dinner proved once again that mothers will gladly attend a dinner lovingly served and presented by their beloved sons. And it also proved that mothers will attend in droves.
     Mothers also revel in being seated at a circular table with their sons close by, and as the evening proceeds, it becomes pretty obvious that moms simply love being with their sons. They also truly enjoy the tributes presented to specific mothers, but in the name of all mothers. This is what mothers want, and this is what mothers get at Momsquest.
     Milton Conquest is the second largest Conquest group in North America, and under the able guidance of Marvin Duarte and Carl Pinto, the Momsquest dinner was a great success, with over 125 people in attendance.
     There were fathers and grandfathers chopping lettuce for the salads, and heating up the pasta dishes which had been so generously donated by Julia Hanna and the Kids Culinary Community. There were also Conquest boys setting tables and escorting mothers to their assigned seats, and lots of toddlers running around and bouncing off people like ballbearings in a pin ball machine.
     Father Todd Arsenault L.C. said Grace, and delivered an inspiring prayer for all mothers, and then the  group got down to some serious eating. There were large salads, and a choice of meat or vegetarian pasta, and then three large cakes were cut up and served to the appreciative crowd. There was more than enough food to go around and leftovers were packed up and taken home. This was hardly the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, but you could still feel the presence of Jesus, and his love for all mothers and sons, and the magic of a family gathering around good and simple food, shared in appreciation and love.
     For many, the highlight of the evening is the slide show presented by Marvin Duarte. Complete with accompanying music, the slides give a wonderful overview of the year's activities and allow the mothers to search for their sons participating in the various activities. "That's me Mom!" shouted one boy, and "There I am!" pointed another. The scope of the activities soon becomes apparent, and it was hard to believe that we had accomplished so many things over the year, still with Camp Brebeuf and the Day Retreat to go. There were also excellent video presentations which the audience seemed to enjoy thoroughly.
    Ryan Pinto and Joseph Mendonca delivered lovely tributes to their adoring mothers, in the name of all the boys present, and when Joseph maintained that all mothers deserved at least one day off per year, a loud ovation erupted, especially from the moms. And at one point during Ryan's speech, there was nary a dry eye in the house (especially among the mothers).
     And then the boys brought their mothers a red rose, and a Mother's Day card which they had constructed at Conquest, and we all sat back to watch the glow on the mothers' faces.
     What I find so refreshing about Mother's Day is the simplicity of the demands mothers make on us all. They do not want lavish gifts or giant feasts or grand tributes. They like experiences which many would call 'corny.' They are in search of love and appreciation, and of course well deserved respect. None of this is material, and it is all very inexpensive.
     Momsquest provided all that and more.
     One famous proverb states that a child's only true classroom is in its mother's heart, and I have no doubt whatsoever that there was a great deal of learning going on around those tables at Momsquest.
     Long live Conquest! Long live Mother's Day!
    
    
    

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Boys in the kitchen

     The Milton Conquest Boys' Club recently concluded its second cooking class under the auspices of the Kids Culinary Community at The Loft at the Milton Longo's store.
     Under the adept guidance of Chef Mike and his team, the boys learned how to prepare nutritious, exciting food, present a creative meal, and clean up afterwards. And all this was accomplished with order, discipline and professionalism. In addition, the boys learned how to share, co-operate and give thanks for the food which they had magically transformed from bowls of ingredients into delicious meals.
     With society's emphasis on the disconnect, a class like this offers the boys a chance to spend three hours focusing on something as basic, and necessary as tasty, healthy food. The only technology involved was the microwave oven, and the bright led lights over the large mirror which reflected all the action taking place over the stove. There were no gadgets in sight.
     This was as simple and effective as it gets, with constant attention from a chef who is obviously dedicated to teaching young people the value of cooking. Boys need to get their hands off the video games and into the dough and onto the cutting board, and that is exactly what they did for nine hours total, over three weekend mornings.
     The kitchen became a place of serious work, yet enjoyable activity which produced delicious and attractive dishes. The result was beaming smiles, and the pride which comes from a job well done.
I am certain that these young boys will reap the benefits of these cooking sessions for years to come, and well into their adult lives, and that their future wives will be thanking the Kids Culinary Community and Conquest over and over again.
     Each session ended with a meal, and Marvin Duarte, the Conquest Club Director would say Grace as all the boys bowed their heads, and prayed in silence, and thanksgiving for the wonderful food and the opportunity to cook it under such talented direction.
    At the final cooking class, Julia Hanna, Director of the Kids Culinary Community, along with Chef Mike, handed out gift bags and diplomas, and the boys served a delicious meal with a Mexican flavour, to their parents and friends. Julia spoke of the importance of healthy eating, and the art of cooking, and thanked everyone present.
     I could not help but be impressed with the pride, dedication, hard work and commitment of the Kids Culinary Community, and the generosity of Longo's for providing the food and the Loft for our use.
     But in the end, the lasting impression I will treasure is the radiant expressions on the boys' faces as they got to serve the food they had prepared, and cooked to the people they love so dearly.  Conquest Boys Club is dedicated to teaching virtues to the boys, and the virtues which stood out for me were generosity and sharing and loving care.
     Healthy food, virtues, friends and loved ones...now that is a lot to give thanks for.