With my grandmother Antoinetta Nolletti who dedicated me to Mary a long time ago.

PILGRIMAGE: MY SEARCH FOR THE REAL POPE FRANCIS, by Mark K. Shriver is a four-star, spiritual journey of the author’s attempt to figure out Pope Francis. Spoiler: He does it! Highly recommend!

Now, because this is my blog and I can stray from its made-up-by-me prescribed form, I’m going to share something that happened after posting my recent LOVE WARRIOR. I experienced a seismic shift in my being. It was as if I climbed over the biggest boulder on my spiritual path and the view was now completely different. But the climb — writing and posting it was difficult. I experienced real fear. And then, I spent the first three days waiting for the fallout to happen, waiting for the negative judgement and disapproval. And when it didn’t happen, I took a deep breath, wrote a few letters, and did some long overdue chores.

I didn’t know what do with myself in light of my enlightenment about my addiction to shame avoidance/people pleasing/approval seeking. This addiction was nurtured in me, a born empath with an abusive, food-addicted mother who routinely threatened abandonment yet loved me with all her heart and an enabler father who regularly ordered, “Stop it! You’re right. But just do what Mom says.” Both had alcoholism in their families. The cycle is relentless.

Nevertheless, I broke it. I raised my children, not how I was raised, but how I should have been raised. They are gifted with empathic abilities and are excellent emotional caretakers of those in need. However, neither one truly gives a rat’s ass about what other people think of them. They are well acquainted with their authentic selves and so is everyone else. This is my greatest accomplishment.

But back to not knowing what to do with my own authentic self, maybe I was supposed to start a new post. Certainly, I wasn’t supposed to do what I really wanted to do which was laze around with a pile of magazines. And then I woke up on the fifth day with anxiety growing in the pit of my stomach. I believed this was “urgency from above” for me to read this Pope Francis book as fast as possible so I could write and share a post before Easter. That way, I’d have a “nice” post at the top of my blog list and not the f-bomb-filled-calling-out-of-folks that is my LOVE WARRIOR  post.

At the same time, I was so tired. I really didn’t want to work so hard at the research and writing thing. But the anxiety increased and my immediately right now deadline loomed. So naturally, I distracted myself with too much social media, and there I saw a friend’s post in which he generally encouraged relaxation.

Normally, I reject any and all forms of anyone telling me to relax because when they are speaking to me, they usually mean “shut up.” As in, “That injustice you’re ranting about doesn’t really matter, so you should just relax about it.”

But this time it was different. I focused in and felt an angel put a hand on my heart and whisper, “Calm down. Breathe. Wait.”

And I did. I was able to do it! I put the book aside and relaxed with my family over the weekend. And I prayed. And I contemplated. And then my own words from my LOVE WARRIOR post smacked me in the face: “Let go of your ego and your fear of what people think about the real you. Quiet down and be still.”

I felt as if my friend had led me out of the bar and stood with me in the street until I recognized exactly where I had ended up. Again.

DAMMIT! You know, I gotta tell you, addiction sucks.

Wait. Let me do it authentically — addiction fucking sucks.

Now, weeks later, I understand better that recovery takes practice. And help. And relapses. And practice, and help, and recognition, and baby steps of success. So, it’s with great pride I announce it took me a long time to finish reading the book and writing this post. It was, in fact, not a priority at all as I chose a deadline (because I make up my own deadlines because it’s my own blog) that was after Easter Sunday.

And, I’m learning to recognize the difference in the feeling of anxiety to produce an approval-seeking written work and the feeling of peaceful flow in divine written mission.

PILGRIMAGE: MY SEARCH FOR THE REAL POPE FRANCIS is more like an in-depth piece of journalistic research and less like a story which is why I highly recommend it but only give it four out of five stars. I’m a sucker for stories, especially stories that change my life such as LOVE WARRIOR by Glennon Doyle Melton.

As I transitioned my way between these two books, an expression I learned from a writer friend kept popping up, “Never ruin a good story with the truth.” Not that we should lie in our non-fiction works, but most of the truth should be skipped over because it’s boring.

And when I apply that rule to LOVE WARRIOR, I realized Glennon glossed over the parts of her life story in which she studied, did the work, and earned a teaching degree in college. Colleges really don’t just hand these things out. Furthermore, she also held on to a teaching job and her students loved her. I get why she didn’t focus on these facts in her book, but it’s important for some of us to realize we can have “hidden” addictions and still manage to do a pretty good job at the life thing. It seems like we’re fine, but we’re not.

Right, so. Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’s former name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He was born and raised by Italian immigrants in Buenos Aries, Argentina. His grandmother was devout and dedicated to celebrating the Saints and venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary among other “theology of the people” ways of worshiping, living her life, and teaching her grandchildren.

Jorge discerned his Call was coming via St. Ignatius and he was to become a Jesuit. In general, Jesuits are sophisticated and learned theologians striving to help as many people in as many societies as possible. The path to becoming a full Jesuit is well marked and takes about 12 years.

Jorge followed this path and found himself the head of a Jesuit school, Colegio Maximo, for many years where he had, let’s just say, some leadership issues. As in, he wasn’t good at it — too stern, too authoritative.

So, he was transferred out of leadership and out of his beloved Buenos Aries.

I’m skipping a lot of the details, but what’s important is the marriage of the Jesuit theology and the everyday-person theology within Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Mark Shriver goes deep into his process of uncovering exactly what makes Pope Francis tick. This marriage within Jorge are the workings fueled by the Holy Spirit that made him repent his former leadership style and give up his Jesuit brotherhood to heed the call to become a bishop-at-large and follow a path that led to his current position.

That’s the gist, but I left out all the good parts about Jorge talking, helping, praying, and fighting for regular people. Especially the poor.

Mark interviewed many people who were connected to Jorge before he became pope, and this is my favorite story. It’s told by Rabbi Alejandro Avruj of Comunidad Amijai, a congregation of Conservative Judaism in Buenos Aires who had many stories to tell Mark of working with Jorge Bergoglio, Bishop of Buenos Aires, before he became Francisco. Before, when his boots on the ground were shoes in the garbage of a shanty town where their joint efforts created a soup kitchen.

Later Rabbi Avruj and some social-activist fellows:

traveled together with about a hundred other people to visit the same places Francis was visiting in Jordan and Israel in May 2014, although they were not part of the official papal delegation. The rabbi told me that the trip itself sent “an unbelievable message. An unbelievable message! In two thousand years, the first time a pope went to Israel was John Paul II, twenty years after he became pope. For Francis, it was one of his first trips. Unbelievable!

We were in Jordan, it was the first place he went, and in Amman, they held this very impressive mass in the football stadium. There were about thirty or forty thousand people—people crying, people singing, flags—it was unbelievable. And I imagine that the forty thousand people in that stadium were the only forty thousand Catholics in all of Jordan!” He laughed. “Yes, ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim. It was unbelievable. And when Bergoglio left the stadium, he began to go out in the popemobile, and then he saw me and stopped the car, and the Jordanians and the guards of the Vatican, they were going crazy, and he called to me, ‘Hey, hello!’”

The rabbi’s voice got louder and he started to gesticulate wildly.

As he was talking, I remembered Pope Francis saying in an interview that he was not accustomed to speaking to so many people; “I manage to look at individual persons, one at a time, to enter into personal contact with whomever I have in front of me. I’m not used to the masses.” When I first read those words, I thought there was no way he could focus on an individual person, but listening to this unbelievable story, I thought maybe both were telling the truth, as hard as it is to believe.

“Then I thought, in a country where ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim, with the only forty thousand Catholic people there, Bergoglio gets out of the popemobile to hug a rabbi. It’s crazy! It’s crazy! It’s impossible.”

The rabbi jumped up, smiling and laughing.

“Imagine—here’s a guard with a gun, and I say to the guy, ‘Uh, the pope is calling me.’ He’s a Jordanian guy, I don’t know what language he speaks, and there are the Vatican guards. Somebody took me inside the barricade. I was with this friend of mine, right? Imagine, I have the pope there”—he gestured with his right hand—“and my friend here”—he gestured with his left hand—“with all the guards pushing him to keep him from coming with me. What do you do? What do you do? He’s the pope, I mean–”

I interrupted. “So you were being pushed toward the pope, who has gotten out of the popemobile to see you, and you are worried about your pal getting crushed by the security guards. Why are you worried about your friend?”

“I went for my friend because he had the camera,” the rabbi replied.

He laughed, hard, and so did I. The timing of the punchline was perfect. A seasoned comedian couldn’t have delivered it any better.

“Afterward, my friend says, ‘All those guys that go to the Vatican, they go and they have a solemn picture taken with the pope, you know, but this picture, with this smile, it was like—we were in the middle of the 21 shantytown.’”

“So what happened then?” I asked.

“He got out. I hadn’t seen him for a year and a half, but a lot of things happened during that time with this guy, right?” He shrugged and smiled sheepishly, accentuating the absurdity of the statement. “You have like twenty seconds to say something to the most important person in the world. What do you say to him in those twenty seconds? What do you say?”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Ah, good question.” He enjoyed stringing me along. “I was there and I was thinking I needed a theological phrase for the ages, right? The perfect phrase. And before I could say anything he said, “Hey, Alé, how’s the family?’ He moved me twice in one minute. Right? Because first he stopped everything to talk to me, and then he asked the last question I would think of: ‘Hey, your family, how are they?’”

The room became quiet. Avruj stared at me, dumbfounded by the pope’s surprising question. Then he broke the silence. “I thought, what are you talking about? I said, ‘Well, good, the children have been asking after you.’”

His voice trailed off. He wasn’t smiling or animated now. He just looked at me, again, for a few seconds in silence.

“Maybe this is the big question we have to ask, ‘How’s the family?’ Because we are all family. This is the question, right?”

I looked into the rabbi’s eyes and I could see that he was tearing up. He was silent again.

“How’s the family?” he said again softly.

I understood the rabbi’s desire to come up with the most important, memorable thing to say to one of the most influential people in the world. It was a chance to impress the man, to make himself seem intelligent and insightful—that’s what I would have wanted to do. But what came out of the pope’s mouth was a purely human question: How is your family? There they were, in the Middle East, The Holy Land to the three major religions of the world, and Pope Francis asks him the simplest, yet most important, of questions.

Avruj broke the silence, saying that he hoped that when the pope had a meeting with the head of Israel and the head of Palestine, “maybe he will ask the same question, ‘Hey, how is your family?’ And maybe if they answer that question—well, maybe peace will come. It depends on how they answer the question about their family.”

He went quiet again for a few seconds, then shook his head as though to snap himself back to the present.

“And as a result of this trip, with the hundred of people that went with us, we raised the money to open two new soup kitchens.” — Pilgrimage, Page 192-195

This passage explains everything I need to know about a spiritual leader who chose the name of my beloved birthday patron, St. Francis of Assisi whom Jesus instructed, “Rebuild my church for it is in disrepair.”

Speaking of the Roman Catholic Church, there was a moment when I was reading the section about Vatican I and Vatican II in PILGRIMAGE, when I thought, This is it. I’m taking that Roman Catholic confirmation class I missed out on right now as I’m reading this book.

And then I looked out the window and instead of a backyard koi pond and bird feeders, I saw my childhood front yard and across the street my best friend getting in the car with her mom. I remembered thinking that I had asked my mom to sign me up for the class three times. I told her how easy it would be to carpool. But, she didn’t do it. I watched them back up and drive off to confirmation class without me. And I knew somehow that it was over for me and church.

At the time, I didn’t even cry. It’s easy to accept not having your needs met if you’re raised to believe your needs aren’t worthy of attention. This caused me to forgive so quickly there was no accountability, amends making, or changing of behavior. Also, my parents couldn’t handle being called out on anything. Ever.

Sometimes when I tell someone about another’s treatment of me, their immediate response is, “Why did they do that to you?” And in answering the question I find myself cutting slack and taking blame. So, why didn’t my parents summon up enough effort to make a phone call and carpool me to confirmation class? It doesn’t matter. That is not my part of the story. Furthermore, I don’t believe I will answer the “Why did they do that to you?” question ever again.

What matters is missing out on that class as a young teenager caused a twenty-year separation between me and church. And, as I looked out at our koi pond garden from my spot on the couch with my miracle cat beside me and her tail on my belly, I wept.

In my early thirties, I became an Episcopalian through a simple compromise with my Congregational-raised husband and a promise to our future children to raise them in church. My roots are now firmly planted in the Episcopal Church, primarily because everyone is welcome at the Communion Table.

And yet. Something unexplainable continued to draw me to Roman Catholicism. I figured it out when I was reading Brené Brown’s book on shame (I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME) early in my spiritual journey. It was a memory of the priest at my first Holy Communion when I was about seven years old.

Somehow, I didn’t understand I also had to make my first confession the same day. So, I climbed into that confessional completely unprepared and terrified.

The priest waited for me to recite the prayer, and all I could do was cry. So, he led me through it, and I repeated it after him. Then he asked me what my sins were. I cried harder because I couldn’t say out loud, I’m just bad, but I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

He asked me if I argued with my brothers. I said, “Yes.” So, he went on from there. And then, horror of horrors, he said he wanted to talk to me outside the church after mass.

I remember exiting the confessional and becoming even more distraught because I had to sit with my class and not with my family. I don’t remember receiving Holy Communion.

On the way outside, I told my family the priest wanted to talk to me, “I think I’m in trouble.”

He called to me from across the parking lot. Mind you, I didn’t even know his name. He was not my Sunday school teacher. He was The Priest. So, I went over and looked up at him. He got down to my level and said, “Maria, God doesn’t get mad at us if we forget the words to prayers. He knows you are a good girl.” And in that moment, he became Jesus.

Because I was so young I imprinted this subconscious expectation onto all priests. This was the core of my problem with my former rector. He couldn’t be Jesus for me if, at the same time, he was being my disapproving, addictive “parent.”

Damn, this shit is heavy. Everyone break for a cup of tea!

Quick, come back! It gets better, I promise. Thank God, it gets better.

Look, Jesus shows up for us in people all the time. Whether they’re helping us, or we’re helping them. But because of my First Holy Communion memory, Jesus resonates deeper for me when I recognize Him in a priest:

It happened almost three years ago, a few months after the church group rejection trauma that sparked my spiritual journey, when a seminarian at Winterlight did laying-on-of-hands healing prayers for me. He calmed me down enough to step out of confusion and panic and head towards self-discovery and awakening.

It happened the following summer when I lamented to the chaplain at Youth Week that I was too broken for the Church and he said, “We’re all broken! Jesus is broken! A perfect loaf of bread is useless until it’s broken and shared.”

It happened the next spring when I sent my priest friend a random email about southern sunshine at the exact moment he sent me a FB message about positive reactions to some of my writing. The exact same moment. I mean, what are the odds?!

It happened a couple of months ago, when my rector said to me, “I can tell that you are sometimes still sad and I wonder if you want to talk about it.”

It happened when my retired rector invited me to stay at her house in the mountains because she enjoys my company.

It happened when a priest let me forgive him. And vice versa. Then it happened again when we connected via our mutual devotion to the BVM.

Here’s a thought — Maybe I’m not seeing these interactions through an over-active-imagination-fueled veil of addiction. Maybe I’m seeing these interactions at their core level where the divinity is. Maybe God IS love. And that’s all there is to it.

Speaking of miracles created from hope, when Jorge Bergoglio was the Rector at Colegio Maximo, he created a parish from a group of people and a shed where he set up an altar and held mass. Mark interviewed Maria del Carmen:

who was involved from the outset in the creation of San José Patriarch Parish. “The streets at that time were full of potholes. When it rained, there was mud to walk through. Bergoglio could just as well be wearing a boot on one foot and a sneaker on the other because he was not concerned about his shoes. What concerned him were the people, above all, the children, the elderly, the poor. He was a pastor. One could say that it was the golden era because at the time there were many seminarians, many novices, and they would go out on Saturdays and Sundays to work in the neighborhoods, visiting home, ministering to needs.”

She teared up at the memory, then wiped her eyes and continued: “We would make empanadas and sell them. Father Bergoglio would knead and bake pastafrola [a typical quince jam pie]. Because the parish progressed, other chapels were built. Father Bergoglio had such a broad and loving vision.”

Maria showed me some notes that Bergoglio had signed. She proudly displayed them on a small kitchen table. Some were thank yous to merchants who had donated food or goods to San José Patriarch in the “golden years.” Maria said, “We didn’t have chairs in the parish, we had one little old broken chair, someone must have left it. Bergoglio would say, ‘Don’t worry. The day will come when we will get some chairs. The day will come.’

Well, one day going to work, I ran into a man that owns an important furniture shop in the city, and he said, ‘I can donate some benches, I can donate everything.’ And I returned happy to tell Father Bergoglio that we had benches. Then the floor donations appeared, and all the ceramic tiles, so little by little, the church was completed without any money, because people there were poor and all they could leave were a few coins.

Bergoglio always had a smile when he was given something. He was only concerned with moving forward, and he would always say that I should remember that the best weapon, the best cannon, to which nobody can put up a resistance, are fifty Hail Marys! Yes, the bullets against which there is no protection, right, are fifty Hail Marys. He would say, ‘Remember, fifty Hail Marys, fifty Hail Marys, remember the cannon!’” – Pilgrimage, Page 133-136

Remember also that devoting yourself to an activity in the name of God is prayer in action. So, in honor of Pope Francis who shows us with every beat of his living heart how to be hope for the future in action, let’s bake:


(More photos below.)

Note: In Argentina, the easily-available, traditional jam of choice is quince, a fruit similar to apples and pears. I went with pear, which is somewhat exotic yet available in U.S. grocery stores. You can either purchase quince jam in a specialty store or use any fruit jam that appeals.

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 stick butter (1/2 cup), chilled

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup fruit jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch pie or tart pan.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Blend cold butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two knives.

Combine eggs, milk, and vanilla together in a cup. Mix with fork. Pour into bowl with dry ingredients.

Mix with clean hands until mixture becomes a uniform ball, not too dry or sticky. (Add a little milk or flour, as needed.)

Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until about ½ inch thick. Slide dough into pan. Cut away extra dough so sides of pan are partially exposed.

Spread jam evenly over the dough.

Reform dough scrapes into ball. Roll out to ¼ inch thick or so. Cut into strips and place onto jam in a crisscross pattern.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool on rack until warm or room temperature. Slice to serve.

Sad News:

Dearworthy readers, you may know our miracle cat, Seven, from my recent Blesseds of Fatima or my earlier Tempting Fate posts. She died in the middle of Holy Week, twelve days after we celebrated her reaching her 17th birthday in great spirits and activity.

April 1, 2017

There is so much I want to share about God’s grace in Seven’s extended miraculous life and her peaceful passing, but first I need time to do its thing on me.

Meanwhile, I know you understand how sad I am about the loss of this cat we adopted when our baby was 9 months old. I wonder if, in your understanding, you could pray for the baby who grew into a beautiful young woman and misses her “sister” terribly. We’d appreciate it.

(Originally posted on 4/21/2017 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)

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