‘Love begins at home’
Make this Lent one to remember
In 1977 my mom and dad took me and my younger sister to see the original Star Wars movie on the big screen at Cortana Mall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which housed a new theater that had just opened a few months earlier. I was almost 7 years old.
The only crystal-clear memory I have of that day was the lines to buy tickets. We waited forever. The place was packed. I kept standing on my tiptoes and straining my neck to see how much longer we had to stand in line, but I couldn’t see that far. Besides all the adults, the only thing to look at was the movie poster. I stared at that original poster featuring Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and wondered what all the fuss was about. My dad worried that the tickets would sell out for that particular showing before we got ours. Thankfully we made it.
For something that — in hindsight — left such a huge cultural footprint, it’s sad to admit that I really don’t remember much about the first time I saw the movie. In my defense, I was about three weeks from my seventh birthday. And I have now seen that movie so many times during the last 40 years that it’s difficult to parse out only what I would have remembered from 1977. Still, looking back, that experience should have seared itself in my psyche. It didn’t.
A few months ago, in December, the day before the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I had lunch with my dad. Between bites of pan-fried trout, I mentioned to him that my son and I were going to see The Last Jedi the next day. I asked him if he remembered seeing the first Star Wars movie in 1977.
“Oh yes,” he said, “there had never been anything like it. Star Wars changed the course of moviemaking.”
Why do I share that story? Because here we are in Lent. Again. Just like every year. And there’s a real danger for us that we will miss it. Miss the point. Miss the grace. Miss the opportunity to experience something about which we could later say, “There had never been anything like it.”
Lent is a time for us to prepare ourselves to celebrate the greatest feast of the liturgical year: Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Lent is full of big and little things for us to do, or observances as they are often called. They include fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, abstaining from meat on Fridays, giving time and money to the poor, praying special Lenten prayers and devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, and giving up chocolate, television, or Facebook. All of these observances can be good for us. But it is also possible to do all of these things and miss the whole point of Lent.
The fact is that faithfully adhering to our Lenten observances truly from the heart can be a tricky business. It can be easy to abstain from meat on Fridays only to overindulge on seafood. I know. I’ve done it. It’s especially easy to do here in New Orleans where fresh seafood is abundant and there’s no lack of good chefs. But Lent, as Pope Francis has noted, isn’t about formal observance. We are called to go beyond formal observance to the heart.
For me, getting to the heart always starts with silence. Challenging as it is, I gently try to quiet my external surroundings and my mind and heart. In silence I am able to have a heart-to-heart encounter with God, and I am able to rest on the firm foundation of the reality that I need a Savior … today. Yes, even now. And resting on that fact gives me the grace I need to look on all those I meet in life with a little more compassion, with a little more grace. Getting to the heart helps me grow in charity. And that is really the point of Lent, the goal of fasting, abstinence, and all our Lenten observances: to grow in charity toward God and neighbor.
As we look to savor our Sundays (and every day!) during Lent, let’s keep in mind that the one thing we can never fast from is charity.
“Love begins at home,” St. Teresa of Kolkata used to say, “and it is not how much we do … but how much love we put in our actions.”
Mother Teresa, always an advocate of charity and “giving till it hurts,” frequently used to help would-be do-gooders put things in proper perspective, highlighting the fact that we are called first to love those closest to us. As she would say, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
Loving those closest to us is not always easy, and yet that is the first thing we are called to do. We need to learn to see Jesus in those closest to us … and learn to love him there. Our families provide us with plenty of practice here, as well as the Lenten changes to our meals.
Being mindful and approaching our Lenten observances as stepping-stones to growth in charity can certainly make this Lent an opportunity to experience something about which we can later say, “There had never been anything like it.”
A practical reminder about our Lenten meals is this: The point is not the food, it’s the meal — the shared meal around the table where we share not only food, but our very selves with those we love.
Along those lines, I give you a quick and super-simple recipe for baked salmon. This is one of our family favorites. Serve it with a fresh green salad, blanched green beans, and baby potatoes for a satisfying and healthy Lenten meal.
There are so many different ways that you can bake salmon. You can add black pepper, dill, fennel, mint, citrus, leeks, and even a variety of mustards. And you are certainly free to engage your creativity according to your tastes. But today’s recipe for oven-baked salmon is one that draws out the natural flavors of the salmon. It’s so simple! You just need extra-virgin olive oil and salt.
Please note that I do not include in the recipe a specific time the salmon needs to cook. That’s because the cooking time really depends on the thickness of the salmon you have.
So how do you know when the salmon is done? A general rule of thumb is to bake salmon for 4 to 6 minutes per half-inch thickness. Salmon is done as soon as it begins to flake, and you can easily test the doneness by inserting a fork into the fish and gently twisting. If it starts to flake, it’s done. Two other signs of doneness to look for: The flesh will be opaque, and the juices will turn a milky-white.
1 to 2 pounds of salmon fillet, with the skin on (We prefer a wild-caught salmon, like a sockeye, but farm-raised bakes well, too.)
Extra-virgin olive oil (a generous pour to coat well the top of the salmon)
Coarse-ground kosher salt
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Rinse salmon in fresh cold water, then pat dry.
Place salmon in a glass or ceramic baking dish, skin side down.
Coat with extra-virgin olive oil, then generously sprinkle with kosher salt.
Bake until opaque and flaky.