23 October 2011

23 October - St. John of Capristrano; The Imam Fainted

"When the swallows come back to Capistrano...." 

Jose de Paez, c1775
In the General Calendar, today is the memorial of the Franciscan reformer, theologian, preacher, and crusader Saint John of Capistrano (1385-1456), also known as Saint John Capistran.  Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira calls him one of the saints "who were the defensive walls of the House of God."  And he did indeed defend, whether with words or in the midst of battle, for after a lifetime of fighting heretics, John raised troops for a crusade against the Muslim armies menacing Europe and led them to the relief of Turkish-besieged Belgade.

As the son of a well-to-do family and one moreover with connections to the royal court of Naples, John was sent to the University of Perugia to study law, after which he became a magistrate, governor, and ambassador.  The last position, in which he tried to broker a peace, got him tossed into the pokey, the lord to whom he was sent not having a complete understanding of ambassadorial privilege.

With a lot of time to think, he thought much about the state of his soul, and decided to join the Franciscan order.  He studied theology under St. Bernardine of Siena - the Apostle of Italy - and joined him in promoting devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.  It was John who defended Bernardine from malicious charges of heresy before a papal commission.

Like his mentor, he was a famous preacher; churches were often not large enough to hold the crowds which came to hear him, and he was required to preach in the piazzas. He also followed St. Bernardine in working for the reform of the the Friars Minor.  The Holy See sent him as its representative to various courts in Europe; between embassies, he preached strongly against heretics, especially the Hussites of Bohemia.

In 1453, when John was 67, the Turkish sultan Mohammed II conquered Constantinople, and set his sights on Europe.  At the Diet of Frankfort the following year, John preached a crusade against the Turks, and raised troops to which joined with those of Janos Hunyady in raising the siege of Belgrade.  John led his own troops in this decisive battle, after which both he and Hunyady contracted the bubonic plague; he died on 23 October 1456. 

Artwork: San Juan Capistrano by Jose de Paez, c1775. Mission San Juan Capistrano, California. 

As Saint John is the patron of military chaplains, I suppose eating MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) would be appropriate; still, he came from southern Italy, which should have some bearing on tonight's dinner, so use the MREs as a centerpiece and choose something flavorful from Capistrano.

Capistrano is in the Calabrian region of Italy, at the toe of the Italian boot.  Surrounded by the sea, seafood and shellfish vie with the meats of the interior: pork and beef.  There are innumerable pasta dishes and vegetables, most especially eggplant.  Last St. John's day, we had Stuffed Eggplant.  This year, in honor of the raising of the siege of Belgrade, try an eggplant dish whose name translates to THE IMAM FAINTED:

Preheat oven to 350° (moderate oven).
Peel and chop 3 medium tomatoes. Crush 2 cloves of garlic.

Chop 2 medium onions and saute in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, crushed garlic, 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the mixture is mushy.

Cut the stem end of 2 medium eggplants, and make 3 lengthwise slits, one in the center, one on each side of the eggplant, starting and ending about 1 inch from each end (no need to be precise, just don't cut the entire length.)  Spoon the onion/tomato mixture into each cavity.

Place the stuffed eggplants in a baking dish, and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sugar, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of olive oil.  Cover and bake for 40 minutes, or until the eggplants are tender.

Serve either hot or cold.  Yogurt is a good accompaniment.