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Hey everybody,

It’s the 750th anniversary of the Second Ecumenical Council of Lyons, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.

If the reference seems a bit obscure, I apologize. But Lyons II, which opened 750 years ago today, was attended by about 500 bishops, almost 100 abbots, and emissaries from governments and hierarchies across Eastern and Western Europe. It’s an important one, at which the Council Fathers resolved that the Church, and Christian states, should do what they could to address violence in the Holy Land, and in which Pope Gregory X  aimed to resolve the schism between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople. 

Progress was even made over the issue of the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed, which divided Greeks and Latins. But the progress was short lived, and soon after the council, was lost altogether.

So why is that interesting? Because 750 years later, the Church right now is talking a great deal about the prospect of union, or at least greater unity, with the Greek Orthodox, and talking a great deal about what Christians should do regarding violence in the Holy Land.

In other words, there is nothing new under the sun.

But I don’t think that should cause us to despair, or to grow cynical about the Church’s ability to address ecclesial and global problems. 

Instead, I think there is something beautiful about the fact that issues remain unresolved from Lyons II, 750 years ago, and that they still matter to the Church. 

It matters that we’re still talking about things like Christian unity, because it’s still important, even with 750 years of little actual accomplishment.

The Church has a mission, that mission comes from Christ. We called to pursue that mission at every minute, and at the same time to remember that God often works over centuries, and that we might not see any evidence of His work at all.

Hope in God’s Providence allows us to even work for the Kingdom even when we see no progress. Faith promises that we’re doing something more than pushing boulders up a hill. And I think we are.

Let’s pray for the souls of the Council Fathers at Lyons II. And let’s pray that all of its noble ends will eventually be achieved.

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The news

The U.K. government said last week that it intends to drop an education policy that the Catholic Church has lobbied against for more than a decade. The policy sets caps on the number of Catholics who can be admitted to Catholic schools — and means that Catholic schools are often required to turn students away precisely because they were Catholics. 

But the British government is consulting now on a plan to lift the caps, impacting the nearly 2,200 Catholic schools across England and Wales. 

Read about it here.

The Church celebrates on Thursday the Ascension of the Lord. Or on Sunday. Or on Thursday. Basically, it’s complicated — while Catholics in some parts of the U.S. have a Holy Day of Obligation this Thursday, most don’t.

So what gives? Read about it here.     

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church highlighted the plight of Ukrainians in Russian captivity as he led Easter celebrations on Sunday. But as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Easter May 5, there was no sign of a major prisoner-of-war exchange advocated by Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis.

Ahead of May 5, both Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin had expressed major optimism about a big POW swap. It didn’t happen. So what gives? 

Read about that here.

As protest encampments cause controversy on college campuses across the country, The Pillar talked with one Newman Center pastor about what he sees at his college, about what protestors might be looking for, and about the “evangelical spirit” of the students at his university parish.

I found this a fascinating on-the-ground conversation, and I hope you’ll give it a read.

“Community” is a common point of discussion among practicing Catholics — how to find it, how to build it, how to live it.

In an increasingly isolated and atomized world, in which fewer people report knowing their neighbors, or their extended family members, Catholics aren’t alone in looking for people to share the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of their lives.

But community among U.S. Catholics can be hit-or-miss: Some report living in thick communities with a robust network of bonds, and some reporting hardly knowing anyone at their local parish.

The Pillar’s Michelle La Rosa has spent a couple of months exploring some Catholics communities across the U.S. — some fledgling or just getting started, some generations old already. She had candid conversations with Catholics about what works, and what doesn’t.

And I, for one, learned a lot from her reporting.

What works in a Catholic community? What makes things fruitful? We’ve got some snapshots worth considering. 

Read “To Find Your People,” right here.


Hitting the bricks

Finally, it’s time for me to tell you about Brick Fest. 

Some bricks in a wall.

If you’re the kind of reader who likes The Pillar for news and analysis, but doesn’t care for the personal commentary, well then, this next section isn’t for you. But if you’re ready to hear about the Keto Brick Challenge, well, buckle up.

A package came to our mailbox last Monday — an express mail envelope — containing eight “Keto Bricks.”

When they came, I was still naive about the world, in so many ways.

I had agreed to eat those bricks — or at least as many as I could consume over the course of three days. The bricks, nearly three pounds of them in total, were attractively packaged, and came in a raft of flavors I wholly expected to enjoy.

I had come to acquire the Keto Bricks because I love The Pillar. 

A few subscribers, who have become friends, came across the bricks in their ads online somewhere. 

The Keto Bricks are marketed as “high-calorie meal replacements,” conforming to the demands of the high fat, low carb keto diet, and each containing 1,000 calories.

The company which makes the bricks is clear about what they’re made for, to be eaten “alongside a nutritionally dense diet,” and to “take the guesswork out of meal prep,” and “simplify … nutrition” for people committed to the keto diet

The bricks do those things. But they’re not a total meal plan — they’re meant for when you’re eating on the go, or when you need a chocolatey snack, and you’re doing keto.

They’re also meant to be the shelf stable food you save for the event of a nuclear holocaust.

If Brendan Fraser’s classic “Blast from the Past” had been accurate, he and Christopher Walken would have been eating Keto Bricks in that bunker. And Brendan Fraser never would have made it long enough to meet Alicia Silverstone.

For its part, the company is clear about the limits of the Keto Brick: “We would never recommend the bricks to be the only thing you eat in a day!”  

Anyway, my subscriber-friends hinted to me, not so subtly, that they wished they knew a journalist who would taste and review the Keto Brick, a product they seemed to find both fascinating and wildly entertaining. 

Food in brick form, after all, ain’t something you see every day.

When they asked for a review, I saw an opportunity. See, I love The Pillar. I love that we get to report on the life of the Church in a serious and smart way, and I love that we might even impact things for the better, sometimes. I love that Ed and I own the thing, and that we’ve got Michelle, Kate, Luke, and (soon) Edgar on board. I love that we’ve got smart freelancers like Brendan and Laura Loker. 

I love The Pillar. She’s like my baby. And like any baby, she needs to be fed. To pay the bills, and keep the site on, and keep our people doing great reporting, we need subscribers. We need new ones, all the time, because no outlet has a retention rate of 100%. So when I think I can get new subscribers, I take ‘em.

I told these friends that for every 25 new subscribers or paying-subscriber upgrades they generated, I’d spend a day eating nothing but Keto Bricks. They went to work, and ginned up about 75. 

The plan was set. Three days eating nothing but Keto Bricks.

I didn’t think, at the time, that three days is exactly how long Jonah spent inside the whale. But I went down into the belly of the beast. 

I didn’t think much about what the Keto Bricks would taste like before I started eating them April 30.

I had assumed they’d taste like other protein bars — basically edible, with the consistency of peanut butter, a thin layer of chocolate on the edges, and a synthetically sacchariferous aftertaste.

I like those kinds of protein bars, so I fully expected these three days would be a breeze. Enjoyable, even. 

And on Tuesday, around 11 in the morning, when I opened my first brick — “Chocolate Malt” — it had the appearance of any other protein bar, albeit about three times as large.

Then I took a bite. Or tried to.

The Keto Brick is much more dense than you’d expect. One can’t simply bite into it like a Mars bar. Instead, one bites the Keto Brick, finds his teeth repelled by the density of the thing, and then gnaws at the edge, like a hamster with a fortified block of vitamins. 

It takes a bit of gnawing to get enough in the mouth to taste the thing. As soon as that happens, one wishes he hadn’t. The taste is like burnt coffee, with notes of an almost truffle funk looming somewhere behind the burning.

But the taste isn’t the remarkable thing. What’s noteworthy is the texture. The Keto Brick is made almost entirely of fats — of cocoa butter, as it were. The human mouth is warm enough to melt the cocoa butter. Upon melting, the brick disperses across the mouth, and then sticks, most uncomfortably, to the teeth. It coagulates, really.

The melting gives the bricks an ephemeral effect — no matter how much one consumes, he never really feels that he’s gotten a mouthful of anything. He feels only that he’s gotten something stuck to his teeth. And he feels that that something tastes terrible.

At least to me. 

The good news is that the bricks are pretty filling. I gnawed on half a brick for most of the day on Tuesday, and then planned to eat another — Milk and Cookies — at family dinner time.

Our family dinner table. Guess where I sit.

My kids, feeling badly upon looking at my plate, seasoned my brick with some jalapeños from the tacos they were enjoying. The sentiment was kind. Milk-and-Cookie-and-Jalapeño, however, is not an especially good brick. Still, I consumed about three quarters of it.

This was not better.

After the kids were in bed, I followed the advice of a Keto Brick tiktok I’d seen. I melted the remaining quarter of my brick in a ramekin, and ate it with a spoon. It was a marked improvement. But I felt wrong. I felt that I owed it to my subscribers to eat only the bricks as they came — exactly as Mother Nature had intended.

I went to bed having consumed only about 1500 calories worth of brick that day — well below the FDA’s recommended 2,000. But I’d had enough brick.

The next morning, Wednesday, as I got to work on news reporting, the bricks were waiting for me. I chose a peanut butter flavor to start the day. It was the best brick. I felt by the time I was halfway through it that I could get used to the problems with the texture. Things were looking up. I thoroughly enjoyed that peanut butter brick.

And when I went to the gym at noon, I hit a personal record in the deadlift. I attributed that to the power of brick. 

“Maybe,” I thought, “brick is how I’m meant to eat. Maybe I should go all brick. Maybe I’ve been waiting for brick my entire life.”

My optimism didn’t last long. 

On Wednesday evening, Mrs. Flynn roasted broccoli, and chicken, and cooked French fries, and packed all of it up in to-go containers, to bring for a family dinner at my sister’s house, just a mile from our house.

Those are all my favorite foods. Kate cooked them because she thought I was done with the brick, and would want to celebrate with a delicious dinner. 

My daughter Pia makes a plate at family dinner. My plate is in the foreground.

Instead, I watched my family do exactly that. I gnawed at another Milk and Cookies brick; I didn’t have any more of the peanut butter one.

The brick didn’t satisfy my hunger. And the smell of roasted chicken and fries taunted me. 

I grew resentful as my children and their cousins left uneaten meat on their chicken bones before running off to play. I turned to the comfort of food, as one does. In one sitting, I ate an entire brick. I chided myself for being piggish with my bricks.

Later, as I lay in bed hungry, I scolded myself for not leaving a bit of brick for a midnight snack. Of course, I now realize that I could have just gone to the package and gotten another brick.

But that night it didn’t occur to me. With the wisdom of hindsight, I know why. By Wednesday night, my brain had entered The Brick Mist.

I lay in bed hungry, confused, and foggy.

Thursday would be no better.

I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so I can’t explain what happened to me.

I do know that when American prisoners are fed as punishment the horrific concoction known as nutraloaf, most of them lose their appetite, and some describe experiencing an altered emotional state. The brick — never intended to replace all meals — had the same effect.

The Brick Mist.

When I woke up on Thursday morning, I let myself lie in bed longer than I usually do. And I found myself craving the Chocolate Mint Keto Brick I was planning to eat that morning.

It was a strange craving, because I knew the chocolate mint flavor would taste like toothpaste blended with butter, and somehow doused with burnt coffee. I’d grown expert at predicting how Keto Bricks would taste. I knew that one would be bad. And still, I craved it — both because I was hungry, and because my brain wanted the variety of the mint; I had allowed myself to imagine it would be a kind of créme de menthe ecstasy for the palate. 

In a hazy delirium, I imagined the mint leaves dancing out of the brick, and surrounding me with a veritable cornucopia of flavor.

Eventually, I got out of bed, put on my slippers, and got the brick. I gnawed at a corner. I crashed back into reality. I had been wrong about the ecstasy, and right about the flavor. It was toothpaste and butter, seeded with some bits of crunchy substance I couldn’t identify.

I hardly touched my brick that day. I couldn’t stand the thought of more brick in my mouth. I couldn’t abide the sensation of that melted brick on my teeth. 

But I also knew that I needed the brick. I was hungry. My head was foggy. I had no energy. And I knew that gnawing at just one corner of the brick would pick things up for me. 

I knew the brick was both the problem and the solution. And every time I gnawed a piece off that day, I felt both gratitude and a deep sense of shame. 

Why was I eating all that brick? 

I told you I was doing it for The Pillar, and I was. 

But on Thursday, in my brick-fever-dreams, I was also doing it because I had something to prove. In my haze, the bricks became a kind of pelagian test of my own fortitude over appetites. 

In future, I’ll reject such tests. Eating nothing but bricks is not a sign of fortitude. It is a sign of folly. And I couldn’t save myself from them anyway. 

But in that moment, they took on a kind of moral significance which loomed large in my mind.

As I say, I was a bit delirious, and all of that was a bit silly.

By 7:00 in the evening, though, I’d only consumed one brick — the glob of toothpaste butter known as chocolate mint. 

I had only five hours left, readers. My plan was to eat no more brick, to stay awake until midnight, and then, with three days completed, to feast. 

But the hunger. 

In those last hours, my stomach fought back against brick fest. I’d consumed some 5,000 calories over three days, and none of them had come from a balanced meal. In some parts of the world — North Korea, for example — that would be typical. But I’m an American, and I’m accustomed to eating like an American, and a portly one at that. 

With five hours to go, I was lightheaded. I was achy. I was hungry, for a mouthful of something real.

So I offered up my hunger for actually hungry people around the world. I prayed that the God of abundance would fill them with every good thing.

I aimed for midnight. 

By 9:30, I knew I’d never make it. The only thing that might strengthen me enough was the thing that revolted me the most: more brick.

Defeated, I opened the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup brick. I gnawed at an edge. Mrs. Flynn joined me for a snack, she with hummus and roasted tomatoes, and me with my brick.

I gnawed for a while, then went to bed. 

I woke up on Friday thinking about that peanut butter cup brick. It had been tolerable, which meant it was the best thing I’d had in days. I still had three-quarters of it left. 

I could have it for breakfast. 

Clearly, I was still delirious.

I went with a cheese and green chile omelet, instead. I chewed every bite. I never had a meal that made me feel more dignified. 

I put the remaining Keto Bricks on a high shelf in my office. I’ll save them for a nuclear holocaust. Or in case those guys get us some more subscribers, I guess.

Did I mention that I really love The Pillar?

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Please be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us. We need it.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

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