Archive | September, 2008

It’s okay, Catholics, we can laugh

September 30, 2008

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“The Book of Catholic Jokes,”

by Deacon Tom Sheridan

Did you know that they had automobiles in Jesus’ time?

Yes, the Bible says that the disciples were all of one Accord.

Yeah, you may have heard some of them before.

And yes, Tom Sheridan admits that some of these may have been jokes to which a Catholic angle has been added to make them churchy.

But Sheridan, who was a writer and editor for the Chicago Sun-Times before he was a deacon, has nicely selected jokes that folks with decent moral standards can tell in polite company, and Acta Publications has packaged them well as a handy little and inexpensive paperback.

Did you hear the one about the man who opened a dry-cleaning business next door to the convent? He knocked on the door and asked the Mother Superior if she had any dirty habits.

To be sure there are some clinkers in the bunch, and some moldy oldies. And I don’t know why every priest in a joke has to have an Irish surname; hell0 — you don’t have to be Irish to be a priest, or to be funny.

With most of the quips you don’t have to be an “insider,” so to speak, although I’m not sure the jokes that take off on the differences between, say, the Franciscans and the Jesuits, aren’t going to have some Catholics scratching their heads. But maybe not.

For the most part the collection is good stuff — good enough to make you crack a smile even though you may have heard them before.

There’s at least one great priest golf joke, a cute one about a rabbi and a priest, a funny Pope Benedict XVI joke and a clever atheist joke. And as someone who can rarely remember a joke, what a good resource; I’m sure “The Book of Catholic Jokes” will end up on a number of reference shelves in rectories. — bz

One Sunday morning a priest saw a little boy staring intently at the large plaque on the church wall. The plaque was covered with names, and flags hung on either side of it.

“Father,” asked the boy, “what’s this?”

He replied, “It’s a memorial to all the men and women who died in the service.”

They stood together in silence for a moment. Finally, the boy asked with genuine concern: “Was it at the eight or the ten-thirty Mass?”

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‘The Shack’: Interesting novel/catechism turns hateful

September 29, 2008

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‘The Shack,’

by Wm. Paul Young

Wm. Paul Young had me for 178 pages.

Through 178 pages the author of this New York Times bestseller offered a creative approach to teaching readers about all kinds of elements of Christian faith.

In the paperback version of this “catechism-as-dramatic-novel/fantasy,” the first 178 pages are a painless way to be forced to think about our — yours and mine — relationship with God.

Through a hurting father’s meeting with the triune God, the first 178 pages of “The Shack” present convincing explanations about the concept of free will, unconditional love, good and evil, human frailties, the Trinity and more.

For 178 pages Young, the child of missionary parents, makes us reflect about our image and understanding of God, reinforcing the idea that God is always with us, always loves us, even as we stumble and fall.

Then comes page 179.

Religion one of ‘trinity of terrors’?

That’s where Young’s Jesus starts a diatribe against organized religion, using the kind of language Catholics used to see only in the hate pamphlets that carried drawings of the pope as the devil — horns and tail included.

The character of Jesus who inhabits Young’s fanciful “shack” says he’s “not too big on religion,” and lumps religion in with politics and economics in a way most Christians would describe as, well, unchristian.

Religion, politics and economics, this Jesus claims, “are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three?”

But there’s more.

Young’s Jesus says, “Put simply, these terrors are tools that many use to prop up their illusions of security and control. People are afraid of uncertainty, afraid of the future. These institutions, these structures and ideologies, are all a vain effort to create some sense of certainty and security where there isn’t any. It’s all false!”

But wait, there’s more.

Two pages later it is all the world’s systems that are the problem. Jesus of “The Shack” says,

“Institutions, systems, ideologies, and all the vain, futile efforts of humanity that go with them are everywhere, and interaction with all of it is unavoidable. But I can give you freedom to overcome any system of power in which you find yourself, be it religious, economic, social, or political. You will grow in the freedom to be inside or outside all kinds of systems and to move freely between and among them. Together, you and I can be in it and not of it.”

So, none of what humanity — created in the image and likeness of God — has developed through the centuries does any good? It’s “well-intentioned” but evil? Hard to believe. And, if you’re like me, those last couple of sentences in the quote above sound similar to the Catholic Church’s advice that its members are to be counter cultural, in the world but not of it, part of society but not caught up in its less noble pursuits. But you don’t hear Young’s Jesus acknowledging that.

Now who’s being judgmental?

Perhaps the attack on organized religion wouldn’t come off as so hypocritical if it hadn’t come after a whole chapter in which Mackenzie — the book’s main character — goes through an agonizing trial that teaches him not to be judgmental.

Far be it for any Catholic to ignore the failings of our church — its members and its leaders — throughout history and even to the present day. But any author does readers an enormous disservice by ignoring the positive motives, positive actions and positive results that organized religions have brought to the world throughout history and continue to bring today.

Our churches — of many denominations — deserve credit for upholding moral standards that easily go by the wayside in a laissez-faire society.

The Catholic Church in particular has earned the admiration of many for creating the concept of higher education.

People — organized through their church affiliations — feed the hungry, care for the sick, shelter the homeless — in a better way when they do so in organized ways.

The list could go on. Sadly, Wm. Paul Young has chosen to ignore the good and instead judge others in a way he tells his readers not to.

Sad, too, is that it took 179 pages for him to show his true colors. — bz
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Preparing for the hunt

September 26, 2008

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A successful deer hunt starts in September. And, I’m not talking about the bowhunting season, which opened Sept. 13.

I’m talking about the firearms season, which begins Saturday, Nov. 8. Even though it is more than a month away and we haven’t even had our first frost yet, now’s the time to get ready.

That lesson was brought home last weekend when I went down to visit one of the farms we hunt near Red Wing. I went up the hill from the landowner’s house to check on a tripod stand we used last year and had left set up. Turns out a large branch from a nearby tree had been dislodged by the storm that went through the area in July and was laying across the top of the stand. The impact of the fall, plus the weight of the branch, bent the shooting rail surrounding the swivel chair.

So, we had to make plans to come back and repair the damage. In addition, the landowner said he would like to hunt with us, so we are going to help him get started. We scouted his farm for a good place for him to hunt, plus I’m going to help him sight in his new shotgun. Then, on top of that, we need to sight in our own shotguns for slug hunting.

It’s work, but I enjoy it. We got one of my son’s shotguns sighted in earlier this week and I’m going to work on the landowner’s one next. I belong to a local gun club, which makes this task much easier. With a rifle range that has targets set up at 25, 50, 100, 200 and 300 yards — plus shooting benches — we will be able to sight in our firearms with a high degree of confidence and accuracy. Plus, we can identify any problems that come up and will have time to resolve them.

Such preparation is huge. There’s nothing worse than having a curve ball thrown at you on opening day and coming home empty handed because of it. I know. It’s happened to me before and continues to happen despite my best efforts at preparation. One curve ball this year is the high number of downed trees from the July storm that brought a tornado through the area. My brother went to the farm he hunts and his stand was thrown so far away from the tree it was attached to that he never found it.

So, here’s a gentle reminder to get ready for the upcoming firearms deer opener by doing two important things: 1. Check the land you’ll be hunting, even if you hunt it every year, along with your stands, and 2. Be sure to sight in your firearms, even if you have left them alone since last season, and, especially, if you have left them alone since last year.

The sad truth in deer hunting is that you often don’t get a second chance at a nice deer if you miss the first one.

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Bridge and bass

September 19, 2008

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I took a little detour yesterday on my way to some bass fishing on the Minneapolis city lakes. The weather was beautiful and I relished the chance to do some late-summer fishing.

It so happened that this was also the day the new 35W bridge opened. I couldn’t resist the chance to cross the bridge, so I altered my normal travel route to do so.

Over the course of my 47 years, I had crossed the old bridge many times. So, from that respect, another bridge crossing was nothing special. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like for the hundreds of folks who were on the bridge when it collapsed. When you’re on the bridge, you don’t get a sense of the vertical drop to the river. It’s like when you are flying in a commercial jet, you don’t get a sense of how high you’re flying.

Thus, it was hard to have any fear about crossing. Actually, if anything, I was more confident than usual. After all, the bridge is brand new, built with the latest and greatest technology. Hopefully, this fact will put everyone’s fears to rest, though I wonder if any of the collapse survivors will ever again feel comfortable crossing a bridge.

That is why it is important to keep them in our prayers. The effects of trauma can be long lasting. I know I still struggle with that in terms of my first wife’s death from cancer. For a while, I had an inordinate fear of the disease, worrying that every ache or pain was a tumor.

That has abated, due, I think, to the grace of God over the passage of time. I believe God wants to heal everyone who has suffered some form of trauma. We just need to ask him and be willing to trust, not only his plan, but his timing. It may take a while — longer than we would like — but God is faithful and those who wait on him are never disappointed in the long run.

As for the bass, they were tight-lipped on this day. Every year, I hear how good fall bass fishing can be and every year I struggle to catch them in the fall. Someday, I hope to figure it out.

I don’t walk away too disappointed, however. I’ve had the best summer of bass fishing in my entire life, so I am grateful for the great outings of July and August. I’ll try for fall bass one more time before winterizing my boat. I promised my friend, Mark, I would take him out. Maybe I’ll learn how to catch fall bass by then.

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Rain forest bass?

September 16, 2008

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I am continually amazed at the number of priests I meet who enjoy the outdoors. I encountered yet another one yesterday after the ordination and installation Mass of Bishop John LeVoir in New Ulm.

As I was leaving, I saw Father Greg Schaffer, who serves as a missionary for our archdiocese in Venezuela. To my surprise, he said he reads and enjoys my monthly outdoors column in The Catholic Spirit.

We got to talking about the outdoors and he offered a unique opportunity. Not far from the Venezuelan mission is a fishing lodge that has become a hit with outdoors enthusiasts around the country and the world, including those who live in this archdiocese. The featured sport fish is called the peacock bass and it is said to rival the largemouth bass in fighting energy, plus it grows substantially bigger.

Father Schaffer said he would love to have me come down, visit the mission and fish for peacock bass. It’s very tempting. I think I’ll put that on my wish list. For now, I’ll fish for largemouths closer to home.

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Sex and a 17th century pope? More innuendo than facts, but lots of interesting facts, too

September 15, 2008

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“MISTRESS OF THE VATICAN,”
by Eleanor Herman

When I’m at the bookstore or library I tend to pick up anything that has “Vatican” in the title, so I couldn’t pass up something as titillating as “Mistress of the Vatican” when publisher William Morrow offered a review copy.

The jacket cover suggested hanky-panky with the bare-shouldered portrait of a beautiful woman with a painting of St. Peter’s Basilica and Square covering her, uh, feminine charms, and a subtitle, “The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope.”

The adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover still applies.

Author Eleanor Herman offers no real evidence that 17th century Pope Innocent X had a sexual relationship with Olimpia, his sister-in-law, as the term “mistress” would suggest.

She offers no facts that Olimpia was pope, although she apparently was extremely influential in papal decisions.

Even the cover artwork is misleading: You’d think that the beautiful woman depicted is Olimpia, but no; the jacket painting is of “Venus at the Mirror,” by Tiziano.

Despite that, this book was hard to put down.

She’s done the research

Herman has culled the diaries and papers of Vatican officials of the period and the works of commentators during the mid 1600s, and what she’s come up with are some things about our church at the time that today we’d consider unthinkable. The nepotism, the bribery, the selling of church offices, the misuse of church funds — they saturate these 419 pages, and that’s without the bibliography and index.

Even those of us who love our church ought to know that at times in the past some pretty ridiculous things have been done in the name of our faith. Herman points out the silliness of some of the practices surrounding relics, for one thing. An Italian church claimed to have preserved the umbilical cord of Jesus, another drops of the Virgin Mary’s breast milk.

What gets tiresome, though, is the author’s tendency to slip into extended “filler” — background information that seemingly has little or nothing to do with the story of Donna Olimpia and her brother-in-law the pope.

Early on she extrapolates the cultural mores of the era and presumes much. While there is no factual evidence that Olimpia did this or that, women of the times did things this way, so Olimpia must have as well, she posits. It’s a bit too much innudendo for my taste.

Evidence shows Olimpia’s influence

There seems to be little doubt, though, that the widow of Pope Innocent X’s brother was extremely influential in day-to-day decisions concerning the Papal States. The evidence author Herman brings to light shows that Olimpia’s fingerprints are on the appointments of cardinals, on the finances of the church, on the church’s relationship with the governments and royalty of nations such as France and Spain, among others, and much, much more.

Be ready to read a boatload of language pointing out how anti-woman the Catholic Church is and has been through the ages. And the author uses some misleading descriptions that makes you wonder if she made this stuff up or is actually quoting some 17th century theologian or document.

Take Holy Orders: She writes that priestly ordination was “a sacrament that was thought to tattoo the human soul with an invisible but ineradicable seal that prevented marriage.”

Tattoo the soul?

I hadn’t heard that one before. But then, I really hadn’t been up on some of the less-flattering history of our church, like the regular elevation of papal nephews to rank of cardinal although they might still be in their teens, the regular practice of popes to appoint their relatives to jobs in the Vatican, the fawning of European royalty to curry the pope’s favor with expensive gifts, etc.

The saving grace is that at some point Innocent did have a crisis of conscience and put the dignity and integrity of the church first, and that many of the laughable practices of those times are long gone.

So read this. It’s not sexy. It promises one thing and delivers another, but it’s still a good read. — bz

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On the air

September 9, 2008

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I got a unique opportunity on Friday to talk about faith and the outdoors on the air. I was invited by host Paul Sadek to appear on Relevant Radio for his weekly program called City Winds.

The invitation came earlier this summer and I jumped at the chance. First of all, I like Paul and think he does an excellent job on the air. Second, the outdoors is one of my passions and I enjoy talking about it whenever I can.

It ended up being a fun time and I would love the chance to do it again. Paul thinks that may happen. I told him it would be even better if we could do it from a fishing boat. But, then again, I generally don’t talk while I fish, which my wife will tell you.

Here’s the link to my interview with Paul Sadek.

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Greed gone wild

September 2, 2008

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I was excited on Saturday morning as I prepared to make the trip to Rogers and the Cabela’s retail store located there. I had received a flier the week before and there was a spotting scope by a company named Barska that was going to be on sale for $39.99 for four hours only on Saturday. It normally sells for $99.99.

I called two days before the sale and talked to someone in the optics department. He said they had about 60 in stock, but I should try to come early if I could. Sometimes, he said, items on sale can sellout in half an hour. Originally, I was going to try to get there when the store opened at 8. Instead, I got there at 8:40.

I rushed back to the optics department and looked for the spotting scopes. They were gone. Long gone, said one of the men behind the counter. In fact, they sold out in five minutes. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

That disappointment turned to anger when I found out what had happened. Some guys showed up as early as 7:15 and there was a mad rush to the optics department when the doors opened at 8. Guys were loading up on the spotting scopes, with some filling shopping carts with them. A checkout clerk said she saw one guy with 10.

I speculated on what a person would do with 10 spotting scopes. Sell them in the parking lot for a higher price to those who didn’t get there fast enough? No, the clerk said. The buyers would go home and sell them on e-Bay.

To me, that is not only unethical, it’s downright disgusting. I call it a classic case of greed. Unfortunately, Cabela’s could have prevented such a thing from happening by following the warning it printed on the flier I received in the mail. On the last page was a note that said Cabela’s reserves the right to restrict quantities. In this case, that didn’t happen and lots of people, including me, walked away disappointed.

To make matters worse, Cabela’s was selling a spotting scope almost identical to the one on sale, but this one sold for $119.99. In fact, I picked one up and went to the optics counter, thinking I had found one of the scopes on sale. That’s when he informed me of the higher-priced near copy.

I want to think well of Cabela’s and not accuse the store of bait and switch. But, it wouldn’t be hard to have that suspicion, based on what I saw. I made complaints to several people in the store and was offered a $30 discount on another spotting scope of my choice. That’s only half of the discount offered on the sale item, but at least it was something.

What bothers me more is the greed. Sure, it’s legal to buy down the inventory of a sale item, but I think it violates the spirit of the sale. Cabela’s, I’m sure, intended for lots more folks to be able to take advantage of the sale price. And, I suspect store managers will be much more inclined to exercise their quantity limits in the future.

For now, I merely say to those who grabbed as many spotting scopes as they could on Saturday and then tried to resell them — lighten up on the greed.

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