Archive | November, 2008

Come look inside John Paul II’s Vatican

November 24, 2008


“Pope John Paul II: An Intimate Life,”

by Caroline Pigozzi

One thing you have to say for Caroline Pigozzi: She’s got guts.

The French journalist talked her way into getting behind the scenes at the Vatican to observe the late Pope John Paul II in his day-to-day rituals inside St. Peter’s, inside the offices of the Holy See, and inside the papal apartment.

Once she gets her toe in the Vatican door, she meets and befriends the right people who open yet more doors, and her persistence at documenting what she see and what she hears makes — surprisingly for me — interesting reading.

As I was, you may be poped-out on John Paul by now, but this very different, detailed look at the life of a pope isn’t so much about what the pope said or did as it is about how the pope lived: what he enjoyed, whose company he relished, how he operated as the leader of a world-wide church. With the “ski” at the end of my name, it was interesting for me to read about the special treatment Polish clergy and seminarians received and about the “parallel curia” of Poles that some accused the former Karol Wojtyla of building at the Vatican. Fair warning: Pigozzi as an author is pretty much a hero-worshiper, so you’re not going to read about the dark side of John Paul (if there is one) in this book published under the Faith Words imprint (

You don’t have to read this book to feel that you know what John Paul II stood for, but if you want to know more about the man and how he lived, Pigozzi has detail after detail — some as innocuous as who polished the pope’s shoes — that give insight into the whole man. -bz
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Wild turkey getaway

November 19, 2008

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With only two days left in the Wisconsin wild turkey season, I decided to go out this morning for one last try. I pulled onto a small piece of private property near Somerset about 8:15 and was hoping a flock of birds would be scratching around somewhere on the property.

I walked around for a little bit, then sat down and tried some hen calling. I thought I heard a hen yelp back once or twice, but nothing showed, so I moved to a section of woods behind the landowner’s house. He said turkeys often cruise through this area, so I decided to check it out. It was the last spot I had planned to try.

I walked a short distance, then came to a spot where the terrain begins to slope down to the St. Croix River. I heard some shuffling in the leaves and thought it was a deer. Then, to my surprise, a turkey appeared about 30 or 40 yards away. Had I been ready with my shotgun, it would have been an easy shot on this hen. Instead, I had to put my gun to my shoulder as the bird went into some brush after spotting me.

I could still see the hen in between the trees and felt I had a makable shot, so I fired. After a brief pause, the bird flew off unscathed. Then, the air exploded with the takeoffs of about a dozen more birds that spooked at the sound of the shot.

So, that was it. These birds were not coming back anytime soon, so I packed up and left for home and, eventually, the office. It was exciting to get up close and personal with these birds, but I was a little disappointed about not making the shot.

In the end, I chose to thank God for such a great morning in the woods and for being able to see some of his creatures. I also reminded myself that God had answered my prayer this morning, which was that he would bring a bird to me and that I would get a makable shot. Both happened, I just didn’t connect. It was a case of what my Dad likes to call “pilot error.”

To offset the disappointment, I recalled some of the other successful hunts I’ve had and the animals I have been fortunate enough to harvest this year — two turkeys during the spring in Minnesota and Wisconsin, a turkey in the fall in Minnesota and a deer on the Minnesota firearms openerj Nov. 8. There’s plenty of meat in my freezer, so I have lots of good meals of wild game to look forward to.

Not only that, I leave Friday for Great Falls, Mont. where I will be hunting elk and mule deer with my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, and their Grandpa Bob Guditis. It should be lots of fun. I pray that God will bring animals into range and that he will help us shoot straight!

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Prayback time

November 17, 2008


I picked up my son Andy’s deer from Ptacek’s IGA supermarket in Prescott, Wis. today. I was on my way back to the office after interviewing the newly-elected mayor of Hampton, Paye Flomo, a native of Liberia who’s also Catholic.

After picking up the processed venison, which included several packages of maple sticks, I went on an important errand to a destination just a few blocks from the IGA. I paid a visit to the landowners who generously gave permission for Andy and I to hunt on their land.

After pulling into the driveway of Leonard and Judy Beskar, I rang their doorbell with a package of maple sticks in hand. Leonard answered the door and I was able to offer him a small token of appreciation for letting us hunt.

Then, a short while later, I was able to give him something even more important — prayers. Leonard has suffered a variety of health problems over the last two decades and he currently is having lots of trouble with his lungs. In fact, he was hooked up to an oxygen machine when he answered the door.

I have felt a special prayer burden for Leonard over the years and our family prays for him daily at the dinner table. I also pray for him on my own and offer up prayers during my weekly hour of eucharistic adoration. On this day, I felt a special calling to pray for him, and that led me to his doorstep in Prescott.

As I laid my hand on him to pray, I thought about today’s Gospel reading from Luke, in which the blind beggar cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” He refused to be silent until Jesus came over to talk to him. Then, he simply asked for his sight.

Sometimes, we make prayer too complicated. All God wants, I think, is for us to come to him simply and ask for his help and his healing. Then, when the prayer is finished, just trust in him.

Seeing Leonard’s face renewed my desire to continue to pray for him. I was glad to have the chance to pray with him and to tell Leonard and Judy about the thrill of being with Andy when he harvested his first deer. Most, if not all, hunters, always will remember their first deer. I know it was a thrill for Andy and it is something we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

May God grant Leonard healing and encouragement as he continues to battle health problems.

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Making the call

November 14, 2008


For the first time in my life, I called a game warden to report a violation. Actually, it was two violations that occurred Saturday on the firearms deer opener. The first was an act of vandalism in which someone tipped over my tripod stand. The second was an act of trespassing. Someone had walked across the field where my son, Andy, and I were hunting and went into the woods. He shot twice, but we never saw him.

On Monday, I decided to report it to the local game warden in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota where we were hunting. His name is Tyler Quandt and I had a good conversation with him. He listened to my story, then said he would pay a visit to the property to check things out.

That’s all I could ask. I doubt he’ll catch the trespasser, but he is going to talk to the owners of the neighboring property, who just bought it within the last year. I have a feeling someone from that group crossed over onto the land we were hunting. There was no vehicle parked nearby, which leads me to believe it was someone who lived close by.

It’s disappointing to deal with such hassles on opening day. I always look forward to that first morning in the stand and I really enjoy the anticipation of a deer walking quietly in front of me. Acts of vandalism and trespassing can ruin the mood. I had to exercise a lot of perseverance and faith to remain in the stand long enough to finally shoot a deer. Fortunately, God was faithful once again and I was able to harvest a buck.

But, this incident paled in comparison to what my father-in-law, Bob Guditis, experienced near Great Falls, Mont. He was hunting there a couple of weeks ago with his daughter and two sons-in-law when a neighbor roared up to them in his pickup truck and accused them of trespassing on his land. Bob is a civil engineer who is very smart and careful when it comes to land boundaries and he knew he and the others were on public land that was legal to hunt.

The landowner screamed obscenities at Bob’s daughter and threatened her and the others. Bob ended up calling the game warden and the landowner was charged with assault and illegally driving a vehicle on public land. Hopefully, that will be the last of the trouble with this hostile landowner. We will be going out there to hunt this same land at the end of next week and I’m hoping for a peaceful experience and no confrontations with this guy.

This is one aspect of hunting that I find extremely challenging. Some people get carried away with greed when it comes to land and the animals that live there. They want it all to themselves and will resort to hostile means to keep others away.

But, we must be willing to share the land and share the harvest of game and fish. And, we should do it with a hospitable spirit, recognizing that we all are created equal and that God offers the natural resources for everyone to enjoy.

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Deer opener challenges

November 10, 2008


Saturday’s firearms deer opener was a lesson in perseverance for my hunting party, which consisted of my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy, my friend, Bernie Schwab, and his son, Dan, my brother Paul and our friend, Jim Grill.

By Friday afternoon, I knew this was going to be a tough one. First, there was cold and wind swooping in to greet the state’s deer hunters. Then, there was the sickness I was battling as I prepared to get up at 3 a.m. Saturday and head down to Red Wing.

The good news is, I felt pretty decent when we began our one-hour drive at 4 a.m. So, I was hopeful I could last in the stand as long as it would take to see a deer.

Honestly, I was hoping my wait wouldn’t be long. Based on the location of my stand and the success we had had there the last two years, there was reason for optimism.

Unfortunately, my high hopes were dashed when I got to the stand between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and found that someone had vandalized it. The heavy tripod stand had been tipped over by vandals. We had just repaired it the previous weekend and got it ready to go, so someone had done this within the last week. Knowing the commotion probably would spook any deer nearby, I decided to tip the stand back up. Hopefully, deer might come through later on.

It took some serious huffing and puffing, but I was able to lift the stand up. I had to bend the shooting rail to straighten it back out, then it was fine. I really felt I was in a good spot and I put my trust in God and said a little prayer asking his blessing on my hunt.

Then, a little after 9:30 a.m., I saw a doe running out into the picked soybean field. She was at about 100 yards, running from my left to my right. Momentarily, I wondered why she would be running, then figured a buck might be chasing her. Seconds later, my suspicions were confirmed when a small buck came running out into the field after her. I tracked the buck through my scope and pulled on the trigger of my 12-gauge shotgun.

Nothing happened. I had forgotten to take the safety off. Oh well, it was fun just seeing the deer, and I figured I would see more. I recently had read that deer often move between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so I had four good hours ahead in which to see deer.

By that time, I had come to a grudging standoff with the cold. Though I was uncomfortable, I was not miserable and, therefore, I vowed to stay in the stand until 1:30, when I would leave to get my son, Andy, who was stationed a few hundred yards to the north.

I figured he would get a shot at something before then, as Bernie’s son Dan had done from that same spot the previous two opening days. I did hear a shot coming from his direction and thought he had taken it, but we later figured out that a trespasser had walked into the woods between us and taken the shot.

The deer sighting gave me the confidence to stay put, and my patience was rewarded at about 12:30, when a deer walked out into the field at about 100-125 yards. It was slowly walking and feeding, right where the other two deer had run across.

This time, I very deliberately slipped the safety off of my shotgun and drew a bead on the deer. I fired and watched it take a little hop, leading me to believe I had hit it. Then, to my surprise it turned toward me and came running right at me. It reached the woods and was about 40 yards away. I shot again, then the deer turned to my left and paused briefly in a broadside position. I fired again, using the last shell in my chamber.

The deer then bolted down a trail and into some thick cover. Not good, I thought. I figured at least one of my shots had made a fatal hit, maybe all three. I waited just a few minutes, then climbed down to start looking for the deer. I knew it was a buck because I had spotted a small set of antlers while it was running into the woods.

I went right to the deer trail leading into cover and started looking for blood. I caught sight of a drop of blood on a leaf and knew I was on the right track. However, the terrain started to drop down and get really thick. I scanned the cover, then saw a head poking through a pile of downed tree branches.

Amazingly, the deer had veered off of the trail, crawled under the branches and turned around to face the area from which he had come. He probably was looking for the source of the danger he had just encountered. Immediately, I knew it would be tough work getting him out of there. Thankfully, a next-door neighbor who owns a four-wheeler gladly agreed to come over and help me.

That’s when one of the highlights of the day occurred. The man’s two young sons came with us and seemed to enjoy the little jaunt across the soybean field and into the woods. They were thrilled to see the deer and be part of the process of taking it out of the woods. Their dad is a hunter himself who recently had missed a shot at a big buck in Wisconsin with his bow. He was still a little bummed about that and was hoping to get back there for another try.

Meanwhile, he spent opening morning hunting a few miles down Highway 61 near Frontenac. But, he didn’t see anything and he was going to go out in the afternoon and sit in a blind he had set up on his property. When we got back to our van with the deer, he was able to see his blind at the far end of a field and we watched as two deer, first a buck and then a doe, walked right in front of his blind. I felt bad about it, but he didn’t mind. He had six more days left to hunt.

Later that afternoon, my friend, Bernie, shot a beautiful 10-point buck from a stand in which Andy and I had sat the past three openers. We had decided to switch locations this year and it paid off handsomely for Bernie. I was absolutely thrilled for him and proud to shake hands with him after I laid eyes on the buck.

My son, Joe, also connected on a whitetail, a beautiful adult doe that we were able to give to my brother, Paul, who did not see anything. That may have been the biggest shock of the day. Paul has hunted the same farm at the same spot for the last five years and shot a buck on opening day all five years. This time, he got blanked while hunting there with Jim Grill.

So, all in all, it was a successful, strange and challenging deer opener. But, as always, I thank God for the opportunity to hunt, for the fellowship with friends and family, and for the venison that soon will find a home in our freezers.

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Don’t fear reading memoir of life with the mentally challenged

November 7, 2008


“Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark,”
by Kathleen C. Berken
Some people can flat out write.

Kathy Berken is one of those people.

You might be the kind of reader who shies away from stories about the mentally challenged, adults with Down’s syndrome, the cognitively disabled, because Berken’s book is a memoir of her time serving God’s children who fit those categories. If you do you’ll be missing a truly remarkable piece of literature.

“Walking on a Rolling Deck” has drama, empathy, irony, humor and insight into the human character of every one of us. Developed from her journal during nine years at The Arch, the L’Arche (rhymes with “marsh”) community in Clinton, Iowa, Berken’s short book — published by Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minn. ( — opens her life to us, and in doing so touches ours.

And, Lord, can she write.

Page after page she paints word pictures that will have those who love good writing going back to re-read and re-read again. Finding a link with Mother Teresa’s admitted dark night of the soul, Berken writes:
“The serpent of loneliness can and will slither up the tree of despair and hiss in your ear words of doubt that burrow deep into your soul.”

She describes her years there as both growth-filled and as scary. There’s wiping butts and brushing teeth, and heart-warming, sacred moments. A spiritual person, she seeks God in all she does, and sometimes she finds him. If Kathy Berken is anything, she’s honest. She writes not about a sugar-coated experience but about real life with real people.
She puts it this ways:
“Living in a L’Arche community isn’t always like taking a vacation with your lover God to an idyllic Caribbean beach. Some days it’s more like climbing to the top of Mount Everest with God as your Sherpa, with times of feeling that the Sherpa has wandered off.”

Apt maritime metaphor

Berken plays on the translation of L’Arche as an ark, and she uses that sea-going metaphor well to describe the reality of life in a home with four people who need help with many of life’s tasks, who have a variety of pathological issues, and who have the strength of an adult but the mental ability of a four-year-old. But she says it so much better than I:
“When I came her I had this fantastically idealistic notion that God sent me to live for a while on this ark, and I had an image in my head of people like me walking up the gangplank, meeting God at the top, and being given a clipboard with the day’s assignment on it. . . . That’s a wonderful fantasy – to be the cruise director with a loveboat smile pasted on my face – but I can’t live it because the ark I’m on is rolling and heaving and I’m sick to my stomach, not to mention sad and lonely. I feel like the galley slave, the grunt who swabs the deck, the second to last to go down with the ship.”

Berken writes conversationally, like your best friend telling you all about her day but in brief, well-edited chapters that are never more than a few pages.
You’ll love the poignant story about being served Christmas breakfast by one of the people whom she served everyday.
You wonder how she ever stayed nine years – and how she survived, to be frank – when she learned first that she had breast cancer and later when a core member (that’s what L’Arche calls the mentally challenged) turns violent.
Read “Walking on a Rolling Deck” to find out.
And to be inspired by a great story well told. — bz

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Ready for deer

November 3, 2008


Saturday was a beautiful day — great weather for the start of November. It didn’t feel like deer hunting weather, but I had deer hunting on my mind as I prepared stands for the upcoming opener on Saturday.

I went down to Red Wing with my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, and my friend Bernie Schwab and his son, Chris. Chris is too young to hunt, but will be sitting with Bernie on opening morning.

Our first job was to set up Joe’s stand on a new piece of property we first discovered while turkey hunting in the spring. We saw several deer while out in the woods and Joe said he wanted to hunt there in the fall. So, we talked to the landowner and got permission.

I dropped Joe and Andy off for some scouting two weeks ago while I went turkey hunting on another farm. They saw several deer, including a nice buck. We put Joe’s stand up in the area where he saw the buck. It’s on one side of a ravine, with a trail going along the ravine near his stand and another trail crossing the ravine nearby. I think he’ll see something there if he sits long enough.

Next, we went to a farm that Andy and I will be hunting. The landowner is very nice and asked if he could hunt with us this year. Of course, we said yes and brought a stand down for him. The stand was made by one of my co-workers at The Catholic Spirit, Jim Graham. He also built the stand we set up for Joe. First, we checked out a ground blind where Andy will sit. Bernie’s son, Dan, shot a deer from that stand last year and got a shot at one the year before, but did not recover it. We know it will produce if Andy sits there all morning.

Then came the hardest task of the day — fixing a tripod stand that I’ll be using. The July storm that hit the area knocked off a large tree branch that fell onto the stand, damaging the shooting rail. With some hard work and prayer, we were able to fix it. We have shot deer from that spot the last two years and there is lots of deer sign there this year. I’m optimistic.

Finally, we went to another property to set up a ground blind for Bernie and Chris. We were having trouble finding a good spot, then I discovered a heavily used trail in the woods that crosses a ravine. So, they set up a ground blind nearby. We went to the property next door to drop off a chair at Dan’s stand and then went home. All in all, it was a fun and productive trip. We’re all ready to go for Saturday.

Here’s the best part — the weather is supposed to turn cold at the end of the week. By Saturday, highs will only be in the 30s. I have always seen more deer on days like this. In fact, they may move throughout the day. If we can dress warm enough, we all should have a good chance of seeing deer.

Fortunately, I already have practice sitting out in the cold. It was very cold the first day of my fishing trip on Lake of the Woods last week. I was able to dress warm enough for that. I doubt that Saturday will be any worse. Hopefully, the deer will find the weather to their liking.

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