Archive | December, 2009

Weekday homily collection a good daily prayer tool

December 29, 2009


“Homilies for Weekdays,”

(Solemnities, Feasts and Memorials)talafous-homilies-cover

by Don Talafous, OSB

 Add to your daily prayer during 2010 by reading and reflecting with Benedictine Father Don Talafous and his pithy, challenging homilies.

The Collegeville priest once more has collected scores of his homilies for weekdays and feasts in a slim but dense 80 pages. You start highlighting cogent thoughts and phrases, and before you know it you’ve highlighted three, four or five sentences. The content is simply that good.

Father Don gives practical, how-to advice, brief church history lessons, and for scores of saints shows how their lives connect with ours today.

 The collection starts with January 1 and follows the liturgical calendar then through December. It’s a great start: “The entrance of the son of God into human life . . . tells us that the new is possible. In our world, in our lives, this year! . . . each of us is reminded that this year can be different, that with God’s grace and our openness to it we can make changes, stumbling as they may be, and allow grace to fashion us in the likeness of Jesus Christ.”

Not every day is published here, but plenty of them are, and plenty are gems. Father Don connects the subject of the feast or the saint of the day to at least one of the readings for that day. Here are a handful of examples:

  • For Jan. 17, St. Anthony, Abbot“We may not need to retire to a hermitage in the desert (like Anthony), but we probably would benefit from turning off the television, the radio, the iPod, and giving ourselves a little time for solitude daily. That could help us know ourselves, our real purpose, and God.”
  • For Jan. 21, St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr “Despite all the advances that have been made for their dignity and identity, women in our culture are still overwhelmingly defined in terms of sexuality. They and their bodies continue to be used to sell everything from cars to ketchup.”
  • For March 7, Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs“One thinks that the martyrs are put before us so often to embarrass us in our whining, complaining, our spiritual stinginess.”

We can do better

Throughout these brief lessons readers will notice a call to holiness; in every piece there is a reminder, a challenge, a shove of the conscience that eggs us on to be better followers of Jesus. This is a priest who knows his flock.

He knows what lay people go through in the day-to-day, the sufferings of the real world — the worries about the cost of heating the house, the ache of arthritis, fears about what the teenager in the family is doing out in the evening, the rejection of a job application, etc. And he reminds us that “the Christian life is not some difficult science but a time-tested and proven way of dealing with all that happens and is part of the fabric of daily life for any one of us.”

Readers will find Father Don pro-parent and pro-woman, and somewhat antiestablishment. Take this passage from his homily for June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul:

“The purpose of the church — the structure, sacraments, bishops, popes, etc. — is to provide the place, time and opportunity for its members to become more united with Christ, its head. Compared to this essential, the rest is all so much whipped cream. The purpose, the excuse for the church and all it involves is to make the kingdom of God visible and audible, to let God’s presence and love be evident, to ensure that God’s word is preached and heard.”

Even saints weren’t perfect

Father Don doesn’t shy away from pointing out that at times the saints quarrelled among themselves, that they erred just like us in their humanity, and that some of the things we think we know about the saints is simply myth or legend. But that doesn’t stop him for using their life stories or their legends to point us toward living holier lives.

And he isn’t afraid to note that church policies at times through the centuries did more harm than good, the approval of slavery a prime example. He fingers popes and saints for their human frailties, using those examples too to help our own understanding of our humanity, and therefore our potential to sin.

That may be best captured in his homily for the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who was both a man of gentleness and charity yet could be fierce and sarcastic in arguing a point. Here’s what Father Don wrote:

“Most of us have enough variety of gifts to similarly be burdened with, sometimes horrified by, our contradictions and a lack of simple wholeness. The lives of people like Bernard encourage us to realize that the following of Christ does not mean attaining some frozen state of perfection, but persisting in a generous and often hit-and-miss effort to love God and neighbor.”

This Liturgical Press paperback is the third edition of Father Don’s weekday homilies. You’ll find it at religious good stores and through . List price is $8.95. It’s worth three times that. — bztalafous-homilies-cover

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Wild Game Week

December 23, 2009


Last week was a wild game bonanza. I prepared venison stew with mule deer, I made grilled whitetail backstrap steaks, and I baked venison cheeseburger on a stick, which I brought to a wild game dinner hosted by a friend. The meal also included dishes prepared with moose, elk and deer.

What a bonanza! It’s no secret I’m very fond of wild game, and I love to cook it. With a freezer full of venison, there will be many more meals such as this to come. In fact, I’ve got some ground venison thawing right now for another round of cheeseburger on a stick. This time, it will be for my in-laws, Bob and Sharon Guditis, who are coming in from Great Falls to celebrate Christmas with three of their daughters who live in Minnesota with their spouses and children.

I think it’s only fitting that we make some venison for them. It was Bob who helped us get four deer in Montana last month. He should enjoy a chance to feast on the fruits of our hunt. I’m still basking in the glow of our awesome hunt during Thanksgiving week. I will cherish the memories for the rest of my life.

Although it will be a while before I hunt again, I very much enjoy the winter season because it usually means lots of wild game dinners. We are going to host one for two landowners who gave us permission to hunt deer this year. Bill and Sandy Hasselblad of Red Wing have been kind enough to invite us down both for deer and turkey hunts over the years. As it turns out, Sandy is one of Sharon’s best friends. In fact, I met Sandy and Bill because of Sharon. I now consider Sandy and Bill friends and I highly value that friendship.

I extended the dinner invitation last week when I dropped off a gift of venison summer sausage, which is an annual December tradition for me. I made the rounds to other landowners and was able to give small tokens of appreciation for letting us hunt. May God bless them abundantly this Christmas and always!

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Recipes & Religion: Feast on both food and faith

December 16, 2009


appledumpling“Sacred Feasts

From a Monastery Kitchen,”

by Brother Victor-Antoine


In the grocery produce area, without looking at the signage, can you spot the leeks?

Although I’d heard of leeks, I’d never known what a leek was — or even what a leek looked like — until a recipe in “Sacred Feasts From a Monastery kitchen” called for them.

Our neighborhood supermarket had a small stack of the onion-family root veggie — imagine a tall onion about half the height of a softball bat.

They helped to make the most delicious soup, if I do say so myself.

Leeks from the garden of Our lady of the Resurrection Monastery in upstate New York find their way into a number of the dishes that Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette shares in his latest collection of recipes and reflections.

With the feasts of the church and the saints’ days as his structure, Brother Victor-Antoine cooks his way through the calendar, walking us through his rationale for preparing specific dishes. Easter and Christmas get the attention they deserve, of course but not forgotten are the small feasts that require the serving of St. Bernadette’s Creamy Rice Pudding, for example, St. James Egg and Avocado Salad and St. Nicholas Bread.

Reviewing books for a blog on has never led me to cooking before. But how do you review a cookbook without testing a few recipes?

Soup for a saint

The St. Joseph Leek, Potato and Squash Soup intrigued me. For the monks, the March 19 Feast of St. Joseph is cause for a more festive meal than usual fare, coming during Lent as it does, and Brother Victor-Antoine pulled a number of veggies from the monastery cellar to fashion a soup he named in honor of the saint of the day.

That’s why I had to buy the leeks.

The recipe also called for onion, garlic, potatoes, and acorn squash, but truth be told I skipped the squash; never could warm up to the taste.

Thanks to watching my mom and wife, I make a pretty decent vegetable beef soup when the spirit moves me, but I’ve never made a soup in which you put the cooked ingredients into a food processor or blender to puree.

The result was an amazingly flavorful, tasty soup.

My wife suggested “doctoring” it with a bit of chicken bouillon, and that made it just about perfect.

Simple-to-follow recipes

I figured I’d better try a dessert recipe, too, and thanks to the prolific apple tree in our yard I didn’t have to shop for the filling for the “Apple Dumplings German Style” that Brother Victor-Antoine prepared for late October.

If I acknowledge that I downed five of the six apple-filled pastries, will that be evidence enough of how good they were? And why we just joined a gym?

The recipe was so simple even a journalist couldn’t screw it up.

That’s the case with most of the dishes in this 208-page hardcover work from Liguori Publications.

Some ingredients may be new to less-veteran cooks, but the step-by-step directions are thorough, clear and specific, often taking the time to explain the required technique known to good chefs but not by us some-time cooks.

You should know that the monastery diet is primarily vegetarian. Just a few of the dishes offer adding meat as an option. The monks east out of their garden and buy locally grown produce from the farms nearby. And hearty soups are a mainstay of the monastery diet.

But the French background and training of Brother Victor-Antoine pope out in hi use of wine in many of the dishes he’s gathered for the feasts of the church year.

More than a cookbook

What makes “Sacred Feasts” valuable is that as good a chef as Brother is, he’s also a wonderful teacher about both Catholic traditions and Catholic beliefs.

Remember ever observing Candlemas?

Today the Feb. 2 feast is called the Presentation of the Lord, but Brother takes advantage of the day’s former title to wax prosaic (pun intended!) on the central place of candles in the liturgy, reminding how the candle symbolizes Christ’s presence in our midst.

Throughout “Sacred Feasts” there are these little catechizing moments, simple words of wisdom to remember and to share, reflections on the faith to nourish the conversation around our own dinner tables.

He explains that we fast during Lent primarily to enable us to better contemplate the suffering of Christs and actually participate and share in that immense sacrifice Jesus made to atone for our sin, but also to help us remember the pain and need of others, especially the poor and suffering.

Reading cooks will find out why we bless our food before meals, learn to see the maturation of the fruit and vegetables as seasonal blessings from the Lord, and absorb the legacy of the saints in the church calendar.

Lovely woodcuts of monastery life and interesting quotes in the book’s margins spice up the pages, too.

Together with flavorful recipes, sprinkles of faith formation and Catholic identity building, “Sacred Feasts From a Monastery Kitchen” is a filing package, so much more than a cookbook. — bz

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Winter’s here!

December 9, 2009


We knew it was going to come sooner or later, but the first snowstorm of the year was still a shock when it descended upon us last night. After a balmy November, I think many people — myself included — thought that perhaps Old Man Winter might go easy on us this year.

But, this morning’s white landscape and blowing snow clearly told us that the party’s over. So, too, perhaps, is my jogging for the winter. I’ve been wondering lately how I’m going to handle my walking/running program once the snow flies.

I’m still not sure, but I didn’t go out this morning. I felt uneasy about trying to run or walk under these conditions. A good portion of my route is on sidewalks and I figured that a good chunk of the sidewalks would not be cleared of snow. Another problem is that there are no sidewalks in some of the places I go, which means running on the streets. And, I knew some of the streets would still be unplowed this morning.

So, the safest thing was to hold off for today. As for tomorrow, I’m not sure. Most likely, I will try walking. I’m hoping for cleared streets and sidewalks. I’m also hoping there are no slippery spots. The good news is we did not have any rain or freezing rain before the snow started. That can be a major problem. I’m glad this storm was all snow.

The snowfall also got me to thinking about the wildlife across the state and how the animals are faring. I remember what a longtime wildlife biologist told me about turkeys (I think the same applies to deer as well) — as long as they can find food, they’ll be fine. Cold won’t hurt them.

There’s probably more standing corn than usual, so that will be a great help for the critters. What’s nice about standing corn is that it is still accessible when there is snow on the ground, even lots of it. So, this winter should be a good one for wildlife. I just hope all of those mature gobblers survive and stay healthy until the spring, when I will go after them once again. I submitted my entry into the Wisconsin spring turkey lottery the other day, as the deadline is coming up tomorrow, Dec. 10. Minnesota’s lottery doesn’t close until Friday, Jan. 8. But, just to be safe, I submitted my application online today.

In recent years, I have become more passionate about spring turkey hunting (not that I wasn’t already) to the point that I now hunt in both Minnesota and Wisconsin every year. For a number of years, Wisconsin was ahead in terms of the quality of hunting and the number of birds.

But, our state has been catching up fast. Last year, not only did I fill my tag with a nice longbeard, I had five different gobblers responding to my calls on the second afternoon of my hunt. It was very exciting, with three of those birds coming into shotgun range. The first slipped in behind me and I didn’t know it was there until I moved and heard the dreaded alarm putt as he trotted off. I turned quickly to try and take a shot as he was moving away, but I was too late.

Fortunately, two more birds came in from my right just minutes later and I put my gun on the one in front without either of them spotting me. Interestingly, the second one stayed put after the shot, which is a phenomenon I have witnessed on a number of occasions. I have had birds stay put for several minutes, even after I stand up and start walking toward the downed bird. Amazing!

Seeing multiple toms on a hunt is becoming a more common experience for me and many other hunters. That indicates a healthy bird population. Based on what the DNR is saying, the state’s turkey flock is doing better than ever. Can’t wait for spring to arrive!

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Fun Christmas reading: Garrison Keillor clones Lake Wobegon in North Dakota

December 2, 2009


christmasblizzardcover“A Christmas Blizzard,”
by Garrison Keillor

Nobody’s literary comedy stands a snowball’s chance in Honolulu against Garrison Keillor and his takes on communities in the northern clime.

“A Christmas Blizzard” is just 180 pages long, but it’s as fun and funny a 180 pages as anything you’ll ever read, with a moral worth remembering and celebrating throughout the year.

This time the creator and host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion” has found Lake Wobegon-like characters in Looseleaf, North Dakota, and he brings a prodigal native son back to his home town just in time for Christmas and a typical northern plains white-out.

Main character James Sparrow fell into a lucrative business that made him the wealthy CEO of a Chicago beverage company. He’s rich enough to not want to spend time doing anything at Christmas that he doesn’t want to. What he wants to do is take his private jet to his palatial Hawaii second home and look at the calming waves of the Pacific.

A tug of the heart strings — or is is a guilty conscience? — has that private jet flying into good ol’ Looseleaf instead, and stranding Sparrow in a town with wacky but lovable relatives, fruitcake townfolk from his past, and even quizzical story walk-ons, like the busload of psychoanalists who are afraid to fly!

No scripted storyline here

If you think this is going to fall into that simplistic story genre of the guy who doesn’t like Christmas celebrating like no one else on the big day — well, maybe.

Keillor puts so much that’s laughable in his fictional characters — pieces of the human condition that you’ll identify in your own family, friends and acquaintance, and may yourself, plus identifiable references to real people and real events — that the storyline almost becomes secondary to the eccentric population of Looseleaf and how rich Mr. Sparrow comes to terms with them — how they impact him and how he touches their lives.

Finally, throw out anything you ever learned about the Greek dramas and “deus ex machina” endings.
In this Viking novel, Keillor out-deus-ex-machinas any contrived ending you could ever imagine. What a fun read! — bz

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Embracing Montana’s rugged beauty

December 1, 2009


I paused along a ridge in the Little Belt Mountains near Great Falls, Mont. with my oldest son, Joe. It was the day after Thanksgiving and we took a moment to soak in the sprawling scene before us.

Rising up like a crown jewel was the snowcapped peak of Mt. Peterson to our west. To the north lay miles of grassy fields where cows and wildlife alike graze to their hearts’ content.

There was a sermon here, not so much in the simple reminder I offered of God’s glorious creation stretched out around us, but in the scene itself. The majestic mountains, timber and grasslands glorified the Lord more than my words ever could.

Topping it all off like a layer of whipped cream was a thin curtain of clouds through which the afternoon sun shone like a filtered spotlight. It provided enough rays to illuminate the mountains and fields, but not so much to hurt our eyes gazing directly at it.

This breathtaking scene had the perfection and glow of an oil painting. Partly because of my age, and partly because of my sense of awe and wonder, I traversed the ridge slowly, with many pauses, as Joe and I made our way back toward where we had gotten out of the truck more than a mile away.

There was another reason our steps were labored on the alpine landscape — we were dragging a mule deer off the mountain. This was a well-earned prize, gained after a short stalk, a much longer tracking effort and, finally, a finishing shot taken more than a mile from where Joe had taken his first shot at this magnificent 3×4 buck.

Hunters are often glad when success comes quickly and easily. It could have happened that way for Joe, but, in the end, I’m overjoyed that we endured generous amounts of hard work, stress and perseverance before finally standing over Joe’s first mule deer.

This event capped a wonderful, seven-day adventure for our family of six in Great Falls, on our annual trip to see Bob and Sharon Guditis, their daughter, Jessica, her husband, Jerry, and their three children the week of Thanksgiving.

I felt very blessed to be with Joe as he executed a great stalk on the muley. Though only 18, he has seasoned hunting skills that have come through six years of experience, plus a couple more of observing me as he waited to turn old enough to buy his first big-game license. He has harvested three wild turkeys and had taken four deer before this trip, including a beautiful 10-point whitetail in Minnesota when he was 15.

Yet, he seemed to have suffered a bit of buck fever when he took aim at this buck. We originally spotted it from a gravel road on our way out of the mountains and back into the valley after a morning of hunting on private land owned by Bob, who is the father of my first wife, Jennifer (who died of cancer in 1995), and is Joe’s biological grandfather.

The buck was several hundred yards uphill and Joe and I used the contour of the land to make our way up to the deer’s level. Joe had led another nice stalk two days earlier with his brother, Andy, and Aunt Jessica that led to Andy shooting a nice 8-pointer and Jessica taking a smaller buck that trotted in as Joe was field dressing Andy’s deer.

Thus, Joe was confident he could lead us to a shootable distance. In fact, as we neared the top of the ridge, he motioned for me to hang back before he had even spotted the buck. He knew it was just over a small rise and he tried to get himself ready to poke over the top and take a shot.

He paused and said he needed to calm down. He could feel his heart beating rapidly because he had climbed the hill quickly — and because his nerves were a bit rattled.

Finally, he slowly crested the hill and looked over. When he quickly ducked down, I knew that he had spotted the buck. He raised his rifle and slowly eased back up. Then, he aimed and fired. He turned to me after the shot and I asked him what happened. He said the buck, along with a doe feeding near him, turned and ran.

I quickly started scrambling up to him. After just a few steps, I saw the head and neck of a muley buck. I whispered this to Joe, who shot back his reply: “Dad, it’s not him.”

Realizing it was a second buck, I quickly chambered a round in my 7mm rifle and hustled a quick shot at the buck. It dropped immediately and, after a quick inspection to confirm that it was down to stay, we went off after Joe’s buck.

The search was stressful and discouraging for Joe, who walked over several small rises without seeing the buck nor any sign that it was hit. Farther down the ridge, we encountered broken timber and a stand of thick brush about the size of a football field. We both realized that the buck easily could have picked a spot to hide here and never be spotted by us. This is a classic trick whitetails often employ.

I could feel Joe’s heart sink as he scanned the timber in desparation. Meanwhile, I turned to the Lord in prayer and asked both God and St. Anthony (who has never let me down) to help find the buck.

We continued walking in the timber, then neared the end of the ridge. We reached the edge of the first stand of timber, then saw an opening of about 50 yards before a second strip started.

This was it, I thought. Either we would find the buck here or give up the search. Joe tiptoed ahead, looking across the opening. Then, he ducked quickly and backed up.

Before he spoke, I knew he saw something. “It’s a deer,” he said.

“Is it the buck?” I asked. He scanned further and said the buck was there. Actually, there was a group of three deer — the buck, a doe and a smaller buck. The doe was standing still and the bigger buck was coming up from behind, with the smaller buck following along.

I told Joe to go ahead and shoot. He lined up his rifle, but couldn’t steady the crosshairs on the deer. He then asked for the shooting tripod that I had brought and I set it up for him. He put his rifle on it, paused and fired. The buck wheeled and ran over the end of the ridge and out of sight. Despite the buck’s disappearance — again — I had a feeling Joe had made a fatal shot this time.

As we waited to contemplate our next move, the small buck made his. The doe ran only about 25 yards or so after the shot, then stopped and stood broadside to us. In a matter of seconds, the smaller buck came up from behind and seized the opportunity to breed the doe. Joe and I got to witness a rare moment in the lives of deer. We marveled at the chance to see such a private act, then quickly turned our attention to the other buck.

We walked to where the buck had been standing, and Joe soon found a good blood trail. We crested the hill and soon saw the buck bedded at the edge of the timber — still alive. Joe fired a pair of finishing shots and then we walked over to his trophy.

I asked him what he felt at that moment and his answer was, relief. That’s understandable. It was agonizing for him to think that he might lose this buck, especially when it was so close for his first two shots. He estimates the deer was within 100 yards both times. As it turned out, he did, in fact, hit the deer with one of those shots, but the bullet went low, striking the deer in the front leg.

As we talked about the experience with Bob later, he noted that God often surprises us with his blessings, in order that we will walk away knowing he is in charge — not us.

I couldn’t disagree. The trip had several pleasant surprises, which usually came right after we faced stiff challenges. For example, we hunted hard the first two days and got skunked before I finally got a whitetail doe on the third day when we followed a group of does that ran for a while,  then hunkered down in a small ditch on a piece of state land that offered a perfect stalking opportunity.

In the end, it was a successful, enjoyable and glorious week. The same day that Joe got his buck, Jerry shot a big 8-point whitetail, and his 12-year-old son, Brandon, took his first deer, a small doe. 

So, seven of the eight members of our hunting party harvested deer. Bob was the only one who did not fill his deer tag. But, we ended up giving him Joe’s buck, which we are having made into jalapeno pepper sausage, his favorite.

Tonight, we will celebrate the hunt with one of our favorite wild game dishes — grilled venison tenderloins. I greatly look forward to that, and also to the prayer of thanksgiving we will say to the Lord before we partake of the harvest from his bountiful creation.

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