Archive | August, 2010

When you haven’t got a prayer . . .

August 31, 2010


notre dame book of prayer cover

“The Notre Dame Book of Prayer” may very well be the most beautiful collection — and most beautifully printed collection — you’ll ever find of a volume of its kind.

This is a masterfully crafted work of art. It’s filled with satisfying words of praise, petition and gratitude, a gorgeous book you’ll want to keep nearby to search through for just the right words to pray yourself or to share with others. Skim it as I did, stopping by happenstance and being inspired, surprised and challenged at the wonderful spiritual lift that black letters on white pages offer on literally any and every page.

The authors of the prayers are an eclectic sort — Notre Dame grads and teachers but literally hundreds of others from Dag Hammarskjold to Knute Rockne, from St. Bernard of Clairvaux to Virgilio Elizondo.

There are prayers for every occasion you can think of, and for some occasions you’d likely never have thought of. Need a prayer as you begin retirement? It’s in there? How about a prayer for grandparents raising a grandchild?  And then there is the “Prayer for Openness to New Experiences” by 9/11 martyr Father Mychal Judge:

“Lord, take me where you want me to go,

let me meet who you want me to meet,

tell me what you want me to say,

and keep me out of your way.”

The familiar and the new

You’ll recognize prayers you haven’t prayed since childhood (like the “Morning Offering”) and find new prayers you’ll wish you had known (like Pam Weaver’s “For Conflict with a Co-worker or Friend”).

If you do it, there’s a prayer for it. A Prayer for Librarians, a Prayer for Actors, a Prayer for Coaches. There is a prayer for pain and comfort, after suicide, for those with cancer, for those who cause suffering, and “A Couple’s Prayer to Heal a Hurt.”

Each of the book’s dozen sections includes a brief introduction, sometimes inspiring anecdotes, sometimes catechesis, all masterfully organized by editor Heidi Schlumpf. An index of titles and names joins a helpful subject index to make prayers on a specific topic or by a favorite author easy to find.

It’s all good. Blessings on the University of Notre Dame’s Office of Campus Ministry and Ave Maria Press for gracing our lives with something so richly diverse and inclusive to carry along on our journey back to the Father. — bz

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Reading about murder of Minnesota Catholic priest 10 years ago makes my blood boil all over again

August 31, 2010


collar and gun cover

“The Collar and the Gun,”

by Dean Urdahl

It took three weeks, but I finally finished Dean Urdahl’s historical fiction about the life and death of Father John Kaiser, a Minnesota priest who was murdered in Kenya in August of 2000. “The Collar and the Gun” is only a 232-page paperback, but for the sake of my rising blood pressure I found I had to put the book down after just about every chapter.

Each successive section of the story adds to the damning portrayal of corruption in government and to a horrific ending. And the reading of this North Star Press work brings an element of shame to Americans for what our own government did and did not do before and after Father Kaiser was shot in the back of the head.

Urdahl, a teacher and member of the Minnesota House of Representatives who lives near Grove City, MN, gathered the data and the stories about the missionary who spent 36 years ministering to the people of Kenya. Urdahl interview people there as well as those in this country who kept in contact with the priest who always kept his connection to his home Diocese of St. Cloud.

“The Rhino of the Poor”

We meet John Kaiser as a boy growing up on a Minnesota farm, but his story quickly jumps to Africa and the work he did as a member of the Mill Hill missionary order. He built churches and schools by hand, setting the beams and bricks himself, and he used the hunting skills he learned as a boy to help feed his parishioners in the Rift Valley area of Kenya.

He served several parishes and thousands of people, and became involved in seeking justice after watching his parishioners chased off the land they held deeds to, sometimes being murdered for resisting forces backed by ruthless, land-grabbing elected officials, including the leaders of area in which his missions lay and the president of Kenya himself, Daniel arap Moi.

When he challenged the country’s so-called “big men” they denied wrong doing yet warned him to end his involvement or suffer the consequences. No threats could stop Father Kaiser’s determination to help the Kenyan people be treated justly by their own leaders. Those he served came to call him “the rhino of the poor” for his refusal to back down in the face of danger to his life. When he collected statements from displaced farmers and publicly accused government leaders of stealing the land to line their own pockets, he became a marked man.

When two teenage girls came to him to tell of being raped by another civic leader, Father Kaiser challenged him personally and for all intents and purposes sealed his fate.

Moi and other Kenya politicians got rid of any opposition by simply having those people killed, and the newspapers that were controlled by Moi’s KANU party dutifully reported that the murdered either committed suicide or died in an auto accident. Father Kaiser avoided attempts to run him off Kenya’s rutted roads, but eventually he couldn’t escape his murderers.

Our FBI falls in line with dictator

As was the way in Moi’s Kenya, the first police on the scene declared Father Kaiser’s death a homicide, but soon after they were overruled and a suicide theory proposed.

Urdahl wrote that to verify the finding, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation was asked to come in from the United States. They agreed with the Kenyan pathologist that it was likely a suicide.” Urdahl implies that the U.S. made a deal with Moi to cover up Father Kaiser’s murder, because Moi offered access to the harbor at Mombasa in any Middle East conflict.

Suicide, however, appears to be frankly impossible. The Catholic Church asked a Norwegian doctor to do a post-mortem on his body, and he found that the gun that killed Father Kaiser was fired at a distance of approximately three feet from the head. To shoot himself in the back of the head, Father Kaiser would have had to have arms that were six feet long.

Of course we want to think the best of our country, but reading Father Kaiser’s story will make you wonder what it might take for the U.S. government to come clean on the cause of death of one of its own citizens, and on what it may have received in trade for our FBI lying about the murder of a priest at the hands of a corrupt and greedy dictator like Kenya’s Moi.

Besides crying out for justice for Father Kaiser, “The Collar and the Gun” should serve as a catalyst for Americans to do more reading about Kenya and other nations that receive U.S. foreign aid.

“The Collar and the Gun” is available for $14.95 at

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A deer for Dad?

August 24, 2010


I took a drive with my dad up to Clearwater last week. Our destination was the VFW post, which we reached at about 10:45 a.m.

Even though it was only a one-hour trip, my dad was excited. How excited? He woke up at 6 a.m. just to make sure he’d be ready by 9:15, when I was scheduled to pick him up.

What was the occasion? It was the mandatory training for those who qualified for a special hunt for disabled war veterans at Camp Ripley, located a short distance from Little Falls. I served as a guide for a similar hunt for wild turkeys back in April. At that time, I found out about the deer hunt and discovered that my dad, an 89-year-old World War II veteran, would qualify.

He applied in a special lottery and got picked. He is one of 62 hunters scheduled to go on the three-day hunt in early October. This is a special opportunity for him because, even though he has gone deer hunting numerous times, he has never bagged one. He thinks he has hit one, but has never put a tag on one.

We’re hoping this will be his chance. I saw lots of deer during the turkey hunt, and the folks running the hunt say the deer herd at Ripley is very healthy. Last year, a magnificent trophy buck was taken during one of the camp’s two archery hunts. The good news for Dad is he and the other 61 disabled hunters will go out into the field before any other hunters do. Anyone who has deer hunted long enough can tell you that being out in the woods first is a huge advantage.

Another factor tipping the scale in my dad’s favor is the hunter assigned as his guide, Dick Nordling. He has gone on 10 deer hunts and several turkey hunts at Camp Ripley. He knows the camp well and has been highly successful. In fact, his hunters are 10 for 10 on deer. We’re hoping to make it 11 for 11.

Dick is modest, but quietly confident. He believes my dad will see deer on his hunt. The question is: Will he make the shot? That’s where I come in. I am letting Dad use my 12-gauge shotgun, which has a rifled barrel and a high-quality, Leupold scope (only shotguns are allowed on this hunt). It is a very accurate gun out to 100 yards and beyond. Last year, I hit the bullseye at 100 yards when I fired it at the practice range. I’m going to zero it in again this fall and let my dad practice with it.

I’m sure the gun will perform well. One challenge is that my dad has poor eyesight in his right eye and, therefore, has to shoot left handed. He has practiced this, so I hope he’ll be ready.

Taking his first deer at age 89 would be very cool!

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Embryonic stem-cell policy struck down

August 24, 2010



A microscopic view shows a colony of human embryonic stem cells (light blue) growing on fibroblasts (dark blue). (CNS photo / Alan Trounson, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine via Reuters)

A district court judge overturned government rules Aug. 23 set in place last year by the Obama administration that expanded federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the administration’s policy essentially violated Congress’ Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bans federal funding for research that destroys human embryos.

A story in The New York Times summed up the rationale behind the ruling, which rejected a nuance that was key to the administration’s policy:

The judge ruled that the Obama Administration’s policy was illegal because the administration’s distinction between work that leads to the destruction of embryos — which cannot be funded by the federal government under present policy — and the funding of work using stem cells created through embryonic destruction is meaningless. In his ruling, he referred to embryonic stem cell research by its acronym, E.S.C.

“If one step or ‘piece of research’ of an E.S.C. research project results in the destruction of an embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding,” wrote Judge Lamberth, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1987 by President Reagan.

In other words, the neat lines that the government had drawn between the process of embryonic destruction and the results of that destruction are not valid, the judge ruled.

Basically, the judge said, you can’t federally fund research that uses destroyed embryos and, at the same time, say those federal funds aren’t linked to the destruction of embryos.

A policy instituted by former President George W. Bush allowed federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research only on stem-cell lines that were created before Aug. 9, 2001. The Obama administration changed that policy. It allowed research using those stem-cell lines as well as lines from embryos created for reproductive purposes at in vitro fertilization clinics and no longer needed for that purpose.

The U.S. bishops have criticized the policy. In the meantime, the extent of the impact of the latest ruling is still unclear. Watch here for updates.

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Will Mars look as big as full Moon next week?

August 20, 2010



Mars from the Hubble Space Telescope (Photo: NASA and ESA)

Imagine looking out your window on a late August night and seeing the planet Mars hovering in the sky as large as the nearly full moon. It would be an amazing sight!

A recent e-mail forwarded to me from a work colleague promised just that: On the night of Aug. 27, it said, Mars will be at its brightest and “it will look like the earth has 2 moons.”

The next time Mars comes this close, it added, will be in the year 2287. “Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again.”

Sounds impressive. The only problem? It’s not true.

It seems this myth started in 2003 when Mars reached a point called opposition, when it is closest to the Earth and appears larger and brighter than any other time of the year.

Opposition this year, however, happened last January. And, in any case, a bigger and brighter Mars doesn’t mean the planet appears Moon-size (although it did appear bigger and brighter in 2003 than it will until 2287)

The editors at Astronomy magazine summed it up nicely when they recently addressed the myth: “For Mars to look that large, it somehow would have to jump out of its orbit and move some 34 million miles (55 million kilometers) closer to the Sun.”

The magazine also did a great job explaining how the myth began.

Even though Mars won’t look gigantic in the night sky, it’s still pretty fun to see, whether you’re viewing it through a telescope, binoculars or with your naked eye. Look for it in the evening sky in the west.

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Summer lemonade for the soul

August 19, 2010



This is so tempting — “Spontaneous Hooky,” ala MinnPost. Stop what you’re doing this afternoon and get down to Field Day at the Minneapolis sculpture garden (it starts in 39 minutes!). So much more interesting than anything else you’re doing right now, like working at a desk. And if you go, take a moment to appreciate the Basilica’s mansard dome on the skyline. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

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So your Catholic parish is asking you to be a catechist. Say ‘Yes’ with help from this planning aid

August 18, 2010


creative catechist planning guide cover

If you’ve ever been asked to teach a faith formation class and hesitated because you didn’t know if you could do it well, there’s an inexpensive booklet that will not only give you the confidence to do so but will assist you all throughout the class year.

Creative Catechist’s “Praying and Planning Guide” for 2010-2011 is readable for any adult, and as a teacher’s aid it offers ideas that are simple to put into practice.

It’s just 40 pages, but it includes:

  • Record keeping pages for 25 students with an attendance chart;
  • 2 helpful calendars — one a list of well-known saints’ feast days and the other a walk through the church year;
  • 5  no-fail suggestions for starting the year off right;
  • Tips for planning lessons;
  • More than a handful of good ideas for activities;
  • A very good breakdown of the Nicene Creed that would be a great beginning for any class.

The bulk of the booklet is its most useful part. For each month there is an example of a lesson plan to give catechists ideas about what to teach, what to stress, what to discuss and how to help that lesson be better absorbed. The three keys are 1) focus, 2) activity, and 3) materials.

Each week there is a blank space for catechists to write in the focus, activity and materials they need for that week’s lesson. It’s a great organizational tool that channels the focus on a lectionary-based path, but its greatest benefit may be that it has the potential to draw out the creativity of both catechists and their students. There’s a real emphasis on prayer, too.

Not every idea will be everyone’s cup of tea, of course. But using Creative Catechist’s methodology can’t help but give the most nervous volunteer the confidence to take on the great ministry of sharing the faith with young people. — bz

Creative Catechist’s Praying & Planning Guide is $5.95 per copy, with bulk rates available. See

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Good news on stem-cell front

August 18, 2010

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microscopeThe Minneapolis StarTribune recently published a story detailing how University of Minnesota doctors are using bone marrow transplants for an experimental treatment to improve the lives of children suffering from a devastating genetic skin disease — signaling what could be an important advance in the use of adult stem cells.

A week earlier, the same newspaper carried a story about how adult stem cells — those found in adult human tissue and blood, not embryos — are being used for a variety of therapies and potential life-saving research.

The story pointed out:

“Adult stem cells are being studied in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes. Some early results suggest stem cells can help some patients avoid leg amputation. Recently, researchers reported that they restored vision to patients whose eyes were damaged by chemicals.

“Apart from these efforts, transplants of adult stem cells have become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.”

In principle, this is all good news to which the church gives its blessing.

If you’re surprised by that statement, you’ve been listening too much to those who would like to convince you (wrongly) that the church is hostile to science.

The church is fully supportive of adult stem-cell research. Earlier this year, I wrote about how foundations affiliated with an international biopharmaceutical company and the Pontifical Council for Culture planned to work together to educate people around the world about the benefits of adult stem-cell research to treat disease and alleviate suffering.

The church, however, opposes embryonic stem-cell research because it requires the destruction of a living human embryo in order to harvest the cells.

Does that mean the church is ultimately more concerned about protecting clumps of cells than helping people who suffer from terrible diseases?

Absolutely not.

The embryo is more than just a clump of cells — it is nascent human life. Anyone who tries to argue otherwise is blind to the facts of Biology 101. And religion, at its best, is about protecting and nurturing human life — no matter its age, ability or perceived usefulness to others. When human life and dignity are threatened, the church must speak up.

Think of it this way: Advancements in nuclear science — understanding  atoms and how they work — have led to some wonderful medical and health-related advancements, including cancer treatments.

But nuclear science has also led to the development of nuclear weapons, and people of faith (and no faith) have been working for decades to stop their production and use because they pose a dangerous threat to human life.

Does working for an end to nuclear weapons and weapons-related research make one an opponent of nuclear science? Obviously not. Religion and ethics help us determine the moral parameters in which science ought to operate for the benefit of humankind.

Some may object to this comparison, noting that the goal of nuclear weapons is to destroy human life while the goal of embryonic stem-cell research is ostensibly to help others.

But embryonic stem-cell research involves the destruction of human life as an integral step on the way to an otherwise noble goal, and that is where the moral problem lies.

The end can’t justify the means: You can’t intentionally destroy human life in order to benefit others. Justifying the taking of a human life in one of its earliest stages for a perceived benefit is the first step down a slippery moral slope.

That’s why advancements in adult stem-cell research are such welcome news. They’re leading to medical treatments — some proven, others promising — that don’t raise the same moral red-alert, and that’s something we can all support.

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Art heists = good summer reading

August 18, 2010

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Summer at least has the reputation of being this lazy season of laying by the lake, reading paperbacks and consuming copious amounts of barbecue. But, as you and I know, summer is a liar,  because the only thing I’ve had in that list is a copious amount of barbecue, and that was a lot of work to prepare.

Now, like every good Minnesotan who suddenly realizes it’s August and the impending gloom of winter is glowing on the horizon, I’m looking back on these few months of warm-weather bliss and wondering where it all went.

Unlike most good Minnesotans, I can tell you exactly where it went: to researching and writing papers for my summer graduate school class and internship.

Yes, I spent summer inside a library.

However, should the day ever come that something called “reading for fun” is part of my life again ( I have a vague memory of this from my high school years), I’m going to pick up this book that Dan Browning reviewed in the StarTribune. It’s called “Priceless: How I went Undercover to Rescue to World’s Stolen Treasures” by Robert K. Wittman, and Browning describes it as exactly the kind of book you’d want to read lying by the lake.

It’s not just about art and artifacts. It’s a memoir about (FBI agent) Wittman’s experience, and it’s apparently hard hitting on the the federal investigative agencies, and it also explores the racial prejudice the author, who has a Japanese mother, felt after WWII.

It was this graph in the review that piqued my interest, however:

Hollywood depicts art thieves as debonair cat burglars — think Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief” — or as techno-sleuths — Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Entrapment” come to mind. “Priceless” introduces the reader to some thieves like that, but also to simple fools who snatched an opportunity. The one thing that ties them together, Wittman writes, is “brute greed.”

“They stole for money, not beauty,” he said.

What? An unromantic heist? Could it be? Either way, this one looks worth a read.

If you pick it up, let me know how it turned out. I’ll be in the library.

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Library find: Heroine considering abortion gets tangled in ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland

August 17, 2010


Night Crossing cover

“Night Crossing,”

by Don J. Snyder

Authentic history of the not-long-ago “Troubles” in Northern Ireland mix with a mid-life crisis for an American woman in “Night Crossing,” a compelling read that caught my eye in the library.

It was a 2001 release by Alfred J. Knopf, so this fast-paced, 277-page novel isn’t new. It is, however, one of the few works of fiction that I’ve come across that deals with the subject of abortion in more than a cursory, matter-of-fact, approving way. In real life abortion isn’t an easily made decision, and author Don J. Snyder does a good job of bringing the abortion decision-making process into his story without making it the focal point.

What is the focal point is the conflict that caused bloodshed in Northern Ireland for so many decades. Snyder uses the Aug. 15, 1998 car bombing in Omagh as the jumping off point for what turns out to be a chase-filled drama across the counties in the north of the Irish island. In real life, 29 people died and more than 200 innocents were injured from the blast that was pinned on a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army, a group that opposed disarmament and a peace settlement. But what role did the British government play in the affair?

Snyder hooks his readers early with the thought of complicity in the evil. How it rolls out makes for great reading. — bz

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