Archive | December, 2010

Galileo, the nonbeliever: Don’t believe it

December 31, 2010

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Was Galileo a closet atheist?

That’s the conclusion of David Wootton, a professor of history at the University of York, in his new book “Galileo: Watcher of the Skies.”

It’s a premise, however, that at least one reviewer is troubled by. Writing in a recent issue of America magazine, John Haught, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, rejects the idea that Galileo espoused anti-Christian sentiments.

Haught, a Catholic theologian with a special interest in science, takes issue with Wootton’s supposition that since Galileo advanced a Copernican view of the universe — one which doesn’t place the earth or us humans at the center of the heavens — he surely would have rejected the idea of an all-powerful and personal God who views humankind as special. It was a belief Galileo had to hide from others to stay out of trouble.

Haught disagrees and offers his own response. Here’s a bit of what he has to say:

“Suffice it to say that [Wootton’s] major premise is false, since Christianity has never formally taught that the universe was created ultimately for ‘man,’ but for the glory of God instead. It is our acknowledgment of God’s glory that glorifies us. Authentic Christian faith has always entailed the de-centralizing of our egos, and for that very reason the modern scientific disclosure of an endlessly expansive Copernican universe provides more reason than ever for glorifying the Creator.”

And Haught adds:

“More important, however, no indisputable evidence exists that Galileo’s inner life was at any point bereft of theologically orthodox sentiments. In fact, early on Galileo explicitly gave ‘thanks to God’ for allowing him to be the revealer of ‘marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.’ To suppose with Wootton that Galileo did not really mean to give thanks for God’s ‘kindness’ is condescending at best.”

In light of the conflict that evolved between Galileo and the church, Wootton would like us to think of the scientist as an early version of today’s high profile skeptics and atheists. But if there’s something we should be skeptical about, Haught reminds us, it’s Wootton’s thoughts about the famed astronomer’s inner life.

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Video Tour of TheCatholicSpirit.com

December 31, 2010

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Most popular stories of December, 2010

December 31, 2010

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Does attending Mass on Christmas Day this year fulfill one’s Sunday obligation? | 1066 view(s)

G.K. Chesterton’s take on Santa Claus revisited 2 comment(s) | 968 view(s)

Totino-Grace wins 2nd straight football title 0 comment(s) | 433 view(s)

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Pray with family and friends on Gaudete Sunday | 394 view(s)

New St. Thomas gym to host Catholic Spirit basketball tourney | 380 view(s)

Changes in lay pension plan were necessary | 356 view(s)

Gather around the Advent wreath to pray with family and friends | 325 view(s)

Dear atheists: most of us don’t care what you think  | 295 view(s)

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Cretin-Derham Hall rally falls short, Wayzata takes Catholic Spirit b-ball tourney title

December 30, 2010

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Down by 20 points with 12 minutes to play, Cretin-Derham Hall’s boys team crept within two before falling to Wayzata in the championship game of the annual Catholic Spirit Christmas Basketball Tourney Thursday night, 68-64.

The Raiders struggled on offense, losing both starting guards Raijon Kelly and Cortez Tillman to early foul trouble, but Wayzata was taking apart the CD-H defense fairly easily through the first 10 minutes of the second half, thanks to guard Aaron Roth’s clever passing and timely scoring.

Roth, an all-tournament team selection, led the Trojans with 16. Forward Eric Robertson added  15 and guard Tanner Helgren 13 more for Wayzata.

Better defense got Cretin back in the game, and Kelly came off the bench — where he’s sat with four fouls — to spark the rally. He hit a triple, Taylor Montero came up with a steal and a driving layup, and Kelly scored down under to pull the Raiders within three at 61-58 with 2:10 to play.

Wayzata hit seven of eight freethrows down the stretch, though, and Cretin’s replies wouldn’t drop in the new baskets at the University of St. Thomas’ new Anderson Athletic Center.

Kelly finished with 21, and Raider forward CJ Neumann had 14. Both made the all-tourney team.

Eric Robertson and Chris Burt joined Roth on the all-tourney team for Wayzata.

In the third-place game, Hill-Murray took apart Totino-Grace, 72-52, behind the inspired play of 6-5 forward Jim Remke.

FULL ALL-TOURNEY TEAM

Damon Woods, Holy Angels

Alex Kreuser, Totino-Grace

Montrell Williams, St. Paul Central

Jim Remke, Hill-Murray

Dave Simmet, Hill-Murray

Raijon Kelly, Cretin-Derham Hall

CJ Neumann, Cretin-Derham Hall

Aaron Roth, Wayzata

Chris Burt, Wayzata

Eric Robertson, Wayzata

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Hangin’ tough

December 30, 2010

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After being pushed back because of bad weather, my annual trip down to Red Wing and Cannon Falls to wish landowners a Merry Christmas finally took place this morning.

I always enjoy the chance to visit landowners in person to give them a small gift (venison summer sausage) and let them know how much I appreciate being able to hunt on their land. What’s nice is that they are almost always home and not very busy at this time of year. That means I get to hand them their gift in person, and we actually have some time to talk.

I’m a little old-fashioned in that I prefer to talk to people in person and give them hand-written notes of thanks, rather than sending out an e-mail or mailing a typewritten letter. The way I see it, if I can take the time to drive down and hunt on their land, I can take the time to drive down and say thank you. I feel this kind of personal touch goes a long way toward maintaining a good relationship and, hopefully, securing hunting privileges for the future.

While on the road, I spotted numerous wild turkeys out scratching and scrounging for food. I watched a hen digging in a picked corn field, and marveled at how creatures like this find a way to fill their bellies. No matter how severe the winter, there always seems to be plenty of turkeys in the spring. In my mind, they are one tough critter. Hopefully, the deer will prove just as resilient and resourceful as the turkeys.

The most notable visit on this trip was the one I didn’t make. Just two days before Christmas, the home of Paul and Karen Doyle burned down. They have been very good to us over the years in letting myself, my kids, my friend, Bernie Schwab, and his kids hunt on their land. I feel bad about what happened, and have been praying for them since getting the news.

I am confident God will take care of them. The Doyles have let us and many others hunt on their land over the years, and I believe God will reward them for their generosity. Someone once said that you cannot outdo God in generosity. I think that’s true. I sure hope it is in this case.

In the meantime, I am glad that today’s rain melted at least some of the snow. That should make it easier for the wildlife to find food. I would like to see the deer and turkeys come through the winter in fine shape. That’s one of my wishes for 2011.

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Snow and Cold: Winter in Minnesota in January

December 29, 2010

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We Minnesotans are a hearty bunch!  We deal with prolonged cold day after day.  The average high temperatures are below freezing for weeks on end.  The weather map is mostly blues and purples and whites.  Weather reports do not only give the actual temperature; they include wind chill too.  The ice on the lakes gets thicker.  The snow piles get higher.  We shovel and run the snow blower, ice fish and snowmobile, cross country ski and snow shoe.  Minnesotans are often heard saying, “We choose to live here.”  “We enjoy the theater of the seasons.”  “We’re tough.”  “We can take the cold.”

As much as we talk “Minnesota nice” about winter, after long periods of confinement inside, bundling up to go outside, higher heating bills, snow emergencies, parking bans, slippery roads, and a film of salt on the car, just to name a few of the hassles of winter, cabin fever sets in and our patience runs thin.  If we Minnesotans are truly honest about the challenges of winter, it is not always so nice.  For some, it causes sad, blue days.  For others, it escalates irritation and agitation, crabbiness and complaining.  Worn down and demoralized, sometimes tempers flare.  Winter can be a time when it is increasingly difficult to love others and practice the virtues.

Aware of the spiritual dangers of wintertime, it is imperative for Christian Minnesotans to consciously and firmly recommit to Jesus’ Law of Love and virtuous living during these trying times.  Jesus wants his disciples to go above and beyond “nice.”  He gave us a new commandment, “Love one another” (Jn 13:34), not just on warm and sunny days, but every day.  The standards of virtuous living apply all the time, especially when we are cold and tired.  Not only should we clothe ourselves with heavy jackets and boots, caps and mittens, we should also clothe ourselves with “heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Col 3:12).  While there may be more slipping and falling during wintertime, not just on the ice but also to temptation, Christians do their best to stand firm in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, to practice and exhibit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22,23).

Spring is still a long way off.  We dare not let anything, even snow and cold, derail our baptismal commitment to walk in Jesus’ ways.  Winter is a time to persevere.  Let us not only turn up the heat in our homes, let us also turn up the heat of our love for God and neighbor (Mt 22:37,39).

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Simeon and Anna: The last pair of the infancy story

December 29, 2010

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Presentation at St. Joseph in Beroun, MN

Three Great Pairs. Simeon and Anna are one of three couples in Luke’s Infancy Narrative (Lk 1:5-2:52).  Zechariah and Elizabeth are first, Mary and Joseph are second, and Simeon and Anna are third and last.  The most important couple is intentionally placed in the middle.

A Holy Pair for after Christmas. Simeon was a devout man and Anna was a prophetess, and both were in the Temple when Mary and Joseph presented their infant son Jesus for consecration to the Lord.  Their involvement with the Christ child is featured in the gospel readings after Christmas.  The account is proclaimed on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, Year B, and each year on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation.  It is also proclaimed on two weekdays in the Octave of Christmas, the part with Simeon on December 29 (Lk 2:22-35) and the part with Anna on December 30 (Lk 2:36-40).

A Pair of Elders. Simeon and Anna were both senior citizens.  Luke states that Anna was eighty-four.  Senior status can be inferred with Simeon.  The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, and the mention of his death may suggest that his time was drawing nearer.  Also, Simeon had spent a considerable amount of time waiting which suggests the passage of many years.

Anna on Aging Gracefully. Anna is a beautiful example of how to spend the later years of life.  She had suffered tremendously with the death of her husband and the subsequent grieving, emptiness, and loneliness.  This could have sent her into a tailspin.  She could have blamed God for her troubles, lost faith, and distanced herself from God with less prayer and less time in church.  Moreover, she might have felt that life was unfair, pouted, felt sorry for herself, and become bitter and resentful, crabby and mean.  Not Anna!  Her faith was unshakable, and she had a very bright and positive disposition.  She was grateful and hopeful, prayed morning and night, went to the Temple daily, and fasted on a regular basis.  As she dealt with the setbacks in her life, her personal holiness took a step forward, not backward.

Anna’s Lesson for Seniors (and everyone). Over the course of life, all of us suffer painful losses and bitter disappointments.  Anna teaches us how to deal with them constructively.  She could have stayed home alone, but she went to the Temple each day.  It is important to get out of the house and remain connected to others.  Her example also makes a solid case for daily Mass.  She no longer had family obligations and had more time on her hands.  She could have gone to the markets and gossiped.  Today’s seniors could spend long hours on the telephone or watch one TV program after another.  Anna filled her time with frequent prayer from morning to night.  Anna’s example shows us that as the years go by, our prayer life can intensify, not diminish.

Simeon on Spiritual Readiness for Death. Simeon was a holy man in the Temple.  Religious artists frequently portray him as a priest, but there is no mention of this in the gospel.  He is described as righteous, a person who carefully observed the precepts of the Law, and devout, a person of faith, prayer, and virtue.  Furthermore, the Holy Spirit was upon him:  he was close to God, wise and strong, loving and kind.  With all of these wonderful spiritual traits, he was still not ready to die, a day that would not come until he had seen the Messiah.  Then, on the day that Simeon took Jesus into his arms, he declared, “Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant” (Lk 2:29); “Now I am spiritually ready to die.”

Simeon’s Lesson on Preparedness. As holy as Simeon was, something held him back.  He may have feared death, or had an element of doubt or an unreconciled sin.  He may have been clinging to something that he was unwilling to release.  The moment everything changed was the moment he completely embraced Jesus.  It is the same for us.  Every person has their unique set of obstacles that hinder spiritual readiness for death.  The day that a person completely embraces Jesus is the day a person is ready to be dismissed

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Christmas: More than a day; it’s a season

December 23, 2010

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The Holy Family — Mary, Joseph and Jesus — are depicted in a painting titled "The Presentation in the Temple" by Canadian Catholic artist Michael D. O'Brien. (CNS photo / courtesy of Michael D. O'Brien)

The secular lead up to Christmas drags on seemingly forever, starting with post-Halloween holiday displays and progressing through Black Friday and Cyber Monday, before finally ending with last-minute shopping errands at overcrowded stores and malls.

The actual celebration of the feast is pretty brief for a lot of folks, amounting to a few hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself. Then it’s time to think about taking down the Christmas tree and putting the decorations back in their boxes.

After all, Christmas is over on Dec. 26, right?

Wrong!

The church celebrates Christmas as an entire season, not just one day. In addition to Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, individuals and families can celebrate a number of special days within the Christmas season, which runs until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year on Jan. 9.

Here’s a rundown of the days and suggestions for how to celebrate them:

Dec. 26: The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Ask your pastor or another priest to pray a blessing over your family. Participate in an activity as a family today.

Dec. 27: Feast of St. John, apostle, evangelist.

John is the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” He was a prolific writer, composing three letters, the Gospel according to John and the Book of Revelation. Write a letter to a friend or family member telling them how they have made a positive difference in your life. Offer it as another Christmas gift.

Dec. 28: Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs.

Read the story about how King Herod ordered the killing of all the boys in Bethlehem 2 years old and under in Matthew 2:13-18. Discuss the importance of protecting human life, including lives of the unborn. Pray for an end to abortion. Consider donating or volunteering time at a pro-life pregnancy center.

Jan. 1: Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God.

Go to Mass, even though this year the feast is not a holy day of obligation. Honor your own mother with a special meal or gift today. Pray the rosary.

Jan. 2: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.

Read the story of the Magi from Matthew 2:1-12 in front of your Nativity scene. This is the traditional day for the blessing of homes, which typically incorporates above the main doorway the inscription of the initials of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) between the current year: 20+C+M+B+11.

Today, the church in Minnesota also celebrates Immigration Sunday, a time to pray and learn more about newcomers to our state. To find out more about the commemoration, visit the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s Immigration Sunday website.

Jan. 9: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Ask your parents to tell you what they remember from the day you were baptized.

Don’t let the secular observance of the holidays short-circuit your celebration. Have a Merry Christmas … season!

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Latest biography of Mickey Mantle as much about America and sports heroes as it is about baseball

December 22, 2010

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Saying the name Mickey Mantle in the 1950s and early 1960s conjured an image of the all-American boy for baseball fans.

Just as golf aficionados today say the name “Tiger” and even non-golfers know of whom one speaks, that was the star power of “The Mick”  — an image with legs for decades, one that sparked the baseball memorabilia craze of the 1980s and beyond.

Mantle was the best player, the best hitter, on the best team in baseball, the New York Yankees.

Jane Leavy, a former sportswriter, presents in a new biography all the reasons the name of this professional ballplayer  received — and deserved — that kind of recognition. But “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood” goes well past the box scores and on-the-field heroics to give us the complete picture of Mickey Mantle.

Children of the Fifties who had to have the Mantle signature glove or who had to use the Mantle signature Louisville Slugger — guilty as charged, your honor! — will meet a different Mantle, Mantle the off-the-field man:

  • the self-admitted terrible excuse for a father;
  • the falling-down alcoholic;
  • the all-star who cried when he struck out;
  • the womanizer who constantly had a female “business manager” as well as a wife who was the mother of his children;
  • the amazingly good friend and supporter of worthy causes;
  • the jerk who wrote foul-language comments on baseballs for autograph seekers;
  • the humble athlete who was filled with self-doubt about his talent and who felt he never got the praise for how he played, at least not from whom he needed to hear it.

Baseball, yes, but much more

“The Last Boy” has just enough baseball to keep a sports nut turning pages. You’ll enjoy the comparison of Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider — all centerfielders in New York at the same time in the 1950s. You’ll come away thinking less of Casey Stengel and Joe DiMaggio. You’ll learn about the true friendship of Mantle and Roger Maris. And you’ll wonder if the baseball teams today coddle and protect their players the way the Yankees did there stars back in the day.

There are great anecdotes, including a brief one involving the Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Jim Kaat:

“Two-and-oh on Mantle, Earl Battey (Twins’ catcher) would wave his arms and make the sign of the cross.”

But there’s less baseball in this 420-page Harper hardcover than the typical fan might expect. That’s not a criticism. This is a exceptionally good book that I highly recommend. The number of interviews Leavy conducted with Mantle’s Yankee teammates, players on other teams, minor league teammates and opponents, hometown Oklahomans, family, fans, friends, media and medical people makes this an extremely thorough capturing of history. The study of the kinetics of Mantle’s swing alone is worth the price of the book ($27.99, but available now with discounts.)

Rather than being a baseball book, though, “The Last Boy” explains Mantle and major league baseball in the context of life in small-town America, life in the big city when you’re a star, and the sports hero worship of Mantle’s time. The Mick is the centerpiece for explaining all-too-frequent father-son relationships — both that of he and his father and he and his sons. The all-star centerfielder’s life helps us understand the perpetual childhood of some athletes, the privileged existence shoved upon the likes of a poor kid from Commerce, OK, and his inability to choose wisely when success on the field brought him celebrity and its perks.

In so many ways, Mantle’s story is a tragedy. Very late in life he came to realize that, and blessedly went through rehab to spend his last 18 months in sobriety. But from start to finish I found I could only take small bites of reading Mantle’s life story, and there were two reasons for that.

The pain no one knew

The first was that I was savoring this so-well-written work. Peavy has a great story to tell, and she tells is extremely well. But I came to feel so sorry for Mantle — sorry for the injuries that kept him from being even a greater player than he was, sorry for his inability to handle stardom, sorry for his sinning and the people he hurt — that I often found I had to stop reading because I couldn’t take anymore of this tragic waste of God’s gifts.

What was perhaps the most painful was reading how many people — teammates, reporters, members of the Yankee organization, even New York City cops — were unable or unwilling to help Mantle help himself. Swinging my 32-inch Mickey Mantle bat in the 1960s I knew nothing of the injured knee Mantle played on almost his entire 18-year career, nothing of his public drunkeness, nothing of his family life, what little of it there was.

This was a time — and I’m not sure it’s over completely — when reporters didn’t write that The Mick was unable to play because he was hungover.  Or that he had a succession of both mistresses and one-night stands. The fear of Mantle — or any other star player or celebrity — no longer speaking to a reporter kept them from doing anything more than praising the on-the-field Mantle, the powerful clean-up hitter, and gauging the distances of his home run blasts.

For my money, Leavy spends a bit too much time on what is allegedly one of the longest homers ever, but there is so much more that is interesting and informative and insightful in “The Lost Boy” that that misstep is easily forgiven. Her saga of interviewing the retired Mantle actually made me squirm; I’m wasn’t sure I wanted to read about that Mickey Mantle. But there’s a good point: Something in us doesn’t want our heroes tarnished

And today’s ‘heroes’ ?

Did we want to know that Tiger Woods had a mistress in New York when he had a supermodel wife  in Florida — or would we just rather see him making birdie puts on Sunday afternoons?

Did we really want to learn that Brett Favre had sent nude photos of himself to a woman who wasn’t his wife — or do we just want to remember him driving a team down for that final-minute winning touchdown?

To put this in a Catholic context, do we really want to know that a priest has abused young boys — or do we want to hold onto our image of our priests as holy men with no faults?

No place to hide

The end of America’s childhood. That’s the story that circulates around the life story of Mickey Mantle. There’s no more covering up. There’s no place to hide. There’s no one who can stop the foibles and failings of our heroes from being spread across television and computer screens, no less the pages of newspaper and magazines. And there’s no reason to do so.

Readers of “The Last Boy” may come to loathe some of the things Mantle did that tarnish his image, yet at the same time find much to like about The Mick, more than his 536 career homers. For one thing, he understood the power of his celebrity could be used for good, and did so both on behalf of many charities but also to help former teammates cash in on the trading card phenomenon.

It’s a wonderful reminder that we humans are neither all good nor all bad. What a great lesson to remember, especially in our own time, when so many choose to demonize others. None of us is perfect. None of us us all good, all holy, nor all evil. – bz

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Let it snow!

December 22, 2010

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While many of us are busy being crabby about having to shovel massive amounts of snow from our driveways — and clear the end of them again after the snowplow goes by — others are rejoicing about the winter landscape that now features huge snowdrifts.

Avid cross country skiers have to be loving it. As I went for a run the other day, I caught sight of a snowmobile on a nearby golf course grooming a cross country skiing trail. That got me to thinking about people like Kathy Schneeman, who calls winter her favorite season and loves to get out on her skis with her husband, Eric, and any of her kids who want to go.

I’m sure she has a smile on her face and skis on her feet these days. There have been recent winters where there has been little snow for skiing all winter long. This year, the snow came early, and it’s not going away anytime soon. People who like winter sports like cross country skiing are going to have lots of time and opportunity to get out and enjoy the snow.

For people willing to travel, Minnesota Monthly offers a guide to groomed trails throughout the entire state. In the Twin Cities, About.com lists places to go, along with where you can rent or buy skis. For reports listing the quality of local trails, visit skinnyski.com.

I hope to try cross country skiing sometime this winter. Years ago, I went a few times and liked it. Plus, for more than 10 years, I regularly used a Nordic Track cross country ski machine to make sure I got some exercise. Maybe that will help me get the hang of actually skiing. The good news is, I have a decent level of fitness from walking and running six days a week, so I should be able to handle the skiing.

I must say, I do enjoy getting out in the fresh, crisp air of winter, as long as it’s not ridiculously cold. If the temperatures stay close to average, that should be just about right for some great skiing.

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