Archive | March, 2011

Were angels ever babies? (And what do we really know about them?)

March 30, 2011


CNS photo/ Bob Roller

When an inquiring young Catholic asked this question, I started wondering what the church teaches about the heavenly hosts. My guess is that the questioner saw the tiny naked beings popularly called cherubs or “putti” in Italian, which appear in Renaissance and Baroque art. Despite the fact that many of these creatures appear in religious paintings, neither the church nor Scripture offer evidence that angels actually look like babies.

Like us, angels are creatures made in God’s image and likeness. But they are spirits who only appear in human form when they’re sent to help us. There’s no record of an angel appearing as a baby.

Pope John Paul II gave this description of angels in a 1986 general audience: “Their purely spiritual being implies first of all their nonmateriality and their immortality. The angels have no “body” (even if, in particular circumstances, they reveal themselves under visible forms because of their mission for the good of men), and therefore they are not subject to the laws of corruptibility which are common to all the material world.”

Nine orders of angels correspond to their measure of perfection and assignments: Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. In art the cherubim are often represented as chubby babies, but in the Old Testament the prophet Ezekiel describes them by saying “their form was human but each had four faces and four wings” (Ezekiel 1: 5-6).

Angels are spirits but they have a free will and intellect.  Jesus tells us that those who have risen will be like the angels (Luke 20:36). For now, though, they’re superior to us and they have the privilege of always seeing God (Matthew 18-10).

God made the angels to carry out his will in the world, the Church Fathers taught. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the angels belong to Christ (CCC331).

Angels are interested in our lives and their job is always to help us (Matthew 18:10). “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?” (Heb.1:14).

Scripture records many instances when angels have served as God’s messengers, most notably appearing to Our Lady at the Annunciation.  The church also teaches that the angels are charged with protecting us and being concerned for our salvation. As St. Jerome wrote, “They manifest the omnipotence of God.”

Because the angels’ job of helping, protecting and delivering messages to us is so huge, it’s a good thing they’re not babies. According to the Catechism, “the whole life of the church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels” (CCC334).

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Mark your calendar!

March 28, 2011


A sure sign of spring happens this week. It’s the annual Northwest Sportshow, which takes place March 30 through April 3 (Wednesday through Sunday).

Even though the weather has been feeling more like February than late March, walking through the doors of the Minneapolis Convention Center will make you feel better by turning your thoughts — and dreams — toward the upcoming fishing sesaon, not to mention the turkey season just around the corner and, later on, the fall hunting seasons.

Walking the numerous and spacious aisles of the main auditorium is always fun for me, as I have made this an annual adventure. In addition to looking at lots of gear and trip destinations, I have been able to find some good prices on stuff. For example, about two or three years ago, I saw a Nikon Pro Staff scope at the Reed’s booth for $99. It normally sells for $139. So, I bought it for my son’s 20-gauge.

Nikon makes excellent scopes and this one has performed well. This year, we went to the gun range to sight in the shotgun with the Nikon scope. My son, Andy, took three shots at 50 yards to see if the scope was still on (it’s very important to check your scope every year). All three shots — with two different brands of ammo, no less — landed in the bullseye. In fact, they were all touching!

That’s the kind of performance you want in a scope, and the price was great. In fact, I don’t think I have seen a price that low on this scope since then. Some companies offer great deals at the show, so it’s worth looking. My advice would be to price items you are interested in buying, then check the prices at the show to see if there’s a deal to be had.

The show also features numerous seminars dealing with a wide range of topics, including fishing and turkey hunting. Most of them are designed for beginners, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to decide which seminar to attend.

Often times, more advanced tips can be found by talking to people who work in the booths. One of my favorite booths is Ammo Craft, which sells primarily hunting gear. The owner, Ron Becker, is an avid turkey hunter, and he has carried on the tradition of the store’s previous owner, Don Parsons, in supplying a wide array of stuff for turkey hunters.

About two years ago, I bought a push button call from him called the Pro Push Pin Yelper made by Quaker Boy. It’s a great call that is very easy to use. It makes the softer calls like clucks and purrs that can help bring a gobbler into gun range.

Ron recommended the call and I have used it a lot over the last two seasons. It’s my go-to call when I’m trying to get a tom to come those last few critical yards. I have a lot of confidence in this call, and I highly recommend it. Other companies make this type of call, called a pushbutton call. The funny thing is, these calls are so easy to use that they are often overlooked by hunters.

I think what happened is that, when they first came out, they were marketed to hunters who had a tough time using other calls, like box, slate and mouth calls. But, let me tell you, I am proficient with all of these calls, yet I still like my Pro Push Pin Yelper for the soft calls. And, make no mistake, soft calls are very important in turkey hunting, though you hear lots more about the basic mating call of hens in the spring — the yelp.

I remember going to the show way back when I was a preteen. It was held at the Minneapolis Armory, and one of my favorite booths to visit was one run by a guy who called himself The Rat Man. He made a series of jointed wood lures that can best be described as sexy in the water. These lures had more gyrations than the scantily clad women you see on Dancing with the Stars.

Funny thing is, I have never caught a fish on one of these seductive lures. Maybe I didn’t use them often enough. But, that didn’t matter. The Rat Man, complete with his black eye patch — probably used primarily for dramatic effect — was one of the most entertaining characters at the show. And, quite frankly, there has not been anyone like him since he vanished from the scene a number of years ago.

That’s OK. I still like going to the show. I’m fired up about the upcoming turkey hunting and fishing seasons, and I’m fired up about making my annual trip to the Northwest Sportshow.

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Comic book about Pope Benedict’s life to be handed out at World Youth Day

March 25, 2011

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A place for outdoor enthusiasts

March 24, 2011


Like many outdoors enthusiasts, I am not happy about the 6-inch snowfall that is delaying spring’s arrival. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to use the snowblower again, but there I was firing it up yesterday and getting hit in the face with snow as I cleared my driveway and sidewalk.

It was nice to finally see grass within the last week, but it quickly disappeared under a white blanket yesterday. I had started turning my thoughts to spring turkey hunting, and was beginning to practice my calling.

Unfortunately, I lost my zeal for it yesterday. But, I had to make a quick rebound today to buy a surplus turkey tag in Wisconsin for both myself and my 13-year-old son, William. The youth turkey hunting weekend is coming up in just two and a half weeks, and I’m hoping we won’t be sitting in snow on those two days.

In the meantime, something I saw on the web today made me smile. I got an e-mail for a site called Minnesota Outdoorsman and decided to check it out. Turns out there’s a lot of stuff to see — and it’s all free. I definitely like that. I registered and gained immediate access to hunting and fishing articles, forums, fishing reports and more. Looks like a great way to keep tabs on the local outdoors scene.

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Time for turkey tags

March 21, 2011


Those who wish to hunt turkeys in Minnesota and/or Wisconsin can purchase tags right now, either if they did not get picked in the general lottery or, in the case of Wisconsin, if they wish to buy additional tags.

Last week, Minnesota put surplus tags on sale for time periods A through F (tags for Seasons G and H are available over the counter). There are still plenty available, including some for as early as Season B (April 18-22). But, I suspect most will be gone by the end of this week, so now’s the time to act.

Meanwhile, surplus tags in Wisconsin started going on sale today. The tags are sold differently in this state. Zone 1 tags are sold today, Zone 2 tomorrow, Zone 3 Wednesday, Zone 4 Thursday, Zones 5 and 6 Friday, and all of the remaining tags then go on sale Saturday. They’re a great bargain at $10 for residents and $15 for nonresidents.

Although I already have a tag for Wisconsin, I may get one more, maybe two. That’s the beauty of turkey hunting in Wisconsin — there’s no limit to how many tags you can buy, except you can only buy one per day.

I’m also going to get my son, William, a tag so he can hunt the youth weekend April 9 and 10. My wife will be on retreat that weekend, so we’ll be able to hunt all weekend. Looks like I’ll be helping a couple of other kids, too. I just hope the weather cooperates — and the snow melts by then!

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‘Supermoon’ will rise tonight, but don’t get too excited

March 19, 2011


CNS photo / Andy Clark, Reuters

News has been circulating around the Internet in the last several days that tonight’s full moon — March 19 — will make a very close approach to earth and appear bigger and brighter than it has in 18 years. Some are dubbing it the “supermoon.”

Is it true? Or it is another false claim like last summer’s eye-roller that Mars was moving in its orbit close enough to earth to appear as big as the full moon?

This time, rest assured, the news is true. But don’t expect to see anything worth dragging your family and friends outside to see.

Tonight’s moon is at perigee — the point in its orbit when it’s closest to earth. It will be about 31,000 miles closer than when it’s at the farthest point in its elliptical orbit, called apogee. It’s a fairly rare event for the full moon to coincide with perigee.

But it really won’t look much different in the sky. Compared to last month’s full moon, it will appear just 2 percent bigger in diameter, according to Sky & Telescope magazine. Compared to a full moon at apogee, it will appear about 14 percent bigger — somewhat noticeable, but still not eye-poppingly different.

And, one rumor regarding the ‘supermoon,’ is not true: Geologists say concerns that tidal forces tonight will lead to major earthquakes and other natural disasters are unfounded.

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Listen to Jesus: The Second Sunday of Lent’s Message

March 18, 2011


Transfiguration Church in Mount Tabor, Israel

The Transfiguration is the gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent in all three of the liturgical cycles: Mt 17:1-9 in Year A; Mk 9:2-10 in Year B; and Lk 9:28-36 in Year C.

This gospel does not appear by happenstance, but was chosen by the Church for early Lent for a vitally important reason. The main message was spoken by God the Father and is intended to guide us on our forty-day journey through this holy season: “This is my chosen Son, listen to him” (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35). If we wish to turn away from sin and be more firmly rooted in the gospel, the spiritual objective for Lent as given on Ash Wednesday (Mk 1:15), and if we wish to grow in holiness and be well-prepared to celebrate the Triduum, particularly Easter, the best way to do so is to spend Lent listening to Jesus.

To listen to Jesus is what God wants. God the Father rarely speaks in the gospels, only twice. Because his words are so few, and because they are so momentous, we should sit up and take notice. The Father’s first statement at Jesus’ baptism explains who Jesus is: “This is my beloved Son,” and his second and final statement at the Transfiguration explains how the Father wants us to respond to his Son: “Listen to him.”

The Transfiguration account confirms the teaching authority of Jesus. Jesus stood between Moses, the Word of the Law symbolized by the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, and Elijah, the Word of Prophecy symbolized by a scroll or a book. By standing with Jesus, Moses and Elijah endorsed his teaching mission and transferred their lead roles as law-giver and prophet to him. Jesus is the Word (Jn 1:1), and the proper response is to listen to him.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus himself explained: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63), and Peter accurately replied, “Master, you have the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). If we want to have a full and meaningful life on earth, and if we wish to enjoy everlasting life in heaven, then we must listen to him.

Please, listen to Jesus every day this Lent. It is easy to do. Open the Bible, read a gospel passage, and reflect on it. Go to Mass, pay careful attention to the readings, and listen to the homily. Set aside quiet time for prayer, and listen to Jesus speak to your heart. Watch a movie like Jesus of Nazareth or The Passion, and listen to what he says and does. Do some spiritual reading and listen to Jesus speak through the author. Be kind to another and listen to Jesus speak through your neighbor. Please, listen to Jesus and have a good Lent.

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Where is St. Joseph buried? And is it OK to bury his statue when selling a house?

March 17, 2011

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CNS photo / Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin

We know that there are no graves for Our Lord and His Blessed Mother since their bodies are obviously not on earth, but what about the third member of the Holy Family? Experts believe that St. Joseph died in Nazareth and probably was buried there.

Scripture doesn’t say much about Joseph, and none of his words are quoted. But what it does say about him reveals his virtue and holiness in caring for Mary and Jesus. Though little is known about his life, St. Joseph is powerful in heaven in part because, unlike any other saint, he played a fatherly role in Jesus’ life. He is the patron of the Universal Church.

Showing heroic faith, Joseph was humble, gentle, and dependable. He didn’t judge Mary even when he couldn’t account for her pregnancy. When he was told in a dream to flee to Egypt, he did God’s will right away, even though the journey would be difficult and he didn’t know when they could return.

“He was truly the faithful and prudent servant whom our Lord appointed the master of his household, the comfort and support of his mother, his foster-father, and most faithful cooperator in the execution of his deepest counsels on earth,” St. Bernard said.

Coming two days after the parades and fanfare of St. Patrick’s Day, the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19 is less visible in the secular world but many degrees higher in importance within the church, according to Father Joseph Gallatin, pastor of St. Peter in Mendota.

The feast day is celebrated in many countries but especially in Polish and Italian cultures. Sicilians place a statue of St. Joseph on their dining room table with flowers and candles as part of the feast they throw for anyone who comes to the door that day.

Historically, Italian and Polish Americans in some areas have hosted big celebrations on St. Joseph’s Day, partly in response to the great Irish festivities on St. Patrick’s Day. Both cultures host a feast with a St. Joseph’s statue on the table, along with decorations emphasizing their country’s colors. Italians cook with breadcrumbs to represent a carpenter’s sawdust.

As we celebrate St. Joseph’s life, we do know where some of his statues are buried: in the yards of people hoping to sell their homes quickly. Apparently, the tradition dates back to St. Teresa of Avila, who had her sisters bury St. Joseph medals as a symbol of devotion to consecrate land in St. Joseph’s name.

However, according to Father Vincent Serpa, OP, burying St. Joseph statues in hopes of a quick sale isn’t supported by the church because it’s superstition rather than trusting in God.

Praying to St. Joseph on his feast day is a better idea — at least St. Alphonsus Ligouri thought so: “For several years I have asked him, on his feast, for some particular grace, and every time my petition has been granted.”

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In light of Japan crisis, what is church’s position on nuclear energy?

March 17, 2011

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As the citizens of Japan face the ongoing threat of nuclear contamination and radiation sickness, religious leaders in other parts of the world have been speaking out about the danger of relying on nuclear power to meet energy needs.

Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, head of the public affairs committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the situation at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station confirmed why the Filipino church has opposed using nuclear energy to generate power.

“I think [government officials] should intently follow what is happening in Japan,” he was quoted as saying in a recent Catholic News Service story. “We have long been opposing it due to its possible negative effects in the country.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who speaks often about the responsibility of Christians to care for the environment, sent a message to members of the Orthodox Church saying the tragedy in Japan illustrates the danger posed by nuclear power plants.

“With all due respect to the science and technology of nuclear energy and for the sake of the survival of the human race, we counter-propose the safer green forms of energy,” the patriarch said. Those greener energy sources would include solar, wind and water-generated power.

Concerns expressed

You might think, based on these comments, that the Catholic and Orthodox churches are fundamentally opposed to the use of nuclear power. I’m not sure about the position of the Orthodox Church as a whole on this issue, but the Catholic Church seems to take an evenhanded approach, although it’s difficult to find many official, authoritative statements on the topic.

In 2009, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, at the time the Vatican’s chief representative to the United Nations, reaffirmed the Vatican’s support for the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. A CNS story also noted that he called for an agreement on the production of nuclear fuel to meet growing energy needs, with the International Atomic Energy Agency “taking a leading role to ensure safety, security and fair access for all countries.”

That same year, the bishops of Alberta, Canada, issued a pastoral reflection on nuclear energy in response to proposals to build and operate commercial nuclear reactors in the province. The bishops did not take sides, but called for deeper discussions and ethical reflections on the issue touching on these topics: stewardship of the environment; protection of human life and respect for the integrity of creation; stewardship of public resources; security; and adequate consultation of those potentially impacted.

Benefits and risks

Until other alternative sources of energy can be developed affordably and efficiently on a large scale, nuclear power offers one option for meeting energy needs while cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to the problem of global warming — the dangers of which the Catholic Church continues to warn about.

At the same time, we must not forget the caveat that nuclear power be generated in a way that is safe and secure.

The Union of Concerned Scientists warns that an expansion of nuclear power also carries an increased risk of catastrophic events not associated with alternative energy sources. Their position paper on nuclear power and global warming notes:

“These catastrophic events include a massive release of radiation due to a power plant meltdown or terrorist attack, or the death of tens of thousands due to the detonation of a nuclear weapon made with materials obtained from a civilian — most likely non-U.S. — nuclear power system.

“Expansion of nuclear power would also produce large amounts of radioactive waste that would pose a serious hazard as long as there remain no facilities for safe long-term disposal.”

And, of course, as the situation in Japan has revealed, there is the threat posed by unprecedented natural disasters.

The topic of nuclear energy is a particularly poignant issue in Minnesota these days because some state legislators want to lift a moratorium, in place since 1994, on building new nuclear power plants. Minnesota currently has two plants — in Monticello and Prairie Island.

All of this leaves one wondering: Is the expansion of nuclear power an acceptable option — morally and ethically — to meet energy needs in today’s world? What do you think?

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Teens will enjoy tale by Minnesotan Jonathan Friesen, an author ‘who wants to make God smile’

March 17, 2011


The headstones in the family cemetery reveal a threatening fact to the young hero of “The Last Martin”: Lots of members of the Boyle family have been named Martin, but the birth years on the grave markers of one Martin Boyle always correspond to the death year of another. When one Martin Boyle is born, the previous one dies.

For the current Martin Boyle that’s a problem. His aunt is expecting, the baby is a boy, and family tradition dictates he be named, you guessed it.

Follow the quick-paced struggles of author Jonathan Friesen’s lead character as he tries to overcome what seems to be the family curse, that there can be only one Martin Boyle.

A writer who lives in Mora, Minn., Friesen sets his story in the Twin Cities, and he brings a bit of Minnesota history into a well-crafted plot. But as a practicing Christian, Friesen told me he always prays before he begins writing.

Responding to my e-mailed question about his faith life, Friesen said he attends a Baptist church. And here’s what he answered when asked why he prays before writing: “The thought of God smiling over me when I write provides both confidence and encouragement. I want to know that He is not only pleased that I am exercising the gift He gave me, but that He is pleased with the content of what I write. I want to make Him smile.”

“The Last Martin” is chock full of wacky characters readers of this Zonderkidz paperback will enjoy. The youngsters in the Boyle family seem to be the only normal folks around. They’ve got the usual growing-up fears and issues, plus a few more — like being cursed to die an early death.

Can the latest Martin Boyle deal with an over-bearing, germaphobic mother, a workaholic father, a crush that’s going badly AND end the curse that’s about to make his life short and not so sweet?

It’s fun, easy read for the 16-and-under crowd. — bz

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