Archive | April, 2011

A Catholic Elevator Speech

April 29, 2011


When a co-worker recently asked me why I’m Catholic, the question took me off guard. I have good reasons for choosing this faith but none of them came to mind at that moment. This was a chance to put the faith in a positive light for an interested, yet skeptical person.

I mumbled something about the Catholic Church having a direct line to the apostles. That’s true, but it wasn’t the most cogent argument I could have offered. What I needed was an elevator speech—a short, focused explanation for why I’m a Roman Catholic.

No two people with 30 seconds on an elevator would describe their careers the same way and neither would two Catholics talk about the same faith experience. Still, I thought I’d try to come up with something clear, convincing and brief, because as was the case with my co-worker, I don’t often have people’s attention for long.

As with many faith questions, I thought the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be the best place to start. There I found the closest thing to a Catholic mission statement in one of the last lines of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” These are four essential marks or characteristics that Christ wants the Church to have. (CCC811-857)

The Church is One because she was founded by Christ, who restored the unity of all in one body and because the Holy Spirit brings about the communion of the faithful. So while the Church is diverse it is also united by the profession of one faith received from the apostles, one common worship—especially the sacraments—and apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders.

The Church is Holy since Christ (with the Father and Spirit) who alone is holy, loved her as his Bride, died to sanctify her, joined himself to her as his body and gave her the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. That’s not to say the Church is faultless because of her association with her Spouse. According to the Catechism (CCC827): “The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.”

The Church is Catholic or universal because Christ is present in her and he has sent her out on a mission to the entire human race. In any part of the world, each Catholic diocese is a community of the Christian faithful in communion of faith and sacraments with their bishop ordained in apostolic succession.

The Church is Apostolic because she is founded on the apostles in three ways: 1. She is built on their foundation as the witnesses Christ chose and sent on mission. 2. With the Holy Spirit’s help, the Church keeps and passes on the apostles’ teaching. 3. She will continue to be taught, sanctified, and guided by their successors, the Pope, bishops and clergy until Christ’s return.

It would be hard to fit all of this into a quick explanation but I think it’s possible to pull together some talking points. Maybe enough to make the inquirer ask follow-up questions. There are plenty of other appealing reasons to be Catholic. If you ever find yourself on a plane rather than an elevator, with time to elaborate on being Catholic, this page offers more good arguments.

If you have another approach to this question, please share it in the comments section. The more ideas the better. My goal is to be ready next time I have an opportunity to share my faith.

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This year, all May is Eastertime

April 29, 2011


Risen Christ Stained Glass

Risen Christ, St. Helen's in Milwaukee

There are thirty-one days in May, and this year because of the lateness of Easter, the entire month falls within the Easter Season. It is the fifty-day season from Easter to Pentecost, “The Great Feast,” a festival of weeks, seven weeks, seven sets of seven days, to commemorate and celebrate the greatest mystery of our faith, the Resurrection.

There are many indicators in the liturgy that Eastertime is special. The primary liturgical color is white, sometimes with gold as an optional color as trim, both which signify victory and glory, jubilation and exultation. The Glory to God and the Alleluia, both missing during Lent, are restored. The creed is replaced with a renewal of baptismal promises followed by a sprinkling rite. The Easter Candle, also known as the Paschal or Christ Candle, normally kept off to the side during other times of the year, is given a position of prominence in the sanctuary. The church is decorated with lilies and other brightly-colored flowers, all which symbolize joy and new life.

Two sacraments are featured during the Easter Season: Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism is highlighted to extend the celebration of the baptisms of the catechumens at the Easter Vigil, for the entire community to welcome the new members, and to celebrate the faith that all believers, new and old, hold in common. If possible, it is also desirable to celebrate infant baptisms within Sunday Mass during the Easter Season to give greater attention to the sacrament.

Eucharist is also given prominence during the Easter Season because it is one of the most important ways that the risen Christ continues his presence among us. For this reason, it is the ideal season to celebrate the reception of First Holy Communion.

Two books of the Bible are used extensively at Mass during the Easter Season: the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John. Acts is chosen because it tells the story of the early Christian community, an important place where the risen Christ can be found, because as Jesus promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20); and the Gospel of John because it emphasizes Christ’s divinity more than the other three.

Easter is the holy season when we celebrate the fact that Jesus is the true Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world. By dying, he destroyed our death; and by rising, he has restored our life. In Christ a new age has dawned, the long reign of sin is ended, and a broken world has been renewed. Alleluia!

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Moving forward

April 28, 2011


I have been taking walks for the last few weeks and it feels great. There is no problem with my left ankle at all. Walking for 2 miles feels just fine.

So, on Tuesday, I decided to push it farther. I walked for about 4.5 miles and even took on the steep “Davern Hill.” My legs were a little tired and sore afterward, but my ankle felt good. I took 2-mile walks yesterday and today, and there was no trouble. Looks like my sprained ankle recovery is about complete. Praise God!

I’m glad to be walking well because I go turkey hunting next week. I have a season in Minnesota that starts on Tuesday, and a season in Wisconsin that starts the next day. The weather is looking good for at least the first part of the week, and I hope that gets the toms gobbling.

Unfortunately, most of the reports I have been hearing up ’til now are bad. Hunters aren’t seeing many birds nor hearing many gobbles. I’m sure the weather has a lot to do with that. Clear skies and warm temperatures do wonders for a gobbler’s mood. Hopefully, the toms will sound off when I’m in the woods.

I ran into a fellow turkey hunter yesterday at the St. Paul Seminary — Father Troy Przybilla, the new vocations director. He’s going turkey hunting this weekend down in southeastern Minnesota. He likes to go in late April and early May so he can try to find morel mushrooms. Says he has had great success with both turkeys and mushrooms at this time of year.

I have always wanted to pick morel mushrooms. I may try to schedule a trip with Father Przybilla someday. Then, maybe he could show me how to cook them. In the meantime, I am going to do a radio show with him that will air on Friday, May 27 from 9-10 a.m. on Relevant Radio 1330. We’ll talk about the outdoors — perhaps, each of our turkey hunts — and his vocation to the priesthood.

I’m looking forward to it. Should be fun. Be sure to tune in!

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Christopher Award winners announced

April 25, 2011


On April 6, the winners of the 62nd annual Christopher Awards were announced. The awards which honor works that affirm the human spirit in publishing, film, TV and cable will be presented at a gala in New York on May 19.

Feature Films

The Human Experience (view trailer)

The King’s Speech (view trailer)

Toy Story 3 (view trailer)

TV & Cable

Making the Crooked Straight (HBO)

A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism (HBO)

A Place Out Of Time: The Bordentown School (PBS)

Amish Grace (Lifetime Movie Network)

Books for Adults

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand)

In Washington: A Life (Ron Chernow)

Thea’s Song: The Life of Thea Bowman (Charlene Smith)

The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything (Father James Martin, S.J.)

Books for Young People

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion (Mo Willems)

Readers 6-8
Would You Still Love Me If… (Wendy LaGuardia)

Readers 8 – 10
Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery (Fr. Dominic Garramone)

Readers 10-12
Lafayette and the American Revolution (Russell Freedman)

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A Test that Set the Stage for Christ’s Sacrifice

April 21, 2011


CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

As we enter into the Church’s holiest days and reflect on Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, another call to sacrifice more than a thousand years earlier gives insights into God’s plan for salvation and the power of faith.

There are many parallels how Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and how Christ was sacrificed for our sins. For one thing, both Isaac and Jesus were only-sons of God’s Promise. God told Abraham that his descendants would be named through Isaac. In turn Christ was the blessing to the every nation.

As commanded by God, Abraham and Isaac climbed a mountain in the land of Moriah for the sacrifice. That mountain is believed to be near Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. As they climbed, Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice. Jesus, the Son, also bore the wood for the sacrifice—the Cross.

When they reached the mountaintop and Isaac realized that there wasn’t an animal for the sacrifice, he didn’t resist when Abraham tied him up. As a young man, Isaac probably could have overpowered his elderly father and saved himself. Jesus also offered no resistance to his captors.

When God’s angel stopped Abraham from killing Isaac, a ram appeared, taking the boy’s place for the sacrifice. Christ was the Lamb given in sacrifice.

The ram that Abraham sacrificed had to be cut from a thicket of thorns, which would have left the animal with a “crown” of thorns around its head. Christ, the Lamb, wore a crown of thorns.

Abraham didn’t know that this test would prefigure how the Father would give up His Son, but he didn’t hesitate to do God’s will, even when it seemed to contradict God’s promise that Isaac would make him the father of nations.

Said St. John Chrysostom, “You see the opposition between the commands and the promise? He enjoined things that were in contradiction to the promises, and yet not even so did the righteous man stagger, nor say he had been deceived.”

He gave Isaac up and God blessed him for it. “When we have proved that our mind is made perfect, and have shown that we disregard earthly things, then earthly things also are given to us; but not before; lest being bound to them already, receiving them we should be bound still.”

It’s interesting to note that God arranged for Abraham to give up his son first, making it look as though He, the Father was offering His own son out of debt, not grace, St. John Chrysostom said. That way, it appears that He first received something from us and so gave us all.

Even though God had told Abraham many years earlier that He could raise humans from the dead, the patriarch remembered and believed. (Heb. 11:19)

“…death had not yet entered in and yet He drew them at once to the hope of the resurrection, and led them to such full assurance, that when bidden, they even slay their own sons, and readily offer up those from whom they expected to people the world,” St. John Chrysostom said.

Although Abraham ultimately didn’t have to kill his son, his faith in God’s promises, especially that of the resurrection, enriches our understanding of the events of the Triduum.

According to St. Clement of Alexandria, “Isaac did everything but suffer, as was right, yielding the precedence in suffering to the Word. Furthermore, there is an intimation of the divinity of the Lord in his not being slain. For Jesus rose again after His burial, having suffered no harm, like Isaac released from sacrifice.”

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Sign of spring

April 21, 2011


In the last few days, I have started to see and hear robins. I like their singing, and I welcome that sound every year. I’m glad the cold weather hasn’t caused them to clam up.

I also noticed that the weather hasn’t put a cramp on their breeding activity, either. Twice, I have seen female robins looking overly plump. That can only mean one thing — they’re about to lay eggs.

Even though Old Man Winter is still hanging around, that’s not stopping at least some of the rituals of spring. I’m hoping that the wild turkeys are moving forward with their breeding as well. With my hunting season starting on May 3, I would like the hens to be busy laying eggs and sitting on their nests, so that the toms have to start looking for more hens. And, hopefully, they’ll come looking for me when I sound off like a hen.

I got an encouraging sign today when a coworker said she saw a tom breeding a hen in a field along the road. That means egg laying and nesting won’t be far behind!

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Can an unborn child feel pain?

April 21, 2011


During an in-womb procedure to correct spina bifida on a 21-week-old fetus, the baby's hand grips the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner in an operating room at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., Aug. 19, 1999. (CNS photo by Michael Clancy)

Minnesota legislators are considering a proposal that would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks gestation because of scientific evidence that an unborn child feels pain by this age. The proposal follows from a state law passed in 2005 requiring abortion providers and referring physicians to inform a woman that pain-reducing medication is available for her unborn baby prior to an abortion.

In addition to their legal applications, these laws also serve an educational purpose. They help people to understand that children in the womb — even only halfway through a pregnancy — are real human beings. They are growing rapidly, and they perceive pain. Subjecting them to abortion makes a procedure that is already inhumane seem all the more horrific.

Not everyone, however, agrees with the science the laws are based on. A quick review of the scientific literature on the topic reveals a lack of consensus among doctors and researchers about the age at which a fetus begins to feel pain. A 2005 article, for example, in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.”

One of the arguments is that the nervous system of a fetus isn’t developed enough to feel pain the way you and I do — that at 20 weeks, pain signals don’t reach the cerebral cortex where pain is perceived.

But more has been studied and written since that article was published. I remember a long story from 2008 in The New York Times Magazine that cited the views of a number of doctors and researchers who disputed the idea that unborn children don’t feel pain.

Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, a fetal pain researcher now working at the University of Tennessee, noted in the article that a structure called the fetal subplate zone of the brain is functioning by 17 weeks and is capable of processing pain signals.

The article also cited research conducted by Nicholas Fisk, a fetal medicine specialist and director of the University of Queensland Center for Clinical Research in Australia.

He had conducted research that, he said, shows fetuses as young as 18 weeks respond to invasive procedures with an increase in stress hormones and by forcing more blood to the brain to protect it from a perceived threat.

The magazine article explains:

“Fisk says he believes that his findings provide suggestive evidence of fetal pain — perhaps the best evidence we’ll get. Pain, he notes, is a subjective phenomenon; in adults and older children, doctors measure it by asking patients to describe what they feel. (‘On a scale of 0 to 10, how would you rate your current level of pain?’) To be certain that his fetal patients feel pain, Fisk says, ‘I would need one of them to come up to me at the age of 6 or 7 and say, “Excuse me, Doctor, that bloody hurt, what you did to me!” ‘ In the absence of such first-person testimony, he concludes, it’s ‘better to err on the safe side’ and assume that the fetus can feel pain starting around 20 to 24 weeks.”

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, wrote about several problematic elements of the JAMA article when it was published six years ago.

He also pointed out something very important that today’s doctors and scientists should remember: “If there is uncertainty about when the infant in utero can begin to feel pain, should we not err on the side of caution and presume that she is entitled to pain medication when being subjected to typically painful or noxious stimuli?”

Father Pacholczyk, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale University, added:

“Yet a deeper concern remains. By offering pain control during an abortion, we still would not succeed in redeeming or sanitizing the act itself. Pain-free killing is still killing. But at least by encouraging abortion doctors and their pregnant patients to consider the pain the infant may experience, they may be prompted to consider a deeper dimension of what they are doing. By challenging their highly suspect presumptions about fetal pain, they may ultimately be pushed to look not only at the discomfort implicit in the procedure, but to revisit the more basic question about the practice itself which brings the life of an innocent human being to an untimely and unjust end.”

Some Minnesota legislators are now revisiting “the more basic question” and calling for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks as another step in ending a procedure that is immoral at any time — and that science persuasively shows is the painful taking of a human life.

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The Joy of Easter – Know the Joy! Share the Joy!

April 21, 2011


The Risen Christ

Risen Christ from Light of Christ in Clearwater FL

Easter is the greatest feast of our faith.  We are an Easter people, a people marked by joyfulness.  Jesus is raised.  He has conquered sin and death.  His victory is our victory.  His death means our redemption.  His resurrection means our salvation.  How could a person not be filled with joy over such wonderful news?

Every genuine Christian cannot help but be transformed by the Easter event.  All is changed:  darkness to light, doubt to faith, selfishness to generosity, despair to hope, sin to grace, and death to eternal life.

Easter should have profound ramifications on our outlook and attitude, our disposition and demeanor.  How can a person be both a Christian and frowning, grumpy, pessimistic, sour, disagreeable, or negative?  They cannot!  These features are like oil and water.  They simply do not mix.  Easter Christians are just the opposite:  smiling, cheerful, optimistic, upbeat, happy, agreeable, and positive.

People can tell rather quickly whether someone is an Easter person or not.  We all “give off vibes,” “send out signals.”  Easter people radiate genuine positive energy, and in doing so, bear witness to the reality of the resurrection.

While Easter happens on one Sunday of the year, we are called to be Easter people all of the time:  in Lent and Easter, Advent and Christmas, and Ordinary Time too.  For Christians, every day is Easter!  Every day is a day to be joyful!  Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), a trademark of the authentic Christian.  Jesus said, “People will know that you are my disciples by your love” (Jn 13:35).  Upon his rising Jesus could have easily also said, “People will know you are my disciples by your joy.”

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Van Gogh for children? Story and illustrations paint new book into a confusing corner: Who is the audience?

April 19, 2011


Are young readers ready for the life story of a famous artist who commits suicide?

That question nagged at me upon several passes through “Vincent van Gogh and the Colors of the Wind.”

Author Chiara Lossani’s text – driven by the 19th century artist’s own letters to Theo, his brother and best friend – offers biographical information, of course, but, even better, insight into the creative mind.

It’s a troubled mind, as we know, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many young readers at the lower end of the target age (seven and up) could handle the alcoholism, the insanity, the frank description of the artist’s roommate, Paul Gauguin, waking up to find van Gogh “standing at the foot of his bed, staring at him with cold eyes, a razor in his hands.”

No less slicing off a piece of his own ear and shooting himself.

Age-appropriate for young readers?

It’s content more appropriate for older students, it would seem, but then I wondered if the children’s book size and the illustrations were such that might turn off, say, a junior high reader.

The fact that the illustrations by Octavia Monaco are full-page for the most part points to that lower-age target audience, yet Monaco’s work is hardly childish. In many instances her use of bright colors echoes van Gogh’s famous paintings, but the artistic subtleties are way above my perception of anything a second-grader would appreciate.

As an adult, I really liked the book, yet I couldn’t help but think this effort in the Eerdmans Books for Young Readers series could have benefited from better design.

First, the reproductions of 14 of van Gogh’s paintings are too small. Just from a size comparison, the art of the book’s illustrator overwhelms the art of the renowned subject of the book! Let me see: Do I want to see van Gogh’s work in a book about van Gogh, or Monaco’s?

Secondly, black type overprinted on dark-colored illustrations is simply difficult to read. Lossani packs lots of information into the 34 pages — I didn’t know van Gogh once had been in the ministry, did you? — but the design does her text no favors.

On the plus side: Giving elementary school students an introduction – any introduction – to the creative arts and the cultural heritage of a van Gogh is an admirable project. Just the lesson Vincent shares with Theo – “Painters teach us to see” – is a lesson worth learning at an early age. – bz

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Taking a shot

April 18, 2011


I took my son, William, turkey hunting during Minnesota’s A season, which started last Wednesday, April 13. We went down to the three adjoining properties near Red Wing that we had permission to hunt.

Our hopes were high. We knew there were birds in the area, and I have hunted these properties for the last eight years, and had taken birds there every time in the spring. Plus, we would have with us a turkey hunting expert, Steve Huettl, who works for Gamehide, a camo clothing company.

Steve really knows his stuff and I was confident he could put us on some birds. Turns out, I was right.

Closing in

We waited until Thursday to go out. The weather looked decent that day and that’s the day Steve was able to join us. At dawn, we first went to a spot where my son, Andy, had killed a bird the year before. But, we didn’t hear any gobbling there. We heard a bird gobble several times to our east, so we hoofed it over to a different field.

We ended  up hearing a hen clucking, then eventually we heard a tom gobble down the hill. We set up and tried to call him in, but he wouldn’t move our way. Then, we changed positions and drew several toms partway up from the bottom.

But, just as it looked like they were going to pop into view any second, they went back down the hill. Steve and William went after them, and eventually got them to about 30 yards. Unfortunately, there was a little hump between them and the toms, and the birds didn’t want to come over to take a look. Actually, one of them came around and moved quickly past them, but William never saw the bird.

They worked on those birds for two hours before Steve finally spooked them while he was walking around and calling. He tried everything he knew, but the birds came out unscathed.

Last chance

The weather turned ugly on Friday and lasted into Saturday, so we didn’t go out. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we gave it one last try. We went back to one of the properties and set up on the far end on a wooded flat where the birds like to roost for the night. I figured they might work their way back to the roost, and we would be there to intercept them.

We sat there for about an hour and a half, then I noticed that William looked very bored. I asked him if he wanted to get up and walk and he nodded quickly. I told him we would walk around in the woods, then walk the edge of the field and hunt our way back to the car.

We heard nothing in the woods, then came back out into the field. We hadn’t gone more than 50 yards along the edge when I spotted a turkey in the cut soybean field. It was a hen. We ducked down, and I wondered if there was a gobbler nearby. Sure enough, to the right of the hen was a tom in full strut. It was a magnificent sight, but the bird was out of range.

Time for strategy

So, we crawled on our bellies to try and close the distance. It worked well until we we surprised to see the hen at only 20 yards when we poked our heads up. She was standing still and staring right at us.

The good news is she didn’t spook, so I figured if we stayed still, she wouldn’t run off. I looked at the tom and he was still strutting. We inched forward and looked again, and this time he, like the hen, was looking right at us.

When toms come out of strut and run their heads up, that’s generally the time to shoot because it usually means they have spotted something they’re unsure of and are trying to identify it and look for possible danger.

It was a longer shot than I would have wanted for William, but I felt the bird was within range of my 12-gauge shotgun. I handed it to William and told him to shoot.

The moment of truth

The bird kept his head up high and still as William tried to steady the gun on his target. He fired, but the bird ran off. It showed no signs of being hit, and eventually flew off.

William was disappointed, but I told him it was a tough shot and a tough situation to be in. I reminded him how cool it was to see the tom in full strut. It’s not often you can walk in that close to a bird like that.

Of course, I wondered if I should have done things differently, like maybe stayed where we had first seen the birds and seen if they might have come to us. Perhaps, we could have done some calling and brought them in.

Oh well. That’s turkey hunting. There are lots of surprises, and you have to react quickly. Sometimes, you do the right thing. Sometimes, you do the wrong thing. That’s what makes it exciting — and challenging.

And, that’s what I hope will make William want to come back for more.

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