Archive | July, 2011

Are you Catholic enough to laugh at a Catholic joke like this one?

July 31, 2011

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A guy goes into a restaurant and is greeted by the hostess, who asks: “Smoking or non-smoking?”

“Non-smoking,” he replies.

He is seated and the waiter comes over to his table to take his drink order.

“I’ll have a Coke,” he states.

The waiter says: “Diet or regular?”

“Regular.”

“Caffeine or caffeine-free?”

“With caffeine.”

The drink is brought to his table and the guy orders his food. The waiter asks what kind of dressing he’d like on his salad: “Italian, French, Thousand Island or raspberry vinaigrette?”

“Italian.”

“Regular or fat-free?”

“Regular.”

The man orders a steak with vegetables and potato.

“How do you want that prepared: rare, medium rare, medium well or well done?”

“Medium well.”

“How do you want your vegetables: raw, steamed, baked, boiled, blanched or fried?”

“Boiled.”

“And how would you like your potato: Baked, French fried or mashed?”

“Baked.”

Finally, the poor man has had enough and looks up to heaven and shouts: “I can’t take all of these choices!”

The man calls up his patron saint saying: “St. Francis, help me — help me with all these decisions!”

At that moment a voice booms from the sky: “Assisi, Xavier or DeSales?”

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Can Catholics laugh? Let’s see

July 29, 2011

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From the Ironic Catholic (Hey, Google her site!)

An old preacher was dying. He requested that his IRS agent and his lawyer come to his home. When they entered his bedroom, the preacher motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed.

Both the IRS agent and lawyer were touched that the old preacher wanted them to be with him in his final hour. They were also curious, since the preacher had never given any indication of liking either one of them. Finally, the lawyer asked, “Pastor, why did you ask us to come?”
The old preacher mastered up some strength, then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves, and that’s how I want to go too.”
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You’ve never read or seen church history like this

July 28, 2011

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It’s a brilliant idea, executed brilliantly: Tell the history of the church — warts and all — through classic paintings.

Duquesne University Press has pulled it off in “The History of the Church through 100 Masterpieces” (http://www.dupress.duq.edu/pubDetails.asp?theISBN=9780820704371).

From Caravaggio’s famous “Crucifixion of St. Peter” (head down, you remember), through Durer’s “The Martyrdom of Ten Thousand Christians,” the spread of Christianity through various regions by various artists, excommunications, schisms, crusades, popes, anti-popes, the Inquisition, Franciscans, Benedictines, Paul Thumann’s “Luther at the Diet of Worms,” even the martyrs of the New World and Japan.

There’s the “The Consecration of Napoleon” by Jacques-Louis David that dominates most of a wall in the high-ceiling-ed Louvre. There are artistic depictions of the sacraments, including the beautiful “Holy Viaticum in Burgundy” by Aime Perret that hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. And there’s the haunting piece by Paul Delaroche, “Cardinal Henri Beaufort Interrogating Joan of Arc” from the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Rouen, France.

I found I had a smattering of knowledge of many of the events pictured, but although the text paired with each painting is just one page, authors Jacques Duquesne and Francois Legrette pack it with interesting detail — detail both about that period of church history and also about the painting and the painter. M. Cristina Borges translated from the original French.

This is just a superb, enjoyable work, and worth every bit of the $29.95 retail price.

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Publishers must think church saints are back in

July 28, 2011

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Saints are cool again. At least book publishers must figure they are.

Here’s a quick look at recent releases that target niche markets — teens and moms — people who might be searching for role models among the heavenly blessed — and one that could be for just about everyone.

Liguori Publications is aiming both at teenage readers and on-the-go mothers who might be looking for a spiritual boost — or at the least empathy.

In “Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints,” Colleen Swaim (http://www.liguori.org/productdetails.cfm?sku=820298) tells the real-life biographies of eight young people who lived relatively recently, all in an effort to help today’s young people understand that holiness is real and attainable.

Catholics will recognize names like Maria Goretti and Dominic Savio — well-known teens saints, but names new to me like St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, an Indian nun, and St. Kizito, a  Ugandan martyred for his faith.

What makes the this 130-page paperback work is that Swaim knows her audience has short attention spans so she keeps the stories brief and interesting, but she also challenges teens to put themselves in the situations the saints found themselves, asking them to reflect upon questions like:

“Think back to the last time you were in physical pain. How did you react to it?”

And, “Do you remember making your first Holy Communion? How did you feel? How do you approach the Eucharist differently today?”

Even the brief text is broken up with definitions and info boxes scattered throughout along with prayers, quotes, and “Saintly Challenges” like, “With the zeal of a new convert, fearlessly tell one person about your faith.”

 

For Moms-on-the-go

In a similar vein but purse-size and just 79 pages is “Saints on Call: Everyday Devotions for Moms” (http://www.liguori.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=11903. Author Christine Gibson takes common, real-life situations — for example, “When you feel ‘sacrificed-out’ for your family…” — and offers a simple explanation how a saint dealt with a similar issue. Each brief story is followed by a quote from scripture to ponder and a prayer.

For the sacrificed-out mom, Gibson holds up St. Gianna Molla who chose to deliver her baby knowing it would cost her her own life. Gibson’s prayer hits home:

“St. Gianna, you made the ultimate sacrifice for your little one. I ask you to please pray for me that I may rejoice in the sacrifices I can make for my dear children.”

Among the more than four dozen other situations — each tied to a saint — are issues such as “When you feel like life is not going as you planned it…” (St. Rose Philippine Duchesne); “When you can’t stand another house guest…” (St. Lydia Pupuraria); “When you are worried about your wayward child…” (St. Monica).

Every single one is a winner.

 

For scholars, art lovers and, well, everyone

Finally, there’s this book that will appeal to a number of niche groups — and perhaps a general audience, too —  with stories about saints from Agatha to Zachariah.

“The Lives of the Saints through 100 Masterpieces” (http://www.dupress.duq.edu/pubDetails.asp?theISBN=9780820704364) is a Duquesne University Press paperback is going to be loved by those who cherish Christian art, but those interested in saints’ stories, myths, legends and history will find it compelling reading and viewing.

Written by Jacques Duquesne and Francois Lebrette and translated from the French by M. Cristina Borges, this 221-pager is a collection of saints’ biographies — and tales, to be honest — each accompanied by classic paintings that hang is places both well-known — The Louvre, The Prado — and obscure (to me at least), and almost all in Europe.

Even if you think you know the stories of saints you’ll find new information here. I especially appreciated the transparency of the authors who frankly acknowledge when something about one of the saintly heroes may have been passed down as mere legend.

Readers will appreciated learning why a saint is pictured in a certain way — St. Denis carrying his own head! – or typically painted with a certain object — a sword, a palm leaf, a stag, which would be St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters.

There are saints, too, that you may never have heard of — St. Fiacre, for example — that show the European bent of the authors. But those tales are interesting, too, and the paintings that help tell the story are indeed masterpieces. Warning: The retail cost is a bit steep at $29.95, but it isn’t cheap to print all those color paintings, and the print job is superb, even in the smaller format.– bz

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Help human trafficking victims, ask Congress to reauthorize protection act

July 28, 2011

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In Damascus, Syria, two young Iraqi sisters live in a women’s shelter run by Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The girls had been living as vulnerable refugees in the community, when one day a woman attempted to traffic them. They will remain protected in the shelter until their cases for refugee status are decided by the United Nations. But if funding for the shelter does not continue, these girls may well be left to fend for themselves, vulnerable again to trafficking in an even more dangerous Damascus.

Annually, an estimated 700,000 to 2 million people — primarily women and children — are trafficked across borders into extreme forms of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 statement on migration, entitled “Migrations: A Sign of the Times,” the pope deplored the “trafficking of human beings — especially women — which flourishes where opportunities to improve their standard of living or even to survive are limited.”

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was promulgated by Congress in 2000 to establish the United States’ efforts and leadership in combating the multi-billion-dollar industry. The Act directs the U.S. State Department’s efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, prosecute those who profit from it, and protect victims.

The law established the T visa, which allows trafficking victims to become temporary U.S. residents. Training is another component of the law, which funds efforts to span the wide expanse of workers who deal with victims — law enforcement officers, federal prosecutors, social service providers, trafficking advocates — to exchange ideas and build networks.

Since 2000, Catholic Relief Services has established more than 100 programs in more than 35 countries to prevent trafficking and protect victims. The shelter in Damascus is one of them.

This year, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act expires. Congress must therefore act to reauthorize it.

As chair of the Education and Work Committee, Rep. John Kline (R-MN) can help this bill pass quickly before the Act expires on Sept. 30. Rep. Kline should move to allow the House Foreign Affairs Committee to pass the bill with strong provisions for global and domestic leadership to combat trafficking.

If the bill does not pass, U.S. pressure on countries across the globe to combat modern-day slavery will suffer. In this economic environment, more vulnerable and marginalized people like the young Iraqi sisters in Damascus may fall victim to those who would exploit them. And, programs to facilitate rehabilitation will close.

Catholic Relief Services is urging those concerned about human trafficking victims to call Rep. Kline at (202) 225-2271 and ask him to allow the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 to move quickly through Congress.

For more information about human trafficking, see the article “Escape from slavery: Minnesota girl’s plight highlights problem of human trafficking,” which ran in The Catholic Spirit on Dec. 14, 2010.

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2010 abortion report: Good news and bad news

July 27, 2011

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Yesterday’s release of the 2010 abortion report by the Minnesota Department of Health contained both good news and bad news.

First, the good news:

From 2009 to 2010, there was a 7.1 percent drop in the number of abortions performed in our state, from 12,388 to 11,505 — the biggest one-year decline since 1993, according to Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

The 2010 number is the lowest yearly number of abortions since 1975 and the lowest rate of abortion — 10.1 per 1,000 females ages 15-44 — ever reported.

Furthermore, abortions performed on minors fell 16.8 percent to 482, the lowest number since 1975, when statistics for minors were begun, according to MCCL. Minor abortions peaked in 1980 at 2,327 and have been pretty much in steady decline since then.

What accounts for this decline? Regarding abortions performed on minors, MCCL credits Minnesota’s 1981 parental notification law, which requires that both parents be notified at least 48 hours before an abortion is performed on their child (although the law includes a judicial bypass option).

More broadly, MCCL credits the state’s Woman’s Right to Know law, signed in 2003, which provides mothers with medically accurate information about fetal development, abortion procedures and alternatives to abortion. MCCL also points to the 2005 Positive Alternatives law that provides resources and support to pregnant women in need.

In addition to such laws, education is also crucial, and MCCL as well as other groups — including local parishes — remain important sources of information and support for building the culture of life.

So what’s the bad news regarding the 2010 report?

Planned Parenthood performed more abortions than ever in 2010, even in light of the 7 percent decrease. PP now performs 35 percent of all abortions in the state — its highest percentage ever, according to MCCL.

Fischbach noted in a press release:

“Planned Parenthood officials need to stop claiming they want to reduce abortions in Minnesota, because the statistics don’t lie. With its massive new abortion clinic under construction in St. Paul, which will be the nation’s third largest, Planned Parenthood is poised to further expand its already bloated business of killing the unborn in record numbers.”

Also, chemical abortions rose to 20.7 percent of all abortions and taxpayer-funded abortions climbed to 33.8 percent of all abortions — the highest number since the state Supreme Court cleared the way for such funding in 1995. Complications as the result of an abortion — such as a perforated uterus or incomplete abortion — rose from 88 in 2009 to 164 in 2010.

Despite some of the good news, it’s obvious there is plenty of work that still needs to be done by the pro-life community to change hearts and minds on the issue of abortion.

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Coon Rapids’ Father Carlson to tackle the Twin Cities Marathon

July 27, 2011

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Check out the blog of Father Alex Carlson – http://fathercarlson.blogspot.com/2011/06/time-is-now.html – to learn why he’s taking on the challenge of the Twin Cities Marathon. He’s an associate pastor at Epiphany, Coon Rapids. Think we should start a poll to see if folks think he’ll make all 26 miles of “the most beautiful urban marathon in America”?

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Make plans to see a Catholic film: “Vito Bonafacci”

July 27, 2011

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The Catholic Spirit is sponsoring a special local-run of the Catholic film, “Vito Bonafacci”.

Synopsis

Vito BonafacciVito Bonafacci is a successful businessman who enjoys his lifestyle and the riches he has accumulated.

But all that changes when one night he dreams he is having a heart attack. In that dream his mother appears from her grave and pleads with him to abandon his pursuit of greed and materialism. “Beware of the false gods of money, power, status and pleasure” she implores him, and then instructs him to “return to the true path of life”.

When Vito wakes, he is deeply affected by this vision and this leads him on a soul-searching journey to understand his life’s purpose. In a series of encounters with family and friends, he questions and explores the meaning of faith and the role religion plays in tempering one’s soul.

As the echo of his Mother’s words fills his thoughts he reaches out to his local priest to begin the renewal of his Catholic faith.

Quote

‘Vito Bonafacci’ an earnest film about a lapsed Roman Catholic in spiritual crisis, is a welcome reminder of religion’s true work. In a world fixated on bombast, ‘Vito Bonafacci’ offers a quiet haven for meaningful meditation.

- Daniel M. Gold, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Details

When: Friday, Aug. 26-Thursday, Sept. 1

Where: AMC Arbor Lakes 16
12575 Elm Creek Blvd., Maple Grove, MN
North of the I-94 – I-494 – I-694 junction
In the Arbor Lakes Mall area

Showtimes: 1-888-AMC 4FUN
http://www.amctheatres.com/ArborLakes

For more information about the film, visit http://www.vitobonafacci.com

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What’s causing the drought in East Africa?

July 26, 2011

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A woman holds her baby outside a tent serving as a medical clinic established by the African Union peacekeeping operation in Mogadishu, Somalia, July 16. (CNS photo/Stuart Price U.N. handout photo via Reuters)

The drought in East Africa is reportedly the region’s worst in six decades, and it threatens the lives of millions of people with food shortages. Thousands are fleeing Somalia to seek food in Kenya and Ethiopia, according to Catholic Relief Services, which is responding to the disaster.

But what is causing this severe drought and the looming threat of famine?

Rains that normally fall from October to December in parts of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia failed to arrive last year. This year, spring rains were less than adequate, according to CRS, and many areas have now missed two growing seasons. Consequently, food prices are rising beyond affordability.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California in Santa Barbara believe that the trend of decreasing precipitation will continue and that it’s linked to global warming.

According to a press release earlier this year from the USGS:

“As the globe has warmed over the last century, the Indian Ocean has warmed especially fast. The resulting warmer air and increased humidity over the Indian Ocean produce more frequent rainfall in that region. The air then rises, loses its moisture during rainfall, and then flows westward and descends over Africa, causing drought conditions in Ethiopia and Kenya.”

These scientists concluded, after examining the region’s weather and climate data, that most of that warming is the result of greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions from human activities.

The situation in East Africa is one example of how climate change is negatively impacting world populations. And it is the world’s poor who are paying the heaviest price.

The long-term solution is to work to reduce greenhouse emissions. But, right now, what’s most needed is a generous response to the needs of those immediately affected by the drought and food shortages. You can help by making a contribution to CRS to help its efforts in East Africa.

And prayers are always needed for the hungry, for those working to assist them and for the future, which remains uncertain.

According to CRS:

“What will happen next is weather dependent. If the fall rains appear on schedule, they will be a great help, although we still must ensure that farmers have seeds to plant, because the crop failure has left many without seeds. If the rains do not appear or are deficient, then the food crisis will worsen considerably as hunger becomes more acute and displacement more widespread. If the rains are too strong, falling on the parched ground, they could wash away crops and lead to flooding.”

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Reflections from Deacon Evan Koop – Part 2

July 26, 2011

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My time here continues to be amazing especially when experiencing the Sacraments and other Catholic activities with parishioners,  all devoted to helping the communities in the barrios.

Evan with Neli who is ill and homebound

Sacraments

The parish has baptisms twice a month, which I have only observed thus far, but will be celebrating myself in just a week or so. Before each baptism, the parents and godparents are required to attend two sessions of baptismal catechesis, which I will also be leading soon. Many of the children to be baptized here are slightly older than most in the U.S., in part because of family breakdown and lack of catechesis, but also because many parents put off the celebration until they are sure the child will survive and they will have money for a party.

One of the gravest problems facing society here is the incredible breakdown in family life—though whether it is the cause or effect of the poverty and violence in the city is hard to tell. Most children here (who are particularly beautiful, I must say) are born out-of-wedlock. The vast majority of couples move in together before marriage—if they ever get married at all. Anecdotally, it seems, the average home in the parish (even among those who practice their faith) is made up of a single mother with several children from different fathers, none of whom are anywhere to be found. There is a real crisis of fatherhood here, and it is the rare and happy house that consists of a husband and wife and their own children. This reality probably accounts for why such a low percentage of Catholics receive the Eucharist at any given Mass in the parish.

As a result of all this, the parish has a program, which I will be involved in, for couples who are living together (usually with children) and who now wish to be married sacramentally in the Church. They meet every Saturday to receive marriage preparation from mentor couples as well as from the clergy in the parish. Next week I will be giving them two talks, one on “Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and the other on the theology of the sacrament of marriage. I don’t know yet if I will be witnessing any marriages as a deacon while I am here, but I do already have one blessing scheduled for a couple on their 60th anniversary (!).

Another regular aspect of parish life down here, as everywhere else, is the celebration of funerals. Here, however, there are a few differences. First, partly because of the poverty of most families, and partly because of the climate, the dead are buried as soon as possible, which means that most ‘exequias’ (funeral services) take place in the home, and with very little notice—usually we are called on the same day, or even only an hour beforehand. The service is quick, usually about twenty minutes, and then the body is taken immediately to the cemetery.

Another difference between funerals here and back home is that they are a more frequent occurrence here, and not because of an ageing population. Due to the level of poverty and social breakdown, violence is a regular part of life in San Felix, as is, unfortunately, violent deaths. I have already assisted the priests here in two exequias of teenagers who were shot to death, most probably while trying to steal something. Eventually, I will be doing exequias on my own to lighten the load for the priests.

Finally, there is the sacrament of Confession (which is offered several times a week), Confirmation (which usually occurs in the Spring) and Anointing of the Sick. Of course, as a deacon I cannot celebrate any of them—though I have had the blessed opportunity to accompany Fr. McCabe on a few sick calls as he anointed members of the parish.

Other Aspects of Ministry 

 As I indicated already, the sacramental life of the parish is much as it is in parishes back home. In reality, however, the sacraments are just the beginning of what the priests are called upon to do here. A priest in this environment really has to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades,’ since he is inevitably the first person the people approach for help when they have a need. And so, Frs. Schaffer and McCabe (and I, in my own capacity) do everything from buying medicine for the sick and paying for medical costs, to tutoring young people in English, giving financial aid to help families get small businesses off the ground, and even just offering rides to those without cars.

In addition to this miscellany, I also have several areas of ministry that I will be focusing on during my time at the parish. There is, for instance, an orphanage just a block away from the parish called ‘Casa de Hogar’ (literally, House of Home), which houses boys, from ages 8-18, who have been living on the street. Some of them may in fact be orphans, but most have simply been abandoned or otherwise found themselves without care and having to fend for themselves. This apparently happens frequently when mothers take up with a new boyfriend who wants nothing to do with the children from a previous relationship. As sad is this situation is, the Casa is itself a very bright and happy place and, with ten boys living there currently, full of energy and activity. It is dedicated to St. John Bosco, the 19th century Saint who took in and educated street boys in Turin, Italy, and it is run in part by his religious order, the Salesians. So, in addition to receiving their education at the Casa, the boys are given religious instruction, pray together, and of course, play together. One thing I’ve noticed in my visits there is that the boys seem to be starving for affection from adult males, and so they literally hang off me and hug me spontaneously. I’ll be going over there a few times a week to help out with their education and just to have fun with them. This afternoon we are going to play soccer at a nearby field.

Evan visiting home with St. Vincent de Paul group

Another aspect of my work here at the mission is with the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a group of parishioners who go out each week on Saturday morning to visit some of the most desperately poor and sick members of the parish. They bring food, pray with them, and even clean their houses for them on occasion. This ministry has, I think, been the most powerful and fulfilling one in which I have been involved so far. One of the main reasons for this is that the group itself is made up mostly of the youth of the parish, and to see such young Catholics generously giving of themselves with such joy and dedication is intensely edifying.

It has been an incredible privilege for me just to tag along with this group, and yet from the very start they also looked to me—a complete stranger at the beginning—to lead them in prayer at each house we visit. At first this was a bit difficult for me, as I struggled for the words in Spanish that I wanted to say, but that in itself has been a formative experience for me. In this struggle, I really have come to understand better the heart of Jesus who, “though he was rich, yet for [our] sake he became poor, so that by his poverty [we] might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Any missionary who comes to a foreign land, knowing neither the language nor the culture as well as he would like, will go through this experience of feeling a certain poverty before the immensity of the task upon which he is engaged. No longer can he rely on his human resources—such as attempts at eloquence in speech or personal charm—in order to win souls over to Christ. Yet, as Our Lord has been showing me in prayer, the answer to this is not to attempt to become ‘rich’ again in these resources, which are illusory in any case, but to become ever more poor, and to consent to remain so, so that souls may meet in him not his own person, but that of Jesus Christ, and thereby become rich themselves. Indeed, there have already been several occasions on these visits to the sick where, even before I said a word, the person began weeping merely at the sight of the collar I was wearing—because in it, they saw what, or Whom, it represented, the presence of God and His Church coming to meet them in the midst of their most desperate moments. I can tell you, there is nothing more humbling and, at the same time, fulfilling than that!

Evan reading to 85-year old Epifania

Thank you for bearing with my reflections.  More to come!

In Christ Our Risen Lord,

Deacon Evan

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