Archive | August, 2011

Travel Reflections from Deacon Koop

August 23, 2011


Dear Family and Friends,

 I recently visited a most incredible place; the world-famous Canaíma National Park, which boasts a stunning collection of upland prairies, table-top mountains (called ‘tepuis’), forests and waterfalls—together known as the Gran Sabana.  It was a three-day trip that I took with two other missionary priests of the diocese, one from Poland and the other from Guatemala.

 At a certain point, I found myself standing at a Venezuelan military checkpoint with a skeptical soldier rifling through my backpack looking for contraband.  He did not appear to be in a friendly mood and simply kept repeating under his breath, “American, huh?”  The first item of interest he found was my Spanish Bible which he proceeded to leaf through meticulously one page at a time. “It’s a Bible,” I said, and for a moment I considered asking him whether he cared to read it, but I thought that might be pushing my luck.

 The next item he found certainly appeared to be more incriminating. “What’s this?” he asked, as he held up a small metal cylinder which, I had to admit to myself, did in fact look suspiciously like a shell-casing or a small grenade.  It was my travel-size aspergilium—used to sprinkle holy water during liturgies—which I had forgotten was in my bag.  As I awkwardly tried to explain it to the soldier, I unscrewed the cap and proceeded to demonstrate its function by sprinkling  holy water throughout the small office.  He looked on in silence, evidently nonplussed.  The soldiers ended up letting us pass through and I suppose that it was the first (and probably last) time that their checkpoint had been blessed with holy water.

Somewhat forgetfully, and perhaps naively (well, in retrospect, most certainly naively) I had failed to bring along with me any form of identification, such as my passport or driver’s license, thinking that I would not need them when traveling within the country.  Yet, about every 100 km or so on our drive we had to pass through a checkpoint, and while most were either unstaffed or barely more than a speed-bump in the road, the soldiers at the checkpoint leading into the national park—who obviously took their job more seriously—asked to see our identification.  Fr. Tadeo, the Pole, calmly told the soldier in charge that he and Fr. Antonio were priests working in the diocese of Ciudad Guayana, and that the deacon, who was visiting for the summer from the United States, had not brought any identification with him.  To that, the soldier retorted, “That’s a lie. That’s a lie. An American without any papers? I can’t believe that.”  Fr. Tadeo calmly answered, “Let me tell you, neither can I, but it’s the truth.” Thanks Father, I thought.

Fr. Tadeo, who had recently visited the Twin Cities along with Fr. Schaffer, went on to explain to the soldier that I was from Minnesota, where all the people are so nice and trusting that they never carry any papers with them.  Not entirely accurate, but flattering nonetheless, I suppose.  In any case, it seemed to work and the crisis was averted.

Aside from that little misadventure we had a wonderful time on our trip to the Gran Sabana.  The place is truly one of the world’s wonders, looking like a strange mix of the African savannah, the American West, and the green hills of Ireland—all interspersed with patches of jungle and cascading waterfalls.  Apparently most geologists believe it is one of the oldest landscapes on earth, which, along with the primeval beauty of the place, makes one understand why it was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 literary classic, The Lost World.  If ever there were a place where dinosaurs could still be found to roam the earth, this would certainly be it.

Deacon Koop at Park

 The climate in the Gran Sabana is much more temperate than that of San Felix, which was a welcome relief. There is one main highway leading through the heart of the park, which we explored at a leisurely pace, stopping at a few waterfalls and scenic vistas along the way.

 As we traveled around and were treated to the wonders of nature, I found myself reflecting with joy and thanksgiving in my heart that God should have brought me to such a place.  For those of you who don’t know me as well, I spent much of my childhood watching the Discovery Channel and wanting to be a biologist in some wild, far away place like Africa or the Amazon Rainforest—and now, here I was, under circumstances I could never have predicted.  In choosing to pursue God’s call to priestly service, I suppose in some ways I had believed that meant ‘giving up’ such dreams in order to follow His will.  Yet God, in His infinite goodness and personal care for each one of us, marvelously finds ways to fulfill even the smallest desires of our hearts even as He calls forth from us a greater and more perfect love.  It brings to mind the words of Our Lord, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matt. 6:33).  So often the acceptance of a vocation is portrayed merely as an act of self-denial and sacrifice on our parts—where in fact it is a pure gift to us from God, the One who is never to be outdone in

 Such are the adventures which, in God’s providence, I have been able to experience in the last three weeks or so of my time here at the Archdiocesan mission in San Felix,Venezuela.

More to come!

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The bass weren’t biting

August 22, 2011


On Friday, I went on my annual fishing outing with my good friend, Dave Altman. We’ve had some great bass fishing trips over the years, and I was hoping this would be another. I like going out fishing with Dave because not only is he lots of fun to fish with, he’s also a very skilled angler.

I planned on putting his skils — and mine — to work on Lake Calhoun. By the time August rolls around, the bass are in their predictable summer pattern, which means they are schooled up on the weedlines.

It’s a pattern I have been able to count on year after year, except in cool summers like 2009, when temperatures never got very warm and the fish stayed shallow all summer. Fortunately, this year’s heat in July should have been enough to push the bass down deep.

Nice start

We tried our first spot on the south end of the lake, and Dave caught a nice 16-inch bass within the first 10-15 minutes. Just after he landed his, I hooked one and battled it for a few seconds before it spit the hook. I figured more fish would come after that.

Dave and I kept casting our jigs and plastic worms to the weedlines, hoping to get into a school of bass. We threw a marker buoy out near this spot, in the hope that there would be a bunch of fish to catch.

Action slows

To our surprise, that was the best — and only — flurry of the day. We plied the waters on the south end, hitting spots that have, in years past, yielded fish in the 19- and 20-inch range. The best I could muster was a 16-incher that matched Dave’s first fish. I caught a smaller one and lost a few others, and Dave never landed another bass.

I think there were three contributing factors to the tough fishing:

1. A cold front came through right as we were fishing. The wind shifted from the southwest to the northwest, and the cloud cover lifted, leaving a clear blue sky. Cold fronts are notorious for shutting down the fishing, and this outing was proof.

2. The weed growth was way down. I’m not sure why, but the growth of eurasian watermilfoil was extremely stunted on all of the Minneapolis city lakes this year. Even though it got very hot in July, and the usual milfoil harvest did not take place because of the government shutdown, the weedgrowth was very thin. In fact, I did not see any that had reached the surface, which is a trademark of this weed. That has been the case the last three years, which makes me think it is dying out on the lake. The sailing enthusiasts are happy about this, no doubt, but not me. The more weeds, the better the fishing has been for me.

3. The water clarity has diminished. Normally, I can see eight to 10 feet down in the clear waters of Lake Calhoun. Not this year. When we pulled out of the boat landing, you couldn’t see two feet down. At least for now, this is a stained lake. I’m sure that changes the pattern, too. And, unfortunately, I was not able to figure out what the pattern is.

Overall, the fishing has been tough for me this summer. I have had to work hard on every trip to catch fewer fish. I’ve got one fishing trip left this year, my annual trek to Lake of the Woods in the fall with my friend, Pete Wolney. Hopefully, I’ll finally hit the bonanza I’ve been waiting for.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to shoot my bow and get ready for the fall archery hunting season.

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Three photos you haven’t seen in The Catholic Spirit

August 22, 2011


For the Aug. 4 issue of The Catholic Spirit, I wrote a story about a memorial for victims and survivors of the I-35W bridge collapse. I took several photos for that story, but only one appeared in print.

That got me thinking about photos I’ve taken for which there wasn’t room in the print edition.

Three specific photos come to mind that I hoped would be used but weren’t:

Helen Hausmann

I really thought this portrait of Helen on the platform overlooking the river and the new bridge was powerful. Unfortunately the memorial isn’t in the photo and there was only room for one — so we needed one with the memorial in it.


Father Tony O’Neill, 2011 ordination

I loved this picture because it really looks like Father O’Neill is connecting with Archbishop John Nienstedt, and Father O’Neill looks really happy at the ordination ceremony last May. Other photos from the ceremony can be viewed in our online photo gallery.


Funeral for Maplewood Police Sgt. Joe Bergeron

The number of officers that came to show their support that day in May 2010 was awesome. The funeral was held on a day right after we published. A few appeared online, but none in the next print edition. Many others were published in our online photo gallery.

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5 facts you didn’t know about the new health reform law:

August 20, 2011


1.  All of us will have to pay for women’s contraception          

Licensed under Creative Commons

  • On August 1, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated that insurance plans cover contraception. (National Catholic Bioethics Center)
2.  College girls, even at Catholic colleges, are being targeted for free contraception
  • HHS was in such a hurry to mandate free contraception that they WAIVED the standard two-month delay that would have allowed for people’s objections.
  • Why did they do this? Because school starts in August for some girls. Read more here. (
3.  The Amish are exempt from the new health reform law under both the House and Senate bills
  • Some sects are covered by a “religious conscience” exemption, not because they may be opposed to contraception or abortion, but because they object to insurance, and this allows them to opt out of the mandate (Watertown Daily Times).
4. Employers and employees won’t have the freedom to choose a health plan that is in accord with their morals
  • That’s why Cardinal DiNardo and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) want Congress to approve the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. Read the news release here.
  • Contact HHS here by September 30 and let them know that conscience should be protected!
5.  Health plans will have to cover “abortion drugs” such as:
  • Plan B–Which prevents implantation of an embryo
  • Ella–Which can destroy an embryo after it’s implanted (Family Research Council) Both of these drugs destroy life, they do not embrace it!
Do you have any facts to add to the list? If so, put them in the ‘comments’ box below. Thanks!
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How do we get to heaven?

August 20, 2011



Tackling this question is a little like trying to transfer the ocean into a small hole on the beach, to borrow an image from St. Augustine.

As Catholics we believe we reach heaven through God’s grace but also that we have to cooperate with that grace.  St. Paul writes that we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12)  This and other scriptures are interpreted differently, depending on who’s taking up the question.  My goal with this post is simply to present very basic Catholic teaching on the subject.

Getting to heaven is about grace, which we can’t earn and which comes from the love and mercy of God. According to the Catechism, “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism.” (CCC 1987)

Grace makes salvation from sin possible because we believe in God’s revelation and promises, fear God’s judgment, hope in His mercy, trust that God will be merciful to us for Christ’s sake, begin to love God as the source of justice and detest our sins.

The grace to respond

We do have to do something, though. The Catechism says we must give our free response to the gift of grace, even though we need grace just to respond, as the Council of Trent concluded:

“…whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight.”

Along with making a response to grace through faith, Scripture tells us that in order to be saved, we must be baptized (Mk. 16:16), we must receive Christ’s true body and blood (John 6:54) and we must obey the commandments (Matt. 19:17 The sacraments are visible assurances that God is providing us with the grace to keep going.

Our call as Christians is to the “fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” (CCC 2013)

Becoming holy

In short, we have to work at becoming holy. The good works that spring from God’s grace are evidence that we’re cooperating with that grace. Faith alone won’t save us; we have to persevere in doing good, as Christ said in his description of final judgment in Matt. 25:31-46.  In this parable, he calls us to charity: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

St. Augustine sums it up well:

Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for His mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without Him we can do nothing. (CCC 2001)

As far as I can tell, there is no stairway to heaven—nor is there an escalator. The Catholic Church teaches that we get there by God’s grace, as well as by the works we do through that grace. Established by Christ, she is our best guide.

Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation. Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.” (CCC 169)


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13 coolest, wisest, wittiest words ever uttered about prayer

August 19, 2011


“Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.” —Corrie ten Boom

“Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”  — Satchel Paige

“The value of consistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will hear Him.” — William McGill

“Many people pray as if God were a big aspirin pill; they come only when they hurt.” — B. Graham Dienert

“The trouble with our praying is, we just do it as a means of last resort.” — Will Rogers

“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” — Abraham Lincoln

“God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” — Blessed Mother Teresa

“What we usually pray to God is not that His will be done, but that He approve ours.” — Helga Bergold Gross

“We must move from asking God to take care of the things that are breaking our hearts, to praying about the things that are breaking His heart.” — Margaret Gibb

“God has editing rights over our prayers. He will  . . . edit them, correct them, bring them in line with His will and then hand them back to us to be resubmitted.” — Stephen Crotts

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” — Corrie ten Boom 

“Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.” — George Herbert

“Lord, please keep one hand on my shoulder and one over my mouth!” — Author Unknown

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St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor

August 19, 2011


St Bernard

St. Bernard preaching to the Crusaders in 1147 AD. Stained glass at St. Edward in Minneota

St. Bernard (1090-1153) was born in 1090 near Dijon, Burgundy, France, into an upper class family.  Despite his religious upbringing, he was unbridled at times during his youth.  Upon his mother’s death, he underwent a conversion and worked diligently to live a more temperate life.

Bernard joined the Cistercian community at Citeaux in 1112 at the age of twenty-two.  The monastery was cloistered and observed a rigorous and austere lifestyle.  Bernard was so motivated to live the spiritual live and so convinced of its value that he convinced thirty of his relatives and friends, including four of his own brothers, to accompany him upon entering.

Shortly thereafter, Bernard was sent to found a new Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux, and by the age of twenty-five he became the abbot, the major superior of the community, a ministry he performed for the next thirty-eight years.  As a monk, he was a person of exceptional holiness, and through his fine example he was able to inspire the others to live more virtuous lives.  As a superior, he was overly strict at first, but was able to adjust.  He energetically reformed and revitalized the Order.  The Cistercians experienced tremendous growth as the Clairvaux monastery increased to over seven hundred members and sixty-eight new monasteries were founded in places such as England, France, Ireland, Sicily, Spain, Sweden, and Syria.

Abbot Bernard’s special spiritual gifts could not be confined to the cloister, and he made many journeys across Europe. In 1130 two popes claimed the papacy at once, Innocent II, who had been elected legitimately, and Anaclete II, who had not, and through Bernard’s intervention, the validity of Innocent’s election was confirmed and order and unity was restored to the Church.  As he preached more widely, his reputation spread, which gave him the status to move into problem situations.  Bernard helped the Lombards reach an accord with Emperor Lothaire II; in 1140 he successfully challenged the heretical teaching of Abelard; in 1142 he mediated a dispute in York, England; and in 1145 he went to southern France to challenge the Albigensian heresy, and he subsequently became known as the Hammer of the Heretics.  In 1146, the newly-elected Pope, Eugene III, asked him to preach the Second Crusade, and he rallied Christians across Europe to confront the Turks who had conquered Edessa in 1144.

St. Bernard also was a prolific author.  Some of his major works were De Diligendo Deo, On Loving God, a profound mystical reflection; De consideratione, On Consideration, a treatise on papal spirituality; a collection of sixty-eight sermons on the Canticle of Canticles; and hundreds of other sermons, letters, and Scripture commentaries.  He also had a deep devotion to Mary, and often said, Omnia per Mariam, “All through Mary.”

St. Bernard excelled as a preacher.  His words were well-chosen and highly-descriptive, so poetic that they were “honey sweet,” “honey” to the ears, and he became known at the Doctor mellifluus, “The Honey-Sweet Doctor.”  The bee hive became his symbol, and he emerged as the patron saint of beekeepers, wax makers, and candle makers.

Bernard died on August 20, 1153, and only twenty-one years later, in 1174, he was canonized a saint, and he is regarded by many as the most important saint of the Twelfth Century, so great that it is sometimes called the Bernardine Period.  Seven centuries later, in 1830, he was declared a Doctor of the Church.  He is also the patron saint of Gibraltar.

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Saying goodbye

August 17, 2011

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I sent my No. 2 son, Andy, off to college earlier this week (Winona State University). His departure date snuck up on me. It feels like there’s lots of summer left, but this event puts a hint of fall in the air.

I wasn’t nearly as emotional as I was last year, when his older brother, Joe, went off to the University of Dallas for his freshman year. Still, I got choked up as I shook hands with Andy and said farewell.

I was able to hold my composure in his presence (I figured it would be awkward for him to see my tears), but I broke down when I went upstairs to see my wife, Julie, and daughter, Claire, afterward. Other parents of college students can relate, I’m sure.

Great memories

I think you get reflective at times like this, and I have been recalling the many great times Andy and I have spent together in the woods and on the water. The photo above depicts our most successful bass outing ever. It took place in July of 2008 on Cedar Lake on the Minneapolis chain and marks the only time both of us caught fish weighing more than 5 pounds on the same trip.

After missing out on some great action the week before, Andy was eager to join me on a Sunday morning. We had a slow start, then the bass started biting. I caught a fish weighing 5 pounds, 4 ounces. Then, Andy caught three 18-inchers on consectutive casts on a different spot. Minutes later, he landed a 5-pound, 1-ounce lunker that was his biggest ever.

It was a great thrill and one of many we have shared over the last 10 years. Andy has shot four wild turkeys, and I have been with him for every one. We also have had great walleye trips to both Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake. A few years ago, I took the family to Upper Red right after the state DNR moved the protected slot from 17 inches to 20. On the last morning of our trip, we needed six fish to reach our family limit. Andy and I went out early and caught the six within about an hour. All six were between 17 and 20 inches, which made for some great fish fries after we got home.

Time flies

Like so many parents, I ask, “Where did the years go?” Fortunately, I know just where they went. In other words, I have been able to spend lots of time with Andy, so, although I’m sad he’s leaving, I have great satisfaction about all of the memories I have with him.

I wish all dads could say the same thing. Sadly, too many choose to leave their wives and kids for greener pastures that they never seem able to find, at least in the long term. I pray God will give dads the desire and grace to spend quality time with their kids — and their wives, of course — so that they can have lots of great memories to look back on, like I do.

For those of you who will be sending kids off to college in the coming weeks, spend time with them while you still can, share your love, wisdom and encouragement with them, and don’t be afraid to say a heartfelt — even tearful — goodbye as they prepare to leave  the nest.

And remember, they’ll be back home again soon!

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Twins, Tigers & Twin Cities Catholics — Join the fun with the Basilica crowd Aug. 26

August 17, 2011


If you’ve been to see the Twins in the past year and a half, you know how much fun outdoor baseball is at Target Field.

If you haven’t, here’s your chance.

The Basilica of St. Mary is hosting a night at the Target Field on Friday, Aug. 26, and all you need to know to join in.

Already have tickets for the game?  Join us for the picnic & bus ride only.  Get your tickets today for the Friday, August 26 Basilica Night at Target Field. We’ll start off the night at The Basilica for a delicious picnic featuring Bakers Ribs & then make our way by bus to the game to cheer on the Minnesota Twins as they face the Detroit Tigers.  Don’t miss out on the fun!  All proceeds will benefit The Basilica of Saint Mary.

Friday, August 26, 2011
5:00 pm Picnic at The Basilica
7:10 pm Twins vs. Tigers


New picnic & bus ride only packages available!  Tickets are in section 128 to 130.  For more information or to purchase tickets online click here.

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Live (almost) from Madrid, it’s World Youth Day!

August 15, 2011


Three youth from Divine Mercy in Faribault and a priest are blogging from World Youth Day. So far it looks like a lot of fun! Follow their thoughts, pictures and video and add comments at

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