Archive | February, 2012

A quick shout-out to Pope Gregory XIII

February 29, 2012


If you enjoyed the extra day today you can thank Pope Gregory XIII who reformed the Julian Calendar in 1582 mainly because it really messed with where Easter landed. That and the vernal equinox kept creeping backwards. The new calendar came to be known as the Gregorian calendar for obvious reasons. Leap years are explained by the United States Naval Observatory in this way:

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100; the centurial years that are exactly divisible by 400 are still leap years. For example, the year 1900 is not a leap year; the year 2000 is a leap year.

And thus the extra day today. Which I spent a large portion of with a shovel in my hand.


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How Do We Know the Devil Exists?

February 29, 2012


Photo/Daniel Dobleu Licensed under Creative Commons

If the real battle between good and evil were like a superhero movie, God, wearing a mask or maybe iron armor, would face off against his super villain, the devil, whom He would defeat after a very intense two-hour confrontation.

There’s no doubt that evil exists but often it’s hard to trace it back to an arch enemy. I think Satan would like us to think he’s Batman’s nemesis–or that he doesn’t exist at all.

Since he  is an angel and can assume any form he chooses, we might not recognize him.  But there is good evidence that he wreaks havoc and tries to get us to make bad choices.

According to Bl. Pope John Paul II:

The battle against the devil … is still being fought today, because the devil is still alive and active in the world. The evil that surrounds us today, the disorders that plague our society, man’s inconsistency and brokenness, are not only the results of original sin, but also the result of Satan’s pervasive and dark action.

Satan was at first a good angel, the Fourth Lateran Council taught, but he and other angels “radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign.” (CCC 392)  The story of their fall from heaven is found in Rev. 12:7-9. It is believed that Satan and his angels refused to serve Christ, whose human nature was below the level of the angels. But since angels don’t face the same weaknesses and temptations as humans, it’s not totally clear why he sinned.

We don’t know how high Satan is on the angel scale of importance. He is powerful because he is pure spirit, but he is still a creature and can’t prevent the building up of God’s reign. It’s a great mystery why God allows his diabolical activity. (CCC 395)

Jesus talked a lot about the devil–He mentioned Satan at least 17 times in the gospels.  Matthew 4:1-11 tells how the Evil One tried to derail the Lord’s mission by tempting Him three times in the desert.

The Apostles also thought Satan was real.  St. John wrote: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)   St. Peter warned: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

When Jesus prays, “But deliver us from evil” in the Our Father, evil “refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’  God’s plan and His work of salvation accomplished in Christ.” (CCC 2851)

The devil isn’t responsible for all evil–we contribute to the evil in the world through our own wrong choices–but he brings intelligent direction to all the evil tendencies and forces.

Iron Man’s high-tech weapons won’t help in defeating the devil but prayer will. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi offers these rules:

  1. Do not forget that the devil exists.
  2. Do not forget that the devil is a tempter.
  3. Do not forget that the devil is very intelligent and astute.
  4. Be (always) vigilant in the eyes and the heart.
  5. Be strong in spirit and virtue.
  6. Pray tirelessly.
  7. Adore God.
  8. Listen to God’s words.
  9. Remember Christ’s victory over temptation. Remember man’s sharing in that victory.
  10. Be humble and love mortification.


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13 Reasons to have a Large Family

February 26, 2012


“Lo, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.

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Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” (Ps 126:3-5)

Today I wanted to speak to couples who are preparing for marriage and to those who are of child-bearing age:

Have babies. Have lots of babies! Why not be open to the gift of many children and really embrace life to its fullest? Our God is an awesome family planner. Let Him work His miracles–again, again and again.

Sure, it requires enormous sacrifice, but it’s the very best investment you can make. Of course it is costly to raise a large brood, and I don’t mean to understate that fact. It demands a high price in financial, emotional and sweat equity. But as my parents-in-law are fond of stating, “It all works itself out.” They sent seven kids through Catholic schools all the way through Notre Dame and St. Mary’s Notre Dame, and they were able to make ends meet. Each holiday, I witness my father-in-law get teary-eyed when he counts his blessings during Grace. With 41 grandkids and a handful of great-grandchildren, my in-laws are literally surrounded by family, and for this they are truly grateful.

My grandmother also raised seven kids (on a very thin income), and when she was in her 90s she had more visitors than anyone else in the nursing home.  On one of our visits she was laughing because, “All those people who used to tell me how CRAZY I was to have all those babies are now telling me how LUCKY I am!”

But in today’s society?  Even Pope Benedict XVI recognizes that it’s a timeless truth being played out on a different playing field.  He recently said, “Without children there is no future. Families are a witness to faith, courage and optimism when they welcome many children even amid today’s social environment.”  (Remarks directed towards members of the Italian National Association of Large Families on Feb. 15.)

Now, of course there are some couples that are not able to conceive, and there are couples who are blessed with one, two or three bundles of joy, but cannot have more. Perhaps they are being called to build their family through the miracle of adoption. I know people who have  built their families through the gift of a local adoption, or by using an agency from Ethiopia and the Ukraine. Sibling groups in these countries are waiting for a new home.

My husband and I have a ‘quiver full.’ Nine children to be exact. Almost daily we reflect on how happy we are to have a large family. My spouse, like his father, will get emotional talking about how great it is having not only a whole clan of kids, but also a pair of “cabooses” at the end to keep us young. (When I was almost 43 we had twins–eight years behind their seven siblings.) My husband recently told me, “I do not regret having a big family–it’s what I cherish! Sure, we will have to live with old carpet…but it’s all worth it!” We compiled the following list of why the sacrifice was worthwhile:

13 reasons to have a large family

  • You are giving your children the single dearest gift a parent can provide:  SIBLINGS — and only siblings can teach a child early on to identify his/her strengths and weaknesses
  • Members of a large family help eachother learn to be greater. It builds leadership qualities in the siblings
  • A little chaos is good for everybody–it builds character
  • No time for worldly temptations that come between husband and wife
  • All family members in a big clan really appreciate the quiet time they have, even if it comes in minutes (You wont catch me complaining about a delay at the airport–I just get my book out!)
  • In years to come, family crises will be tackled by a whole team, (ask an only child who has to find living arrangements for elderly parents) and family joys will be multiplied.
  • It helps the marriage–couples learn to appreciate the simple things (where happiness dwells)
  • Large families are admired–especially if the kids turned out well!
  • Kids who grow up in big families learn at a young age the art of negotiating for scarce resources
  • Children who come from large families will not be perfect, but they are almost guaranteed not to be spoiled – self-centeredness will be suffocated
  • You will never run out of humorous stories or priceless artwork. The children will never run out of fodder for their speeches and essays
  • After you’ve spent the best years of your life watching band concerts, football games, swim meets, school plays and dance recitals, you can spend your golden years watching more of the same.
  • Empty Nest Syndrome? What the heck is that?

(Thanks again to my mom, Cecelia Mac Donald, for her editing skills!)

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Oscars: Take time to pray for all those in media who really need a prayer

February 24, 2012


On the occasion of the Academy Awards this weekend, in its parish bulletin St. Therese in Deephaven offered this prayer for the media and entertainment industry:

“Father, in a world deafened by a cacophony of sounds, may all be able to hear your whispering voice. We ask this for all who work in media, the press, radio, television, the internet. May they cherish truth more strongly than their own prejudices and personal agendas. May they present truth in a way that will enlighten hearts rather than inflame passions and conflicts.

“We pray for the artists and musicians of the world. May they utilize their talents to give you glory and in the process receive the recognition that they deserve. May they expose the horror and error of sin and the beauty and truth of virtue. We ask this, Father, in the name of your Son, our divine Master, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who lives and reigns gently with you, and the Holy Spirit, one loving God, forever and ever. Amen.”

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Now trending on Google, “lint”

February 22, 2012


At the time of this posting Google’s trending list of words most searched is as follows:

1.    kombucha tea
2.    ash wednesday
3.    brady quinn
4.    lent
5.    fat tuesday
6.    chris brown and rihanna
7.    king cake
8.    lint

Five of the top eight are Lent related. If you count “lint” which I am really hoping is just a function of typing too fast. It would ruin my day if millions of souls were going online to search out how to more prayerfully enter into “lint”.

Google’s customers are clearly interested in Ash Wednesday and Lent today. Google’s doodle? The 155th birthday of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, the discoverer of electromagnetic waves (see picture above).

It was a great blog controversy when the search giant chose Earth Day over Good Friday last year so I don’t think anyone expected them to put together a doodle of sack cloth, ash and fish today. But pulling out a 155th birthday anniversary of a little-know scientist feels like a stretch. Perhaps to have something in place to avoid the more obvious Christian holiday? This in spite of the millions of searches for Lent and other Lent-related topics. Mr. Hertz, with the help of the doodle, didn’t crack the top 20.

I have no standing whatsoever to tell Google how to run it’s business but I think the question is worth asking. What do you think?

“Is Google purposely avoiding Christian holidays?” Or maybe the better question is “Why is Google avoiding Christian holidays?”

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Irish immigrant way became the American way

February 22, 2012

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Hyphenated-Americans — which includes just about all of us — will grasp a solid understanding of the challenges our ancestors faced in emigrating to the United States by taking in the history of what author James R. Barrett calls America’s first ethnic group, the Irish.

No matter if your family roots are traced back to Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia or anywhere else, the way immigrants from the Emerald Isle became Americanized and moved up the social ladder provided a blueprint for immigrants that came afterward from other countries.

Treated sometimes as less than human, parodied as dumb and dirty, the Irish were the first mass group of arrivals to U.S. shores to face hostility from those who, ironically, had emigrated here themselves, just on earlier boats.

How those Irish immigrants not only survived but came to thrive — and set the standard for immigrants from other lands to do the same — is documented superbly in “The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City.” Penguin Press has set a March 1 release date, do you think with the coming St. Patrick’s Day in mind?

Stories galore

James R. Barrett tells the story well by telling interesting, factual, funny, maddening, humiliating stories in some very readable 300 pages. A professor of history at the University of Illinois, Barrett nails down the facts of the Irish-American experience, with more than 70 pages of footnotes to back up his work.

Catholics will find nearly 50 pages focused on the religious angle of the immigrant experience, and as much as this is a history of the Irish, Barrett shows how that history impacts other, non-Irish immigrants who are Catholic. The section titled “The Parish” details how the Irish came to dominate to the point that, as Barrett writes, “By 1920, two-thirds of all Catholic bishops (three-fourths in New England) were of Irish birth or descent.”

What makes this such worthwhile reading is that “The Irish Way” isn’t depicted as always on the side of the angels, even when it comes to the church. This is history, warts and all whether we like it or not, and the warts — the machine politics, the not-what-you-know-but-who-you-know hiring practices, the racism — are historical facts.

But so too are the struggles for a “living” or “family wage,” as Barrett points out, the six-day work week, old-age pensions,  the right for labor to organize and bargain collectively, all strongly supported by the Catholic Church.

The section on the Irish immigrant in the workplace puts facts in place where many may have simply anecdotal examples passed along from ancestors. There’s real value that, in documenting the history of the Irish and their climb up the social ladder, “The Irish Way” clarifies the struggles of those from later immigrant groups — the Italians, Poles, Jews and blacks — who found the entrenched Irish a barrier to their own economic and social mobility.

The role of the stage Irishman is paid its due, and the role the immigrant Irish played in the political history of the United States is a well. In all, “The Irish Way” is history that reads as well as a novel, perhaps because it’s a history that has had such an impact on what America is today and who we are today as Americans.

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Confession – Penance – Reconciliation: Call it what you will, it’s not that hard to go back

February 21, 2012


An examination of conscience made easy

You don’t rob banks. You haven’t killed anyone. You go to Mass weekly.

This Lent, try going to confession anyway. Or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Or Penance if you’re an old fogy like me. No matter what you call it, you’ll be glad you got up the courage.

Let’s even make it easy — here’s a quick list of questions to ask ourselves — you remember, an “examination of conscience.” These are some good things to talk to the priest about. Think of them as places in your life’s journey you want to improve, and your conversation with the priest is inviting him to help you do that.

  • Have I made time for my relationship with God — for Mass and prayer?
  • Have I failed to forgive?
  • Have I shown others anger way out of proportion?
  • Have I been a gossip, spread rumors, been critical of others without really having all the facts?
  • Have I been jealous or envious of other people?
  • Have I been a bad influence on others, even an enabler of other’s sins or addictions?
  • Have I failed to use the talents God’s given me because I’ve been lazy?
  • Have I made excuses for my own addictions or over-indulgences?
  • Have I given in to temptations that I know are sinful?
  • Have I missed chances to use my gifts and talents to help others?
  • Have I failed to see Jesus in the eyes of others?

The grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation will do you good, and you’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders, even if the total of your sins don’t add up to much.

And need a daily tug on your sleeve? Click here to sign up to get one e-mailed every day during Lent.


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Enjoying stars, then fresh snow

February 21, 2012


Within the last week, I have been treated to starry skies on my regular 3-mile walk. On one night, in particular, the sky was so clear near my home in St. Paul that I could make out several constellations, not to mention the Big Dipper.

It was a beautiful sight, and one that touched me deeply as I made my way around Highland Golf Course two hours after sunset. I caught a glimpse of God’s infinite creative power, which inspired a biblical writer to proclaim: “The heavens declare the glory of God!”

Then, last night, a different scene unfolded. I walked through freshly falling snow — a rarity this winter. Because of the warm temperatures, the snow stuck to branches and pine needles on my walking route. The glow from the street lights illuminated the snow, and I paused several times to take in the beauty of the wet, sparkling snow.

I came back with my camera this morning to take a few pictures. The snow was melting fast, and I was just in time to catch some clumps hanging on to some pine tree branches.

Light snowfalls that provide a soft, beautiful blanket that melts quickly and doesn’t need to be shoveled away — now that’s my kind of winter!


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Partying–and Preparing for Lent

February 17, 2012

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Mardi Gras in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo/madmarv00 Licensed under Creative Commons.

In many places around the world, Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations will be in high gear this Sunday, as people live it up during the final days before Lent starts. I wasn’t aware that for centuries the Church has called it Quinquagesima Sunday, the last of three Sundays before Lent that were designated as a time to prepare for the penitential season.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is named for the custom of slaughtering and feasting on the fatted calf as the last indulgence before fasting and abstinence begin on Ash Wednesday. It’s the climax of Carnival (which means literally, taking away flesh) a festive season starting at Epiphany in many countries.

In England the day before Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday–the final day of Shrovetide (taken from the word “shrive” which means to confess). It refers to the week before Lent when the laity was encouraged to go to confession, according to the Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes.”  Germans celebrate Fastnacht, the eve of the fast.

Even centuries ago, Carnival and Mardi Gras revelry tended to get out of hand and the Church tried to check the excesses, especially in Italy. In the 16th century, Forty Hours of prayer was established on the final days of Carnival, partly to draw Catholics away from dangerous occasions of sin and also to make reparation for sins committed.

In 1747, Pope Benedict XIV granted a plenary indulgence for those who participated in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during three days of Carnival.

This leads me to Quinquagesima Sunday. The Latin word for 50th, it marks exactly 50 days before Easter. In the past, it was observed as the third of a three-week countdown starting two weeks earlier with Setuagesima (70th) Sunday followed by Sexagesima (60th) Sunday, referring to the approximate number of days until Easter. The numbers are more symbolic than actual mathematical realities.

This isn’t meant to be a lesson in Latin ordinal numbers (Lent itself is called Quadragesima meaning 40th) but to make us aware of the time period we’re entering.

Something like Carnival was probably already going on when Greeks in the early Church practiced a pre-Lenten penitential season to get in the right frame of mind for Lent. Early Christian communities followed the Greek tradition when they named the three “gesima” Sundays for the start of their Lenten fasts. When Pope  St. Gregory the Great made the practice of Lent uniform in about 600, he marked these Sundays as reminders of the approach of Lent so Catholics could prepare. Clergy wore violet vestments on these Sundays.

While the Church no longer observes the  “gesima” Sundays as part of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite,  they are still found in the 1962  Roman Missal and are observed as part of the Extraordinary Form. They’re a good reminder that we should start thinking about Lent now so it doesn’t take us by surprise before we’ve had a chance to prepare mentally and spiritually.

There’s nothing wrong with killing the fatted calf on Mardi Gras but it’s even better to be ready for what comes on the day after: an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord through prayer, fasting and almsgiving as we prepare to commemorate His Passion and Resurrection.

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Is This Whitney Houston Song Pro-Life? I Think So

February 13, 2012


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It sure seems to me like this Whitney Houston song has a pro-life message. I saw this piece posted on Jill Stanek’s blog today, and I was touched. Whitney writes: “How could I throw away a miracle?…When love grows inside you, there’s a miracle in store for you.”

I wish someone could have reached this talented woman and encouraged her to embrace life before it was too late.

Lyrics from her song Miracle which is from her third album “I’m Your Baby Tonight”: 

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How could I throw away a miracle?

How could I face another day?

It’s all of my doing

I made a choice

And, today, I pay

My heart is full of pain


How could you understand the way I feel?

How could you relate to so much pain?

Seems as though nothing

Can comfort me

So, today, I pray

That someone should listen


For nothing should matter

Not when love grows inside you

The choice is yours

There’s a miracle in store

Nothing should matter

Not when love grows inside you

A voice of love is crying out

“Don’t throw love away”

There’s a miracle in store


How could I let go of a miracle?

Nothing could ever take its place

Thought I was looking

Out for myself

Now, it seems the pain

Is all that I have gained


I wonder if I could be your miracle

I wonder if I could spare you pain

Seems as though nothing

Will comfort me

Lord, ‘less, today, I pray

That you should come listen


Don’t ever throw away your miracle

Don’t let it slip away

So nothing should matter


No, nothing should matter

Not when love grows inside you

The choice is yours

There’s a miracle in store

No, nothing should matter

Not when love grows inside you

A voice of love is crying out

“Don’t throw love away”

There’s a miracle in store…for you


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