Archive | November, 2015

The Advent Wreath

November 25, 2015


VanSlounWreathAn Advent Wreath is composed of a circular wreath with four candles which are placed an equal distance apart.  Normally the wreath is decorated with evergreen branches, but in the interest of fire safety, it has become increasingly common to use artificial greens.  The Advent Wreath normally is placed in a prominent location in church, often in the sanctuary, but never in a location that would obstruct the view of the altar, lectern, or presider’s chair.  At home the two most common locations are the center of the dinner table or on a table in the family room.

Three of the candles, the ones for the First, Second and Fourth weeks, are violet, while the candle for the Third Week is rose.  Violet symbolizes sorrow for sin and serves as a reminder to prepare for Christmas through the admission, confession, and absolution of sin during Advent, and to be in the state of grace, ready to welcome the Christ when he comes.  The rose candle is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, and it represents joy that Advent is more than half over and that Christmas is so near.

The Advent Wreath has additional symbolism.  The wreath is a circle, and because it has no beginning or end, it signifies God’s eternal love that is without beginning or end, and because of this immeasurable love, God sent his only begotten Son born on the first Christmas (Jn 3:16).  The circular shape also is a symbol of eternal life.  Jesus was born to die on the Cross, open the Gates of Heaven, redeem sinners, and offer the gift of salvation.  The constant color of the evergreen branches represents eternity.

One candle is lit per week.  The first candle represents hope; the second, faith; the third, joy; and the fourth, peace.  The first candle is lit on the First Sunday of Advent, and the same candle is relit each weekday for the remainder of the first week.  Then, on the Second Sunday, a second candle is added, and the first and second candles are both relit the rest of the week.  After the first week, in church the candles are lit before Mass or before the Collect.  When the candles are lit outside of church, it is customary to offer a prayer at candle-lighting time, often when everyone is gathered around the table before the evening meal.  The Collect from the Mass of the particular Sunday is recommended, and it may be accompanied by a seasonal hymn or Scripture reading.  In some localities there is a tradition regarding the person in the family who is to light the candle:  the youngest child the first week, the oldest child the second, the mother the third, and the father the fourth.

The primary symbol of the Advent Wreath is the candlelight.  December is a month of increasing darkness, a season when the days get shorter as the winter solstice approaches on December 21 or 22, the shortest, darkest day of the year.  Spiritually, darkness is associated with sin, evil, the absence of God, and ignorance.

Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 12:46), “the light of the human race” (Jn 1:4).  As the darkness outside deepens, more candles are lit to crowd out the darkness, and then on Christmas, one of the shortest days of the year, during the night watch (Lk 2:8) when the darkness is intense, Jesus, the Light of the World, was born, “the glory of the Lord shone (Lk 2:9), “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not [and will not] overcome it” (Jn 1:5).  The light reflects the splendor of Christ, his victory over sin, and his promise to bring salvation.

It is customary to bless the Advent Wreath on the First Sunday of Advent.  For a wreath in church, the blessing usually is offered at Mass after the homily, but it also may be blessed during Evening Prayer on Saturday.  The blessing is offered by a priest, but it may be offered by a deacon, or by a lay person during a Word Service.  Three options are provided in the Book of Blessings, Nos. 1517 to 1540.  A wreath at home may also be blessed, often by one of the adults, and another option is provided in Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers, pages 110-112.

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Bow hunt yields surprise sighting

November 24, 2015


A surprise encounter with Donnie Vincent led to a photo opp with this hunting video producer.

A surprise encounter with Donnie Vincent, right, led to a photo opp with this hunting video producer.

The best thing that happened on my bow hunt Sunday morning took place after I climbed down from my stand at 11:15 at Mr. Snowman’s Christmas Tree Farm near Prescott, Wisconsin. I had seen five deer but failed to get a shot opportunity.

Would have been nice to draw my bow, which I haven’t done this fall. But, three of the deer were running (a small buck chasing two does) and out of range, and the other two were behind the stand and did not walk down the trail and past me.

That’s OK. I have two deer at Stasny’s Meat Market in St. Paul for processing (one taken with a gun, the other with a crossbow), so I don’t need venison. I was planning on donating any deer I shot to friends who need the meat. In the end, I was happy with the morning, and with seeing the five deer.

But, the best was yet to come.

I was coming back to my car, and happened to strike up a conversation with someone who was there with his wife and three dogs to cut down a tree. Turned out to be Donnie Vincent. He produces what I believe are the best bow hunting videos on the planet. My son Joe got me started watching them last year. His wife shot a photo of Donnie and I with my iPhone. It was very cool. I texted the photo to my son Joe, who thought it was awesome. He replied that he felt a little jealous.

What’s even better is Donnie agreed to go into the woods with me and check out my stands and the ridge I have been hunting for two seasons. Turns out he found a tree that was rubbed multiple times by what he believes to be a big buck. The trail goes right past my stand. He also found a spot where I could set up my ladder stand and get shots at the trail the buck was using, plus a flat area down the hill from my stand that the deer also use. Both would be about 20 yards.

How cool is that, having Donnie Vincent scout my area and tell me the exact tree to set up my stand? I feel like I can’t go wrong. I will move one of my stands to that spot very soon, and I will be ready to go for next year.

In the meantime, I am thinking ahead to Dec. 25. Donnie said he is going to release another video right before Christmas. You can bet it will be on my wish list. His videos are unlike anything I have ever seen. They are about way more than just the kill, featuring spectacular cinematography. The landscapes of the places he hunts are absolutely stunning, and are well worth getting the videos for.

I also like how Donnie captures the entire hunting experience, including failures and disappointments. He is not afraid to include missed shots in the videos, in addition to his personal thoughts about those failures and about hunting in general. It is clear he is a highly reflective person when it comes to hunting, which is a big reason why I like his videos so much.

I also like the fact that he is very humble. He comes across that way in the videos, and in person. I had no idea who he was when I saw him on Sunday, and I just walked up and started talking to him. He showed no trace of pride or arrogance, and eagerly agreed to take a picture with me and take a brief walk in the woods to look over my hunting area. And, his wife was very gracious in not only taking the photo of Donnie and I, but letting him step away from their Christmas tree search to do a little scouting with me.

As a person, as a hunter and as a video producer, I give Donnie Vincent five out of five stars. He’s a class act! And, I hope all  serious hunters —especially bow hunters — will take the time to watch his videos.

If you have a hunter in your family, I believe you can’t go wrong in buying him or her one of Donnie’s videos. They are a nice thing to watch during the long winter months.

And, for those who are interested in buying a Christmas tree, Mr. Snowman’s is a great place to go. It’s just a little more than 30 miles from downtown St. Paul, so it’s not far. The owner, Charles MacDonald, a retired physician, said this year was a great growing year and his trees are robust and healthy.

So, for those who maybe have had artificial trees up to this point and are thinking about getting a real tree, this year is an excellent time to make the leap. Mr. Snowman’s features the opportunity to cut down your own tree, or get a tree on display that already has been cut.

Looks like the weather will cooperate over Thanksgiving weekend. Just be sure not to wander into the woods beyond where the trees are, in case I am sitting in my stand.

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Playing a nun on stage ‘is a blast’

November 23, 2015


Actor Therese Walth gets down as Sister Mary Patrick in the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' musical "Sister Act." Walth, choral and vocal music director at Hill-Murray School, described the play's spiritual message in an interview with The Catholic Spirit.Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2015

Actor Therese Walth gets down as Sister Mary Patrick in the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ musical “Sister Act.” Walth, choral and vocal music director at Hill-Murray School, described the play’s spiritual message in an interview with The Catholic Spirit. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2015

Q & A with Therese Walth

Editor’s Note: Therese Walth, who is the choral and vocal music director at Hill-Murray School in Maplewood, has credits with several local acting companies and often appears on stage at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. She currently has a role as one of the nuns in the convent in “Sister Act” there. Walth, who admitted to being “between the ages of 25-35 (wink),” grew up in Onalaska, Wisconsin, and earned degrees in both music education and musical theater at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Fellow actor Ben Ballentine, Hill-Murray’s theater director (actor name Ben Bakken), invited Walth to apply when the teaching position opened. “He’s been a huge support, and I am so happy to be at Hill-Murray working with him and the fantastic students and staff,” Walth noted. Walth answered questions from The Catholic Spirit via email about her career and her faith.

Q: Acting is job, but you look like you’re having fun on the stage in “Sister Act.” Is the play more fun than work?

A: There are many stressful parts to acting, and some shows are more challenging than others. “Sister Act,” however, is a really fun show to do, and the role of Sister Mary Patrick is a blast. She is so full of God’s grace and life that it’s hard not to have fun when playing her on stage. She gets to laugh a lot, sing and dance and hang out with some pretty awesome women on stage. I would say it is the best kind of work!

Q: Have you had any real-life experience with nuns?

A: I have a great aunt who spent 12 years in a convent as a postulant before deciding not to take orders, and my mother’s side of the family were all raised Catholic. (I’m actually named for St. Therese of Lisieux.) My mother went to Bishop Ryan Catholic School in Minot, North Dakota, so I have heard many stories about nuns as teachers, leaders and awesome human beings. Now through Hill-Murray I work with the wonderful Sister Linda Soler, and have gotten to learn from the Benedictine Sisters of the St. Paul Monastery.

Q: You sing at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Is there a story behind your doing that? Can you talk a bit about your spirituality and prayer life?

A: Although my mother was raised Catholic, she converted to Lutheran when she married my father. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a Lutheran pastor in North Dakota, so I was raised with a very strong Lutheran faith. I first found my love for singing and performing in at my church and was blessed to have very supportive parents. When I moved to the Cities about eight years ago, I was searching for a community that I could worship in. My dad was very good friends with the choir director at Prince of Peace Lutheran, and there I found a loving and supportive community.
I don’t believe that I could be an actor without my belief in God. The talents I have are his. I remember as a 6th grader going to a summer camp and thanking God for my gift of singing and performing and vowing that anytime I sang or performed it was for and because of him.  Acting (and teaching for that matter) has lots of ups and downs. Many times you are rejected simply by how you look in theater, and you never find out why you didn’t get the job. I found that through prayer and a belief in God’s plan for me, I am able to get through the hard times knowing that God is walking with me.

Q: “Sister Act” at the Chan is campy and fun, but do you think it also passes along a spiritual uplift — maybe even a spiritual message — to the audience?

A: The spiritual message that I receive every night from the show is that a truly happy life is not about one person. Many times we feel we need to battle things alone, or we find ourselves fighting for selfish wants like fame or fortune, but when we open ourselves up to the Lord we find we have a deeper purpose, a deeper meaning in life. And that is not through selfish wishes but through community, through love, and through faith.

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Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 22, 2015


ChristKingThe Grand Finale.  The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is celebrated on the Thirty-Fourth and last Sunday of Ordinary Time.  It is the grand, glorious, and triumphant conclusion to the Church liturgical year.  The spiritual meaning of the feast is woven into the text of the special orations or Mass prayers provided in the Roman Missal.  The Prayer over the Offerings adds to what is expressed in the Collect, Preface, and Prayer after Communion.

A Kingly Sacrifice.  The Prayer over the Offerings begins, “As we offer you, O Lord, the sacrifice by which the human race is reconciled to you.”  The sacrifice was offered on the altar of the Cross.  Jesus himself is the one, true, unblemished, and perfect sacrifice.  Pilate had an inscription placed on the Cross:  “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19).  Pilate’s inscription was partially correct.  Not only is Jesus king of the Jews, he is also king of the world, king of all creation, and king of the universe.

The King’s Sacrifice Achieved Universal Reconciliation.  The sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross reconciled the human race to the Father.  “We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10).  “God … reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor 5:18).  The reconciliation took place on the Cross where Jesus was lifted up (see Jn 3:14b) and reigned as king.  From the Cross, Jesus issued two imperial proclamations.  With regard to those who had falsely accused him, condemned him, and tortured him, his first edict was, “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23:34); and to the repentant thief, his second decree was, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).  The forgiveness that Jesus extended from the Cross has universal implications; it is extended to everyone, everywhere.  He is the reconciler, the bridge between sinners on earth and his Father in heaven.  Jesus took away sin by his sacrifice (Heb 9:26).  It is through Jesus that we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of his Cross (Eph 1:7).  Jesus has reconciled all things, making peace by the blood of his Cross (Col 1:20).  Because of sin, humanity was estranged from God, “far off,” but because of the blood that Jesus offered, humanity is reconciled to the Father, now “near” (Eph 2:13).

King of All Nations.  The prayer continues, “We humbly pray that your Son himself may bestow on all nations the gifts of unity and peace.”  The prayer assumes that Jesus has power over all nations.  On judgment day, “All of the nations will be assembled before him [Jesus]” (Mt 25:32), the king.  Before Jesus ascended to heaven he stated, “All power in heaven and earth has been granted to me” (Mt 28:18).  Paul added, “All things [are] beneath his feet, and he is head over all things” (Eph 1:22).  Jesus has “authority over all nations” (Rev 2:26b).  Jesus always has been and continues to be the king of all people in every nation on earth.

The Kingly Gifts of Unity and Peace.  As universal King, Jesus is the one who has the power and authority to grant the gifts of unity and peace, gifts that are supremely important to him, gifts that he wants to impart. In his prayer on Holy Thursday, Jesus prayed for unity, “Father, that they may be one” (Jn 17:21,22,23).  Jesus also told them that same night, “Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27); and after his Resurrection, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21).  We are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28b); he is our peace (Eph 2:14).  In the kingdom of God, all are united in Jesus and live together in harmony and mutual respect.

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Deer hunting 2015: a bountiful harvest!

November 16, 2015


This nice doe was taken with a crossbow in Wisconsin.

This nice doe was taken with a crossbow in Wisconsin.

On the crisp afternoon of Nov. 13, I sat peacefully in a deer stand in Wisconsin with my hands tucked into a camo muff.

Some important items were inside the muff — chemical handwarmer bags and a blaze orange rosary.

Never heard of a blaze orange rosary? Well, you obviously have never been to St. Hubert in Chanhassen. I procured my set of beads there Nov. 8, the day after the firearms deer opener and the day the parish celebrated the feast of its namesake, who also happens to be the patron saint of hunters.

I was first introduced to my deer hunting patron in 2012 by my oldest son Joe, who encouraged me to pray to St. Hubert. I did and was rewarded with a 10-point buck in the final minutes of the 3A firearms season, the largest I have ever taken.

Father Bruno Nwachukwu of St. Hubert in Chanhassen dresses up as St. Hubert and passes out blaze orange rosaries the weekend of Nov. 7-8.

Father Bruno Nwachukwu of St. Hubert in Chanhassen dresses up as St. Hubert and passes out blaze orange rosaries the weekend of Nov. 7-8.

Thus, I was highly motivated to come to St. Hubert parish to claim a set of blaze orange rosary beads. I also was treated to the sight of Father Bruno Nwachukwu, the associate pastor who dressed up as St. Hubert and handed out the rosaries and posed for pictures with a blowup deer.

By then, my hunt was well underway, and I was celebrating the success of the previous day. My friend and hunting partner, Bernie Schwab, and I both had tagged button bucks on the opening day of the 3A firearms season Nov. 7. They were considered antlerless deer, and were legal in this zone under the Hunter’s Choice rule, which allows hunters to tag one deer during the entire fall season, buck or doe.

With that accomplished, I was now trying to fill one of my archery tags in Wisconsin. I sat for six hours in a stand on one piece of property I was hunting the morning of Nov. 13, then switched to another farm after seeing no deer.

When I climbed into my stand at 3 p.m. with a little more than two hours of shooting light left, the high winds were starting to calm. I was optimistic that a deer would step out near my stand. I was hunting with a crossbow, which I had decided to do for the first time this year. Crossbows are legal in Wisconsin, and I wanted to try one out. Thanks to the generosity of a friend, Gary Altendorf, I had one in my hands on this cool afternoon.

Throughout the first hour of my sit, I fingered the rosary beads and said a few prayers to Mary. I don’t know how much pull she has in terms of bringing a whitetail my way, but I thought a Hail Mary or two couldn’t hurt.

A little after 4 p.m., I heard some rustling in the thick brush to the north of my stand. I knew this was a bedding area, so I started to feel anticipation. The noise got louder and closer, and I sensed a deer was near.

Then, only about 20 yards in front of me, a nice doe emerged from the brush and walked right at me. This is a fine shot if you’re holding a gun, not so much if you have a bow in your hands, even a crossbow. There’s a lot of bone in the way of the vitals when a deer is coming straight toward you.

I wondered if this deer would walk right under my stand. Then, a few seconds after this doe popped out, another one emerged behind it. It followed the first, but then turned slightly away from me to nibble on a branch.

That exposed part of its front flank, and I saw my opportunity. I put the crosshairs of the scope on it and popped the trigger. The arrow (called a bolt) found its mark and hit the deer in the spine. It went down immediately, which meant there would be no tracking required.

Most bow hunters will say that tracking a deer after it’s hit is the hardest part of bow hunting. After having done it a few times, I would agree. So, I was very relieved to not have that chore ahead of me.

I did put a second shot into the deer to make sure it was down, then I went and told the landowner. She offered to drive her tractor up to the spot where my doe was. I quickly and eagerly accepted.

Within an hour, I was on my way back to St. Paul and Stasny’s Meat Market, where I get my deer processed. The guys there do a great job, including owner Jim Stasny, who almost always is there to check in my deer. Their summer sausage is legendary, and I always make sure to order some.

I now have two deer at Stasny’s. Both were young, which will make for some good eating.

The good news is I have more tags left to fill in Wisconsin. I still have my buck tag, plus a county doe tag. I can buy more bonus doe tags if I want, which is a nice option to have.

But, I have not been seeing nearly as many deer as last year, so I’m not sure how many more shot opportunities I will get. I think the warm weather in October and November severely curtailed deer movement overall, especially during the daytime.

That’s why the cooler days are so important. A chill is in the forecast for later this week, and I will take Friday off to hunt. It’s the day before Wisconsin’s firearms deer opener, so it will be the last day of quiet before guns start blazing in the badger state.

After shooting my compound bow year round, it sure would be nice to draw back on a deer. Maybe, Friday it will happen!

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St. Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor

November 10, 2015


LeoTheGreatPope Leo I is also known as Pope Leo the Great.  The date of his birth is unknown, and the place uncertain, possibly in Rome.  The first historical information available about his life is that he was a highly regarded deacon who served under two Popes, Celestine I and Sixtus III.

In 440 AD he was sent to Gaul, a region of southern France, as a papal ambassador to mediate a dispute between two feuding generals, Aetius and Albinus, so that they might cooperate in the defense of the region from barbarian attacks.  While on this mission Pope Sixtus III died and Leo was elected his successor.  He returned to Rome and was consecrated on September 29, 440.

During his twenty-one years as Pope, he distinguished himself in at least three major ways:  he acted decisively to strengthen the supremacy and authority of the papacy, he upheld and clarified orthodox theology while he strenuously opposed a number of heresies, and he defended Rome from the barbarian tribes that were invading from the north.

Leo explained that the Pope is the heir of St. Peter, the first of the apostles, and that the authority that Jesus conferred upon Peter as the rock upon which the Church is built (Mt 16:18) is extended to and embodied in the Pope.  Thus, the Pope does not only have authority over the Church of Rome, but also over the universal Church and all its bishops.

The Church was beset by heresy during the Fifth Century, and Pope Leo, through his sermons and letters, as well as the Council of Chalcedon, acted firmly to refute unorthodox teaching.

Priscillianism was strong in Spain, a heresy that claimed that the physical human body is evil; Pope Leo taught that it is good.  Manichaeism was a blend of dualism, material things are bad while spiritual things are good, and Gnosticism, that salvation is achieved through knowledge itself.  Even though it was condemned by Pope Innocent I in 416, it was necessary for Pope Leo to restate the Church’s teaching that all created things are good and that salvation is achieved through Christ.  Pelagianism held that salvation can be gained through human effort alone, and that the saving grace of God is not necessary.  Pope Leo taught that humans simply cannot save themselves, no matter how many good works they may perform, and that the grace of God through Jesus’ redemptive death on the Cross is necessary for eternal life.

Two other heresies had a strong foothold, Arianism, that Jesus is less than God but greater than any human being; and Nestorianism, that Jesus is two separate persons, one divine, the other human, and that they are not interconnected.  Arianism had been refuted by the Council of Nicaea in 325 and Nestorianism by the Council of Ephesus in 431, yet both had many adherents.  A renegade council was called by Emperor Theodosius II in 499 in Ephesus to support Eutyches, a heretic that claimed that Jesus had one divine nature that absorbed his human nature.  Pope Leo countered with the Council of Chalcedon in 451 in which his Tome, a letter that clearly explained the two natures of Christ which had been disallowed by Theodosius II two years earlier, not only was read but was adopted with strong support.

Meanwhile, the barbarians were on the offensive and the safety of Rome was in peril.  The Huns were approaching.  In a dramatic moment in 452, Pope Leo had a face-to-face meeting with their leader, Attila, and convinced him to pull back.  In 455, Pope Leo was not as successful.  This time the Vandals ransacked Rome for fourteen days.  In a piece of artful diplomacy, he was able to convince their leader, Genseric, to confine their activity to plundering, and not to murder the inhabitants or to burn the city.

Pope Leo I died on November 10, 461, and he was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1754.

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