Archive | April, 2017

Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

April 28, 2017



St. Catherine was born in Siena, Italy, in 1347, the youngest of twenty-five children.  As a young girl she had a vigorous spiritual life, and her mystical experiences began at age six when she reported her first vision when Jesus appeared to her along with Peter, Paul, and John.

When Catherine was sixteen, her parents insisted that she prepare for marriage.  Catherine steadfastly refused, cut off her long hair, and reserved herself completely for Jesus.  In an effort to seek greater spiritual perfection, she then joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, a lay religious association.  She wore a Dominican habit but continued to live at home.

At age nineteen, Catherine had another profound mystical experience.  Both Jesus and his mother Mary appeared to her, and during this encounter she entered a spiritual marriage in which she became the bride of Christ and Jesus became her divine spouse.

Catherine dedicated herself to a life of solitude, intense prayer, and severe fasting, and she restricted herself to the least amount of food to survive.  Later, she also felt called to a life of service, left her home, and began to care for lepers and cancer patients, as well as those afflicted by the famine of 1370 and the plague of 1374.  She did much to promote harmony between rival factions in the city of Siena.  Because of her apostolic zeal, others joined her, and she challenged them to reform and repent, a message welcomed by her followers, but harshly criticized by those who felt her preaching was out of place for a lay woman.

As Catherine and her associates traveled about Italy, she visited Pisa in 1375.  She made a visit to the Church of Santa Cristina, and while she was in prayer before a crucifix she was given the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion, visible to herself but not to others.

The Church was deeply divided by the Avignon Papacy which had begun in 1309, a scandal in which the Pope resided in France, not Rome.  Catherine was a fierce advocate for unity in the Church, and initially sent a letter to Pope Gregory XI requesting that he return to Rome.  Catherine went to Avignon during the summer of 1376 to make a personal plea.  Gregory XI left France in September, and arrived in Rome on January 17, 1377.

Catherine contributed greatly to the spiritual writings of the Church.  Not a writer herself, she dictated her thoughts to a number of secretaries.  She composed many prayers, 382 letters, and her most significant work, the Dialogue of Divine Providence, a treatise on the spiritual life that included some of her mystical experiences.

Pope Gregory XI died on March 27, 1378, and his successor, Pope Urban VI, asked Catherine to come to Rome.  Catherine was weak because of her severe fasting, and the journey to Rome led to exhaustion.  In January, 1380, she went into convulsions and then into a coma.  Four months later she suffered a stroke and died on April 29, 1380, and she was buried under the altar in the basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Catherine was canonized a saint by Pope Pius II in 1461, named the co-patron saint of Italy with St. Francis of Assisi in 1939, declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and named co-patron saint of Europe along with St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Pope John Paul II in 1999.  She is also the patron saint of nurses.

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Gobblers cooperate on Holy Thursday

April 25, 2017

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This 23-pound gobbler fell on Holy Thursday.

This 23-pound gobbler fell on Holy Thursday.

In 30-plus years of hunting wild turkeys, I have learned one simple lesson:

Turkey hunting is hard. At times, it may SEEM easy, when the birds gobble hard and come quickly to a call. But, I liken it to trying to hit a knuckle ball. It can appear to float in pretty as you please. Then, just as you start your swing thinking you’ll drive it out of the park, it darts or dips and your bat hits nothing but air.

I have learned to keep this truth in mind whenever I chase these wily birds. As dawn broke on Season A April 12 near Red Wing, I was painfully aware of a longbeard drought going back to 2014. I took three birds total in 2015 and 2016, but all were jakes (first-year males with short, stubby beards). Any turkey is a good turkey, but I always want to take at least one mature tom in a spring season.

But, I got blanked two years in a row, and I was looking to end that streak. I went back to the property where I had shot a jake last year. A group of gobblers had come in, and the one in front was a longbeard, but the bird turned away from me and did not offer a shot. The next bird then appeared in my shooting lane, and I fired when I saw its red head. I was happy with the bird, but knew I had missed a chance at a mature tom that was right in front of him.

All those thoughts drifted through my mind as I headed out to my blind in the darkness on opening day of my seven-day season. I like to get into my blind super early in case there are birds roosted nearby. Turns out there were, and they started sounding off right about at the start of legal shooting hours.

My brother, Joe, was with me, and we thought we were in business. Some birds started moving our way, and I thought I would pull the trigger and end my longbeard drought in the first hour. But, as happens so many times, the birds did not come into view and instead moved away. However, three jakes came out into the pasture a short time later and put on quite a show, strutting and gobbling for about half an hour. I tried calling them into gun range, but they stayed put at about 75 yards. Just as well. I wasn’t going to shoot one of the jakes anyway.

Eventually, the woods fell silent, and the dreaded mid-morning lull that all turkey hunters disdain set in. The only action was a gunshot a few hundred yards away at about 10:15.

I worried that might spook the birds, but decided to hang in there and wait for things to quiet back d0wn again. About an hour later, after calling about every 20-30 minutes, I heard footsteps behind the blind. It was either a deer or a turkey, I thought. I waited to see if whatever it was would appear. Then, to my left just inside the woods, I caught movement. I trained my eyes on whatever it was as it walked through the brush. Then, I saw green.

Another hunter! I was deflated as I came to grips with the fact that I was competing for birds with at least one other person. At that point, I decided to get out of the blind and move it to the far end of the property. My brother and I hustled out of the blind, and packed it up in my car. We quickly drove to the spot where I had set it up last year, and I put it back up. We then left the property so I could get my brother back to the cities and his afternoon shift at work.

Wouldn’t you know it? We spotted a gobbler strutting in a field only about 100 yards from the road on our way out. If we had time, it would have been a nice stalk through the woods. But, alas, we had to leave. My brother was bummed, but I was not. Tomorrow would be another day.

On day two, I flew solo. Again, I got into the blind very early to take advantage of the darkness. As dawn broke on the cloudy horizon, birds started gobbling. There were lots of them, and they were close. I also heard gobbler yelps on the roost. These are shorter sequences, and the yelps are more drawn out and have a deeper, courser sound than hen yelps. It takes a trained ear to identify them and, fortunately, I have heard them before and know what they sound like. It’s a skill that would pay off later that day.

I was using my brand new Dave Smith Decoys, and I was sure the birds would fly down and walk out into the cut soybean field and to my decoy spread, which consisted of a half-strut jake, leading hen and breeding hen (laying down in a breeding position).

Unfortunately, I forgot my knuckle ball analogy. The birds flew down and some were walking in the woods behind my blind. I had my windows open toward the field, and I didn’t look out the back because I was convinced the birds would come out into the field.

They did not. Instead, they moved farther back into the woods and shut up. A few minutes later, I heard a hen yelping, and I knew why the toms went that way. You can’t compete with a live hen.

So, things went quiet and the lull began. I waited for about four hours, finally reaching that late morning period when hens start moving away from the toms and to the nests they are starting to build for laying eggs.

Sure enough, at 10:15, I heard some gobbling to my right down in a ravine. I called, and the birds answered immediately. We went back a forth a little bit, and they finally came out into the field about 150 yards away. I saw first one head, then two more. But, their bodies were still not visible.

At last, they popped up over a little rise, and I could see their bodies — three longbeards!

They kept walking toward my decoys, strutting and gobbling along the way. Perfect! At just over 50 yards, they stopped, and I pulled out my rangefinder to verify the distance. I generally like to keep my shots at 50 yards and under, so I waited. Besides, they were coming right in, so there was no reason to think they would hang up now.

But, that’s exactly what they did. They turned and walked to the edge of the woods, clucking as they did so. Intense gobbler clucking usually means they don’t like something. So, if you have a chance to shoot, take it.

I ranged one of the birds at the edge of the woods — 56 yards. Too far for me. I have never patterned my gun at that range. Even though I know I have a tight pattern, and have killed a bird or two in the 50-yard range, I didn’t want to risk missing or wounding a bird. So, I didn’t shoot. It was the right decision from an ethical standpoint, but it also was very painful watching those birds walk into the woods and out of my life.

I probably have as many “almosts” as any turkey hunter in the woods, and this was yet another. But, I eventually got over my disappointment and continued my vigil in the blind. Most guys get out and start walking around when things go quiet, but I have learned the value of patience and persistence.

It was tested, as I spent the next several hours waiting for another tom to show. At 1:30, a hen appeared and I called her in to my decoys. She hung around for more than an hour, eventually laying down next to my decoys. Then, about 2:15, two more hens came out into the field and I called them in, too. It was fun having that many hens around, and I figured a tom wasn’t far away.

I also knew that my time in the woods was going to end soon. I was planning to go to the Holy Thursday Mass at 7:30 at my parish, Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. I was hoping to get home in time for a nap, dinner and a shower.

So, I planned to get out of the blind around 3 or so. I could push it to 4 if I was working a bird, but I decided to leave at 3 if I didn’t see or hear a gobbler. Eventually, the hens walked away from my decoys and into the woods to my left. No toms. At about 2:40, I gave what I thought was my final call of the day.

Nothing answered, and I started thinking about packing up. Then, a ways back in the woods, I heard a sound — a gobbler yelp, perhaps? I’ve learned that if you think a sound might be made by a turkey, respond with some calling even if you’re not sure.

Because of the distance and faintness of the sound, I made a decision to pull out the loudest call in my vest — a custom long box call made by master box call maker Marlin Watkins of Ohio. I had ordered this call back in the summer, and had paid a pretty penny for it.

It was time to see what this call was really worth. I did some very loud, aggressive calls, mixing long and loud yelps with sharp cutting. I like a long box for this reason. Not only is this a very realistic sounding call, but it’s very loud. In this case, I wanted all the volume I could get.

Not long after my calling sequence, I heard more gobbler yelps, this time closer and more distinct. The birds were coming!

By now, I knew these were gobbler yelps. Once again, I thought the birds would come out into the field and to my decoys.

Once again, they did not. They got to about 20-25 yards from the blind in the woods, and were pacing back and forth and yelping. Finally, I pulled up the fabric in the back of the blind just enough to look out. I saw two red heads bobbing through the brush in the woods behind the blind. They were angling away from me at about 20 yards, and I didn’t have time to take a shot.

As they moved away, a large shape to their left caught my attention — a gobbler in full strut! First, I saw the tail fan, then the red head.

This was the bird I wanted! I watched him for several minutes, thinking he would keep on walking toward the field and give me a shot.

He did not. Instead, he stayed put and pivoted with his tail fanned out. There was some heavy brush between me and the bird, so I knew I would have to wait. Finally, he took just a step or two to the right, and I could see more of him.

Quickly, I pulled the windows in the front of the blind shut, and cracked the back window just a bit. When hunting out of blinds, you always want the part of the blind that’s behind you to stay closed, so that your body doesn’t create a silhouette that the birds can see.

After maneuvering the windows and my swivel chair into position, I cracked the window facing the strutter. I was going to wait for the right shot, rather than rush it. The bird wasn’t going anywhere, and neither was I.

Finally, he took just a step or two more, and his head and neck were in the clear. I raised my gun and took aim. Then, he pulled his head out of strut just a little bit, so that it was positioned straight up and down.

That’s perfect for a shot — head and neck broadside and pointing straight up and down. I fired, and saw the bird drop and start flapping.

Yes!! The other two birds started alarm putting and moving off, but I kept my attention on the downed bird. I couldn’t see him anymore, so I got out of the blind as fast as I could. I ended up tripping over the entrance and damaging the zipper. But, I hustled toward the bird as fast as I could.

When I was more than halfway there, a bird flew up and away, like it never had been hit. My jaw dropped and I stared in disbelief. How could a bird that went down and was flapping fly off like he was perfectly fine?

I was puzzled, then decided to keep walking to where I saw the bird go down. I took just two or three more steps, and there he lay! Turns out there were four birds instead of three. I never saw the fourth bird until I was almost to where my bird went down.

Spurs on this bird measured 1 1/8 inches.

Spurs on this bird measured 1 1/8 inches.

I turned the bird over and saw a nice, 9-inch beard. He also had a good set of spurs on him, indicating he was probably 3 years old. And, he was nice and plump, weighing in at about 23 pounds. I was absolutely thrilled with this bird, and proudly took him back to my car.

And yes, I made it to church on time. It was a glorious service, and I was able to make the transition from turkey hunter to worshipper. Two days later, I took my son, Andy, out for the only day he could hunt. Again, the birds were roosted close, but it rained hard most of the morning, which seemed to shut the birds down. We saw a total of four hens all day, and no toms. That’s how turkey hunting goes sometimes.

This Thursday, my son, Joe, and his wife Val come into town from Dallas, and I am going to take him turkey hunting Friday, and Monday if needed. We’ll be hunting a property I have been deer hunting for more than a decade, but only turkey hunted briefly one year. He has a large field of alfalfa, which turkeys love. I’m optimistic, but we’ll have to see what the birds do.

Can’t wait!




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Thomas: Doubting may not be his worst mistake

April 21, 2017

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Thomas doubted.  This was a startling shift for him.  Only a short while earlier in Bethany Thomas had urged the other disciples to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem, despite the vicious threats against his life, when Thomas declared, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16).  How is it that the apostle who was so confident earlier would say, “I will not believe” (Jn 20:25)?

Thomas got himself into serious trouble when he decided to go off by himself.  When the disciples were together in the Upper Room, he “was not with them” (Jn 20:24).  Jesus had gathered together a group of disciples, and prayed that they would be a strong collective unit when he prayed that they would be one, and he did not send them out separately but at least two-by-two, yet Thomas decided to separate himself from the group and try to make it on his own.  His decision to go off by himself was more than a foolish mistake.  It was wrong.

Thomas was guilty of individualism.  His main concern was himself and what he wanted to do, not his partners and their welfare.  He may also have been guilty of pride, arrogance, or elitism.  He may have thought:  “I do not need them”; “I am better than them”; “They drag me down and I am better off doing things my way apart from them.”  Or he may have been deeply depressed and gone off to pout by himself.  His isolation cost him dearly.

When the disciples were fearfully huddled together in the Upper Room, they supported and encouraged each other.  When Thomas distanced himself from them, he failed to receive the mutual support and encouragement that he so desperately needed.

The disciples had all sinned during Jesus’ Passion when they deserted their Master, and they were in serious need of forgiveness, and they received special pardon and mercy when Jesus said, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21).  Absent, Thomas missed the chance to be forgiven.

Jesus gave the disciples great joy and new hope when he appeared to them.  Thomas remained unaffected because he missed the opportunity to receive these gifts.  Next, Jesus gave his disciples their commission when he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21b).  Thomas received no such commissioning.  Jesus gave the disciples a special blessing when he imparted the Holy Spirit upon them:  “Receive the holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22).  Thomas was not sealed or confirmed in the Spirit.  Jesus empowered his disciples to forgive the sins of others.  Thomas received no such mandate.  Thomas missed innumerable graces and blessings apart from the others.  Absence from the community is a serious blunder with major consequences.  Fortunately, Thomas’ problems were quickly resolved when he returned to the community.

Many Catholics make the same mistake as Thomas when they separate themselves from their parish community and try to make it on their own.  They go to Mass on Easter Sunday, and then only sporadically or not at all during the spring and summer.  They infrequently receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, and are weakly connected to ongoing faith formation or parish festivals and other community building events.  It should be no surprise that when it comes to the faith of those who are absent, there would be more doubt.  Thomas corrected his mistake when he returned.  Easter teaches us that the risen Christ is found in the community of the Church, the Body of Christ, and we need to remain closely connected.

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Why did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 14, 2017



After Jesus died and his body was placed in the tomb, he could have ascended to heaven without appearing to anyone.  But Jesus rose and he appeared to his disciples, and he did so for a number of very important reasons.

Triumph and Victory.  The Resurrection was emphatic proof that Jesus had decisively and convincingly conquered sin and death.

Glorification.  God raised Jesus to glorify him.  God was pleased that Jesus had become obedient, even unto death on the Cross, and to praise him, God greatly exalted him with the name above every other name (see Phil 2:8,9).  Furthermore, the Father bestowed additional glory upon his Son by exalting him with a place at his right hand (Acts 2:33).

Fulfillment.  Jesus had foretold that he would rise from the dead:  “And three days after his death he will rise” (Mk 9:31; see also Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk 8:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 18:33).  When Jesus rose, he proved that all that he had promised was reliable and true.

Reconciliation.  The disciples estranged themselves from Jesus when they fled and abandoned their Master at the time of his arrest (see Mt 26:56 and Mk 14:50).  Moreover, they did not testify on his behalf at his trial, were absent during the crucifixion, and when it came to being faithful friends, they were miserable failures.  Jesus rose so he could forgive them and reestablish a positive relationship with them.  Reconciliation was such an urgent necessity that only moments after his Resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and said,   “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26), words that are tantamount to “I forgive you.”

Teaching and Re-instruction.  The disciples were still confused about Jesus’ true identity.  “They doubted” (Mt 28:17).  Jesus rose and appeared to Cleopas and Simeon on the road to Emmaus to reinterpret for them all that referred to him in the scriptures (Lk 24:27; see also Lk 24:45).  For forty days Jesus spoke to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3b).

Faith-Strengthening.  After Jesus died, the faith of his disciples continued to waver.  Seeing is believing!  The risen Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and said, “Look at my hands and my feet” (Lk 24:39) to confirm and strengthen their faith.  Jesus showed himself to Thomas (Jn 20:27) so that, with faith strengthened, he could make his profession of faith, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28).  “For many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:31; see also Acts 10:41 and 1 Cor 15:5-8).

Commissioning.  Jesus rose to commission his disciples. He told them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15); “make disciples of all nations,” “baptizing them,” and “teaching them” (Mt 28:19,20).  He also instructed Peter [and the others] to “Feed my lambs” (Jn 21:15), “tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16), and “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17).

Reassurance.  Jesus rose so that he could reassure his disciples that even though he would ascend to heaven and be physically absent, he would always be their constant companion:  “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b).

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Prayer for the Sacred Paschal Triduum

April 7, 2017



The three days of the Sacred Paschal Triduum are the three holiest days of the year:  Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.  They celebrate the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ, the central mysteries of our faith, both the Passion, his suffering and death, and the Resurrection, his glorious triumph over sin and the grave.

Every day is a day for prayer, but the Triduum stands above all other days as three special days for prayer.  It is a time to enter these profound mysteries.  There are two principle ways to pray during this time, communal liturgical prayer at church and personal private prayer, and both are highly recommended.

There are three sacred liturgies over these days:  the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening, the Passion of our Lord on Good Friday, and the Resurrection of the Lord, first celebrated at the Easter Vigil and then also at the Masses on Easter Sunday morning.  If there ever was a time to go to church to pray, it is on these three days.  It is extremely important to make prayerful participation in these liturgies a top spiritual priority.

The other indispensable way to pray during these three days is personal private prayer.  Our lives are so hectic.  There are so many things to do and so many places to go.  And our lives are so noisy.  We talk, talk, talk, and the noise is amplified by television, radio, and all sorts of music media.  If there ever was a time to be silent and still, it is on these three days.   Turn off the TV or radio.  Set the gadgets aside.  Reserve the time.  Find a quiet place.  Center yourself.  Focus on God and listen, listen, listen.

There are a number of other special ways to prayerfully participate in the Triduum.  On Holy Thursday, at the conclusion of Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the church and then transferred to another place where it is reposed, so one option is to spend a period of time in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  During the Last Supper Jesus gave his final words of instruction to his disciples, so it would be timely to reflect upon his Last Supper Discourse, John 13:31 to 16:33.  After teaching the disciples, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, so it would be an opportune time to ponder the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, John 17:1-26.  After the Last Supper Jesus went to Gethsemane, so it would be appropriate to pray the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden.  Finally, mindful of the footwashing, it is the perfect day to pray about God’s call to humble service.

Good Friday is a solemn and somber day.  Fasting and abstinence set a prayerful tone.  The scourging at the pillar and the crowning of thorns took place on Good Friday morning, so it would be good to pray the Second and Third Sorrowful Mysteries.  Jesus hung upon the Cross for three hours, so an extended period of silent prayer between 12:00 noon and 3:00 p.m. is an excellent option.  During these three hours, or at any time on Good Friday, special ways to pray include reading the Passion, John 18:1-19:42; the completion of the Sorrowful Mysteries; the Stations of the Cross; a prayerful reading of the Suffering Servant Canticles (Is 42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) or the seven Penitential Psalms (Ps 6; 32; 38; 51; 102, 130; 143); and to offer prayer for the Church, the world, and all those in need.  It is an ideal time to pray with a Cross, either before a crucifix or to take one in hand, to venerate it, and to gaze upon Jesus’ crucified body and to ponder the meaning of his redemptive suffering and death.

Holy Saturday is a day to keep vigil.  As Mary Magdalene kept watch at the tomb in somber silence, it is a time to remain subdued, observe the Triduum fast, and make preparation to celebrate the greatest feast of our faith, the Resurrection of the Lord.


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