Archive | December, 2017

Top 10 Spiritual Resolutions for 2018

December 31, 2017


It is the start of the New Year  and we may or may not have made our New Year Resolutions.  Many people make resolutions to lose weight, exercise or save money, but what about our spiritual lives?

Here is a list of 10 Spiritual Resolutions that can change your life!

  1. Pray Every Day. Some of you may already to this but if you are like me sometimes in the morning rush I miss out on my 10 minutes of prayer with a promise to myself to get to it later.  Start the new year right and get up earlier and start the day with prayer.
  2. Pray Before Bed.  Just like starting your day right, it is important to end your day right. The Examen or Evening Reflection was written by St. Ignatius Loyola. It is five simple steps to reflect on your day that will change your 2018.
  • Remember God’s presence.
  • Respond to Him with thanks.
  • Reflect on how God showed Himself to you.
  • Repent of your failings.
  • Resolve to grow. 
  1. Keep a Prayer Journal. God’s presence is all around us but we sometimes don’t recognize it.  Keeping a prayer journal is a great way see His work your life. Never done it before? It is easy. Take a few moments after prayer to jot down your thoughts and anything that has been revealed to you in your prayer.  Take some time weekly or monthly to look for themes in your life and prayer.  Jot down the names or situations you are praying for, notice God’s responses, give thanks for answered prayers.
  2. Go to Confession. Centuries ago, it was customary to begin the New Year with a spotlessly clean house. Thus, houses were thoroughly cleaned as it signified a fresh start to the New Year. A clean house is good, but what about a clean soul? Start the new year right and get to confession! Better yet, resolve to go once a month! In addition to confession think about relationships you may need to heal. It might be a co-worker, friend or family member.  The way to lead in any situation is to lead with your own vulnerability.  It may be hard to take the first step and you may not get the result from the other person that you wished for but resolve to place humility above pride and people above being right.  It is a way to start the new year with a clean house and soul.
  3. Spend Less Time with Your Computer or Phone. This may sound like a secular and not spiritual resolution but spending less time on screens and more time with people (or in prayer) will improve your spiritual life.  There are some great things on facebook and on the internet but if you find yourself wasting time scrolling or in envy of other’s lives then you are not living your own life abundantly!  “I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly” John 10:10
  4. Read Spiritual Books. Spiritual reading plays an important role in our lives. Just as our bodies need exercise and good food, so do our hearts, minds, and souls.  For women – I recommend signing up for the  Read Between the WINE’s Book Club or check our recommended reading titles.
  5. Plan a Retreat. Just like planning a vacation for your family, planning a retreat for yourself needs to be a priority.  The new year is a great time to make those plans.  They can be as simple as spending a day at a nearby convent or monastery or taking a week long overnight retreat. Check with your priest for some suggestions. One of my favorite places is Pacem in Terris.
  6. Give. Plan to give of yourself this year. The old adage of time, talent and treasure is not just a ploy to get you to volunteer for the church or give money to keep it running.  Giving of ourselves is an expression of our love to God and all he has given us – which is everything!  When I had been suffering from a bout of depression, my priest suggested I volunteer at a homeless shelter or food shelf. It knocked me out of my own self-pity when I saw lives less fortunate than mine.  When cash is short – I am reminded that I am richer than 90% of the planet and even when my life is crazy busy, I think how difficult it would be if I spent the day looking for food to eat to survive.
  7. Rest and Sleep. On the 7th day God rested and so should we. Sleep and rest is healing. Check out this post by Fr. Mike Schmitz on getting enough sleep. To give ourselves the time to rest we may need to make room in our lives, so in comes #10.
  8. Say NO. We all should pattern our lives after Mary’s great “Fiat” by saying yes to Jesus. But saying yes to one thing may necessitate saying no to others.  In the WINE companion journal to Lisa Hendy’s book “The Grace of Yes” I wrote “The other lesson that I have learned in the grace of no has been that my well thought out “No” leaves open a yes to other things.  I heard a priest friend of mine answer the question about his celibacy to a group of teenagers when they asked him how he could have decided to become a priest and say “no” to a wife and children.  His response was.  “When a man does decide a “yes” to marriage that automatically means a “no” to all other women in his life.”  In that way a yes becomes a no to other things and a no becomes a yes to new possibilities. “
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The Feast of the Holy Family

December 30, 2017


The Holy Family

The Holy Family
Holy Family
Belle Prairie, MN

Obedience – a virtue of paramount importance

Each year the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s is the Feast of the Holy Family. The timing makes perfect sense. Before Christmas Mary and Joseph were married, a twosome, the Holy Couple, but with the birth of Jesus and the presence of their child, on the first Sunday after Christmas, they have become a threesome, the Holy Family.

But what made Jesus, Mary, and Joseph so holy? How might our own families follow their example in reaching greater holiness? To practice the virtue of obedience is to grow in holiness.

Joseph was obedient. When the angel told him to take Mary as his wife (Mt 1:20,24); to name the child Jesus (Mt 1:21,25); to take the family and flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13-13); and to return to Israel (Mt 2:19-22), he obeyed in every instance, and he did so immediately without complaint. Virtuous husbands and fathers obey God.

Mary was obedient. When the angel Gabriel appeared and announced, “You shall bear a son,” she obediently replied, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Virtuous wives and mothers obey God.

Not only were they obedient individually, they were obedient together: “They fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord” (Lk 2:39). Virtuous married couples obey God.

Jesus also was obedient. In fact, obedience is the only trait used to describe Jesus when he was twelve years old: He “was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51). Virtuous children obey their parents.

Obedience is an extremely difficult challenge for everyone at every age. We want things our own way, and we can be quite stubborn. It is already evident in toddlers who have minds of their own. It is no wonder that the Fourth Commandment is “Honor [i.e., obey] your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16). Obedience is the foremost challenge of childhood and adolescence, and as Jesus demonstrated, it is the path to holiness for a young person.

Parents have an obligation to insist on what is good for their children and the family, and children have a spiritual duty to obey. It starts with little things like cleaning your plate, brushing your teeth, and doing some household tasks; and it progresses to bigger things like going to church, doing your homework, dressing modestly, using the computer and cell phone appropriately, and coming home on time. Parents lay down rules, not to be controlling or mean, but to obey God (Dt 6:7), and when young people are obedient, not only do they honor their parents, they also honor almighty God.

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Deer season was exciting, rewarding

December 27, 2017


My deer season might be over for the year. After exciting encounters with bucks and does over the last few weeks, I’m a little hesitant for it to end.

But, three deer is definitely enough. I got my third last night, in the last hour of shooting hours as the temperature was falling to below zero. Wisconsin is having a special holiday gun hunt this year, which started Dec. 24 and goes through Jan. 1. In certain counties, hunters can take antlerless deer with any weapon, provided they have the appropriate tag.

I bought both an archery and firearms license this year. Normally, I just get the archery tag, as the nonresident fee is $160. But, if a hunter has never purchased a specific license, or if it has been at least 10 years since that license has been purchased, he or she can get one for half price. I qualified, so I bought the firearms license this year. Unfortunately, I only ended up hunting opening morning of the firearms season, and did not see a deer.

So, as of yesterday afternoon, I had both gun and archery tags in my pocket. Even though it was supposed to be cold, I decided to go out there with my gun and give it a try.

Short sit

I was hunting  a property in a county that qualified for the holiday gun hunt. I had had deer sightings on the property, and had taken shots with my crossbow, but was not able to bring home a deer. There’s one area where the deer like to hang out, and I had hunted from a stand there before. In fact, I had taken a shot at a very nice 8-point buck from this stand, but I rushed the shot and didn’t get a good hit. There was so little blood that I think I only grazed the buck. At least I know he walked away just fine, though clearly spooked.

As I drove in, I spotted two deer on the hillside near the landowner’s house. My stand is located just over the hill, and I figured I could swing around the back side of the hill and slip into the stand without these deer noticing me. Yet, the wind would be blowing toward where I had spotted them. It was a risk I decided to take.

When I got to the stand, I noticed a lot of deer tracks in the snow in front of it. The stand overlooks a large field of tall grass, with an area of shorter grass near the edge where my stand is. I could see the deer were traveling this edge heavily. That was very encouraging.

I climbed in around 3:30 and felt good about my chances of seeing a deer. After about half an hour, I saw two deer trotting across an open area to my right. They were about 200-300 yards away. I figured they were headed to the neighbor’s corn field. They disappeared at the tip of a narrow strip of woods that starts there and ends just to the right of my stand.

I didn’t see the deer go past the far tip and toward the corn. I thought maybe they had stopped to grazed near the tip of the section of woods, which is about the same size as a football field. After about 10 minutes, I began to think that maybe they had turned into the woods and might possibly come my way.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, I spotted a doe to my right. She was only about 20 yards away, but my gun was in my lap. She was super wary, walking very slowly and cautiously, and jerking her head up frequently to look around. I knew making a move with my gun now would only get me busted, and I would be left with trying to shoot at a deer running away.

I didn’t want that, so I froze. Eventually, the deer started walking on the path in front of me. She turned away, giving me my chance to shoot. I quickly put the crosshairs on her and fired. She jumped and ran, and so did a deer right behind her that I hadn’t spotted. I realized then that it was the two deer I had seen about 10 minutes earlier.

As the two deer ran into the woods to my left, I saw a few more deer in those woods run off. There were at least four deer total, and I wondered if the ones in the woods were the ones I had seen while driving in. I’m thinking if I hadn’t seen the two deer to my right, these others might have eventually come out.

It turned out to be a very large doe, and I was able to give it to my friend Bernie who did not get a deer this season. I know the landowner will be happy that I took a doe, as she feels that there are too many deer and that they eat food she is saving for her goats. This hunt was definitely well worth it. But, it wasn’t my best hunt of the year.

Minnesota gun hunt

The highlight of the season came on the Minnesota firearms opener Nov. 4. I was hunting near Red Wing in Zone 3. It has been managed for bigger bucks, with a rule requiring a buck to have at least four points on one side. The rule is definitely working, as my hunts will attest. Just a year or two in, I shot a nice 8-pointer. Then, in 2012, I shot a very big 10-pointer that scored 155. I had never even seen anything that big previously.

The nice thing is the people in my hunting party are the only ones the landowner allows to hunt his land. We stay away until the gun opener, so the deer are undisturbed. My friend Bernie wasn’t able to hunt opening weekend, so I decided to take the best stand we have on the property.

I went the afternoon before to trim some branches and brush to clear out shooting lanes, and that proved to be a worthwhile move. On my way to the stand, I saw lots of deer sign on the edge of the woods where the cornfield begins. The corn was still standing, but there were lots of deer tracks and droppings.

So, I was cautiously optimistic opening morning. I got into my stand before legal shooting hours, and was prepared to sit all day if need be. As dawn came and went, I did not spot any deer.

Then, around 9, I spotted a deer at the tip of a small point of woods that juts out into the field. This point seems to draw deer, and this deer was hanging around the point. I spotted antlers, then put my scope up for a better look. I knew the tip of woods was 100 yards away, so I thought about taking a shot if the deer was standing broadside. But, when I put the scope up, the deer had moved partially back into the corn, with only a small part of his body visible. I knew the rack was good sized, but I couldn’t see how many points it had. So, I held off.

I thought he might work the edge of the cornfield, and eventually come my way. I scanned beyond the stalks to the edge. No deer. Then, I shifted my eyes to the stalks right in front of me. To my surprise, there was a head of a deer popped up through the stalks and looking straight at me.

My friend Steve taught me years ago to freeze when this happens, and eventually the deer will look away and keep walking. It took just a matter of seconds for this to happen. He was to my right and then started walking to the left. I quickly put the crosshairs on the part of his chest that I could see and fired.

He dropped instantly and never got up. I started replaying the scene, then wondered if I had really seen enough points on the side of his rack facing me. It all happened so fast. What if I was wrong? I started getting nervous, then finally couldn’t stand it any longer.

I got down and went to the buck, which ended up being only 22 yards away. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was a very big body. Then, I turned to see the antlers. Holy cow! It was a big 10-pointer with a beautiful, symmetrical rack. The main beams were heavy, and the tines had nice height. Plus, there was one split brow tine, which adds to the score.

I was thrilled to get this buck. The landowner came with his Mule four-wheeler. It’s a good thing. That would have been a huge chore dragging this deer all the way to my SUV. We loaded it up and I took it to Greg’s Meats near Cannon Falls. It closed at 3 that day, and I got there about 2:20. By the time I was done with all the paperwork, it was nearly 3. The guy said it was the biggest buck he had taken in that day.

I am having Corcoran Taxidermy in Hampton do a head-and-shoulder mount of this deer. I don’t know yet, but this one could top my 2012 buck. And to think that both deer were shot from the exact same spot!

The fun continues

I picked up my venison less than two weeks later. I had some venison summer sausage made, and it is delicious. Greg’s is known for its sausages, and this stuff is amazing. I have a bunch in my freezer now, and have been able to give some away, including to landowners where I hunt. This particular landowner likes deer heart and liver, so I gave both to him. I rarely hit the heart of a deer, as I typically aim higher and farther back to hit the lungs. I prefer a double-lung shot, as the deer expires quickly when both lungs get hit.

My friend Bernie and I went out on the following Friday. That’s the only day he could hunt. I put him in the stand where I killed my buck, and I went to a different property. Wouldn’t you know it? I saw a beautiful buck at 30 yards broadside, but had to let it walk because you are only allowed one buck per year, and there is no party hunting for bucks in Zone 3. The nice thing is, I got to watch this buck for about a minute before he turned and walked back over the hill and into cover. Meanwhile, Bernie saw several deer that day, but wasn’t able to get a shot off. I was bummed, but we both had fun in the woods, not to mention some fellowship before and after the hunt.

On the last day of the 3A gun season, I decided to go back to the stand where I had shot my buck. The corn was down now, and I would have more visibility. Once again, I climbed into the stand before legal shooting hours. A light northwest wind was blowing in my face, which is the wind I like to have when hunting this stand.

At about 7, I saw a deer trotting to the point of woods to my right. I figured it would come around the point and offer me a shot, which is what most deer do in this area.

Sure enough, it came around and started walking toward me. It was a doe, which I still had a tag for. She kept coming and finally stopped facing me at about 60 yards or so. It looked like she had been pushed, so I wasn’t sure she would stop again. Sometimes, deer that walk briskly can keep on going, and even start running. I felt like I could make the shot, so I fired. She turned and appeared to be hunched a little bit as she walked into the woods.

I knew I had hit her, but wasn’t sure how good the hit was. I decided to give her time. As I waited, not one but two bucks came in and crossed in front of my stand. The first one was larger and definitely legal. He walked in front of me at about 30 yards, then went into the woods to my right. He circled behind me and ended up coming to about 15 yards. I was turning to look at him, not caring about staying still. He saw me move and bolted. If I had wanted to shoot him, I’m sure I could have gotten a shot off.

Then, a few minutes later, another buck came, this time from my left. He crossed in front of me at about 40 yards, again offering an easy shot. I was able to take a few pictures of him, plus a short video. That was fun. I know I saw three points on his main beam. If he had a brow tine, he was legal, too. These are two bucks I will be watching out for next year. This second buck ended up milling around in the field for a while before walking over the hill and out of sight.

Then, I climbed down and walked to where the doe I had shot went into the woods. I got there and went in. It was the tip of a ravine, with cover on both sides. As I moved to the center, a deer jumped up and ran out of the woods and into the field. I was bummed. Its tail was up and it ran like it wasn’t hurt at all.

I couldn’t believe I had missed the doe altogether. Turns out, I didn’t. I walked farther into the woods, and the doe I shot stood up and started walking away. It only went about 20 yards, then stood with its tail flicking constantly. There was thick brush between the deer and I, plus it was facing directly away. So, I didn’t shoot. Instead, I circled around ahead of it to go for a finishing shot.

The deer went no further, dropping down where it stood. I did take a finishing shot, but probably didn’t need to. The landowner came with his Mule again, and now he had his deer. He took the heart and liver, and ended up cooking the heart for dinner that night. He later told me it was fantastic, and he wishes I would have stopped in to eat dinner with him.

Next time, I will. I had a lot of encounters with deer this year, and learned some important lessons. One is that bucks often will go into an area where does bed in the morning and wait for them to come. I think the deer that spooked and ran when I went into the woods looking for my doe was a buck that was doing just that. This means that the point of woods to the right of my stand is an important area. I may take a different approach to my stand next year, as I walked right by this point on my way to the stand both times I hunted there this year. If I come from a different direction, I won’t alert a buck that may be waiting in that section of woods.

I also learned that freezing when a deer looks at you really works. I had it happen four times this year, and only once did a deer spook. It was in Wisconsin, when a doe and fawn came out to my left. She looked up at me and didn’t like what she saw, so turned and walked away. If I had been holding a gun, this wouldn’t have been a problem. I would have had time to take a shot at this angle. But I had a crossbow on his occasion and didn’t want to take a shot at a deer going straight away.

The final lesson is the importance of back cover. On my stand in Wisconsin, there is good cover behind me in the form of a thick trunk and branches if a deer comes from the right. If it comes from the left, I am more exposed. That’s why I think the doe spooked. One thing I will do is hang some fabric or something on the branches to break up my form. That should work.

This has been a very fun season that I have enjoyed very much. I do still have a buck tag for Wisconsin, and a doe tag for Minnesota. Plus I can buy additional doe tags for the county I hunt in Wisconsin. I probably won’t because I don’t want to take too many deer. I  want there to be plenty for next year, though there always seems to be deer on this property. With extreme cold coming, I may just hang it up for the year.

Soon, my thoughts will turn to turkey hunting. I already have big plans for this spring, and have applied in both the Minnesota and Wisconsin lotteries. The anticipation will keep me warm during the next couple of months when the temperature dips below zero.

April will be here before you know it!

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Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Glory to God in the Highest

December 23, 2017


Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Glory to God in the Highest

Christmas Proclamation
by the Heavenly Host
Holy Family St. Louis Park, MN

On the night that Jesus was born, suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host – choirs of angels – that appeared in the night sky, and filled with joy, they praised God singing, “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:14).

“The highest” is God’s dwelling place, heaven. God is so great that even “the highest heavens cannot contain [him]” (1 Kgs 8:27). With the birth of Jesus, the heavens were opened, the angels in heaven could be seen by those on earth below, and heaven and earth were united.

The angels glorified God at the birth of Jesus. To glorify is to extol, to lift one’s name in exaltation, to give adoration and worship, veneration and reverence, respect and honor, praise and thanks. God always deserves to be glorified, but God deserves heightened glory when God does something remarkable, the dawn of a new day, a rainbow in the sky, the cure of an illness – or the miraculous birth of a child. The birth of Jesus was not just the birth of any child, it was the birth of the Son of God (Lk 1:35). If there was ever a time to give God praise and thanks, it was at the birth of his Son, Jesus.

The angels knew what the people would come to know later, that the newborn Jesus is a king. The angel Gabriel had told Mary, “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father … and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32,33). On Christmas night the multitude of the heavenly host praised God, and when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, “the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy” (Lk 19:37), and with a song much like the angels, proclaimed, “Blessed be the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38).

The song of the angels is a message regarding the magnitude of the event that was taking place. The birth of Jesus did not appear to be glorious. The infant was born in a cave, not in a home, inn, or palace. He was laid in a manger, a crude feeding trough for animals, not in a crib or on a bed. He was laid on hay, not a clean sheet or a blanket. An ox or donkey, or a few sheep and goats, may have been present simply standing by, not a few female relatives or friends giving assistance. A cave with animals conjures up the clutter and smells of a barn, not a neat, tidy room. Yet, when the angels sang, “Glory to God,” they announced that the birth of Jesus was a grand and glorious event, even if it did not appear so, and if it was reason for the angels of heaven to rejoice, it is reason for the people of earth to rejoice.

The angels show us what we ought to do. If they sang a hymn of praise at the birth of Jesus, we should sing hymns of praise, particularly on Christmas and throughout the Christmas season. Gloria in excelsis Deo, Latin for “Glory to God in the Highest,” is the refrain to Angels We Have Heard On High. Several other Christmas carols are based upon the song of the heavenly host: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (v. 1); and O Come, All Ye Faithful (v. 2). To sing hymns that glorify God is to join human voices with angelic voices.

If it is desirable to use the words of the angels to praise God on Christmas, it is desirable to use their words throughout the year, and they are used at Mass as the opening line of the Gloria, which is used for every Solemnity, Feast, and Sunday of Christmas, Easter, and Ordinary Time.

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Why was Jesus Born at Midnight?

December 19, 2017

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Midnight Mass candleMidnight Mass is a special Christmas Mass.  It Came Upon a Midnight Clear is a beautiful Christmas hymn.  Midnight is the hour traditionally regarded as the time that Jesus was born.

Midnight receives no mention in the gospel account, but rather, “the night watch” (Lk 2:8).  It was the time after sunset and before sunrise, the late-night hours, a time of total darkness.

The darkness of the midnight hour is not only the lack of daylight, it also holds great symbolic significance.  Darkness represents sin and the absence of God.  “People preferred darkness … because their works were evil” (Jn 3:19).  “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light … so that his works might not be exposed” (Jn 3:20).  Evil thoughts are dark thinking (Mt 6:23; Lk 11:34).  Evil deeds are done under the cover of darkness.  When Judas departed from the Last Supper to betray Jesus, “it was night” (Jn 13:30).  Jesus explained that “whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going” (Jn 12:35).  Darkness is to walk in the wrong direction, and to stumble and fall.

Police have a saying:  “Nothing good happens after midnight.”  Late night is the time that most crimes are committed:  drunkenness, bar fights, shootings, domestic assaults, robberies, driving while intoxicated, speeding and reckless driving, and car crashes due to impaired judgment.

Immoral behavior is frequently committed under the cover of darkness.  Nighttime is the most common time for nightclubs, premarital sex, extramarital sex, one night stands, prostitution, and computer viewing of explicit images.

The world is filled with darkness.  There are wars and terrorism, displacement and refugees, famine and disease, poverty and natural disasters.  Nationally there is political polarization and racial strife, abortion and violence, corruption and greed.  Individually there is family conflict, rejection, gossip, illness, pain, abuse, addiction, disappointment, failure, sadness, and depression.  The darkness often feels all-encompassing and overwhelming.

The infant Jesus was born during the night watch, at the time when the darkness is most intense.  The timing was no accident.  Jesus is the Light of World (Jn 8:12).  When Jesus was born, he was the true light coming into the world (Jn 1:9; see also Jn 3:19a).  He is “the light [that] shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5a).  Jesus explained, “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in the darkness” (Jn 12:46).

Christmas is a time of tremendous hope.  The light has come.  Jesus is the great illuminator.  He is a beacon of light.  Despite whatever darkness there may be in the world, it will not prevail.  “The darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5b), not in the past, not now, not in the future, not ever.

Jesus was born at midnight to bring light into our troubled world.  His light is so powerful that it outshines all else.

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Glimpses of God in the everyday world

December 15, 2017


By Christopher Menzhuber

If we believe God knocks on the door of every heart, . . . would He be working through Kesha and her new song Praying?

“I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees praying.”

In her first song to be released in almost four years the pop artist Kesha urges a nameless person who put her “through hell” to pray and change. Given the superficiality of Kesha’s other hits, “Praying” could be one more declarative ballad about triumphing over one’s enemies along the lines of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” or Queen Elsa’s “Let it Go”. But the emotional song also seems to contain the deeper religious message that interior peace comes with forgiving our enemies. And surprisingly, the music video reinforces this message in a couple of remarkable ways.

In the video we watch Kesha being brought from a kind of spiritual death to life, with the climactic moment unfolding at the summit of Salvation Mountain, a giant slab of painted clay in California topped with a Christian cross and dominated by the giant words “God is Love.” Kesha struggles out of fishnets and outruns monsters to arrive at the sunny peak, where she kneels down to pray.

“Sometimes I pray for you at night,” Kesha sings of her offender as she approaches the cross. It’s a lyric she described as particularly important to her in an interview with Zach Sang and it expresses she is willing the good of the other, which is at the heart of a Christian understanding of love. Then she respectfully touches the cross, which puts her in touch not only with other great men and women who have discovered peace through forgiveness, but Jesus Christ who asked his Father to “Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

It is therefore entirely fitting, that of all the many possible symbols of human goodwill, it is the Christian Cross that makes an appearance at the moment of forgiveness. The cross is the ultimate sign and source of self-sacrificing love. Furthermore, by connecting the cross to her moment of forgiveness “Praying” conveys the high cost of forgiving our enemies and even how it lies beyond our own power. “Some things only God can forgive.” Kesha sings.

If to Christian ears it sounds a little obvious to say we should forgive our enemies, it is far from being so in our contemporary culture which seems to be growing increasingly fascinated with Karmic redress. Many people seek satisfaction by blaming someone or some odious group– fill in your own worst enemy – for the problems and suffering in the world. Zach Sang even expresses his own incredulity at the idea of forgiving one’s enemies. “Every time I disliked somebody or I feel like somebody’s done me wrong or hurt me, all I do is wish – I wish bad things upon them, but that’s not the move?”

Kesha’s spirituality is likely too pantheistic to be considered Christian, but what she has done is made a powerfully emotive piece of art with a keen Christian message. The gritty style of the video will not appeal to everyone and the many symbols used probably have several interpretations. But the simple truth is that if more people prayed for their enemies –strengthened by the cross – the world would be a more peace-filled place.

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The animals of Christmas

December 15, 2017



The Birth of Jesus and the
Adoration of the Shepherds – Shepherd’s Field Bethlehem, Israel

There are several animals that are sometimes included in the Nativity or manger scene used to portray the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

An ox. An ox alone is a symbol for Jesus. An ox is strong and powerful and able to carry an enormous burden, while Jesus is all-powerful and able to carry any burden. Jesus explained, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:30). Also, an ox served as the largest, most imposing, and most expensive animal to be sacrificed on the altar in the temple as a sin offering, and Jesus is the pure and unblemished lamb that was sacrificed on the altar of the Cross as a sin offering for the redemption and salvation of the world.

An ass. An ass or a donkey was part of several key events in the life of Jesus. Many religious artists portray an ass as present at the time of Jesus’ birth. Baby Jesus and Mary probably sat on an ass on their flight to Egypt (see Mt 2:14,21). Jesus rode astride an ass as he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Mt 21:2,5,7; Jn 12:14). An ass represents humility, patience, peace, and service.

An ox and an ass together. An ox and ass are often displayed together in Nativity or crib scenes because of a verse in the Hebrew Scriptures: “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger” (Is 1:3). There is a connection between this text and the birth of Jesus because the words “owner,” “master,” and “manger” in the verse from the prophet Isaiah apply to Jesus. Jesus is the creator of all things (Col 1:16); he is the owner. When Jesus was born, he was laid in a manger (Lk 2:6,12,16). As the one who would take the throne of his father David, rule over the house of Jacob, and whose kingdom will never end (Lk 1:32,33), the child is the master.

The ox and the ass at Christmas. The ox and ass are not depicted in all Christmas scenes, but when they are, they are shown in the background, behind Jesus who is usually in the manger in the foreground, flanked by Mary and Joseph. The shepherds or the magi may also be depicted in the crib scene, always secondary to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and ahead of the ox and ass. The two animals are among the humblest and least of the animals, representative figures for all of the animal kingdom. They are shown watching and waiting, docilely and patiently, in admiration and joy over all that is happening before them.

A dog. Shepherds and dogs worked together to care for the sheep. The shepherd led the flock from the front, and the dog was responsible for the rear. The dog used barking and nipping to keep stragglers in contact with the flock, to prevent sheep from straying, and to seek and find any sheep that may have wondered off. When the shepherds went to see the newborn Jesus (Lk 2:15-19), they would have taken their dogs with them. A dog keeps watch at night and is a faithful friend to its owner, and on Christmas night, the dog kept watch over the manger and acted as a faithful friend to Jesus. A dog represents fidelity, loyalty, and watchfulness.

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Saint Lucy – Virgin and Martyr

December 7, 2017


St. Lucy

Saint Lucy Virgin and Martyr

Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse, a city on the island of Sicily, off the coast of Italy, during the Third Century. Her family was upper class Roman nobility. Her parents were Christian. Her father died when she was an infant, so her mother both raised her and trained her in the faith.

Lucy was an extremely devout young woman who made a secret vow, not even revealed to her mother, that she would reserve herself totally to God as a virgin. Unaware, her mother arranged a marriage between her daughter and a young man who was a pagan.

Shortly thereafter, Lucy’s mother became sick with a hemorrhage. Lucy convinced her mother to go to Catania, a town in Italy where the tomb of St. Agatha, a virgin martyr, was located, to ask for a miracle. Both mother and daughter prayed at the tomb through the intercession of St. Agatha, and miraculously, their prayers were answered and her mother’s hemorrhage was cured.

After the healing, Lucy told her mother about her desire to dedicate herself to God, to break off the engagement, and give the money of the dowry to the poor. Her mother agreed, but her fiancé was furious. Out of revenge, he had Lucy arrested, brought to court, and had her charged with being a Christian. Paschasius, the governor of Sicily, demanded that she recant her Christian beliefs, but she flatly refused. As punishment, the governor condemned her to a brothel where she would be violated.

According to the legend, once she arrived at the brothel, she became so heavy that she could not be moved, not even by a group of guards or a team of oxen. Then she was condemned to be burned at the stake, but the flames did not harm her. Finally she was stabbed in the throat, bled profusely, and continued to pray until the moment of her death. She died in Syracuse, Sicily, c. 304 AD, during the persecution of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Her body was initially taken to Constantinople, and later her relics were transferred to Venice, Italy, for final burial.

There are multiple legends about St. Lucy’s eyes. According to one, they were torn out by a mean judge as part of her torture; according to another, a young suitor was enthralled with the beauty of her eyes, and to thwart his admiration and desires, she tore out her eyes, placed them on a tray, and presented them to him; and according to a third, when a rapist attempted to accost her in the brothel, she tore out her eyes to stop the attack. No matter how she lost her eyes, they were miraculously restored, more beautiful than before. In religious art, her symbol is two eyes on a plate.

St. Lucy is the patroness of those afflicted with any sort of eye problem, those with poor vision, eye disease, and the blind, because she had beautiful eyes and her eyes were torn out; of those with throat ailments, because she was stabbed in the throat; of those with hemorrhages and bleeding disorders, because her mother was cured of a hemorrhage and she bled to death; of lamplighters and glassblowers, because her name means light; of the city of Syracuse and the Island of Sicily, because they are where she lived and died; and of gondoliers, because her final burial place is Venice. The gondolier’s song Santa Lucia celebrates her. The Caribbean Island of Santa Lucia was named after her. Sweden holds its festival of light on December 13, her feast day. She is one of only seven female saints named in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

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Travels to Tanzania are inspiring

December 4, 2017


Father Michael Skluzacek, center, during Mass while on his trip to Tanzania. Courtesy Father Michael Skluzacek

By Father Michael Skluzacek

The Mass for the dedication of a new church is one of the most inspiring liturgies there is. I recently had the great privilege to concelebrate the Mass of Dedication for the new church of St. John the Baptist in Ngujini, Tanzania.

I traveled to Tanzania in early November with four other pilgrims: Renée Hosch from St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, Father Cory Rohlfing and Laura Stierman from St. Jude of the Lake in Mahtomedi, and Molly Druffner from St. Michael in Stillwater.  Molly is the Director of Partners 4 Hope Tanzania, and serves as a missionary in Tanzania with her family.

Ngujini is an “outstation,” served by Father Dr. Beda Kiure of Immaculate Conception Parish in Bwambo. In April 2016, Molly Druffner came to St. John the Baptist in New Brighton and did an appeal for funds to build a church at Ngujini.  Parishioners at St. John the Baptist responded with overwhelming generosity, and work soon began on the church.

Over the next 18 months, parishioners set to work in building a beautiful church that seats more than 200. Villagers of all faiths pitched in to help, and the project became a unifying force and source of pride for the entire community.

As the new church neared completion and the date was set for its dedication, Bishop Rogath Kimaryo of the local Diocese of Same (Sah’may) decided to name the church St. John the Baptist in honor of the people of St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. As gifts for the new church, I brought over several altar cloths from the New Brighton St. John’s, as well as three chalices given by Knights of Columbus.

During the liturgy, when those chalices were brought out, and the altar cloth was placed on the newly anointed altar, I was deeply moved by the significance of our two parishes being united in the Eucharist. Every time that Mass is celebrated at Ngujini, St. John’s in New Brighton will be present there, through the sacred furnishings that adorn the Body and Blood of Christ.The Body of Christ that is the Church is present in the Body of Christ really and truly present on the altar.

When I was on sabbatical in Tanzania two years ago, I baptized three baby boys at an outdoor Mass at Ngujini. Now, on that very site stands a beautiful new church.

I was asked to give a speech at the end of the dedication Mass. I extended the greetings of the people of St. John’s in New Brighton to the people of St. John’s in Ngujini. I spoke of how we will always be united in Christ whenever the holy Mass is celebrated.

As I was speaking, three little boys, about 2 ½ years old, approached the sanctuary with their parents. The boys squirmed and wondered what was going on, but I realized that these were the three boys I had baptized two years ago. I saw in their parents’ eyes the gratitude and the love that unite God’s holy people through the saving grace of the sacraments.


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The Season of Advent

December 1, 2017


Prophet Isaiah

The Prophet Isaiah St. Mary of the Presentation
Breckenridge, MN

The Word “Advent.” The term “Advent” comes from the Latin preposition ad, “to” or “toward,” and the verb, venire, “to come”; as well as the Latin word adventus which means “arrival” or “coming.” Advent is the season that celebrates the coming of Jesus, begins the new liturgical year, and prepares for the Solemnity of Christmas.

Advent’s Duration. The Season of Advent is made up of the four Sundays before Christmas, three full weeks, and a fourth week of variable length.

Advent’s Main Points of Emphasis. The major focus of Advent is the two comings of Christ, past and future. The Church looks backward with great joy, deep reverence, and profound gratitude, to commemorate and honor the first coming of Christ, the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, the word made flesh, in Bethlehem. At the same time, the Church looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia, at the end of the age, the day when he comes again, with an admonition to be fully prepared, in the state of grace, free of all sin, full of hope, without anxiety, ready to welcome Christ when he comes in glory and majesty, and to be in a spiritual condition to be judged worthy of heaven.

Another Advent Point of Emphasis. While the Church looks to the past and the future, it also pays attention to the present. Christ will come on Christmas, and Christ comes each and every day, in the Gospel and the Eucharist, in the sacraments, in private prayer, in the Church gathered in liturgical worship, in song, in love, in truth, in our neighbors, and in many other ways; and it behooves us to be ready to receive Christ now and whenever he comes.

The Shifting Themes of Advent. In Years A, B, and C, the First Sunday of Advent highlights the Second Coming of Christ and the need for vigilance; the Second and Third Sundays of Advent concentrate on the ministry of Saint John the Baptist and the importance of conversion and repentance; and the Fourth Sunday of Advent is immediate preparation for Christmas with the annunciation to Joseph, the annunciation to Mary, and the Visitation, all passages from either Matthew’s or Luke’s Infancy Narratives.

Advent’s Color. The liturgical color for Advent is violet or purple, the color of repentance and sorrow for sin. If we wish to be ready for Jesus when he comes, we must “prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3:4), fill in the valleys of our shortcomings and bad habits, tear down the mountains of our offenses, make straight our crooked ways, and make smooth our roughness, meanness, and lack of charity (see Is 40:3-4 and Lk 3:5). While there are no days of fast and abstinence during this penitential season, it is highly recommended to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent.

Important Elements of Advent. The symbol of the Advent season is the Advent Wreath comprised of four candles, three which are violet or purple, one which is rose, and represents the increasing light of Christ, the light of the world, born at midnight, during the time of the approaching winter solstice and the shortest and darkest day of the year. The saint of Advent is St. John the Baptist, the intertestamental prophet who bridged the Old and New Testaments, the one who sang of his coming, proclaimed his presence when he came, and challenged the people of his time and people of our day to open their hearts to receive Christ. The prophet of Advent is Isaiah, the author of the Immanuel Prophecies (Is 7:10-14; 9:1-6, especially vv, 5-6; and 11:1-10), quoted with seven Scripture passages used for the Sundays of Advent, seventeen for the weekdays of Advent, and every day for the Office of Readings.

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