Author Archives | Bob Zyskowski

About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 40-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

Where you send your “ice bucket challenge” donation DOES make a difference

August 30, 2014

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If you’ve already gotten in on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or are planning to, congratulations on your generosity of spirit.

Before you donate, consider the concerns being expressed that the ALS Foundation supports research that uses fetal embryonic tissue from abortions.

Father John Floeder, who teaches bioethics at the St. Paul Seminary and who chairs the Archbishop’s Commission on Bio/Medical Ethics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, offered the following statement to help people gain a better understanding of the moral and ethical issues involved:

Many human sufferings call out to us for help, and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) is certainly among them.  Jesus Christ and the demands of love must lead us, as Catholics, to give our time, energy, and resources to those who suffer.  The awareness and contributions that have been raised because of the “bucket challenge” are a testament to that love in so many.  That said, authentic Christ-like love never can accept the deliberate taking of one life for the sake of another, which the use of embryonic stem cells does.  To really help the suffering of ALS in a loving way, Catholics should not only support only those organizations that do not use embryonic stem cells, but also express to organizations the need to cease support and funding of practices that use embryonic stem cells that destroys human life.

The U.S. Catholic Conference suggests donating to ALS research at several alternative organizations, including the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which is doing research in several areas including ALS, and does not support embryonic stem cell research. To donate, use the button for “Donate Now” on the institute’s main web page.

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Guilt: Too heavy a burden? A must-read novel

August 26, 2014

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How much guilt can you live with?

Knowing you’ve done something illegal and even hurtful, can the fact that the wrongful act also has brought joy be enough to overwhelm that guilt? And for how long?

M. L. Stedman brings those question out from hiding in the superbly written drama “The Light Between Oceans,” a New York Times bestseller that will soon come to movie screens.

Stedman’s setting of a lighthouse off the southwest coast of Australia and the small town that is its closest port takes readers to virgin literary territory. That’s always attractive, of course, to discover new lands through the written word.

But it’s the story that Stedman weaves that will grab readers’ attention and hold it for 322 pages, and the question she leads us to ask: What would we do?

The light coverOn that lonely island with the lighthouse between the Indian Ocean and the Great Southern Ocean below Australia, 100 miles from the nearest land, a married couple suffers through three miscarriages, the last very recent.

Then a dinghy washes up. In it is the body of a man. Although he’s dead, in the boat a baby cries, wrapped in a woman’s shawl. So the test begins.

Should the lighthouse keeper report this unusual event, or can the child become the baby he and his wife seem to be unable to create? Will he risk his career or, by dutifully telling the authorities about the child and the dead man, risk earning the scorn of his wife, who already has seen the baby’s arrival as a miracle from God?

Despite his misgivings, they keep the baby, pretending the wife has given birth. But how long with the charade last? How long can a person stand knowing that another woman is heartbroken and nearly insane from the loss of her infant child?

“The Light Between Oceans” is a wonderful read, a piece with both droplets of foreshadowing and unexpected turns of events, a testament to hope and prayer, an in-depth delving into joys and sorrows, into human nature and families, into life itself.

 

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A period piece you’ll relish reading

August 20, 2014

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The Time In BetweenDo you savor good writing?

The slow-moving action of “The Time In Between” perfectly fits this lengthy, detail-filled novel. It lets you soak up the lovely writing and the exquisite translation from the original Spanish into beautiful English.

It lets you absorb the tenor of the times and the emotions of characters into whose lives you’ve been dropped for 600-plus pages.

Hemingway and others have written about the Spanish civil war, of course, but Maria Duenas decorates with ornamentation, flavor and the style of the period in contrast to the straightforward, unadorned sentences of Hemingway.

Fashionistas will appreciate the detail Duenas shares as she portrays the life of the seamstress turned spy in the chaotic 1930s as Spaniards moved from their own tragic war into observers of World War II all around them.

There’s drama, mystery, romance and unexpected turns of events — all the pieces that drive readers to keep turning pages. People even pray and go to church, something rare for modern literature.

Hats off to Daniel Hahn for bringing this 2009 novel to readers of the English language. Only once did I feel as though he’d missed the mark.

Just as I was admiring the beauty of the translation, he has an old Moroccan woman threatening the suitor of the main seamstress character sounding like a thug straight from the streets of south Philadelphia. Just had to laugh.

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Make the choice: Read ‘Little Bee’

August 20, 2014

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little bee coverAn old poster, printed graffiti style, claimed “Not to decide is to decide.”

The corollary is that all decisions have consequences. What we choose to do matters.

For the characters of Chris Cleave’s “Little Bee,” deciding as well as not deciding both have life and death implications.

“Little Bee” is a masterfully written novel told from the alternating first-person points of view of a young Nigerian girl — the Little Bee of the title — and the female British magazine executive intent of saving her.

While Cleave obviously is making a statement about England’s policies with regard to those who have come to its shores sans documentation and about the horrors of greed-based, development-driven brutality in Africa, he has so much more to say to make us think about the choices each of us makes.

Do we stay or flee? Do we opt for the present dangers or choose the possibility of dangers unknown?

Do we give in to intolerable demands or face possibly even worse consequences — for us and for others as well?

Do we offer a hand knowing that our doing so may incriminate us?

And what about the other side of the coin?

What will happen if we don’t act?

Will there be dire, even fatal consequences?

And, if we don’t risk putting ourselves in harms way, will we be able to live with ourselves?

No wonder “Little Bee” was a New York Times bestseller. It’s out now as a Simon & Schuster paperback.

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So much to be thankful for

August 19, 2014

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thank you god coverQuick, list all the things for which you’d like to thank God.

I’ll bet you haven’t come up with as many as are in the new children’s book, “Thank You, God.”

Author J. Bradley Wigger lists in 26 pages more things for which we ought to be grateful for than most parents are likely to come up with as they pray with their young ones.

And, with typical family scenes colorfully illustrating the prayer-like text with all kinds of details, “Thank You, God” will keep the interest of young people as well, thanks to the artistry of Jago.

Just published in August, this is an imprint of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

 

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Catholic grandparents: Pass on the baton of faith

August 12, 2014

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“Preserving Your Family: Parents and grandparents working together,” by Dick Bergeson. Self-published. 89 pp. $9.95.

bookimageFormer Minnesotan Dick Bergeson has published a little paperback of advice that he hopes will motivate parents and grandparents to get to work passing on the faith.

Bergeson, long-active in the Catholic charismatic movement and now a grandfather and great-grandfather, shares Scripture-based ideas intended to help reverse what he terms “the exodus from our faith” by younger generations.

He echoes the urging of St. Pope John Paul II for Christian communities to become “schools of prayer,” noting that extended families need to provide both teaching about the faith and the supportive culture that has virtually disappeared from today’s world.

While much of the advice is aimed both at parents and grandparents, Bergeson writes, “It is important for grandparents to be conscious of the extraordinry position they hold in their families.”

The older generations hold a critical role in the faith formation of the whole family not the least of which is because “they have gone through may crises in life and know how invaluable a deep faith in Jesus is,” he notes. “They have seen God act in their lives and in the problems they have faced.”

Praying for family members is primary, along with practicing and teaching a variety of prayer forms, continuing to learn about the faith one’s self, providing a sense of propriety amid shifting cultural trends and living a life of integrity.

Bergeson sees grandparental involvement as handing off the baton of faith to the next generation.

“Grandparents have always provided the spiritual backbone of the family,” he notes. “Grandparents have live through life and have experienced losses, failures, struggles, deaths and have been able to see how God has acted and been there through each one of these crises of life.

He adds, “If they don’t step in, another generation will be lost.”

Bergeson urges mothers, father and grandparents to be a blessing to children and grandchildren.

“This means we need to give them words of encouragement and loving direction,” he says. “We need to remind them of who they are as persons. . . . The most important thing we can do for our children is to make sure they know they are loved and appreciated in our families.”

The overriding goal for all should be to “lay the groundwork for our offspring to get to heaven,” he says. “This is the only thing that matters in life and should affect all of our actions.”

The book is available at http://www.preservingyourfamily.com.

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Nun finds grape vineyard shares both wisdom and wine

July 15, 2014

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9781426773839_p0_v3_s600A bunch of people are not unlike a bunch of grapes.

A vine produces the same variety of grape each season, and, while each grape will be slightly different, all will be basically the same.

“Although each of us is a separate entity,” writes Sister Judith Sutera, “we are all part of the same cluster, dangling from the same vine.

“We grow at different rates; we have different tones and size and sweetness; we drop off at different times. But still, we are part of a bunch. We are nourished by the same things, have the same desires, feel the same emotions, share the same type of body and blood.”

What the Benedictine surmises from this is just one of the lessons she learned from years of working in her monastery’s vineyard: “Perhaps if we were to look at others with this filter rather than the filter of how we are different we could change the world in ways both small and large.”

In “The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual lessons in pruning, waiting, harvesting and abundance,” Sister Judith pairs the work that it takes to dress the vines and produce wine at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, Kan., with what her book’s subtitle terms “spiritual lessons.” Of course they are spiritual lessons, but even more they’re life lessons, as the author intended, and one doesn’t have to be looking for anything religious to benefit from the wisdom shared. While biblical references to the vine and the branches and the workers in the vineyard come naturally in the text, this book is simply great advice for being a happy, fruitful, fulfilled person.

Starting with sketches she’d made year ago of the steps in the vine dressing process — not tasks for those with little patience or an aversion to hard work, by the way — Sister Judith added explanations, intellectual reflections and infrequently scriptural references, all with the sagacity and spirituality one might expect from someone with degrees in psychology and sociology and master’s degrees in counseling and monastic theology.

The connections she makes are tangible.

Just as she had to learn the craft of vine dressing from a mentor, the then 70-year-old Sister Jeannette Obrist, people are wise to seek the advice from others so that they too can learn and grow.

Just as vines need to be pruned in a balanced way to produce more fruit, people require a balance of criticism and praise to become healthy individuals.

Just as to find the ripest grapes at harvest time one has to look under some leaves, people need to look very hard and frequently change their point of view to find and appreciate life’s many gifts.

There are plenty more like comparisons in this easy reading, 159-page pocket- or purse-friendly Abingdon Press paperback. There are as many lessons in living a fruitful life as there is information about growing grapes. In combination, though, Sister Judith wrote that she hoped her book “will help others to love a plant, love the miracles of life, love themselves and others.”

Illustrations by Paul Soupiset and hand-lettered vine dressing advice just add to the charm.

FURTHER WISDOM FROM THE VINEYARD AND SISTER JUDITH SUTERA, OSB

* (About mentoring) “Even more important than what is learned is making the deep connection with a person who actually cares about you, listens to you and answers your questions.”

* “It’s never too late for a little conversion and forgiveness. We can never know how others got to be the way they are. We can only try to believe that they are doing the best they can with what they have. This is the filter that will enable us to see the glimmer of goodness and purity within them and treat them accordingly.”

* “A healthy life requires a balance of self-expression and discipline. No one benefits from never being denied anything or experiencing the consequences of negative behavior.”

* “You can’t choose where you came from, only where you end up.”

* “Leaving myself open for the next ‘better offer’ means never being fully open to what is right here now.”

* “A little bit of self-control or spiritual discipline will add up in the reserve that prepares me for life’s challenges. Small efforts to be more kind or generous build up until I have a storehouse of patience and love from which I can draw.”

* “Doing the next right thing moves me in the direction of a peaceful life.”

* “We are to be about the harvest and not the foliage.”

* “Good growth takes attention, dedication and time.”

* “Love and responsibility are the trellises that hold us up and move us in the right direction.”

* “We get set in our ways, and to truly change requires tremendous focus and effort. We all know that old negative habits are hard to break. We may not realize an action is becoming a habit until it is so ingrained that it feels as if we cannot live any other way.”

* “Even the slightest effort toward a right choice means that it will be easier next time. As I achieve more happiness from the results of my exercise or practice or prayer, and get into the habit of doing it consistently, I will find it hard to imagine living any other way.”

* “Love and belonging are not for the lazy, the indifferent or the unmotivated. Love is a lot of work, but a work that we take on willingly and even eagerly. It is a motivator surpassing any other, enabling us to be greater and happier than we ever imagined we could be.”

* “We can never be sure of what the harvest will be until it has happened. Sometimes the greatest gifts or the most powerful lessons aren’t the ones we initially thought they would be.”

* “Even when you think you’re doing everything right, things can still go wrong.”

* “The truths and happiness of life will rarely just fall into our laps. . . . Each of us must tend our vines.”

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Father, son and values tested in superb WWI novel

June 8, 2014

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cartographerThe moral life takes center stage in P.S. Duffy’s “The Cartographer of No Man’s Land,” a World War I novel that centers around a family and village in Nova Scotia and the impact of the first “war to end all wars.”

To go to war or not, to fight or to give up, to love or go through the motions, to admire or be repulsed by, to change or carry on — the story lines come at the reader like the torrent of artillery shells pounding at the trenches one chapter and like the waves of the North Atlantic sweeping fishermen overboard the next.

Caught in the middle are a father and son, and the novel jumps back and forth between their thoughts and dreams, their expectations and the experiences life throws their way.

Along the way Duffy sneaks in the dirty bit of history of bigotry that put ethnic-German Canadian citizens in detainment camps along with prisoners of war and “suspicious” aliens.

Those familiar with the writing of ancient Greece will appreciate references to the classics scattered throughout. Phrases from Scripture pop up, too, as wartime puts long-accepted values to the test both in France and back on the home front.

World War I garners a small percentage of battle literature in comparison to WWII, it seems to me, and the stories of Canadian soldiers even a smaller spot on the shelves compared to books about U.S. and British forces.

“The Cartographer of No Man’s Land” puts a dent into those imbalances with a handful of captivating parallel plots, meaty characters, splashes of intense action and superb writing.

This Liveright Publishing Corporation release last fall is a marvelous example of the writer’s craft, and it offers great possibilities for a sequel. Introduced to these intriguing people, readers will surely want to know what happens next in their lives, and Duffy has set the stage well with plenty of ambiguity.

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Story of Jesus perfect for 4-to-8 year olds

May 12, 2014

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Jesus coverLittle children run to Jesus on the cover of this Eerdmans Book for Young Readers, a wonderful image to draw the target age group — 4-to-8 years — into the story of Jesus’ life.
Benedictine Anselm Grün’s retelling of Gospel events is true to Catholic teaching, from the visitation through the nativity and more than a half-dozen highlights of New Testament stories up through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The translation by Laura Watkinson keeps the language simple and age-appropriate, and Giuliano Ferri’s colorful artwork adds to the storytelling, bringing to life the calling of the disciples, for example, the stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the Prodigal Son, and the Last Supper.
Parents and teachers will find “Jesus” an excellent choice reading to children in a home schooling setting or early faith formation.

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‘Brother Hugo and the Bear’: cute and informative

May 8, 2014

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brother hugo and the bearAuthor Katy Beebe has crafted a cute story from a sliver of what may or may not be a true anecdote from the 12th century. Did a bear really devour much of one monastery’s copy of St. Augustine’s letters to St. Jerome?

Beebe’s fictional Brother Hugo gets the task of replacing it, and a good chunk of the tale illustrates how manuscripts were created by the monks in those monasteries in the Middle Ages.

Illustrates is the perfect word, too, because artist S.D. Schindler’s superb use of the style of those medieval illuminators adds a whimsical period touch that puts the story into the proper historical timeframe.

This is not just a good tale for young readers but an educational one as well.

There’s church and human history embedded in the Eerdmans book, with salutes to those ancient monasteries, the Benedictine’s Cluny and the Cistercian’s La Grande Chartreuse, and even a glossary that includes both church and manuscript making vocabularies.

What a nice idea, and nicely done.

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