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 42-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.

Did these 10 prayers really change the world?

March 28, 2016

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Ten Prayers coverThroughout the centuries believers of every faith tradition have appealed to God or gods for help when human means fail.

But is there such a thing as divine intervention in response to prayer?

Author Jean-Pierre Isbouts isn’t naive enough not to see that prayer has not stopped evil and suffering from happening throughout human history. He asks if, given the deaths of 40 million people during the world wars of the last century and the violent extremists of ISIS and Boko Haran who delight in beheading people for the glory of Allah, it is still possible to believe in a merciful God?

His response to that question is “Ten Prayers that Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Faith That Shaped the Course of History.”

Quoting Plato, Isbouts writes that there is “a spark of the divine” in every person,  and it is “a beacon through which God can speak to us and we can speak to him. . . . “All that we need to figure out is the right bandwidth by which to reach him. Some call that spirituality; others call it prayer.

He adds, “I think of it as whispers of God — whispers that have and incredible power to stir our mind, urge us to action, and make us do things we didn’t think we were capable of.”

From Abraham’s prayer to spare his son, Isaac, to Jesus’ prayer that has become the “Our Father,” on to Constantine and the granting of religious freedom to Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, George Washington, and more, the stories are as much history lessons as affirmation that prayer has had an impact on world events.

Catholics in particular will find a worthwhile summary of Luther’s story.

And did you know that the well-loved “Prayer of St. Francis” wasn’t written during the lifetime of the 13th-century saint but in 1912?

Outside of Abraham, only Ganhdi breaks into what is otherwise an all-Christian line-up of the 10 prayers. And frankly, the prayer for fair weather that Gen. George Patton’s chaplains composed so the Allied Army could relieve the troops surrounded by Nazi German forces at Bastogne during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge — as good a story as it is — seems to pale in comparison to the impact the other nine have had on human history.

 

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Casting perfect in Chan’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’

March 14, 2016

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Muscle-bound Aleks Knezevich as Gaston isn't impressing Belle (Ruthanne Heyward), the beauty in Chanhassen's "Disney's Beauty and the Beast." Photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016

Muscle-bound Aleks Knezevich as Gaston isn’t impressing Belle (Ruthanne Heyward), the beauty in Chanhassen’s “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” Photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016

I didn’t walk out of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres humming a memorable tune after seeing “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” What kept coming to mind, though, was, one, how spot-on each of the actors was cast for their roles, and, two, how perfectly the actors played their characters.

Yes, of course their are terrific voices, and yes, the full-cast song-and-dance numbers — what the Chan does best — were top-shelf. But the actors were exactly right for each and every role to the point that I wondered if anyone could have played a single one any better than the folks on the Chan’s stage.

Ruthanne Heyward is lovely and talented as the beauty Belle, and Robert O. Berdahl has all the right moves and hits all the right notes as the beast. Yet it was the other players who fit their roles to an even greater extent.

Aleks Knezevich was perfection as the muscle-bound egotist Gaston, who chases after Belle. If you created an animated cartoon character for the part you would use Knezevich for the model. Not only did he look and play the part to comic perfection, his voice is superb.

Scott Blackburn is Cogsworth the clock and Mark King Lumiere the candlestick, both perfectly cast in "Beauty and the Beast" at the Chan.

Scott Blackburn is Cogsworth the clock and Mark King Lumiere the candlestick, both perfectly cast in “Beauty and the Beast” at the Chan.

The smaller (but not small) parts of Cogsworth the clock (Scott Blackburn), Lumiere the candlestick (Mark King) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Susan Hofflander) were right up there with Gaston, perfectly cast and played so well it was as if they were born for the parts.

Costume designer Rich Hamson pulled out all the stops to create amazing looks for  the various household-item roles, with Laura Rudolph’s two-tiered serving tray perhaps the most creative.

A tip of the hat to director Michael Brindisi for pulling off another winner, scheduled to run through this autumn, and to Brindisi and choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson for great casting, with assistance from Andrew Cooke, music director.

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‘Confessions of a Priest’: a novel

February 16, 2016

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Confessions of a Priest coverA Bloomington, Minnesota, man has written a novel imagining what life might be for today’s priests, but of course it had to be self-published; no book publisher of note would even think of putting its imprint on the story of a priest who hasn’t some evil secret waiting to be discovered.

It isn’t that Father John Krentz, the main character in Jim Koepke’s “Confessions of a Priest,” doesn’t have his flaws. He can be sharp-tongued, impertinent, anti-authoritarian and somewhat narrow-minded. But he’s a good priest, and he grows as a person throughout the story.

All of which makes the novel seem almost pollyannish. That’s okay with Koepke; it’s what he intended.

“It seems as though everyday Catholics are inundated by negative press about Catholic priests,” Koepke told The Catholic Spirit. “I wrote this for people who might like some good news about priests. Our priests are the best of the best, and I hope this offers people some relief.”

Fifty-year-old Father John has a comfortable life serving a parish that’s not as large as it used to be but still doing all right. The story unfolds when his bishop — who takes the brunt of the priest’s vitriolic tongue — disturbs that comfort level, and not just once.

Parish priests will recognize some of the other characters that present challenges and opportunities, including the mean-spirited parish gossip, and the story doesn’t skip issues of the day like clergy sexual abuse, homelessness, addiction and homosexuality.

Koepke calls team-teaching confirmation classes — which he’s done with his wife, Mary, for 26 years — “the most fun thing I do,” and pages of his book could be mistaken for pages of a catechism at times, as Father John draws upon the teachings of the Church to counsel parishioners and deal with what life brings to his rectory door.

This is a fast-paced work with superbly written dialogue. The repartee between the characters is so true to life, you can easily imagine enjoying the give-and-take of the conversations in the rectory.

The main flaw of “Confessions of a Priest” is a cosmetic one, a result of self-publishing I’m afraid. There’s just a lack of professionalism in the book from the front and back covers to the inside pages, with wide leading between the lines and a smattering of typographical errors that unfortunately cheapen a pretty decent story.

Pick it up anyway, either at St. Patrick’s Guild in St. Paul or on amazon.com ($13.95).

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Why this scientist is pro-life

January 22, 2016

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Although temperatures were in the low 20s, Ken Cobian — double hip replacements and all — joined in both the annual Jan. 22 Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral of St. Paul and the March for Life down to the State Capitol. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Although temperatures were in the low 20s, Ken Cobian — double hip replacements and all — joined in both the annual Jan. 22 Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral of St. Paul and the March for Life down to the State Capitol. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Two new hips and all, Ken Cobian walked from the annual Jan. 22 Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral of St. Paul down to the March for Life rally at the Minnesota State Capitol.

I first spotted him with his gray and blue knitted cap pulled over his ears as he slowly but steadily made his way back up St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill, Prolife Across America poster in hand, at the end of the rally.

Cobian, retired from his job as a material scientist at Medtronics, stopped back in the Cathedral to warm up before heading home, which was where I caught up to him.

I asked the question I’ve been asking folks at this Jan. 22 event since the first one back in 1974, when snowflakes kept smearing the ink on the notes I was taking outside the federal building in Peoria, Illinois: “Why is it important for you to be here today?”

Cobian had a ready answer, just as people have had since 1974: “I’m very much opposed to abortion, ever since I saw my children born years ago. That turned the light on for me.”

A parishioner with his wife, Susan, of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony, Cobian earned a chemistry degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and did graduate work at both the University of Minnesota and at UCLA. Like some in the science fields, at one point he had turned away from his faith, he admitted. “My wife brought me back,” he said. “She’s my rock.”

He was at the pro-life rally two years ago, too, he said, but last year he couldn’t make it because he was in the midst of having hip replacements on both sides. “I’m fine now,” he said. “It’s nothing compared to the sin of abortion.”

He grabbed his hat to leave. “I’ve got to get home and get cleaned up,” Cobian said. “We’ve got a pro-life Mass tonight at St. Charles.”

 

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Saying good-bye to dad

January 15, 2016

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Mark Zimmermann, who edits the Catholic newspaper in Washington, D.C., has written a wonderful piece about his father, Wes Zimmermann age 83 of Barnhart, Missouri passed away Jan. 10.

By Mark Zimmermann

I’m back in my boyhood home in the woods of Missouri with my mom, trying to help however I can before we gather for my dad’s burial and pray that he is being welcomed home to the house of the Father, as Cardinal Ratzinger said at the Funeral Mass for St. John Paul II.

Dad took up the tools as a sheet metal worker, the family trade of my Grandpa Zimmermann, his four sons, my brother and several of our cousins. My father was a devout Catholic who knelt and prayed beside his bed each night, and he sacrificed to send each of his children to Catholic school, and helped us become the first generation of our family to attend college.

Dad always had time for his kids, and I remember many days when he’d come home tired from work, but still play badminton or ping pong with us, still wearing his work boots.

My dad was my hero, and I like to think the best parts of me came from lessons I learned from the example of faith, love and selflessness that he and my mom lived out quietly day in and day out.

About three years ago he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and it was hard to see such a sharp, witty, strong man become more and more frail and have difficulty putting his thoughts together. The books, movies and football games that he once enjoyed so much no longer mattered to him.

One of our favorite pastimes over the years was walking down the country road to the Mississippi River. I can remember when I was a little boy, riding on my dad’s shoulders up the last two hills on the way home from the river.

In the fall of 2013, I took a walk with my dad down our country road that I’ll never forget. This time, I tied his boots and buttoned his coat for him, and we set out. It was an idyllic fall day, and not just because the St. Louis Cardinals were in the World Series. The sky was a beautiful blue color, the air crisp, the leaves on the trees were in fall hues of yellow and orange, with some fluttering to the ground as we walked on, father and son, laughing and making small talk.

I hope heaven is like that, and we can walk together again on a glorious day, not ever wanting the walk to end.

Rest in peace, Dad!

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52 lessons from ‘A Christmas Carol’

December 21, 2015

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In the 1938 movie version of "A Christmas Carol," Leo G.Carroll-plays Marley’s Ghost and Reginald Owen is Scrooge. File photo

In the 1938 movie version of “A Christmas Carol,” Leo G. Carroll (left) plays Marley’s Ghost and Reginald Owen is Scrooge. File photo

After you’ve once again this year watched Jacob Marley’s ghost scare the bejeezus out of poor ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge, and Bob Cratchit hoist Tiny Tim upon his shoulder to wish God’s blessings on one and all, consider picking up a self-improvement book that could end up carrying you through all of 2016.

In “52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol,” Bob Welch has extracted enough good reflections from the classic Charles Dickens work to spread out one per week for the next year.

Sure, you could read the 224 pages in a single setting, but frankly, the depth of each of the lessons deserves a lengthier examination of conscience.

Take some of these lesson titles in the Nelson Books work:

“Growing wiser means getting uncomfortable”

“You make the chains that shackle you”

“Showing trumps telling”

“Learning begins with listening”

“You can’t wish away the uncomfortable.”

And that’s just five of the 52. Each is brief, just a few pages, but with much to chew on.

Welch, a journalist, teacher and prolific author from Oregon, writes, “Beyond entertaining us, Dickens wanted to make us uncomfortable, because it’s only after we get a touch uneasy with ourselves that we open ourselves to change.”

In his author’s notes, Welch expresses his hope that after reading his “52 Lessons” readers will not only know Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” better, but will know themselves better. He admitted, “I certainly gained perspective on myself from researching and writing it, not that I’m particularly proud of all I discovered. . . . And can’t we all benefit from reexamining who we’ve become in our own life stories?”

In the lesson headlined “It’s about more than Christmas,” Welch decodes the words of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, who points out how Christmas seems to bring out the best in people and open up their hearts.

“For Dickens, Christmas becomes a metaphor for life itself,” Welch notes, “the unwritten suggestion that in keeping Christmas we are, in essence, keeping Christ — the one on whom the celebration rests.”

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Did you know Marco Polo was Catholic?

December 7, 2015

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40 Catholics cover

A remarkable amount of world history — including some surprises — is packed into the 266 pages of “Forty Catholics Who Shaped the World.”

Had you ever heard that Marco Polo was Catholic, or that his well-known journey was part of a request of Kublai Khan to know more about Christianity? Were you aware that Ferdinand Magellan evangelized native peoples as he attempted to circumnavigate the globe?

The best part of the stories that author Claire Smith shares in this new book published by St. Pauls may be the historic context in which she places the figures, making every chapter a history lesson as well as an inspiring personality profile.

Read the courageous account of Pedro and Violeta Chamorro’s struggle to bring democracy to 20th century Nicaragua and you’ll get a tightly summarized recap of the era of Somoza, the Sandinistas and the ordeal that led to the Iran-Contra Affair.

If all you remember about the revolt in the Philippines during the 1980s are Imelda Marcos’ thousand pairs of shoes, you’ll want to reconnect with the name of Corazon Aquino, the rosary-praying widow who led the People Power Revolution and forced the dictatorial Marcos family from the country.

Smith divides her list of 40 into seven separate categories: Scientists, scholars, innovators; modern-day apostles; leaders and pioneers; explorers; artists, musicians; early Christian heroes, and famous Doctors of the Church.

Some — Father Jacques Marquette, Michelangelo, St. Paul — may be better known than someone like Herrad of Landsberg, for example, a 12th century nun who compiled the first encyclopedia.

The inclusion of Christopher Columbus, St. Valentine, Mother Angelica of the Annunciation of EWTN fame might raise some eyebrows. To point to just one of those, though, the Mother Angelica story will amaze even those whose spirituality leans in a different ideological direction.

Personally, I found the entries of the artists weak, especially those of El Greco and Raphael. But I wish I had known before about Caroline Chisholm, the woman who did so much for emigrants to Australia. And all will appreciate that Smith doesn’t ignore the character blemishes of her subjects, noting that Maryland’s Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a slave owner.

If you’re one who tends to skim, the author has done you a great favor: The initial paragraph of each entry is a concise explanation of who the person is and what they have done to deserve to be included in a list of those who have shaped our world.

 

 

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Playing a nun on stage ‘is a blast’

November 23, 2015

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

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

Q & A with Therese Walth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pope Francis’ ‘Prayer for Our Earth’

October 15, 2015

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prayingNeed a prayer?

If you’re ever called upon for a prayer or struggle finding words to express yourself in prayer, Pope Francis has you covered.

The following is a prayer the pope included in his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si’.”

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

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Promised yourself you’d pray daily? Help is here

October 11, 2015

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Sacred ReadingHow many times have you told yourself you’re going to do it this time, you’re going to take time to pray every day, no matter what?

“Sacred Reading: The 2016 Guide to Daily Prayer” will help you keep your promise. It’s a page-a-day, affordable paperback ($15.95) that eases users into reflecting on how they are following Jesus Christ in everyday life, challenges with thoughtful questions and prompts prayer to flow naturally.

Published by the Apostleship of Prayer through Ave Maria Press at Notre Dame, “Sacred Reading” offers a simplified wrinkle on “lectio divina,” and, if you’ve been put off by the Latin name of that approach to prayer, fear not, this is for you.

This version offers six steps — steps repeated each day so you’re not paging back to the introduction — that are extremely easy to follow:

  1. Know that God is present with you and ready to converse. This puts you in the frame of mind to pray well.
  2. Read the Gospel. The day’s Gospel is printed for each day. No need to find your Bible or buy another resource.
  3. Notice what you think and feel as you read the Gospel. This is the “lectio divina” piece that is so key to prompting one to reflect on gospel-based values. Here is one example: “The disciples were blessed to see Jesus, to hear and touch him. They recognized him instantly. Do we? Or are we often too self-absorbed and skeptical to see the Lord at work in our lives? As you read this Gospel, what impression does it leave with you?”
  4. Pray as you are led for yourself and others. It’s conversing with God, sometimes thanking, sometimes praising, sometimes questioning, asking, sharing what’s troubling you, and doing the same for others.
  5. Listen to Jesus. What is he saying to you through this Gospel?
  6. Ask God to show you how to live today. This is the call to action. How will you react?

Here’s an example of how one is guided into prayer:

“Lord, I repent of my sins so that you can come to me. Show me the ways I resist your love, help me to forsake all habits of sin, and give me grace to . . . (Continue in your own words.)”

And here’s a sample of an action step:

“Lord, lead me to do something today that is pleasing to you, perhaps something I have never done or even thought of doing. Glory to you, Lord. Amen.”

Now here is an important point. “Sacred Readings” starts with the beginning of the church year, the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29. Don’t wait for the new calendar year to start keeping that promise to pray every day.

 

 

 

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