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Battle ready for the attacks of the devil

February 12, 2016


UnknownGod wants us to live a good and holy life, but it is incredibly hard, sometimes seemingly impossible to do so.  Despite our best intentions, we slip up over and over again.

For instance, a parishioner might say, “When I rolled out of bed this morning I promised myself that I would not say one unkind word today, but before I even left for work I had already raised my voice to my spouse and been crabby with my child.  But lunchtime I blurted out a mean comment about another driver and been irritable with someone at work.  How did I get here?  Spiritually, I feel like such a failure. It is so humiliating and depressing, downright demoralizing.”

We need to be honest.  The spiritual life is a fight, and not just a little skirmish.  It is an epic battle.  St. John speaks about a war between the light and the darkness.  St. Paul speaks about a fierce struggle between the spirit and the flesh.  The choice is between good and evil.

We are constantly being attacked.  We are bombarded with temptations.  The devil is on the prowl, and the devil is relentless and deceptive.  The devil does propaganda warfare trying to blind us to the evil of darkness and the pursuit of selfish pleasure.  The devil does reconnaissance on us, analyzes our defenses, pinpoints our weak spots, waits for our most vulnerable moment, and then goes on the offensive.  And it is not just a little attack.  Like a special tactics operative, the devil comes with the best weaponry at a time when our defenses are down.  It is foolishness not to be on guard and battle ready.  Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

The devil is coming.  We need to sound general quarters!  It is time to man our battle stations!  We need to be equipped to escape the wickedness and snares of the devil.

After Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit had descended upon him, the Holy Spirit led Jesus to secluded place in the desert.  Jesus was fully human, like us, and vulnerable to attack.  The Holy Spirit was Jesus’ ally.  The Holy Spirit, the wisdom of God, knew that the devil was plotting and that attacks were inevitable.  The Holy Spirit could do Jesus a tremendous service by helping him to prepare.  Jesus went into basic training.  It was a forty day regimen.  Jesus had to submit to the discipline and drill each day.  Jesus toughened himself for the battle with fasting to achieve self-mastery over his body.  War is a mind game that requires mental toughness.  Jesus spent long hours in prayer, in contemplation, sitting silently with God, and in mediation on Scripture, devouring God’s holy Word.

The devil attacked three times.  Jesus was armed and ready.  Each assault was repelled immediately, and his defense tactic was to quote Scripture.  To fend off the devil once was not enough.  He would come back again, and Jesus resorted to the same defense.  It took three times for the devil to finally leave, but only for a time.

If we hope to be battle ready and successful with our intention to live a good and holy life, we need to train the same way that Jesus trained.  We need to pay attention to body and soul, to master our bodies with some form of self-denial, and to prepare our minds and hearts with prayer, solitary time in contemplation, listening to God speak to us, and time reading and reflecting on Scripture, because the Word of God is our security and our sure defense.

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Saints and angels

October 29, 2015


Mary and Joseph in Nazareth - Stained glass window at St. John the Baptist, Vermillion, MN

Mary and Joseph in Nazareth – Stained glass window at St. John the Baptist, Vermillion, MN

A Special Feast Day.  November 1 is the Solemnity of All Saints, not “All Angels” nor “All Saints and Angels.”  In fact, the Archangels have a separate feast day on September 29 and the Guardian Angels on October 2.  If the saints and angels are both together in heaven gathered around God’s throne forever singing God’s praises, are they the same or different?

Angels.  An angel is a spiritual being without a body that has existed across the ages, dwells in heaven, has been and continues to be totally loyal to God, serves God in a variety of capacities, and may be dispatched as a messenger or representative of God to earth or to a specific person to carry out a special function.  There are many references to angels in Sacred Scripture.

Saints.  A saint was a human being that had a physical body, lived in a specific time and place, has died and gone to heaven, and lived an exceptionally good and virtuous life.  The saints were guided by Sacred Scripture on the path of holiness.

Special Classes of Angels.  The classes of angels are the Angels and Archangels, the Thrones and Dominations (Dominions), the Principalities and the Powers, and the Virtues, as well as the Cherubim and Seraphim, and the Guardian Angels.

Special Classes of Saints.  The classes of saints are the apostles, the foundation of the Church, its first shepherds and teachers, who watch over it and protect it still; the martyrs, those who have died for the faith and given heroic witness; pastors, great preachers and teachers; virgins and religious, those who have consecrated their life to Christ for the sake of the Kingdom; and holy men and women.

The Purpose of Angels.  The angels serve as God’s messengers and they bring God’s call to individuals; God’s instructions, commands or announcements; and they speak God’s Word.  The angels also convey God’s divine presence and companionship; lead the People of God on the journey; bring comfort and consolation in times of sadness; act as guardians and protectors; provide divine assistance throughout life, particularly in times of trial or hardship; give strength in the battle against sin and temptation; sing God’s praises in choir around God’s throne in heaven; and will assist the Son of God on Judgment Day.

The Purpose of Saints.  The saints are examples of holiness, and their virtuous lives teach us how to live in a virtuous manner.  The saints, particularly the martyrs, were heroic, and they show us how to live with courage and conviction.  The saints are proof that it is possible to live a good and holy life; if they can do it, we can do it.  The saints offer hope; if they have gone to heaven, they show us that heaven is reachable and that we can follow them there.  The saints are intercessors; they are in heaven, near God, and enjoy God’s favor, and they are in an excellent position to present our prayers to God on our behalf.

Famous Angels.  The best known angels are the Archangels:  Michael, the mighty warrior that led the heavenly host against Lucifer and the bad angels and expelled them from heaven; Gabriel, God’s messenger to Mary and Zechariah; and Raphael, the companion and protector of Tobiah on his journey.

Famous Saints.  The best known saints are Mary, the Mother of God, and her husband Joseph; John the Baptist, the prophet who announced the arrival of the Messiah; Peter, the first of the Apostles, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles; Benedict, the father of western monasticism, and Francis of Assisi, the saint regarded by many as the one who best patterned himself on the life of Jesus.

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Stories you shouldn’t miss

July 6, 2011


Here’s a sneak preview of some of the stories you can read this week in the print edition of The Catholic Spirit and online at

• “Get a good read — on what’s happening at local Catholic bookstores.” Our Page 1 story gives a snapshot of the joys and challenges of operating independent Catholic bookstores in the age of Amazon and Don’t overlook the summer reading list suggested by the booksellers.

• Two articles have a Catholic Charities focus. Agency CEO Tim Marx writes about how the current Minnesota state government shutdown is a wake-up call to mend our civic culture. And, staff writer/photographer Dave Hrbacek spent time with St. Paul Homeless Connect — a one-day event that offers important services and resources in one location for people in need. Read about one of the event’s volunteers who knows personally the challenges faced by the homeless.

• This week’s “Outdoors” column by Dave Hrbacek features a priest who recently led a fishing retreat as an opportunity for men to pray and deepen their spirituality while spending time on the lake.

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The Catholic Spirit garners journalism awards

June 27, 2011

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The prospect of winning awards isn’t what motivates us Catholic Spirit staff members to produce the best newspaper and website that we can. We’re driven instead by the call to spread the Good News, to keep area Catholics informed about important issues in the church and to inspire them to live their faith to the fullest.

But it is nice when our work earns kudos from peers and fellow professionals. That happened last week at the Catholic Media Convention in Pittsburgh, where The Catholic Spirit garnered several Catholic press awards.

Two awards deserve special mention:

• Associate publisher Bob Zyskowski was honored with the 2011 St. Francis de Sales Award from the Catholic Press Association. It is the CPA’s highest award, recognizing an individual’s “outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism.”

• The Catholic Spirit won second place in the “general excellence” category for large-circulation newspapers. The award takes into account all aspects of a publication — from the writing and photography, to the design and editing. The judges called it a “clean, well-organized, well-edited paper” with “good local content.”

Other awards TCS received from the CPA were:

• 1st place — best editorial section for “This Catholic Life.”

• 1st place — best editorial on a national or international issue for “Woody, Buzz and the meaning of life” by editor Joe Towalski.

• 2nd place — best news writing for the TCS news team series “7 Principles for Planning,” which examined the challenges facing the archdiocese as it prepared its strategic plan for parishes and schools.

• 2nd place — best regular arts and leisure column for “The Outdoors,” by photographer/writer Dave Hrbacek.

• 2nd place — best coverage of the Year for Priests for a special section titled “Celebrating Our Priests.”

• 2nd place — best editorial on a local issue for “Health care policy: Whose side is God on? by Joe Towalski.

Other Catholic organizations also presented awards recently, and The Catholic Spirit was recognized by two of them:

• Dave Hrbacek was awarded the National Right to Life’s 14th Annual Excellence in Journalism Award for his story, “Electrician sparks life commitment by turning down abortion clinic job.” NRLC President Carol Tobias said, “We are proud to recognize Dave Hrbacek for his outstanding work and extend our deepest gratitude for his outstanding journalism on behalf of life.”

And from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, TCS received three awards:

• Bob Zyskowski garnered first place honors in the “Visits to the Missions” category for his story package, “Venezuelans, priests celebrate 40-year gift exchange.”

• Staff writer Julie Carroll and Dave Hrbacek took first place in the “Mission News” category for their story “Situation in Haiti still critical.”

• Deacon Mickey Friesen, director of the archdiocese’s Center for Mission, received an honorable mention for TCS’ World Mission Sunday 2010 supplement.

Have an idea for a possible award-winning story? Contact us and give us the details. We always enjoy working on a good story!


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The editor’s life

November 30, 2010

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I’ve been a Catholic journalist for 18 years now — an editor for 12 of them. One of the most frequent questions I get from friends, family members and new acquaintances is: “What’s it like being the editor of a Catholic newspaper?” (Actually, two newspapers in my case — The Catholic Spirit in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and The Visitor, which I edit for the Diocese of St. Cloud.)

They ask, truly, because they’re not sure what a newspaper editor does these days, much less an editor like me who works for religious publications.

They assume it’s pretty challenging to publish newspapers that aim to serve the entire local Catholic community and not just a particular segment. They ask, “How can you print things that everyone will like all the time?” (Answer: You can’t.)

They think I must lead a pretty frenetic life that can be challenging for my spouse and kids. (Answer: They’re right. And please don’t ask my wife about it. She’s a photographer and graphic designer who works with me at The Catholic Spirit, and she’ll give you an earful about how I need to do a better job of balancing work life and home life.)

They wonder where we get all the story ideas that end up as news and features in our print editions and on our websites. (Answer: Where don’t we get story ideas from. E-mails, phone calls, letters, press releases, news team brainstorm sessions and casual conversations with people we meet every day are great sources for stories.)

In order to give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes into publishing two biweekly newspapers and the two 24/7 websites associated with them, I’ve decided to post about it on this blog.

What’s new at the newspapers? How do we make decisions about what goes into print and on the web and what doesn’t? What’s it like working at a place where your job is to proclaim daily the good news of Jesus Christ? These are among the topics I’ll address in a few blog posts each week.

To be sure, editing a Catholic newspaper today is challenging on several fronts. But it’s a job — actually, I think of it more as a vocation — that I love to do, otherwise I wouldn’t be in this profession for 18 years and counting. The editor’s chair is also a wonderful vantage point from which to view the life of the church as it unfolds in our parishes, dioceses, nation and world.

I hope you enjoy the insights I’ll be sharing. I also hope you’ll be willing to share your own thoughts by commenting with suggestions, story ideas and other feedback!

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