Monday, December 27, 2010

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today we remember the Holy Innocents that were slaughtered by King Herod. However, the loss of those poor babies is surprisingly small in comparison to the genocide and abortion of our day. But even if there had been only one, we recognize the greatest treasure God put on the earth—a human person, destined for eternity and graced by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Hence he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne. He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality. He killed his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few. 

Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story: Herod was “greatly troubled” when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of “the newborn king of the Jews,” whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” They found Jesus, offered him their gifts and, warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt.

Herod became furious and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah,/sobbing and loud lamentation;/Rachel weeping for her children...” (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob/Israel. She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Movie exec’s mission is to follow God’s path

p.10narniaA lion named Aslan, voiced by Catholic actor Liam Neeson, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes and Ben Barnes are seen in the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. (CNS photo/Fox)

As a successful lawyer and part owner of a film company, Chip Flaherty can pretty much do whatever he wants to do with his life.

He could represent high profile clients in court, live the bad boy life and produce films that would make most grandmothers’ blush – all the while raking in the dough.

Instead, Flaherty, 46, vice-president of Walden Media, wanted to follow God’s path, so about 10 years ago, he got together with his younger brother, Michael, and his Tufts University roommate, producer Cary Granat, to develop movies that would not only appeal to families, but encourage kids to read.

In addition to producing quality books for children and pre-teens, Walden Media produced family friendly films such as “Ramona,” “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” and “Charlotte’s Web.” However, the company is probably most recognized for the C.S Lewis “Chronicles of Narnia” series.

Earlier this month, the third movie, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” was released. Flaherty hopes it will be as popular as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and “Prince Caspian.”

The father of Maggie, 13, Bridget, 12, Abby, 9 and Francis Xavier III (nicknamed Trey), 4, he wants to leave a legacy that is not only suitable for his children, but pleasing to God. This mission keeps Flaherty living in the same community in which he was raised and attending the same parish in which his mom grew up, he was baptized, and later married his wife, Leslie.

“You know when I was a kid going to St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, Mass., I always looked forward to great homilies and enjoyed reading the Bible,” he said. “I have always been grateful for what we had growing up and wanted to thank the Lord that we were so fortunate. Every March we prayed the St. Francis Xavier novena and I always remember the priest’s homilies on St. Francis’ teachings on how God writes straight with crooked lines. I knew God was calling me to do something different with my life.”

As he studied the life of St. Francis Xavier, Flaherty developed a sense of peace and even temperament when it came to facing adversities. Whether it was something as simple as a flat tire or much more harrowing, Flaherty kept the novena in his mind and knew that something good would come from the situation.

“This message of God writing straight with crooked lines is a message we tried to aspire to in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” he explained during a Dec. 9 phone interview with your Catholic Herald. “For example, there were two miracles in the movie. When Eustace (became) a dragon, he had to re-evaluate the way he lived his life. Then when he was undragoned by Aslan and becomes a boy again, he had to learn his purpose; and once he understood the purpose, the results were providential.”

Like Eustace, Flaherty believes people should be thankful for the opportunities to be tested and come through refined and changed by God.
“I am reminded (of) a quote by C.S. Lewis,” he said, “’God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’”

Working with the film’s director, Doug Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis could be intimidating, but Flaherty insisted that the man and their relationship are

“He is the world’s foremost expert on C.S. Lewis and has the unique experience of having grown up and been raised by the man he calls ‘Jack,’” said Flaherty. “The other thing is, he made ‘Narnia’ his life’s work and is the greatest living Lewis resource in the world. Throughout the entire process, he collaborated with us and was such a wonderful source of creativity.”

Much of the enthusiasm for bringing Narnia to life lies with Flaherty who remembers being introduced to the books as a fourth grade student in public grammar school.

“I went to Catholic high school, but surprisingly was introduced to these very Christian books in public grade school,” he explained. “My teacher took 30 minutes at the end of the day to slow us down and calm us by reading the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and that’s when I fell in love with the books and C.S. Lewis.”

The movie retains the message and many of the same lines C.S. Lewis penned. Without spoiling the ending, Flaherty noted that Aslan’s lines at the end of the book are the same at the end of the movie and he is proud of their faithful adaptation of Lewis’ work.

The character of Aslan the lion represents Jesus, and is portrayed by the voice of actor Liam Neeson. The Irish actor ignited a controversy when just before the film’s release he said Aslan represents God or Christ, but he prefers to think of the lion as a mentor and guardian and based on non-Christian “spiritual leaders.”

He told reporters at London’s Daily Mail that “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure, but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha, and all the great prophets and spiritual leaders over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.”

Despite the politically correct rhetoric ascribed to by Neeson, C.S. Lewis, a former atheist turned Catholic, created Aslan to represent Christ and that is not debatable, assured Flaherty.

“Liam Neeson has God-given gifts. He is a great actor and I can’t imagine a different actor playing Aslan,” he said. “He is at the top of his game in filmmaking, but that said, I don’t think he is about to get a doctorate from any theological seminary course. From an actor, all we ask is to bring the best of his or her craft and that fantastic voice for reading lines that Lewis wrote. Liam has a God given-gift of a beautiful voice, but – well, he is out of depth, vocationally.”

Walden Media holds the film rights to all seven books in the Narnia series but producing them will depend on how well the public receives “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

“We have been blessed to safeguard the C.S. Lewis legacy and we hope this film will be successful,” said Flaherty. “I like to say ‘Man supposes, God disposes,’ but at the end of the day, if we do well and if the audience supports the movie, we plan to make all of them. It’s the same as if I owned a bakery and made special cupcakes for Christmas. If someone asked me if I was going to make them again, I would tell them that I have to see if these sell first before I make that commitment. Movies are a similar marketplace.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Real Meaning Of Christmas



It's that time of year again, it's nearly December 25th, and with it all the blessings of Christmas. But what is the real meaning of Christmas? Is it the gifts under the tree, the lights in the windows, the greeting cards in the mail, relaxing dinners with family and friends, snowmen in the yard, stockings hanging over the mantle, and greetings of "Merry Christmas" to those who pass us in the streets? Is this really Christmas?

For many people, Christmas is not joyful, but a time for tears. Without the extra money to buy presents for their children, family, or friends, many are saddened at Christmastime when they think of their loved ones who will not be able to come home for various reasons. Happy family dinners may be only a wish and not a reality for some.

Yet, Christmas can still be a season of great joy. Remembering that it is a time of God showing His great love for us. It can be an opportunity for healing and renewed strength. After all, Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to be born. His birth brought great joy to the world. Shepherds, wise men, and angels all shared in the excitement of knowing about this great event. They knew this was no ordinary baby. The prophets had told of His coming hundreds of years before. The star stopped over Bethlehem just to mark the way for those who were looking for this special child.

 Luke 2: 4-19 says:
"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

We can truly be happy at Christmas! No matter the situation or period of anguish, we can know that we belong to Him.  One day our earthly suffering will end, and Lord willing,  Heaven will be our home.

This Christmas I will try to look at the season with Jesus' love and allow His presence into my heart. Although we have little monetary possessions, we can still have a "Merry Christmas."Jesus will meet all of our needs. 

Jesus Is The Reason For The Season! Rejoice!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On the first day of Christmas

Well, perhaps not the first--
we are winding down, coming into the home stretch and of course...
..we are unprepared.

As usual, money is tight,
there are new illnesses
and disappointments that scream
"I am going to ruin your Christmas!"

For a moment I believe that voice

But then, I remember once again
Christmas is not what I can buy,
what I should bake,
the high expectations of others on my time, wallet and emotions.

Bur rather, Christmas is
that wee babe in the manger
the savior
coming to earth to one day stretch out his arms on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins

Why is it so easy to become engrossed in the chaos of Christmas
and forget what it's really about?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thank you Dad

It's been 10 years now and hard to believe you are gone from this earth.
How I miss your morning puns--those quick, silly phone calls where I'd get the pun of the day and you would hang up--me with my mouth hanging open and you on the other end laughing to mom. You always knew that less than a minute would go by and I'd call back with some sort of silly retort.

Life was difficult for you--five kids, and a wife with many health issues, not to mention running a business where you felt compelled to be there nearly every waking moment. You worked so hard Dad, and I am ashamed to admit that I rarely gave you credit for all that you did for me. So much of my life I was angry with the way I perceived you should have been, the way I perceived our family should have been. It wasn't until much later that I realized how intensely you cared and loved all of us, and how much you tried to make life good for us.

Of all my memories, my fondest are those last hurried moments on Christmas Eve---those were our moments Dad and while I feigned frustration with you, I loved them. We got together late afternoon, rushing through town, snowflakes flittering on our eyelashes and blanketing our coats and we scoured store after store to find the best gift for your beloved, our Mom. Afterwards, we'd stop for a Hot Chocolate or Tom and Jerry in later years.....and we'd return home for Christmas Eve celebration.

You were a gem Dad and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss you and think of you. I will be offering Mass for you this morning on your Birthday--your special Holy Day--the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Everyone still laughs when I tell them you thought your birthday was the reason you got the day off of school at St. Charles!

Missing you and loving you Dad--can't wait to see you again. Give Mom a kiss from me.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Father, son share love of art

martinoMichael Martino poses with his father, Palmer Martino, near a sculpture he created in the La Crosse area. Palmer, also an artist, is a longtime member of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, Kenosha. At right are images of several of the pieces of art and snow sculptures created by Michael Martino. (Submitted photos courtesy Michael Martino)
As a boy, Michael Martino remembers racing to the basement before attending school at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Kenosha, to see what his father, Palmer, was doing in his art studio. Most of the time, the elder Martino was using watercolors to capture glorious summer skies with thick and touchable clouds, autumn trees dazzling with fiery colors, or views of sunlit wooded paths before rushing off to work at SC Johnson in Racine.

“He was a full time commercial artist for Johnson Wax for 20 years doing label design, painting signs, designing floats for parades and whatever else needed to be done in the art department,” said Michael. “In his spare time, he sold artwork in a Racine restaurant, spent weekends lettering trucks in our driveway or going to art shows where he would show charcoal sketches. He always had things going on.”

In 1978, Palmer retired early to pursue his art career, but almost immediately, received a phone call to teach art briefly at Gateway Technical College  after a teacher suffered a stroke. His plans to complete his art degree ended that day, as one week rolled into seven years before he stepped down for good.

Dad now checks on son’s work

At 90, it’s Palmer, still a member of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, who races to see what his 55-year-old son is creating in his La Crosse studio, and he couldn’t be more pleased.

“Mike has gone way beyond my commercial artwork, and I am impressed with all the things he has done,” he said. “Nothing has happened without divine guidance and the people who have opened doors for him.”

Today a successful bronze-commissioned sculptor and artist, Michael’s Catholic faith infuses his art as well as his daily life.

A recent sculpture titled “Inspiring Minds,” honoring the life of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, was dedicated last November at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. A preacher, missionary and civic leader, in 1847 Fr. Mazzuchelli established a community of Dominican Sisters to help carry on his mission of preaching and teaching. Before he died in 1864, in Benton, in the Madison Diocese, he designed and built more than 20 churches, established parish communities and schools in more than 30 places.
The statue features three figures – Fr. Mazzuchelli, a Sinsinawa Dominican sister and a student – and a telescope.

“He was very interested in science and loved the outdoors and used a telescope to study the stars,” said Michael. “I designed this as I imagined him discussing the cosmos and relating it to God’s creations, and designed the sister in her habit – disciplined and focused on him and his presentation. She symbolizes his loving self-discipline and in the grass is a young student girl looking up at the stars. I had the idea that she was inspired and daydreaming about the cosmic feelings and Father’s passion for the stars and God.”

The design, which took more than a year to complete, held its roots in a simple ball of clay, similar to one from Michael’s childhood. While other children would play board games, watch television or read comic books, the youngster entertained himself by creating animals with clay, often looking to National Geographic magazine for ideas.

“Most of my life I have played with clay,” he admitted. “Literally, in kindergarten, I had a non-hardening plasticizing clay and made animals. I remember Br. Neil from Holy Rosary School who was very encouraging of my figures. When my aunt babysat me, she would set me down with a ball of clay and I was good for hours.”

His love for art carried on to high school where Michael took classes in ceramics. In 1977, he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture from UW-Milwaukee. He married his wife Phyllis, a watercolorist, in 1988, and they have two sons, Tony, 19, and Nick, 18. While they are members of Holy Trinity Parish, Michael’s family attends Mass at the Newman Center to make the experience more relevant for their college-aged sons.

From painting signs to sculpting

For 20 years, Michael worked as a sign painter before branching out on his own as a full-time sculptor and artist.

“I wanted to do this as a career, but didn’t know how to make a living doing it,” he said. “But I loved to work with clay and hand carve wood, draw and paint and that turned into a career and got me from sitting behind a computer doing graphic art and being more hands on.”

Many of Michael’s designs are historical pieces and their existence borders on the “miraculous,” according to Palmer, who explains that much of his son’s commissioned work stems from divine intervention.

“He did this Lincoln statue for Carthage College in Kenosha and Lincoln was on the board of directors there in 1888,” explained Palmer. “He also did a sculpture of John Hay, a Carthage alumnus who later served as President Lincoln’s personal secretary and then became the U.S Secretary of State. Then a woman who serves on the board of directors at Carthage and owns the Chicago Water Taxis helped to get him commissioned to do the Navy Pier statue of the Captain of the Helm. If it weren’t for her, he wouldn’t have had a chance to do this. He has had one lucky break after another and people have gone out of their way to make it happen.”

Snow sculpting is hobby

Additionally, a passion and hobby for Michael is snow sculpting; he and teammates Tom Queoff and Mike Sponholtz have completed more than 100 sculptures around the world. The team took first place last winter at the national competition in Lake Geneva, and earned first place in 1997, and a bronze medal in Nagano, Japan for sculpting at the Winter Arts Festival the next year, which led to yet another honor, according to Palmer.

“He met this guy at the competition who owned these ski resorts in New Zealand and was able to spend two weeks there sculpting,” he said. “His career is filled with miracles like this.”
One of Michael’s dreams is to bring a religious snow-carving event to La Crosse. A few years ago, he sculpted an angel out of snow at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe to show staff what could be created.

“I think they liked it and I did plan to do a decade of the rosary with the kids from a Catholic youth group, but the weather wasn’t conducive to it,” he said. “Since that time, I got really busy, but I would like to get people doing snow sculptures with religious themes and maybe have a pathway to the church with luminaries in between.”

Through prayer, Michael has developed a mission of sorts for his artistic future, and is trying to live up to that goal.

“I want to be an excellent artist doing Christian themes in the best way that I can,” he said. “I do historical pieces, but I really enjoy doing religious art. In my spare time I do some woodcarvings for myself that express my own spiritual searching.”

Father is unofficial agent

While Palmer insists that it is divine guidance or the influence of others that has helped his son become a successful sculptor, Michael gives much of the credit to his mentor and father, who has become his unofficial agent.

“He has always been so supportive of everyone and if someone needs a job, my dad tries to make a connection by talking to everyone. And at 90, he acts as my agent, giving out my business cards and talking to people about my work,” said Michael, adding, “Sometimes he hits on someone who needs a project. He is very active and besides trying to help me build my business, will send me articles that he thinks will be relevant or interesting to us. He is a wonderful role model.”

Huge portions for biblical proportions

11-25-10-CHN04Karen Alvarez holds a second plate for her 6-year-old son Javier as they go through the buffet line at the Thanskgiving dinner served at Festival Hall in Racine, Nov. 25. The Alvarezes were among about 750 people who dined at the event. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson) 
RACINE — How many turkeys does it take to feed 700 or more guests at a gourmet Thanksgiving dinner?

Answer: At least a couple of hundred, give or take 50.

Turkey and good company. Two Racine businessmen tried to make sure everyone has their fill of both, so they invited those young and old, well off and less fortunate, to a free Thanksgiving meal.

Yorkville residents Dan Johnson and Ray Stibeck served about 750 people during their first Thanksgiving at Festival Hall in Racine last Thursday. Along with more than 200 volunteers, they served dinner on Thanksgiving Day for four hours at 5 Fifth St., Racine.

“Our phone has been ringing off the hook from people not only wanting to come to the dinner, but also to volunteer and donate food,” said Stibeck about two weeks before the event. “It has been an amazing response; it seems a fire has been lit in the city. At least 100 local businesses are contributing, donating money or their time – some of the county board supervisors will be helping and the mayor of Racine will be here pouring coffee.”

For six years, Johnson, 48, and Stibeck, 34, discussed hosting a community event to show their gratitude for the blessings of their businesses. Johnson is owner of Danny Meats and Catering, 1317 4 Mile Road, Caledonia, and Stibeck owns KZ, Air Conditioning and Hydronics, LLC, 2226 Douglas Ave., Racine.

“We kicked around the idea for a while and this year Danny called me and said, ‘Hey remember that thing we were talking about?’ and I told him I remembered. Then he seemed a little shocked and asked me again, ‘You know, that Thanksgiving thing?’ and I told him that I did remember,” explained Stibeck. “I think he was surprised I remembered. He then says to me, ‘I think it’s time we do it with the economy this way, Racine having such a high unemployment rate, the recent murders and people losing jobs.’ I agreed and told him it was time to make it happen.”
p.3A11-25-10Dennis Brim, left, a volunteer, entertains other volunteers including J.J. McAuliffe, center, and Bev Hicks as he dances to music and delivers more food to the food line at Festival Hall in Racine on Thursday, Nov. 25. They were among more than 200 volunteers who served dinner in an effort coordinated by Racine businessmen Dan Johnson and Ray Stibeck. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)
With energy, enthusiasm, food and volunteers, the most difficult feat was finding a facility large enough to house the event. After the City of Racine and the company that manages Festival Hall agreed to donate the space, they were set.

“We are making everything from scratch,” said Stibeck. “There will be no instant anything in this dinner. Everything will be home cooked, but on a massive scale and free to all. We will also be using real dishes, because we didn’t want people to feel like it was just for certain people. If you are ready to lose your home, this dinner is for you. If you are a different race or have different beliefs, this dinner is for you. If you don’t have anyone to share Thanksgiving dinner with, it is also for you. We just want to come together and be thankful and use this day as a way to care for each other.”

A lifelong Catholic, Stibeck credits his grandmother, Leona Stibeck, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine, his parents and his relationship with God for his desire to give back.

“My faith is very important to me, and for both Danny and I, we believe in giving back and doing the right thing,” he said. “The morals and learning what it means to be a Catholic started when I was baptized as a baby and continues now at the parish my wife and I attend, St. Peter in Kenosha. I think that as Catholics, we need to be about helping people out – I just didn’t expect it would be of this magnitude.”

In between taking reservations and speaking to area businesses, Stibeck answered several calls from his sobbing grandmother, who said she was shocked when she learned what her grandson was planning.

“She was calling me all day Friday, crying,” he said. “She goes to morning Mass and the priest came up to her and told her about what we were doing. She wanted to know how we came up with this idea and I simply told her that we wanted to do something for the community because we were so fortunate to have our own businesses in such a poor economy.”

With the help of Stibeck’s office manager, the friends came up with the name, “Dan and Ray Rendering Thanks,” as a title for their non-profit company. The generic name sanctions the possibility of additional volunteer efforts for the future.

“We didn’t want to lock this in just for Thanksgiving,” said Stibeck. “We are hoping to expand to maybe something for Christmas, or for other times of the year. We aren’t sure yet what we want to do, but we would like to help the needy, or Children’s Hospital – whatever the need might be. We did all of this off the cuff – this planning has only been going on for about three to four weeks, and basically we are just shooting from the hip.”

The efforts of Stibeck and Johnson are a breath of fresh air in a city dealing with staggering unemployment, gang wars, murders and effects of the current economic downturn. They are encouraged that despite the bad news, a community can draw together and make something good happen.

“There is still good out there,” said Stibeck. “Despite all the bad, we need to keep the faith and believe that there is a purpose and reason as to why things happen. We don’t always understand it, but there are good people out there who care about others and still want good for the community. We are so grateful to the community, our neighbors, family and customers and hope our efforts will bring us all closer.”