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Springtime's work

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Where I live in the Midwest, the red cardinals begin singing in mid-February, no matter what the weather. That’s when my spring hunger begins. The redbirds’ sweetly hopeful songs bring it on. Migrant robins return. My yearning cranks up. By March, garden seeds are on display in the hardware store while hoes, rakes and spades are up front. That gets me salivating.

When I lived in the country I would take lots of March and April walks. Each day I would find some new evidence of spring’s approach and arrival. I kept careful records of its progress in my journal.

Entries looked like this: “March 22: Warm night, first spring peepers heard. March 24: First hepaticas blooming in the ravine. April 2: Balmy evening. Whippoorwills back and beginning to call. April 9: Some sunshine. Trillium and bloodroot flowering; behind the house, first morel mushrooms. April 14: Sunny day. Saw first indigo bunting in the pasture. May 10: Cool, wet day. Chestnut-sided warblers stranded in the midst of their migration, feeding in cedars. May 16: Wild pink azaleas blooming in Mad Dog Hollow.”

Heaven sent

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I put my 11-year-old daughter to bed every night. After prayers, and after I turn off the light, she always begins a rapid-fire recap of the day's major events -- usually involving other girls in her class, her teachers, or what she did during recess.

But a few nights ago, we talked about heaven instead.

"Did you ever hear about a book called '90 Minutes in Heaven,'" she asked.

"I did."

"What do you think heaven is like, Dad?"

"I'm not sure. I think it could be like the best day you ever had, but it never ends."

"I think it is very crowded. All the good people go there and I don't know where there would be room." She yawned and turned on her side. I paused a moment to see if we were done. But her eyes were still open and she said, "Very crowded."

"You figure there are a lot of good people?"

She stared off in the distance, as if surveying all the people she knew, and calculating the totals. "Yep," she said finally. "Too crowded."

"Well, may be we're not bodies up in heaven, hon. Maybe we're spirits, just feelings and emotions and we are just there like that."

She thought about that for a minute, nodded silently. We seemed done now.

But no.

Mar. 10, St. Marie Eugenie Milleret, Founder

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Today is the feast of St. Marie Eugenie Milleret, founder of the Religious of the Assumption.

She was born in Metz, France, in 1817. "When she was fifteen, Marie Eugenie’s parents separated and she moved to Paris with her mother and brother, only to see her mother die of cholera shortly afterwards. Her father then sent her to live with relatives whose great interests proved to be money and pleasure."

"Our Beginnings," Religious of the Assumption

Murray's Moral Case for Health Care Reform

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Our friends at the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good are keeping busy in this final push for universal health care coverage. In a statement issued today, their new President, Morna Murray said, “Isn't it time we agreed it is simply unacceptable for anyone in America to be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition or arbitrary annual limits of what an insurance company decides is good for its own profits? Is such a system good for Americans? Is it good for vulnerable low-income and working class families and children? It is good for one thing and one thing only -- health insurance industry profits. This does not serve the common good.” The full statement is here.

Interfaith Voices wins a Wilbur

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The Religion Communicators Council honored 14 secular media organizations with its 2010 Wilbur Awards last week. The winner in the radio category was "Interfaith Voices," the public radio show that I host. The Wilbur went to our series “The Soundscapes of Faith” by Laura Kwerel (writer/producer) and Katie Davis (editor).

The Religion Communicators Council has presented Wilbur Awards annually since 1949. According to the council's web site, the awards honor excellence by individuals in secular media -- print and online journalism, book publishing, broadcasting, and motion pictures -- in communicating religious issues, values and themes.

“The Soundscapes of Faith” series was created by Kwerel. It is based on the premise that distinctive sounds help make the holy real, and that major faith traditions have a distinctive “sonic signature.” These include, for example, the shofar in Judaism, the Hindu “om,” the call to prayer in Islam, Buddhist chant, hymn singing in Sikhism and “harp singing” in Christianity.

To listen to any or all of these, go to: http://interfaithradio.org/soundscapes

March Madness

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It's finally here (and I'm not talking about the Catholic corproate craziness within the church). I'm talking about college basketball. It always seems to arrive just when we need it the most -- the middle of Lent. Naturally, Catholic colleges are among those vying to win it all, or at least get into the NCCA tournament and advance farther than they did last year.

Here's a quick selection of Catholic college basketball stories that have appeared today or yesterday:

The Big East’s Big Spenders? Just Check Out the Standing

St. Mary's Beats Gonzaga to Capture One of the Four NCAA Berths

Seton Hall's Bobby Gonzalez knows how to rub folks the wrong way

In the words of Dick Vitale, "Let the games begin, baaaaby!"

Spiritual, but not religious

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There are probably hundreds and hundreds of thousands around the country now who make some deliberate effort to live simply.

-- Myra and John live in the suburbs of Chicago and keep plastic bins in their garage for recyclables. They spend a few minutes each day sorting and separating, then an hour a month taking the bins to drop-off centers. Both also choose to ride public transportation to their jobs weekdays rather than driving. When they recently bought a new car, they opted for a hybrid. The whole family chooses to eat a bit lower on the food chain than is widely done, limiting their meat consumption. They also limit the amount of time they watch tv, choosing to read to and talk with their children most evenings.

-- In rural New Mexico, Cyril and Ed card the wool and spin yarn from a dozen sheep they raise in their four-acre back yard. They also keep goats for milk and make their own cheese when they have time. Both are self-employed computer programmers and work as consultants out of their home, a sprawling adobe structure they built themselves. When they must travel to faraway cities on business, they take the train.

The righteousness of US bishops

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Lisa Miller, religion editor for Newsweek, has a quite good analysis of "a new generation" (her characterization) of Catholic bishops and how they play politics. She offers little new for frequent readers of NCR, but her take is valuable for its succinctness.

Read the full piece: A new generation gets righteous

One thing Miller reveals is just how tight the U.S. bishops' staff was with:

Millionaire priest dies in squalor, relatives to inherit $

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Millionaire priest dies in squalor, relatives inherit $

In a strange, but apparently true, story, a Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., diocesan priest, died while living in "appalling" conditions without a will, according to this story.

"Twelve brothers and sisters in Poland will soon receive about $150,000 each from the estate of a Kanawha County priest who lived like a pauper, despite having nearly $2 million stashed away in cash and investments.

For nearly three years, Chief Tax Deputy Allen Bleigh and members of the tax department have been investigating the estate of Fr. Anthony Wojtus. Following his death in 2007, the millionaire priest was discovered to have been living in squalor.

Wojtus left no will or known family members. The county was appointed as estate administrator shortly after the priest's death, leaving officials with the job of tracking down next of kin."

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