There is freedom in letting God be God so we don’t have to be

By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington

As I shared with you a few months ago, I have ALS. I won’t try to spell it but it is also called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” after a professional baseball player who died from ALS in 1941.

In short, ALS is a muscle debilitating disease for which there is no cure. It is also fatal as, in the end, it attacks the diaphragm and/or the heart. I was diagnosed this past December, and because of the disease’s progression, Bishop Hoeppner has given me permission to retire from active ministry July 1.

At this point, I intend to continue writing this column, although it may take a slightly different direction in tone as I face what lies before me.

I was ordained on March 15, 1986. It is an odd date for a priestly ordination (usually they are in late spring) because Bishop Balke suggested moving up the ordination date after hearing my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Dad would not have made it to the original ordination date of May 31. Bishop suggested March 15 and that was the plan.

On March 3, my Dad suffered a massive stroke and died. His funeral was on March 6, and my ordination went ahead on March 15.

Needless to say, those were emotional days!

Over the past 32 years, there have been a lot of “emotional days.” As with everyone’s life, there were highs and lows. Highs when serving Christ was easy and fulfilling, and other times when my human frailty kept me from being the priest Christ intended me to be.

Through it all, Christ was and is faithful. Even when the brokenness of humanity tarnishes the beauty of Christ’s bride, the Church, he remains vigilant, awaiting the prodigal ones to return.

St. Philip’s in Bemidji, where I have lived the past seven years, has served as bookends, in a sense, to my vocation. In the fall of 1979, while a college student at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, I attended my first TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) here. It was during that weekend I realized the call I had been avoiding was real. 10 months later I was in the seminary!

I was not from the Diocese of Crookston (my hometown is New York Mills, in the St. Cloud Diocese) so upon entering the seminary I had to jump a few hoops to commit to Crookston. It was the example of Bishop Balke, Monsignor John Stearns, Monsignor Mike Patnode and other priests from Crookston whom I had come in contact with through TEC who were key in helping me realize the Diocese of Crookston was HOME.

The greatest joy of these years has been standing in awe of the faith of so many I have come to know in the parishes I have served.

The greatest sorrow has been, as I mentioned above, my own frailties that fell far short of the man I was called to be.

The greatest lesson I learned was how God cannot be outdone in generosity and that all things do work out, in the end, for the glory of God!

Over these years, as you well know, I have done my best to raise my voice for the voiceless child in the womb along with all those who are forgotten by society.

These are difficult days for me on that score as I feel the reputation of the pro-life movement is being smeared by leaders who claim the pro-life mantle yet act and speak in ways that are anything but pro-life. I know others reading this disagree sharply but I ask myself daily when I listen to the news, “What would Jesus think?”

In the end, I praise God for God’s mercy in my life. “Mercy,” as one definition states, is “kindness we don’t deserve.” I also praise God for the incredible people I have met and still love over these years.

I used to “play Mass” often as a kid. I have been humbled by Christ’s invitation to do the “real thing” over 11,700 times!

For now, it is ONWARD! Time to let God be God so I/we don’t have to be. Makes life a whole lot easier!

My conversation with ‘Colin the Catholic’ regarding my previous column

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Marriage, Family & Life

In my previous column, I wrote about the role of conjugal (sexual) love within the Sacrament of Marriage, how sexual intimacy was created by God to be part of the sacrament. At the end of the column, I suggested that the world would be a better place – with less divorce, marital affairs, premarital sexual encounters, fewer abortions, etc. – if we would follow God’s plan. An acquaintance of mine, I will call him “Colin the Catholic”, asked me about this statement, wondering what evidence I had for my claim. What follows is an edited version of the conversation with some additional questions I have added – call this artistic license – so that I can make a final point. So, my conversation with Colin went something like this:

Colin the Catholic: I read your OND column. Thanks for tweeting it out because I don’t get the paper, so I depend on twitter for the OND. Don’t you think your column was a bit far-fetched? I mean, that list you had about all the things that are bad and suggesting that everything would be better if people would follow the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex ... where did you come up with that?

Deacon Mark: Colin, I did not make up this list, a prophet predicted this would happen even before it did.

CC: A prophet? Like some Old Testament guy? Which prophet are you talking about?

DM: Pope Paul VI was the prophet and he predicted the world’s current predicament regarding sexual morality back in the 1960s when he wrote something called Humanae Vitae.

CC: Oh that! That’s where a pope for the first time said that birth control was wrong, but no one really believes that anything is wrong with birth control, do they? I mean, OK abortion of course, but the rest of it is accepted as OK.

DM: Well Colin, you are not right when you say that the pope taught that birth control was wrong for the “first time.” In the Bible, and going all the way back to the early Church, we have regularly taught that artificial approaches to regulating birth are wrong. Pope Paul VI addressed the new technologies of birth control in a specific fashion for the first time because such things as the pill and IUDs were just being developed and really, for the first time, people were questioning whether pre-marital sex was even wrong.

CC: Well, the teaching is out of date, look at the overpopulation in the world and all of the starving people in places like Africa. The only way they are going to get out of poverty is by having fewer babies and they need birth control to do that.

DM: That is such an old argument. When I was a kid, science magazines were saying the world was going to run out of food by the year 2000 because of overpopulation. There is also something else you imply in your argument – that we in the “developed world” should be telling the people in African countries that they should not be having so many children. There are even some aid agencies that will only help feed the poor in other countries if those countries adopt certain birth control laws.

CC: All I know is that these poor countries need to have fewer children because too many kids go hungry and that is just not right.

DM: I agree with you that it is not right – we have enough food to feed everyone we just do not have the will to get them the food! I am glad your ideas were not around when my mom grew up. Her family was poor, and my mom talked about how she was hungry. She was also one of the youngest in her family of eight, so with your way of thinking – if a family is poor they should not have many children – my mom would not have been born.

CC: Well, sorry, I didn’t mean for it to get so personal. But in the end, what is wrong with a couple using birth control? If they think it is not the right time for a child, there is nothing wrong with using the pill or other means to prevent a birth.

DM: You think that, what I will call the “drug store” approach to birth control, is OK, but it seems to me that you do not really understand what Pope Paul VI explained to the Church and the world in Humanae Vitae. It is too bad that the Church has not been more successful in getting the word out, because Humanae Vitae celebrates God’s plan, the natural plan, for marriage. The “drug store” methods use artificial means to attempt to control fertility which creates an artificial plan for marriage. Plus, the “drug store” methods allow society to treat sexual relations as just one of many pleasurable activities that couples (married or not) can do with each other.

CC: I don’t really know what is in Humanae Vitae, can you explain it to me?

DM: I will attempt to explain this in my next column.

Religious liberty and constructive freedom past and present

By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference

Almost 40 years ago, in June 1979, Pope John Paul II traveled to his homeland of Poland, and within nine days ignited a human rights revolution that continues to shape the Church and the world today.

Against an atheist humanism that dictated that man is no more than matter and that his life has no cosmic significance, Pope John Paul II reminded his fellow Poles of their great dignity as made in the image and likeness of God.

The lessons from those “Nine Days in June” continue to be relevant as the Church in the United States observes Religious Freedom Week from June 22-29 against the backdrop of a renewed atheist humanism that imposes its own creed, has its own rituals, and demands conformity – all in the name of freedom, of course.

ATHEIST HUMANISM TODAY

The communism that John Paul II fought against, and the prevailing form of liberalism today about which he warned us, are both variants of atheist humanism – the project of fostering individual liberation (autonomy) and mastery over nature to relieve pain and suffering.

Though communism seems to be undergoing a rehabilitation in the West, especially among the young, it is liberalism that poses the bigger threat to religious liberty and constructive freedom.

The liberal project of fostering individual autonomy and overcoming the limitations of nature (death, illness, pain, etc.) through scientific mastery are undoubtedly the highest cultural and political values today.

Our culture promotes creative self-expression (particularly in the realm of gender and sexuality), consumerism, convenience, and every form of physical and psychological therapy in order to improve one’s life and ease pain.

This false humanism is perpetrated through legal means behind the veil of neutrality and pluralism, giving it an air of irreproachability. Yet it is anything but neutral. It is an imposition of a new orthodoxy, namely, that man lives by bread alone – or, in today’s terms, by the newest food fad, sex, on-demand entertainment, and technology that allows you to swipe right or add a filter to create your own reality.

Matter is all that matters, and it is yours to shape as you will. You can supposedly make your own happiness – your own truth.

CONSTRUCTIVE FREEDOM

The Church and her members propose a deeper freedom not attainable on Amazon.com. Like Pope John Paul II in Poland, the Church today proposes constructive freedom, which is the ability to respond to God’s call consistent with one’s conscience formed by moral truth.

The Church promotes political, religious, and economic liberty so that people can live the constructive freedom to which they are called by God.

Atheist humanism, based as it is on a false understanding of human fulfillment, cannot tolerate alternative accounts that reveal true liberation. Therefore, it suppresses alternatives, particularly that which is proposed by the Catholic Church. The Church reminds all persons of their dignity as sons and daughters of God, and of the higher calling to constructive freedom that goes along with that dignity.

Those who do not embrace atheist humanism’s worldview, however, are publicly shamed, trolled, and even forced to choose between the truth and their livelihoods.

Hence, religious sisters are forced to provide contraception to employees, Christian adoption agencies cannot operate according to their convictions about marriage, Christian ministries are sometimes forbidden to serve the homeless or immigrants, and pregnancy resource centers must refer people for abortions.

These coercive forces of atheist humanism must be confronted – confronted with the truth about God and man, along with a better proposal to foster the flourishing of all persons (Catholics and non-Catholics alike) that is consistent with their dignity and spiritual destiny.

Though liberty in all its forms is important, religious freedom is at the cornerstone today of the Church’s proposal for the good of society (aka Catholic social doctrine), as it provides the space for constructive freedom.

ATHEIST HUMANISM IS NOT ‘NEUTRAL’

If we take secular, liberal regimes and their defenders at their word – that they prize pluralism, social peace, justice, and the common good – then they should be continually exhorted and reminded of the cornerstone importance of religious liberty.

Religious liberty is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It is the freedom to do as we ought, not to do as we want – a freedom that fosters the common good.

If secular states are what they claim to be, then they should protect and promote constructive freedom in the name of pluralism and the common good, not use secularity as a mask of neutrality to impose atheist humanism.

Otherwise, as Pope John Paul II noted, politics and democracy devolve into “thinly disguised totalitarianism.”

VFTV: June 13, 2018

HOLY ORDERS

In my last column, I mentioned the Church’s mission to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world (Mk. 16:15). Under this umbrella, the Church speaks of two specific sacraments of mission: Matrimony and Holy Orders. Both “Holy Orders and Matrimony are directed towards the salvation of others, if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the people of God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1534) How blessed and privileged we are in this local Church that two young men will receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders this month: Deacon Nate Brunn was ordained a priest on June 9, and Mr. Michael Arey will be ordained a deacon on June 16.

Bishops receive the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders. Christ Jesus, through his apostles, has made their successors, the bishops, sharers in his own consecration and mission.

“Marked with the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders, bishops are stewards of the grace of the high priesthood …” (Lumen Gentium, 26, 27). Bishops, in turn, hand on in varying degrees a participation in this apostolic ministry. And so, I was pleased to ordain Deacon Nate Brunn to “serve to build up the Body of Christ” as a priest. At ordination, he, like all of our diocesan priests, made a promise of obedience and respect to me and my successors for, as an ordained priest, Father Brunn will be a co-worker and collaborator with me, the bishop.

“Even though they do not possess the fullness of the priesthood and in the exercise of their power are subordinate to the bishop, priests are nevertheless linked to the bishop in priestly dignity. By the Sacrament of Orders, in the image of Christ the eternal High Priest, they are consecrated to preach the Gospel, to shepherd the faithful, and to celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament.” (Lumen Gentium, 28)

I am also so pleased that I will ordain Mr. Michael Arey to “serve to build up the Body of Christ” as a deacon of the Diocese of Crookston. At ordination, he too will promise obedience and respect to me and my successors as all deacons of the Diocese of Crookston have done. As an ordained deacon, Mr. Arey will be a co-worker with me and with our priests. A deacon “receives the laying on of hands (Holy Orders) not unto priesthood but for a ministry of service.” Strengthened by sacramental grace, deacons “have as their service for the people of God, in communion with the bishop and his college of presbyters, the ‘diakonia’ [service] of altar, word, and charity.” (Lumen Gentium, 29) As a minister of the altar, he will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the Sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood. He will exhort and instruct the faithful, preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying and conduct funeral rites. He will do charitable works in the name of the bishop or pastor in such a way that those whom he serves will recognize Christ Jesus.

Mr. Arey will be what is called a “transitional deacon” for it is his intention to continue his studies and in one year’s time, God willing, be ordained to the priesthood.

At each Confirmation, I always say a few words about vocations and the first word is to ask you to keep praying for vocations. We are thankful that God has heard our prayer and is giving us Father Nate Brunn and soon-to-be-Deacon Michael Arey to “serve to build up the people of God” here, that is, to help us grow in holiness and fulfill our mission to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. Please continue to pray for our young people, and for all who serve in Holy Orders: for Father Brunn and Mr. Arey, for all our deacons and priests, and for your bishop too.

ESTO VIR CAMP

Speaking of vocations, each summer, here in the Diocese of Crookston, we are fortunate to have the Office of Vocations host a camp for young men, ages 16 and older. Esto Vir is an opportunity for young men interested in looking at the possibility of serving God and God’s people as a ministerial priest. “Esto vir” is Latin; in English it means “be a man.” Esto Vir is run by priests and seminarians of the Diocese of Crookston. It affords a wonderful opportunity for like-minded young men of faith to join together for prayer, fellowship and fun, and to learn about what it is to be a man ordained a priest. Esto Vir will be held from August 7-9 at Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp near Fosston. It is free of charge. I encourage all parents and grandparents to discuss this camp with their sons and grandsons. For more information, visit www.crookston.org/vocations/estovir

Seek ways to shepherd the periphery in the pew

By AJ Garcia/Office of New Evangelization & Justice

Buzzwords can be hard to keep up with when it comes to church jargon. Some of the recent buzzwords that have become popularized include: new evangelization, discipleship, missionary discipleship, periphery, etc. None of them are bad in of themselves, but when they are liberally applied and stamped on programs and events without their meaning truly being embodied or demonstrated, it can be more negative than fruitful. The words above have come straight from the mouths or pens of our most recent Holy Fathers. Read what Pope Francis says about the peripheries in “The Joy of the Gospel”:

“In our day Jesus’ command to ‘go and make disciples’ echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth.’ Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”

Generally, peripheries are places on the fringes, whether it is a physical location or an outcast group of people. The peripheries are not held in high regard and are possibly neglected. There is no doubt that these are the places and groups that require (and deserve) our attention, time and resources.

However, I believe there is a periphery right in front of us that we fail to recognize or choose to ignore; a group of people that are in our pews regularly. These are people that attend Mass often, possibly even daily. This periphery likely identifies as Catholic, but may not know Jesus Christ in a personal way. This periphery may further be described as associating with Jesus and the Church on a “fringe” basis, a group that attends Mass and goes through the motions, or maybe they hardly go through the motions and are only physically present. Certainly, attending and being present for Mass is good, but if that’s it, mere physical presence, is that enough? Surely, we hope they would get more out of their Mass experience and truly encounter Jesus Christ in a personal and more meaningful way. There are few situations in life where it is acceptable or where we would encourage one to simply “show up.”

Necessary emphasis should be made for us (those active in the Church) to reach the peripheries such as the poor, sick, and unchurched, but how much more effective and fruitful would our efforts be with those peripheries if we were even better shepherds to the periphery in the pew? In each of our parishes and communities this periphery looks different, but it is there no less. Let’s all improve the way that we engage them and be more willing to go out of our comfort zones and greet that family or individual that we’ve maybe only smiled at or greeted during the sign of peace (you know, because we had to). I’m not encouraging us to neglect any periphery; rather, I offer a challenge to continue seeking ways to improve the care we give those in our midst.

This is my final column for Our Northland Diocese. I am excited to share that I am going to be the new Executive Director for Arise Milwaukee (www.arisemke.org). It is a dynamic and impactful nonprofit lay apostolate whose mission is helping people to encounter and fall in love with Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. I cannot wait to get started! I am very thankful that the Lord led me here and gave me the opportunity to serve you and walk alongside many of you in your pursuit of knowing and growing in relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, it is on to the next chapter of my journey. The Diocese of Crookston will continue to be in my prayers!

I leave you with the words of St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who you were created to be and you will set the world on fire.”

My words of advice to the graduating Class of 2018 … ONWARD!

By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington

Last weekend we celebrated First Eucharist with 38 of our second graders. It was on that same day 50 years ago I made my First Eucharist. Fr. Steve told us, “This is the most important day of your life!” At the time I was so excited, and so young, I did not fully comprehend what those words meant. As time marches on I have come to learn exactly what he was saying.

To become a “walking tabernacle” is the greatest honor a human being could possibly manage on this side of heaven. That is what I/we had become, as did those 38 second graders days ago. What a tremendous gift to stand in the midst of the world, wherever we go, and bring Christ to every person, situation and event we step into. Just by our being present, Christ is present.

Well, that part of my journey began 50 years ago. Another “make me feel old” moment happened 40 years ago with my graduation from high school! I look back at pictures and wonder where the hair went and how the roll around my midsection got there!

I remember, as a child, thinking the year 2000 would never ever come. No way! I would be 40 years old and that could not possibly happen. Not sure what I thought the options were to avoid 2000 and “40” but I was certain they would not arrive.

OK, enough rambling about the past!

There are three things I want to share with the graduating class of 2018 whether it be high school or college youth. In no particular order…

First, remember your roots.

I had the privilege of spending the first 18 years of my life living in the same house and attending the same school. So many of you in this year’s class have been much more mobile, but I hope you have been able to make “home” wherever you have been.

Home is where your heart is … and I hope your heart has felt at home no matter where you are.

When I hear of children trapped in abusive homes my stomach curls with anxiety. I had a safe home, a safe place where I was accepted for who I was. And, I must admit, being the baby of the family, I was spoiled rotten! Remember your roots and the people (parents, grandparents, teachers, staff and friends) who made you who you are. Rejoice in the good stuff, try to forgive the bad and move on!

Second, don’t abandon your faith.

A tsunami awaits you as you head off to college, tech school or out into the workforce. It is a cultural tsunami which insists the Catholic Church is out of touch and has very little to say about very little.

This year we are remembering one of the most profound documents of the Catholic Church which was written 50 years ago by Pope Paul VI: “Humane Vitae” (“On Human Life”). In it, the “old man who has no clue” predicted exactly where we are today when it comes to our treatment of women, the dignity of the human person and how the contraceptive mentality gnaws at the very core of our humanity. Pope Paul (soon to be Saint Pope Paul!) was and is a prophet.

Of course the scandals which have betrayed the innocent souls in the pews over the past years offers no reason for you to trust anything the Church may say. I offer no excuse which would restore your trust … but Christ does.

From the moment Christ took the weak and sinful apostle Simon aside and called him Peter, “Rock”, the sinful frailty of humanity has tried to live within the mighty strain of also being a divine institution. Christ promised: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Without Christ rescuing the Church over and over again, we would never have survived 2,000 years. Our divine purpose for and in the world still stands.

Third, do not let joy slip out of your hands.

Earth is not our home, we are in exile. The sooner we realize that simple fact, the sooner we can live life on this side of heaven in joy! Don’t confuse joy with “happiness.” Although happiness can give us a glimpse of what heaven will be like (the birth of a child, the rising sun, the laughter of friends), happiness is fleeting and offers a sliver of light peeking through the doors of heaven.

The high paying job, the new car, a younger spouse or a new baby cannot give you the full joy your heart craves. Seek Christ first through his Church, his Bride, and the perspective you gain on life will prepare you for the next, eternal, life. Joy is knowing the rest of the story and that, in the end, we win!

God bless you, class of 2018.

Examining God’s gift of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Marriage, Family & Life

Here is a Catholic “parlor game” (does anyone really use this phrase anymore?) a married couple could do some evening. List all of the gifts God has given you. No need to go in order of significance; this isn’t a theological debate. I hope that all Catholic couples would list things such as life, Jesus, each other, children if you have been so blessed, the Church, the beauty of creation, the goodness of the saints, the truth of God, and of course the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. God created marriage and the family, and through the Church, Jesus gave the world the seven sacraments which includes the Sacrament of Matrimony that a married couple lives every day of their lives.

I pray that all married people reading this column experience marriage as a gift from God. Each of the seven sacraments are “signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body.” (CCC 774). This means that marriage is a “sign and instrument” used by the Holy Spirit to share the “grace of Christ.” Your marriage is a gift of grace not only to the two of you, but to the entire Church including your children, your extended family and your parish and local communities.

The celebration of the seven sacraments involves words as well as an action that is part of each sacrament. The minister of the sacrament must carry out what is called the “form” (the words) as well as the “matter” (the action) to make the sacrament valid. Could you imagine if I was baptizing a baby and I said the words but did not pour water from the baptismal font over the baby’s head? The gathered family members would wonder if I was even a validly ordained deacon! You must have the water bathing the body AND the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” or you do not have baptism.

Let me now comment on the words and actions to be completed by the ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministers of this sacrament are the husband and wife and that the minister witnesses the consent of the man and woman as they enter sacramental life. The “form” of the sacrament is the “I do” that each states as a sign of consent to their vows. The “matter” of the sacrament is ultimately the fulfillment of the two becoming one flesh in conjugal (or sexual) union.

Thank you if you have stuck with this column to this point because I guess I turned the first half into a catechism lesson. Think about what the Church teaches for a moment. God created marriage and the family – OK, pretty easy to get – God created everything. Next, Jesus gave us the Church, and through the Church we receive the sacraments. Again, something that most Catholics can get their heads around. God gave us the gift of sexual union to be a part of one of the sacraments – Matrimony – and marital sexual union is meant to be a beautiful sign of grace within the sacrament each time that sexual union occurs.

Now this is where much of the world (including a number of Catholics) are going to say “Hey Deacon, you lost me on that one.” A reason why this is a tough concept for some is the fact that our society teaches that sex is one of many pleasurable behaviors that any consenting adult can engage in with another consenting person or with themselves. In contrast, what Jesus and his Church teaches is that sexual union is meant to be a physical sign of the marital sacrament, and is only to be entered into by two people after they have expressed their “I do’s” before the Church in the wedding ceremony.

Let me say to some of you, the ones who are ready to turn the page because you think the Church is out of touch with reality and needs to “get with the times about sex,” please stick with me. I hope that even those who are ready to walk away from this column can see that the “sexual revolution” that started in the 30s or the 50s or the 70s or any point in between has not led to a “Garden of Eden.” We live in a world where divorce is too high, women are objectified via rampant online pornography, more than 40 percent of all births are outside of marriage, STD’s continue to increase and mutate, and abortion is described as a “health” or “economic” choice. How different would the world be if we all saw sexual union as a gift given by God as part of the Sacrament of Marriage?

I am out of space, so in my next column I will again take up this topic and write about the role of conjugal love – sexual union – in marriage and how the Church understands God’s gift of marital sexual union.

Advocacy – More Life-Giving Than You Think

By Rachel Herbeck

As Catholics we are called to actively live out the Gospel in public life. A call that sometimes solicits the thought, “Do I really have to?”

From what we see and hear in the world, politics can seem like a dirty arena, completely devoid of principle. We may see the process as being too complicated or impossible for citizens to make a difference. Because of the vision we have of politics, we think that our experiences will be negative and draining. These misunderstandings often keep Catholics from making a difference in our communities.

This session, two members of the Catholic Advocacy Network decided to get more involved in politics. By taking steps to get equipped, stay engaged, and build and maintain relationships with their legislators, they learned that getting involved was life-giving and an essential part of spreading the Gospel.

Get Equipped

Julie Schweich, a parishioner of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, attended Capitol 101 this session. After a morning of hearing from legislators, asking questions, and discussing critical issues, she felt more confident meeting with her legislators.

“I never thought I would be able to go sit and talk to my Senator about an issue, but after learning more about the pornography and human trafficking bill and asking questions, I felt more confident conveying my thoughts and opinions. At the end of the meeting, I actually felt like I did something to help my Senator understand the bill and our point of view.”

Julie’s experience at Capitol 101 gave her the tools she needed to be an effective advocate.

Stay Engaged

Not only can you engage directly with your legislators, you can stay up to date on bills as they go through the legislative process.

John Lucke, a junior at the University of St. Thomas, had an interest in the issue of pornography and its ties to human trafficking. Before the House of Representatives voted on this bill (HF 2967), John attended its committee hearing. At a committee hearing, a group of legislators discuss the bill, ask questions, hear from testifiers on the issue, and vote on whether the bill should continue to the next step.

John’s experience at the hearing convinced him that he needed to be more engaged in the process.  

“Hearing the experiences of the testifiers was a turning point for me, a moment of reinvigoration. I left convicted that this fight was worth my time and effort.” Not only did the hearing energize John, but the legislators also took notice that constituents were there in support of the bill.

John continued his engagement and took the issue to his Senator. At the meeting, they discussed the dangers of pornography for over 30 minutes. By the end, the Senator agreed that pornography is dangerous.

By taking one simple step to attend a hearing, John learned more about the political process and was motivated by the prospect of the positive change that could happen through the lawmaking process.

Maintain Relationships

John says he now sees that his legislators needs him as a resource, and all he had to do was take time to be one. “Taking advantage of MCC’s resources and my own willingness to speak up was all I needed to begin that relationship,” he said.

Julie tries to be a resource to her legislators through consistent phone calls. “I’ve gotten into the habit of making quick calls to my legislators while I’m driving home from work. In the last month, I’ve called my Representative about pornography, human trafficking, and gambling. The calls take me less than five minutes.”

While on the phone, Julie reminded her Senator of their meeting at Capitol 101 and the importance of passing the pornography and human trafficking bill (SF 2554). Not even a month after their meeting, the Senate bill, which would require police to collect information on the connection of pornography to human trafficking cases, passed unanimously.

Her Senator’s “yes” vote helped Julie to see the importance of maintaining that relationship. “When I heard that the bill passed, I felt that I had a hand in helping make that happen.”  

Life-Giving Truth

Both Julie’s and John’s experiences were entirely different than they expected. “The media makes you think that politics is just like the show House of Cards,” John says. “Once I began to get involved, my experience was actually really life-giving because I was on the front lines, really living the Gospel in action.”

John and Julie show that getting involved is not only simple, but enjoyable and life-giving. Whatever our perceptions may be, if dread is your response to the call, participating in politics may be a more positive and effective experience than you think. All you have to do is give it a try.

Rachel Herbeck is the Policy and Outreach Coordinator of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

VFTV: May 16, 2018

MAY FOR FATHERS, MOTHERS AND FAMILY

In May, it’s easy to think of family and thank God for the blessings we enjoy in family life. We began the month with the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1.

Joseph was chosen to act as a father to Jesus on this earth, to care and provide for Jesus and Mary, to watch over them and love Mary and love Jesus with a father’s love. Joseph worked hard to support his family.

In his humanity, Jesus exercised human knowledge, which is limited. He would have to inquire for himself about things that can be known only from human experience. Joseph was there to teach him so that Jesus could “increase in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Lk. 2:52) Jesus learned about obedience from Joseph and Mary. Most importantly, Jesus learned from Joseph about being the son of a loving father. May St. Joseph help all fathers as they work hard to provide for their family and fulfill their role in the lives of those God has given to their care and love. St. John Paul II has entrusted the whole family mission to St. Joseph’s particular care.

In May, we celebrate Mothers’ Day. We thank God for our mothers and pray for them that they too may fulfill the wonderful role God has given them in family.

Mary, the Mother of God, is the perfect model of motherhood. Mary, full of grace, loved God and responded perfectly to all God asked of her. She trusted God completely, even when things were confusing or difficult for her. She loved Jesus and Joseph and continues to love all God’s children with a mother’s love.

In the month of May, we particularly delight to call upon Mary for her intercession and care. I hope all families are praying the Rosary daily together, inviting Mary’s intercession. This year, Pope Francis has asked that we “prolong for the whole month of May praying the Rosary for peace.” May Mary our Mother help all wives and mothers fulfill their wonderful roles.

In the Gospel for Ascension Sunday, we heard Jesus give the universal call or mission to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved …” (Mk. 16:15) Under this umbrella call or mission to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, the Church speaks of two specific Sacraments of mission: Matrimony and Holy Orders. Both “Holy Orders and Matrimony are directed towards the salvation of others, if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1534)

In May, may St. Joseph watch over all fathers. In May, may Mary, the Blessed Mother, watch over all mothers. In May, may God help all married couples and families joyfully live the mission God has given them: to help one’s spouse and the children God gives them to come to salvation in Jesus Christ and then go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.

THE ASCENSION

One reason I love the Feast of the Ascension is because it helps us understand how, in God’s great plan, the Church is necessary for salvation. We know and believe that only Christ Jesus brings salvation. The Son of God becomes man and takes on our humanness. He laid down his life for us in love, dying on a cross; conquering sin, death and the devil. As the Son sent by the Father, only Jesus – God made man – could win this victory. Objective redemption of all humanity becomes a reality as the Father’s love-giving response to Jesus’ loving sacrifice is to raise him from the dead. At the Ascension, Jesus, in his whole being, divinity and humanity, ascends and takes his place at the right hand of the Father. As Jesus ascends and “returns to his Father,” his humanity is fully brought into the giving, receiving, re-giving cycle of love between the Father and the Son. Jesus’ prayer that the Father glorify him with the glory he had with the Father from the beginning (Jn. 17:5) is answered as the humanity – taken on by Jesus – at the Incarnation now shares in this glory. And so, there is established a “new creation” in Christ: “humanity in glory.” Jesus, now established at the right hand of the Father as Lord and Messiah, “firstborn of many brothers,” can now send the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

Redemption, Christ the Son of God, now in his glorified body sitting at the right hand of the Father, turns his face towards us for our salvation. He sends the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of our sins so that we, even now, can begin to live the glorified life – life in communion with God and one another. He respects our humanness and it is through his glorified humanity that he reaches out to us. How are we earthly people going to encounter the glorified Redeemer who has ascended to heaven and is invisible to us? We do so as he now makes his heavenly glorified bodiliness available to us by taking up earthly realities into his glorified saving activity. He uses the Church, making her the first sacrament, the earthly prolongation of his glorified body. The Church is the Body of Christ and Christ our Redeemer uses this reality as the means to encounter him. He uses the Church’s sacraments as true encounters with him so that through them he might give us the glory the Father give to him so that even now, we may be one with God and with one another.

So it was that St. Paul, who had not encountered the earthly Jesus in faith, was baptized. Christ has chosen the Church and her sacraments and life to be the means to make contact with him so that he might fill us with new life, eternal life, glorified life, until that day when even our mortal bodies, having passed through death, are assumed into heaven and are fully glorified and we enjoy the fullness of the life of heaven with God and all the saints. Yes, as taught by the Church Fathers and Vatican Council I too, “outside the Church there is no salvation” and by this we mean, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.” (CCC 846) May the Feast of the Ascension fill us with gratitude for Christ Jesus who shares with us the glory he enjoys with the Father and who will bring that glory to fullness for us one day.

To end abortion: There is another way other than through the Supreme Court!

By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade unleashed abortion on demand in our country. Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion organizations which profit from the carnage of abortion are determined to make sure the ruling is never overturned.

Now, maybe, there is another way to go instead of through the Supreme Court.

Over the years, pro-lifers have declared small victories when we are able to chip away at abortion laws in the more outrageous cases. It is as if we have had to “settle” for the little gains and we may have become complacent.

Pro-life senators in the United States Senate are proposing another option. It may be time to bypass the Supreme Court and use the Constitution as it was meant to be used. The senators are proposing a “Life at Conception Act” which declares children in the womb “persons” as defined by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, entitled to legal protection.

In 1973, the justices who voted to open the doors to legalized abortion at every stage admitted in their decision that such a legislative move as the one being proposed would cause the case for legal abortion to “collapse.”

The Roe v. Wade decision was made based on a new, previously undefined “right of privacy” which it “discovered” in the Constitution. But the Court never declared abortion itself to be a constitutional right.

Part of the decision reads: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. The judiciary at this point in the development of man’s knowledge is not in a position to speculate as to the answer. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the case for abortion collapses. The fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the 14th Amendment.”

The 14th Amendment could not be more clear: “… nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” The Amendment also says: “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

As I have explained previously, if the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade is overturned, the abortion laws of each state prior to 1973 would be back in force. Over half the states would see little change in the abortion rate or availability.

The Life at Conception Act returns the debate to Congress, those we elect, and its passage would clearly define “personhood” to include the innocent child in the womb.

So, in the end, we remain firmly planted in the political process to elect those who see and defend the dignity of life from conception to natural death. The work to defend life is complicated especially by Catholic politicians and voters who somehow justify a pro-abortion position in politics on election day while praying to God, the Creator of All Life, on the weekend. I have never understood how that can be. Denial is a powerful reality when we are determined to have what we want no matter who gets run over or dismembered in the process.

Even the late Ted Kennedy, the “Lion of the Senate” and self-professed champion of the pro-abortion movement once held a different view. I keep the words from a letter he wrote to a constituent in August of 1971 close at hand.

“While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which much be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.”

Two years later the political breeze changed for Senator Kennedy (and others) and somehow the human life in the womb had become a blob of tissue to be dealt with as desired.

That letter inspires me to fight the fight, to seek the truth, and never take for granted the power of the evil one. St. Peter says of him in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Sports gambling: Its better to leave the money on the table

By Sarah Spangenberg/Minnesota Catholic Conference

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court may loosen federal restrictions on sports gambling. As a result, many states have proactively drafted bills that would create regulated sports gambling industries at the state level – Minnesota included. The changes could greatly expand legal gambling in Minnesota, for example, by making online gambling accessible 24 hours-a-day from any computer or smart phone.

Proponents argue that legalized sports gambling would create a safer and more regulated environment for those who already gamble. But gambling expansion would also carve out space for an industry that preys on addictive personalities and irresponsible players – often those who can least afford to gamble. Others hope to bring in tax dollars by regulating the gambling industry. However, increased revenue streams in one area may lead to significant costs in other areas, such as court costs related to bankruptcies, and the need for increased safety net funding for people losing their livelihoods. The expansion of our state’s gambling laws could be disastrous for families and the common good.

A PREDATORY INDUSTRY

Sports gambling is inherently predatory. Daily fantasy sports, for example, rely heavily on a large base of unskilled players who gamble (and lose) against experts or those who use algorithms and other tools to rig the outcomes. As reported in news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, for every skilled player, there must be many unskilled ones to compensate the winners and provide the profit margins – so sports betting companies must constantly lure in new players with the promise of big rewards.

Gambling companies also bank on the addictiveness of the game. The more players return – and lose – the better the industry does; it feeds on the destructive behavior of compulsive gamblers. Choices and habits that destroy lives and tear families apart are also precisely the behaviors that line the gambling industry’s pockets the most.

Professional sports leagues, too, are eyeing gambling expansion to increase their revenues and to keep increasingly bored and distracted fans entertained. In transformed stadiums more closely resembling racetracks or casinos, fans could bet on practically anything at any point throughout the game – whether Tom Brady will score a touchdown in the third quarter, or how many strikeouts Santana will throw against Cleveland, for example. Obviously, this could easily become an addictive and troublesome social phenomenon.

ABOUT MORE THAN THE BOTTOM LINE

As mentioned above, a popular argument in favor of legalized sports gambling is that it will bring in more revenue for the state. Yet this ignores the hidden cost associated with legalized gambling: erosion of trust and financial stability within families; an increase in divorce and family fragmentation; crippling unpaid debts; check fraud, embezzlement and other forms of economic theft committed by problem gamblers. Gambling also increases criminal justice costs related to problem gamblers who commit crimes to finance their habit and debts.

All told, we can expect a government cost of three dollars in social welfare spending for every dollar that gambling generates, according to the 2008 U.S. International Gambling Report Series. Those who say legal gambling will boost our state’s economy are only looking at part of the picture.

Increased revenues will always be a strong incentive to consider new policies, but it is an incentive that must be kept in check. Let’s remember that the state exists for the good of the people in it – not the other way around. Enabling predatory business practices and destructive habits just so that the state can make a buck is a clear sign of skewed priorities.

A DANGEROUS CULTURAL SHIFT

This isn’t bingo in your church basement, pulltabs at the bar, a March Madness bracket, or the school raffle. As Catholics we recognize that these forms of gambling can be a legitimate form of entertainment, not inherently problematic or contrary to justice.

Problems do arise, though, when gambling deprives people of what is due to them or to those under their care (CCC 2413) – when, for example, players bet away their life savings or amass unmanageable debt to finance a gambling habit. Or when an entire industry revolves around them doing so.

This is about more than revenue, and it’s certainly about more than sanctioning a harmless pastime. We’re talking about a major cultural shift with the potential to feed destructive cycles of greed and addiction. The potential for serious harm to Minnesotans and their families makes gambling expansion an unacceptable option.

The gambling industry is motivated by greed and propped up by addiction, both evils that seriously tarnish the dignity proper to human persons. When it comes to gambling expansion, the hidden, human costs are much higher than the economic benefit.

VFTV: April 25, 2018

PRIESTS’ DAYS

Your priests and bishop spent three days in Bemidji April 16-18, praying together, celebrating God’s gift of ministerial priesthood, enjoying one another’s company and reflecting on topics related to priestly life and ministry. For example, topics included what a presbyterate is and how to grow in unity, spiritual leadership and pastoral leadership. It is the Church’s understanding that priests are not priests simply one by one. Priests serve the mission of the Church in a presbyterate with the bishop. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred upon a man individually but he is inserted into the communion of the presbyterate united with the bishop. And so, all priests are united among themselves in an intimate sacramental brotherhood and together they form one presbytery in a diocese to whose service they are committed under their own bishop. Each and every priest, therefore, is joined to his brother priests by a bond of charity, prayer, and every kind of cooperation. (cf. Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Vatican II, #8) It is good to remember the unity of which we speak is really a gift given in the Holy Spirit, a gift to the Church, a gift to a presbyterate. Priests living this unity promote their effectiveness and are a sign to you and the whole world of the unity to which God draws all people. Thank your priests for the gift of themselves to you but also for their gift of themselves to the presbyterate of the Diocese of Crookston.

JESUS, THE BREAD OF LIFE

Our Spring Priests’ Days are usually held the second week after Easter. The weekday Gospel readings at Mass at this time are from St. John’s Gospel and what is called “The Bread of Life Discourse.” Jesus tells the crowd gathered to hear him: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35) The Father gives this bread, Jesus, true bread from heaven for the life of the world. Jesus gives his very life so that we may live. Jesus makes clear reference to the Eucharist that he will give the night before he dies as he tells the crowd that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (Jn. 6:57)

There is no time on earth comparable to the time we receive Holy Communion at Mass! In Holy Communion we receive Jesus. We accept his gift of himself to us. We eat his flesh and drink his blood. As we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit of love floods our heart with the love of the Father and of Jesus the Son. Previously, I have referred to the little book by Timothy P. O’Malley: “Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life.” Reminding his readers that the moment of Communion is an occasion for personal encounter with the living God and then the very presence of Love dwells within us, he says we need to really “savor how good the Lord is.” He says, “parishes often fail at this moment most of all.” We need time after the Communion Procession is complete, to take in and savor communion with Jesus, the Bread of Life, that we have just received.

The heart of the new evangelization we are all called to engage in is and will be the Eucharist. We do need to take time after receiving Holy Communion “to welcome Jesus into the intimacy of your [our] heart and soul.” (Meeting Christ – Living Christ, p. 8) Therefore, at Spring Priests’ Days, I instructed our priests to allow at least one full minute for meditation and prayer at every Mass after the Communion Procession has finished. I certainly know that in some parishes at a Sunday Mass, young children want to head for the doors and not sit quietly in a pew after Communion. Yet, we do need to take the time to welcome Jesus into our hearts. At weekday Masses, this time for intimacy after receiving Holy Communion might be extended even longer as we become more adept and eager to savor deeply the encounter with Jesus which is his gift of himself to us in Holy Communion. Let us see how well we can do with this and learn how wonderfully God will bless our efforts.

Be more like ‘Jane and Joe’ and less like ‘Sue and Sam’

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./ Office of Marriage, Family & Life

I have written about this column’s topic before but it is a key teaching of Jesus that bears repeating. What made me think of this topic was a memory that popped into my mind of a married couple, which lead to me thinking of another married couple. The first couple, Jane and Joe (not their real names), were models of Christian love in so many ways. In contrast, the other couple, Sue and Sam (not real names), while equally committed to their marriage as Jane and Joe, often fought with each other. During many years of conflict, they never considered getting divorced but they fought often and many times over the same. While Jane and Joe really understood what it meant to love each other as people created by a loving God, Sue and Sam, to put it bluntly, did not.

I am not going to give you a complete biography of the couples, but I will highlight just one aspect of their lives that makes my point about love. Joe and Jane had a unique challenge in their marriage. Joe had a number of medical issues that, while not life threatening in any way, did require them to follow a certain dietary and environmental lifestyle. Jane often had to set aside her wishes when Joe’s medical condition flared up, and she did this with love. Time and again Joe’s condition would alter how things had to happen and Jane lovingly responded every time. She did not resent Joe, she did not think “this isn’t fair” or “when do I get things my way.” In fact the opposite seemed to occur. When Joe’s condition flared up it seemed that Jane would be happy. Not happy for what Joe was going through, but happy that she was the one placed in Joe’s life by God to help him during his time of trial. She saw Joe’s challenging times as an even greater opportunity to reflect to Joe God’s love. Jane understood that a key to living a Catholic sacramental marriage is to give our love to our spouse, to see that our life was a gift from God, and so, in marriage, we make our life a gift to our spouse.

Let me say something about Joe as well: Joe received Jane’s gift with great appreciation but also saw his life as a gift to Jane. There were many times when Joe would quietly cope with his illness without Jane even knowing what was going on. Joe saw that Jane was focused on the children or something else and so Joe would suffer in silence. You could say that he gladly suffered with his condition as a gift to Jane so that she could concentrate on something other than him. Joe never thought “Oh, look how I am such a martyr, suffering for the sake of my wife.” No, Joe did not even think about what he was doing – he just loved Jane and happily gave her the opportunity to think about something other than his condition. I could tell you about the multitude of other ways this couple gave to each other. They understood that being married and following God meant that they each saw their life as a gift of love to the other and to their children as well.

If you read my columns you probably have a good idea that Sue and Sam were the opposite of Jane and Joe. Now, not in every way. Sue and Sam were devoted to each other and to their family, they were committed to their marriage and no matter how much they fought, they were not going to get a divorce. And, like Joe and Jane, they also dealt with medical conditions. For a period of time Sue was dealing with an illness and then, after she had recovered, Sam developed one. Rather than react to the needs of the other out of a divinely inspired love, they responded in a self-centered way. Sure, when Sue needed help during her illness Sam jumped right in and did whatever needed to be done and Sue did the same for Sam later on. But even while they were helping the other, resentment was growing in their hearts. When Sue was ill and needed help, all too often Sam would think, “Oh, not again, when do I get a break.” When the situation was reversed, Sue admitted that she would react to Sam with “I never was such a baby while I was sick, your illness is not nearly as bad as mine but you are so much more demanding!” (BTW – Sue was the type of person who would not “think” such a thing – she would come right out and say it).

With such resentment building in their hearts while the other was ill, I suspect you can imagine how fights would occur. The healthy one felt “put upon” by the other and started a “pity party” for themselves in their own mind – “Oh, what a burden I have to put up with and what a saint I am for helping my spouse.” With that in their mind, they would be helping the other but the resentment would come out in their tone of voice, the pace of their action, the look on their face. And to these, the one being helped would react with defensiveness and in no time a fight would break out. After multiple years of acting this way towards each other, not only related to illness but to most other aspects of their married lives, they were both at a point where they said, “I feel no love in this marriage.”

They felt no love because they were not giving love away. Authentic love is not an emotion we feel when our beloved does something for us or “makes us happy.” Authentic love is when we give love to our spouse. We experience love in the act of giving ourselves away. The reciprocal exchange of love in a marriage occurs when each person gives their love to the other freely and completely without any strings attached. When mutual self-giving occurs, the way that Joe and Jane lived their marital lives, a married couple shares a glimpse of the love of God who created us as an act of love. When Sue and Sam understood this, and they only got there through much prayer, Eucharist, Reconciliation, and heart-to-heart conversations, their marriage was transformed.

Dead birds and the true meaning of being pro-life all in one column

By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington

Someone saw a robin recently and had to share the news with whomever would listen! The birds are making their way north and for some reason that reality reminded me of a controversy dealing with birds.

Hosting the most recent Super Bowl was a big deal for Minnesota (an even bigger one if the Vikings had been in it!). Yet the new stadium in Minneapolis has had a lot of controversy attached to it because of the number of birds flying into the building and dying.

Apparently the stadium sits within a migratory bird pathway, and the reflective glass that gives the stadium a spectacular look also leads to fatal collisions for birds that mistake the glass for sky. The birds are at risk of collision while migrating from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico on a path that generally follows the Mississippi River.

One article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune just before the Super Bowl said:

“The state-of-the-art stadium, deemed worthy to host Super Bowl LII, should leave Minnesota feeling proud –  except for the dead white-throated sparrows, the dead ruby-throated hummingbirds and 20 other species of birds that have been found dead upon impact with the 200,000 square feet of exterior glass that creates a mirror-like façade.”

The problem has created a firestorm of sorts in the Twin Cities with representatives from the local Audubon Chapter and the Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary (to name just two) who have challenged decisions made on the glass since the stadium was first on the drawing table.

In a three-month period during the fall, a group of volunteers circled the stadium each day and took time-stamped photos of the casualties. There were 60 dead birds and 14 labeled as “stunned”.

Now, those who have been reading my column over the years know exactly where I am going with this.

Sure, the issue of birds flying into the stadium glass should have been caught in the planning stages; yes, bird life is important as we care for God’s creation; and, okay, the environmental groups raising the issue have a role to play in our society.

And now the word you knew was coming: BUT!

But, I am still amazed, after all these years in the pro-life movement, when I hear how priority is given in the news and in political circles to dying birds, or whales, or seals while our nation allows the killing of 4,000 children in the womb a day. It is so hard to get my brain around how that can happen in a society which claims to be civilized. Killing our own children so we can live as we wish as a nation is barbaric and shameful.

Interest groups want to save the birds … where are we, as a nation, to help those in an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy see the beauty of life within them … no matter how she got there?

As I have said a hundred times in past columns, I blame our nation for the scourge of abortion, not the women who seek it. Of course, some use abortion as a form of contraception, yet, even they deserve a challenge from a people who claim every life matters, every life is a gift. Science has made it clear the “glob of cells” at the moment of conception is a human life, not an animal and not “potential” human life as some pro-abortionists claim.

Still, we have a problem among those of us who claim to be pro-life. When those who claim to be pro-life simply give the cause lip service and out of the same mouth call opponents names, rate certain people as second-class citizens and lie to get their political way, the pro-life cause is damaged.

Just like the saying goes, “If it was illegal to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” So too with the pro-life movement. Are we the people who make sure crisis pregnancy centers flourish in our communities? Are we the ones who demand quality health care for women and children? Are we the ones who promote adoption and help fund those services? Do we assert our political power to defend children born in this country to illegal immigrants? Do we petition for quality education and an economy which allows families to find a way out of poverty? Do we, by the way we treat others, show them respect and gratitude for the life God shares with them?

I believe the pro-life cause has been seriously hurt in recent years.

I have stated my opinion in an earlier column which prompted quite a response from all sides. But here is the question I propose to all pro-lifers: “Name a person you know who was once pro-abortion who is now pro-life because of the example of our present elected leadership in the pro-life movement.”

There was a time when elected pro-life leaders were outstanding people who, by their convictions and their compassion, made others stop and think about the abortion issue in a different way. They invited a sincere discussion of the issue, not responding with name calling, bullying or condemning women.

The converts to the pro-life cause today are because of a change of heart through the grace of God, not through the role models in Washington D.C.

So, may a solution be found for the dying birds and may those of us who claim to be pro-life show the world what it means to walk the talk and not just pay lip service to the cause.

Chapter 4 of ‘Amoris Laetitia’: My final reflection, for now

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Marriage Family & Life

Over the course of the previous year, with a few exceptions, my column has reflected on Pope Francis’ review of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, St. Paul’s great discourse on love. The Holy Father reviewed this in his fourth chapter of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and he concludes this chapter with a lengthy reflection on conjugal love, “the love between husband and wife”. Part of conjugal love is the marital embrace – sexual intimacy shared by husband and wife – which was designed by God to both deepen the life-long bond of the marital union while also cooperating with God the Creator in the creation of new life. Thus, God created human sexual union for a sacred purpose within the Sacrament of Marriage.

I once used the previous statement when someone asked me, “Why should the Church be in my bedroom?” The person was of course implying that the Catholic Church should not comment on sexual behavior because everyone should be able to make up their own mind and follow their own path when it comes to sexual behavior. When I replied that God created humans as male and female, that God created husband and wife to become “one flesh,” and that God created sexual union to exclusively be part of the marital union he looked at me like I was out-of-touch with reality. He even said, “Oh, come on, no one really believes that!”

He bought into the prevailing notion in society which holds that sexual behavior is just one of many pleasurable behaviors in which we should be able to indulge. If we are not violating the rights of others, so this thinking goes, two consenting adults should be able to participate in sexual behaviors with each other. Some will put certain restrictions on sexual behavior such as “the two should be in love with each other,” or “the two should be in an exclusive relationship,” but there are many who say that sexual behavior can take place between any two consenting adults outside of marriage, or even with only oneself, without any prohibition, guilt or remorse. Yes, there are many in society who say that sexual behavior is just like any other behavior and “if it feels good, then do it.”

But Christ teaches something to the contrary. For you see, God created us out of love to be in relationship with God, ultimately when we are in heaven. God created the world so we could grow in our love of God, grow in our relationship to God and grow in our preparation to meet God when we move from this life to the next. God the Father sent his son Jesus as part of this plan: to live with us, die with us, and rise from the grave to show us the way to God. Jesus created his living mystical body, the Church, to guide us to God and in turn the Holy Spirit came and dwells with us. Jesus gives us unique experiences of God’s loving grace in the sacraments through his Church. Included in the sacraments is Holy Matrimony, the life-long and life-giving union of husband and wife created from the beginning to be a sign of God’s love in the world. And for the Sacrament of Marriage, “God himself created sexuality, which is a marvelous gift to his creatures” (“Amoris Laetitia”, 150) and is meant to be part of a “sexual dimension of marriage”.

In brief, human sexual intercourse is not meant to be a pleasurable animalistic urge of our biology. Rather, God created sexual intercourse to be a part of the sacrament of marriage so that married couples could serve as a reflection of God’s eternal and creative love. In marriage, we are called to make a life-long commitment and the marital embrace is the loving sign of this commitment. This is why the Church teaches that sexual behavior is to only be practiced within marriage between a man and a woman, after a husband and wife have entered the life-long covenant of Holy Matrimony. Also, in marriage we are to be open to cooperating with God in the creation of new life when we engage in the marital embrace, open to the blessings of children which may be a fruit of marital union.

Just think of how things would change if our world recognized sexual behavior as a gift created by God exclusively for a married husband and wife.

VFTV: April 11, 2018

EASTER TIME

Jesus has been raised from the dead, and life has new meaning. During the Easter Season, the Church continues to revel in the astounding fact that Jesus, crucified and buried, was raised from the dead.

The Easter message of the angel at the tomb resounds in our ears: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised.”

In the joy of the Holy Spirit we profess Jesus the Messiah has truly been raised and now, in his glorified humanity, he has opened up the possibility of eternal life for all those who accept the grace of conversion. And so, as St. Athanasius said, “The 50 days from Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday are celebrated in joy and exultation as one feast day, indeed as one great Sunday.”

All throughout the Easter Season the Easter Candle, symbol of the Risen Lord, burns brightly in our sanctuaries. Our prolonged celebration of 50 days might seem odd to some, but for us, this is a time to let the Holy Spirit enliven our hearts to God’s goodness and to deepen our awareness of who we have become through Baptism.

That’s why right away, the Monday after Easter Sunday, the Church gives us St. Peter’s Pentecost proclamation to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem as the first reading at Mass. Peter speaks to them about Jesus of Nazareth who worked many deeds and was delivered up by God’s plan. He tells them that though killed, God raised Jesus, “and has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The people hearing Peter are “cut to the heart” and ask the same question that was asked of John the Baptist: “What are we to do?” Peter tells them, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”

The prophet Joel had foretold that from Mount Zion and Jerusalem, there would be a remnant whom the Lord will summon and to them will be preached the good news. Now we see this prophecy fulfilled as St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, tells us, “about 3,000 persons were added that day.”

During the Easter Season, we celebrate that we too are among those who have been added. As I mentioned in my homily at the Chrism Mass, the Church is both a spotless Bride of Christ as well as a fragile vessel. Some people today find it easier to see the flaws of the Church and so the “task of the evangelist is to lift up the beauty so that its clear why intelligent, well-meaning people would put up with the ugliness, even give their lives to trying to eliminate it, in service of something much greater and more compelling” (Bishop Robert Barron, Mr. John Allen Jr., “To Light a Fire on the Earth, Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age”, p. 52). Our Easter Season celebration does just this. In “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis tells us: today, Christians must “appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.” Our Easter Season celebration does just that. May you know the abiding presence of the Risen Lord this Easter Season and share the good news with others. Jesus Christ is truly risen as he said. Alleluia.

PRIESTS’ DAYS

At the Chrism Mass our priests renewed their commitment to serving you, the faithful of this local church, in priestly ministry. I, as your bishop, then asked those present (and all the faithful) to pray for their priests. I again invite you to do so in a special way as we gather for our annual Spring Priests’ Days, April 16-18, 2018 in Bemidji.

The study, reflection and prayer for this year revolves around the theme: “A Bishop and His Priests Together: Claiming Our Common Sense of Purpose.” Father Ronald Knott, a priest of the Diocese of Louisville and founder of the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at St. Meinrad School of Theology will lead us through the days which will include a look at such things as priestly spirituality, the Holy Spirit’s gift of presbyteral unity, and priests as spiritual leaders. I invite you to keep us in your prayers during these days; that they would be days of enrichment and renewal so that we might serve you all better.

Remember, we all share responsibility for helping and caring for the poor

By Anne Krisnik/Joint Religious Legislative Coalition

Minnesota is ranked the second-best state in the nation (after Iowa). This is according to new overall state rankings by US News and World Report. That ranking is based on more than 75 metrics including economy, education, opportunities, and quality of life.

However, it’s not great for every Minnesotan. Not all Minnesotans have the same opportunities or quality of life.

In 2009, Minnesota released the bi-partisan “Legislative Report from the Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020.” The report set forth specific goals and contained numerous recommendations. 

As we approach 2020, Minnesotans of faith need to take a hard look at our progress in addressing poverty and the commission’s recommendations. The Joint Religious Legislative Coalition – comprised of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims from across the state – has just issued “Poverty in Minnesota:  A Progress Report.”

ADDRESSING THE OPPORTUNITY GAP

More than half a million Minnesotans (including over 160,000 children) live in households below the federal poverty threshold – $20,780 for a family of three. 10 percent of Minnesota households are impacted by hunger.

Many communities have a severe shortage of affordable housing. The rate of homelessness for adults over age 55 increased by eight percent over the past five years. Many Minnesotans face barriers when looking for work: lack of education, mental health issues, addiction, or a criminal conviction. The disparities between white Minnesotans and Minnesotans of color are substantial - in income, home ownership rates and academic success. We can do better.

The Poverty Progress Report addresses areas in which public policy directly impacts poverty. Our laws are a blueprint for our state. There are many approaches to addressing these issues, and elected officials may have different ideas about how to address them. But all elected officials care about Minnesotans living in poverty and want them to be successful.   

Each of us can directly impact policies. Call and email your elected officials. Attend town hall meetings and ask your representatives how they are helping Minnesotans in poverty. Come to the Capitol and meet with them personally. Tell them what you see in your congregation and community. 

OUR CALL

As Catholics, we are called to help the poor and vulnerable. St. James reminds us, “If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,’ without giving them the bare necessities of life, then what good is that?” (Jas 2:15-16)

We know the Lord hears the cry of the poor. We too need to listen.  Many of you are responding to God’s call for help by serving families experiencing homelessness or persons in need of food or clothing.  These are all worthy acts of charity. But can we do more?

In a daily Mass homily, Pope Francis said that politics “is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good.”  In the public arena, we can complement our charitable and philanthropic efforts by also working to promote distributive and social justice.  Our faith challenges us to be advocates for those struggling and on the margins. 

The first step is to become informed. Talk to your neighbors about poverty. Visit a food shelf or emergency shelter and listen to the stories of the people there. Then call your senators, and representatives, and county commissioners. Ask candidates for office what legislation they are pursuing to address poverty.  This Easter season, as we live out our baptism, let us show gratitude for the gifts we have received and remember to use them to help our brothers and sisters.

ACTION ALERT

Encourage Officials to support the Poor

Many Minnesotans struggle with poverty, food insecurity, obtaining a quality education, and securing affordable housing.  Review the Poverty Progress Report at jrlc.org. 

Consult your elected officials about what they are proposing to combat poverty and economic insecurity.  You can find your legislators at www.mncatholic.org by clicking “Take Action” and “Find your legislator” or by going to leg.state.mn.us and clicking on the tab “Who represents me?”

Overcoming gun absolutism

By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference

Five years ago, just after the Sandy Hook massacre, I wrote a highly criticized column on gun control.

The causes of gun violence, I noted in that column, run deeper than easy access to guns, and include a media culture filled with violence, and consumer choices supporting it.

But I denied that we are powerless as a matter of public policy to decrease gun violence. I also reiterated long-held positions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, namely, support for improved background check systems and bans on certain semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Multiple mass killings have transpired since Sandy Hook, most recently in Parkland, Florida, and the wisdom of the bishops’ consistent stance remains clear.

It is past time to put aside gun ideology and come together to protect the right to life.

THE LIMITS OF GUN REGULATION

Most gun regulations proposed in the wake of these tragedies will not significantly decrease gun deaths overall – most of which are suicides, followed secondly by homicides in urban areas. 

Similarly, mass shootings are not primarily about guns. These tragic events, shaped by our violent culture, are often born out of despair. Hurt people hurt people.

If we limit access to guns, in some instances those same persons will find other ways to kill. The needed policy changes and moral renewal are more comprehensive than simply changing gun laws.

Yet, gun policy matters. Common-sense regulations to prevent the most egregious acts of gun violence come with very little cost and may save hundreds of lives per year. 

GETTING BEYOND ABSOLUTISM, FEAR, AND IDEOLOGY

To move forward, the ideologies of gun absolutism need to be abandoned. 

Gun opponents need to recognize that outright gun abolition is unlikely any time soon. The use of effective force in self-defense is a natural right, and the U.S. Constitution protects the use of a gun to do so.   

If the policy goal is protection of human life, then the policy strategy should aim to build common ground and enact, incrementally, sensible laws. A policy strategy motivated instead by an ideological hatred of guns rather than the defense of persons is a political dead end. 

Similarly, gun-rights advocates must recognize that they can either be part of the solution or remain part of the problem.

Much like abortion proponents, the rhetoric of gun-rights advocates often implies that any sensible and humane regulation is an illicit imposition on one’s choice—in this case, choice of weapon. 

Hunters and farmers may prefer the use of AR-15s with bump stocks for recreation or defending livestock. But one must weigh a desire for a faster tool to shoot prairie dogs against the protection of the common good and others’ right to life.

Others claim military-style weapons are necessary to protect against a tyrannical government, the true meaning of the Second Amendment. The likelihood of a “well-regulated,” Minnesota citizen-militia being called up to fight the federal government is essentially zero, and the likelihood that an unsanctioned and unregulated militia effectively doing so is even smaller. 

These arguments against background checks and banning bump stocks are a distraction from real, common-sense reform. 

BECOMING PEOPLE OF PEACE

Gun-rights absolutism often stems from fear and false worldly wisdom that counsels protection while nurturing a culture of death. 

According to the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, there are approximately 350 million guns in circulation in the United States; 113 guns for every 100 persons.  Almost two million children live with unlocked, loaded guns in their home, and one out of three homes with kids has a gun.  In 2014, 2,549 children (age 0 to 19 years) died by gunshots and an additional 13,576 were injured. 

At what cost does our obsession with guns achieve the “protection” we demand? There is a reason Our Lord said that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. 

Though pacifism is a legitimate and noble strain of our Christian tradition, Catholic social teaching is not opposed to gun ownership for hunting or self-defense. In our society, it is a right and should be exercised responsibly. 

But we must ask ourselves as Christians whether an absolutist position in support of gun rights—borne more in fear than faith—is what we want to convey to others. Are we promoting a culture of life and of peace?  Are we working to turn swords into plowshares?  Are we offering a credible witness to our faith as people of peace?

As disciples of the Prince of Peace we must renounce the trafficking, sale, or stockpiling of weapons that have no serious civilian uses, and promote policies ensuring gun ownership promotes public safety and defends life, instead of hastening its destruction.

Jason Adkins is Executive Director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference

I saw Jesus in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, Jerusalem …

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Marriage, Family & Life

As I write this column, I am on a plane returning to the United States after being in the Holy Land on pilgrimage. My wife and I were blessed to join a number of people from our parish, St. Joseph’s in Moorhead, along with a few other pilgrims from North Dakota and Minnesota. We prayed our way through Galilee, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem; to name a few of the places we visited. In case you have not experienced one, a pilgrimage is a time of prayer as one travels to and through a destination of religious significance. A Holy Land Pilgrimage is said to be one “in the footsteps of Jesus,” for we saw where he lived, taught, died and triumphed through his resurrection. In the words of our spiritual director, Msgr. Michael Foltz, a pilgrimage is a time to “grow closer to Jesus” and then, upon our return, we are called to use the pilgrimage experience to draw others closer to the Lord.

This is something I hope to do in this column but not by giving you a day-by-day description of our journey. Rather, I am going to suggest that you too can see Jesus even without going to the places that I listed in the title for this column. When you read the title, were you wondering, “How did you see Jesus?” I am not claiming that I had a miraculous vision and no, thank goodness, there are not people at the holy sites that dress like our Savior so tourists can pay them for a souvenir picture! I did not directly see Jesus but I saw a reflection of him, a reflection of his love.

This reflection of the love of Jesus radiated from the married couples that were on the pilgrimage. The Sacrament of Marriage is meant to be an intimate union of two who become one, united in a communion with God and this communion is meant for a sacred purpose. A part of this sacred purpose is God’s call for all married couples to reflect the love of God to each other and, through their mutual exchange of love, reflect God’s love in the world. I saw so much love between the couples on this pilgrimage - a love centered on Jesus’ love for the world - that I am able to say that I saw a reflection of Jesus Christ while I was in the Holy Land!

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know I have been reviewing Pope Francis’ discourse on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 from his letter “The Joy of Love” and I am up to the passage “Love endures all things.” The couples on our pilgrimage have had such a variety of things which their love was, and is, called to endure. But, no matter what they have to endure, these couples rely on and keep returning to the love of God to sustain them. If couples think that they “only have each other” to deal with all of their challenges and difficulties, they forget that all true love comes from God and as married couples we can rely on God’s love to “endure all things” that we encounter in any marriage.

Married couples should always seek to open married life to the love of God. Praying together and attending Mass as a family are key. Seeking spiritual council from a priest or other spiritual director can also be fruitful. But I hope you can also find loving Christian married couples to be around so that you can spend time with them and witness the love of Jesus through them. My wife and I are blessed to have such a group of friends that not only reflected the love of Jesus Christ throughout our Holy Land pilgrimage, but also have mirrored Jesus’ love in our parish and in each other’s homes in Moorhead for many years.

You do not need to travel to the Holy Land to witness such a testimony to Jesus’ love. I pray that every married couple in the Diocese of Crookston has a group of friends who reflect the love of Jesus Christ and, for that matter, I pray all couples reflect his love to other couples they know. I pray that others see a reflection of Jesus by the way husbands and wives love each other. I pray that all Christian couples in the Diocese of Crookston reflect the love of Jesus to the world so that travelers to our area go home and say: I saw Jesus in Argyle, Dilworth, Frazee, Lake Park, Oklee, Warroad …

 

When it comes to prayer, keeping it simple is key

By AJ Garcia/Office of New Evangelization & Justice

One could say it’s easy to see how to increase our commitment to fasting and almsgiving because we feel it, either in our physical desires and urges or in our bank accounts! That is a good thing, we should feel the effects of our efforts, or recognize the need to increase our effort, and offer our fasting to God to be more closely united with his suffering. However, it can seem unclear how to do this when it comes to prayer. Prayer can seem ambiguous or foreign. This is normal. Personally, I am challenged every year in these areas, not because it’s new, but because my relationship with Jesus changes and grows each year. When prayer becomes something tangible, it can transform us and make a lifelong pursuit of holiness and communion with God seem possible.

The Church teaches us different ways to pray with numerous models (see the lives of the saints) and how to do this practically. I want to share four steps to improve and develop your daily prayer life and spiritual growth.

First, approach prayer as a conversation with God. G. K. Chesterton, a well-known writer and theologian of the early 20th century, said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

I would say that when it comes to prayer, the concept and execution of it is “found difficult and left untried.” Although it may be true, this can be overcome. We understand that it costs us time and effort to develop a relationship with someone, but we can be unwilling to put that same time in to pray, to be in conversation with God. Personally, the biggest obstacle to my prayer is making time for it. I’ve come to the point where I schedule it – yes, I pencil it in to my schedule – otherwise it’s unlikely to happen. There aren’t fireworks every time I stop to pray, but at least I’m giving God the opportunity to set off fireworks! My relationship with the Lord has grown immensely by giving myself the time and space to be in conversation with him. I can be in conversation with God anywhere, but when time is designated for that encounter, the conversation is more rich and meaningful.

Second, simply praise, thank and ask him. At times, I have a hard time coming up with the words to express in prayer or I’m not hearing anything from God. When that happens, I praise him, thank him, and ask him. I praise him by recognizing and acknowledging Him as Lord, Christ, Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, and the list goes on. Choose one and call out to him. I thank him for specific blessings or answered prayers. Finally, I ask him for the needs of my family, as well as for what others have asked me to pray for. It’s amazing what God will do with these simple prayers!

Use Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be aware of and understand what God is calling you to do. Practice “Lectio Divina,” which means divine reading and is a time to read, meditate, pray and contemplate a passage. This is an opportunity to be led by the Holy Spirit, to carefully consider and ask God how He is inviting you to apply a passage or lesson to your life.

Finally, we cannot develop a rich interior life without the Eucharist. Our personal prayer needs to flow from our reception of the Eucharist. We call it the “Celebration of the Liturgy.” Think about that – the celebration. It is not called the execution, obligation, presentation, or recitation of the liturgy, but celebration because we celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We remember his great sacrifice and participate in the mission of the Church in the celebration of the liturgy. We have access to and can receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord in the Eucharist. There is no greater way for one to be in communion with him than by receiving and consuming him. Out of that communion, a robust interior life is developed and more completely nourished. The Eucharist sustains us physically and spiritually and provides us with what we need to be in conversation with God and to witness to those in our lives.