OK ... you can each open one gift before Christmas

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

When I was a child, our family opened presents on Christmas Eve. My mom would prepare her special Christmas Eve meal, Grandpa and Grandma Krejci would come over with their piles of gifts for the three grandchildren, and when we were very young Santa Claus would always arrive (Yes, the real live deal). Anticipation would build for days leading up to Christmas Eve and in our minds, while we understood that Christmas Day was all about Jesus, Christmas Eve was about presents. I remember our parents telling us why we exchanged gifts on Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus – the gift of Emmanuel to the world – and we did eventually appreciate this as we got older. But I have to admit, to our preschool minds, my brother, sister and I would be thinking about Christmas Eve presents with extreme anticipation. So extreme, in fact, that my mom would always plan on “one gift” we could open the night before Christmas Eve. It was always a small gift but something that would keep us busy on Christmas Eve day.

Well, in this spirit, I am here to tell you that I have a gift for everyone in the Diocese of Crookston and, OK, you can open this gift before Christmas. This is a gift for every married couple and for everyone who thinks they might one day get married. It is a gift that one or both parents can share with their children or grandparents with their grandchildren. What could this gift be? The gift is an increase in the presence of prayer in your family life. Specifically, the gift is a series of YouTube videos that explains how spouses can pray with each other and how parents can pray with their children. The episodes contain brief explanations (3-5 minutes) about how to pray in your home. Over the eight episodes you will be introduced to different ways you can pray with your spouse and with your children and, in addition, linked to each video are prayers that you can use at home.

Some of you may be thinking, “What kind of present is that?! This sounds about as exciting as the pajamas grandma always gave us at Christmas.” Perhaps others are thinking, “What kind of present is that?! We already pray as a family.” If you had the second reaction, then you have already received the real gift – the greater presence of God in your lives. One thing I can suggest to families who already pray is that you might want to look at some of the linked prayers for your use.

If you are wondering, “How is praying with my family a present?” remember that prayer is a conversation with God and what a wonderful thing it would be if every married couple and family spent even as little as one or two minutes together in prayer every day? If you are not praying in your home, I suggest that you watch the first episode and use the attached short prayer to begin a regular prayer routine.

To find this present, CLICK HERE where you will see the list of eight episodes and the corresponding prayers for each episode. If you like the Diocese on Facebook (@DioCrookston) you will also begin to receive notices about the episodes over the next few weeks.

I am often asked “What is something we can do to strengthen our marriage, to become more connected as a family, to keep our kids engaged in the faith?” The common answer to all three questions is to PRAY! And remember, you do not even have to wait until Christmas to open this present. OK, watching me in a video may not be much of a present but that is not what is being given away. No, the priceless treasure that you will unwrap with your prayer is a deeper relationship with God and a stronger presence of God in your family. God yearns for us to open our hearts to his grace, and prayer is a great way to do this. Merry Christmas to one and all, and remember to keep “Praying With the Family.”

VFTV: December 13, 2017

“He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh that I may gain the riches of his divinity… He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me?” (St. Gregory of Nazianzen)

I wish each and all a truly blessed and joyous Christmas!

At Christmas, I can’t help but wonder and marvel at the miracle of birth. Many of you as parents have shared with God the Creator in bringing a new human being to life and have experienced the miracle of birth first hand. The joy and excitement you’ve had of seeing and holding a newborn son or daughter for the first time is an experience like no other I’m sure. Mary and Joseph knew the wonder, the joy and excitement of the miracle of birth. What a birth it was! God becoming man; the Creator becoming the creature; the Word made flesh.

At Christmas, we marvel and wonder at the Incarnation, the miracle of the birth of the Son of God becoming man.

“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave coming in human likeness; and found in human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

The miracle of Jesus’ birth is quite unimaginable for us – but not for God.

“We could never have imagined that the same Lord would become one of us and walk with us, be present with us, present in his Church, present in the Eucharist, present in his word, present in the poor. And this is closeness, the shepherd close to his flock, close to his sheep, whom he knows, one by one.” (Pope Francis)

“The incarnation of the Son of God speaks to us of how important we are to God and of how important God is to us.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

This Christmas, may our hearts overflow with gratitude and joy as we wonder and marvel that God emptied himself and humbled himself to find us when we were lost, to save us from sin and death and open for us the gates of heaven. God redeems through self-emptying love and the world is filled with hope. His grace is at work in us to help us to do the same, to be a gift of self-emptying love so that others might know hope and live life more fully.

‘Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.’

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

Of all the Christmas cards I have ever received, there is one that I keep in my stack of “important stuff” at all times.

The front of the card is a closeup of a manger, filled with hay. A white blanket covers all but the tender feet of an infant. All that can be seen is the hay, the blanket and the pink feet.

God took flesh. God came to be among us and took the most vulnerable form God could: a baby.

Inside the card it reads, “Through a child we can proclaim peace, bring good tidings and declare to the world ‘Our God Reigns!’”

We could all sit and meditate upon that picture for quite some time. It pulls a person in and helps us realize just what God has done, still does, and will continue to do. God took flesh in Christ and Christ takes flesh in us. What an awesome, humbling mystery shared with us by a God of total, unconditional love.

That baby in the manger is the final, great testimony of a God who is determined to convince us of God’s love. God doesn’t need us; God wants us! To be pursued by a God wildly in love with us is what Christmas is all about.

What a risk God takes by gently descending into the womb of a teenage girl in Nazareth. What a risk God takes each time God is pressed into our hand or on our tongue at Holy Communion. To love is to risk. God is the master risk taker! God’s love is relentless! Mary could have said “No!” and we could leave Christ stuffed in a hymnal or spit him out after we receive him at Mass.

What a risk Christmas is!

That manger scene is God’s proclamation to the world that the risk to love is worth taking.

There was no door keeping people out … the barn had no padlock. It was a resting place for the weary traveler; always open, always waiting. So it is with God.

There is a story of a woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable (along with her children asking for everything they saw) the woman made it to the elevator with her kids.

She was feeling what so many feel during this time of year: overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, getting that perfect gift for every single person on the shopping list, making sure we don’t forget anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card.

Finally, the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd gathered inside. She pushed her way in and dragged her two kids in with her who were attached to all the bags of stuff they had purchased. When the doors closed she couldn’t take it anymore and stated, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.”

From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, “Don’t worry, we already crucified him.” For the rest of the trip down, not a sound was heard in the elevator.

May our focus, this Christmas, be on the manger in Bethlehem, on the one with two fragile little bare feet and ten tiny toes. Jesus, the greatest and ultimate gift from God, Emmanuel, has come!

Sadly it seems so very few are waiting or longing to adore him.

Pray that we can clean out the cluttered manger of our own hearts to make room for the Redeemer, the Prince of Peace! We do not want to be the heart that has no room. We do not want to be the heart that is too full of worldly, unimportant chaos and things. May we not force Jesus to go elsewhere.

The humble manger of Bethlehem is not appealing to the world because, in the eyes of the world, it has no glory, no attractions and no luxuries. Amazingly, it is in such a manger that God placed Jesus who, in the words of Mother Teresa: “Wanted the unwanted, washed the wounds of the leper, smiled to the beggar, listened to the drunkard, embraced the little one, led the blind, spoke to the mute, walked with the crippled, befriended the addicted, forgave the prostitute and visited the prisoner.”

Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to serve and not be served. The waves and wind still know his name. Through him, with him and in him, God still stoops down on all fours and washes the feet of us all, sinners though we are.

Christmas is a risky time of year. It is worth the risk when you gaze upon the loveliness of those who gather around your tree instead of obsessing over the stuff under it!

Passing on the plans: The ‘Rogue One’ rebel force needed in the public arena

By Sarah Spangenberg/Minnesota Catholic Conference

As Catholics, we lose a lot of battles in the public arena. Sometimes giving up and opting out appears to be the best option, but it is not. Each of us has a small but crucial role to play in God’s great story of salvation, which often does not look much like earthly victory. The heroes of the most recent Star Wars film, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, bring this dynamic to life on the silver screen and provide a profound image of our duty as Catholics in today’s culture and public arena: to be workers, ministers, and prophets of a future not our own.

THE STANDALONE HERO?

In 1977, the film “A New Hope” ushered in the first Star Wars trilogy, in which we followed the scrappy Luke Skywalker as he fulfilled his destiny to become a Jedi. Much of the plot follows Skywalker in his enterprises, showcasing his courage, his quick wit and resourcefulness, and his skills as a pilot and a fighter. Luke, in many ways, is the hero of the story.  

However, what looked like standalone heroism forty years ago had another thing coming last December with the release of “Rogue One.” The film is a sort of caveat, interrupting the plot of “The Force Awakens” (to be continued in “The Last Jedi,” coming out this month) to give viewers a glimpse into what took place before we met Luke Skywalker. Turns out, a lot of other people had work to do before Luke could shine.

PASSING ON THE PLANS

“Rogue One” follows a ragtag group of Rebels on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, a space station strong enough to obliterate entire planets in one strike. Retrieving those plans, stored in an enemy base on a remote planet, would enable the rebel alliance to destroy the weapon and put an end to its destructive power.

To make it happen, each member of the team has a small but crucial role to play. Just how crucial each man’s part is can be seen most dramatically in one scene in which a line of rebels passes the plans along like a sprinter’s baton as Darth Vader cuts them down. The last man standing just manages to slip them through a closing door before meeting his own end. It’s clear in this moment that if one single actor in this great heist fails to execute – even if his only job was to pass the plans from one man to the next – the plan would have failed.

Their mission is successful; the plans are recovered. Tragically, however, the team does not survive to celebrate their victory; the enemy, realizing its defense has been compromised, makes a last-ditch attempt to stop the rebels by using the Death Star to destroy the planet.

Here’s the point: unless these unsung heroes were willing to do their part, even at the cost of their lives, Luke Skywalker may have remained an anonymous farm boy on Tatooine. His role was no more important than theirs.

PART OF SOMETHING GREATER

Especially in the public square, it often feels like we as Catholics are fighting a losing battle. It is sometimes tempting to think when it comes to our political system, well, it seems like change will never come, so why bother?

We must not forget that the work of public policy and advocacy takes the contribution and commitment of many people. It is the work of many years, sometimes many generations. Each one of us is a link in the chain, necessary because we hold together something much bigger than ourselves.

We are charged with passing the baton of faith, handing down God’s plan. In the words of the Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer, “We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.”

Members of God’s great mission: it is true we may never see the end results. But if we allow this reality to discourage us, then the sacrifices of those who came before us will have been in vain, and the next generation will be left empty-handed. As the culture around us threatens to silence the truth about God and the human person, we must stand as an alliance of cultural rebels, each one playing our small but necessary part in God’s plan.

VFTV: November 15, 2017

Vocations Awareness Week

After Mass with the Sisters of St. Benedict at the Mount on All Saints Day, I was delighted to be asked to join the sisters for lunch. At table with Srs. Shawn Carruth, Kathy Kuchar and Eileen Mohs, our conversation turned to the reasons a young woman might come to join a religious community. I wondered if it was the attraction of joining a community of committed women that prompted them to join. Or maybe it was the desire for a deeply spiritual and fulfilling life. The sisters shared that it certainly could be one or the other or both of those reasons but the example, and maybe the “nudging” of a good sister or a good priest they knew growing up was most helpful.

Again this November, the 5th through the 11th, we celebrated National Vocations Awareness Week. This is a special time for us to hold out the beauty of consecrated life, the ministerial priesthood, and the diaconate. It is a week for special prayer that the response to God’s call to serve in one of these vocations will be accepted courageously and joyfully. It is a particular time to ask God to give us the sisters, brothers, priests and deacons we need to be God’s church here.

God chooses each of us to work with him in a particular way to spread the Gospel message and help grow God’s kingdom in our world. Each of us plays a key role in giving the good witness of our vocation in the ordinary circumstances in which we live. Not only during National Vocations Awareness Week, but throughout the whole year, by our own prayer, witness, and even “nudging”, we help all who are seeking the answer to the question: “To what vocation is God calling me?” Please continue to pray for vocations. 

World Day of the Poor

Pope Francis has called us to observe the very first World Day of the Poor on November 19. On this day, our Holy Father asks that we reflect on the love Jesus demonstrated for the poor and to look at how we are doing in imitating Jesus in love of the poor. We know people and families who lack access to the basic things they need: food, adequate housing, good education, healthcare, or work, etc. The newest census figures tell us that in the United States, an estimated 43 million people are living in poverty. Pope Francis is asking that on this World Day of the Poor, we do some serious praying and reflecting on how we help the poor. He invites us to think about the contrast “between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves.” 

I know that so many in this local church of the Diocese of Crookston are generous in helping the poor. Not only do you support your parishes but you reach out to the poor by generously contributing to the many collections that come each year. There are two particular opportunities this month to give to those who need our help. One such collection is the annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). This collection is being taken up on the World Day of the Poor. Many of the projects supported by CCHD embody the corporal works of mercy. This collection supports the work of groups that empower low-income people to participate in decisions that affect their lives, to be involved in work that helps break the cycle of poverty in their lives. 25% of monies collected in this diocese remain in this diocese to help people here.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, November 25 and 26, we will have our annual St. Mary’s Mission Appeal. I am continually touched by your concern and financial support for the beautiful children of Red Lake Mission. There is no question about it, your generosity continues to provide opportunities to these children that they would never have elsewhere. God bless you.

Happy Thanksgiving Day

I hope your celebration of Thanksgiving Day is truly joyous with family and friends, a warm hearth and a sumptuous dinner. America remembers on Thanksgiving; we remember the courageous spirit of our ancestors who dared to set out for a new land, trusting in God’s abiding care and guidance. They were people of faith and the colonies they founded were communities of faith. They remembered to give thanks to God for the bounty they received and celebrated a Thanksgiving Day meal together with one another and their newfound native friends. At your Thanksgiving Day meal, I invite you to use this prayer of blessing: “O loving Father, your gifts of love are countless and your goodness infinite. We celebrate this Thanksgiving Day with gratitude for your kindness and many blessings. We thank you for the witness and work of the pilgrims who founded this land. In this, our day, we ask for your continued blessing and guidance on America. As we enjoy the fruits of your bounty this day, strengthen our hearts to joyfully reach out to others in love so that all people may share in the good things of time and eternity. We ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Saint Francis has tough words for lawmakers and citizens alike

By Rachel Herbeck/Minnesota Catholic Conference

St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved saint to many, but often a mischaracterized one. Usually shown with animals, the mainstream vision of Francis is tame and gentle. However, St. Francis was an intense and radical preacher, consumed with zeal for the Kingdom of God and intent on relaying the truth to others, including Muslim sultans.

Toward the end of his life, St. Francis wrote a letter to all the rulers and leaders of the people that was not only powerful at the time, but provides us with lessons on how to be better citizens and lawmakers. In the letter, he urges leaders to: not forget the Lord and His commandments or they will be cursed, put aside all cares of the world and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, and to give God praise and thanksgiving or render an account to God on the day of judgement.

St. Francis’ words remind us that, like him, we must enter into the public arena to be of service to our public servants. We must remind them of their obligations and the lofty calling of politics – what Pope Francis called one of the highest forms of charity.

CIVIC LEADERS NEED FRIENDS

For citizens, St. Francis sets an example of a way we can relate to our legislators. He wrote these words because he had genuine care for the people to whom he was writing. He did not see them as far away or above him, but as people with whom he had a responsibility to befriend and call to holiness.

His letter is not a laundry list of policy recommendations. Instead, it reminds leaders of the need to keep the commandments and of the judgment to which they are ultimately subject due to their grave responsibilities.

While it may not be prudent to rush out to remind our legislators about the reality of hell, as St. Francis did, his letter does encourage us to also consider more fully our relationships with legislators. We want to follow the lead of St. Francis and have relationships with our legislators that aren’t utilitarian. As we participate in advocacy, we must not see those in office merely as people who can get us what we want, viewing our interactions with them as solely “transactional.”

Instead, we need to strengthen and encourage those representing us in office. We can be a resource for them in the community, and we can pray for them. We need to remind them why they are doing their jobs, who they represent, and the good that they can do. And then thank them when they do it.

Our support, not just our demands, as constituents can help our legislators make good and right decisions. And though we don’t ask rulers to remind the people to pray, as Francis did, we can ask them to enact policies that uphold human dignity and foster the common good, which creates the conditions for people and communities to flourish.

SERVANTS, NOT MASTERS

For lawmakers, the words of St. Francis are a reminder that they are servants. Servants of the people, but ultimately, servants of God. In a world that is so politically divided and divisive, St. Francis urges lawmakers to remember that ultimate power belongs to God and God alone.

Ultimately, lawmakers and citizens alike can take St. Francis’ words as a challenge to regain a healthy fear of the Lord. St. Francis does not want those in power to forget that while God is a God of perfect love, he is also a God of perfect justice. Pope Francis describes fear of the Lord as “a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur,” an awareness that reminds us that we are “held accountable to the Just Judge.”

Fear of the Lord convicts and pierces our hearts for what is right, because we know of God’s greatness and power as king. As we deal with legislative issues, let us be convicted to think and act with the mind and heart of God. And then, when prudent, offer yourself as a servant to the servants – providing counsel, prayer, and opportunities to deepen their knowledge of and relationship with the broader community so they may act for the common good.

World’s truth given by Jesus Christ, rooted in love

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

As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, we begin “Engagement Season!” Of course it can be an exciting time when love triumphs in a world which seems to deny true, selfless love is even possible.

When the phone calls start coming in to the parish office of couples wanting to set dates and begin the preparation for their big day, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the answer I never want to here. I try to ask the question face-to-face when I first meet with a couple, not over the phone when they call for the appointment.

I don’t think I am alone in this when it comes to my brother priests dreading the moment…the moment after we ask for the correct spelling of their names and then say as I look at the groom or the bride and ask “What is your address?” My heart slumps within me when there is only one address. I fear the couple has been duped by the deception of liars when it comes to the Sacrament of Marriage and the intimate marriage act itself.

As I write, I realize there is no way I can do justice to this topic in one column, but I trust the Holy Spirit will fill in the holes. I humbly ask those who are preparing for marriage to read what I have to say and pray for God’s guidance.

Today, I dare to say 4 out of 5 couples seeking marriage within the Church are now living together before marriage. How did we get here? Some like to blame the priests, “If only you priests would preach about sin and evil we wouldn’t be in this mess!” Where that is true, okay, but be sure such a comment isn’t simply an excuse for failure on the part of others.

I want to ask: Where are the parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family and Catholic friends of those seeking to be married in the Catholic Church? Have they not also heard the truth as to what the Church, in her wisdom, has taught? Don’t they ask “What would Christ think?” and share their concern with their child, grandchild, sibling or friend if they were concerned for their soul?  Have we lost kitchen table morality where our faith and our actions are formed and rooted in the home?

It may seem to make sense on paper that living together before marriage is a wise choice. Why spend money on two different living spaces, for example? Others reduce their love for their beloved to saying “I wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive!” My skin crawls when I hear such a line. To compare a human person to a manufactured chunk of metal with four wheels completely disrespects the dignity of the human person and the gift of our sexuality, the marriage act and the Sacrament of Marriage itself! It is an insult to God, the Creator.

What if I announced I would be presiding at Mass a month before my ordination. I think all Catholics would agree that such a thing cannot happen because I am not yet a priest. A priest can’t do priest things until he is a priest! Well, why is it any different for a couple to publicly show they are doing what a married couple does when they are not a married couple? As a priest, I can’t “just try it out” and take Priesthood for a “test drive.”

Then, of course there is the simple civil reality: the divorce rate is much higher among those who live together before marriage compared to those who do not. A simple fact.

I have had the great privilege of presiding at some deeply moving weddings. Weddings, to be honest, that have made me a better priest.

When the groom is in the front of the church waiting for his bride (whom he has not yet seen that day) and she steps into the main aisle locking her leaking eyes onto his leaking eyes…it is as if time stops and we get a sliver sized peak into the love and joy of heaven.

He looks at her and she looks at him. Guests, family, and priests are nowhere on the radar. The bride and groom simply rejoice in each other while Christ, the Great Priest, smiles.

In that intimate, cherished gaze, they know they are jumping off a cliff and into the strapping arms of the Great Bridegroom of Heaven!

In that cherished gaze, they now see the clear purpose in all they have sacrificed for that moment, for their marriage.

They know with, in and through Christ they have unleashed into the world a love and light no fear or darkness can touch in good times or in bad.

It is in those moments I realize God’s love is unrelenting. Deep within each of us is a longing for that kind of love, try as we may to find it elsewhere, it is only in Christ where it can be found. It is beautiful. As beautiful as the face of Christ himself.

It is hard, as a priest, to walk the fine line of challenging a couple who have no clue why the Church says what it says about dating and marriage. I know my words (even this column) could turn them away or, I pray, invite them to see with the eyes of faith just how great their calling is and how Jesus is there to be their champion.

There still is truth in the world. It is given to us by Jesus Christ and it is rooted in love: selfless, unrelenting, life giving, death defying, unwavering, true LOVE.

“Generous Openness” in Marriage and Family Life: Part II

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

As I continue my reflections on Chapter 4 of Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” you may remember that two columns ago I used the same title as I am for this one but it was called “Part I.” Well, here is the eagerly anticipated Part II! If you are wondering why I use the phrase “eagerly anticipated” you may think that I heard from some readers last month when I interrupted the series on “The Joy of Love” with a column about using the free trial membership of Formed.org for marital and family enrichment. You may be thinking that I used the phrase “eagerly anticipated” because my e-mail inbox was filled with messages from people who could not wait to read Part II. Perhaps, you may be thinking that some readers were even asking me to send them the column early or post it on the diocesan web site or even expressed their displeasure that I waited so long to share the conclusion to the column. Well, no – none of that happened – but I stand by the use of the phrase “eagerly anticipated” because the person who is eagerly anticipating this column is ME! I am eagerly anticipating this column because I get to focus on a wonderful teaching written by Pope St. John Paul II in his magnificent “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World” or “Familiaris Consortio.” If you asked me to share my top 10 non-biblical religious books this one would be at the top of my list.

Recall that, in the Part I column, I shared the pastoral advice of Pope Francis that a day should never end without making peace in the family. Pope St. John Paul II, also with the heart of a pastor, gives advice on how you can create a family that is able to seek and grant forgiveness so that no one goes to bed without peace in the home. St. John Paul tells families that there must be a “generous openness” in each person. He goes on to describe that we need to have a generous openness to “understanding, to forbearance (patience), to pardon, to reconciliation.”

Just think if every family member, every husband and wife, every child and parent, could practice this “generous openness” every day. If every day we would seek to understand each other in our family rather than judge them. If we would be patient with each other rather than expect everyone to do things “the way I want it done.” If we were able to pardon the little things that sometimes we blow out of proportion as well as pardon the big things even though they create sorrow. If we were able to approach each other with a spirit of reconciliation where we both ask for forgiveness as well as freely grant it. Wow – that would be something to see. All families living in this spirit - practicing “generous openness” every day. It would transform the Church and our world. How do we pull this off?

St. John Paul II has the answer to that as well. He writes “…family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice.” From this spirit of sacrifice “generous openness” will come. But when some hear “sacrifice” they think that this is something to be avoided, something that does not sound enjoyable. But not you! Not those who seek to be disciples of Jesus in your marriages and in your families. For you understand that it is through the great sacrifice of Christ on the Cross that we all can experience great joy in heaven. And so, you know that by having a spirit of sacrifice, a spirit which empowers your generous openness, you are able to - with joyful sacrifice - practice understanding, patience, pardon and reconciliation. Oh, what joy we have when we are able to give these gifts to our family. It is the joy we have in loving the members of our family not because of what we get from them, but what we generously give to them. The joy we receive when we give the gift of “generous openness” to our family. 

The transformative power of the Eucharist for evangelization

By AJ Garcia/Office of New Evangelization and Justice

Attending Mass frequently during the week and visiting our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration are moments that provide us with grace, but by choosing to attend and participate are we hoping to be sustained in our faith, or transformed and converted into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ?

There is a close connection between evangelization and the Eucharist. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) the Eucharist is described as the “source and summit of the Christian life” (1324). It is the source for our lives that fuels us to pursue holiness and to be Christian. If we are doing those things separate from the Eucharist, it’s possible we’re doing them separate from Jesus. When I hear “summit,” I think of a mountain, something that people exhaust themselves in order to climb. The summit of the Christian life is heaven. If our goal is the summit - to spend eternal life in heaven - we need a source! We need Jesus; we need Him in the Holy Eucharist. In the Gospel of John, chapter six, Jesus says, “… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

Let’s focus more on the relationship between evangelization and the Eucharist. Evangelization is not proselytizing or the forced teaching/sharing of the faith with the goal of being heard. It is not only for Protestants; many do it well and as Catholics we may look to them as an example, but we must also take action. Evangelization is not the work of professionals only. Priests, religious, parish staff members and all of the baptized have a role in evangelization.

A quote that captures the essence of evangelization from Pope Blessed Paul VI is this: “For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.” Note the word transform and that no one is excluded from benefiting from evangelization. I would add that evangelization is incomplete without the kerygma. The kerygma is a word for proclamation of the Good News and in my experience, evangelization is most effective when - after the kerygma - an invitation is extended to follow Jesus and make Him central in one’s life.

The Eucharist is not a symbol; it is not simply bread and it is not a new sacrifice. It is also, as stated in chapter six of St. John’s Gospel, the bread of life, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Do you find that hard to believe? If so, you aren’t alone! Consider Jesus’ disciples who, in John chapter six, express unbelief in Jesus’ words. The same disciples who left their families, jobs, entire livelihoods to follow Jesus tell Him that it is too hard to accept the teaching that bread (Jesus’ body) could be his body and blood. However, the twelve apostles believed in Jesus. Peter said in response to Jesus when asked about his understanding of Jesus’ words, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

If we, too, are convinced that Jesus Christ is who He says He is - the bread of life that has come down from heaven - and that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood we will not have life within us; if we are convinced of this truth, we must evangelize. It can no longer be an option to share the love and Word of God with others as it has been shared with us. It is through the Eucharist - through Jesus - that we can live the faith and share it.

The next time you attend Mass, consider the love Jesus is sharing with you in his very body and blood and reflect on what Jesus is inviting you to. Consider whether Jesus is offering himself to sustain your relationship with him or to more deeply transform your life with Him.

‘We interrupt this column for a family faith formation announcement …’

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

Let me begin by apologizing for an interruption in the progression of my column. In the previous OND I ended my column by informing the reader that I was leaving you in a “cliffhanger” because I was not able to finish covering the final part of Pope Francis’ review of “(love) is not irritable or resentful.” I was going to use this column to write about the Holy Father’s reference to St. John Paul II’s writing on marriage as a “communion of persons.” I promise to get to that in my next column, but something has come up that is a great opportunity for families to enrich their faith. While there are some more details in the article HERE, I want to write about the opportunity for each home in the Diocese of Crookston to access “Formed.org” between Oct. 19 and Dec. 1. This website contains hundreds of Catholic movies, documentaries, study programs, books and audio lectures that you will be able to access for free. I will use this column to suggest some ways that you and your family could use these resources for faith development in the home. At the end of the column I am also going to offer a special marriage enrichment opportunity for any married couple in the diocese.

In case you are reading this column online and do not have the entire edition of OND in front of you, let me tell you a little more about Formed.org. This website contains full access to over 100 movies and documentaries, 36 study programs, 120 books that you can download and more than 100 lectures and audio books. Among the content is the landmark series “Catholicism” by Bishop Robert Barron (originally aired on PBS, this series of 10 episodes has been described as speaking to the “head, heart and the soul”), the Symbolon series from the Augustine Institute (described as a video catechism for Catholics), a number of movies about saints (the ones about St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe and the documentary on St. Therese of Lisieux are among my favorites), and a number of talks and books that are too numerous to mention. The Augustine Institute, which offers Formed.org, is offering a free trial in the hopes that parishes will subscribe, allowing all parishioners access to the material.

Formed contains a number of resources that speak to marriage and family life. One resource is a set of cartoons that are suitable for children related to Jesus, the saints, and the Church. It would be great for parents and their children to watch these and then talk about the faith. For example “Brother Francis” videos teach about prayer and the “Jesus Stories” present the parables at a level that children can understand.

Another resource is found in the online lectures. There are marriage and family life related talks about parenting, anger and forgiveness, and marital love. One of these talks focuses on people before they get married, “How to save your marriage before meeting your spouse.” There are about 10 books on parenting and a number of books describing the Catholic sacramental approach to marriage as well.

Finally, let me tell you about an online marriage enrichment workshop. I have given many marriage enrichment workshops/retreats around the diocese and I hear that some of you would like more while others have not had the opportunity to attend one of my “praysentations” (we pray together in the midst of me presenting the topic). I am offering a marriage enrichment workshop to the first 20 couples who contact me. You do not even need to leave your home to attend. The workshop will use resources from Formed.org and will also include a weekly call-in session (On Thursday Nov. 2, 9 & 16 between 7:00 – 7:45 pm). Participating couples will watch one or two of the Beloved: Finding Happiness in Marriage – Living Marriage episodes found on Formed.org. Topics such as keeping “Christ at the Center” of your marriage, “Conflict and Communication,” and “Building a Thriving Marriage” are covered in this series. Each video takes about 20 minutes to watch and there is an attached book for the couple to begin conversation. Then, once a week, I will lead the group in prayer, reflection and discussion via a conference call that you can access from your home. If you want to participate, please e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Oct. 29 and I will send you an e-mail with more details.

I hope you have a chance to check out Formed.org. I think this is a great resource for adult continuing education as well as wholesome entertainment for the entire family.

On the last day, Jesus will say, ‘show me your hands’, what will yours look like?

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

A few weeks ago at Mass, we heard one of my favorite pro-life stories from the Gospel of Matthew (15:21-28).

A Canaanite woman pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon. The disciples insist on sending her away claiming she is just a nuisance. Jesus himself remains mute for a moment then seemingly insults her by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Through it all the woman remains steadfast in faith and determination. She will do whatever it takes to bring her daughter relief.

Of course, we know “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say. Jesus sees her faith and cures the woman’s daughter.

At the time there was a great deal going against the mother. First, she was a woman, a second class citizen in the eyes of many; second, she was a Canaanite, an enemy of the Jews of that day.

So, in short, she was rejected by society, treated as a dog, and there was little value to her life. Her voice was not one to be heard, but routinely dismissed.

Jesus took the opportunity to teach a valuable lesson. A desperately needed lesson 2,000 years ago and just as urgently needed today.

The Scriptures suggest the disciples of the Lord never quite got Christ’s message when it came to the dignity of each and every person no matter their heritage, their geographic location or their perceived value to society.

I would suggest we still don’t get it.

To Jesus Christ, every life is sacred and has a purpose and value because every life reflects the beauty of God’s face.

This includes every human life: the life of the Canaanite woman, the Muslim man, the Jewish child, the Hindu Elder, the Buddhist family.

The black, red, brown, yellow or white man, woman or child. Adolph Hitler’s life was sacred, so was Osama bin Laden’s. The ISIS warrior beheading Christians? Sacred.

The person with same sex attraction. The transgender person. The grand leader of the KKK. The woman sitting in the abortion clinic waiting room. The parent who abuses their children by beating or neglect. The politician who chooses opinion polls over her faith. The priest who devastates lives by abusing the innocent. The bully who pushes and pushes till their victim kills himself. The immigrant trying to save the life of his family by running full throttle to the American border. The hate filled person who denies the holocaust ever happened. The driver of the car in front of us who doesn’t have a clue. The democrat who despises the republican and the republican who despises the democrat. The gang who waves the confederate flag and tells African Americans to go back home. The shooter in Las Vegas who erased lives from the face of the earth in his sickness. All are sacred.

Sadly, Jesus came 2,000 years ago to bring freedom but we didn’t want to be free!

On the last day, Jesus will say, “show me your hands.” And when we stretch them out will they be in chains curled into a fist because of hate and anger ... or will they be open with scars of love that are deep and fresh?

Folks, our blood is red. We love. We fail. We struggle. We make bad choices and we make good ones.

Some belong in prison. Some live in their own prison.

Yet, in the end, God is god of all whether we admit it or not, like it or not, preach it or not.

Isn’t it amazing that God has not wiped us out? How tired God must be of us, it seems to me. But who still comes to us each time we step up to the altar or bend a knee? Jesus, the Savior, the Prince of Peace, the King of all creation!

God does not tire. God chases us down, no matter where we live or who we are. God chases us down and loves us to death.

Overdoses, suicides, gun violence and the need for God-talk

By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference

Our society is failing to get to the bottom of the issues. We spend our energy trying to treat the symptoms of social crises, while either ignoring or remaining in denial about the deeper problems in today’s world, which exist first and foremost within the human heart.

Mass shootings, suicides, drug addiction – the litany of crises goes on. We hear about them all the time. Conferences, rallies, and awareness campaigns sprout up at every turn as we seek solutions and meaningful change.

But unless we address these problems with an eye to the whole of the human person – a union of body and soul made for relationship with God and others – that change will not come.

‘DISEASES OF DESPAIR’

For example, a recent column in MinnPost’s health section cited recent statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health showing that drug and alcohol-related mortality and suicide are on the rise. This disturbing trend is attributed to an increase in “diseases of despair,” meaning Minnesotans are suffering from an increasing lack of hope, with grave consequences.

The author of the article identifies unemployment, income inequality, and lack of opportunity as the main sources of this hopelessness. The implied solution, therefore, is to intervene in some way to change these socioeconomic conditions, which have fomented widespread despair.

If people are more economically secure and have more opportunities, the thought goes, their sense of hopelessness will disappear.

Although unemployment or opportunity gaps certainly have some explanatory value in this case, the overall approach of the article is a striking example of what Pope Francis calls the “technocratic paradigm” in action.

THE TECHNOCRATIC PARADIGM

In his most recent encyclical, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis describes the technocratic paradigm as “the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society” (LS 107).

A technocratic approach to social crises, then, is one which reduces them to considerations of science – social or hard sciences – and technology alone.

Put another way, it’s an instance of reducing a complex human problem to simple economics. Hopelessness can allegedly be engineered out of society, if we create the right program or implement the right policy.

Even the term “diseases of despair” is telling. Despair is now considered a disease, and a disease can be treated, for example, by the state health department.

HEALING THE WHOLE OF THE HUMAN PERSON

Of course, we ought to address the difficult problems of mass shootings, substance abuse and suicide, and use all the means at our disposal to combat them. Yet, though this sort of action is necessary, it is not sufficient. It fails to speak to the whole of the human person, which is why we continue to struggle with solutions.

Despair is not like the flu; it reaches deep into the human soul. For this reason, Pope Francis calls technocratic solutions one-dimensional; they address only one aspect of the human person, and often overlook the most important human realities.

THE NEED FOR GOD TALK

Is it any wonder that in an increasingly secular society people do not know for who or what they are made? Without such knowledge, they develop psychoses, or chase things to fill the God-sized hole in their heart, falling into behaviors that are destructive or that lead them into despair.

As Pope Francis puts it: “When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves” (LS 115).

Therefore, we cannot stop at the level of the specifically scientific when it comes to social crises. We must look deeper to the root causes, which lie at the heart of what it means to be human.

It is our duty as Christians to remind people – all people, regardless of belief – that they are made for loving relationships, with God and with others.

Such “God talk” is not inconsistent with a commitment to pluralism or respecting others. It’s instead a reminder to all people about the reality of who the human person is – created by God body and soul, which, as the ancients and our nation’s founders could attest, is a truth that can be known by reason outside the light of faith.

Unless we propose an integrated vision of the person, we will be unable to address fully all of the causes of the social crises around us.

VFTV: October 18, 2017

RESPECT LIFE MONTH

The Respect Life Program, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, started in 1972 and begins anew every October. The entire month is set aside as “Respect Life Month.” This year’s theme is: Do Not be Afraid. Indeed, we cannot be afraid when it comes to fostering respect for life in our country and world. Did you see the news reports about U. S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn’s campaign announcement being removed by Twitter because of her clear and direct message about being pro-life and working to stop the selling of “baby parts”? We need not be timid nor afraid in our efforts to protect life from conception to natural death because Jesus is with us: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) Let us continue to invoke God’s help and the intercession of Mary, our mother, in our work to end abortions and foster respect for all life.

THANK YOU

We are all saddened to hear of so many of our brothers and sisters hurting due to the recent string of natural disasters. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated Puerto Rico and parts of the southern United States. Wild fires in California have ruined homes and acres of land. Lives have been lost. So many have lost their homes. Then there was the terrible incident of the shooting in Las Vegas. Again, so many lost their lives; so many have suffered. It is heartening, however, to see the outpouring of care, help and support. Millions of dollars have been given to help the people in need. Millions of prayers and expressions of support have been offered for those hurting. Here in the Diocese of Crookston, the special collection for the victims of Hurricane Harvey netted over $88,000. Thanks to all who reached out to help those in need. Keep praying for those who are suffering. Contributions are still being accepted for distribution through the USCCB.

BORED AGAIN CATHOLIC?

A grandmother took her little granddaughter to the local Pentecostal Baptist Church service. The little girl had never been there before and was astonished at the exuberance demonstrated by some of the congregation members. As the Scripture passage for the day was read, some of the congregation shouted out “Amen” and others shouted “Hallelujah.” Some even jumped high into the air. Others danced in the aisle. The little girl asked her grandmother: “Is all that jumping into the air important?” The grandmother answered: “Oh no dear, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is what they do when they come down.”

I sometimes think of that story when I hear someone say that the Catholic Mass seems so flat or boring when compared with some of the services in some of the fundamentalist Christian denominations. It does take a little work to understand and appreciate the beauty and depth of the Mass. Yet, if we do the work, “the beauty of the Mass can change not only us but the whole world,” wrote Timothy P. O’Malley in “Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life.”

In a recent column, we began a look at the Mass with the Entrance Rites. We saw how these beginning rites help us understand that we come to Mass because Jesus invites us to come. In the Entrance Rites, we make room for Jesus and one another. We come to Mass not to be entertained but to join with other believers and engage our minds and hearts in worshiping our loving and living God. In the entrance procession, we see in the priest the presence of Christ, the Head of the Church. We see the lighted candles that remind us of the lights of heaven. In the incense, we see an image of the cloud of glory, the Shekinah that was found in the holy of holies of the Temple. The Entrance Antiphon and/or Entrance Song call our attention to God’s presence in history. We mark ourselves with the sign of the cross, identifying ourselves as believing Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ.

The priest kisses the altar. Why? It is the place where the sacrifice of Jesus will become present. No blood will be spilled, but the one sacrifice of Jesus will be made present. Thus the altar is reverenced and also the crucifix as signs of Jesus’ total love-gift to us. Bread and wine will be placed on the altar and with those gifts we will offer ourselves. Sacrifice is about transformation and on this altar bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of

Jesus Christ; in this Eucharist we will be transformed to be more like Christ. The priest offers the greeting which calls us to recognize that God is indeed with us and that his love is already active in us: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship (koinonia=communion) of the Holy Spirit be with you.”

In the Penitential Rite, we acknowledge that we are sinners and that our sin has real effects on our relationships and on our world. Before God and one another, we ask forgiveness and purification that we might more worthily come to worship. In our confessing is also acknowledgment that the God we come to worship is a forgiving God who heals. We next praise this God in the Gloria. We sing the song the angels sang at the birth of Jesus announcing the beginning of God’s reign of peace. Our recognition that God’s glory comes to us is important for our celebration of the Mass. God’s glory is coming to us in our being present with one another, in the proclamation of the Word, in the sacrifice on the altar and in Holy Communion. We sing the Gloria, a song of praise honoring the Trinity. O’Malley writes, “And every time our voices enter into this praise, the glory of God revealed through Jesus Christ becomes present to us once again.” The Entrance Rite is concluded with the Collect prayer offered by the priest. Why the name “Collect”? This is a prayer which collects all the thoughts, hopes, desires, the individual prayers that have been welling up in our hearts that have been taking place in Mass so far. These Collect prayers are some of the oldest and most beautiful prayers in our liturgical history. According to O’Malley, they express our hope and desire that “the way God has acted in the past will inform his action within the present.” In closing, I share this prayer from O’Malley’s book: “O almighty Father, through the sweet speech of your Church, you have formed us to offer praises and prayers to you. Teach your Church to marvel at the gift of your Son for the world and give us faith, hope, and love so that we may become this gift for others. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.”

‘Generous openness’ in marriage and family life: Part I

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

Let me begin this column by taking a step back to consider the subject of my recent (and a number of future) columns. I have been leading readers through Pope Francis’ commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 found in his letter to the Church, “The Joy of Love.” This passage from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth explains what Christian love is meant to be. It is interesting that Paul describes more about what love is not than he does about what love is. If you read the passage, you will see that the first two descriptors of love reflect on what love is. Then he reviews eight things that love is not: jealous, boastful, arrogant, rude, insisting on our own way, irritable, resentful, rejoicing in what is wrong. The passage concludes with a list of five things that love is, so Paul ends on a positive note. It is interesting that when it comes to love, Paul writes more about what it is not than what it is. In “The Joy of Love” Pope Francis often takes the passages concerning what love is not and describes the opposite state; he reflects on what love should be. He does this again when he writes about the passage for today’s column: “it (love) is not irritable or resentful.”

It would be great if every reader, upon seeing what I am going to write about, could rightly think, “this column does not pertain to me because I am never irritable or resentful in my marriage or in my family life!” But, on the chance that you might occasionally be irritable, or you perhaps become resentful once or twice a year, this column contains the answer to the questions: What must I do to never be irritated with my spouse, children or parents? and How can I keep resentment from creeping into my feelings about my family?

These questions reflect some big tasks, so to take these on, I need to use not one, but TWO popes – Pope Francis and Pope St. John Paul II. Pope Francis addresses the challenge of the question “How can I keep resentment from creeping into my family?” with some specific advice. It is written as if he was a parish pastor talking to a husband and wife or with parents and their children. He writes: “My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family,” and he goes on to suggest to do this, “… by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored.”

Pope Francis states that this will work if the family members want to forgive each other. He writes that, “The opposite of resentment is forgiveness, which is rooted in a positive attitude that seeks to understand other people’s weaknesses and to excuse them.” Even though the Holy Father is writing about one of the descriptors about what love is not (love is not resentful), he presents what love should be (love is forgiving) as an antidote for resentment.

It would be great if we were never irritated in the first place because without family irritation there would be no reason for family resentment. How do you keep from being irritated with your family – even when someone does an irritating thing? Pope Francis in the “Joy of Love” quotes Pope St. John Paul II to address this. Pope St. John Paul II often spoke and wrote about the family as a “communion of persons” – an intimate union centered in the love of God. Just think, if all in your family could live as a communion of persons who have God at the center of everything they do, could you ever become irritated with your spouse, your children, your parents?

 

I suppose some are now thinking, “If my spouse/parents/children never did irritating things then I would never be irritated!” But Pope St. John Paul II showed us how to not be irritated even when irritating things happen. What is this good and holy path? How can I follow it? What is this antidote to familial irritation? I am sorry to say that I have lead you to a cliffhanger in this column. St. John Paul’s answer requires its own column, so stay tuned to OND and I will address how to be irritation free in your family.

More lives will be lost because of a single governor’s signature

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

In August, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law a bill requiring all state insurers to provide free abortions to all (citizens or not). According to the law, Oregon insurers must provide 100 percent coverage for abortion without co-pays or deductibles. Those Medicaid beneficiaries who are covered by the state’s single nonprofit Catholic health insurance provider will have their abortion costs reimbursed by the state.

Pro-abortionists throughout the nation rejoiced. The silent scream of the child in the womb goes unheard once again.

It is expected there will be a rise in abortions in the state, especially an increase in late-term abortions which are very expensive and risky to perform. The number of sex selective abortions are bound to increase as well: pregnant with a boy but want a girl, no problem, start over. All abortions will be covered either by the insurance companies or by the taxpayers of Oregon. In short, Planned Parenthood will get its money one way or another.

The director of Planned Parenthood in Oregon applauded the new law saying “Women, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, people of color, immigrants and people of faith are not going to silently stand around while politicians in Washington, D.C. try to take away our health care.”

Did you catch that one line in particular? “People of faith are not going to silently stand around ...” Christ weeps as America shows once again we are no longer a Christian nation when “people of faith” are included in a list of those praising the execution of the guiltless.

Abortion isn’t health care. If it were, why would the doctor performing abortion refuse to show the ultrasound picture used to guide the doctor’s hand as the baby is dissected in the womb? The screen is turned away from the woman so she cannot see the truth. For any other procedure from ingrown toenail surgery to open heart surgery, every possible angle of the procedure is shown and explained to the patient.

However, the deception should not come as a surprise. Abortion is a lie and a dirty little secret Planned Parenthood and others keep from women.

Abortion isn’t health care. Using and abusing women for financial gain and treating women like they can’t handle the truth is an insult to women.

The Oregon bishops released a statement following the passage of the law by the legislature: “By insisting on complete insurance coverage of abortion, including late-term and sex-selective abortions, the legislature shows itself intolerant of widely-held opposing views and will compel thousands of Oregonians to support what their conscience rejects.”

I have stated before and say again, when it comes to the issue of abortion, I do not blame women and men who seek it out. I have met them and their stories are sad and compelling. But, I blame the nation that offers the lie of abortion as an acceptable “solution” to an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

America is the only so called “super power” in the world. We send troops to defend the powerless and defeat the aggressors around the world. We have put people on the moon and are preparing to do the same with Mars. Our technology allows us to extend life, reduce pain, and fix what is broken within our bodies. Yet, America, why cannot we defend the most blameless among us?

We lie to ourselves and each other calling deliberate carnage health care. Health care is about saving lives, not destroying them. We say people have a right to their own bodies and yet there are two bodies involved in abortion. Truth is, when two human beings walk into an abortion mill, only one walks out and the cash register at Planned Parenthood hums with delight.

To justify such an outrage we twist and bend our moral compass, our conscience, to justify horrendous things and abortion, by far, is the most grievous.

Women who feel they have no “choice” but to seek an abortion deserve to know the truth about the life within them. They should be supported in any and every way possible to give birth to their child.

If they are afraid of violence being done to them because of the pregnancy, we need to be there through our laws and courts to protect them. Being pro-life does not simply mean ordering someone to have a baby they do not want. Being pro-life means being there for those in fear and confusion and assuring them of their goodness, the beauty of the life within them and that they are not alone.

From St. Mother Teresa: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love one another, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

VFTV: October 4, 2017

I want to bring you up to date regarding the lawsuit filed against me and the Diocese of Crookston by Mr. Ronald Vasek. You can read my official statement HERE regarding a settlement of the claims raised against me personally, but I want to comment on that statement here. Let me first reiterate what that statement says: the settlement agreement does not constitute any admission of unlawful conduct or wrongdoing on my part. I, your bishop, deny that I forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek to not pursue making allegations against Msgr. Grundhaus. I want you to know that I signed the settlement agreement so we could avoid a long, drawn out legal process and to avoid costly attorney fees. No diocesan funds were used in this settlement agreement; our diocesan insurance provider has covered the claims involved.

It was in 2011 that Mr. Vasek first asked to see me. When I met with him, he told me his story alleging that Msgr. Roger Grundhaus had tried to inappropriately touch him in 1971. I asked if there was anything the diocese could do to help him and he told me no, saying that he was doing fine. I asked if he wanted to make an official, public accusation against Msgr. Grundhaus by contacting our vicar general, who, according to our diocesan policy, is “responsible for receiving all complaints of sexual abuse by a cleric.” Mr. Vasek told me he absolutely did not want to do this as his wife, his son, and his family did not know anything about this past alleged incident and that Msgr. Grundhaus remains a family friend. I told him I would respect his wishes and his right to keep this matter confidential as he asked. I did not pressure Mr. Vasek to remain silent about this matter.

I met a second time with Mr. Vasek about this matter in October 2015. We had been informed by a neighboring diocese that Msgr. Grundhaus’ name would not be included on their list of priests who could do coverage in that diocese because Mr. Vasek had talked to a priest of that diocese about the alleged incident. I wondered if Mr. Vasek, at that time, wanted to make an official accusation/complaint. At the end of our conversation that day, I thought it prudent to have in writing a statement from Mr. Vasek that he still did not want to make an official accusation by contacting our vicar general. I put together a statement for him to sign expressing his free intent and desire not to make an official accusation: “I, Ron Vasek, regarding a trip I was on when I was 16 years old, and on which a priest of the Diocese of Crookston was also participating, clearly and freely state that I have no desire to nor do I make any accusation of sexual impropriety by the priest toward me.” Mr. Vasek signed the statement and dated it: October 21, 2015.

Looking back and knowing what I know now, I believe I would have handled my conversations with Mr. Vasek differently. However, please know that I did not pressure Mr. Vasek to sign this statement or to make any decision with which he was not comfortable.

It has also been reported that I threatened not to ordain Mr. Vasek to be a Permanent Deacon. In fact, I met with Mr. Vasek and his wife in April of this year, and I told Mr. Vasek that I would ordain him. It was Mr. Vasek’s own decision not to be ordained with his class, a decision I only heard about later.

The judge has taken under consideration the motion for dismissal of the remaining counts against the Diocese of Crookston. Again, while we are dealing with this matter, I ask, please pray daily for a fair, just, and timely resolve to this matter. Join me in making each Friday a day of fasting and abstinence from eating meat as a sign that we know our most important sustenance comes from our loving God.

Evangelization, catechesis begin with sharing a relationship

By AJ Garcia/Office of New Evangelization and Justice

Recently I started reading “After Emmaus: Biblical Models for the New Evangelization” by Father Marcel Dumais. I am especially interested with the second chapter titled: Direct Proclamation of the Gospel (The Kerygmatic Model). The book has been thought provoking and has led me to great reflection and I wanted to share some of those reflections here and invite you to reflect on the role of evangelization and catechesis in formal and informal faith formation.

In 2005 in his encyclical, “God is Love,” Pope Benedict shared this thought: “Being Christian is born not of an ethical decision or a lofty ideal, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  Throughout history men and women have made the decision to be Christian and many factors have impacted those decisions. It is helpful today to consider and seek the source of inspiration leading one to make the decision to be a Christian.

We are at a critical moment in the life of our Church, we are bombarded with statistics about how Church attendance is plummeting and of the increased and almost desperate need for priests and religious. However, this shouldn’t cause us to lose hope, Jesus Christ is still Lord and what he did on the Cross should bear a significant impact on how we live each day. Understanding who Jesus is and what he did must go beyond something we know as a historical fact or something we learned in class. Knowing who Jesus is and what he did can be a personal experience with the person of Jesus Christ. Father Dumais wrote, “Christian faith is not, first of all adherence to doctrinal content or moral values. Christian faith is essentially an encounter with someone with whom one develops a relationship and by whom one lets oneself be transformed.”

Adherence to doctrinal content and moral values will become part of relationship, but if that is the primary focus of a religion or relationship, it should be examined and maybe even called to question. If we are going to adhere to doctrine and morals it should be out of a profound love (relationship) for a person: Jesus.

For years it has been the Catholic cultural/parochial norm to catechize (to teach the faith) through faith formation in a parish while very little, if any, happens in the home. This history has led us to where we are now and what I described above – plummeting Church attendance and an increased need for priests and religious. How much of this is a result of catechizing without first evangelizing? Father Dumais wrote: “If there is no initial evangelization, if there is no personal relationship with God living in Jesus Christ, catechesis doesn’t make any sense, since it represents delving deeper into the faith.”

Evangelization that precedes catechesis is what we see the first Christians do in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts Chapter 2, St. Peter preaches, he shares the Kerygma; the reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Then the crowd asks him what they are to do because they’ve become so convicted of the truth and love of Jesus. In verse 38, St. Peter tells them “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 41 tells us that 3,000 people were baptized that day!

From that moment, Acts 2:42 describes what that group of people did going forward: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” Notice that the first item mentioned is the teaching of the apostles, or catechesis. However, this was not until after they were told the great story of Jesus and made the decision to know Jesus and follow him in a personal way.

As we strive to evangelize and share the faith let’s look to the example of Jesus and the apostles and be willing to tell the story of Jesus and invite people to know him and follow him. Only with that as the precedent will catechesis ever make sense or take root in one’s life. Before we share the facts about Jesus, we should simply share who he is and how he has transformed our lives and we will set the world on fire!

The key to the Christian family: generosity in love

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

As I continue to review Chapter 4 of Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love,” specifically his review of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we are at the phrase: “Love does not insist on its own way,” which the Holy Father presents as “Love is generous.”

In this section, he highlights a central teaching of the Church that comes down to us from Jesus that is both very apparent based on the life of Christ and at the same time something that, in our human weakness, is so difficult to pull off. In short, this teaching is that it is greater to love than to be loved, or in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas quoted by Pope Francis, “it is more proper to charity to desire to love than to desire to be loved.” To put it directly in the context of marriage, we are called to love our spouse and our children more than we expect love from them. The more we give away our love, the greater love will be in our marriage and family.

I have known some great examples of this type of selfless love in married couples. While I hope in most marriages both spouses are sharing the love of God with each other, in other marriages the sharing of love is more of a “one-way” street where the one spouse shares the love of God and may get very little affection from the other. One woman I knew was in a marriage where she became a font of God’s love to her children and her husband. She always loved even though she did not receive obvious signs of love in return. It seemed that her husband was so preoccupied with career and hobbies that he was not aware of what she did for him and their family. He was always very appreciative of his wife, but frankly was self-centered in giving his love away. This woman reflected the free and full love of Jesus for the world in her own way. She gave and gave and gave some more to her husband and children without expecting anything in return. If you are reading this and thinking, “She is just being taken advantage of,” or “This is just not fair,” then you are probably thinking like many (perhaps most) do in marriage. For many a sense of “justice” means that if I share my love with my spouse, I should expect some love in return. Yet this woman never complained, never resented, never felt alone. Instead, she felt a true joy in being able to love her family. She was a true saint in her marriage because she was more interested in loving others as Christ loves the Church than in any signs of love or affection she could have received.

And if you are thinking that only women love like this, I know of a man whose wife became ill with a chronic disease and the way he responded was holy. By his own account, before his wife became ill, he was rather self-centered in his marriage. But after her illness he cared for her and the children without expecting (nor receiving) much love in return. His love went way beyond cooking and cleaning to also include being the source of loving comments, gestures, and reflecting an attitude of love in his family. I cannot remember his exact words, but he in private would claim that his wife’s illness, “provided me with the opportunity to love her more than I ever had before.” And the beauty of his love was that he expected nothing in return. At first, sharing self-less love was hard for him to accept but as time went by he realized the joy he received by giving love away; a joy which was so much greater than anything he felt when he received signs of love from his wife.

Both of these examples are people that came to see that the more they gave their love away the greater love became in their marriage. God is love, and the more we share God’s love, the more God’s grace will come into our lives. God’s love for us is not a self-centered love – God does not look for what he can get from us in return for loving us – and so our love in our marriage and our family is not to be a self-centered love. When someone is being generous, they give something away without expecting anything back. We are called to be generous with love, generous even when we receive nothing in return. This is tough to do. We may at times come up short of this wonderful goal but still, strive to do what Pope Francis wrote – strive to be generous with your love.

Armageddon: the playground of the Prince of Peace

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

When we hear the term “Armageddon” we think of the end of the world; the end of the world caused by a nuclear holocaust where the sun is blotted out and every living thing on earth dies.

It is a Greek word mentioned in the Book of Revelation (16:16) and, over the centuries, has become known as the spot where the future (or lack thereof) of the world will be determined.

There actually is a place on earth nicknamed “Armageddon” and, no, it isn’t meal time on Thanksgiving day at my sister’s house! Armageddon is another name for the Jezreel Valley in Israel.

Located in the northern part of what is today Israel, the valley, for many centuries, was a main thoroughfare for travelers and conquering armies heading from Europe/Asia to Africa and vice versa. Archaeology of the area has revealed a glimpse of the many wars fought there.

During the Cold War (1950s-1990s), the beginning of the end of the world was predicted to take place. The armies of the United States would be facing north in defense of Israel and the military might of the Soviet Union would be facing south standing with its Arab allies.

The end result of the standoff would be Armageddon, the nuclear annihilation of the world.

Ironically, Nazareth, the home town of the Child Jesus is perched on the edge of the valley with a magnificent peaceful view of a land where so much blood has been shed. Jesus, the child, would have played marbles, soccer, baseball or hide ‘n seek on the sweeping plain! Jesus, the Prince of Peace, running free in the valley of war and hate.

In reality, the Valley of Armageddon is more than a political battleground, it is a place in each of our souls where spiritual warfare is fought.

We all have an Armageddon within us, things in our lives which seem to be the poison of our souls. It may be a habit, or a resentment, or a hatred of self.

I pray we can allow the child Jesus of Nazareth to wander through our Armageddon and restore our innocence, to be as forgiving as a child is, as Jesus is. Isn’t it true, forgiving ourselves is often much more difficult than forgiving others?!

At each Mass we cry out, “Lord have mercy!” and I often hear in my mind’s ear Jesus replying: “I do have mercy on you! Now have some mercy on yourself!”

On the opposite side of the Valley of Armageddon in Israel is the Mount of the Transfiguration where Jesus conversed with Elijah and Moses, assuring great hope for all of humanity. Hope, trusting that the future is better than the past, is exactly what Jesus brings to our own personal Armageddons.

Jesus, in his Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8) makes it clear Christ’s love for you and his love for me is real, right now, in this moment of your life and mine. God loves us! Enough of our excuses trying to convince God he cannot love us. We may be impressed with our sins but God isn’t. God only cares about loving you and loving me.

Too many of us think we have to get our act together before God will even consider hearing our cries for help. Waiting to come to the Lord until we get our life cleaned up is like waiting to go to the Emergency Room until we stop bleeding! God doesn’t love some future version of ourselves, God loves us in our mess, our Armageddon!

Jesus came into Mary’s womb while we were still sinners. He filled his diaper in the manger of Bethlehem while we were still sinners. He cured the cripple who didn’t even ask to be healed, while we were still sinners.

And, in the end, he hoisted himself on a donkey; to march into Jerusalem; to be filleted in front of the people; to be stapled to a cross with a crown of razor sharp thorns; to be bullied for claiming to be exactly who he was; and to be buried in a common tomb and left for common dead ... all of that while we were still sinners!

The only way the Gospel message of Life will be heard by the world is if we, who do our best to proclaim it, reveal by our lives another way, another truth: that we are saved by God’s mercy, not our perfection. May we soon play in the valley or our own Armageddon’s again ... innocent and free!

Combating racial disparities with the wisdom of Catholic social teaching

 

By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference

Racial disparities continue to persist in American life. As a response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently instituted a new initiative to fight racism in all its forms.

Though racism – irrational animus toward others based on their skin color, ethnicity, or race – is a sin within the human heart and cannot be fully eradicated by public policy, we can work in the public arena to mitigate its effects.

Combating racial disparities will require overcoming policies championed by both the political right and left that entrench established ideological and economic power structures. In other words, it requires the wisdom of Catholic social teaching.

RACISM IS ABOUT EXCLUSION

The effects of racism can be measured many ways, but one way to look at them is the degree to which African Americans and other persons of color are excluded from social, economic, and political participation in American life.

The possibility of participation in the economy, in cultural life, and in politics, is, according to the Church’s social doctrine, a necessary condition for human flourishing. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1959 states, “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”

Laws remain on the books that, while not necessarily discriminatory on their face, disproportionately affect persons of color.

FOSTERING RACIAL JUSTICE

The policies that exacerbate racial disparities and deny social participation today are found primarily, though not exclusively, in three areas: education, criminal justice, and the family.

For example, too many children of color are trapped in underperforming schools and, as a result, there is a significant achievement gap between white students and students of color, particularly African-American and Latino students.

As education is the great ladder of opportunity, denying children the right to a good education puts a significant barrier in their path to social, cultural, political and economic participation.

Kids need a lifeline, and giving families greater choice in education is a top civil rights imperative.

Similarly, kids trapped in failing schools and who lack hope often turn to a life of crime, which is known today as the school-to-prison pipeline. And because of overly punitive sentencing policies that helped politicians win elections, we imprisoned many non-violent people unnecessarily, particularly African-American men, when what they really needed was treatment, counseling, or a job.

Putting more people in prison will certainly limit crime in the short term, but not without other long-term costs.

Fortunately, public officials on both sides of the aisle now recognize these costs and Minnesota has led the way in criminal justice reform during the past few years, enacting policies such as “ban the box” and drug sentencing reform.

But more can be done, such as reconsidering the length of probation sentences imposed on offenders who have shown good character, as well as identifying ways to eliminate the collateral consequences of a conviction that impede access to education, employment, and housing.

Imprisoning large numbers of African-American men during their prime education and earning years has severely harmed their long-term economic prospects, as well as their ability to marry and form families. Many of these men are considered unmarriageable and, as a result, 70 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock to women who are often not even partnered, let alone married.

A major difference in the percentage of white and black children born to married parents (64 to 30) is perhaps the most significant cause of racial disparities, and one that creates a cycle of poverty and exclusion that leads back to the education-to-prison pipeline.

According to the Institute for Family Studies, “Black children in the United States enjoy less family stability than white children, experiencing close to twice as many family transitions – union dissolutions and partnership formations – as white children. Family instability is associated with a host of negative outcomes ranging from asthma to obesity, and from teen pregnancy to substance abuse. It is also negatively linked with fundamental predictors of success in adult life like educational attainment. For these reasons, black children’s family instability is an important part of the U.S. stratification story.”

Similarly, welfare reform was meant to encourage marriage and foster family stability, but is often structured in ways that either do not encourage marriage, or even discourage it. That needs to change.

The data is in: family structure matters to child well-being, and kids need both their mother and father to play an active role in their life.

To be sure, combating racial disparities is a complex and challenging problem. Other issues, such as discrimination in employment and housing, and the creation of barriers to economic mobility by the monopolistic behavior of businesses and industries, also play a role.

 

But to decrease the reality of an economy of exclusion and foster greater social participation by minorities and persons of color, education, criminal justice, and marriage are important places to start.