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.

‘We’re gonna win Twins! We’re gonna score!’

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

The best time of the year, yes, Easter and springtime, but in the world of leisure, opening day of the baseball season is upon us! Scripture reminds us God’s favorite sport is baseball. The first three words of the Bible, in the book of Genesis are “In the big inning!” (Genesis 1:1)

I grew up a Twins fan with many memories of working in the field, especially baling hay with dad, listening to the blare of the radio as the play by play of the game drowned out the roar of the tractor and baler!

I was five when the Twins made it to their first World Series, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games in 1965.

For several years we would pack up and head to the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., on my birthday in August. More than once I watched the great Harmon Killebrew smash a home run into the seats. It didn’t get better than that as a kid!

In 1987 I was a priest at St. Joseph’s in Moorhead and had to preside at the Saturday night Mass as game six was taking place in Minneapolis. I will confess I had someone check the score during Communion so I could announce Kent Hrbek’s mighty grand slam sending the series to a seventh game!

In 1991 I was actually at the second game of the series against the Atlanta Braves. What a great experience as Greg Gagne hit a home run and Kent Hrbek “accidentally” pulled a guy off first base who was then called out and saved an inning!

Last year I was at opening day as the Twins beat the Royals to start a season where they made the playoffs.

So many great memories shared with my Dad and siblings. In good years and not so good years it was a pastime we all appreciated.

Yet, the glow of baseball has been tainted a bit. From the cost of bringing a family of four to a game rising to anywhere from $200-$400 (with seats, parking, refreshments, souvenirs) to the salaries made by the players, enjoying America’s pastime and God’s favorite sport isn’t so easy.

Here in Bemidji, we have homeless wandering the streets and those in desperate need of addiction treatment falling into snowbanks and freezing to death. Yet players in a “game” are being paid incredible amounts of money along with owners laughing all the way to the bank.

In the coming year, Mike Trout, a center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels will be making $210,000 a game. Yes, in a single game! That is $23,300 an inning!

Clayton Kershaw, a pitcher for the cross-town rival, Los Angeles Dodgers will be making just over $1,000,000 a game! Yup! At most, he will pitch in 32 games. Let’s say he averages 100 pitches a game (some will be more, some less), that is simple math … $10,000 for each pitch he throws!

Opening day popcorn at Target Field, home of the Twins, was $14 for a large bucket. A burger and fries were $13. A slice of pizza was $6 as was a bottle of water, beer was $9.

Other sports have their issues as well but one cannot help but ask, “What is happening?”

This last year some football players took a knee during the national anthem. All I could think of were the men and women in uniform who defend our nation everyday so those players could play a game and make what they make.

The “it’s all about me” attitude slinking into our culture from all sides is chewing away at our dignity and the poor get poorer while the rich get richer, it seems.

The “it’s all about me” view of life has saturated our politics from the oval office to the newest person serving in a state house of representatives in the smallest state of the union. So much hate, bullying and name calling, all in the desperate grab for power.

Our families and our kids pay the ultimate price in this philosophy of life. Consequences are someone else’s fault and are considered the price of “freedom.” The word “compassion” has been cut from our vocabulary.

In the end, it is hard to watch professional baseball go the way of the other sports. Baseball is God’s sport, no doubt! It involves “sacrifice” (fly ball and bunt). There is help for those in trouble with the “reliever” coming in from the bullpen. The game is played on a precious jewel, a “diamond.” And, greatest of all, the goal of every baseball game ever played is the goal we all share when it comes to life … “to get HOME!”

The Inseparable Link: Pornography and Human Trafficking

By Shawn Peterson/Minnesota Catholic Conference

Every second, people spend $3,075.64 on pornography; every second, 28,258 people view it online; every 39 minutes, a new pornographic video is made in the United States; and every day approximately 11 million teens access some form of pornography.

No matter where or how it is accessed, Americans’ views support a $13 billion industry.

Consuming pornography is often considered a victimless act with no consequences other than to the consumer. But that is wrong. The connections between pornography and sex trafficking are often neglected, or even dismissed. Even more importantly, too few realize pornography itself is a form of sex trafficking.

The insidious influence of pornography changes people into objects; making it easier to dehumanize and lack empathy for other human suffering. This pornography-induced mass desensitization to the suffering of others is akin to an infection of our society.

To fight this infection, we need to purify our hearts, as well as take steps in the public arena to help people understand the social disease of pornography and its effects.

THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF SIN

The Church reminds us pornography is not simply a private matter that impacts only the viewer. Pornography harms others, too.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2354) states: “Pornography … does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.”

What people often miss is that pornography is sex trafficking with the camera turned on. It perpetuates sex trafficking through its creation of debauched “fantasy worlds” that need to be experienced firsthand and with persons who can be discarded when the act is complete.

According to a report by Shared Hope International, an organization that exists to prevent sex trafficking, pornography is the primary gateway to purchasing humans for commercial sex. A survey of 854 women in prostitution in nine different countries makes it clear – pornography is inextricably linked to prostitution. In each surveyed country, almost half of the respondents said traffickers forced them to make pornography while enslaved.

By choosing to consume porn, we “vote with our wallet” to support the continuation of these offenses against human dignity. It is impossible to consider pornography a private affair; it is directly linked to the systematic commodification of human persons, who are victims of both the pornography and sex trafficking industries.

ANTI-PORNOGRAPHY MUST BE THE NEW ANTI-SMOKING CAMPAIGN

In the past few decades, powerful social movements have promoted public health and well-being. Campaigns to ban smoking in public places or to promote recycling each sought to connect our individual choices with how our choices could harm others or the planet.

We must raise the fight against pornography to this level of consciousness. The consequences of its use – failed marriages and broken families, violence against women and children, desensitization to violence and suffering – are too great to ignore.

Purifying our hearts and homes is the first step, for our culture needs witnesses, not just teachers. As the U.S. Bishops say in their pastoral letter, “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” “[t]he Church as a field hospital is called to proclaim the truth of the human person in love, to protect people – especially children – from pornography, and to provide the Lord’s mercy and healing for those wounded by pornography.”

Raising awareness also involves public witness and effective use of public policy. Because pornography is ubiquitous and often protected by courts, making the link between pornography and the public health crisis it has created will require incremental, judicious steps.

One such measure is legislation being proposed this year. Supporting SF 2554 (Benson)/HF 2967 (Lohmer) will help impose additional fines on convicted child pornography offenders, and direct those monies to victims of sex trafficking. It would also direct public officials to further study the connections between pornography and human trafficking.

Understanding the links between pornography and sex trafficking forces all of us to see that pornography is not a victimless act nor a harmless, private activity. It is instead a root cause of human sex trafficking and a major contributor to the commodification of our fellow human beings.

VFTV: March 14, 2018

HOLY WEEK AND EASTER

“O Lord, I will take my place around your altar, singing a song of thanksgiving and proclaiming all your wonders.” (Ps 26)

As our Lenten journey approaches its destination, we look forward to the wonderful liturgical celebrations of Holy Week and Easter. Monday of Holy Week is always special because of the celebration of the Chrism Mass. The Chrism Mass is celebrated at what is called a Stational Mass. A Stational Mass is “a preeminent manifestation of the local Church, present when the bishop as high priest of his flock, celebrates the Eucharist and particularly when he celebrates in the cathedral, surrounded by his college of presbyters and by his ministers, and with the full, active participation of all God’s holy people.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) All are welcome to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Monday, Mar. 26 at 6:30 p.m. for the 2018 Diocese of Crookston Chrism Mass.

If you have never had the joyful experience of joining in the Chrism Mass, I invite you to come this year. Join the representatives from your parish or institution who will come to receive the holy oils which I will bless and consecrate at this unique Mass. I will bless the Oil of the Sick and bless the Oil of Catechumens. I will consecrate the Sacred Chrism. These are the oils used in the sacraments Jesus gave us through which we experience God’s enduring love and saving help. The Chrism Mass is also special for our priests, cooperators with their bishop in the apostolic mission. This Mass is “one of the principal expressions of the fullness of the bishop’s priesthood and signifies the close unity of the priests with him.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) At this Mass each year, our priests recommit themselves to the ministerial priesthood and we pray in a special way for our priests. In so many ways, the Chrism Mass radiates the beauty of who we are, thanks be to Jesus Christ our Savior and brother, and how wonderfully God loves and takes care of us, his children. Consider making the trip to join in this wonderful Mass as part of your Lenten journey.

I hope that you will be able to take part in the beautiful liturgies of the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper; Good Friday, the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord; Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil. In these liturgies we remember in a special way the culminating events of the Lord’s life on earth by which he conquered sin and death and brought salvation to the world. In these liturgies, we “listen with quiet hearts” and meditate on how God “in times past saved his people” and how in the fullness of time he sent his son “as our Redeemer”. We pray that “our God may complete this paschal work of redemption.” (Roman Missal, Instruction opening the Liturgy of the Word, Easter Vigil) We move from hearing Jesus’ words from the cross: “It is accomplished” to the joy of Easter Sunday and hearing our Risen Lord say: “Peace be with you.” Alleluia! The cross of God’s self-giving love in Jesus has become the cross of new life in water and the Holy Spirit. The pain of Good Friday gives way to the joy of Easter Sunday.

What remains, of course, is for each and every person to really receive the gift of salvation Jesus brings. Jesus is always looking for our response to his self-gift of love. He is always looking for our self-gift in return. This involves our turning away from our natural self-involvement and our idols of immediate gratification to live the life of love of God and one another as Jesus taught and lived. “I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) In our world, this kind of love will inevitably involve suffering. It is a dying to self and a rising to a new way of life. Indeed, in Baptism we have died with Christ and come to share divine life. However, it takes a life-time to grow in this new life. And so, Easter is “a calling forth of love to be enacted in our fallen world, where the choice to love is a suffering.”

Alleluia. He is risen! I pray that you have a truly joyous and blessed Easter. May you know the presence of the Risen Lord deep within your heart. May we all come to know – even more – the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, whose power enables us to live lives fully engaged in suffering love; that God’s work of redemption might move to completion until God is all in all.

‘Love believes all things,’ and what a wonderful thing we believe!

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

Imagine a spouse asking her/his beloved, “Do you love me?” It is hard to know what the question means because I have not given any context to it. Is this question being raised within a warm morning embrace where the person posing the question knows how the other will answer but just wants to hear the words from their lips? “Do you love me?” “Of course, I love you, with all of my heart.” In contrast, is the question presented in the context of marital conflict, a context where the one asking the question may not only be uncertain of the answer but also afraid to hear what their beloved will say. “Do you love me?” may be followed by “Not right now” or “Not when you act that way” or the even more crushing line “I am not sure I ever loved you.”

When you fall in love with someone else and they with you, you could say that the bond of love is based on both faith and reason. “How do you know he/she loves you?” you may be asked about your future spouse to which you reply with a list of loving behaviors they do for you and with you. They treat you with respect, they want to spend time with you, and of course they tell you “I love you.” These are all things that can be observed but arriving at the conclusion that someone loves you also is based on something else. It is an experience “in your gut” that tells you “this is the right one.” I know someone who, after the first date he had with his future wife told a mutual friend at the time, “She is not the kind of girl you just date, she is the kind of girl you marry.” Yes, there is a faith dimension to the love spouses have for one another.

Pope Francis talks about this love, the love that is based on both faith and reason, as being based on trust. When he writes about the passage from 1 Corinthians, 13:4-7, “(love) believes all things,” he writes about the great trust that develops between spouses. It is important to keep in mind that this trust is not merely between the husband and wife, but also between the husband, wife, and God. If you are living in a sacramental marriage, remember that God is at the center of the relationship. For those who regularly read this column you have heard me quote the title of a book by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “It Takes Three to Be Married” and the three are husband, wife and God.

Just think if every couple trusted not only each other but also trusted that God was at the center of their marriage. If couples believed this, then every interaction they had would be understood as an interaction that includes God. Can you imagine what would be said (and also what would not be said) if couples, during every interaction, trusted that God was listening – was involved in the conversation. Just think if every couple would trust that they could regularly turn to God to understand the way, the truth and the life God wants them to live as a married couple?

I think of a couple who regularly turned to God in prayer when they had a decision to make or a situation to address. I am not talking about something like “what should we watch on TV tonight,” but most things (such as “what should we do this weekend”) were presented to God in prayer. They would pray together, asking God questions about how they should be spending their time, what to do about their children, and how to allocate their money to name a few. They did not expect to literally hear the voice of God in reply. No, they would go ahead and talk with each other and address the situation as most couples do but they based their conversation on their trust in God’s guidance. Their prayer opened them to follow Jesus in all that they did in their family and marital life. And it worked! Their marriage was happy and their children were loving and respectful and they all became great Catholic adults.

It is so easy for couples to rely solely on the trust they have in each other to work things out. And it is a great thing when couples trust each other so that they see each other as part of a collaborative team. But this column suggests that such couples expand their circle of trust to include God. Trust that God is present in your marriage to guide you and enter into prayer to seek the answer God has for you. Go to Mass, receive Eucharist, experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pray with each other in your home, pray with friends who are married pray by yourself. As a couple ask God, “do you love us?,” and know what the answer will be – YES!

Hope is the virtue of being able to see there is a tomorrow

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

I get a kick out of the fact we are such creatures of habit. Even at Mass, as happened on February 4, the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary time here at St. Philip’s and, I dare say, around the world!

The first reading was from the Book of Job (7:1-4,6-7). Here is part of what was proclaimed from all the ambos around the Catholic world: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? He is a slave who longs for the shade. I have been assigned months of misery and troubled nights have been allotted to me. My days come to an end without hope. I shall not see happiness again.”

No hope is offered in that passage from Job. And yet, as the reader ends the reading and says, “The Word of the Lord,” we all respond wholeheartedly “Thanks be to God!” What? How in the world can we be thankful when what we just heard was nothing to be thankful for? It is like we are saying, “Yes! Lord! Give me drudgery, assign me months of misery and troubled nights! I hope I never see happiness again!” And still we proclaim, “Thanks be to God!” We are a funny people and the Church shows she has a sense of humor.

But, of course, the bigger question here is how do we explain the endless spiral of suffering in the world? What do we say to those among us who echo Job’s words of despair in this day?

In the movie, “The Passion,” when Jesus receives the cross upon which he will die, he sighs and leans into it. Actually, Jesus clings to it with all his remaining strength. At that moment his mother, Mary, finds her way to his side and kneels down beside Jesus. He takes one of his blood soaked hands and raises it to her face and says, “Behold, I make all things new!”

Again … what? In that bloody mess called crucifixion Christ makes all things new?

Yes!

The view from the cross changes everything, as long as you know you are on it! Without knowing, it becomes nothing more than a crucible of pain and needless suffering.

The truth is: In our suffering. In our struggle. In all the things the evil one throws at us, there is an even greater power at work; an invitation from the great God of the universe to trust him.

I continue to be blessed, as a priest, because I am welcomed onto the front lines of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, in the lives of so many over my 32 years of priesthood. I have stood in awe holding hands and passing Kleenex as folks stumble under the burdens of life only to rise again. Those seemingly abandoned in defeat come to rejoice in victory and I am graced to witness it firsthand. This is true not only in the lives of those I serve, but in my own life as well. It is in the mystery of life where Christ stands victorious … and we are at his side!

The crosses which hang in our churches, in our homes, around our necks, on our rear view mirrors and on the end of our Rosaries are not signs of defeat, but awesome testaments to victory!

Job was tempted over and over again to give up. People kept coming to him saying, “Think, Job, you must have done something so terribly wrong that you are being treated this way … punished by God. You’ve lost your family, your farm and all your animals!” Today they would have added, “If your life were a country song you would lose your pickup and your dog to boot!”

It gets to a point where Job is so angry at God he even wrestles with God. It doesn’t go well.

It reminds me of when my nephew went out for wrestling for the first time his senior year of high school. We all thought he was going to go on to be an electrician because by the end of the season he could name every light fixture in every gymnasium for miles around! That is not a good thing in wrestling!

Yet, even as Job was being swallowed up by the deepest darkness where hope could not be found, he was faithful. Over and over again, Job tried to understand God’s ways but, over and over again, placed his trust where it first rested, in God.

In the end, Job wins. In the end he has more cattle, more land, more children, more money, more dogs and more pickup trucks than he ever could have wanted. He was in heaven. Eternal life was and is his!

Hope: knowing the best is yet to come.

I want to close with these words from Pope Francis which explain more clearly what the previous paragraphs I have written were trying to say:

“To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, that does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow.”

VFTV: February 14, 2018

LENT

We had the interesting coincidence this year of Lent beginning on Valentine’s Day. Maybe you celebrated your Valentine on “Fat Tuesday”, with a nice meal, flowers or chocolates. Regardless, I pray you were been able to start Lent in earnest on Ash Wednesday with a day of fasting, abstaining from meat, Mass and being marked with ashes. It was a time for us to again hear and heed the admonitions: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” and “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

These past weeks, we’ve been hearing from the Gospel of Mark at both the weekday and the weekend Masses. Jesus begins his public ministry by joyfully proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” He calls followers, he teaches, he calms a storm, he heals, he casts out demons. While on the way to attend to the seriously ill 12 year old daughter of the synagogue official, a woman who has been sick for 12 years courageously pushes through the crowd thinking “if I can only touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” She does touch them! She is cured! Jesus, realizing that power had gone out from him, asks “Who touched me?” He finds her to let her know that it is her faith that has saved her. Messengers arrive with sad news: the little girl is dead. They say: “Why trouble the teacher any longer?” Jesus encourages faith and upon arriving at the home, raises up the girl. (Mark uses here the same word for raising that will be used for Jesus being raised from the dead.) As the Gospel continues, the crowds continue to bring their sick to Jesus and Mark tells us, they “begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” Tassels? God had told Moses: “Speak to the sons of Israel and tell them to put tassels on the hems of their garments” and the sight of them “will remind you of all the commandments of the Lord. You are to put them into practice then and no longer follow the desires of your heart and your eyes, which have led you to make wanton of yourselves.” (Lev. 15:37-39)

My friends, “the annual observance of Lent is the special season for the ascent to the holy mountain of Easter.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) By our observance of Lent this year, may each of us prepare a beautiful valentine of love to give God at Easter. How? By prayer and penance. Jesus wants us to approach him with our needs and concerns as did the synagogue official. Jesus wants us to have courage to reach out to touch him for healing as did the woman sick for 12 years. Jesus wants us to bother him with what is bothering us. In our prayer, Jesus wants us to tell him where we’re hurting so that he can heal us. In our prayer, Jesus wants us to know how he is taking our hand and raising us up. In Lent, we need to touch the tassel of Jesus’ garment, seeing how we have not kept God’s commandments and commands. We need to take a good look to see how and where the desires of own hearts and our eyes have led us to sin. By works of penance each day of Lent, we show God our disdain and sorrow for sin and ask God’s help to sin no more. And “During Lent, penance should be not only inward and individual but also outward and social, and should be directed toward works of mercy on behalf of our brothers and sisters.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) And during Lent, we need to avail ourselves of the healing sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

We have the interesting coincidence this year of Easter falling on April 1, “April Fools’ Day”. If we are conscientious in responding to God’s gift of grace this Lent; if we exercise discipline in prayer and penance these days of Lent, we will not be an “April Fool” this Easter Day, April 1. We will, instead, know and experience all the more the love of God which prompted God to send us Jesus who suffered and died and rose again that we might be forgiven, healed and raised up to eternal life. And our Easter celebration will truly be a beautiful valentine of love for God.

Love bears all things, it ‘coexists with imperfection’

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

Paul ends his exposition on love in first Corinthians with four phrases, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” In marriage, we know that love is to be patient, kind, not jealous or arrogant, is not to be self-centered, and is to rejoice in the good of the other. These are some of the points covered in the first verses of 1 Corinthians, 13:4-7. And then Paul repeats the “all things” phrases pertaining to love and Pope Francis in “The Joy of Love” covers each in some detail. I will begin this column with one of the final points he makes about “love bears all things.” The Holy Father writes, “Love coexists with imperfection.”

When people marry, they are often able to describe a number of things about their beloved that they adore. I was talking with an engaged couple one time. He told me how his future wife was so caring and considerate, was cute and very attractive, was intelligent and could “figure things out” in a way that impressed him. She in turn was just as laudatory: “He is such a good listener and he sends me cute text messages and he is a bright guy.” They also complimented each other on their faith life – they recognized that the other was a firm believer in Jesus Christ.

In a nice way, I asked this couple a question that went something like this, “And what are the things about the other person that bother you?” Now, don’t think I was being “Doctor Downer” and trying to get this couple into a fight, but like many young couples they were so focused on seeing the positive in the other that they never talked about the negative. Many young couples, and for that matter even married couples who have been together for many years, have difficulty with the “touchy conversation” about things that bother, irritate, or offend. If these conversations happen at all, they tend to occur after one party is “fed up” or “can’t take it any longer” and then people lose their tempers, hurt feelings come out, and the situation is ignored and yet never goes away.

What Paul writes is so true, “love bears all things,” or as Pope Francis summarized, “love coexists with imperfection.” Married people reading this column, don’t you agree? I wish I had a way of knowing what each of you readers are thinking right now – especially those who are married. Are your thoughts something like this? “Oh yes, St. Paul is right, I have to bear many things about my spouse.” Or perhaps you are thinking, “The Holy Father is so right, my love for my spouse exists in spite of her/his imperfections.” or even, “Somehow, I am still able to love them even with her/his many imperfections.” If you are thinking something like this, let me suggest that you are missing the point. When I write to have you reflect on imperfections, I write to have you reflect on your own! What are your imperfections that your spouse has to bear? What are your imperfections that, in spite of these, your spouse still loves you?

One thing I have noticed in couples who have difficulty in working through “touchy conversations” is that one or both parties are unaware of the imperfections they bring to the marriage. They are often only focused on the imperfections of their spouse. They are able to list all sorts of personal weaknesses in their beloved but unable to comment or hear about their own weaknesses, challenges or – to put it bluntly – sin. The Holy Father gives wise advice when he tells couples to limit their judgment and watch what they say about the other’s imperfections. At the same time, in humility, we should recognize our own.

When two people marry, they bring all of their strengths and weaknesses into the relationship. They should strive to grow ever closer to reflecting the love of God in their marriage, which means that they should always strive to grow in holiness. Yet, as Pope Francis writes, “love does not have to be perfect for us to value it.” Your love will be perfected when you are in heaven, with God who is love. While here on earth, as you work to deal with your imperfections to help you become a better husband or a better wife, keep in mind that, “love bears all things.”

The issue of abortion and our neighbors to the north

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

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about abortion at a recent town hall gathering in Hamilton, Ontario. He was asked by an audience member where Trudeau and his government stood on the issue of free speech and where he drew the line.

The question arose because of Canada’s Summer Jobs Program which funds placement of students in non-profit and public-sector jobs. The program requires applicants (students!) to publicly agree with the government on the issue of abortion and gender identity/expression among other things.

Pro-life lawmakers are mounting a legal challenge claiming discrimination against Christians specifically and the violation of religious liberty in general.

Trudeau said, “An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society.”

The right to an abortion, for any reason, is the law of the land in Canada. It has not been a major issue in Canadian elections and the only political party which is staunchly pro-life, the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, has never had a member elected to parliament.

Abortion is considered a basic human right for women in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

When I served in Warroad and Baudette (on the Canadian border), priests from Canada said pressure was building within the government to criminalize the action of priests who spoke out publicly against abortion and/or same sex marriage rights.

And so the cancer of abortion which eats away at the very soul of any society which promotes it continues to grow. There is little chance of Canada electing a pro-life prime minister given the fact a pro-life position is simply not tolerated.

In the United States, we just marked the anniversary of legalized abortion on demand, 45 years to be exact. And in this time, political leaders who once saw abortion for what it is somehow contorted their views and their souls to justify the killing. A prime example was Senator Ted Kennedy who, during his time in the United States Senate, went from being a powerful defender of life to a crusader for abortion on demand. For Kennedy, it meant votes; for the children, it meant death.

I have shared with readers before the following reply Senator Kennedy wrote to a constituent in 1971 on his own personal and political stand on abortion:

“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 must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.

“When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

It is hard to read those words all these years later as Senator Kennedy, soon after writing his reply, changed his mind, and, as I said earlier, became a leading crusader for abortion rights to the day he died.

What changed? The science did not change. The species of the child in the womb did not change. The teaching of the Catholic Church of which the Senator was a member, did not change. Jesus Christ’s opinion did not change.

Canada has a pro-life history which she has long ago abandoned.

Many of our Catholic political leaders, like Senator Ted Kennedy, once pro-life, have gone the way of Canada.

America, over 56 million children have died since that black day in January of 1973. That is more than every man, woman and child in these states: Oregon, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Utah, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, Vermont, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, West Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana.

We are so much better than this, America. We can treat women with respect, support and compassion while at the same time defending the most basic of all human rights … the right to life.

VFTV: January 24, 2018

V ENCUENTRO

Sunday, Jan. 14, I had the delight of celebrating Mass at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Moorhead, with a good number of our Hispanic faithful. We offered thanks for the gift of faith and offered prayers for the success of the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino ministry (V Encuentro) currently in process and growing in the Church in the United States.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ V Encuentro is a process of prayer, consultation and evangelization to discern ways for us to better respond to the ever-growing Hispanic presence in the Church in the United States and to help our Hispanic Catholics strengthen their Catholic Christian identity and respond as missionary disciples for the entire Church. The V Encuentro process is similar to the process followed in development and implementation of The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America held in Orlando last summer. It involves prayer, identification of leaders, diocesan and regional meetings and a national assembly of delegates.

The V Encuentro national event will be held this coming September in Grapevine, Texas, and will involve over 3,000 delegates from the dioceses of the United States, including the Diocese of Crookston.

I thank all who are involved in V Encuentro. Let us pray that this effort, both locally and nationally, will enliven the Church and help us all be intentional disciples and faithful to our mission to joyfully and eagerly share the faith with others to the glory of God and the true good of our neighbors.

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK

Returning from my annual January retreat with the bishops of Region VIII, I was standing in the baggage claim area of the Grand Forks airport waiting to collect my luggage before going outdoors to see if my car would start after sitting a week in very, very cold subzero temperatures. As I stood there, a young girl left her mother’s side and came over and gave me a hug. She looked up and said “You are our bishop. I’m Susie. I’m in the third grade. You visited our school and blessed us. Thank you.” How nice was that!

Each year I look forward to my visits to our Catholic schools. This year the visits begin again during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 28 – Feb. 3. I will visit St. Joseph’s School in Moorhead on Tuesday, Jan. 30; St. Philip’s School in Bemidji on Wednesday, Jan. 31; and be at Sacred Heart School in East Grand Forks, on Friday, February 2.

Since 1974 we have celebrated National Catholic Schools Week, giving special attention to and thanks for Catholic education. The theme for this year’s week is: “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” It highlights the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to our church, our communities and our nation. Our Catholic schools provide a solid, balanced academic curriculum that integrates faith, culture and life. Our Catholic schools have a 99 percent high school graduation rate with 85 percent of these graduates going on to college. I call it “an advantage for life.” Thanks to all the teachers, administrators and staff of our Catholic schools. Thanks to all you parents who sacrifice to give your young people this “advantage for life” that is a Catholic education.

WORLD DAY FOR CONSECRATED LIFE

Each February, we celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life. This year our celebration is February 2 – celebrated in parishes the weekend of February 3-4. In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted this special day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. He attached it to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord/Candlemas Day – the day on which candles are blessed, symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all people. Those consecrated to God by the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience seek to live their Baptismal promises. We are thankful for all who have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to be religious priests, brothers, sisters, hermits or consecrated virgins.

In the Diocese of Crookston, we enjoy the witness and ministry of the Benedictine Sisters, Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Mary of the Presentation and the Priests and Brothers of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. May our young people consider dedicating their lives to God in this wonderful way, as a religious sister, brother or priest.

NATIONAL MARRIAGE WEEK & WORLD MARRIAGE DAY

Someone once said that God gifts a person with a particular vocation because he knows that it’s the best way for that person to serve and the best means for that person to attain heaven. Certainly most of the disciples of Jesus in the world today are called and gifted with the vocation of marriage. Every year, National Marriage Week and World Marriage Day give us an opportunity to thank God for the gift of marriage and pray for all who have been called to this wonderful vocation. This year, National Marriage Week is February 7-14 with World Marriage Day celebrated on Sunday, February 11. Please pray during this week for all married couples. You who have been called to this vocation, thank God in a special way and ask him to continue to bless you as you live it. If you want a boost, take a moment to be enriched by visiting this USCCB sponsored website: ForYourMarrige.org. May God help us all work to build a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and family.

Let’s get this party started: Caucusing for human dignity

By Katherine Cross/Minnesota Catholic Conference

It may not be a presidential election year, but Minnesotans will still vote on governor, the state house of representatives, and two U.S. senate seats. These decisions can potentially shift balances of power on both state and national levels.

Yet, many Americans don’t seem to think either party is making good use of that power. According to the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2017 American Values Survey, less than one-third of Americans say Democratic policies are leading the country in the right direction, and less than a quarter say the same of Republican policies.

These are not encouraging numbers, but instead of decrying the state of politics, as Catholics we are called to action. You can still make a New Year’s resolution to participate in the public arena, first by getting to know your legislators, and secondly, attending your local precinct caucus.

FULFILLING OUR DUTY TO PARTICIPATE IN PUBLIC LIFE

It is our duty to actively participate in public life (CCC 1915). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that while “participation is achieved first of all by taking charge of the areas for which one assumes personal responsibility” (CCC 1914), such as care for the family and faithfulness at work, there are also important steps we can take to influence the public square.

As Catholics, we need to help establish party platforms that promote and defend human dignity. The Second Vatican Council gives us a great starting point to form a platform for human dignity. The teaching document, “Gaudium et Spes,” reminds us, “Whatever is opposed to life itself … whatever insults human dignity … as well as [the treatment of people] as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed.”

Too often, parties and their politicians will focus their efforts on promoting a singular aspect of human dignity, but this narrow vision casts a shadow over the rest of the human person. As Catholics, we must bring the Gospel of Life into these darkened corners, helping our parties and political leaders come to a full recognition and defense of every individual’s innate human dignity.

NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED

You don’t need a long resume of political experience to make an impact. In fact, you’ve already got the job. As a constituent and disciple, it is your job to let your legislators know whether their decisions truly represent you. If legislators never hear from you, they cannot properly do their job.

To be a constituent is no small job, and it may leave you wondering, “Where do I even begin?” Go back to the resolution: get to know your legislators, and attend your party caucus.

Step one: Find out who represents you. Use our “Find your officials” tool (mncatholic.org/actioncenter), but don’t stop there. You can also influence who becomes your legislator and what your party stands for.

Step two: Attend your local precinct caucus the evening of February 6th. During the caucus you get to vote for which candidates the party should endorse, and propose resolutions that can shape the party’s platform. For more details on caucuses, head to mncatholic.org/caucus.

THE POWER OF PRAYER

You may be thinking, party lines are too deeply drawn, there’s no way a conversation with my legislator or my single vote at a caucus can make a difference. If not for the grace of God, you’d be right.

Saint John Paul II reminds us in “Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)” that it is through the light of reason and God’s hidden grace that, “every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can … come to recognize … the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree.”

Therefore, before taking steps one and two, start where everything begins … with God. We must, as faithful citizens, begin in prayer. Pray that Christ’s light of reason and grace enlighten legislators and constituents alike so that we may come to recognize and defend the human dignity of all.

VFTV: January 10, 2018

I hope everyone had a most wonderful and blessed Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Thank you to all who sent me cards and prayers and gifts. There were so many and I thank you all.

Our celebrations came in bunches this year. The Fourth Sunday of Advent and then Christmas the next day; the Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and then the next day, January 1, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God; the Solemnity of the Epiphany on Sunday, January 7, and then on the next day, the Baptism of the Lord.

What a wonderful way to end one year and begin another. We remember the incarnation of the Son of God and the family into which he was born. We celebrate his mother Mary who is also our mother, the mother of God’s family the Church. We celebrate Christ’s first showing forth to the Magi who remind us that Jesus is savior of all the nations and we see him begin his public ministry, a ministry in which he will conquer sin and death and bring eternal life to all who will accept it.

All of these events celebrate hope. Human beings cannot live without hope, we need something to look forward to. As we begin our new year’s journey in Ordinary Time, we look forward to the presence and action of Jesus saving us. In Ordinary Time, “the mystery of Christ himself is honored in all its fullness, especially on Sundays.” (Universal Norms, 43)

Jesus not only shows us the right way to live. Jesus has destroyed the inevitability of sin by sharing his victory with us. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus neutralizes sin’s effects in us by supporting us, guiding us and sweetening our bitterness with unconditional love. May we all know the closeness of Jesus as he visits us and remains with us while we continue our homeward journey this new year.

MARCH FOR LIFE

Every January the national March for Life takes place in Washington, D.C. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the terrible Roe v. Wade decision.

Let us say special prayers this month that respect for life may result in abortion being recognized for the horror it is and be banned in our land and the world over.

We need to continue to do all we can do to end abortion. Although you might not be able to journey to Washington, D.C. for the march, you might consider traveling to our own capital in St. Paul to join in the prayer and witness there, Monday, January 22, beginning at 12 p.m.

PILGRIMAGE

Speaking of journeying, here’s something to consider putting on your calendar. This coming summer, June 27-July 1, we are putting together a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrines and Churches of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A pilgrimage is prayer on the move. The word in Latin is: “manuductio,” which can mean safe passage, but literally is a word formed from two Latin words: “mano,” meaning hand, and “ductio,” meaning to lead. So, literally, a pilgrimage is “being led by the hand” with the purpose of discovering great things.

If you want to do something good for yourself, without having to travel to the Marian shrines in Europe, come join us on this pilgrimage. We will visit a number of places but there are two that I am really looking forward to visiting. The first is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. I have been to this shrine many times and can attest that it is a beautiful and special place.

I am also particularly looking forward to visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here, a wonderful woman by the name of Adele Brise was blessed by appearances of Mary, Queen of Heaven, and miracles followed. In 2010, the Catholic Church officially confirmed the Marian apparitions, and in 2106, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops officially designated this place as a national shrine. I know wonderful things will result from our “being led by the hand” for prayer on the move during the pilgrimage this summer. I hope you will join us.

A new year is here, resolve to rejoice in your family

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

Some people, at the beginning of a new year, take stock of their life – to think about how they spent their time in the previous year and how they are going to change in the new year. And so, before writing this column, I decided to review what I have been writing about in “Praying With the Family.” Last year, for the first column of 2017, I wrote about getting into “spiritual shape” through prayer (by the way, how is that going for you?). Then in May, I began to review Pope Francis’ letter “Amoris Laetitia” or as it is more commonly known “The Joy of Love.” Specifically, I have used nine columns so far to reflect on what the Holy Father wrote in Chapter 4 about 1 Cor. 13:4-7, the “Love is patient, …” passage. I have interrupted the progression of columns on this passage with various other topics due a variety of reasons, but I am making a New Year’s resolution about my column. They say that if you tell others about your resolution you are more likely to carry it out and so I am informing the kind souls who read this column that I will finish the review of Chapter 4 of “The Joy of Love”!

With this resolution in mind, I note that the next verse to be considered is 1 Cor. 13:6, “it (love) does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” Pope Francis ends his reflection on this verse by writing, “The family must always be a place where, when something good happens to one of its members, they know that others will be there to celebrate it with them.” This verse made me think of a family where the children (from their early years into their adult years) were always competitive. They would compete with each other, they would compete in school, later in their work and in other ways with their adult friends. For that matter, their mom and dad were pretty competitive as well and encouraged their children to be competitive. When the family played games with each other, they played to win. There was one game they played that really brought out their competitive juices but what was wonderful about this family was the way they would not just compete with great gusto – but the way they rejoiced with equal gusto. When a brother or sister – or mom or dad – would win they congratulated the winner and celebrated their victory. The same was true for accomplishments in life. Rather than being jealous when their brothers or sisters accomplished something they had not, they would rejoice in the victory/award/recognition that the other received.

To “rejoice in the right” for your family means, in part, that you are excited and happy for them when things go well in their lives. Pope Francis writes, “… we rejoice at the good of others when we see their dignity and value their abilities and good works. This is impossible for those who must always be comparing and competing, even with their spouse [and let me add their siblings], so that they secretly rejoice in their failures.” It is sad to see families where competitiveness leads to bitterness, jealousy, and resentment when a family member has something good happen in their life.

The competitive family that I am writing about in this column would never think to resent the accomplishments of a brother or sister – because at the core of their family is the love of God. They rejoiced in their siblings’ accomplishments because they knew that God rejoices in the genuine happiness of us all. Again, the words of Pope Francis, “When a loving person can do good for others, or see that others are happy, they themselves live happily and in this way give glory to God, for ‘God loves the cheerful giver’ (2 Cor. 9:7).”

If you are accustomed to making New Year’s resolutions, let me present one for your consideration: rejoice in your family. Rejoice in their happiness, in their success, in the way they overcome difficulty, in their victories in life and even during family games. Rejoice in your family and you will live a joy-filled life.

Quotes from the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ to inspire a new year of evangelization

By AJ Garcia/Office of New Evangelization & Justice

Merry (belated) Christmas and Happy New Year! How’s that New Year’s resolution going? It’s not too late to make one if you haven’t yet! My personal spiritual goal for 2018 is to read the entire Bible! If you see me, please ask me how it’s going (I need accountability to stick with this goal!) In this first month of the new year, I invite you to make 2018 one in which you encounter Christ in new ways and in ways that you previously thought to be impossible. Invite and challenge your family members and fellow parishioners to become more fully who God created them to be this year and as we become that person, let’s share that process and experience with others!

In the opening paragraphs of his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”

Encountering Christ is not dependent on one moment, but many moments. Let’s not limit or convince ourselves that there are moments we cannot encounter Christ, or think that we could possibly be “done” encountering him. If we are serious about the Catholic faith and evangelizing, then we must encounter Jesus daily, constantly renewing our relationship with him. At times, making time for Jesus each day may feel like a burden, or even a cross to carry. Let’s shift our thinking to instead see this as an opportunity. If we do this faithfully and joyfully, we will become more fully who God created us to be.

Pope Francis encourages us to allow God to transform and perfect us: “We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” Evangelization is the logical consequence of knowing Jesus! I love the simple question that Pope Francis concludes this thought with, “if we have received the love (of Jesus) which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” He is calling us out of our comfort zones and into a life of mission!

The pope points out that this is what humans are made for. We become who we were meant to be as we grow in intimacy with Jesus and give the love we experience in that relationship away in other relationships in our lives. He says, “When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment. For ‘here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means.” It’s often said that it is better to give than to receive. This concept is something that applies outside of gift-giving at Christmas! When we give of ourselves because Christ gave himself to us, we are doing exactly what we were created to do and in doing so we are missionaries.

Renewing and growing in our relationship with Christ compels us to evangelize. We must trust that the grace of God given to us through a life of prayer and the sacraments is all we need to evangelize with courage, but most of all with joy. I leave you with one final thought from Pope Francis: “May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient, or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”