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Deacon Kyle Eller: What we need most now is mercy — God’s love where we’re hurting

Mercy — both receiving it and granting it — is among the sweetest of human experiences, and of course it is at the very heart of the Gospel.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

The word itself as used in Scripture and in our faith is rich in meaning. We often speak of mercy as a matter of forgiveness of sins, but it is that and more. It’s also the corporal works of mercy, like feeding the hungry and visiting the sick and imprisoned. It’s also the spiritual works of mercy, like counseling the doubtful and comforting those sorrowing and forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.

God’s mercy for us is like this. That one term embraces his forgiveness of our sins and his meeting of our needs and his caring for us in our distress and his loving presence in our lives. The late Bishop Paul Sirba’s beautiful description of mercy — “God’s love where we’re hurting” — is so beautiful because it enfolds that whole reality in the true context, God’s unfathomable love for us meeting our misery.

Psalm 85, as we pray it in the Liturgy of the Hours, speaks of God’s mercy and saving help this way: “Mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced.”

Who doesn’t treasure the experience of this? When I am finally able to forgive some hurt I’ve experienced, when I receive someone’s forgiveness for a wrong I’ve committed, when I am unexpectedly pulled from “another fine mess” I’ve gotten myself into, when some old grudge is brought out into the open and reconciliation begins, when I finally understand someone’s point of view that had eluded me, when I finally feel like I’m understood, when I’m in need and I learn a friend has been praying for me, when I see someone struggling and lend a hand, and in many similar moments, I experience not just freedom and relief from a suffering alleviated but the joy of God’s loving presence. I really feel touched by his love, with all the gratitude and joy that accompanies it.

These last months have, in an intense way, involved human misery in myriad forms. That should be an invitation. Pope St. John Paul II, in his letter on the Christian meaning of suffering, said there is a vast “world” of suffering with both personal and collective meanings, but which calls for solidarity.

“People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering,” he wrote. “Thus, although the world of suffering exists ‘in dispersion,’ at the same time it contains within itself a singular challenge to communion and solidarity.”

In other words, it calls for mercy, for God’s love where we’re hurting.

Sadly, that seems to be the last thing on many minds. Or if there is mercy, it is too often a cheap mercy, a willingness to forgive and excuse and address the suffering of ourselves and those we already love while reserving none for those perceived as enemies.

In some cases, this may be more or less explicit, where reconciliation and forgiveness are directly repudiated as goals. More often, it’s implicit in the way we act, ascribing the worst possible motives to people based on the smallest deviation from the party line, enforced with public denunciation; online and in-person mobs; and personal, social, economic, and sometimes legal shunning.

More and more, people give no quarter, apparently lacking the humility to entertain the possibility they could make a mistake or the imagination to consider how someone might disagree with them in good faith.

This is not new, of course. One of the parables of Jesus I find most haunting is the unmerciful servant, who is forgiven a massive debt but then goes and attacks a fellow servant who owes him a pittance. It’s such an easy trap to fall into.

But it seems to me that, barring a merciful divine intervention, upon which we have no right to presume but for which we may rightly beg, there is no hopeful future for a society that abandons mercy and reconciliation on a broad scale. How can we go on this way?

Be that as it may, among followers of Jesus, who commanded forgiveness and mercy and love of our enemies, it must not be so. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

May our little leaven leaven the whole loaf with the mercy we need — God’s love where we’re hurting.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected].

Why “What are the Bishops Doing About it?” is the Wrong Question

Recently, the bishops of California made a statement regarding the attacks on the statues of St. Junipero Serra in San Francisco, Ventura, and Los Angeles. While acknowledging that there are legitimate concerns about racism both historical and contemporary, we insisted that the characterization of Serra as the moral equivalent of Hitler and the missions he founded as tantamount to death camps is simply unconscionable. I put a link to this statement on my own Word on Fire social media accounts and was gratified to see that many people read it and commented upon it. My purpose in this article is not to examine the specific issues surrounding Padre Serra but rather to respond to a number of remarks in the comboxes that point to what I think is a real failure to understand a key teaching of Vatican II. Over and again, perhaps a hundred times, commentators said some…

Bishop-elect Michel J. Mulloy appointed for Diocese of Duluth

Pope Francis has appointed Father Michel J. Mulloy, from the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, to be the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, it was announced today.

Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy
Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy

Bishop-elect Mulloy was born May 20, 1953, in Mobridge, South Dakota, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1979. He served parishes in both the Sioux Falls and Rapid City dioceses before being incardinated formally in the Rapid City diocese in 1986. He has spent most of his priestly ministry serving in parishes until his appointment full-time as vicar general of the Rapid City Diocese in 2017 and his subsequent election in 2019 as diocesan administrator after Rapid City’s bishop was transfered to another diocese.

Among other roles in the Diocese of Rapid City, Bishop-elect Mulloy has served as vocations director and director of the Office of Worship, as well as serving on the presbyteral council, the College of Consultors, the diocesan finance and pastoral councils, and the Sioux Spiritual Center Board of Directors.

His episcopal ordination and installation have been set for Thursday, Oct. 1.

Bishop-elect Mulloy will succeed the late Bishop Paul Sirba, who died unexpectedly on Dec. 1, 2019.

 

Heart of Jesus, Holy Temple of God

I’ve been reading, recently, a good deal of the work of Dietrich von Hildebrand—perhaps not a household name, but in fact one of the greatest Catholic philosophers of the last century. An inspiration to both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, von Hildebrand was designated by the Nazis themselves as their number one enemy in the 1930s—pretty high praise, that. Hildebrand developed a number path-breaking ideas, including the distinction, foundational for ethics, between the merely subjectively satisfying and the objectively valuable. And he was, perhaps more than any other figure in the twentieth century, the philosopher of the heart. He contended that, though the Western anthropological tradition has placed a great deal of stress on the intellect and the will as spiritual powers, it has, for the most part, ignored or relegated to secondary status the heart, which Hildebrand characterizes as the seat or center of the affective life. Typically,…

Clergy assigments

Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator, has announced the following clergy assignments, effective (unless otherwise noted) July 15, 2020.

Father Peter Muhich, rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Mercy, Duluth, has been named bishop-elect of the Diocese of Rapid City. He will be installed July 9.

Father Paul Strommer, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Mercy, Duluth, to administrator of St. Joseph, Chisholm, and Sacred Heart, Buhl.

Father Anthony Wroblewski, pastor of St. Francis, Brainerd; All Saints, Baxter; and St. Thomas of the Pines, Brainerd, to administrator of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Mercy, Duluth.

Father Ryan Moravitz. pastor of St. Lawrence, Holy Family, and St. Joseph, Duluth, to administrator of St. Francis, Brainerd; All Saints, Baxter; and St. Thomas of the Pines, Brainerd. He remains vocation director.

Father Elias Gieske, pastor of St. Joseph, Crosby; St. Joseph, Deerwood; Holy Family, Hillman; and Our Lady of Fatima, Garrison, to administrator of St. Lawrence, Holy Family, and St. Joseph, Duluth.

Father Anthony Craig, pastor of St. Joseph, Chisholm, and Sacred Heart, Buhl, administrator of St. Joseph, Crosby; St. Joseph, Deerwood; Holy Family, Hillman; and Our Lady of Fatima, Garrison. He remains assistant to the Marriage, Family, and Life Office.

Father Blake Rozier, pastor of Immaculate Heart, Crosslake, and St. Emily, Emily, to administrator of St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, and St. Augustine, Cohasset.

Father Drew Braun, pastor of St. John, Duluth, and St. Joseph, Gnesen, to administrator of Immaculate Heart, Crosslake, and St. Emily, Emily.

Father Seth Gogolin, pastor of St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, and St. Augustine, Cohasset, to administrator of St. John, Duluth, and St. Joseph, Gnesen.

Father Matthew Miller to parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Mercy, Duluth.

Pentecost and the Fires in Our Cities

It is in a way providential that the Feast of Pentecost arrives this year just as our country is going through a convulsive social crisis. For the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate on Pentecost, is a power meant to transform the world, or in the language of Psalm 104, “to renew the face of the earth.” Pentecost, accordingly, is never simply for the Church; it is for the world by means of the Church. One of the principal biblical metaphors for the Spirit is the wind, and indeed, on Pentecost morning, the Apostles heard what sounded like a strong driving wind as the Spirit arrived. But the wind, elusive and unpredictable, is never really known in itself, but only through its effects. On the scriptural reading, the first effect of the Holy Spirit is the formation of an ekklesia (a church), which in turn is designed to transform the…

“Unorthodox” and the Modern Myth of Origins

Unorthodox, a mini-series that debuted on Netflix a few weeks ago, is the story of a young woman who escapes from her oppressive Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and finds freedom with a group of welcoming friends in Berlin. I offer this description with tongue pretty firmly in cheek, because, though it represents a fairly accurate summary of the narrative, it also hints at the oversimplification that makes this admittedly compelling and well-acted drama more than a little problematic. The drama of Unorthodox centers around Esty (played by the astonishing Shira Haas, who deserves every acting award there is), a nineteen-year-old who has spent her entire life within a Hasidic enclave. Her education, her friendships, her marriage, her sense of self—all of it has been thoroughly shaped by the rigorous traditions of her religious community. Her marriage to a young man named Yanky proves to be unhappy, and when, at…

Update from Father Bissonette in light of new executive order

Announcement of a New Executive Order
May 23, 2020

Saturday of the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Dear Faithful and Clergy of the Diocese of Duluth,

I wish to let you know of an important breakthrough in our state that will allow for greater worship opportunities for all people of faith. This breakthrough is consistent with our need, as Catholics, to both protect public health and to gather together to pray. Concern for the common good and concern for the faith lives of believers are concerns that we share.

In a few days, Governor Walz will issue a new executive order that allows faith communities to publicly worship inside using 25% of their church up to 250 people. Public worship outside the church is allowed up to 250 people, as well. This order will take effect beginning Wednesday, May 27.

Governor Walz and his administration hope that when faith communities gather, they will do so consistent with public health guidance. We will endeavor to do this by being mindful of the state’s recommendations as we dovetail them with our own Diocese of Duluth COVID-19 Protocols.

The Catholic bishops of Minnesota believe that the prior rules limiting faith-based gatherings to ten people unreasonably burdened the liberty of the Church to bring Mass and the sacraments to the faithful. Because we believe that the Eucharist is the bread of everlasting life and the source and summit of our faith, we were prepared to move ahead and allow larger Masses without support from public officials. The life of faith was receiving unequal treatment, as allowances were made for other, less essential activities. The new executive order removes that unreasonable burden on the Church and allows us to celebrate and receive the Eucharist.

I would like to express my gratitude to Governor Walz, Lieutenant Governor Flanagan, and the other members of the governor’s administration. I am thankful we could come to a consensus about a reasonable and safe path forward that allows greater numbers of people of faith to safely return to public worship.

The bishops of Minnesota are also grateful for the help of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty which provided sound legal counsel in defense of the liberty of the Church to offer the sacraments, especially in our conversations with the Walz Administration. Thank you also to the law firm Sidley Austin for its work on this matter.

Although we had previously announced that a broader participation in public Mass could begin May 26, we need to move that back one day to May 27. This is to allow the executive order raising the allowed capacity for gatherings to go into effect. We will also make small adjustments to our protocols consistent with the guidance that will be issued by the Minnesota Department of Health. We can be thankful that the removal of the limitations will allow us to have Mass in the Easter season and come together on Sunday, May 31 for the celebration of Pentecost.

Going forward, as a reminder, the bishops of Minnesota have told our pastors and faithful that they should only return to public Mass when they are able to follow the protocols. Parishes should only open when they are able to implement the protocols. Again, if the faithful feel safer at home, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains lifted. We also strongly encourage those over the age of 65 or who are especially vulnerable not to attend for now.

Let me express my gratitude to our priests, their parish staffs and our Diocesan Pastoral Center staff. Our priests have been on the front lines of the pandemic — ministering to the sick in their homes, hospitals, and care facilities.

Finally, let me express my thanks to you, the faithful of the Diocese of Duluth. While unable to receive the Eucharist — the real presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus — for the past two months, you have creatively and patiently found ways to attend Mass online and to learn about and live your faith. You have made spiritual communions, supported your sisters and brothers in need, supported your parish, and stepped-up to help others. I encourage you to continue these efforts on behalf of those who must remain at home while desiring to be with us in church. Their prayers are special graces for us.

Please remember to pray for all those who have lost their lives in this pandemic, for those who grieve them, and for those who are sick and care for them. Also pray for the women and men in the health care field who daily risk their health to take care of our sisters and brothers who are sick. May our prayers also bring a swift end to this pandemic.

May God bless you and your families as we look forward to a return to broader worship until that day when all our people can return to Mass in our churches.

Yours in Christ,

Very Reverend James B. Bissonette
Diocesan Administrator

Statement from Father James Bissonette regarding broader public celebration of Mass

 

Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator, issues the following statement in conjunction with a letter he and the bishops of Minnesota released today regarding broader public celebration of Mass:

It is the teaching of our Catholic faith that we follow just laws and, whenever possible, work in harmony with civil leaders. Out of love of God and love of neighbor, as a church we have supported and responsibly carried out the reasonable restrictions Governor Walz has put in place over these past few months. At the same time, our highest allegiance is to God (Acts 5:29, Mark 12:17). We hold that the Church has a fundamental right according to our teachings and according to the Constitution to offer the worship we owe to God. We believe the worship of God is essential to a fully human and spiritual life. For Catholics, this worship is centered above all in the celebration of the Mass. For the common good, in consultation with experts and public officials, we will take cautious and gradual steps to safely reopen the public celebration of the Mass. As we do this, I ask everyone to continue to pray for and care for all affected by the pandemic. I also ask that we pray for the civil authorities tasked with difficult decisions in these challenging days.

 

“Laudato Si” Athwart Modernity

In preparation for my participation in a USCCB sponsored symposium for the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si, I reread the famous and controversial document with some care. Many of the themes that struck me five years ago stood out again, but on this reading I was particularly impressed by the pope’s sharply critical assessment of modernity. I think it’s fair to say that the Church has had a complex relationship with the modern, coming out strongly against it at the First Vatican Council and in a plethora of statements throughout much of the twentieth century, but affirming many elements of it very enthusiastically at the Second Vatican Council. One has only to consider here Vatican II’s document on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, or of its magisterial document on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, to see the Council’s favorable assessment of many key…