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Father Richard Kunst: Arguing about religion can be a good thing

You may have heard it said that in the history of the human race, religion has been the cause of war more than anything else. Honestly, I do not believe that. As an amateur student of world history, I think land has been the biggest reason for war between peoples.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard
Kunst
Apologetics

Whatever the biggest reason has been, I think we all can agree that religion has been a major cause of conflict, both on an international level and a very personal level. I would guess that every person reading this column has at one point or another been in conflict with another over religion. It happens, and it happens a lot.

From the Christian perspective, we know that conflict over religion was inevitable, because Jesus said it would be so! “Do not suppose that my mission on earth is to spread peace. My mission is to spread, not peace, but division. I have come to set a man at odds with his father, a daughter with her mother, a daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law. In short, to make a man’s enemies those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). Pretty amazing words from the Prince of Peace!

So how do we make sense of this seemingly out of character quote from Jesus?

First I would like to say this: Religious arguments can be a good thing. In fact, I think we need more religious arguments, because religion has become such a private affair, when it should be anything but private. Everyone who knows us should clearly know that we are Catholic. It should be obvious, and if it is not, then we have some work to do.

So how is it that arguments over religion can be a good thing? Let’s look at the basic definition of an argument. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, an argument is “a discussion of different points of view; debate.”

If our faith and religion are among the things we hold most sacred, then we should want to argue about them with people who have a different viewpoint. But what is most central, and what is most important to be aware of, is why would we argue religion?

The very worst reason to argue about religion is to win an argument. If that is your intent when engaging in an argument, then shut your mouth and walk away. The last thing an argument over religion should be is a contest to victory. So if that is what you do, stop. An argument over religion should be a free-flowing sharing of ideas in which we try to offer a logical counterpoint so as to win someone over to Christ.

When Jesus said those words that I quoted above, conflict was not his purpose, but he knew it would happen as a result of his coming. He is the Prince of Peace, and he wants all to accept him, but he also knows that many will reject him, and that will cause conflict. Think of all the conflicts you have had in your life due to your believing in Jesus and the church he founded.

So arguing about religion is a good thing, as long as we do it in charity and with the sole purpose bringing people into relationship with Christ and his church. We should argue religion because we love the person we are arguing with! And if we love that person, that means we will necessarily argue with charity.

One of my closest friends has become Pastor Peter Kowitz of United Lutheran Church in Proctor. Our whole relationship as friends is based on healthy debate and even argumentation. He has been my sparring partner in the Theology Uncapped series held in Duluth every three months for the past couple of years. I bludgeon him in our discussions, but we do it in faith and charity, and the funny thing is that he thinks he bludgeons me! But we have become great friends because of debate and argumentation.

So ask yourself, when you are tempted to get into a religious argument: Will the argument help or hurt your relationship? It is important to know the answer to that question.

The fact is we need more arguments about religion, and if we never had them, where would we be? It is how Christianity spread in the first place! “Paul entered the synagogue, and for three months debated boldly with persuasive arguments about the Kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]

Father Nick Nelson: We must change minds and hearts when it comes to abortion

The month of October is dedicated to the rosary. The month of October is also the month we dedicate to protecting the unborn. The two are related, as the rosary is one of the primary weapons against the evil of abortion.

Father Nicholas Nelson
Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

In just the last year there has been an exponential intensification in the battle between the culture of life and the culture of death. The battle lines between life and death have now been drawn in such a way that there is no masking the difference between the sides.

As many as twelve states have passed abortion restrictions in the past year. Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi made it illegal to perform an abortion after the detection of a heartbeat. And Alabama went all the way, making it illegal to perform any abortion.

On the other hand, Illinois, Vermont, New York, and Rhode Island all enacted laws loosening abortion restrictions. Some are as extreme as making abortion legal until birth and even allowing babies to die if they survived an abortion and were born alive — in other words, legalizing infanticide.

In this current climate, it is necessary to pray, but it is also necessary to change minds, which will also lead to a change of heart. We must change hearts by changing minds. I’d like to take this month’s column to speak on the various issues and arguments surrounding the right to life.

Every human being has dignity, not just value or worth. Dignity is of infinite value or worth. It is not quantifiable. We can’t speak of one person having more human dignity than another. Infinity is not less or more than other infinities. You can’t say a fetus has less human dignity than a neurosurgeon.

We are naturally pro-life. Try explaining to a child what abortion is. You can say, “Well, honey, when a mommy and daddy don’t want the baby in the mommy’s belly, they will take it out and not let the baby live.” The child will respond with something like, “But why would they do that?” The children naturally reject the disorder and senselessness of abortion.

Roe v Wade was decided on several kinds of faulty reasoning. One is that they argued that because the unborn weren’t explicitly written in the Constitution, they therefore were not protected by the Constitution. That is the same argument that was used to defend the enslavement of African Americans. They argued that because Africans were not explicitly named in the Constitution, they didn’t deserve the protection of it. But that is like saying that because “35-year-old priests who enjoy playing hockey and golf and reading the lives of the saints” isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, I shouldn’t get the rights that the Constitution provides.

We only question someone’s personhood when we want to harm them. Nazis questioned the personhood of the Jews and gypsies and those with disabilities. Pro-slavery people questioned the personhood of African Americans. And no one questions the personhood of a wanted pregnancy, it’s only when it is unwanted or undesired. When we desire to harm them, that is when we question their personhood.

Safe, legal, and rare? Well, for who? Abortion advocates will say, “We don’t want ‘back alley abortions’ because that is unsafe for the woman.” Besides the fact that abortion clinics are notorious for lacking basic health standards and abortion always harms the woman in many ways, abortion is never safe for the baby. That’s like saying, “We need to make it legal and easier and more convenient for a bigger person to beat up a small person. We want the bigger person to be kept safe.”

“My body, my choice” is a common argument for abortion. First, a right is only a right if you apply it to everyone. It can’t be a right for me and not for you. So “my body, my choice” is my right. Well, what about the baby’s body? It’s the baby’s body, and therefore the baby gets his choice. Also, for the woman, it isn’t just your body. How many bodies do you know that have two heads, four legs, two hearts, etc.?

What about when the life of the mother in danger? Direct intentional abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother. There are times when a certain procedure is done to save the mother (such as chemotherapy or the removal of part of the fallopian tube due to an ectopic pregnancy), and as an unintended consequence, the baby dies. This is unfortunately part of the brokenness of the world, but is morally acceptable.

During this Right to Life month, let’s pray for the changing of minds and a changing of hearts within our country. Let’s continue build a culture of life in whatever sphere of influence we have.

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]

Father Michael Schmitz: How can ‘curiosity’ be a bad thing?

I have heard that curiosity can be considered a vice. That doesn’t make any sense to me. The advances of science, technology, and social reforms wouldn’t have happened if people had suppressed their natural desire to venture into the unknown and ask questions that challenged the status quo. It seems more like an intimidation tactic on the part of institutions.

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a fantastic question. I am grateful that you mentioned how odd (and even seemingly evil) it is to call curiosity a potential vice. I had read an article that described curiosity as the “virtue” that “oppressive states fear.” Free-thinkers and those who truly make progress in this world are the ones who are constantly feeding their insatiable curiosity, aren’t they?

Some people have such a negative view of Christians and of the Catholic Church that they would maintain that defining curiosity negatively is merely another way the church wants to control how and what people think. But that would be to completely ignore the very foundations of Christianity. As Catholics, we believe that God is Truth Himself. Jesus said, “I … am the Truth ….” In John’s Gospel, God is revealed as the “Word (Logos or “Reason”) made flesh.” This reality has not only guided the church’s approach to faith but also paved the way for scientific inquiry and study in the first place.

With the worldview of Catholic Christianity, philosophy and the arts flourished. Inquiry into meaning and the way things work was given a solid setting for the pursuit of truth. In fact, despite what some people might say, the church not only developed modern science but actively led the way and continues to make contributions in virtually every scientific domain. The church is not opposed to asking questions, or the fact that we, as human beings “want to know.”

But if that is the case, then why be down on curiosity?

In order to understand the classic assessment of curiosity as a vice (and not a virtue), we have to understand the term and what it means. For most of us, curiosity is simply “wanting to know.” It is the desire to know the story or to know the details; it is the desire to know the truth. Now, St. Thomas Aquinas (a great mind who pursued truth his entire life) wrote that knowledge in and of itself is a good. Where we can get into trouble is with regard to the method and motivation the undergirds the pursuit of that knowledge.

In that sense, curiosity is at least as “morally neutral” as the Internet. We know that the Internet can be a powerful tool for good, and that it can be a powerful tool for harm. In and of itself, it is neither good nor bad. How one uses the Internet is often the determining factor when it comes to the moral question. In particular, when it comes to the Internet, it can direct a person toward knowledge, freedom, and ultimately wisdom, or it can rob a person of sense, enslave them, and make them foolish.

There could be any number of ways to misuse curiosity. St. Thomas Aquinas names a few. There is the desire for knowledge that isn’t my business (gossip). In these cases, we all know how curiosity can poison our conversations and relationships. A couple of teachers gather together and begin talking about a student in order to help him or her, but then the conversation steers away from what is genuinely helpful and begins to focus on details that help no one. And yet, the desire to know these details drives the conversations so frequently that the content of relationships in the teachers’ lounge centers around the next piece of information.

There is the desire for knowledge that arises out of a sense of pride and wanting to “one up” those around me. This could be connected to the desire for knowledge that is beyond me, but is motivated by the desire to appear more intelligent than I am. We have all known people like this, and we have often been people like this. We don’t necessarily know a subject through and through, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have an opinion about it! Aquinas mentioned those monks (his particular context) who would venture into parts of the monastic library where complicated and sophisticated tomes were kept so fellow monks would take note of what they were reading. These monks didn’t necessarily desire to know a topic through and through, but wanted to gather enough information to appear to be wise.

We could also desire to know (and be so driven by this desire) that it becomes the end. St. Thomas noted that people who hand themselves over to unchecked curiosity could lose sight of the ultimate goal of any pursuit of truth: God himself. All truth has God as its source and God as its proper end. But some make the acquisition of knowledge to be the goal. Aquinas notes that, in doing this, they are missing the entire point of study.

And this is where it helps to define our terms. Curiosity, as St. Thomas understood it, was the vice that opposed the virtue of “studiousness.” While curiosity might be loosely defined as I’ve used it (“the desire to know”), studiousness is defined as “knowledge pursued well.”

Take a look at your own life. How often has the “desire to know” gotten in the way of what you were supposed to be doing? How often have we all put the more important task of the moment aside in order to satisfy our curiosity? This is why terms like “clickbait” and “YouTube rabbit trail” exist. We have a natural inclination to “want to know,” but we also have a difficult time governing that impulse.

This is one of the reasons why spiritual writers would talk about the ways in which Christians need to be “temperate” in their pursuit of knowledge. Think of this in terms of food. Food is a good. But I could use this good in a bad way, so I must be temperate in my approach to food. From ordering a certain kind of food because I believe that it will make others think well of me (vanity), to eating far more than my body needs (gluttony), to being unable to enjoy what I am currently eating because I want to go back up to the buffet and try “the next thing” (dissatisfaction).

I mentioned before that some influential people have been described as having an “insatiable curiosity.” This might be so. But they placed that desire for knowledge (a certain kind of curiosity) at the service of studiousness. They pursued knowledge well.

We all have the desire to know. It would serve us well if we were better able to identify the fact that there are things that we don’t need to know and things that we do not have a right to know, regardless of how enticing they may be. We have the desire to be informed, but it would be good for us to be able to put our primary duties ahead of the curiosities that vie for our attention and time. We want to become wise, but wisdom includes knowing what is worth knowing and knowing what can remain unknown.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Dallas’ Bishop Burns says forgiveness in court was act of Christian love

By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service

A Dallas bishop said that the public forgiveness offered by the brother of a murder victim toward the person who killed him was “an incredible example of Christian love.”

Brandt Jean
Brandt Jean, the younger brother of murder victim Botham Jean, hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to Guyger at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas following her Oct. 2 sentencing to 10 years in prison for murdering Botham. (CNS photo/Tom Fox pool via Reuters)

Bishop Edward J. Burns, who heads of the Diocese of Dallas, offered the statement after 18-year-old Brandt Jean forgave former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in court, as he read his victim impact statement Oct. 2. He also asked and was granted permission by the court to give her a hug, even though she fatally shot his 26-year-old brother, Botham Jean, in his apartment last year.

Guyger said she believed he was a burglar, but she was the one who entered his apartment without permission and later said she believed she was entering her own apartment.

Guyger was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years.

“I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you,” Brandt Jean told her in a video widely viewed and praised and in which the young man asked her to give her life over to Christ.

“I pray we can all follow the example of this outstanding young man. Let us pray for peace in our community and around the world,” Bishop Burns said in the statement.

However, some were upset that Guyger wasn’t given a harsher sentence and protested what they viewed as a light sentence.

Allison Jean, the victim’s mother, said she hoped Guyger would use the time in prison to reflect on her actions.

Bishop Paul Sirba: Help make our Church a beacon of light in the darkness

It is difficult to return to realities that are painful. We want relief and resolution. We don’t like pain or suffering. The expression “no pain no gain” may be a helpful sports mantra, but not so much when we are facing what seems insurmountable.

Bishop Paul Sirba

Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

Our Church, universally and locally, has been dealing with the effects of the clergy sexual abuse crisis for years. It became more intense for us when our Diocese declared bankruptcy almost four years ago on Dec. 7, 2015. Our efforts have always been focused on helping and healing for victims and their families, to bring about justice, repair scandal, and restore what has been damaged.

Resolution and sacrifice involves the whole local Church. I am grateful for the abuse survivors who have come forward to tell their stories. They have been courageous.

This month of October stands to be a very important chapter in the resolution of our bankruptcy. On Oct. 21, in Duluth, we will meet with Judge Robert Kressel, United States Bankruptcy Judge, and the Unsecured Creditors Committee, which represents survivors in the bankruptcy process, to offer a renewed apology for sins and crimes committed against them when they were children. I will apologize to victims and pledge to continue to make our churches, schools, and religious education programs the safest places for our young people to be. They will also receive a financial settlement.

Pursuit of justice at times has been painful, complicated, and long-suffering, but we hope in some measure that it has been achieved.

This is the work of our lifetime. The collateral damage includes not only victims but their families, relations, families of accused priests and the priests who have been credibly accused, and all of the rest of the Body of Christ. For when “one member suffers all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Ongoing work includes reconciliation and healing through prayer, sacrifice, and the grace of God. In all of this Jesus saves. We can make no progress in addressing these issues without Jesus. He alone heals. He alone can bring peace. Jesus is the only one to teach and help us make any sense out of redemptive suffering.

I have a few things to ask of all of you. Help make our Church a beacon of light to shine in the darkness. Please pray during this month for a merciful and just resolution to this process. The month of October is the month of the Rosary. Please offer your rosaries for victims who have been hurt by the sin of clergy sexual abuse. Please find in your heart to pray for all involved. Please pray for all those who are advising me and for me. Though you yourself may never have had to face this issue personally, know that so many others have been hurt and need to feel the healing touch of God.

I have great hope in the midst of the darkness that our beloved Church will make real progress in addressing the church-wide and society-wide problem of sexual abuse of young people. I hope that for those who have been harmed in the past, this brings healing and closure for them. I am hopeful that a heightened collaboration with the lay faithful, who bring experiences as parents and professionals, to the work of child protection, transparency, accountability, and recommendations for suitability for fitness in ministry will change our culture.

Our Lady of the most holy Rosary, pray for us.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Priest singer-songwriter sizzles in Rock Fest’s third year

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

“It’s definitely autobiographic,” Father Kevin McGoldrick, the headliner at this year’s Built Upon a Rock Fest Sept. 14, said about his opening song, “Square Peg,” which talks about being the proverbial square peg in a round hole.

Built Upon a Rock concert
After an evening of overcast skies and a rainbow over Lake Superior, the sun burst out during Father Kevin McGoldrick’s performance Sept. 14 at the 2019 Built Upon a Rock Fest. (Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Among other things, the priest of the Nashville Diocese noted, there aren’t many singer-songwriter priests running around.

It wasn’t the only song with hints of his life in it. Having grown in up Philadelphia and moved to Tennessee, where he serves as chaplain at Aquinas College, he had another song about an unexpected cold spell in his new location. Another crowd favorite was about his love of coffee. He closed with a song about his parents, after his mother died two years ago.

Father McGoldrick’s eclectic set also had a mix of musical references and cover songs.

For instance, in a quirky song about a ladybug, which provided a clever way of talking about the complementarity of women and men, there is a musical callback to the 1981 hit “Just the Two of Us,” by Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers.

Later on he did a cover of the Peter Gabriel hit “In Your Eyes,” which he used as an example of how one of the first steps in evangelization is to “bless what’s already good in the culture.”

He did other covers too. He performed a cover of the early Robert Johnson blues song “Crossroads.” In response to some excited kids near the stage with whom he had been bantering, Father McGoldrick played a bluesy rendition of the “Sesame Street” theme song – rather than the requested Metallica, which he said he didn’t know.

Toward the end of the evening, Father McGoldrick returned to the theme of evangelization introducing his version of “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue.” He spoke at some length of the “evangelical genius” of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom he said brought in 10 million converts among the Aztec, at an astonishing rate of about 3,000 a day for 10 years straight.

He described how the miraculous tilma give by Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego had had such a profound success in a part of the world where evangelization had previously made scant progress by speaking in the pictographic language of the Aztecs and giving them the Gospel as “good news.”

The evening’s opening act was Dana Catherine, a singer-songwriter, speaker, and former youth minister from Raleigh, North Carolina with an often upbeat pop style.

She began her set with a new single just coming out called “Surrender Song.”

“If we surrender more to God, our lives will be a lot better,” she said. “A whole lot better.”

dancing fans
Two dancing fans at Built Upon a Rock Fest get ready for a twirl. The annual event took place Sept. 14 on the grounds of the Holy Rosary Campus of Stella Maris Academy. (Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

She said surrender was a theme in a lot of her music and quoted St. Therese of Lisieux with the notion that you “can’t be half a saint.”

“Let’s be all in with God,” she said.

Catherine took a few moments describing her own journey, too, how she had planned to be a doctor before discerning another call. She related these kinds of experiences to another song, a version of “Lead, Kindly Light,” by Blessed John Henry Newman.

The event, held as in past years on the grounds of the Holy Rosary Campus of Stella Maris Academy and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, drew people from around the diocese and from as far away as North Dakota.

It also gave a broad taste of Minnesota’s September weather, beginning with overcast skies and a couple of raindrops, then following with a rainbow over Lake Superior between sets, a golden sun appearing midway through Father McGoldrick’s performance, and a distinct autumn chill in the air by the time the sun began setting.

While the concert was going on, free food was being handed out by a host of volunteers, confessions were being heard both in a portable confessional on-site and across the street in the church, where Eucharistic Adoration took place throughout. The event closed with Benediction.

There was a cheer when emcee Father Ryan Moravitz asked if everyone wanted to do it again next year, and it sounds like that’s the plan. St. Alice Church in Pequot Lakes, one of the 26 sponsoring parishes, won a VIP party for next year.

Betsy Kneepkens: How long will we tolerate these mass killings?

Thirty-one dead in 24 hours. Again and again, since the Columbine High School massacre, we have had to endure the mass killing of our citizens by fellow citizens, the latest tragedies being those in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

How much more are we willing to suffer? Sadly, as a country, both individually and collectively, I sense our toleration for this sort of devastation is exceptionally high, because nothing much has changed.

There is no simple solution to this disturbing societal suffering. However, I do not believe we are asking the right questions to expose the root of what motivates such evil acts.

I know there is a group that feels this killing is a mental health crisis. And I say, “how can it not be partly that?” Someone mentally well does not fantasize, plan out, and execute such wickedness. But scientists don’t understand the brain well enough to be sure this is the cause. Merely saying this problem is mental illness does not get at solving these heinous actions.

I know there is another group that feels that this is a gun issue. If we eliminate or reduce access to assault weapons, this problem will go away. Reducing someone’s ability to obtain guns will likely change the dynamics of this problem, but I am not entirely sure that we would remove these sorts of catastrophes. I know little about firearms. I know the historical importance of the right citizens have to own guns. I am, nonetheless, ignorant as to why certain weapons like assault-style are necessary when other less powerful but effective protective guns exist.

I am confident that the solution to mass killings will not be solved by identifying those who struggle with mental health issues or increasing the number of gun laws.

The question we are not spending time on is: Why do we have males in our society that have so little compassion they are willing to kill those who have not harmed them or others? How does this kind of evil take root in the soul of a human person? What sort of cultural inclinations perpetuate such hollowness that the dignity of the human person is ignored?

I need to reflect on these matters, because I am the mother of five young adult males. All my boys fall in the age category of the shooters that are responsible for these awful situations. The mere reflection is a painful examination.

All persons of faith know that humans were not created to be mindless destructive, aggressive killers. I can’t help but believe this killing enigma is a result of deficient and wounded hearts. I believe God bestowed onto our soul everything necessary to love rightly. Culturally, however, we have veiled the work of the Creator, so that lesser inclinations and pleasures have been elevated above the intentions God instilled correctly within us. This redirection of the heart, in particular, needs to be explored in young males, since they are the ones mainly committing these grave incidents.

First, we must get back to believing males and females are created differently, think differently, and react differently to almost every situation. Second, we must acknowledge males and females are mostly motivated to live and fulfill their purpose on earth in ways which align with thetendencies relevant to their gender. Neither gender is superior to the other; rather they are complementary and interdependent. Lastly, when we try to minimize, silence, or redirect those tendencies written on our hearts, we cause confusion, dissatisfaction, and potential numbness.

After mothering five boys to men, I feel strongly that males’ innate urges are to protect others, serve generously, act bravely, and lead sacrificially. These attributes are where males generally feel most comfortable, most satisfied. This provides the drive to cooperate within the human family.

For the past 50 years, I feel we have systematically minimized, distorted, redirected, and reproved these deeply held urges in males. In other words, we have told boys these sorts of desires are not necessary. Furthermore, society has labeled these preferences as insulting to women, because it makes women feel powerless or subservient. We have, in many ways, made our young males think they were lousy people for feeling these kinds of urges.

I know our society has had problems respecting both genders, but the way we have tried to correct the problem has created more difficulties.

For instance, when males do not learn to sacrifice for others, they do not learn compassion. When males are told their inclination to protect is not valued, they redirect that energy into causing harm. When males are told that the tendency to act bravely is an act of having power over another, they become cowards. When men have no one to lead sacrificially because we have robbed them of there desire to serve, they lose sight of the need to show dignity toward others.

This devastating problem of mass killings is a complicated mess. I am confident that our society is not willing to find a solution to this evil. If we wanted to get to the root of the problem, our culture would look at what progressive beliefs are pervasive. A thorough examination would find why we are producing young males who are capable of such malice.

It seems to me we are still willing to tolerate these mass killings. Not until we are ready to look at the truth of who we are created to be as male and female and live accordingly will we find an end to this devastation.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Deacon Kyle Eller: Learning to praise God is a source of joy

One of the blessings of praying the Liturgy of the Hours consistently is that every day it puts the language of praise on our lips.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Of all the elements of prayer, I find praise the most difficult. For me, it comes naturally to ask forgiveness, which I have to do all too often. Thanksgiving is a joy and often arises spontaneously to heart. Asking God for assistance is, likewise, natural. Even adoration arises naturally when I’m recollected and praying in faith.

But the language of praise is hard.

I have come to think that part of the reason for this difficulty is cultural. I’m American, which means that I have spent my whole life in a culture that (at least in principle, if not always in practice) prizes democracy and egalitarianism, in specific rejection of things like monarchy and aristocracy and the titles and claims that go with them.

In theory, we don’t worship the great because they’re great, and in fact we’re often immediately suspicious of anyone presented as great.

What’s more, I am a northern Minnesotan, having lived almost all my life here, so I have imbibed a strong dose of stereotypical Scandinavian stoicism and reserve, of the kind that can pay a compliment but recoils at any hint of flattery.

Last but definitely not least, as Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles memorably put it many years ago, in America practical atheism has become “the de facto state religion.” “Practical atheism” means living as though God does not really exist. Acting this way, he said, is the “price of participation in our economic, political, and social life.”

If the rest of our lives are infused with this mentality, is it any wonder that it seeps into even our liturgies and our moments of personal prayer? Of all the aspects of prayer, praise is the one that most seems to contradict the practical atheist mentality. It would be silly to offer words of praise to God if you’re acting as though he is not there.

Praising and worshiping God is good first of all because it’s just. The virtue of justice means giving another his due, and one “sub-virtue” that falls under its umbrella is the virtue of religion, which gives God his due through worship.

But also for all those cultural reasons that make it hard, and for our own spiritual lives, it’s good and necessary for us to praise God.

One of the beautiful aspects of this is precisely pondering on God’s greatness and sovereign majesty.

It makes some sense for us to be skeptical about the great and powerful, the rich and famous. In this fallen world, damaged by sin, power is often abused, becoming something more akin to domination and tyranny. We have all been hurt by it at some point. In our weak human hands, power offers terrible temptations. Even those whom we believe to be good and decent people often disappoint.

But there is no sin in God. There is no darkness, only light. We have no cause to fear his power and majesty. Rather, we can fully embrace it and rejoice in it and humble ourselves before it and entrust ourselves completely to it, to him, because his power is in his hands, the one who is perfect goodness, perfect love, perfect humility.

Another beautiful aspect is God’s closeness. Often the great and powerful are distant and aloof. They may gate themselves off, shielded from any unhappy interaction with anyone they don’t wish to see.

But the great mystery of God is just the opposite. Infinitely greater than any human being, he is also infinitely closer to us than any human being, close even than we are to ourselves. He is particularly close to the lowly, the forgotten, the brokenhearted, the weak, the fallen. In his profound humility, he has lowered himself and suffered and died on a cross for our healing and salvation.

And his greatness is not diminished by this stooping down into our lowliness but magnified! Indeed, as much in our personal history as in the larger story of salvation history, part of the language of praise is simply recalling with gratitude all the great things God has done for us.

Pope Francis, in line with the whole Christian tradition, has spoken of the joy of being a disciple of Jesus. One of the ways we can experience this joy is praise of the living God, rejoicing in his greatness and goodness, his transcendent power and tender closeness, his mighty deeds for the whole world and for me.

If you’re like me, and that’s not always easy for you, consider asking him in prayer for the grace to praise him as he deserves.

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

Bishop Paul Sirba: Take some inspiration from St. Padre Pio

Of the many feast days we will celebrate in the month of September, one stands out for me: Sept. 23, the feast of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, priest. “Padre Pio” was born Francesco Forgione in 1887 in the small town of Pietrelcina, Italy. He died on Sept. 23, 1968, at the age of 81. At the time, I remember reading about his death. He was alive in my lifetime, not always the case with canonized saints.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

People recall his humble beginnings, but probably are more aware of the extraordinary gifts God bestowed upon him. He was a Capuchin priest who had received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his body. He spent 50 years at the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo, where he was much sought after as a spiritual director, confessor, and intercessor. He could read souls and foretell events in the prophetic sense.

Padre Pio loved Jesus in the Eucharist. He was devoted to prayer, the poor, the sick, and Our Blessed Mother. He lived the charisms associated with St. Francis of Assisi.

In addition to remembering stories of Padre Pio when I was young, I have had a connection to him ever since I came to serve in the Diocese of Duluth as your bishop. I received my call from the nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, on Sept. 23, 2009, his feast day, to become the ninth bishop of Duluth.

All of the feast days leading up to my ordination were associated with Carmelite saints. I was appointed on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila on Oct. 15. I was ordained on the feast of St. John of the Cross on Dec. 14. Though not known to many, I wrote my letter of acceptance of the Holy Father’s request on Oct. 1, the feast of St. Theresa of Lisieux, after verbally accepting the Pope’s appointment the day after I was asked.

Because of the string of Carmelite feast days, when I was visiting the Carmelite Sisters in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, I said they were praying “too hard” for me. Look at what God is doing to me. All the dates are Carmelite except Sept. 23. “Ah, Father,” Mother Rose said, “I can explain that for you. When this monastery was established, our foundress asked Padre Pio what we should name it.” He said, “Name it Our Lady of Divine Providence.” That explains the Sept. 23 connection.

Though I’m not much of a coffee drinker, the mug sitting on my desk has an often quoted line from Padre Pio. “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” I offer his wisdom to all of the readers of The Northern Cross this September. As school begins, fall is in the air, and challenges face us, always remember our hope is fresh in Jesus Christ.

Padre Pio’s assurance: “Always have a firm and general proposition to serve God with all your heart and for the whole of your life. Don’t worry about tomorrow; think only of doing good today, and when tomorrow comes, it will be today and then it is time enough to think of it.

“We must imitate the people of God when they were in the desert. These people were severely forbidden to gather more manna than they needed for one day. Do not doubt that God will provide for the next day, and all the days of our pilgrimage.”

St. Padre Pio, pray for us!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Jesus is truly present: Do most Catholics need to go back to second grade?

By Tom Dermody
Guest columnist

As schools reopen and parishes gear up for religious education and RCIA classes, a new survey shockingly shows that many Catholics need to return to second grade, the year most of us received our first holy Communion. Before that most special day, we were taught repeatedly that we were about to receive not bread and wine, but Jesus -- really, truly present in the sacrament.

A recent survey of self-identified Catholics, however, found that a majority in all age groups believe the bread and wine used at Mass are only symbols of Jesus' body and blood.

Discussion was lively on our Facebook site after we posted the survey story and asked what can be done to restore belief in this central teaching of our faith. Some longed for a return to altar rails or the Latin Mass. Others called for more reverence demonstrated by priests and their flocks. One asked, "What part of 'This is My Body' is hard to get?"

Bishop Robert E. Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called the study "a wake-up call" for the church, and we agree. We also echo his assertion that "we're all guilty." Those of us who embrace this profound mystery have grown casual. And actions teach every bit as much as words.

Let's go back to second grade. School is starting, and here is a homework assignment. Read the following passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ponder it. Believe it.

"In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.'"

The catechism says much more. Keep going deeper. We'll never mine, nor comprehend, all of the Eucharist's treasure. But let us, like a first communicant, reverently acknowledge Jesus' real presence at our next Mass and every Mass and receive him with a heartfelt "Amen."

Tom Dermody is the editor-in-chief of The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.