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Editorial: Defending the freedom of the church

Over the past many years, religious liberty has been a major focus of the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world.

The concept of religious liberty is found both in Catholic belief and in the laws, history, and founding principles of our country. It received significant development in Catholic belief through the Second Vatican Council. It is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents the establishment of a national religion and ensures the free exercise of religion.

Religious liberty has become a focus because it has been under sustained heavy assault. The bizarre obsession of some officials for the past seven years with forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of celibate women religious who care for the elderly, to participate in providing contraception for employees, in violation of Catholic moral teaching, is the perfect symbol of this assault, so utterly unnecessary and petty and vicious. The sisters won a case in the U.S. Supreme Court (again) last month, one of two recent religious liberty victories, but it seems likely their ordeal is not yet over.

The relationship of religious and civil authority has generated controversies for millennia, and these “leave me alone” kinds of victories that protect conscience rights and carve out exemptions are undoubtedly important, but they’re not enough. Catholics of previous ages used to pray after every low Mass for the freedom of the church. It’s time we recovered a positive understanding of religious liberty, realizing that the church has a right to freedom because it has responsibilities — we have a job to do, given to us by God.

We have been sent to make disciples, to teach what God has commanded, to offer the grace of God in the sacraments, to share our common life as God’s people, and to live out our vocation to holiness as disciples of Jesus in every aspect of our lives, including in our work and public witness.

The freedom of the church exists because of that mission. And it’s worth defending.

Deacon Kyle Eller: What does being pro-life have to do with wearing a mask?

My social media circles, which include people from varied political and religious perspectives, have included a lot of conversation about an unusually obscure topic — how pro-life beliefs correspond (or don’t) to wearing a mask in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Cards on the table: As a matter of conviction and principle, I am unapologetically and unconditionally pro-life. As a matter of obedience and prudence, I am conditionally pro-mask.

On social media, I have repeatedly encountered the claim that people who are pro-life on abortion but who resist mask mandates are hypocrites. My gut reaction is to dismiss it — whatever truth there may be in it seems overwhelmed by the vastly worse hypocrisy going the other way.

I mean, it’s been hard to bear weeks of listening to people who favor an unlimited license for the deadly violence of abortion, which directly, purposely, and with virtual certainty destroys a tiny person’s body, as they lecture others on the sanctity of life over wearing a piece of cloth on one’s face just in case one is sick without knowing it and might unintentionally infect someone else, posing a small risk of death.

It’s like listening to a Mafia attorney sanctimoniously scold someone for reckless driving.

But even an outrageous hypocrite can say something true. Is there merit? Reflecting on the question is fruitful for better understanding what Pope St. John Paul II called the “Culture of Life.”

The most aggressive form of the “pro-lifers who don’t wear masks are hypocrites” argument goes something like this: “If you really believe every life is infinitely precious, you should do anything that might save even a single life.”

That’s easy enough to refute, because it’s a totally impossible standard no one can or does follow. Being pro-life doesn't involve imagining one can eliminate every risk, and one can literally always do something more to reduce the risk of people dying.

A few examples illustrate the point. Flu is normally not as deadly as COVID-19 seems to be, but it still kills people every year. We could lock down the country every flu season, and it would likely save some lives. But we don’t, because collectively we consider the disruption disproportionate to the gain in public safety.

Or consider cars. Cars in 21st century America are much safer than they once were, as those of us who predate seat belt laws and air bags and car seats can tell you. But people die on the roads every year, and cars made even safer could save some of them. We could keep making cars safer and safer until they became so expensive to make that no one could afford one. Society regards that, too, as disproportionate.

Does that mean we value money or convenience more than human life? It seems to me it depends. At some point cutting corners on safety plainly is greed and wanton disregard for human life. But at some point the pursuit of safety plainly verges into something unworkable and unrealistic. In between is a range of places people of good will might draw the line.

Traffic laws, workplace safety, regulation of food and medication, building codes, and countless other areas of life all offer similar situations, where society has to make choices balancing safety and what is practical, a line that often shifts over time with new possibilities and sensibilities.

These situations pose real moral questions, but of a different kind than situations like abortion or euthanasia, where causing death is literally the objective.

That distinction is so glaringly obvious it feels crazy to have to spell it out, but welcome to 2020 America.

There is a better version of the argument, though. Our pro-life Catholic beliefs are rooted in the dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God and precious in his sight. Even in situations that don’t involve direct attacks on human life, where there are difficult judgments to make and room for legitimate disagreement, shouldn’t our pro-life convictions strongly influence the way we approach them?

Again, the answer seems obvious to me: yes. A business owner who publicly professes pro-life convictions while running a notoriously unsafe workplace would rightly raise questions — and eyebrows. Where convenience and money come into tension with protection of human life, being a people of life and for life should mean we noticeably err on the side of life, even when those intrinsic evils aren’t involved.

It’s in this framework that I suggest we consider the mask debate. Not wearing a mask is not an intrinsic evil like abortion. But if our reflection ends there, we’re falling into a form of legalism. How should our conviction at the heart of why we’re pro-life — the dignity and inherent value of every human person, particularly the vulnerable — influence our approach? I’ve already given you my conclusion, and I don’t say it’s the only one a person could reach in good faith, but it’s worth wrestling with.

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

Obituary: Benedictine Sister Mary Catherine Shambour

Sister Mary Catherine Shambour, beloved teacher, board member, historian, writer, and peacemaker, passed peacefully May 30 at St. Scholastica Monastery. Having marked the milestones of 25, 50, and 60 years of religious life, Sister Mary Catherine was in the 67th year of vowed commitment. An alumna of the College of St. Scholastica, Sister served many years on the Board of Trustees.

Sister Mary Catherine Shambour
Sister Mary Catherine Shambour

Born to Joseph Shambour and Anna (Maruska) in 1930, Sister Mary Catherine grew up on a farm near New Prague, Minnesota. In 1951 she completed a bachelor’s degree in English, entering the Benedictine community following graduation.

Sister began teaching at Stanbrook Hall and later in Cloquet, Minnesota. This was followed by nine years at Duluth’s Cathedral Senior High School and 19 years at Cathedral High School. She earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1962.

Sister Mary Catherine’s love of Russia led to an M.A.T. degree in Slavic languages from Indiana University in 1976. A pivotal experience occurred in 1980 when teaching English in Moscow and Leningrad. She writes, “I was warmly welcomed and began to see Russians with different eyes. I learned that they did not want a war with us.” Sister would serve for many years as liaison and peacemaker through research, writing, and lecturing. Her teaching ministry continued in Minnesota, where she taught Russian for 19 years. She would make 18 trips to Russia over a 33 period.

Sister Mary Catherine returned to Duluth, serving as vocation director from 2006 until 2015. More recently, she explored the intersections of God, humanity, and nature, facilitating book discussions on the writings of Pope Francis, Richard Rohr, and Ilia Delio through the Center for Spirituality & Enrichment.

Preceded in death by parents and sister-in-law, Mary Ann, Sister is survived by her community; brother, George; nieces, Patrice (Wayne) and Kathy (Steve); nephews, Roger (Jeannie) and Michael (Judy); and many cousins and grand nieces and nephews about whom she would often inquire and in whose lives she was genuinely interested. Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated in June. A memorial service will take place at a later date.

Local news in brief

Magnificat breakfast

Our Lady of the Lakes Magnificat will be hosting Barbara Heil, a Catholic missionary and evangelist, Saturday, Aug. 22, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. followed by breakfast at 9 a.m. Heil grew up on the West Coast and during college had a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ. She moved to Virginia, where she learned a life of prayer, worship, and devotion at an international ministry community. Her experience is wide and varied, from living in Hong Kong to ministering in Asia, to living in Jerusalem, to being on staff at a street mission in San Diego, California, to ministering to the needs of the homeless during the beginning of the AIDS outbreak. She has ministered in 55 nations, has been a missionary, an evangelist, and pastor. She has spent the last few years traveling the U.S. and the world over conducting worship seminars, retreats, and conferences, leading missions trips, offering prayer and counseling, and seeing thousands healed and set free inside and out, equipping lives for the Glory of God. Heil did not know until recently that she had been baptized as a child in the Catholic Church, and after much prayer and deliberation, she received the Rite of Confirmation in St. Paul in April 2013. Today, based in Iowa, Barbara continues to be involved in a wide spectrum of Christian endeavor and ministers with Protestants and Catholics alike. She lives in Iowa with her husband, Jeff. She is the joyful mother of four and grandmother of two. Together she and Jeff have 8 children and 10 grandchildren. The Magnificat meal will be held at Charlie’s Up North restaurant, located at 6841 Highway 371 N.W. in Walker. Cost of the meal is $15. Please call Lorri at (218) 507-0953 for reservations.

Theology Around the Fountain takes on pandemic

“Living our faith in a pandemic” was the theme of Blessed Sacrament Parish’s ongoing Theology Around the Fountain. Father Jeremy Bock led the discussion by first recounting what it has been like, from the perspective of the clergy, in following the guidelines set out by the CDC, the state, and the USCCB and from personal reflections. Aside from the shutdown, social distancing and sanitation requirements, the question of shepherding the parish in the face of the restrictions the COVID-19 virus requires has been challenging. Innovative ways of staying connected with parishioners were developed, such as “resting in the rosary” where Fathers Jeremy and Samson lead a live rosary on Facebook, weekly videos by Father Jeremy for the school children to walk them through Lent, Easter, and other aspects of the faith, and Father Gabriel Wareru simply asking people to pray the Apostle’s Creed every day. Participants were invited to share their frustrations and their insights as they navigated a world without access to the Eucharist, social interactions, or normal celebrations of life. The overall consensus expressed at the event was that even in the midst of a pandemic it is still possible to hold onto their faith and in some ways to grow stronger.

Father Samson leaving Blessed Sacrament

As international travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 virus are being lifted, Father Samson Kigorwe M’rinkanya is preparing to leave Blessed Sacrament parish to return to his home in Kenya. Father Samson arrived in Hibbing in late January to help out at the parish in the absence of Father Gabriel Wareru, pastor, who left around the same time for a sabbatical in Italy, Ireland, and Kenya. Father Samson assisted Father Jeremy Bock, the associate pastor, in duties such as distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday, celebrating Mass and sacraments, and participating in school and community activities. It is anticipated that his long-delayed departure will coincide with Father Waweru’s arrival, whose return was also delayed by the travel restrictions. Father Samson has a parish, school and home for children in Kenya with many needs that he is anxious to return to.

Diocesan schools planning for in-person classes in the fall

Diocesan school officials, in communications sent out in mid-July, say that returning to school this fall is a top diocesan priority and that school leaders have been working to understand their options.

While the situation remains fluid, the goal is to open with in-person instruction, although students will experience new protocols and procedures recommended by state and federal health guidelines.

Officials say that school families had participated in a statewide survey organized through the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which included about 400 responses from the Diocese of Duluth. The feedback helped to analyze the distance learning that took place in the spring after schools across the state were closed by Gov. Tim Walz due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also helpful in planning for the next school year, which is fast approaching.

Planning for opening in person has meant working with comprehensive guidance and instruction in collaboration with other dioceses across the state and with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Minnesota Department of Health, insurance companies, and more. It’s structured to allow individual schools to develop plans that make sense for their students, staff, and community.

Those plans will be communicated to families so they will know what school will look like for students in the fall, and with the caveat that the realities in a particular community can change things, with schools “toggling” between in-person instruction, distance learning, or a hybrid approach depending on the circumstances and what is safe at the time.

An example of how quickly things can change came with Gov. Walz’s executive order mandating masks in many indoor spaces, including K-12 schools, effective July 25.

Cynthia Zook, director of schools for the diocese, said that “is our most challenging protocol for our Catholic schools.”

“We are aware of the concern regarding our learning environment and child development — especially for our youngest students,” she said. “Working with the Walz administration to establish a more reasonable approach to mask wearing in our Catholic schools is a priority.”

She noted that Catholics schools in the Duluth Diocese are not as crowded as many of the public schools, allowing more confidence the schools could provide adequate social distancing.

“We are fine-tuning our policies to prepare for the start of a safe and healthy school year,” she said. “Together our vigilance and flexibility in confronting COVID-19 is the best path forward.”

Zook said teachers and principals are ready to welcome students back to their buildings “where students and staff can once again be together as a faith-filled learning community with Christ, the teacher.”

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

“God is a Relational God”: A Summary from the July 2020 Seminar with Fr. Eduardo

God is a relational God.  God is love and we must know that God loves us personally.  Adam and Eve had an intimate relationship with God.  God knew them— He truly knew them.  He walked with them, He talked with them and He desires this relationship with us.  How do we get there?  God takes […]

The post “God is a Relational God”: A Summary from the July 2020 Seminar with Fr. Eduardo appeared first on Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

Canceling Padre Serra

I have just received word that, after voting to remove a large statue of St. Junípero Serra that stands in front of their City Hall, the government of Ventura, California (which is in my pastoral region) is now considering removing the image of Padre Serra from the county seal. This entire effort to erase the memory of Serra is from a historical standpoint ridiculous and from a moral standpoint more than a little frightening. Let me address the ridiculous side first. To state it bluntly, Junípero Serra is being used as a convenient scapegoat and whipping boy for certain abuses inherent to eighteenth-century Spanish colonialism. Were such abuses real? Of course. But was Fr. Serra personally responsible for them? Of course not. I won’t deny for a moment that Serra probably engaged in certain disciplinary practices that we would rightfully regard as morally questionable, but the overwhelming evidence suggests that…

Cancelando al Padre Serra

Acabo de recibir la noticia de que, después de votar para retirar una gran estatua de san Junípero Serra que se encuentra frente a su ayuntamiento, el gobierno de Ventura, California (que está en mi región pastoral) está considerando ahora la posibilidad de retirar la imagen del Padre Serra del sello de la ciudad y de las insignias de los oficiales de policía de Ventura. Todo este esfuerzo por borrar la memoria de Serra es desde el punto de vista histórico ridículo y desde el punto de vista moral más que un poco aterrador. Déjenme abordar el lado ridículo primero. Para decirlo sin rodeos, Junípero Serra está siendo utilizado como un conveniente chivo expiatorio de ciertos abusos inherentes al colonialismo español del siglo XVIII. ¿Fueron reales esos abusos? Por supuesto. ¿Pero fue el Padre Serra personalmente responsable de ellos? Por supuesto que no. No negaré ni por un momento que…

Faith in the Public Arena: COVID-19 magnifies the crisis of the family

Our families have emerged as many people’s primary community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This fits the family’s natural role in society, but the change has not been easy. Many families have experienced new challenges amid COVID-19.

Jack Lawlis
Jack Lawlis
Faith in the Public Arena

Single parents are now the sole providers of both their family’s income and children’s education. Low-income families, who already endure economic hardships, face uncertainty in a difficult job market. COVID-19 has accentuated the crisis of family instability, apparent in high rates of divorce and rising rates of single parenthood and perpetuated by a societal disinterest in the success of the family as a community.

To combat this crisis, we must look to policy examples that strengthen families, like changes recently enacted in Hungary, which led to higher rates of marriage, lower rates of divorce, and a drop in abortions. In a world shaken by change, we achieve stability and flourishing by empowering families to fulfill their purpose as communities of life and love.

The problem of broken families

In his apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” Pope St. John Paul II reminds us of the family’s role as the foremost educator in society. He says, “The task of giving education is rooted in the primary vocation of married couples to participate in God’s creative activity: by begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself or herself the vocation to growth and development, parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life.”

Family formation is essential to the well-being of children, but not all receive this formation in its entirety. Almost a quarter of children in the United States live in a single-parent household. These children are more likely to commit suicide, become drug dependent, and perform below their peers in school.

In fact, while reading proficiency disparities exist among students of different races and ethnicities in Minnesota, research indicates that, for certain grades, the percentage of students proficient in reading matches almost identically to the percentage of two-parent households in each category. A child’s educational success cannot be accurately determined by race or ethnicity, but the data does show that children in two-parent households are more likely to succeed in school.

These disparities will only continue during COVID-19 as single parents, who relied on the school system, must now educate, supervise, and provide for their children all day. This is even more difficult for the 24 percent of single-parent households that live below the poverty line in Minnesota, compared to the four percent of impoverished households with married couples.

The most effective welfare mechanism is two married parents in a household. Marriage serves the good of the family, fosters the formation of children, and is essential for a flourishing society. When a man and a woman discern marriage, both public policy and society should encourage, not inhibit, their decision.

The family and society connected

To strengthen society, lawmakers should look to policies that encourage marriage and support families, like what was enacted in Hungary following reform in 2010.

With a declining population and a suffering economy, Hungary enacted policies that focused on the family. It provided home-purchasing subsidies for families with children, decreased taxes owed by families with children, and provided interest-free loans to married couples which they need not pay back after having three children.

It even codified its commitment to the family in its constitution, stating, “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the nation’s survival.”

Hungary’s focus on families has led to marriages increasing by 84 percent, divorces decreasing by 29 percent, and abortions decreasing by one-third between 2010 and 2019.

By incentivizing marriage and supporting family stability, Hungary shows that family-focused policy makes a difference.

Recognizing the importance of marriage and the family unit will lead to a stable and flourishing society. The prosperity of society is tied to the health of each family, and by supporting public policy that upholds marriage and strengthens the family unit — the origin of development and virtue — we further the common good of all.

Jack Lawlis is Policy and Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Editorial: Public monuments should be reevaluated by their communities, not mobs

In our Catholic faith, some images — crucifixes, icons, and statues — are sacramentals. They are intended to assist us in deepening our prayer and often arise from the piety and devotion of the faithful in a particular place. One thinks of a statue of a parish’s patron saint or of the image of St. Kateri at Sts. Mary and Joseph in Sawyer, and countless other examples.

In secular life, public monuments aren’t exactly like that, but they’re often something akin to it. They are a public expression of what some community values, whether that community be a city or state or a sports team or some other entity. The processes may be murky and full of mixed motives, but despite that, it’s difficult to put one up without broad support and the investment of treasure and talent. It’s done with thought and care. They don’t go up by accident.

Such decisions are manifestly not always right. Sometimes monuments are divisive even before they’re erected. Sometimes in the history of fallen humanity they are erected in honor of odious causes or individuals, and we look back at them with shame and wish to make reparation for past evils. Sometimes communities simply change or forget and no longer find a monument meaningful any more.

For these reasons and more, communities may decide to take a monument down, replace it, modify it, or move it.

But that’s how it ought to be done — with the same level of reflection and through a community process, not by a mob. There is always something revolutionary about a mob tearing down a monument, even an unworthy one, because it is an expression of contempt not only for the subject of the monument but for the community that put it there.

The life of a community necessarily involves sometimes reckoning with and reevaluating the past. Certainly our nation’s tragic flaw, the grotesque evil of slavery and its legacy of pervasive racial injustice that is still with us, is a prime example. Ongoing self-critical reflection by our communities is warranted and necessary. Reconsidering public statues and place names in a true conversation can and should be part of that.

A mob arrogating to itself the right to decide what public momuments will stand is not that conversation. That’s all the more so when the monuments being destroyed involve Jesus and the saints and amount to public blasphemy and religious bigotry.