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Father Michael Schmitz: Love in the time of corona

Masses have been canceled. How are we supposed to survive as Catholics, much less continue to grow and raise our families in the faith?

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a great question. And it is one that many people are asking in the midst of what seems to me to be an unprecedented moment in our history. I don’t know if there is anyone currently alive who has experienced what we are going through right now.

Before we look at how you can survive, let’s look at why officials in the church might have made the determination to restrict public participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On the surface, this is quite unreasonable. It even seems like an obvious overreaction. As others have noted, if the coronavirus were merely a virus like any other, it would be an overreaction. If this were just about individual behavior, this kind of quarantining would be unreasonable. But when we consider that we are not merely individuals who only have to think of our individual welfare, we realize that dramatic self-quarantines are not necessarily for the individual but for the common good. In other words, what would be an overreaction for an individual is not an overreaction for the community.

I’ve heard people say, “I don’t care if I get sick — I need to go to Mass.” I am in that same boat. That is my perspective as well. And yet, this virus is reminding us that we are not called to live for ourselves. The quarantine might not be so that you don’t get sick, but so that others don’t get sick because of you. Quarantine, then, becomes an act of love, not merely an act of wisdom.

Others have said, “The bishops just don’t have supernatural faith in the midst of a crisis. They should know that we need prayer now more than ever.” While I understand the sentiment (and agree that we need prayer now more than ever), I am glad that those who make these claims have the luxury of being able to criticize. The leaders of our church have the challenge of making decisions that will have a life or death consequence. We need to pray not only for ourselves and our loved ones, but for them.

Now, how do we survive in the midst of a world where the Mass is not being offered? The first thing to realize is that no priest is going to stop offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for even one day. The proscription is against the public offering of Holy Mass comes with the call for each priest to continue offering Mass regularly. St. Padre Pio once noted, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” The Mass will continue to be offered. The grace of the Mass will continue to be available to everyone in the world and in purgatory.

How can you pray, though? How can you continue to grow?

I would like to suggest three ways.

First, the Liturgy of the Hours. Each day, every priest and religious sister and brother (and many laypeople) pray what is called the Liturgy of the Hours. This is known as the official prayer of the church. In fact, while every priest is encouraged to offer the Mass every day, they are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day. This consists of setting time aside for prayer five times a day: Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer, and what is called the Office of Readings.

I would love to invite every Catholic to make the Liturgy of the Hours a regular part of their prayer life. They don’t have to prayer all five times, but even simply starting with Morning Prayer could bear much fruit. Remember, when you pray this universal prayer of the church, you are united with the entire church throughout the world. Powerful.

Second, in our diocese, parishes have been told to keep the church doors open so that the faithful can visit their Lord in the Eucharist. Please visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament! If your entire family is in quarantine, this could be a phenomenal way to get out of the house, as well as stoke your love for the Eucharist. Jesus is Emmanuel (God with us) and he truly tabernacles among us. The doors remain unlocked. Go to him. Stay with him.

In a great season of crisis, St. John Bosco had a vision: the church was a massive ship in the midst of a terrible storm. The only thing that preserved the ship from total destruction were two pillars rising from the sea; one massive and the other smaller. The massive pillar was the Eucharist and the smaller pillar was Our Lady. How do we weather this storm? By visiting Jesus in the tabernacle and by staying close to Mary. (Praying the rosary has changed the course of history in the past, and it continues to do so.)

Lastly, you may know what the Mass “is” and what the Mass “does.” The Mass is the offering of the great once-for-all sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit for the Father’s glory and the salvation of the world. The Mass is nothing less than that. Now, your priest is going to be offering that great sacrifice up for you every time he prays the Mass. But you can be a part of this through one incredible prayer.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a way that Catholics can participate in and “extend” the sacrifice of the Mass into the world. Remember, the Mass is the sacrifice of the Son to the Father. That what is happening at every Mass. One of the prayers in the chaplet is,
“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” This prayer sums up briefly the action of the Mass and allows the Christian to exercise their priestly character by uniting themselves to the sacrifice of Jesus offered through the ministerial priest.

The worst is not being unable to go to Mass. The worst would be to fail to pray as we can during this time when we can’t go to Mass.

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.

Livestream options for Mass

During this time of suspended public Masses, there are a number of places, both within the diocese and outside of it, where Mass is available via livestream.

A prayer of Spiritual Communion may be made at the appropriate time of the Mass, or at any time of the day or multiple times of the day:

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

Here are available and planned livestreams known at the moment. An updated list will be available on the diocese’s main Coronavirus page.

Livestreams from within the Diocese of Duluth
  • Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, Duluth: livestreaming a 5 p.m. Saturday Mass and 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass on the parish Facebook page, possibly adding some number of daily Masses as well.
  • Holy Angels, Moose Lake, livestreams all its Masses on the parish website, and the livestream is always up, so if the faithful would like to do a “virtual Holy Hour” before the Blessed Sacrament, that will be available 24-7. Daily Mass will be at 8 a.m.; Saturday at 5:30 p.m. (also on the local public access channel) and Sunday at 8:30 a.m.
  • Father Joseph Sobolik, of St. Cecilia and Mary Immaculate, is livestreaming his Masses on his Facebook page.
  • St. Andrew, Brainerd, is planning to stream its Masses through Facebook Live Sundays at 10 a.m.
  • Brainerd Lakes Catholic Churches, Brainerd, plans to livestream its Masses through the parish website.
  • St. James and St. Elizabeth, Duluth, will be livestreaming a 10 a.m. Sunday Mass. 
  • St. Benedict Church, Duluth, will be streaming its Masses on its website. Livestreams can also be found on Fr. Joel Hastings' YouTube page. Daily Masses Tuesdays at 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (Latin), Thursdays at 8 a.m., and Fridays at 8 a.m. (Latin). Sunday Masses at 9 a.m. and noon (Latin).
  • Father Blake Rozier, of Immaculate Heart, Crosslake, is livestreaming his Masses on his Facebook page. Daily Masses will be Tuesday through Friday at 8 a.m. (except on Tuesday, March 24) and Sunday Mass at 10:30 a.m. Masses will be reposted on Immaculate Heart's Facebook page. 
  • Father Mike Schmitz, of the University of Minnesota Duluth Newman Center, will be livestreaming Sunday Mass at 9 a.m. on Ascension Presents' YouTube channel.
  • Father Brandon Moravitz, of Holy Spirit, Virginia, will be livestreaming his Masses on his Facebook page. Sunday Masses are at 10 a.m.
  • St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, will be streaming its Masses on Facebook at 9 a.m. daily, including Sundays.
  • Blessed Sacrament Hibbing, will be streaming its 8 a.m. Sunday Mass on HPAT cable Channel 5 or on the internet channel online. Mass is rebroadcast on Wednesday at Noon and Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • Father Nick Nelson, of Holy Cross, St. Martin, and St. Mary, will be streaming his Sunday Masses on his Facebook page. Masses will be reposted on the parish website
  • St. Anthony Church, Ely, will be streaming its Masses on Facebook. Daily Masses are 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Sunday Masses are at 10 a.m.
  • St. Patrick's, Hinckley, and St. Luke, Sandstone, are streaming their Masses on Facebook. Sunday Masses are at 9:30 a.m.
  • St. John's, Grand Marais, and Holy Rosary, Grand Portage, are streaming their Masses on Facebook. Daily Masses are at 8:15 a.m. and Sunday Masses are at 9 a.m.
Outside the Diocese of Duluth

Duluth Diocese announces additional measures to stem Covid-19 

March 18, 2020 — In a directive today, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, announced additional temporary measures to help stem the spread of Covid-19.


In the new directive, all public Masses are suspended through April 20, effective Friday, March 20. (Priests may celebrate a private Mass without a congregation.) In addition, the diocese has cancelled all gatherings of more than 10 people and said that even in smaller gatherings, those vulnerable or showing any signs of illness should stay home, and all present should practice good hygiene and “social distancing” policies such as remaining six feet apart.

The document also contains guidance for Holy Week liturgies, as well as questions regarding first Communions, confirmations, and funerals.

Father Bissonette said that confessions and office hours should continue to made available on a regular basis, that churches should be open for an extended period each day so people could come individually and pray, and reiterated guidance for keeping Sundays holy when Mass is not available. He said the clergy and faithful should continue to visit and care for the sick, including through providing the sacraments.

"I do not take these temporary measures lightly and I strongly encourage you, the Faithful and the Clergy, to do the same," Father Bissonette wrote. "Let us pray that I will be able to lift them soon, that we will remain safe and well as we stand with Mary at the foot of the Cross during this crisis time, and that we will be able quickly to resume the public sharing of the Gospel and our Catholic faith."

He noted that the measures could extend beyond April 20, or should conditions improve more rapidly than expected, that they could be lifted at that time.

# # # 

Duluth Diocese dispenses Catholics in the region from Sunday Mass obligation

March 13, 2020

In light of the rapid spread of the coronavirus (covid-19) across the world and now to Minnesota, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, has dispensed Catholics in the diocese from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for the duration of the crisis.  


For Catholics, attending Mass on Sundays and certain other important holy days is an obligation and a precept of the church. That obligation is not binding in certain circumstances, for instance when it would be impossible or in cases of illness. For just reasons, the church’s pastors can also “dispense” or lift that obligation for the faithful. 

In a letter to the faithful to be read at Masses this weekend, Father Bissonette said that during this time, Masses will continue to be celebrated at the usual times in parishes and institutions. But should a member of the faithful decide that attending a Mass would pose a risk either to themselves or to others, they can in good conscience refrain from attending. 

Father Bissonette made the decision after receiving the advice of the Minnesota Catholic Conference (the public policy arm of the state’s bishops) and a local infectious disease specialist. Other dioceses in the area are taking similar steps. 

At the same time, Father Bissonette advised parishes to cancel any large parish gatherings through the month of March, extending that as necessary. That includes the diocesan Women’s Conference, which had been scheduled for March 28.

The decision to dispense from Mass and cancel large gatherings follows guidance issued a week ago by Father Bissonette advising pastors, at their discretion to: 

  • Suspend the practice of Communion under both kinds and  
  • Suspend the physical exchange of the Sign of Peace.

Both involve options in the liturgy of the Mass that can help reduce the likelihood of disease transmission. 

Father Bissonette also encouraged pastors to tell their faithful to stay home if they feel sick or have flu-like symptoms, to wash their hands frequently, and to check with the Minnesota Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control for the latest updates and recommendations. 

The diocese continues to monitor the situation at the local, state, and federal level and will provide updates as needed. 

In his letter to the faithful, Father Bissonette encouraged those unable to attend Mass to “still do what we can to keep holy the Lord’s Day.” He suggested such practices as following Mass on television, the radio, or online; making a Spiritual Communion; and other practices, such as silent prayer, reading Scripture, praying the rosary, or other prayerful devotions. 

“As all of us rise to the challenges presented by the coronavirus, let us remember to pray for one another and to support one another as children of God and brothers and sisters of the Lord, most especially those affected by this virus and those who care for them,” he said.  

Father Michael Schmitz: Is Christianity about relationship, not religion?

Some of my co-workers seem think that I believe that my religion saves me. They say that Christianity is about a relationship, not a religion.

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a very good question. Of course we are brought into a new and miraculous relationship with God through his Son, Jesus. What a massive gift! But there has been this strange rise in a false dichotomy between faith in Jesus and faith in the church he founded. You find more and more people who maintain that they “love Jesus but not the church.” It is even another step away from the truth to claim that a person doesn’t need the church. There are so many reasons why this is not only shortsighted but is demonstrably false and contrary to the way in which God has interacted with his people.

First, before we go into any more complex reasons why the church is not optional, you could ask your friends who believe in Jesus how they know who he is. You might get some responses that include “He is my Lord” or “He is my savior” or “He is God.” Someone might even state the formulation, “Jesus Christ is true God and true man.”

These would all be good answers. But then you could ask the necessary next question: How do you know that? They might say that they know this from reading the New Testament. And that is good. But there are at least two critical errors with that simplistic answer.

First, where did they get the New Testament? Who chose those particular Gospels and not any others? Who selected those writings of St. Paul and St. Peter and others and did not choose other writings that existed at the same time? If they are basing their knowledge of Jesus off of the Bible, we are able to point out that they only have the Bible because of the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church gave us the New Testament (and even codified the writings of the Old Testament).

What is more, how do they know that Jesus is true God and true man? There was quite a bit of debate over Christ’s identity in the early centuries of Christianity. Some doubted whether Jesus was fully human. Others maintained that Jesus was part-God and part-human. The Catholic Church consistently defined and defended this reality of Jesus, and the Council of Nicaea in 325 settled the matter. There are many, many things that people who “don’t need the church” believe that they merely inherited from the official and visible institution of the Catholic Church.

But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface regarding our need for the church. This goes all the way back to the way God entered into relationship with people from the very beginning. From the start, when God entered into covenants with people, they always involved an individual and a corporate component. For example, if a man was brought into relationship with the Lord God, he would be circumcised, and this meant that he was not only in covenant relationship with God but also with the People of God (the Jewish people). There was never merely an individual relationship with the Lord God. And this is brought to fulfillment in the New Covenant.

When we are baptized, we are made into sons and daughters of God the Father, but we also become members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). We are brought into a family. If there is one thing we need to remember about family, it is that family implies real relationship. And real relationships involve real rights and real responsibilities. Because we are part of God’s people, we have access to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. But we also have responsibilities to God — and to his family, the church. This is how God has established it from the beginning, and he did not abolish it, but brought it to fulfillment in Christ (Matthew 5:17).

We have to do away with this silly notion that “religion” is a bad word. Actually, let’s look at the word itself. Religion comes from the word “/religare/” which means “to bind.” At this point, I can hear someone saying, “Exactly! That’s all religion does! It makes people ‘bound’ to man-made rules and regulations!”

But that isn’t what the word refers to. Yes, it refers to the fact that religion “binds” us to the Lord and to his church (we are made into members of his body), but it is more (Ephesians 5:30). But there is another aspect.

Consider the word “sin.” This word has a complex etymology, but one strain of the word comes from the word “sunder.” To sunder is to be divided, to be pulled apart, to be split. And this is our experience. Sin has sundered our hearts and our relationships, not only within ourselves, but also with God. Isn’t “binding” exactly what a sundered heart and a sundered world needs? If you agree, then you would also agree that this world needs religion, not merely a relationship.

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.

Betsy Kneepkens: Kobe Bryant shows sinners belong in the church

I am a sinner. Although I genuinely strive to live the holiest life possible, I have inclinations that drive me toward sin, and I succumb to those behaviors. Worse yet, I am not sure I have made it more than 24 hours after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation before I have sinned again. I rely on God’s mercy to keep me in a relationship with him.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Although we established our family roots in northern Minnesota, the sport of hockey never took hold with us. We are, for all practical purposes, a basketball family. Both my husband and I played, and each of our children played in high school. Basketball is a pastime that our whole family enjoys.

Like most Americans, when the news arrived that Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash, the information stopped us in our tracks. The notion that someone so young and accomplished, would die unexpectedly like that caused us to pause.

At the time the news broke, I was rebounding basketballs for my daughter. The announcement was received as breaking news on her cell phone during a water break. Immediately my daughter surfed the internet as I waited impatiently for more information, hoping the original headlines were a hoax. We reached out to other family members to see what they had heard. As time passed, and more credible news sites covered the story, the hope of deception diminished.

Although most did not know that Kobe Bryant embraced his Catholicism, as a fan, I had known his faith was very important to him. He attended Sunday Mass when he had road games and raised his children in the church. Furthermore, it was not extremely unusual for him to wander into church to contemplate alone or attend daily Mass. The wider world seemed to learn about his devotion to his faith when the news reported he went to church before the accident. It seemed to me that the media was a bit surprised that a superstar athlete, like Kobe, would be a Catholic.

As hours passed after the helicopter crash, the retold story that Kobe was unfaithful to his wife and settled out of court with the alleged victim of sexual assault became newsworthy again. For some, the duplicity of his behavior, as husband and potential assaulter, caused others to appear to be disturbed when Kobe was identified as a devoted Catholic. I am perplexed that after 2,000 years since Christ walked the earth there are still people confused about sinfulness and a person’s relationship with the Catholic Church.

I know that I could never condone the behavior of assault or infidelity, but I wonder where the notion developed that sinners should not be practicing Catholics. For me, the belief that Kobe grew in his faith, strove to stay close to Christ, and received the sacraments was the hope Christ had for all of us. I find solace in knowing Christ’s hope.

I am assuming it was the tenets of his faith that brought him to his admission and sincere apology for the harm he said he unwittingly caused another. When I sin and seek redemption, the first place I look is my faith. Furthermore, I am not confused one bit when the first communal prayer at Mass is an act of contrition. We need to get the message out that Catholics sin even while seeking holiness. Other than the confessional, there is no better place for a sinner than in the pews of a Catholic church.

The other matter that Kobe situation brings to light is what it means as a Catholic to forgive. We are all harmed by each other’s sins, but in most cases, there is a particular victim that is directly harmed. How do we hold up, support, and respect those directly wounded by sin at the same time we forgive the sinner? Does forgiving the sinner mean you are not respecting the person sinned upon? Was Christ so radical that he calls us into two separate but simultaneous journeys — one for us to help heal the wounded and another to forgive the sinner, all while not depending on the wounded to heal or the one who caused harm to be contrite?

It is Lent, and I am a sinner. Kobe, his death, his past transgressions, and how we are called to treat situations like this is a significant matter to contemplate. I need to wrestle with the relationship between the sinner and the person sinned upon.

Christ didn’t say that God is the only forgiver and healer, but rather we are called to do the same. Lent is a great time for me to put this to prayer and seek a better understanding, because if I can figure out how to rightly love the sinner and those sinned upon, I can remain hopeful I will be treated the same.

May Kobe, his daughter, and the other passengers rest in peace. And may those who misunderstand the necessary relationship we should have with Christ and the church during our sinful times be enlightened by the church’s mission this Lenten season.

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

Father Michael Schmitz: How do I get better at being generous

I find myself being less-than-generous quite often. I want to have a better attitude, but people keep wanting things from me: they want my time, my help, and my financial support. How do I get better at being generous?

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a fantastic question. Many people want to be wise in their lives, but it is something special when a person is asking for a way to become even more than simply wise, they want to become good. Even more, in your question, I hear you asking how you can become more like Christ.

This is the best possible question because it is the entire point of being a Christian: becoming like Christ in all things. So, when it comes to “his stuff,” how did Jesus view his life? While Jesus is the Lord of all and is fully divine and equal to the Father, in his humanity he was absolutely insistent on affirming that he lived to do the Father’s will. How did he see “his life/stuff/mission”? It might be boiled down to the statement, “All things have been handed to me by my Father.” How did Jesus live generosity? It began with his fundamental attitude towards life.

Let me say it this way, if we want to become more generous, it doesn’t begin with action, it begins with vision. It has less to do with how we live in the world and more with how we look at the world. A person can behave generously (and that would be very good), but behavior has to have a deeper root, and this deeper root is one’s worldview.

There are essentially two ways of looking at one’s life: as an owner or as a steward. I can see all of my stuff, my time, my talents, and my everything as “mine,” or I can see all of those things as what has been “entrusted” to me. They are either my possessions or they are someone else’s possessions that are merely on loan to me. The difference between these two worldviews cannot be underestimated.

If I look at my life as my life, there are two natural tendencies that I will likely embrace. First, I will quickly become insensitive and indifferent to all of the good in my life. After all, if all of this is “mine,” then I will rapidly take it all for granted. It is no longer a gift, it is what I am “owed.” Of course I have this body: it’s mine. Of course I have these gifts; they’re mine. Of course I have these accomplishments; they’re mine.

If that is how I see them, then I might be generous with them, but each time, I am generous with “my” stuff. I may give you some of “my” time, but that continually costs me something. There is a limit to generosity like this, and there is a limit to gratitude if my attitude is like this.

In addition, if my perspective is that my gifts, things, and time are my own possessions, then what is my perspective when they are taken away? Every gift we have will be taken from us. Every bit of time will be taken from us ultimately. At some point, each one of us will get sick, suffer loss, run out of time, and die. If I believe that I am the rightful owner of my life, then I will likely view that loss with resentment. I could potentially become overwhelmingly bitter at the prospect of losing all of my things.

These are two of the consequences of seeing oneself as the owner: ingratitude in the face of giftedness and resentment over those gifts being taken away.

But that is not the only option. And it is not the perspective of Jesus. We can acknowledge the deeper truth that we are not owners but stewards. We do not have possessions, we have been entrusted with gifts by the Father. They are his.

Remember the parable of the talents? Or the parable of the gold coins? After the master distributes the talents or coins to the servants, he leaves with the hope that the servants will do something with his gifts. In fact, when he returns, he asks, “What did you do with my money?” It is his money. They are his gifts. Every moment, every heartbeat, is his. Every breath and every talent you or I have belongs to him. We have been entrusted with his gifts so that we can do what he wants with those gifts.

This should lead us to incredible gratitude and generosity. At every moment, we could give thanks over every little thing that we know does not belong to us, but that he continues to entrust to us. Imagine waking up and giving God thanks for the gift of sight. Imagine not complaining about being sick, but being able to breathe and saying, “God, thank you so much that I am not sniffling today!” Rather than resenting the gift that has been taken away, imagine the freedom of being able to let go of the gift without hesitation and give God praise for the amount of time he shared it with us.

The way to be generous is to acknowledge that we are not the owners of anything in this world, we are stewards. And nothing we have been entrusted with actually belongs to us; it is his and each day we have been given multiple more opportunities to use his gifts the way he wants.

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.

Father Richard Kunst: When the church seems to be 'always' talking about money

In the years that I have been a priest, the vast majority of my parishioners have known that my least favorite subject to talk about is money. But I have had some of the parishes that actually think it is my very favorite subject to preach about! This is because some parishes as a whole do better than others in their charity and support of the church.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard

I am speaking in general terms here; all parishes have very generous people, and all parishes have very stingy people, but some parishes as a whole do better than others when it comes to supporting the mission of the church in general and their parish specifically.

As pastors it can be a source of stress when people are not generous enough to the mission of the parish, because like any institution, the parish needs money to function, so if the parishioners are not generous in their giving, it truly hampers the parish’s work of evangelizing and spreading the Gospel, which can tie the hands of the pastor.

What is important to note is that I am not addressing people’s financial abilities. Rather it is an issue of sacrificial giving, because no matter how rich or how poor we are, we can all be sacrificial givers; we are all called to be sacrificial givers.

As a rule, people who are less generous tend to be more sensitive to the subject. One case in point happened to me many years ago. I was pastor of a small parish when I had given my very first “money” homily, and after Mass a woman approached me and said, “Father, is that all you ever do is talk about, money?”

Charitable thoughts were not running through my mind at that moment. People who are not generous do not like to hear about the subject. Now, I am not saying that this particular woman was not generous, but her initial response to my first ever homily on the subject seemed to be a bit telling.

There are people who think the church should not be talking about money and that money has little or nothing to do with religion, but nothing could be further from the truth. You may have heard this before, but the Bible addresses money more than it addresses love! In fact money is the subject most addressed in the Bible, so you can be certain that money and faith go together.

While at this point I could cite any of the myriad scripture passages to make the case, it is the familiar passage of the poor widow in the Gospel of Luke that speaks loudly as to Christ’s understanding of our responsibility with our money. After Jesus watches wealthy people deposit their large gifts into the temple treasury and a poor widow do the same with only two copper coins, he says, “I assure you, this poor widow has put in more than all the rest. They make contributions out of their surplus, but she from her want has given what she could not afford — every penny she has to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).

If we read closely what Jesus says here, it should be a bit shocking. The poor widow, he says, put in more than the wealthy people did. We would be right to ask, “How can this be? How does God measure our generosity and our giving?”

God couldn’t care less about the amount that we give; rather, what is important is the sacrifice. We humans look at numbers, and it is right that we do so because we need to, especially if you are a pastor of a parish! But that is not how God looks at our giving. Jesus says the poor widow gave more than the wealthy people gave because she sacrificed more in her giving.

So God does not look at numbers, he looks at sacrifice. It is one of the ways we build up treasure in heaven, by sacrificing them on earth. We would be foolish to think that we will not be held accountable for how we used the blessings God gave us in this life.

So when it comes to giving to the church, your parish, or some other worthy charitable cause, it does not matter to God how rich or poor we are. Giving is meritorious based on how much we are sacrificing in the giving. In this way, poor people could easily give more than wealthy people if they do it sacrificially.

It is important for each and every one of us to pause so as to consider our charitable giving. Does it hurt? It should, if we are honest with ourselves. It is very easy for we humans to rationalize and justify our own rate of giving, when that is not what God is asking.

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

Father Nick Nelson: Where's that in the Bible?

Very often people will chide Catholics about a particular belief, saying, “Where is that in the Bible?” Or even well-intentioned Catholics sometimes will ask me to show them where this or that teaching is in the Bible.

Father Nicholas Nelson
Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

And while we can find good evidence, if not clear proof, in the Bible for what we believe, the very question “where is that in the Bible?” implies and presumes some-thing that we as Catholics don’t believe.

Someone asking that question is under the impression that the Bible is the sole authority for the content of Christian faith. When someone asks that question, they are presuming the Protestant principle of sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”), which rejects the teaching authority of the Catholic Church and says Scripture is the ultimate authority. Sola scriptura is unbiblical, untrue, and therefore un-Catholic. It’s similar to the question, “Did you stop stealing from your employer?” By even beginning to answer that question, you are admitting that you had at least in the past been stealing from your employer.

So, before getting our Bibles out and going from verse to verse showing evidence for this or that teaching, and then having the other person show verses that they think disprove the teaching, and going back and forth, it’s important to call the erroneous presumption of sola scriptura into question. Because by going right to your Bible you are already ceding ground in the debate. You are implying that the Bible is the sole authority on matters of faith.

Before going to Scripture, it’s important to say something like, “Wait, you think that Scripture is the ultimate authority? Well, we Catholics don’t believe that. The Bible was never intended to be the ultimate authority on what God revealed to us and what we are to believe.”

Then the question that needs to be asked is, “Where are we to learn the content of the faith that Christ wanted us to know? Did Christ make provisions for the authentic handing on the faith he revealed?” By provisions we mean, “Did Christ do anything, set up anything, or provide for us in a way that guarantees the authentic transmission of his teachings?” Yes, he did.

And what was that? It wasn’t the Bible. Jesus did not hand each of the Apostles a Bible and say, “Why don’t you copy these, make some more of them, and just hand them out to people, and that will be good enough.” He never did that.

What were the provisions he made for handing on the faith? If we look at the Gospels, we see that: 1) He passed on an oral tradition by what he said and did. 2) He gave his very own divine authority to other men for the authentic handing on of that tradition. And 3) he promised his divine assistance until the end of time. The best text for this is Matthew 28:18-20. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’”

God never intended the Bible to be the last and only word concerning the content of faith. The first disciples never had the New Testament. The Gospels and letters that make up the New Testament weren’t complete until the end of the first century. He never expected us all to learn Greek so that we could each interpret it ourselves in order to come up with the content of the faith.

History has shown us the absurdity of the idea of sola scriptura. There are billions of Christians, and thousands of denominations of Christians who all believe that the Bible is the only necessary and sufficient authority, yet they all believe different and contradictory things on very important questions such as the sacraments and morality and eternity.

Rather than handing us a Bible and telling us to interpret it ourselves, we who have a darkened intellect, disordered passions, and weakened will, Jesus did something much more simple and greater for us. He gave us a visible church with his very own divine authority and assistance to infallibly interpret the sources of faith, i.e., Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. This living voice continues to authentically protect and transmit the deposit of faith down through the centuries. So by trusting in the trustworthy authority of the church as a child trusts his mother, we have everything we need to know and do for salvation.

Maybe we should turn that first question around and ask, where’s sola scriptura in the Bible? If someone says everything needs to be explicitly found in the Bible, then where in the Bible does it say that the Bible is the only and ultimate authority on the content on faith? You can look all day long. You won’t find it, because it isn’t there. But you will find this. St. Paul writing to St. Timothy, “...The household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church is the pillar and foundation of truth, not the Bible!

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]

Deacon Kyle Eller: A little catechesis on the Eighth Commandment to help us through election season

It’s election season (although isn’t it always nowadays?), and that means our social media are even more full than usual with lies, distortions, falsehoods, half truths, and fake news, intermixed with more worthwhile things.

When we talk about this, often it’s to help build up our own media literacy, learning how to tell the good from the bad.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

As worthwhile as that is, it seems to me there is a still more urgent task: being sure that we’re not sinning ourselves by spreading lies among our family and friends. Going to hell, after all, is a far worse outcome than any election.

In other words, we need to revisit the Eighth Commandment — “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Living in the truth

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2469). Unfortunately, as truth erodes in our society, I think we’re seeing that claim verified.

For a disciple of Jesus Christ, though, living in the truth and bearing witness to it appropriately are not optional, they are binding obligations. Jesus proclaims himself the way, the truth, and the life, and he promises that the truth will set us free. It is the devil whom he calls “a liar and the father of lies.”

What’s more, even at a purely human level, truthfulness is a matter of justice — of what we really owe to other people.

There can be no doubt the world is pushing hard against this virtue of truthfulness. Every election is billed as the “most important election ever,” and in contrast to Christian belief, many of our contemporaries believe good ends justify any means, so if fudging the truth is the way to beat back what they perceive as the forces of darkness, of course that’s just what they’ll do.

This is how your social media feed came to be so full of garbage.

Offenses against the truth

Our call is to be people of the truth, which among other things means avoiding every form of bearing false witness. This goes well beyond simply avoiding the most obvious lies.

For instance there are the sins that are contrary to respect for people’s reputations, like rash judgment, detraction, and calumny (CCC 2477). Thus even if we truly know another person’s failing, we still don’t get to spread it around without a serious reason — that’s detraction. Or if someone tells us something awful, even about someone we treat as an enemy, we must not even silently believe it’s true until we have a sufficient foundation for that. This is rash judgment.

And if even those things are sins, how much more is calumny, where one spreads some falsehood that damages someone’s reputation — a powerful temptation in a climate where one of the common paths for electoral victory is damaging an opponent’s reputation.

We might ask ourselves how often we have done that — passed on some commentary or article with an accusation against someone that we haven’t really researched ourselves or that we even later found out to be false, or played up some apparently damning quote we know deep down was taken out of context.

And if we have done so, we might consider whether we have confessed that sin and done our best to fix our error by trying to restore the reputation of the person we’ve damaged. Because there really is a duty of reparation in these matters (CCC 2487).

For instance, if I calumniate a politician I dislike on Facebook, guess where I should go to apologize and try to restore his reputation? Same place, in just as public a way. If that sounds like a distasteful task, consider that an excellent reason that you should never share anything that damages anyone’s reputation without being morally certain it’s true and that you have a serious reason to share it.

There are even times saying something “nice” is an offense against the truth. If some politician I favor is engaged in some wrongdoing, and by flattery or adulation I affirm that perverse conduct, I have also sinned against the truth (CCC 2480). We all unfortunately face choices at the ballot box where all the candidates may take positions in serious contradiction to sound morality. I think that presents for us one of our most daunting challenges in living in the truth — how to speak and act in such a way that we do not encourage the evil things the “lesser evil” we may have decided to support stands for.

To the extent we speak to others about politics, all of us take on the responsibility to do so in a truthful way. To the extent we do so more publicly, in places like social media, we even begin to take on some of the responsibilities we would normally associate with journalists. (And it’s no excuse for us that many journalists seem to have abdicated these responsibilities too lately.)

So we should worry about getting suckered by fake news and false information. But far more than that, we should worry about being spreaders of the contagion. Just don’t. Before you even believe something awful — let alone share it with others — verify it, putting the best construction you can on the other person’s words and actions (CCC 2478). If in doubt, don’t post.

If it’s gossip and garbage, as so much of it is, stop it in its tracks.

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