Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Ask Father Mike: Fighting the ‘noon-day devil’ of acedia

I sometimes just wish that I could run away from the life that I am living. There is nothing terribly wrong with it, but I get this feeling that I should just leave this behind and try something new. Is this a sign that I should? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you for writing with this great question. Before I offer something I hope is helpful, I want to note that you stated nothing is wrong with your current situation. I highlight that because there are some people who are certainly in the wrong situation. They may be living with someone who is not their spouse and their conscience is bothered by that. That is a good sign that things should change! A person might be in a situation where they are being victimized at home or at work. Those kinds of cases could involve a very different set of “next steps” that I will not be looking at here. Since you indicate that you are in a reasonable position, I will assume that those elements are not involved here. 

What you are describing is one of the seven deadly sins. That may be alarming, but let me clarify what a deadly sin is. A deadly sin is not always, in and of itself, grave matter. The deadly sins can also be those sins that lead a person into areas of deeper and darker sin. You might think of them as “gateway sins,” in the same sense as “gateway drugs”; on their own, they might not destroy one’s life, but they often lead to harder and harsher drug use. 

The particular sin (or, more accurately, temptation) you described is called “acedia.” Most people know this temptation by another name, “sloth.” I prefer the first word, and I will say why in a moment. 

In the early church, there were a number of men and women who went to live in the desert to seek the Lord in silence and solitude, penance and prayer. While these hermits were living and praying in the desert, they had the clarity to notice the various temptations that assailed them while they were pursuing Jesus with everything they had. From this experience, a list of “deadly sins” was compiled. The sins on this list are pride, wrath, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, and acedia. 

Now, if you were living out in the desert, you might not be confronted with every one of these temptations. For example, a person might be of the temperament to battle with greed but not with lust. Another person might wrestle with pride but be free from wrath. But the one temptation that these hermits said assailed everyone was acedia. 

When we translate “acedia” to the term “sloth,” a couple of things happen. First, we think we know what the word “sloth” means. Second, what we think “sloth” means is not, in fact, what it means here. Most people associate sloth/acedia with laziness, but true acedia is far more sneaky than simple avoidance of work. In fact, those who are tremendously busy can often suffer from acedia. There are workaholics who are guilty of acedia. 

Acedia is not the avoidance of work; it is the avoidance of the work that I am called to do at this moment. 

The desert fathers called acedia “the noon-day devil.” They called it this for a very simple reason: it struck at noon-day. Imagine you were living in a sparse hut out in the desert. From 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. the sun would seem like it was suspended in the sky, unmoving and inescapable. The freshness of morning has already passed, and the cool and calm of evening had not yet arrived. All one could do was sit in one’s hut and pray (or weave baskets or do whatever task to which the hermit had been committed). The profound feeling of discontent would begin beating on the door of the person’s mind, arguing that they ought to get up and do something else. It didn’t matter what: Sometimes it was the temptation to rejoin society and spread the Gospel or serve the poor, sometimes it was the temptation to visit another hermit for a spiritual conversation. Good things! Regardless of what the temptation was, it was the draw to “leave one’s hut” and do something else — anything else. 

We have all been there. We have said “yes” to our state in life (married life, religious life, priesthood, or consecrated single life) and then we get to that moment when we want to just “leave our hut” and do anything other than what we are called to do at that moment. This is not the time to flee! This is the time to enter into the moment and the mission even more deeply. 

Is there a time to discern another way of life? Maybe (but not if we have made a permanent promise). But the time of temptation and desolation is not the time to make this move. The time to move is when we are moving towards, not when we are running away from, the call of God. 

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. 

Bishop Daniel Felton: Roots and wings as we mobilize to mission

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

On the occasion of my episcopal ordination, I spoke of the rich history of our diocese and that we need to grab onto the wings of the Holy Spirit so that with divine inspiration we can create our own history for our time. History reveals how God’s purpose and mission for our diocese has been fulfilled and how that same God mission and purpose is unfolding even now. We are called to be a people of both roots and wings. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

To that end, I read a paper edited by Father Patrick H. Ahern on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee Observance of the Diocese of Duluth. I was surprised (and so were many others when I told them) to learn that in September 1956, Msgr. Laurence A. Glenn, pastor of St. James Parish in Duluth, was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of our diocese! Bishop Thomas A. Welch was the ordinary of the diocese at that time. I asked our diocesan archivist to provide me with any information that we might have on our one and only auxiliary bishop. 

Bishop Laurence Glenn was born in August 1900. He was ordained in 1927 and served as an assistant pastor in Brainerd (1927) and at St. John the Evangelist in Duluth (1928-1947). Imagine back in those days, he was an assistant priest for 19 years before he became a pastor. Today, our newly ordained priests are appointed a pastor after only two to three years of serving as a parochial vicar (assistant pastor). 

Msgr. Glenn was named the pastor at St. James Parish in Duluth (1947-1958) and at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary (1958-1960). He was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Duluth in 1957. However, in 1960, just three years later, he was in installed as the bishop of the Diocese of Crookston. There was an open see in Crookston, because Bishop Schenk, who was their ordinary, was named the bishop of Duluth. It was an episcopal swap of sorts between the two dioceses. Bishop Glenn retired as the Bishop of Crookston in 1970. 

Recently, I was with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who is the nuncio (ambassador) of Pope Francis in the United States. With enthusiasm, I told him that I recently discovered that the Diocese of Duluth used to have an auxiliary bishop! To be honest, he didn’t look as excited as I am to discover this historical golden nugget. I think that Bishop Glenn will remain the one and ONLY auxiliary bishop to serve our diocese! You can’t say that I didn’t try! 

The point is, that as we begin to mobilize to mission, it is important to know our roots — the roots of faith that have been planted not only in our diocese, but also in our families and parishes. Take some time to discover the God purpose and mission that is revealed in the history of your family and parish, so that grabbing on to the wings of the Holy Spirit, we may be a people of both roots and wings. 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth 

Protecting our children’s right to be safe at school 

By The Minnesota Catholic Conference 
Inside the Capitol 

Guns are claiming the lives of U.S. children at alarming rates. It is the second leading cause of death for our kids. We’re just halfway through 2022, and already firearms have claimed the lives of over 700 children under age 19, including the 19 who were recently killed by an 18-year-old in a mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas. 

The Church takes an all-of-the-above approach to combating gun violence, as there is no ultimate solution to the complex problem, so long as evil persists in the human heart and guns are readily available as they will be in the U.S. due to our constitutionally protected right to own guns. But because rights come with responsibilities there are common-sense safety reforms that need to be part of the solution. 

At the state level, there are various gun safety proposals which the Minnesota Catholic Conference supports, such as red flag laws, but there is no political will to find common ground to pass them. 

Therefore, to take steps to protect students now, MCC has urged Governor Walz to call a special session and pass Safe Schools legislation. This need is urgent! There were 22 shooting incidents in K-12 schools so far in 2022 and 119 since 2018. We need to act now before one more child gets on their bus uncertain whether they will return home. 

The Safe Schools legislation, H.F. 4005/S.F. 3380, has bipartisan support. It creates a funding stream for all schools that can be used for security personnel, building enhancement, violence prevention programs, and mental health initiatives. Passing such legislation would be a concrete step toward protecting our children’s right to be safe from gun violence at least in the classroom. 

While it is true that virtuous people need fewer laws, our reality is a permissive society that has become an incubator for alienation, mental illness, spiritual poverty, and other pathologies. It breeds nihilistic killers. 

Undoubtedly, we must minister to people before they reach such a dark place! So, in conjunction with the long-term project of creating a virtuous society in which families and thereby individuals flourish, we need more immediate safety reforms such as Safe Schools legislation. 

Go to MNCatholic.org/ActionCenter today to tell your legislators we must pass Safe Schools legislation before even one more child is injured. 

Diocese takes first step toward possible cause for former FOCUS missionary 

By Catholic News Service 

Bishop David D. Kagan of Bismarck announced June 16 the diocese will open an investigation into “the holiness of life and love for God” of North Dakota native Michelle Christine Duppong, who died of cancer Dec. 25, 2015. She was 31. 

At the time of her death, Duppong was the director of adult faith formation for the Diocese of Bismarck. Before that, she was a missionary for six years with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS.

Michelle Christine Duppong is seen in this undated photo. She died from cancer Dec. 25, 2015, at age 31 while serving as the director of adult faith formation for the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D. Before that she was a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students for six years. On June 16, Bismarck Bishop David D. Kagan announced the opening of a diocesan investigation into Duppong’s “holiness of life and love for God” for her possible canonization. (CNS photo/courtesy University of Mary)

She mentored hundreds of students on college campuses and her final assignment with FOCUS was on its inaugural team at the University of Mary in Bismarck. 

“Michelle’s holiness of life and love for God certainly touched us here in the Diocese of Bismarck, at the University of Mary and throughout FOCUS, but hers is also a witness which should also be shared with the universal church,” Bishop Kagan said. 

He announced the diocesan investigation into her life and faith at the FOCUS new staff training at the University of Mary. The investigation could lead to her beatification and canonization. 

“Michelle was a radiant, joyful woman with the heart of a true servant,” said Msgr. James Shea, president of the Benedictine university. “For the students on our campus, she was an inspiration and a treasured mentor, teaching them by her example the transformative power of friendship with God.” 

Duppong grew up in Haymarsh, North Dakota, and earned a degree in horticulture at North Dakota State University in 2006. While there, she encountered FOCUS, and the Catholic apostolate inspired her to serve as a FOCUS missionary after graduation. 

In 2012, Duppong became Bismarck’s diocesan director of adult faith formation, “using her missionary zeal to bring others closer to Christ,” said a news release. On Dec. 29, 2014, Duppong was diagnosed with cancer “and battled the disease with perseverance and a patient, cheerful spirit” until her death. 

The diocesan investigation, which involves the gathering of evidence about Duppong’s life and deeds, will include witness testimonies and the compilation of private and public writings. When this is completed, the next stage toward her canonization cause is for the diocese to present the evidence to the Dicastery for Saints’ Causes at the Vatican. 

If the documentation is accepted for consideration and her cause is officially opened, Duppong would then be considered a “Servant of God.” 

“From there, the cause could proceed at a steady pace, especially if there are no theological objections and Duppong enjoys what the church calls ‘the fame of sanctity’ — that she is venerated as a holy person.” 

In general, a verified miracle attributed to her intercession would be needed for he beatification and a second such miracle would be required for canonization. 

A documentary titled “Thirst for Souls: the Michelle Duppong Story” is in the works. Its worldwide premiere would take place at SEEK23, FOCUS’ national conference, to be held Jan. 2-6 in St. Louis. 

The mission of FOCUS is “to share the hope and joy of the Gospel” on campuses and in parishes through Bible studies, outreach events, mission trips, and discipleship. 

For the 2021–22 academic year, nearly 800 FOCUS missionaries are serving at 205 locations, which includes 22 parish venues across the U.S. and seven international campuses. 

FOCUS alumni, now numbering nearly 40,000, live and serve in parishes and communities across the country. 

Editorial: ‘Vocations season’ an invitation to discern, live out our own call

It’s summer, and in addition to warm days, lake life, mosquitoes, barbecues, and all the rest, it is also a time when what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “sacraments at the service of communion” — aka holy orders and matrimony — are commonly celebrated.

It’s what we might call “vocations season.” 

Here in the Diocese of Duluth, we have been blessed with six men receiving the sacrament of holy orders in the past couple of months, with two new priests and four new permanent deacons taking up a new vocation in service to the church.  

And in many of our parishes, we also celebrate with joy as couples are joined in marriage and take on new vocations and spouses, founding new families, new places where the “domestic church” is present, the place of service to love and new life. 

We are right to be grateful to God for these blessings and to all those receiving these sacraments for the “yes” they have given to God in his call for their lives. We’re certainly right to pray for new clergy and new married couples that they will live out this call faithfully and joyfully and fruitfully. We are right to beg God for more of these blessings — for more holy marriages, more priests and deacons. 

And these joyous events are also an invitation to consider our own call, to whatever state in life God has given us. For some of us, those are calls we have already received, and the invitation is to rededicate ourselves to that calling and living it out in a holy and missionary way. For others, it is still the time of discernment, of asking God for a deeper sense of direction on how he has called us to live and love in the communion of his church. 

Wherever we find ourselves on that journey, in this “vocations season,” may we find in these joyful moments the encouragement to live out our own call generously and with faith and trust in the God who has given each of us the vocation to be his holy ones. 

Winona-Rochester bishop retires; Bishop Barron is named successor 

By Catholic News Service 

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop John M. Quinn of Winona-Rochester and named as his successor Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles. 

Bishop Quinn, who has headed the Diocese of Winona-Rochester for 13 years, is 76. Canon law requires bishops to turn their resignation in to the pope when they turn 75.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, right, and other U.S. bishops concelebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major while making their “ad limina” visits in Rome in this Jan. 30, 2020, file photo. Bishop Barron has been appointed by Pope Francis as the new bishop of Winona-Rochester. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

Bishop Barron, 62, is a Chicago native who has been a Los Angeles auxiliary bishop since 2015. He is the episcopal vicar of the Santa Barbara pastoral region, one of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s five pastoral regions. He also is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. 

The changes were announced in Washington June 2 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S. 

Bishop Quinn said he was “filled with joy” that the pope has appointed Bishop Barron as his successor and the ninth bishop to head the 20-county diocese. “His commitment to evangelization and missionary discipleship will bear great fruit in the coming years,” the retiring prelate said in a statement. 

The Mass of installation for Bishop Barron will be celebrated July 29. 

“I am overjoyed and humbled to receive this new assignment,” Bishop Barron said. “I look forward immensely to getting to know the good people, priests, and pastoral ministers of the diocese.” 

“I will have to brush off my Chicago winter coat, which has remained unused for the past six years in Santa Barbara!” he added. “My fondest hope is that I might be a good spiritual father to all the Catholics of southern Minnesota.” 

“The bishop of a diocese is, first and foremost, a spiritual father to the priests and people who have been entrusted to his care,” Bishop Barron said in a statement. “My prayer this morning is that the Lord will give me the grace always to be a good father.” 

As Pope Francis “often teaches,” he said, a bishop is “a shepherd with the smell of the sheep — out in front of the flock in one sense, leading the way, but also with the flock, giving encouragement, and in back of the flock in order to gather in those who have fallen behind. 

He also prayed “for the grace to be just that kind of shepherd” to the Catholics of the Winona-Rochester Diocese. 

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez called Bishop Barron “a man of prayer, with a fine intellect and a beautiful zeal to spread the love of Jesus Christ. I am certain that he will be a great shepherd for the family of God in Winona-Rochester.” 

“I am very grateful for his service here in the Santa Barbara pastoral region over these past several years,” he said in a statement. “Personally, I am going to miss him, and so will the people of Santa Barbara and all of us in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 

“Entrusting him to the tender care of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I wish him all God’s blessings in his new appointment.” 

Bishop Barron called it “an extraordinary privilege” to have served as a Los Angeles auxiliary bishop for the past seven years. 

“The priests and people received me, from the beginning, with warmth and enthusiasm,” he said in his statement, adding that he had “the good fortune to observe close up” the ministry of Archbishop Gomez, whom he called “one of the great churchmen on the scene today.” 

“Watching him govern the largest archdiocese in the country was a master class in ecclesial leadership,” Bishop Barron said. 

He added, “It is with real sadness in my heart that I take leave of the good people of the Santa Barbara pastoral region. Together, we made our way through fire, flood, mudslides, and COVID, and I will never forget your kindness to me and never cease to draw strength from your faith.” 

In Minnesota, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis welcomed Bishop Barron’s appointment and said he looked forward to collaborating with him “as he joins the bishops of our state in striving to provide pastoral leadership after the heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd.” 

“I have long admired his ministry and am delighted that he will now be bringing his rich experience and considerable gifts as a teacher and preacher to the people of southern Minnesota, building on the firm foundation that is Bishop John Quinn’s legacy after 13 years of faithful ministry,” Archbishop Hebda said in a statement. 

Duluth Bishop Daniel Felton also welcomed the news in a statement, saying, “On behalf of the Diocese of Duluth, I would like to welcome Bishop Robert Barron as the next Bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester. Bishop Barron is returning to his Midwest roots, as he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago. As a rector, speaker, preacher and auxiliary bishop, he has touched the lives and hearts of thousands of people.” 

Bishop Felton also expressed his gratitude to Bishop Quinn for his service to the church. “He was very helpful to me as a newly ordained bishop,” he added. “I pray that his years of retirement back in Detroit will be filled with good health and abundant joy.” 

Robert Emmet Barron was born Nov. 19, 1959, in Chicago. He spent his childhood in Detroit and then in the Chicago suburb of Western Springs. After graduating from Benet Academy, a private Benedictine high school, in 1977, he attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana for a year, then transferred to Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. 

He was accepted a year later as a Basselin scholar at the School of Theology of The Catholic University of America in Washington, where he received a bachelor of philosophy degree in 1981 and a master of arts in philosophy in 1982. He earned a licentiate of sacred theology from Mundelein Seminary in 1986. 

He was ordained a priest for the Chicago Archdiocese by Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin May 24, 1986. 

Then-Father Barron served as an associate pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Parish in Park Ridge, Illinois, from 1986 to 1989, when he was sent to study at the Institut Catholique de Paris. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology there in 1992. 

He was a professor of theology at Mundelein Seminary from 1992 to 2015 and also served as its president-rector from 2012 to 2015, when he was named a Los Angeles auxiliary. 

In 2000, he launched his Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Its website, www.wordonfire.org, hosts daily blog posts, weekly articles, and video commentaries. Bishop Barron has over 3.1 million Facebook followers, 517,000 YouTube subscribers, 349,000 Instagram followers, and 198,000 Twitter followers. 

“Word on Fire” programs, featuring the bishop, have been broadcast regularly on WGN America, EWTN, Relevant Radio, and the Word on Fire YouTube Channel. His 10-part TV series “Catholicism,” an award-winning documentary about the Catholic faith, aired on PBS. 

Bishop Barron said in his statement that “the important work of Word on Fire … will certainly continue” even as he moves to a new diocese. 

“Through our gifted staff, we will keep bringing you regular videos, interviews, articles, sermons and daily reflections,” he explained. “We will press forward with the Word on Fire Institute, the Word on Fire Bible series, the Liturgy of the Hours initiative, our many books and YouTube shows, and more exciting things coming down the pipeline.” 

He asked the faithful to pray for him as he begins “this new adventure under the Lord’s providence, and pray for the all the good people of the Winona-Rochester Diocese.” 

Father Nicholas Nelson: There is one true faith, the Catholic faith

As far back as I can remember, I have always been convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith. It is something my parents formed in me. I wasn’t always as zealous as I am now. I hadn’t always desired to be a saint, but I always believed in the truth of the Catholic Church. That conviction is a grace I am most grateful for. With that said, it may be worthwhile to lay out the logical progression for being Catholic. Why does it make sense to be Catholic? 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

First, that there is a God can be known by reason alone. 

We have to start with our reason. There needs to be a foundation in my own mind for a particular truth. Some people make the mistake saying that believing in God takes faith. That isn’t true. Faith is believing on the authority of someone else. We believe a lot of things because God has revealed them, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and that God is a Trinity, but that there is a God — that doesn’t take faith, just our reason. We can look at the created world and logically conclude there must be first cause of everything and a being who holds everything in existence, i.e. “God.” Ironically enough, it is an article of faith that God’s existence can be known by reason alone. This is from the First Vatican Council (1870): “God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason, through the things that he created” (Dei Filius 2). 

Second, Jesus is validated by the resurrection. 

Once we have established the existence of God, we must admit that we don’t know a lot about him. We can reason a few things, such as God is one, unchanging, eternal, all-powerful, pure, immaterial, and all good. But after that, we can’t know much more. He had to reveal himself to us. He did that slowly throughout the Old Testament, but with Jesus of Nazareth, we have the fullness of God’s revelation of himself. 

That Jesus rose from the dead is a historically verifiable event. Consider the Gospel accounts, the radical conversion of his followers willing to die for him, and the fact that after his death, his Messianic movement didn’t end or even continue with a different leader. Rather, his followers claimed it continued with him! Why? Because he was alive! The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth validates Jesus and his mission. The resurrection of Jesus categorically proves that every other religion or claim of revelation is man-made. God cannot contradict himself. He could not at one time affirm Jesus as his Son while at the same time revealing other messages that contradict Jesus’ revelation. For example, we cannot believe in Jesus as the Son of God and at the same time say Islam or Buddhism are true religions. 

Third, Jesus set up a church to continue his saving mission. 

Once we establish Jesus’ validity, we can look to what he said and did, because we can trust it. He claimed to be God. He claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. And He established a church. He said to Peter, “You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church.” He gave Peter and the other Twelve his very own authority. He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus told them, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them, teaching them all I have commanded you. And behold I am with you until the end of time.” 

Fourth, the church Christ founded is the same as the Catholic Church today. 

Where is that church today? Where is Jesus’ authority today? Protestants today don’t even claim to have Jesus’ authority. They point to the Bible as their only authority. Catholics make the same claim as the early church, that our pope and bishops in communion with him actually have God’s very own divine authority. We can trace the succession of popes from Pope Francis to St. Peter, and if we did have good enough records, we could trace Bishop Daniel Felton all the way back to one of the Apostles. The church Jesus founded is the Catholic Church we find today. Every other Christian community is man-made. 

God is a good Father. He wants his children to know who he is and what his plan is for us. He wants us to find him. Despite the confusion in the world and the church, every person sincerely open to the truth can see that the Catholic Church is the true faith. One God, one Savior, one church, the Catholic Church. 

In the end it just takes the gift of grace and a little leap of faith to give yourself entirely over to God and to follow Christ wholeheartedly as a Catholic. It will always take some faith to make that final step, but it takes faith for a man to entrust his heart to a woman for the rest of his life. 

That’s what God wants from us. He doesn’t want to be a math equation. He wants to be loved as Father, and as a friend. But this relationship isn’t a blind leap, but a rational one, one that makes all the sense in the world to make! 

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]. 

Father Richard Kunst: Why do we ‘dare’ to say the Lord’s Prayer?

Curiously, during this past school year I got the same question from more than a few kids. It was about something we priests say in the context of the Mass, and I have to say, the question is a good one, worthy of good answer. Paraphrasing, the question went like this: “Father, why do you say at Mass that we ‘dare’ to say the Our Father?” 

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

Observant kids! About 10 or 12 years ago, when the new and more accurate translation of the Mass was introduced to the English speaking world, the priest’s introduction to the Lord’s Prayer changed from the priest’s own discretion to an expected formula, which by now we are all familiar with: “At the Savior’s command, and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say.” 

So why do we “dare” say it? When we were kids, we probably all played truth or dare at some point. A dare was meant to be a scary thing, or at least a flexing of some courage, so why does it take courage to pray the Lord’s Prayer? The first thing to note is that we need to pay attention when we are saying familiar, memorized prayers. There is a vast difference between saying prayers and praying. And DARE I say that many of us do not pay much attention to the words we are actually praying? Because truth be told, the Our Father is a bit radical, and it takes courage to meaningfully pray it. 

Though there may be many reasons we dare to say this prayer, there are three that I will touch on. First, it’s how we start the prayer, referring to God as our Father. Or, if we were to be more true to the original language, we are actually referring to God in the less formal way as our dad. Start the prayer that way some time, and you will see how different it feels: “Our Dad, who is in heaven ….” Though the Old Testament is much longer than the New Testament, there are only 11 times in which God is referred to as a father, and in some of those 11 times he is compared to a father, not actually called a father. So when Jesus revealed God as our heavenly dad, it was a radical departure from the norm. When we enter into an intimate relationship with anyone, it can become risky for us, but to enter into such an intimate relationship with God brings it to a whole new level. It takes guts; it takes courage. 

A second point in which we dare to say the Lord’s Prayer is when we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are asking God to be in control on earth as he is in heaven, and that is not easy. God gives us free will to choose whatever we want, and he respects that free will, but when we pray that important line, we are giving God control of everything, or at least asking him to exercise his will over everything. In the Old Testament, when the Hebrew people were asking to have a king like all the nations surrounding them, the prophets said that God himself was their king, but the Hebrew people rejected that concept, so God anointed Saul as their king, and from that point forward the people slowly wandered farther and farther from God. 

To surrender our will to the divine will of God is no easy task, and when we do that we are certain to experience suffering and even rejection, but in the end it will be the source of the greatest joy. Still, it takes guts and true discipline to ask God to have his will done on earth just as it is done in heaven. 

Finally, and I have written about this in past columns, the third reason we “dare” to say the Lord’s Prayer is when we pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Though God’s love is inescapable and without condition, his mercy and forgiveness certainly have conditions. The most difficult condition for us to receive his forgiveness is that we must forgive others who have sinned against us. In essence when we speak these words towards the end of the prayer we are asking God to forgive us only to the degree that we first are willing to forgive. 

That is actually a pretty clear theme throughout the New Testament, but for Jesus to put it into the one prayer he taught his disciples turns it up a notch. Think of all the times we have been hurt by people, especially if the hurt was bad. Have we held a grudge? What if the person does not ask to be forgiven? What if we think they don’t deserve our forgiveness? It doesn’t matter. God bestows mercy and forgiveness in reckless abandon, and so should we: seven times seventy, Jesus once told Peter, meaning without limit. This is, in fact, extremely difficult, but it is necessary. 

So next time you pray to your heavenly Dad in the Our Father, pay close attention to the words rather than just mindlessly saying them. It takes guts to say and ask what is contained in this most famous of prayers, but at the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare say it! 

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Family gathering at wedding is an eye-opener

My niece, who lives on the East Coast, got married. Half of my siblings traveled a long distance and decided to make a week of it. I can’t remember when so many of my brothers and sisters spent that much time with each other. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I always marvel at how large families who have shared nearly everything growing up, attend similar schools, eat the same food every day, and play in the same sandbox their whole childhood grow up so different from each other. My family came from all over the globe to attend this event, which does not happen too often. My weekly expectations were minimal. I was hoping for some time to connect and experience a little family unity. 

The Fourth of July has been a time to celebrate the birth of our nation and the sacrifice people gave for our freedom. This day is where we honor the success that our election process has had a peaceful change of power at all government levels, even if we do not always agree with each other. In many countries, the shift from one party to another causes civil unrest, if not deadly riots. U. S. citizens have always been proud of our willingness to accept the handing over of political power to the opposing side after an election. The brilliance of the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution is truly remarkable. I hope we can continue to manage that appreciation. 

It seems to me that the Fourth of July has become a day where we acknowledge the signing of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Still, I think we slowly forget the rest of this day’s importance, like peacefulness, civility, and general respect for each other and the common good. Some are discarding even the significance of signing the Declaration of Independence. I speculate that if the Fourth of July did not come with a mid-summer day off, good barbecue food, and fireworks, would the people of the United States even celebrate this holiday? Or are we finding it politically incorrect to point out our remarkable history? 

As Americans, we used to see ourselves as “we the people,” “one nation under God,” and “United.” However, those statements seem to be supercharged with political overtones, which are causing severe division. 

While growing up, politics weren't a big thing in our household. My parents rarely, if ever, spoke about parties, who they voted for, or what legislative bills they supported. I know they voted, but it appeared to be more of their duty as citizens than a proclamation or demand of what they expected from their government. I remember those days fondly, when the most significant division that happened in a community was between rival high school sporting teams. 

As I spent time with my family during the wedding week, I quickly learned that we saw each other’s standpoints very differently. At first, it appeared to be a generational gap between the parents and our children, but that didn’t hold. Next, as I listened to the arguments, I was confident that the division was happening in a way where individuals considered themselves part of the “Democrat club” and others were members of the “Republican club.” Just as I was convinced that was the cause of division, my hypothesis fell apart when the discussion involved human rights matters. Briefly, and I mean briefly, I thought the lines were drawn at President Biden supporters and President Trump supporters. That was wrong, too. 

I was still curious and a bit mystified midway through my trip. While analyzing the nitty-gritty, I thought the passion and the markers were as conservative vs. liberal perspectives. Still, the discontent was still murky and not super reliable. 

Instead of just listening, I began asking questions and developed a new theory. First, I discovered that many of my family members’ arguments lacked logic — I mean academic reason, what you learn in an introductory philosophy class. I know logic has been removed from general education requirements. This week was an example that the absence of basic philosophical skills is already negatively impacting peoples’ ability to form an opinion. 

Next, when asked to bring their argument to an eventual conclusion, they could not or would not. For instance, I said, “if your idea is correct and the world agrees to do as you propose, will society prosper, or will it collapse?” 

I asked a few more questions, but the defining question was, “Do you live for here and now, your earthly existence, or do you live with the end in mind, your heavenly hope?” This last question seemed to be the central divider. The larger fraction of the family was uninterested, unmoved, and dismissive of making decisions based on an eternal reward, hope, or a life lived toward a union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Sometimes, family members refused to include that concept in the discussion. More than one person said, “I don’t even want to go there.” This omission in their argument caught me off guard. Everyone believed in God, but heaven was such a given it wasn’t even a factor in the conversation. 

All my siblings were raised Catholic, and all those married married a Catholic or convert to Catholicism. All but two of my nieces and nephews were baptized. 

Every bit of Catholicism is about salvation. Everything in the Catholic Faith ultimately points to the end, our hopeful union with the Almighty. It became apparent why I struggled to understand their perspective. The two fractions look at life entirely differently. At times, I couldn’t even understand their point, and therefore, the divide was purpose, language, and intent. 

The “here and now” group was, about the immediate, about me, even at the the cost of others. There was a great willingness to tolerate others, “do as you want,” and they seemed to be insistent on me accepting their truth. Loud and clear I heard, “no one has a right to impose anything on their choices.” 

For the “end in mind” group, eternity seemed to be central to their decision making. They do not believe they own truth, and an important factor was they realized they were a piece of a larger puzzle. The “end of mind” used logic, a greater purpose beyond self, and their impact on a more significant whole was fundamental to defining how decisions should be made. 

These two different approaches seem to me to be at the root of what is causing the division in our country. I am confident that one of these two approaches is more right. I figure if the “here and now” group is more right, then they will have enjoyed some pleasure I have not. If the “end in mind” perspective is more right, then the “here and now” group might be risking their heavenly eternity, a risk I am not willing to take. 

This wedding week was a real eye-opener. When I share my perspective on significant issues, many in my family don’t get what I am saying, or they think I am old fashioned or label me as unfeeling or mean. I get it now; they don’t get my intent. The “here and now” group is enjoying their here and now life, and as long as I don’t interfere, they don’t care if I am on board or not. As a Catholic, I believe the division happens in our society because as Catholics we are called to invite others to the heavenly banquet — it is our duty, obligation, and responsibility. As the “here and now” operate as individuals, we are left needing to bring them into community; we can’t leave them alone, it is our baptismal obligation. 

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

Deacon Kyle Eller: In a post-Roe world, our pro-life convictions have to deepen still more

I’ve been pro-life since I knew what the word “abortion” meant. When God called me back to faith, one of the means he used to bring me to the Catholic Church was its pro-life witness, which presented, in an even deeper and more profound way than I had yet been able to, the best moral intuition in me of the inestimable value of every human life. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

I grew up in a Protestant community that was also strongly opposed to abortion, but as a young adult I fell away from faith. By the time I was out of college, I was basically a “spiritual but not religious” agnostic seeker, and when it came to controversial social issues, I sided with orthodox Christianity on few of them.  

Abortion was the big, glaring exception. 

At some point this exception began to bother me. Why did I have this one view so conspicuously out of place? I wondered if I had missed something. So, I started to examine my position, and the more I did that, the more sure I was that the pro-life position was right.  

Scientifically, there is no reasonable doubt about when life begins. At the moment of conception there is a new life, starting with a single cell — a new organism with its own unique set of human DNA distinct from both mother and father, rapidly growing and developing along a plan largely encoded into those genes. Every subsequent stage of life, from embryo to an old-age deathbed, is just part of the life cycle of that same organism, the life of an individual human person. At no point along that path is there any difference in kind — in what kind of thing it is — only in his or her growth and development. Deciding you can kill a fetus but not a toddler is exactly as arbitrary and outrageous as saying you can kill a toddler but not an adolescent. It’s the same creature. 

The same is true for human capabilities that change with our development, such as intelligence or self-awareness. Those vary throughout every stage of life and also vary widely among people. To imagine we could assign a right to life and dignity based on someone's present knowledge or intelligence or self-awareness is as arbitrary and morally monstrous as doing so based on productivity or physical beauty or sex or skin color.  

Perversely, this kind of thinking would also end up measuring human worth on a scale, both individually and collectively, with some people deemed more valuable than others, and each individual life more valuable at some stages than others, and where at certain points the value drops so low one may be killed. Who is the worthy judge of such things? What reliable, universally accepted measure of them could there be? How do we weight which characteristics matter most? The whole idea is absurd. 

The more I examined it, the clearer it was that abortion is just what I thought it was: the deliberate taking of an innocent human life. And while I was then a self-professed moral relativist, there I bumped up against a hard limit to relativism.   

Because I revered life. I was a pacifist and a nature lover and for many years even a vegetarian. Life, to me, was (and is) something so precious, so irreplaceable, the taking of it so irrevocable. And especially every human life, each person brings the light of a unique perspective and experience, a fresh set of eyes on the world. How could anyone be content to deliberately snuff that out? Who can fathom the loss of even one life? 

Finding this solid ground, I decided the “glaring exception” in my worldview was not what needed rethinking, it was my worldview. Eventually, by God’s grace, that came to include my religious views. 

All this has filled my thoughts in the wake of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a moment I had doubted I would live to see. I’ve been mulling over five decades of life, most of those years spent engaged in some way in the public conversation about this issue: writing, speaking, marching, praying, attempting to persuade and reason.  

I have in my mind snapshots and memories — incidents and personal encounters praying during 40 Days for Life, distressing conversations with people close to me, friends gained and lost, hurtful things said or written to me and about me, faces and names of people who didn’t live to see their prayers for an end to Roe answered, the hard decisions, the internal disagreements, all the rest. 

Coming to faith deepened and grounded and enriched (and in some ways purified) my lifelong conviction about the beauty and worth of every human life. I never needed to be told being pro-life also meant compassion for scared or desperate pregnant mothers or all the rest of the suffering people of the world. That was always a given, always wrapped in the same moral conviction for me. That’s all it ever has been about for me.  

Now, as I look out on a post-Roe world in this watershed moment, it’s as if I can see the destruction of 50 years of cultural conflict and hear the roar of irrational hatred and wrath pouring out. To be hated for loving life and wanting to protect the innocent — it’s so absurd I want to weep for the sadness of it. 

But I know it is not our call to get lost in that sadness. God's call is to continue to love. United with Jesus, who also was hated for doing good and forgave his tormenters from the cross, we are to love even those who hate us and wish us harm. In this way we continue to grow in our reverence and love for every human person, each of whom was willed and loved by God from all eternity, from the moment of their conception through every stage of life. 

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