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Editorial: Don’t miss out on the Eucharistic Revival

Last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly passed its long-debated document on the Eucharist. To say there has been a flood of commentary about that document and the circumstances surrounding it — with the debate over how the church’s pastors should shepherd Catholic politicians who take policy positions contradicting the faith — would be an understatement. A lot of words have been spent debating those complex questions, and many people have strong feelings one way or the other.

Those strong feelings may tempt some to miss the most important part of why the U.S. bishops addressed the Eucharist, and that would be a tragic mistake. The bishops, in light of studies suggesting many of the faithful do not fully appreciate or believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, have embarked on a three-year Eucharistic Revival, to bring the faithful to a deeper eucharistic faith.

The Second Vatican Council teaches that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” We believe that body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ are made truly present for us under the appearance of bread and wine, and that receiving Holy Communion is an act of the most intimate connection to him, when he gives us his very life and pours out the abundant graces of the Paschal Mystery to strengthen and heal and save us.

Those who don’t know or believe this are missing out on this profound gift of God and the graces that accompany it. That is truly a profound loss we must try to address. But even for those who believe, we are always in need of growing in our understanding and gratitude for this great mystery.

The Eucharistic Revival, then, is something every Catholic can and should embrace. Look for the opportunities the coming years will provide to deepen our encounter with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to find there his healing and love, and to truly make this great gift of God the source and summit of our lives.

Betsy Kneepkens: Helping those who have too little — and those who have too much

It is Christmastime again, and some of the most humanitarian works for the poor and marginalized occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Any time of the year is an excellent time to help those in need, and if Christmas is when giving works best for some people, I say “go for it.”

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I love to hear stories of what churches have done for struggling individuals and families. My parish has had a giving tree for as long as I can remember. Catholic schoolchildren and religious education classes have made cards for those living at dependent care facilities and hospitals, sung at various locations, collected clothing items and food, and participated in Operation Christmas Child. I know of at least one parish that is doing a program called “The Best Christmas Ever,” where a community comes together to surprise a family that has fallen on tough times. It is a beautiful display of unity, generosity, and love.

Christmas has always been a big deal in our house. For larger families, it is the time of year that we come together, celebrate the birth of Christ, and receive gifts, mostly of needs but wants too. As our children were growing older, we wanted to use this time of year to teach our children to be givers to those in need.

For several years, our family would be involved in service in our community. As our children have moved away from home, we started a Christmas tradition where we would gather a list of local organizations that were doing the work of Christ, in line with church teachings, and then research their purpose and how they serve. On Christmas Day, we present the organization’s mission to our kids, and they vote on which organization would be granted a family financial gift. I think many lessons are taught through this activity, and this fun exercise has our adult children thinking about others and not so much about themselves anymore.

I believe serving and supporting our disadvantaged brothers and sisters is always an obligation of being a follower of Christ. I am sure it doesn’t surprise many that we live in an increasingly divided country — in many ways, but most apparently in social and economic matters. Our church must be the first and foremost leader in lessening the suffering of those in need. I think most of us get that.

Another segment of the population is suffering greatly, but seeking support and healing for them appears politically incorrect. The group I am referring to is those who have too much. We live in a society where many live with excess. We don’t talk about the consequence of their wealth and how, for some, the condition torments. More often than not, as individuals acquire more, they slowly turn themselves away from Christ. The movement toward riches and away from dependency on God opens the door for the evil one to reign unknowingly. The devil seeks out their weakened soul and, if agreeable, entices them to turn their backs on Christ. The Gospels reference this suffering more than a dozen times, and Christ seeks to heal them, pointing the “financially” afflicted back toward our heavenly Father.

Although you can have material needs overly met, and that might feel good, things can’t quench the essential thirst of your heart. You have just to read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or scan social media each day to realize the suffering of the rich and famous. Unspeakable tragedy happens over and over again, almost like we now expect it and accept it.

Not that I have had many encounters with highly affluent individuals, but some that I have known have lived fractured lives. Sadly they have experienced divorce or infidelity, or physical, psychological, and emotional abuse. Ultimately, the results of their wealth end up starving the real pleasure they seek. If they have children, their offspring tend to mirror and suffer even worse than their parents.

Worse yet, they are quickly taken advantage of, and if they are strong enough not to have people use them, they live in a constant state of distrust. Rich and famous people’s failures are exploited and publicly criticized, and mistakes become unforgivable gossip and news. You can never be sure if relationships exist because of what you have not really who you are. We all worry about safety, but wealthy and well-known people are targeted by the cruel, envious, and villainous, simply because they have more. So often, these individuals get to the point where enough is not enough, and greed becomes the driving force. Furthermore, people think ill of wealthy people for no other reason than they have more — what a horrible daily battle.

The Gospel neither encourages nor condemns wealth. Christ wants us to love and serve the Lord. I believe wealth and fame were intended for some to be a force of good in the world. For the portion of people who have managed material success, they have been a gift to so many others. They inspire others to live extraordinary lives when they don’t allow their wealth to define them and reject the devil’s enticements.

Some of the wealthiest individuals in our country pledge to give 90% of their wealth away before they die to those less fortunate. When their fortune is a gift given, without expecting anything in return, their actions seek the will of the Father. When they use the brilliance that created their wealth to teach others or improve the world, they live out their God-given purpose. As Christ taught, all disorders ought to be reordered, and as his disciples, we don’t get to choose which disorders need healing. We have to work on all of it.

As Christians, we are called to help those whose basic needs aren’t met. However, we need to keep in mind that poverty exists spiritually as well. Christ’s birth was about saving everyone. This Christmas, I hope we can have a heart and send up a prayer for those who suffer from being too fortunate so they can detach themselves from things, manage the blessings they received, and regift what they have been given to make for a better world.

May this Christmas be a time where we pray for all those that suffer, the people who have little and those that have too much. Merry Christmas to all!

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

Legalizing sports wagers: entertainment or enslavement? You can bet it’s not worth the risk to lives and livelihoods

Inside the Capitol

Legalizing sports betting, already a prominent topic of legislative discussion, has been pushed to the front of the 2022 session chatter, with both Republicans and Democrats signaling their support, and Rep. Zack Stephenson’s (DFL-Champlin) announcement that he would lead a bill in 2022 to legalize sports betting. His decision matters, because he can give the bill momentum as the Chair of the House Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over gambling and gaming laws.

The Catholic Church does not strictly prohibit Catholics from participating in games of chance. But modern sports gambling, particularly when available through one’s smart phone, is like an addictive drug that has and will harm lives, families, and the common good. We must make a commonsense distinction between low stakes fund-raising events sponsored by charitable organizations, and the normalization of a vice industry whose revenues depend upon those who are (or will become) problem gamblers.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2413) warns that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement” and that wagers “become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.” The allure of quick, easy, big money through sports wagering will be a trap for people searching for a way out of an already precarious financial position.

Gambling addiction causes severe financial, emotional, and even physical problems for the gambler and their family. Coping with the negative consequences of gambling can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of shame and hopelessness. The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that about 20 percent of those diagnosed with disordered gambling attempt suicide — a higher percentage than any other addictive disorder.

Do we really want to risk having one more form of so-called “entertainment” when the odds are so clear that it can destroy livelihoods and even end lives? That sure doesn’t sound like fun.

How did we get here?

In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a federal law that banned sports gambling everywhere outside of Nevada. Since then, several states have expanded gambling laws to permit betting on sporting events. Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) and Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) introduced a bill during the 2021 legislative session to legalize on-site and mobile betting but only in and around tribal casinos. Their bill did not receive a hearing.

The legalization of sports betting would be the biggest change in Minnesota gaming since compacts were signed with Minnesota’s Native American tribes in 1991. Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign a sports betting bill only if it has been agreed to by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. Tribal communities have opposed previous attempts to bring sports gambling to Minnesota, but their stance may be changing. Now, Chair Stephenson says he will hold informational hearings and consult with the state’s Native American tribes before introducing a formal bill.

Where do we go from here?

We should not unleash this addictive and destructive activity on our people so that a privileged few can have more excitement during the increasingly boring spectacles offered by the professional sports leagues.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference will be working closely with stakeholders, such as the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling, to ensure that, to the extent possible, families, the poor, and the vulnerable are held harmless by this latest effort to expand gambling. Urge your legislators to commission a study on the current prevalence of problem gambling in Minnesota and ensure any gambling expansion makes available the proper resources for prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

Father Richard Kunst: How to view ‘cancel culture’ in a healthy light

Many years ago when I was having a conversation with a brother priest, I had expressed to him something that had me upset. I have no recollection of what I complained about, but I will never forget how he responded. In a voice that a parent would have used to talk to their infant child, he said, “You are such a victim! Yes you are! Yes you are! You are such a little victim.”

Father Richard Kunst

I have to say that I was two seconds away from punching him in the face to make him the victim. In the interest of full disclosure, I found it hilarious, and I have often done the same thing to friends of mine since then.

My brother priest’s entertaining response is pretty appropriate to our current generation. We live in an era in which people cling to their past hurts like they are some sort of security blanket.

The examples are endless. “Woke cancel culture” is all about playing the victim. If someone says something that is deemed offensive, they get ruthlessly attacked on social media. It is a form of playing the victim. “That person said something that hurt my feelings, so I am going to strike back by getting them canceled.”

People in the public eye, such as celebrities, politicians, and athletes, might have a comment they made 20 years ago unearthed only to have the full force of woke political correctness unleashed on them. It is toxic and crazy what is happening in our world with this sort of behavior. Many famous comedians have decided to no longer perform on college campuses because college kids are so easily offended by the jokes. They get offended because they have a victim complex. This is why so many colleges have had to make “safe spaces” for their students, so that the thin skinned student can feel coddled in their victimhood.

Unfortunately the victim complex is not just on college campuses, it is pretty much everywhere now, including our military. It is even being institutionalized with the debates surrounding “reparations” for descendants of slaves. I have yet to hear a good argument for such a program. Why should the government give somebody money now because their great, great, great, great, great, great-grandparent was a slave? We are empowering victimhood with such discussion.

You might be surprised to know that this “woke” victim culture is nothing new. In fact, there is some evidence of it in the Bible! Or there are at least stories in the Bible that appear to be woke in nature. One account is of the Samaritans refusing to give Jesus and his Apostles hospitality because they were on their way to Jerusalem (a holy site they rejected). In Luke’s version of the story, after the Samaritan rejection, “when the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’” (9:55). The two Apostles wanted to cancel the Samaritans for hurting their feelings! There is no doubt that James and John felt like victims for being rejected, so they wanted to punish the perpetrators.

Jesus’ response to his two “cancel culture” apostles is what is important in the story. After they tell Jesus they wanted to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans for hurting their feelings, the Gospel says, “Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village” (9:56). Two points — first, the Gospel uses the word “rebuked,” which is the same word that is used when he exorcises or silences demons. It is not a stretch to view our cancel culture as a form of evil, because it certainly is. It destroys people’s lives and reputations for petty reasons.

And second, they just moved along and went to another village, rather than sulking like so many people do today.

Life is not fair. Every day we will be met with disappointment and hurt feelings. It is not a Christian value to crush people on social media because they said something that was deemed hurtful. It is not a Christian value to lash out at someone on Facebook because you don’t like what they said or did. As adults we need to “buck up” and not focus on how we are victims. As always, Jesus provides us the perfect example in all things.

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

Father Nicholas Nelson: St. Joseph: Was he old? Why did he want to divorce Mary?

We are coming to the end of the Year of St. Joseph. It will end on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I thought it would be fitting to consider St. Joseph in this last column before the year of St. Joseph ends. It is also relevant now that we are in the holy season of Advent and the time of the year we hear about Joseph in many of our Masses leading up to Christmas.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

How old was Joseph when we first meet him in the Gospels?

There is no official teaching on this. More commonly, people have thought of Joseph as an older man. One reason is that the Gospels don’t speak of Joseph after the finding of Jesus in the Temple. It is commonly believed that he died before Jesus began his public ministry. Another reason is the story told in non-canonical, non-official writings, most especially in the Protoevangelium of James. This apocryphal writing speaks of a search of older widowers who could be betrothed to Mary in order to protect her virginity. However, the Protoevangelium of James wasn’t written until the second century, much later than the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So, the Protoevangelium of James may not be accurate.

There are others who promote the idea of Joseph being a younger man. St. Josemaria Escriva puts it this way: “I don’t agree with the traditional picture of St. Joseph as an old man, even though it may have been prompted by a desire to emphasize the perpetual virginity of Mary. I see him as a strong, young man, perhaps a few years older than Our Lady, but in the prime of his life and work.”

You don’t have to be old to be chaste. Chastity is a powerful, magnanimous, energizing, life-giving virtue. Fulton J. Sheen said, “Since Mary is what might be called a ‘virginizer’; of young men as well as women, and the greatest inspiration of Christian purity, should she not logically have begun by inspiring and virginizing the first youth whom she had probably ever met — Joseph, the Just? It was not by diminishing his power to love but by elevating it that she would have her first conquest, and in her own spouse, the man who was a man, and not a mere senile watchman!”

Besides, St. Joseph was responsible for providing and protecting Mary and Jesus. He was responsible for helping Jesus become a man and developing the human virtues. Consider the titles we have for St. Joseph, such as “Terror of Demons”; “Chaste Guardian of the Virgin”; “Model of Workmen.” Consider all the traveling he had to do, first to Bethlehem from Nazareth with a pregnant wife and then from Bethlehem to Egypt with a wife and infant. The great Mother Angelica put it succinctly: “Old men don’t walk to Egypt!”

And then, why did Joseph intend to ‘divorce’ Mary, even if he intended to do it quietly so that she wouldn’t be ‘exposed to shame’?

One possibility is that Joseph believed that Mary had willingly committed adultery and therefore it was required of him to divorce her. I find this hard to believe. Joseph knew Mary, maybe not as well as married or engaged couples know each other these days, but he would have known that Mary is far from the type of woman who would commit adultery. I find it hard to believe that he would not have believed Mary and therefore, would have suspected her of adultery.

Another possibility is that Joseph believed that Mary had been sexually assaulted and therefore decided to divorce her. I also find it hard to believe that Joseph would leave Mary alone as a single mother being that she was the victim of rape.

So, is there an additional possibility as to why Joseph decided to divorce Mary, even “quietly”? Yes, there is. People have called this the reverence theory. Joseph believed Mary’s story. He believed that she was with child by the Holy Spirit, and therefore God was obviously doing something amazing, and therefore, he was no longer to be a part of Mary’s life because of this newly revealed plan of God for her. So out of reverence for God and out of reverence for Mary’s unique and exalted role as the Mother of God’s Son he decides to divorce her quietly. It’s out of humility and belief that this plan doesn’t concern him that he decided to divorce her.

But then in a dream, the angel Gabriel comes to him and tells him not to fear taking Mary for his wife. Gabriel tells him that he, Joseph, is to name him, the baby, Jesus. In other words, “Joseph, you are a part of this plan, a big part — you will be Jesus’ father. You will be Mary’s husband, and the head of this family. I need you in order for this plan to succeed.”

The great St. Thomas Aquinas sums it up: “Joseph did not wish to send Mary away so that he could take another wife, or on account of any suspicion, but because he feared to cohabit with such holiness out of reverence; which is why it was said to him, ‘Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.’”

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].

Deacon Kyle Eller: Overcoming our ‘culture of contempt’

“No one has ever been hated into agreement.”

Back in early 2020, I remember hearing the buzz about a speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast. The speaker was Arthur Brooks, a Catholic academic and former president of a conservative think tank whose work has focused on economics and culture. His message was straight from the words of Jesus himself — “love your enemies” — as he argued that the biggest crisis facing America and many other countries is “the crisis of contempt.”

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

It is a message he had already written about in a New York Times op-ed about a year earlier (that’s where the quote I began with came from) and one which he expanded on in his book “Love Your Enemies,” which I have been reading.

The instant I read through his prayer breakfast remarks as they were circulating through social media, I knew that he was articulating very well something I’ve been trying to say for years.

It’s important to understand what he means by “contempt.” As he makes clear, it is not a matter of disagreement (disagreement can be good) or even of anger. Borrowing a definition from the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Brooks called contempt “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of the other.”

When we come to a place where many people have abandoned persuasion and consider their political, ideological, or religious enemies barely human, even monsters who only deserve destruction, that’s contempt. Rolling our eyes and utterly dismissing people is contempt.

That’s where we are, and it’s not unique to any one political persuasion but to large elements of all of them. About 15 seconds reading comments on any controversial news story on social media is enough to overdose on contempt.

It’s not the worst example, but one that bothered me a lot was during the debates over hospital vaccine mandates and the things that were said about the health care workers who objected to them. To me it seems clear why it’s a difficult issue. There are significant goods at stake that stand in tension with each other, and people understandably have strong feelings about them. Public health experts, relying on the best available science, tell us that getting as many people as possible vaccinated will help alleviate the pandemic and all the death and other suffering that has come with it, and we all want that. On the other hand, the right not to be forced to act against your conscience is also serious business. For that matter, so is having a legitimate say in what’s injected into your body.

So I get why people disagree strongly about it and get angry about it. But cheering when people lose their jobs in the middle of a pandemic? Contemptuously proclaiming that professional health care workers “don’t believe in science” if they have any hesitancy about a vaccine in these extraordinary circumstances? These are people that just months ago everyone was rightly hailing as heroes who had risked their lives to care for us.

It’s logically possible to believe vaccine mandates are good policy and still have sympathy for those who are put in a difficult position by those mandates and wish the best for them and want to see them land on their feet. Some people did that. But many did not. For them, the erstwhile heroes became Public Enemy No. 1, to the point of publicly wishing them harm and cheering if they were ineligible for unemployment.

As I said, this is just one example, and not even the worst. Doesn’t contempt play overwhelmingly into the political violence, at times deadly, we have witnessed over the past two years? Isn’t it a root of “cancel culture”? Isn’t it at the heart of our intense polarization that is even splitting apart families?

And can’t we see its effects all around us, even in the church?

Brooks cites psychological and social science research suggesting all this contempt is really bad for us, not just in the sense that it doesn’t convince anyone and is tearing us apart socially but in a personal way — that we suffer deeply when we are treated with contempt and that we even damage ourselves when we treat others with contempt.

It’s nice to have the scientific validation, but it’s something we already know at some level without even being told.

However, there are things we can do. In his book, Brooks echoes an experience similar to ones I’ve had. A previous book of his had attracted more readers than his academic works had, and he started hearing from more readers, including one who wrote a long, detailed email ripping his work to shreds.

Brooks said that in that moment, instead of getting angry, he found himself grateful that the person who had written to him had read the book and taken time to give detailed feedback. So he responded with gratitude instead of anger, and his correspondent’s tone immediately changed, and the conversation turned friendly.

I’ve had that experience too. It definitely doesn’t always happen, on my side or that of people who are upset with something I’ve written, but it does happen often. This, too, is biblical wisdom. One of my favorite passages from the Book of Proverbs is “A mild answer turns back wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

No one has ever been hated into agreement. The idea that we have to act this way to “win” our cultural battles is a lie — it’s not just morally flawed, it’s a losing strategy.

“Love your enemies” is not a suggestion, it’s a command of Jesus, and one we can’t safely ignore.

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

Bishop Daniel Felton: Let’s listen — Part I

It is hard to believe that I have been the Bishop of Duluth for over half a year. In that time, I have put almost 17,000 miles on my vehicle as I have traveled numerous times back and forth across our diocese visiting parishes, schools, priests, deacons, and parishioners. Literally, the first seven months have been quite the trip! 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

In my wanderings, I have encountered a deep faith among so many people in our diocese. The last five years have been challenging times for our diocese, with bankruptcy proceedings, a listing of priests who abused minors, the clustering and merging of many parishes, and on top of all of that a pandemic. However, given the heritage of our diocese, we have always faced adversity with a deep sense of faith rooted in our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

I believe that it is in this faith that we are experiencing what I call a “dawning” moment. We are stepping out of our recent dark times into a dawning light. It is not full daylight, but it is more light than darkness. In this dawning light, we can move from the hurt of the darkness into hope and healing light. Literally, it is beginning to dawn on us that we can once again mobilize to the Mission entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit. 

This Mission is simply bringing people to Jesus Christ, who brings healing and hope in our personal lives, the lives of our parishes, and the lives of the communities in which we dwell. As we step forward into that Mission, we must discuss and discern the “next step” that the Holy Spirit is calling us to as we mobilize to Mission. 

Discerning our next step in the Holy Spirit, let us turn to the example of the steps taken by the two disciples walking the road to Emmaus. At the very beginning of their journey, Jesus joins them along the way and asks what they are talking about. Not recognizing Jesus, the two disciples begin to share their hurts and despair with Jesus. Jesus listens to them intently and deeply, and then, having listened to their story, he responds with his relational presence revealed in his person and the Scriptures. 

Slowly, the disciples begin to discover a sense of hope and healing. At the end of the journey, Jesus celebrates the Eucharist. It is then that it dawns on them that it is Jesus who has been walking with them along the way, and that as they receive his body and blood in Communion, he is the source of their healing and hope. 

We must walk the road to Emmaus in our own time, and begin to share our hurts and hopes to realize Jesus in our midst. As a diocese, we will soon begin an organized discernment effort called “Let’s Listen.” The first step of this journey is to gather people throughout the diocese to talk about the hurt and pain that we carry within our hearts these days as we walk our own road to Emmaus. 

As we share and listen to the pain and hurts of one another, we will pray for Jesus to join us along the way as he asks us, “What are you talking about?” As we share our hurts and pain with Jesus, slowly we will begin to discover a dawning sense of hope and healing. It is in the sharing among ourselves and with Jesus that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us the next step that we are to take as a diocese as we mobilize to Mission. This will not be our best guess or inclination but rather a true discernment of the call of the Holy Spirit. 

In recent times, you may have heard of the invitation of Pope Francis for all dioceses throughout the world to gather in a spirit of synodality. As a diocese, we are preparing for listening sessions throughout our diocese to discern our next step in the Holy Spirit — a process that addresses the invitation of Pope Francis in a way that will best meet the needs of the Diocese of Duluth. I believe “Let’s Listen” will be our best local expression and embodiment of synodality, which simply is to gather people together to share their Emmaus experiences of hurts and pains with one another and with Jesus as the source of healing and hope. 

“Let’s Listen” is led by a committee representing every deanery of our diocese. You will soon hear from them. 

For now, let us step into this dawning moment in our personal lives and in the life of our diocese. Let us embrace the invocation of the psalmist, who proclaims, “Awake, lyre and harp, with praise let us awake the dawn” (Psalm 108:2). 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Father Mike Schmitz: How do I receive a gift well?

I’ve been thinking about what it is to receive a gift well. I find that I don’t like getting gifts, because I never know how to respond. I can sometimes even feel guilty that someone has gone to the trouble of getting me something. Is there a way I can receive gifts better? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

I really like this question. Thank you for asking it. One of the things I like about it is that, on the surface, it seems like a simple issue (kind of like a “non-problem problem”). But if we take a closer look, we are not merely talking about the proper etiquette for giving or receiving gifts. Truly, all of life is a gift. How we receive this gift will determine almost everything about the shape and tenor of our lives. So this question actually goes to the heart of how we live, not merely how we might politely accept a gift on our birthday or Christmas.

But to get to the heart of this, let’s look at the best way to receive an actual present.

I would offer that there are at least four essential parts of receiving a gift well. Two are “hidden” and two are outward expressions.

The first part of receiving any gift well is noticing. We have to notice that a gift has been given. This is easy to do when you’ve just opened a package with your name attached to it, but as noted above, all of life is a gift. Everything that you and I have in our lives is the result of the generosity of God or of the people around us. How many of us even notice that the lights come on when we flick the switch? How many of us pay attention to the fact that the “flush” function of the toilet takes away what it is supposed to take away? How many of us notice when we open our eyes in the morning and they actually work?

A number of years ago, I was an associate priest in Hibbing, and the power went out for a couple of days. And when I say “the power went out,” I don’t mean that just the lights stopped working. I mean that everything that had been powered by the power station completely stopped operating. Essentially, it was a small taste of the day when “the grid” will go down. (I don’t mean to sound like a “prepper” here, but I got a glimpse into how much every one of us relies on so many other people to stay alive.)

This happened in the middle of winter, and it was bitterly cold. But there was no way to keep homes warm. There were no street lights — anywhere. I’m not sure if the gas pumps even worked. If the power outage lasted long enough, I’m not sure they would have been able to plow the roads. Just think of how reliant we are on those snow plows every single time it snows.

The point is, we are surrounded by gifts. Do we even notice? The first step in receiving a gift well is paying attention and noticing.

The second part of receiving a gift well is appreciating the gift. What this means is to stop and weigh out what this gift means. It involves becoming conscious of the value of the gift. To appreciate a thing is to know its value. Consider how important this is. How many of us could look back on our youth and discover (to our shame) how often we took the gifts given to us for granted? We can look back at the ways our parents sacrificed to keep us fed and clothed and housed (and in hockey skates or in braces for our teeth or paid for that flute that we never practiced). We can look back on all of the teachers or youth ministers who were so patient with us. Hopefully, now we have a new appreciation for those sacrifices, because now we know what they cost the people who made them for us.

Receiving a gift well means noticing the gift and appreciating the value of the gift. Those happen on the inside, but there needs to be an outward expression as well.

The third essential part of receiving a gift well is possibly the most obvious: expressing gratitude. This should be the most natural of all of these parts. If we have noticed and appreciated the value of the gift, one would think that the automatic response would be gratitude. How could we not look for the source of the gift and say “thank you”?

I wonder if the biggest obstacle to this step for many people is that we know that we don’t deserve gifts of the kind we often receive. There can be a certain sheepishness when someone has truly sacrificed for us, and we are absolutely certain that we didn’t deserve such a sacrifice. In those cases, we might be tempted to dismiss the gratitude out of awkwardness or fail to know how to convey the gratitude we have in our hearts.

Nonetheless, expressing gratitude is essential for receiving a gift well. We look for the source of the gift and attempt to convey our thanks. Even if we cannot capture our thanks, we simply make the attempt.

Finally, the best and most powerful way to receive a gift well does not end with merely offering thanks. The fourth part of receiving a gift well involves using the gift. It is one thing to notice the gift, to appreciate the value of the gift, and to offer thanks. It is another thing entirely to actually use the gift. This last piece is the single best way to receive a gift.

All of life is a gift. I have to ask myself the question: Do I receive this gift well? Do I regularly notice, appreciate, and thank God? Even more, do I use this incredible gift of life that God has entrusted to me? Do I use the incredible gift of being made into an adopted child of God? Do I use the gift of the Holy Spirit to approach the Father in prayer and in praise? Do I use the gift of my body or resources or time to serve the people near me in need?

I would say that this is the best way to receive a gift well.

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.

Patrice Critchley-Menor: The poor have much to give us

By Patrice Critchley-Menor
Guest columnist

Several years ago, there was a woman who would occasionally call the diocese asking for financial assistance. Maybe she needed help with an electric bill or help paying for a prescription. She became very friendly with a couple of staff members. She would sometimes call us to tell us about social service events she heard about to help us provide better outreach. She also came several years at Christmas to bring gifts to the staff members she had befriended. Despite her poverty, she had beautiful sewing skills and a used sewing machine. She didn’t have much, but she was determined to give what she had.

Patrice Critchley-Menor
Guest Columnist

One staff person, who was very generous and kind, repeatedly told the woman she needn’t bother giving her gifts because she had everything she needed. One year, this staff person became frustrated that someone in poverty would waste their limited resources to give gifts. I simply told her that everyone has something to give, and we can make her happy by accepting the gifts.

This year, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen the theme “Extend Your Hand to the Poor” for the fifth annual World Day of the Poor, which will be Sunday Nov. 14. In his statement announcing the theme, he related the story from Mark’s Gospel where a woman brought a valuable flask with even more valuable ointment and dumped it all over Jesus’ head. People were livid that she would waste the expensive oil and yelled that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus, in his loving way, said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

Jesus shows himself to always be on the side of the poor, and he recognizes that this poor woman wants to give him a gift. He reminds them, “The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.”

Pope Francis tells us that the poor have much they can give us, if we make the effort to encounter them. He reminds us that poor people understand Christ’s sufferings because they themselves have suffered, and he encourages us to be evangelized by poor people and “be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to welcome the mysterious wisdom that God wants to communicate to us through them.” He continues by saying, “In short, believers, when they want to see Jesus in person … know where to turn. The poor are a sacrament of Christ; they represent his person and point to him.”

As we approach World Day of the Poor, let us engage in prayerfully asking ourselves:

• Who do I think of when I think about “the poor?” Might this include anyone I know?

• What are the feelings that come up when I think of or hear about “the poor?”

• Are my first thoughts about the poor usually negative or positive?

• Is it hard to see them as individuals?

• Do I feel any personal connection to someone who is poor?

• Does Jesus want me to feel a connection to people who are poor?

• How does Jesus see the poor?

• Do I seek to learn more about those who are poor and the issues surrounding poverty?

• What changes can I make in my life to see the poor the way Jesus would see them?

Spend some time talking to God about these feelings, and ask God what changes you can make. Ask for the grace and strength to be the person God calls you to be.

Encountering the poor is essential to being a follower of Jesus, and knowing that one in four Minnesotan children live in poverty means we likely know someone. Pope Francis continues in his World Day of the Poor statement: “It is crucial that we grow in our awareness of the needs of the poor, which are always changing, as are their living conditions.” This requires a deep listening when we are engaged in conversations about poverty. Listening to understand, to feel, and to discern a call to action.

Such encounters can lead us to greater solidarity that can only enrich us; evangelize us. There is much they can give us if we are willing to receive their gifts. Just like the gifts from our friend who frequently visited our office.

Patrice Critchley-Menor is director of social apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth.

John Skalko, Ph.D: Does abortion violate human rights?

By John Skalko, Ph.D
Guest columnist

It doesn’t take a Ph.D to recognize that recent years have witnessed a proliferation of conflicting rights claims. There’s the right to bear arms, the right to be free of bigotry, the right to free speech, the right to a sex change, the right to religious freedom, the right to abortion, and the right to life. Not all of those rights are compatible, nor are all of them rights. Just because someone makes a rights claim doesn’t mean it truly is a human right. Human rights aren’t dependent upon human will or recognition but are firmly grounded in human nature.

John Skalko, Ph.D
Guest Columnist

Whatever the ontological status of various rights may be, the very first and foundational right is to life. By right to life, I mean the right of all human beings not to be intentionally killed. If your supposed right infringes on the rights of another or harms them, then it is no right at all.

The question, then, for the abortion debate is simple: Does abortion violate a basic human right to life, or does it harm a human being? To answer that question we must examine whether an embryo brought into existence by a human sperm and a human ovum is a human being distinct from the mother and father.

Within 24 hours of fertilization the human sperm and ovum have ceased to exist. Is this new genetically distinct organism a human being? We have four options: either the new zygote is a part of the mother, or it is a tumor, or it is a non-human animal, or it is a new individual human being.

If it were a mere part of the mother’s body, then this would mean that the mother would possess two different sets of DNA and that part of the mother was developing into a second heart, second pair of lungs, genitalia, etc. But that’s absurd. So, the zygote cannot be a mere part of the mother.

Nor can it be a tumor. Tumors naturally develop out of control and tend to harm their host. Zygotes from a human sperm and ovum don’t naturally tend to harm their host; they require nutrition from their host, but generally the mother’s body can manage without any serious physical damage.

Nor can this zygote be a non-human animal. Non-human animals don’t have human DNA fully integrated into nearly every part of their body, nor do they naturally develop into mature adult human beings.

The only logical option left then is that such a zygote is a human being, a distinct human organism, a new individual.

Every intentional killing of an innocent human being or human organism is murder. Since we have already established that the zygote generated by a human sperm and ovum is a human being, it only needs to be established that this zygote is innocent to show that intentionally killing it is murder. But it is impossible for such zygotes to do any morally wrong actions such that they could be considered to be guilty of any crime. All such zygotes must be innocent.

Their intentional killing, then, is wrong. All abortion involves the intentional killing of such individuals either at the zygote stage or at a later stage in natural human development.

There is no right to murder. Calling abortion a right, as is done in much of the press these days, is a misnomer. Call it what it is. It’s murder. We should be talking of fetal rights instead.

John Skalko, Ph.D, a native of the Duluth Diocese, is professor of philosophy at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts.