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Bishop Daniel Felton: A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Daniel Felton

The dawn from on high shall break upon us! (Luke 1:78) HEALING, HOPE AND JOY IN JESUS! My dear brothers and sisters, let us proclaim from the height of International Falls, to the width of Walker and Grand Portage to the depth of Pine City, the dawn from on high is breaking upon us in the Diocese of Duluth! This dawning is an awakening to the vision and mission that God entrusts to us at this time in our history, a dawning and awakening that is the result of the Pentecost stirrings of the Holy Spirit moving boldly in our midst, calling us to proclaim the healing, hope, and joy that we can only find in Jesus Christ to everyone who dwells in the 25,000 square miles of our diocese. 

The Holy Spirit has revealed to us in our over 50 Let’s Listen gatherings that the deepest longing we have amongst the people of our diocese is a desperate cry for healing instead of hurt, for hope instead of despair, and for an abundant joy rising from the drudgery of everyday life as we know it. Our mission banner is simple: Abundant Healing, Hope, and Joy in Jesus! 

As believers, how can we be anything but disciples blazing a trail to Jesus, disciples who want to help one another grow closer to Jesus wherever we may be in life, and disciples on mission leading all people to Jesus and the Kingdom of God? What is set before us is not only the change of time but also a change of culture that seeks to stand us on our heads so that we might see Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God, and our mission and vision from a totally different perspective. 

This change of culture includes moving from an attitude of scarcity to one of abundance; from organizing ourselves for decline to preparing ourselves for growth; from beginning with our diocesan pastoral offices for mission initiatives to beginning with the mission field for pastoral and mission strategy; from understanding the mission of accompanying others closer to Jesus as the work of clergy and religious to being the mission of all those who are baptized; from maintaining all of the programs and apostolates we presently have to sustaining only those programs and apostolates in alignment with enhancing our mission and vision; from pastors as administrators to pastors as shepherds of their mission field; from seeing our parish as the be-all and end-all of our missionary activity to seeing the communities where we live as being the primary mission field. 

I have written a Pastoral Letter to address how we move to mission in the Holy Spirit. I invite you to read or listen to my Pastoral Letter by going to 

May the blessings of Jesus be upon all who live and dwell in the Diocese of Duluth, 


Bishop Daniel J. Felton 
Diocese of Duluth 

‘The Dawn from on High Shall Break Upon Us’

Bishop Felton releases pastoral letter on Christmas Day 

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

On Christmas Day, Bishop Daniel Felton released a pastoral letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Duluth and to all people living in the ten counties of northeastern Minnesota. Entitled “The Dawn from on High Shall Break Upon Us: Healing, Hope, and Joy in Jesus,” the letter is the fruit of listening sessions held across the Duluth Diocese in 2022 and is meant to serve as the foundation and inspiration for how the diocese will live its call as missionary disciples in the years to come.

Bishop Felton announced the letter both in a Christmas video message and in a letter read in parishes on Christmas. 

“It’s not really my pastoral letter as much as the pastoral letter that has come about from the over 50 listening sessions that we had within our diocese,” he said in the video. “Remember when we were trying to discern what’s the next step that the Holy Spirit is calling us to as we move to mission? And so the pastoral letter is really a reflection of our common discernment together of what the Holy Spirit is calling us to as the next step [for] the Diocese of Duluth as we move to the mission that has been entrusted to us by our God.” 

The title of the pastoral letter, taken from the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:78), reflects a theme Bishop Felton has turned to frequently in his ministry, of a “dawning moment” for the diocese. He has said that it reflects what many of the faithful expressed to him as he traveled the diocese in his first year as bishop: that after a period of difficulty and darkness there is new light appearing for the church. 

“In recent times, we have been walking in the darkness of many challenges: the listing of priests with an allegation of abuse of a minor, bankruptcy, the merging and clustering of parishes, grieving the loss of Bishop Sirba, enduring the long wait for the appointment of the new bishop, the rise of coronavirus and its impact on all aspects of life, the decline in Mass attendance and reception of the Sacraments, the general decline in population for a majority of counties that constitute the Diocese of Duluth, and the list goes on,” Bishop Felton writes in the pastoral letter. “Let’s just say, the night has been long and dark.” 

Coupled with “a change of era” that has left “many of the ways that we pass on our faith to others” no longer working, the bishop said it has been “hard to see a step forward” and the situation has cast people “deeply into hurt, despair and tribulation in our families, parishes and communities where we live.” 

However, he said, God has not left us but is breaking into the darkness with healing, hope, and joy. 

“As disciples in this divinely revealed moment of dawning, we walk from darkness into His light,” the bishop writes. “In this awakening moment, as disciples on mission, we discover, embrace and give witness to the vision and mission that was given to us from the very beginning when our diocese was begun in 1889, and now in our own time, by God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” 

The 17-page letter goes on to outline a “change of culture” in how the church will approach its missionary call, especially in regional areas of pastoral ministry called mission fields, with three emphases of healing, hope, and joy that build on each other. 

“What is set before us is not only the change of time but also a change of culture that seeks to stand us on our heads so that we might see Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God and our mission and vision from a totally different perspective,” Bishop Felton wrote in a bulletin insert inviting people to read the pastoral letter. 

“This change of culture includes moving from an attitude of scarcity to one of abundance; from organizing ourselves for decline to preparing ourselves for growth; from beginning with our diocesan pastoral offices for mission initiatives to beginning with the mission field for pastoral and mission strategy; from understanding the mission of accompanying others closer to Jesus as the work of clergy and religious to being the mission of all those who are baptized; from maintaining all of the programs and apostolates we presently have to sustaining only those programs and apostolates in alignment with enhancing our mission and vision; from pastors as administrators to pastors as shepherds of their mission field; from seeing our parish as the be-all and end-all of our missionary activity to the communities where we live as being the primary mission field.” 

The bishop noted in the pastoral letter that its contents reflect a first step and part of a process of conversation. He said the new culture would be organic and that he expects with parishes and regions there will be a variety of ways of carrying out its vision, mission, and mission initiatives. 

The pastoral letter can be found on the diocesan website in both written and audio formats. 

Ask Father Mike: How should I handle the New Year?

With the start of the New Year, I always feel like I should make a resolution. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I never end up keeping them, and it just feels like I never change. What do you recommend? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you for this question. In honor of Mary, the Mother of God (the feast we celebrate on Jan. 1), I have a couple of thoughts. 

First, I want to acknowledge the fact that we mark the passing of time. That might seem obvious, but I believe that it is significant. As human beings, we mark the endings of things, and we mark the beginnings of things. Days and weeks, months and years, seasons and lives are only appreciated when we weigh them up, when we stop and take note of them. 

Think about what life would be like if we didn’t mark the significant passage of time. I wonder if we would even have an awareness of ourselves. The way we understand our own identity is so closely tied up in our memories and experiences. We know ourselves by knowing our past. If we do not note the story of our lives, then we will struggle to truly know who we are. Not only that, we will likely fail to recognize the significance of life — our lives and the lives of those around us. 

That being said, Mary can truly be a model for this. Luke’s Gospel notes that, as the events of Jesus’ life unfolded in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth, “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” I believe that there is an awful lot packed into this short phrase, and it might be helpful to try and unpack it. 

There are at least three ways that we can follow Mary’s lead in this. We can Hold, Reflect, and Remember. 

As the year has come to an end, our temptation is to rush immediately into the new year. But if we look to Mary, we would see that, in order to “keep all these things,” we need to stop and notice them. We need to hold on to the events of the past year. This means cultivating an awareness of the significance of life. 

Too often, life simply flows past each one of us. And yet, we are in the middle of life. This is the only life that we get on this earth, and God placed us here and now in order to do his will. If we are oblivious to him and to the ways in which he is acting in our daily life, then we will ultimately miss out on the ways he is moving in our entire lives. 

Cultivating an awareness of significant moments can be simple. It can look like appreciating a conversation that you had with a family member. I know for myself, I can fool myself into believing that there will “always be another time” when I can talk with my parents or my siblings. But when I stop and think about it, the number of conversations that I will ever have with my family members in this life is numbered. If I can be aware of this fact, then those moments are given their proper value. I need to learn to notice them and “hold” them. I need to take note of them and value them. 

Next, we can live like Mary if we reflect on the moments we have noticed and held. Again, the temptation to move from one event or season to the next is strong. I work on a college campus, and the calendar is incredibly cyclical. There is always “the next thing.” We scarcely finish one event or season or semester when we are already working on the next one. And yet, when we take time to reflect on what just happened, we begin truly living. 

I was talking with some brother priests about this idea a couple of months ago. One of them mentioned that his mentor encouraged him to reflect every day. This was distinct from prayer (which also needs to happen every day). Prayer is our relationship with God and looks different from pondering. Now, our reflection can turn into prayer. For example, in reflecting on the events of the past day or past couple of days, we can turn to the Lord and relate what we have reflected on to him. I highly recommend this, but it begins with reflecting first on the events that have occurred in our lives and how we responded to those events. So many do not know why they do the things they do because we haven’t taken the time to reflect! 

Third, we remember. If you are familiar with the Bible, you will know that, all throughout the Old Testament, the Lord God continues to command the People of Israel to “remember” what God has done — to remember who God is, to remember the relationship God has brought them into. This might seem like an optional piece of advice to some people. 

But this is a command of the Lord God, because God knows us. He knows that, unless we take the time to actively remember (which is markedly different from passive remembering), we will forget. Unless we actively call to mind all that God has done in our lives, we will fail to remember the goodness of God in times of trouble, we will fail to remember the promises of God in times of distress, and we will fail to remember the presence of God in times of darkness. 

But we can never afford to forget in the dark what we knew was true in the light. Because of this, we need to act like Mary and Hold, Reflect, and Remember. If we do this, we will find that life will never simply “pass us by.” It won’t be able to, because we will actually be living. 

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. 

A statement from Bishop Daniel on the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Dec. 31, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters,

Early this morning, we learned of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and we in the Diocese of Duluth join the whole Church in mourning. The retired pope was not only one of the preeminent theologians of our time and a Successor of St. Peter but also a shepherd who proclaimed the Christian life to be rooted in an encounter with a person — Jesus — and His love for us, and our way of life one of ongoing friendship with Him. 

Pope Benedict XVIIn a homily near the beginning of his papacy, Benedict said this: “... Only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd ... can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world.”

In his many years of serving the Church, the pope emeritus left us great encyclicals on love and hope and Catholic social teaching, but I find myself particularly grateful for his book series on Jesus of Nazareth. I invite you to encounter once again the writings of this gifted theologian and teacher. And I ask you to join with the whole Church in praying for the repose of his soul. 

With blessings of healing, hope, and joy in Jesus,

+ Bishop Daniel

Respect Life family poster contest 

By The Northern Cross 

The Office of Marriage, Family, and Life of the Diocese of Duluth is sponsoring a Respect Life family poster contest. As a family, design a poster around the topic “Helping Moms in Need.” Posters may be up to 8.5 x 14 inches. 

Artwork should be original freehand and must include a piece of paper taped to the back of the poster with family signatures and a brief description of what each member contributed. Also include the name of your parish, school (when applicable), home address, and phone number. Please view additional contest requirements at

Posters must be submitted to your parish or Catholic school office and postmarked by Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. No more than three entries per parish, with an additional three entries possible per Catholic school. All parish and school entries must be submitted in the same envelope. 

Contact Betsy Kneepkens at (218) 724-9111 or [email protected] with questions. 

What do we do after the election?

Inside the Capitol 

Now that the election is over, many of you are asking, “Now what?” 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops makes it clear that “responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (USCCB, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” 13). 

The obligation to engage in the public square is both a Catholic and American mandate. Our representative republic calls us into active ongoing relationships with our elected officials. Participation drives our system, which means important decisions are left to those who show up. One may not like that the political process requires ongoing effort to build the common good, but that’s the system (“a government of, by, and for the people”) we have. It is why the church calls us to “faithful citizenship.” 

We have many newly elected officials who have been entrusted to fashion the public policies that impact our daily lives. Each needs to receive the Good News and our counsel on legislation. By bringing them the Good News and providing our counsel on legislation, they’ll be better equipped to uphold life, dignity, and the common good. By building communication, we help them make informed votes and good laws. 

One easy way to begin building these relationships is to become a member of our Catholic Advocacy Network. As a CAN member, you can communicate with your elected officials via email, phone, or even recording a video with a single click. If you are not a CAN member yet, go to

Our work as faithful citizens must be led by prayer – Ora et Labora. This is not just a practice for Benedictine monks but all Catholics. So, the Minnesota Catholic Conference invites you to join our staff for Adoration at the Capitol. 

Join us each first Friday of the month from January to May any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Governor’s Dining Room located on the lower level of the Minnesota State Capitol. Note that in April, Adoration will take place on April 14 due to Good Friday. By bringing Christ to the Capitol, we can together pray for our elected officials at their place of work. 

We are also excited to announce that the great formation and opportunities to meet your legislators that you’ve had through our Catholics at the Capitol events will now be available every week during session! 

No longer do you have to wait for one event that consumes an entire day and may not work in your schedule. Instead, you, your friends, family, fellow parishioners, or classmates can join us at our new office next door to the Capitol any Thursday (except Holy Week) at 10 a.m. (January through May). We will equip you to successfully advocate for policies that we’re working on before visiting the Capitol and your legislators. All in about an hour! 

You are welcome to park for free at our office – 525 Park Street – for Adoration or Catholics at the Capitol. We encourage you to RSVP for the Catholics at the Capitol events so we can set up meetings with your legislators and personalize your visit. Head to for details and to RSVP. There you will also find information for First Friday Adoration. 

Father Richard Kunst: Something better than seeing the face of Jesus

My favorite piece of real estate on earth (as I have probably mentioned before) is Rome, Italy. For years, I have led small group tours of six to eight people there, and I never tire of doing it. I tire of the flights, but not of Rome. You can learn more about church history and even theology in one week in Rome than you would a whole semester in college, and that is what I love. 

Father Richard Kunst

That being said, there is one church in Rome that offers a more spiritual experience than all the others, and that is the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Way on the outskirts of the city, Santa Croce is literally built on dirt taken from Calvary in Jerusalem, so it is literally built on holy ground, but it’s what’s on the inside that makes this basilica a category all on its own. 

After Christianity was made legal, St. Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, traveled to the holy land to collect all the significant relics associated with Jesus. What she collected was brought back to Rome, and pretty much ever since, these highly significant relics have been kept in the same church: relics such as the largest portion of the cross Jesus was crucified on, a portion of the cross of the “good thief,” a nail from the crucifixion, and perhaps most impressive the “titula,” which is the sign hung above the cross, which is often portrayed in art as “INRI.” 

These relics and others are tastefully displayed in a side chapel, where the visitor can get right up to the glass, just inches away from these most precious relics, an experience that for many people becomes a pretty emotional one. 

After the close encounter with the sacred relics, you are led to a smaller room in which you get another close-up experience, this time with an exact replica of the Shroud of Turin, the reported burial cloth of Jesus with the miraculous image of both his front and back side. Looking at the closest thing we have to a photograph of Jesus immediately after seeing the relics associated with his Passion tends to leave some people speechless, a true spiritual experience that I love watching people have. It is indeed a moving experience, and in a way Jesus himself predicted it. 

In the 17th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, while Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the end of time and the second coming, he says, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it” (Luke 17: 22). The longing to see the face of Jesus has always been a part of the life of the faithful Christian. This, I suppose, is one of the reasons why the Shroud of Turin has so captivated Christians for so long. 

Is the face we see on the shroud really Jesus? Is that what he really looked like? Visiting Santa Croce in Rome and seeing the replica of the shroud right after seeing the actual relics associated with Jesus’ Passion becomes an experience unlike any other. It makes Jesus’ words pretty real; “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man.” Wanting to see Jesus face to face is part and parcel of being a faithful Christian. 

As an amateur papal historian, I tend to think of Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) as one of the greatest theologians who has ever sat on the papal throne, but the greatest of all papal theologians was Pope Leo I, also known as Pope Leo the Great (440-461). When it comes to being able to see Jesus face to face, Pope Leo said something that should give us as Catholics a sense of pride but also comfort. The great theologian pope said, “What was to be seen of our redeemer has passed over into the sacraments.” 

Read that a few times and let it sink in. 

We cannot see Jesus anymore, at least not in his physical human form. Though going to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Rome might get us close, the fact is, he has ascended body and soul into heaven, so he is not here in his physical form. But really we have something better in the sacraments. Pope Leo the Great makes clear that this Jesus Christ who was walking the dusty streets of Palestine 2,000-plus years ago is one and the same in the sacraments. And when it comes to the Blessed Sacrament, this very presence and person of Christ enters into us every time we receive the Eucharist, and that is certainly better than just looking at Jesus. 

You may never get the opportunity to visit the Basilica of Santa Croce in Rome, but you don’t have to. Just go to Mass on Sunday and you will experience something far greater. 

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

Betsy Kneepkens: We planned to build a domestic church — here’s how it’s gone

I dreaded the sign of peace when we brought all our children to Mass. I am not sure what the priest or those around could see, but there was the excessive squeezing of hands and toes that were stepped on, hugs that were attempts to pull the locks of the other, and an occasional jab into their siblings’ ribs. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

We knew the most significant offenders, so my husband and I strategically placed ourselves between them. Our rules were no rear ends on the pew, and you may not leave Mass until the last syllable of the last song played. What this looked like was a kid or two slouched over the pew in front of us and a mad dash to the exit after the song’s end — a few times crawling over the pews for an easy exit. 

One time we told the children that if you don’t behave in church, we are going to Mass again. As a parent, that sounded appropriate, except our parish priest, who was in earshot, leaned over to me and asked, “Are you using Mass as a punishment?” I didn’t think so, but it might have sounded like that. 

During our Engaged Weekend, my husband and I discussed our desires for marriage and hopes for raising our children. We knew that we would cooperate with God, willingly and joyfully accepting however many children God would graciously bestow on us. However, at that retreat, we agreed we would be very intentional about raising our children to be faithful Catholics. As we grew in faith, my husband and I realized what we committed to was building a “domestic church,” even if we didn’t know that there was a name for this concept. 

Although the “domestic church” desire was there, we did not know how we would build this “domestic church.” We fumbled through and hopefully got better at it as we became more experienced parents. We knew it would mean putting our faith life central to all we did as individuals and as a family. 

Although both of us were raised in Catholic homes, we felt that our upbringing was about following a bunch of Catholic rules, not understanding the purpose or reason for those rules. Most importantly, we knew it would entail deliberately living contrary to how many in our culture lived, including some friends. We had a steep learning curve, never quite perfected the work, and we don’t feel our job is done even though our children are now young adults. 

We initially acknowledged that our biggest hurdle was that we are severely imperfect as individuals, as a couple and as a family. Our lives were messy and chaotic, and even if we love each other, we didn’t always like each other. The additional massive hurdle was that each of us, parents included, are different individuals that look at the world from different perspectives. The needs and gifts of each family member were distinct, and the work of faithfulness, to a certain extent, needed to be adjusted for each one. Our daily prayers for our children vary widely depending on those individual differences. 

We realized that attending Mass together each Sunday and holy day was the bare minimum. We purchased our first home in a neighborhood with a Catholic school. We were blessed that our employment was near one. Not everyone has that privilege. 

We began saving for our kids’ Catholic education as soon as our first son was born, hoping to get ahead of the eventual investment. We wanted what we were teaching our kids at home to be taught to them while in school. We felt privileged that education was available and were unsure what we would have done otherwise. 

Families that lived as we lived became our closest friends. We joined a couples’ group, which actually was a family group, at our parish when our children were little. We gathered monthly with these other families for fellowship that included potlucks, an activity always moving into a robust conversation about our faith. These families today are our closest friends. 

My husband and I joined a Teams of Our Lady group, a faithful marriage enhancement group. It guaranteed one night a month for us without children and with other married couples that shared our faith and commitment to it. These couples also helped form us and have a special place in our hearts. 

We made our parish life central to our social life. We prayed at meals together, adding individual intentions, which was a great way to keep up with what was going on in each other’s lives. My husband and I share this tradition to this day. 

At bedtime, until the kids started staying up later than us, we usually would say a decade of the rosary together. At times, our children gathered outside the abortion clinic to pray for the lives of babies with no voice. We tried to send our children to diocesan camps and activities, and to this day, some of our children’s good friends are people they met there and have kept in touch with. 

Each Christmas, we discuss faithful charities and send a combined gift as a family. As parents, we attempted to use every angle of life, from what happened in school today to sporting activities to what we watch on television, as an opportunity to grow closer to the Trinity and our Catholic faith. 

From the outside, our domestic church was likely not as obvious. My children fought, my husband and I have had moments of tension, our children wore socks that didn’t match, and my kids often got comments on their report cards that they talked excessively. I thought every teacher wrote that about every child, but I learned that wasn’t the case. 

My children likely made uncharitable comments about others because I heard them say things that were not always kind to each other. They only sometimes cleaned their rooms when asked, and they frequently made not-so-lovely comments about my cooking. They wore their older siblings’ hand-me-downs, even my daughter, who only has older brothers, but they were never very excited about it. They usually cheered each other on when they accomplished things and provided hugs when things were tough, but not always. 

Despite these and many other failings as we attempted to build this domestic church, we observe moments where we can see that the foundation is solid. Sometimes we see it through the lenses of text messaging or in their decisions to live with each other as adults, or their coordination of attending Mass together or cheering each other on when significant life events happen. You know something went right when you see their charitable works and how willing they are to give to others. My children are still wildly imperfect, and so are their parents, but in some ways, for the most part, they are pointed in the right direction. 

We know we could have done better in lots of ways, but we are grateful that during our Engaged Weekend, we were allowed to think about embarking on this journey to build a domestic church. 

On Dec. 30, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The celebration of Christ’s birth on Dec. 25 is worthy of a tremendous amount of attention and acts of holiness. With the state of fractured and hurting families, I believe that Christ would want our culture to emphasize the Feast of the Holy Family as we do His birth. 

If two young knuckleheads like my husband and me, who got married 36 years ago, could attempt to put Christ at the center of our family life, every one of us in Catholic families can do this. No social science, pill, government regulation, or money will correct the state of hurt and brokenness we are experiencing in families these days. Christ is our healer and putting him in the center of our families helps us ward off the evil that attempts to disunify our families. 

For those Catholics not currently attempting to build a domestic church, this country in crisis needs you to. On this extraordinary Feast of the Holy Family, commit to making a domestic church for your family and honestly for our society. 

Parents can get more information on what this would like in a family by going to Tools for Building a Domestic Church on the USCCB website ( 

Merry Christmas and happy Feast of the Holy Family! 

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

Editorial: Christmas commercialism amid economic distress

Concern about the commercialization of Christmas has been a trope for so many decades that most of us likely don’t remember a time when it wasn’t well known. To cite one example, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” dating all the way back to 1965, famously had it as a central theme, contrasting focus on presents and gaudy fake Christmas trees and “a big commercial racket” that is “run by an Eastern syndicate” with the true meaning of Christmas, which unfolds as Linus recites the story of the Nativity from the Gospel of Luke. 

That theme rumbles in the background of other disputes, such as retailers betting their bottom lines on people overspending on Christmas gifts while nevertheless recoiling at using the holiday’s name, or simply our collective amazement at seeing the “holiday shopping season” begin earlier and earlier each year, now starting long before a single Thanksgiving turkey goes in the oven. 

In essence, it’s as if there are two Christmases that overlap and intersect somewhat uncomfortably — the loud secular one with the over-the-top shopping and Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas” from every speaker from before Thanksgiving until the clock turns midnight on Dec. 26 and the religious one that follows four quiet, reflective weeks of Advent and only gets started on Dec. 25. 

As American Catholics, we have a foot in each of those two worlds. But this year, as we look at massive inflation and many are counting every penny just to make ends meet, perhaps in God’s Providence it’s an invitation to step more fully once again into that real meaning of Christmas, the one that Linus recites so memorably. 

As we tighten our belts, maybe we’ll discover that simple, personal, perhaps even handmade presents — or even just being together — have a meaning that a big January credit card hangover can’t begin to match. Perhaps, as our hearts open for our neighbors in need, we’ll rediscover the Dickensian joy Ebeneezer Scrooge learned, of giving to those who can’t repay us. 

Maybe in this way, our difficult times may prove to be an unexpected gift. 

Deacon Kyle Eller: How can we love our enemies?

On Facebook a couple of weeks ago, I posted the following quote from Ven. Fulton Sheen: “The real test of the Christian is not how much he loves his friends, but how much he loves his enemies.” 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

If we take that seriously (as we must), it’s definitely a hard saying of our faith. 

In response, a Facebook friend of mine asked exactly the kind of question I imagine most deacons would love to get in such a circumstance: Basically, how? As my friend noted, often “enemies” are equated with “evil.” How can love exist in the midst of evil? 

I thought it was a good question, both in the sense that it reflects a good disposition of heart and in the sense that it’s a question I’ll bet many people have, on a teaching all of us struggle to live out at times, and one that cuts against the grain of our culture. 

So I thought I would expand on my answer here. 

We begin by recognizing some things that make it hard. First, powerful forces in our culture are working against our loving our enemies, even sometimes unintentionally. Think of the computer algorithms that influence our lives so profoundly, selecting everything from what media our favorite streaming service offers us to consume to what posts we see when we log on to social media. Those algorithms take into account what we’ve looked at and reacted to before, and they then show us more of those things. More user engagement means more clicks, which means more advertising and more money. 

But it turns out people engage not only with things they like but with things that make them angry — with things they “love to hate.” So when things make us angry, often we get fed more of that content, creating a kind of outrage loop. I have actually had people get upset with me for not getting as angry as they expected me to be about whatever they just saw on the Internet that angered them. I wonder how many times I’ve done the same. 

That’s to say nothing of actual demagoguery, where people deliberately attempt to spread hatred at perceived enemies, which is also very prevalent. 

Loving our enemies begins with intentionally resisting the pull of these temptations. 

There’s also the truth my friend was alluding to, that evil is real. Many are tempted to deny this truth, but there really are people who wish to do evil, who even sometimes intend to do harm to us or to others, from the small everyday harms to the kind that require police departments and armies and court systems. 

It’s these people that Sheen, echoing Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, is telling us to love. It’s a radical call that includes not just the little enemies — that annoying neighbor or overbearing boss or schoolyard smart-aleck — but the big ones too. 

It’s helpful to know what this love is — and isn’t. The love here is not primarily warm feelings of affection (although those are good too). It’s not a moral relativism that ignores or downplays evil or pretends everything is OK when it isn’t. It’s not even (or at least not always) a choice to let evil have its way, as though we would never defend the innocent or ourselves. 

Love is willing the good of that enemy. We can always do that. The highest good, of course, is heaven, and we can and should always will that for everyone. We also will the good of our enemies in this life, alongside our desire for justice. Even if an enemy is in prison, we will his rehabilitation and a dignified life and ultimately, insofar as justice and public safety allow, for him to be reconciled with the community and restored to a wholesome place in it. 

We love by seeking as best we can to overcome evil with good. We pursue justice with due restraint. We love by seeking understanding. Even people who do the worst things usually do so out of some misguided pursuit of a good. So we can (and in justice must) distinguish between evil actions and evil persons and resist making harsh personal judgments, leaving those to God who knows the heart. 

We can refuse the temptation to “gild the lily” and make the person’s wrongdoing out to be as bad as we possibly can, whether in our own hearts or in the hearts of others. Deeper understanding can even be a bridge to help bring reconciliation, a starting point for bringing them more fully to the truth. 

And we can always extend mercy, forgiving the wrongs done to us and to others. 

This, after all, is the way God loved us. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, notes that “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (5:10). In this Advent season, as we approach Christmas, consider in that light the words of the angels to the shepherds, proclaiming peace to people of good will. The Incarnation of Jesus, and ultimately the saving work of his cross and resurrection, act as an invitation to reconciliation to all of us, who by our own sins made ourselves enemies of God. 

When Jesus commands us to do something, he is also always the perfect model of how to live that out, and he always gives us the grace to do it. Humanly speaking, loving our enemies may be beyond our powers, but when we love with the same love with which God has loved us and filled our hearts, even this hard saying becomes truly possible. 

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