Browsing News Entries

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An Easter message from Bishop Daniel

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

As we move through these final Lenten days into the most holy of all weeks, already there is an anticipation of the great feast to come. Soon we will joyfully cry out, “He is Risen!” With that proclamation all life and time is changed forever. That Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead — and in His name so will we — is the kernel and core of all that we are about as believers. 

The paschal mystery of life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate will take 50 days for us to express, embrace, and embody in our Christian life. God gives us so many ways to celebrate our Easter joy during the 50 days of our Easter season: baptisms, confirmations, marriages, first Communions, graduations, great liturgical feasts, jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, longer light to our days, tulips, daffodils, the greening of lawns, the beginning of barbecues, and (hopefully) warmer temperatures! All of these signs point us to the Risen Lord and in Him the promise of life over death, hope over despair and light over darkness. Praise the Lord! 

As we move into the Easter season, I pray that God will give you and me the grace to believe and give witness to others of the Good News: Jesus Christ is Risen, alleluia! I pray that your Easter days will be filled with the precious joy that we can only find in the Easter Christ. 

May the holy blessings of the Risen Lord come upon you and remain with you forever, 



Father Mike Schmitz: How can I handle being corrected better?

I have to admit that I am not that great at receiving correction. I get super defensive or I end up feeling really guilty. I sometimes even feel like a failure. What should I do? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

I am so proud of you for asking this question. Too often, too many of us don’t even care how we receive correction. Even if you find yourself automatically taking a defensive position, it sounds like you know that that is not how we are ultimately called to respond. So the fact that you want to know how to move forward is a very good sign. 

First, I want to acknowledge how you described your initial reaction to correction: defensive or defeated. This makes sense. It is a version of the “fight or flight” reaction we all have to the presence of danger. We are tempted to either defend ourselves or our actions or we are tempted to give the correction so much power that it overwhelms and defeats us. This is normal. Just like the “fight or flight” response, it is involuntary and amoral. (To say that it is “amoral” means that it is neither good nor bad; it just is.) So my first counsel is to pay attention to your immediate response, but you do not have to give it more weight than it deserves. 

Nonetheless, it can teach us something. 

When we pay attention to our gut reactions, we can sometimes gain insight into our personalities and temperaments. This can, in turn, provide some wisdom in how we ought to proceed. For example, if you recognize that your tendency is to immediately argue with the one offering correction, you might soon realize that you will have to actively learn how to listen patiently. If your tendency is to allow yourself to be crushed by even a whiff of criticism, then you may discover that you need to be attentive to your sense of identity and self-worth. 

But after the initial response of defensiveness or defeat passes, there is a simple question that needs to be asked. 

For example, this happened to me the other day. I had gone to a movie (in the theaters even! Remember that?) and had liked it. So I did something that I do not often do, but I went to Twitter and commented on how much I liked the movie. There were people who responded (as happens on Twitter). Some agreed with me (as happens). Some disagreed (as happens). But one person commented something along the lines of “we don’t need priests giving movie reviews on Twitter.” 

Naturally, I immediately experienced the reaction anyone would experience. In my case, I was a little defensive and wanted to post some kind of snarky and superior comment. But of course, I know how Twitter works. I know that nobody wins there. Ever. And I knew that I would certainly not be representing Christ well if I gave in to my impulse to punch back. So what to do? Well, I asked the one question that always needs to be asked when a person is offered correction: What part of this is true? 

That is the question all of us have to ask and answer in order to be able to receive correction well. What part of this is true? 

In my case, I very quickly realized that the individual was right: No one asked me to offer my opinion of this movie. No one needs to know what I think about any movie. There was nothing that this person said that wasn’t true. So there was nothing for me to argue with. I might not have liked being “called out” for sharing my opinion, but that isn’t the issue. I was defensive because I was corrected. It was no more complicated than that. 

When I asked the question, “What part of this is true?” I experienced a great deal of freedom. I didn’t have to defend myself, and I didn’t have to feel defeated. This stranger simply reminded me of something true, so I was free to learn from him. 

In another case, the person offering correction might be wrong. In that case, the question is even more helpful. “What part of this is true?” comes back with “It isn’t. It isn’t true.” In that case, we can let it go and not give it permission to affect us. 

If it is true, then learn from it. If it is not true, then let it go. 

Last thing: There are times when I have been corrected and the person is telling the truth, but I have been so bothered by the fact that I did something wrong that I have found it difficult to let it go and move on. You may have experienced this as well. There are times when we have been corrected for something we know was wrong and was our fault. And we may have experienced some inner turmoil because of this. 

I have found that those who could be described as “people pleasers” fall into this camp. This could be connected to a vice called “vanity.” As we have said before in this column, vanity is not necessarily thinking highly of oneself. Vanity is the inordinate preoccupation with the opinion of others. It is good to be aware of and care about the opinion of others (it is what helps us notice other people’s cues and needs). But vanity is caring about other people’s opinions in an out-sized way. 

To break free of this, I recommend beginning to recognize it and to recognize the source of discomfort regarding other people’s opinions: shame. 

Guilt is when I know that I have violated an objective standard. Shame is when I know that you know I have violated the standard. Shame is relational; someone else knows. In this case, reconciliation is incredibly helpful. Reparation and a purpose of amendment is helpful. And above all else, knowing who you are in the eyes of the Father is necessary. 

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 Felton consecrates Ukraine, Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

In union with the call of Pope Francis, Bishop Daniel Felton consecrated Russia, Ukraine, and the whole human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at a Mass on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Friday, March 25, at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Duluth.

Bishop Daniel Felton kneels before a Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary as he, along with a packed congregation at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Duluth March 25, prays a prayer of consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Dioceses and parishes throughout the world answered the pope’s call, and it was evident in the Duluth Diocese that Pope Francis’ decision had resonated deeply, as the church filled to capacity with faithful from across the diocese. 

In his homily, Bishop Felton noted the power of the name parents give a child, and how that whole child’s life will take place “in that name.” He noted that in the Gospel reading for the Annunciation, God the Father himself gives the name. 

“God named the Son of God,” he said. “God gave a name to this Son he was sending into the world out of his love for us, and the name that he gives is Jesus. “Jesus” is a Hebrew word which literally means to rescue and to deliver.” 

When it comes to consecration, he said the word means to dedicate with boldness and strength. 

Referring to the prayer of consecration that Pope Francis had given to the world to pray, Bishop Felton said, “We literally are, with boldness and with strength, we are dedicating all of the people of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, truly believing this very day that all the people of Russia and all the people of Ukraine will be lifted up into our prayer and we are praying will be lifted up into the heart of Mary herself, who is going to do what? She is going to take the people of Ukraine, she is going to take the people of Russia to her son, Jesus. Truly believing it is only Jesus, today in the power of that name, that can bring peace and justice and rescue our beloved brothers and sisters, the beloved sons and daughters of God, in Russia and in Ukraine, can rescue them from war, rescue them from hatred, rescue them from the injustices … and in the power of Jesus not only to rescue, he will deliver them: deliver them to divine love, deliver them to divine unity, deliver them to divine hope, and we pray through the Immaculate Heart of Mary in our consecrating boldness, dedicating the people of Ukraine and of Russia, that he will be able to deliver them finally to divine peace, not by our doing, not by their doing, but in the power of the name of Jesus.” 

After his homily, the bishop knelt before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and with the entire congregation recited the prayer, pausing several times to sing a chorus of “Ave Maria.” The prayer took more than 10 minutes to complete.

A number of priests were present to concelebrate Mass with Bishop Felton March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the day on which the pope and bishops, priests, and faithful throughout the world consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immmaculate Heart. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Many bishops across the United States joined in similar prayers, entrusting the people of both countries to the care and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

“Friends, we are all deeply disturbed by the war in Ukraine, and the unconscionable attacks on innocent men, women, and children in their homes and neighborhoods,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a video message. 

“In this time when our world is weighed down under the shadow of war, I invite you to enter into this solemn moment of prayer with the Holy Father,” the archbishop said. “Together with him, let us ask our Blessed Mother to turn her eyes of mercy toward all her children. Let us ask her to intercede with her son, to deliver her children from evil and grant us peace.” 

Bishop Felton had also asked parishes across the diocese to pray the prayer of consecration that same day, suggesting to pastors that they include it in their parish Masses or in another devotion, such as a rosary. 

At the close of Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea, the bishop urged those present to take the consecration not only as a prayer for reconciliation of nations but to also bring reconciliation into communities, families, and lives, remembering that we are not guaranteed another opportunity. 

“We never know when there is going to be a next moment or a next day,” he said. 

Rhina Guidos of Catholic News Service contributed to this report. 

Bishop Felton to offer Mass in union with the consecration of Russia and Ukraine

St. Mary Star of the SeaPope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Friday, March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, during the evening Celebration of Penance that he will preside over at St. Peter's Basilica. In union with the Pope, Bishop Daniel Felton has announced that he will offer Mass on that same day Friday, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, at noon at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Duluth, and all the faithful are welcome to join him at that Mass. He has also asked priests of the diocese to offer some form of prayer for the intercession of Mary along with the Pope on that day, for instance through Mass intentions or a rosary. 

May Our Lady of the Rosary intercede for us! 

Duluth Diocese launches ‘Let’s Listen’ initiative 

The Northern Cross 

The Diocese of Duluth in February launced a new initiative called “Let’s Listen” to better understand the spiritual needs of the people of northeastern Minnesota and discern the next step in the church’s mission. 

Let’s Listen will primarily consist of small group listening sessions throughout the diocese. Online and mail-in survey options will offer other avenues for people to participate. 

“The Holy Spirit always calls us to discern our next step as missionaries of Christ,” said Duluth Bishop Daniel Felton, “and this process will allow us to reflect on how the Spirit is speaking to us through the voices of our brothers and sisters.” 

Let’s Listen coincides with and cooperates with Synod 2021-2023: For a Synodal Church, an initiative of Pope Francis, but Bishop Felton emphasized the local importance of the process. 

“The church in our diocese has been through difficult times in recent years, and this listening is needed,” Bishop Felton said. “What the Spirit reveals through Let’s Listen will be as important and useful to Floodwood as it is to Rome. What we learn will help us discern the next step as our diocese mobilizes to the mission God has given us.” 

The sessions are open to Catholics and non-Catholics alike residing in the Diocese of Duluth. 

“Each session follows a model inspired by the account of the disciples walking the Road to Emmaus, described in the Gospel of Luke,” said Andrew Jarocki, Diocese of Duluth contact person for the Synodal Process. “As the disciples first shared their hurts with Jesus before realizing their hopes, so too does this process encourage the people of the diocese to share both what is in need of healing and what offers them hope in their personal lives, in the church, and in the communities where they live.” 

The process began with an official Kick Off Week of events throughout the diocese Feb. 20-27 and concludes in April 2022. To learn more about how to get involved in Let’s Listen, visit or call (218) 623-5038. 

Father Richard Kunst: We must not treat sacred things as good luck charms

I hope he does not mind my saying this in a column, but Bishop Felton likes to call his priests. It is a pretty common occurrence for our current bishop to randomly call us priests just to check in and see how we are doing. The last time he randomly called me, as I write this in January, was Thanksgiving morning, and he did so just to offer thanksgiving to God for my priesthood, which I was grateful for.

Father Richard Kunst

This is not necessarily a common trait of bishops, and I have heard from more than one of my brother priests that it is a bit unnerving, the reason being that traditionally when a priest gets a call from his bishop it can indeed be a bad thing. In fact, I daresay that one of the more stressful thing for any priest is to get a call from the bishop to see him in his office, because bishops will rarely tell the priest over the phone why he wants the meeting. Of course, not every time a priest gets called to the bishop’s office is it a bad thing, but even small infractions by a priest can have major consequences.

Now, suppose I got the dreaded call to go meet the bishop in his office, and I decided to bring a consecrated host in a pyx and put it in my pocket for comfort. Would that be a proper use of the Eucharist? The answer, of course, is a resounding no! That would be an abuse of the sacrament, trivializing it to be nothing more than a holy good luck charm. The Eucharist is the source and summit of who we are as Catholics, so it is to be honored with the same reverence with which we honor God the Second Person of the Trinity, because that is who it is.

There is a near equivalent to this scenario in the Old Testament book of First Samuel, when Israel was at war with the Philistines, when after a defeat in battle someone came up with a harebrained idea: “When the troops returned to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the Lord from Shiloh that it may go into battle among us and save us from the grasp of our enemies’” (4:3). Understand that the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord was the single most sacred thing to the Jewish people. It was also known as the Holy of Holies and believed to be the very footstool of God, where he resided with his people.

Whichever elder came up with this idea was certainly misunderstanding of the proper use of the ark of the Lord, just as I would be if I brought the Eucharist to a meeting with the bishop that I might be worried about. Sacred things are never good luck charms, and certainly neither is God the Son, who is present in the Eucharist. These facts are most obvious.

But in saying this, it is not necessarily obvious with other sacred items. Our Catholic religion is rich with symbols and things; we are the religion of “smells and bells,” and I love that about being Catholic. Our tradition is filled with something we call sacramentals — things like rosaries, scapulars, medals, holy water, holy cards, prayer books, chaplets, candles, and on and on. These tangible objects are a part of the daily devotional life of Catholics and are great aids to our prayer life when viewed and used correctly.

It can be easy to get attached to a particular sacramental, especially if you have owned if for a long time or if you got it from a deceased relative. I have a rosary my grandmother gave me when I was probably around five years old, and she got it from my dad as a gift when he was very young, so it has great sentimental meaning for me, but I should never give undue attention to that particular rosary because of that sentiment. Rosaries and all sacramental serve only one purpose: to help us in prayer. Other than that they are of little value. I cannot exactly remember which saint said it, but they warned that if you get too attached to a rosary or any other sacramental, break it and bury it, because it is defeating its purpose. In other words, it is the prayer that accompanies the sacramental that is important.

Sacramentals are only as good as the disposition of the person using them. If my mind is wandering the whole time I am using one, then I might as well be reciting nursery rhymes, as there is a vast difference between saying prayers and praying!

Obviously it would be a much worse thing if we were to use the Eucharist as a “good luck charm,” but it is still important not to view the sacramentals you may own as good luck charms. We as Catholics have a rich tradition of having these holy objects to help us get to heaven. We should never look at them or use them in a way that would be more akin to superstition than prayer.

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Duty to raise children in the faith extending beyond confirmation

While taking pictures after my last child’s confirmation, a friend of mine came up to me and said, “Thank God I am done, all four are through, and I don’t have to worry about this anymore.” It was not the time or place to ask her what she meant by that statement, but a few things crossed my mind. Perhaps she thought the schedule for religious education was demanding, and she does not have to worry about working around the classes anymore. Or she was grateful that all of her children discerned to live their lives in Christ and his church.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

If not, maybe she could have meant that her job educating her children in the Catholic faith is done. I surmise the latter. I think she was referring to her marital obligation and duty to raise her children Catholic and accomplished her responsibility.

So much happens these days when a couple marries. There seems to be more planning for the proposal and reception so that the sacramental preparation can get lost in the busyness. I am always grateful when a couple decides to marry in the church. There is no better place to start than an earthly union in Christ, so that the graces necessary to equip them for the the day-to-day life in a marital covenant are present.

When the potential husband and wife call the church secretary to set up a date, it usually is pretty early in the sacramental preparation process. Immediately questions are addressed to the couple by the clergy, and I am sure their heads are spinning with all the information they are receiving right away.

One of the earlier, more unexpected messages they will hear from the clergy is that couples deciding to marry in the Catholic Church are bound by a serious obligation and duty to ensure their children will be educated following the teaching of the church. In my generation, this was common knowledge. Today, many engaged are learning for the first time that this is an essential promise made at the time of the marital covenant. More specifically, they will hear at a wedding, “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” with a proper response of “I will.” I gather from that mom at confirmation that she was suggesting that she completed the obligation she assented to on her wedding day.

I would agree with that mother that the duty is done in a world that should accept all things Catholic as proper and rightly ordered. However, I am experiencing something different with my children. In our diocese, youth are confirmed around 17 years of age or their junior year in high school. Rightfully, it seems our children should take on the primary responsibility to seek and learn their faith after confirmation.

However, this generation is dealing with obstacles much more significant than I did at 17. These young adults are barraged with the societal rejection of all things godly. Besides the moral falsehoods that students are learning in the classroom, the concept that religion is the root of all evil is being promulgated in articles, documentaries, speeches, podcasts, and YouTube videos that young people follow. I have been frustrated by the frequency of hearing post-confirmands saying as much. My children have even questioned whether this slanted, false narrative is true or not.

My husband and I strongly feel that our promise to raise our children according to the law of Christ is not finished. The state of our culture says we are obligated to continue supporting our children’s faith journey as a result of this toxic anti-Christ reality they find themselves in. They need to do their work as confirmed members of the church, but as parents we need to be there continuing to point the most efficacious way toward salvation, that being through Christ and his church.

After our clan left the house, attending Mass every Sunday for my husband and me continued to be a desired obligation for our spiritual necessity, connection to our faith family and worship. However, we are also finding that this continued practice has affirmed for our children the authenticity of the example we set. Otherwise, they might think we were attending for their sake and not for the sake of living out our Catholic Faith. Because we are members of a larger faith family, it saddens me to learn people I know who have grown in faith with us have opted out of the practice once their children leave home.

For some of my adult children, COVID suspension of Mass provided an intellectual query into the legitimate need for continuous and dutiful weekly Mass attendance. My children should be able to figure this out on their own. All six of my children are confirmed, so regular Mass attendance is essential if their desired hope is heaven. The pandemic halt for Mass did create an intellectual problem for them and likely for many others. As parents, when we are witnesses to the essential nature of going to Mass, we are affirming for them what we believed before is still true today.

As Catholic parents we must stay on our toes, because you can’t be sure when your kids may be looking for truth. One of my older sons recently called me concerned about what the Catholic Church was supporting this legislative season. He basically thought that some topics were not the business of the church. In our conversation, he shared his rendition of how Christ treated sinners, the poor, and the marginalized. He was under the notion that Christ tolerated people’s behavior, loved them, and without any correction. My son thought some of the more recent advocacy was judgmental and restrictive. He used Scripture to back up his assertion and expected the Catholic Church should do the same.

He was very passionate, and there were many good things about this discussion. Knowing my duty to raise my children in the faith, I intently listened to his argument, agreed where I could, and when he was finished, I gently asserted the part of the Scripture he was missing: “Now go and sin, no more,” like in John 8:11. I took this opportunity to explain to my son that the church’s love is Christ’s love, and it is not toleration of sinful acts but a love for the person and redirection toward a good that will ultimately bring them closer to Christ. Although carefully done, my vowed duty called me to respond to him lovingly but with the truth of Christ.

More recently, and in a much lighter situation, I had the opportunity to again take part in my parental responsibility. I had the opportunity to attend Mass with my daughter. The church we attended used the complete version of the three-year cycle missals. These books have no specific dates for the Mass readings. My daughter was frustrated trying to figure out which readings would be the ones for that day. This created a delightful moment to continue my responsibility to teach about our Catholic faith. In that brief moment, I explained the cycles, what year we were in, the liturgical seasons, and how each year generally highlights one of the Gospels. She likely learned this before, but I was impressed with how she so easily moved through the missal once she was re-educated with this information.

When we got married, we were well aware of our duty to raise our children in the faith, and for us it wasn’t really an obligation, it was a desire. We love our faith and all the goodness that has filled our lives as a result. I am certain my parents thought once we were confirmed their jobs were done. We don’t live in the world I was raised in. Frankly speaking, it is tough to be a Christian, and it is even harder to be a Catholic Christian in today’s times. There is a spiritual battle, and our marital vows call us to arm our children because we are in a spiritual world war. Confirmation has given them the virtues to fight it, but as parents I feel we have to continue to enlighten their faith so that they can access those virtues to survive the battles they will encounter.

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

Supporting women and working families at the forefront of Catholic advocacy as session starts 

Minnesota Catholic Conference 
Inside the Capitol 

Minnesota Catholic Conference staff are monitoring a flurry of bills including paid family leave, and a constitutional amendment that would empower judges to create new modes of discrimination based on the ambiguous concept of gender. 

Rebellion against the sexes 

There is much talk today of “identity politics.” The urgent question being what identity should guide our politics. The church proposes that our primary identity is as children of God created in his image — and created male and female (CCC 2333). We are all brothers and sisters, and we should treat one another, accordingly, living together in right relationship, that is, in justice and truth. 

Others propose that we define ourselves primarily by racial identity or a fluid construct of “gender.” The latter creates an internal war on one’s human nature by manipulating instead of receiving God’s gift of creation. It undermines the ability to form and participate in the natural family, thereby creating a society of atomized individuals beholden to the state. 

These principles were the core of MCC testimony against a proposed constitutional amendment to mandate gender equality. This so-called Equal Rights Amendment (H.F. 726) states: “Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender.” 

With proponents, we share the goal of stopping unjust discrimination against all persons. But making reasonable distinctions based on sex is often appropriate. Further, the state’s Human Rights Act already bans discrimination based on sex (including sexual orientation). 

The proposed amendment aims to empower judges to impose constitutional mandates in the name of equality that would be unlikely to pass legislatively, as well as erode conscience and religious liberty protections built into the Human Rights Act. 

The potential impacts of the amendment include mandating publicly subsidized fertility treatments or surrogacy arrangements for same-sex couples; mandating state-subsidized gender transition therapy and surgery; further entrenching abortion as a “right”; and allowing men to participate in women-only activities and spaces, undermining women’s safety and well-being. 

Paid Caregiver Leave 

Polling shows that Americans are increasingly delaying or forgoing starting a family altogether because of economic insecurity. A 2018 survey by the New York Times found that 44% of respondents reported not being able to afford more children, and 39% reported not having enough paid family leave time as a barrier to growing their family. 

Business trade associations and worker advocacy groups have been in gridlock for years about a family leave proposal favored by House Democrats that would use a new payroll tax to create the equivalent of a workers’ compensation style system for paid leave (H.F. 1200). MCC has communicated to legislators that H.F. 1200 is a reasonable way to create a family leave program, but the bill has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. 

In an effort to break the logjam, MCC participated in the bill’s hearing to remind lawmakers of the matter’s urgency and encourage them to find common ground for the common good. There are multiple ways in which a paid leave program could be constructed, and for anything to pass, it must recognize the reciprocal relationship and foster solidarity between employers and employees. 

Father Nicholas Nelson: Fasting: What’s the big deal?

Lent is a time of repentance and renewal. It’s about recommitting ourselves to knowing, loving, and serving God and loving our neighbor as Christ loved us. To help us, the church has prescribed three traditional practices, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Jesus speaks of these three in the Sermon on the Mount, and we hear about them every Ash Wednesday for our Gospel. For this month’s column, I’d like to speak on the power and meaning behind fasting.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

When we were born, we were born with both original sin and with concupiscence. “Concupiscence” is a fancy word meaning that our passions are disordered. They are not ordered according to reason. They don’t push us towards what is good or in accord with the truth. Our passions often push us towards that which isn’t actually good for us, such as we want to lash out at the person who cut us off driving, we want to eat three pieces of chocolate cake, or we may desire to use our sexuality contrary to our state of life and with the wrong person. When we were baptized, original sin and all personal sin to that point were washed away, but concupiscence remained. Concupiscence means our intellect isn’t in full control of our passions. Until we die, we will have to live with the fact that our passions are disordered and not under the reign of our reason.

St. Paul famously wrote, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). The integrated person, the saint, has her spiritual nature and animal nature going in the same direction. Fasting helps this. We are helping our intellect rightly order our passions, in particular our sensible appetites. When we fast, our reason is controlling our passions rather than our passions controlling us. In a word, if I can say, “No!” to myself regarding something that is objectively good, such as meat, or a beer, or no to eating for a particular amount of time, then I can say “no!” to bad things, i.e., sin, when temptation does come my way.

Over time, with the help of fasting, we won’t want to lash out at someone, we will only want one piece of cake, we will give glory to God for the beauty of someone rather than desire to sexually use them.

Fasting can take many forms. There can be media fasts and fasting from other things, which means you just give them up. But fasting specifically concerns eating or drinking. The technical fast prescribed for Catholics 18-58 years of age on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is eating one normal sized meal for the day, and, if necessary, an additional one or two snacks that don’t equal the size of the normal meal. Historically in the Latin Catholic Church and currently in many Eastern Catholic Churches, fasting during Lent means not eating any meat or dairy and just one meal a day taken in the evening. This is sometimes called a “black fast.” Intermittent fasting means you only eat during a prescribed few hours during the day, such as between noon and 6 p.m.

In addition to the possible health benefits and the rightful ordering of the passions, there are a number theological and historical reasons for fasting. Fasting reminds us of our parents’ first fault, which was disobedience in eating what was off limits, i.e. the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Fasting from meat and dairy takes us back to the time before the fall, because Adam and Eve didn’t eat the flesh of animals until after the fall.

Jesus himself fasted. Most famously, he fasted for 40 days in the desert before he began his public ministry. Every Ash Wednesday, we hear Jesus’s words on fasting. His words presume that fasting is already being done and is a noble and praiseworthy endeavor. He says, “When you fast ….”

Fasting also reminds us of our dependence on God. It is an act of trust and faith in him, that he will ultimately fulfill me.

Finally, fasting is an act of love. It says, “God, I love you more than I love myself. I am willing to sacrifice my own pleasure and comfort as a sign that I love you more.”

There is a connection between fasting and almsgiving. The money that we would have spent on food can be given to the poor. If your parish is like mine, you probably have a fund for the poor and needy. At the end of Lent, you could estimate how much money you saved on by not consuming alcohol, snacks, sweets, or just by eating less, and write a check for the needy fund at your parish.

There is a connection between fasting and prayer. When we fast, biologically, more blood is flowing to our brain, which allows us to concentrate better. While we fast, there is a bodily hunger that takes place, which is a good sign or symbol of our hunger for God.

This Lent, consider fasting more than just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Be prudent, but fast from certain foods or drinks or for periods of time that stretch you a bit more.

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: 'OK, boomer' and the humility offered by original sin

“OK, boomer.” 

That annoying, smug dismissal grew popular among the young over the last couple of years and may have reached peak naivete in a few random Internet comments I read in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One comment seemed to identify the Russian invasion with the mentalities of earlier generations and to suggest that therefore no criticism of “woke” culture could be valid by comparison. Others said that what really is needed is for the older generations to die off so that the young can fix everything. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the impulse. I’m solidly Generation X, and as others of my generation, with typical sarcastic cynicism, have noted, we invented the art of rolling our eyes at Baby Boomers. 

But it’s partly two aspects of that experience that render the problem here so clear to me. First, what was so annoying to us about the boomers? I think if you boil it down, it’s that we lived in the immediate aftermath of an illusion identical to the one we’re living now: "never trust anyone over 30," the old ways have proven a failure and must be overthrown, and all it will take to set the world right is for the old generations whose ways have failed to die off and for the new generation to set it right. (Duluth-born Bob Dylan, the “voice of a generation,” couldn’t have said it more plainly in “The Times, They Are A-Changin.’”) 

Spoiler: It turns out Baby Boomers were made of the same stuff, good and bad, as every generation that came before them, and their utopia fared exactly as well as the ones that came before, which is to say that it came into contact with reality, and reality won, with lots of unintended consequences. 

The second aspect of the experience is that at middle age, I’ve now lived long enough to see how well my generation fared learning from its parents’ mistakes and trying to avoid them. Would our jaded cynicism and ironic detachment fare better? 

Spoiler: It turns out Generation X was made of the same stuff too, and if we avoided some mistakes, we found our own to make, with lots of unintended consequences. No doubt my children are learning from mine as we speak. 

In other words, it turns out we all suffer from the effects of original sin – the reality that we come into this world with a certain brokenness. 

“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” wrote the great G.K. Chesterton, in a passage I love. They, “in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.” 

Drunk on the myth of progress, we imagine that, with the passage of time and the growth of science and technology and mass communication and so on, the evils of the world must inevitably diminish and all will get better and better, so we are shocked to learn that greed and hatred and corruption and the lust for power and wars and atrocities and all the rest still persist. 

But of course they do. We’re made of the same stuff, and all the bigger and better iPhones we can come up with cannot make it otherwise. 

This has direct implications for how we approach our problems, whether it’s the global stage or the local city council or right at home in our families and parishes. In particular, it should inspire humility in us. 

Russell Kirk, an influential conservative thinker of a bygone age, once wrote a list of ten conservative principles that, whether you find yourself in agreement or disagreement with them, are worth pondering no matter what political label you might affix to yourself. (And I think conservatives would benefit from this at least as much as progressives.) 

Several of them are relevant here, but one in particular stands out: “[C]onservatives,” he says, “are chastened by their principle of imperfectibility.” He notes that human nature itself suffers certain grave faults and therefore “no perfect social order ever can be created.” We can work toward a “tolerably ordered, just, and free society” which still has imperfections, and even by prudent reform can hope to preserve and improve it, but start tearing down institutional and moral safeguards and “the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose.” 

He closes the passage with this warning, as fitting today as it ever was: “The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the 20th century world into a terrestrial hell.” 

As I write this, I am fresh from proclaiming the Gospel passage at Sunday Mass in which Jesus warns us to remove the log from our own eyes — our own sins and failings — before attempting to remove the splinter from our brother’s eye. The difficult truth is that it’s a lot easier, and generally a lot more comfortable, focusing our attention on the sins and failings of others than it is to do the hard work of rooting out our own. 

True humility and wisdom recognize that we’re made of the same stuff, subject to the same limitations as everyone else who has come along and tried their best, and just as prone to wishful thinking and ideological blind spots, and that the real battle for progress takes place in the human heart, first of all our own. 

And the deepest wisdom of all is that only in Jesus Christ can the wounds there even begin to be healed. 

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