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Deacon Kyle Eller: Resisting the politicization of everything

I’m not sure what tipped me over, but it’s been slowly building to what is now full-blown exasperation — the politicization of every sphere of life. It feels almost wrong to list examples, as if even to name a few diminishes the degree to which it is simply everywhere.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

But the examples range from the literal global stage, where Olympic athletes seem to be featured in coverage sometimes based almost entirely on some ideological reason, to sitting in a restaurant in the Black Hills on family vacation awestruck as, three tables away, some guy whose voice seems to have only one volume (loud) tells the captive audience at his table but also everyone in the whole space his opinions of former Vice President Mike Pence and why he won’t set foot in the state of Minnesota because he doesn’t like our governor.

It’s Facebook groups supposedly dedicated to sourdough baking that, in the space of literally a few minutes, go from being enthusiastic, supportive, friendly spaces with people bonding over a common interest to absolute war zones of bitter vitriol and locked threads and nasty name calling and people leaving in a huff or being kicked out over whatever cause du jour someone wanted to make the group about that day.

It’s walking down the street in another city and knowing, just by the flags and slogans in the windows, what every shop and restaurant thinks about so-called “Pride Month,” even when it supposedly ended a month ago. That’s to say nothing of the full on commercial and media blitz of rainbow-washing everything, to the point that I suspect even Christmas couldn’t boast that much saturation in a bygone heyday when it was an uncontroversial focus all December long.

It’s knowing what every author and athlete and musician and actor and celebrity thinks about whatever the ruling class has declared to be the issue of the day, even when those celebrities have no more knowledge or insight than any random stranger on the street and when it has nothing to do with their work.

It’s the painfully huge number of Catholics who seem to have rendered themselves incapable of hearing anything the church says about public affairs except as filtered through their politics, as if the church were some kind of human Rorschach test that simply reflects back someone’s obsessions and prejudices.

I could go on and on and drearily on.

Yes, I know politics have had a place in all these many spheres of life for decades. Within reason I’m fine with that. I’ve never been a believer in that old cliche about not talking religion or politics over dinner. I wish there were more deep, open conversations about these things taking place in the context of family and friends who love and respect each other and assume good faith. I suspect we’d all be better off for it.

But finally you watch a sporting event to root for your team or see skilled athletes perform. You go into a store looking to buy a new pair of shoes. You go to a concert to hear music that moves you. I imagine there are few people who want to be burdened with the constant awareness of whether we’re in friendly or enemy territory in the culture war with everything we do. Yet that’s the world we’re creating.

I suspect these problems in part reflect the decline of faith in our culture and even within the church. It is easy, then, for politics and ideology to take on the role our faith ought to play in being our guide to understanding ourselves and our place in the world.

The Lord calls each of us in the beatitudes to be peacemakers. While we often remind ourselves that this means being reconciled to God and living in the truth, it’s also true that it means being peaceful people — people who seek to heal divisions rather than worsen them, who see those who disagree with them not as enemies but as brothers and sisters with whom we hope to be someday reconciled.

And that means resisting as best we can the temptation to turn every sphere of life into a political battlefield.

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Grandparents are often key to children’s development

Pope Francis designated the fourth Sunday of July the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. He chose that Sunday because it is close to the liturgical memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I know I grew up a bit ignorant of St. Anne and St. Joachim. However, when the Cathedral of Our Lady put up statues of both saints, I was drawn to find out as much as I could about them. I quickly learned what an important role Sts. Joachim and Anne play in salvation history! If not for their deep faith, typical parents of that period would have at minimum banished their daughter from the family for what was believed to be an illicit pregnancy. Worse yet, parents in this situation often had to stand by while others stoned their daughter to death.

Sts. Joachim and St. Anne, along with St. Joseph, protected Mary from public shaming, which ultimately allowed the birth of our Savior. In other words, Jesus’ grandparents’ steadfast belief in the incarnation, their support for the family of Jesus, and their abiding love obtained our hope for salvation.

Pope Francis’s decision to honor grandparents and the elderly is brilliant and timely. In a period of divided families and a generation of parents with the largest population of nones (unaffiliated with any organized religion) in centuries, grandparents and elderly may hold the key to unifying the next generation to Christ and his church. Grandparents have unconditional love for their children and their grandchildern, and there seems to be an innate desire by grandparents to do all that is humanly possible to keep these loved ones close to Christ. Grandparents may be instrumental in helping their grandchildren know Christ when parents have abdicated the responsibility.

My husband and I were short-sighted when we settled our family in Duluth. At 23 and newly married, we did not consider the consequence of what living over 450 miles from both sets of grandparents would mean for our eventual family. Furthermore, since we came from large families, our parents’ time was proportioned between our siblings, logically making relationship building easier for those grandkids that live closer to our parents. With our first few kids, I think we did a pretty good job of going back home, but as things got busy and the children were older, that time back home was cut considerably shorter. In some ways, we cheated our children out of one of the most significant relationships a kid could have.

Grandparents are crucial to a child’s development, not just in a free nurturing way but also in a spiritual formation way. As our children got older, we were blessed by many elderly adults in our faith community who took on the role of grandparents for our children. These individuals kept tabs on our kids and attended events like games, sacramental moments, Christmas concerts, and special times in the church’s life, just like grandparents usually do.

They invited our family to Christmas and Easter celebrations, which provided lifelong memories. Having these individuals in our family life was never something planned, but as I look back, they served as essential loved ones that filled a void their grandparents could not. My children would say the relationship may be different than their grandparents, but they hold them in a special place in their hearts.

Over the years, I have watched many grandparents pick up where their adult children have not. I have observed a grandpa who brought his grandson to Mass every Sunday. I was thrilled to see that grandson got married in the church and later read in the bulletin that the grandson’s baby was baptized.

I know numerous friends that have had to raise their grandchildren in their homes and take on the significant responsibilities of parenting them. Even my sister took her grandchildren into her home at 50 years of age. Immediately she got the children baptized, brings them to Mass weekly, and although it is a tough financial stretch, she has placed her grandkids into Catholic schools. She will be nearing 70 when the youngest goes off to college.

Grandparents and the elderly have always played a role in the lives of the generation once removed. Still, at an alarming rate, grandparents and other elderly folks are placed in a position where they take on the heroic role of parenting and being the spiritual leader in place of the biological parents.

I am not a grandparent yet, and I don’t think I am elderly either (although my children would say otherwise). I did assume I would be blessed with grandchildren by now, but that status is not up to me. I know I am not getting younger, and I hope that if blessed, my children know that my husband and I are willing and ready to take on the role of grandparenting. I hope we raised our children so that they know parenting is a lot more than having children, and they accept and live out the crucial role of being spiritual leaders for our grandchildren.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the foundation we gave our children will stand up to the pressures of our current culture. Every one of our children knows how important parenting is to the salvific future of their children and we hope that priority is theirs as well.

Pope Francis has always had a pulse on where the wounds are in this world. He has rightly acknowledged a need to elevate the respect given to grandparents and the elderly across the globe. We owe a great deal of respect to those individuals who serve the family and our church with their steadfast devotion to Christ and the church. Just like Sts. Anne and Joachim, the current oldest generation has played a vital role in holding up faith for those that come after them, and that service needs to be acknowledged and encouraged.

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

Father Mike Schmitz: Aren’t the bishops politicizing the Eucharist?

I am troubled by news that the bishops of the United States might ban politicians who are openly pro-abortion from receiving Holy Communion. Isn’t this politicizing the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist for one’s own ends? I thought that the Eucharist was meant to be “medicine for those who are sick.” 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Your question is timely, since this has been in the news recently. But in other ways, this is an ancient question. Even more than that, it is an issue that is much larger than politics. Politics and politicians come and go, nations rise and nations fall. But a person’s soul is going to endure forever. 

Consider this: long after the United States of America ceases to exist, every person who has ever lived will either rejoice in eternity with God or endure eternity separated from God. Because of this reality, the church has to be more preoccupied with individuals and their souls than individuals and their politics. 

That being said, our decisions matter. The things we choose to say and do (and the things we choose to not say and not do) matter. In my private life, I can make decisions that violate the commandments of God (we call those decisions “sins”). And in my public life, I can make decisions that violate God’s commandments (those decisions are also called “sins”). Whether those private or public decisions occur in a political space is irrelevant to their sinfulness. 

Yes, the church has an interest in justice and in the common good, which is why church leadership will often weigh in on issues of injustice and areas where the common good is being violated, but the church can never “impose” the Gospel on others. She can only “propose” the Gospel to the people in our culture. This is why the church does her best to teach on issues that affect our society, issues like the rights of workers, the unborn, those in prison, immigrants, racism, and any other dilemma we face as a people. 

Still, if this is just about politics, then it is only relevant for those involved in politics — it only really matters for those who care about politics. Because of that, I want to take a step back and look at the real heart of what is going on here. This teaching is potentially more about what we believe about the Eucharist than it is about what we believe about politics or anything else. 

Pope Francis is noted for having stated that the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” This is incredibly encouraging. We can never forget that every time we approach the Blessed Sacrament, we are receiving a gift we do not deserve. This is one reason why we always state, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” 

None of us could merit to receive the Eucharist even if we lived 100 perfect lifetimes. And yet, Jesus keeps inviting us to receive him at Mass. This is the unfathomable love of God! 

The question that this issue raises is: Do we believe that? Do we truly believe that we do not deserve the gift of the Eucharist, and that every time we approach our Lord in Holy Communion we are taking our lives in our hands? Are we so brazen as to think that we can do what St. Paul says is akin to murder and get away with it? 

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul writes that whoever “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” When I first encountered these words of St. Paul, the person teaching them to me noted that the term “will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” was similar to saying that Christ’s “blood is on your hands.” St. Paul is highlighting the fact that, if someone has committed a mortal sin and receives Holy Communion without going to confession first, they are committing the serious grave sin of violating the Eucharist. 

Now, this is true regardless of which mortal sin I am guilty of. 

I have heard people say, “Why are the bishops focusing on pro-abortion politicians? They ought to also include those Catholics who use contraception or are divorced and remarried.” But that is the point, any mortal sin (including the two just mentioned) would need to be repented of and confessed before any person (politician or not) received Holy Communion. The Catechism states it like this: Anyone “who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion … without having first received sacramental absolution” (1457). 

You might ask, “But what about the Eucharist being ‘medicine for the sick’?” Yes, the Eucharist is medicine for the sick, but it is not medicine for the dead. Mortal sin is called “mortal” because there is a real sense in which it kills the life of God in the soul. Simply praying at the beginning of Mass, “I confess to almighty God …” and “Lord, have mercy” is enough to forgive venial sins, but only confession forgives mortal sins. Receiving Holy Communion heals and strengthens those who are struggling, but it does not revive the dead. 

The great enemy of the church, Voltaire, knew this well enough. Once a young man who wanted to be free of his Catholic upbringing went to Voltaire and asked him how he could no longer feel guilty about his rejection of the Faith. Voltaire recommended that he commit mortal sins and then receive the Eucharist. He advised that he do this repeatedly until he no longer felt any pang of remorse or guilt. The young man did this, and within months, his faith had been completely eradicated. 

My friends, this isn’t about politics. This is about your soul and my soul. If we (not some politician somewhere in Washington) receive our Lord unworthily in Holy Communion, we are eating and drinking condemnation on ourselves. This is why St. Paul advises us, one “should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28). 

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Father Richard Kunst: ‘What we own, we owe’: advice for the next homily about money

As we all know, the priesthood is a pretty unique profession. From the faith perspective, we call it a vocation, because that is what it is — a calling from God. From a secular perspective, it is a very unique job for many reasons, one of which I am sure we hardly give thought to: Other than maybe teachers, who speak to their students following a particular curriculum, Catholic priests are one of the very few professions that speak to an audience every day.

Father Richard Kunst

Besides Sundays, most priests I know give homilies every single day, with the exception of the occasional day off. Protestant ministers might have a Wednesday evening service, but they don’t do anything like the priest does in having daily Mass and daily preaching. If I were to “spitball” a guess, I have probably given around 8,500 homilies in my 23 years of priesthood, which means among other things I am really good at reading the audience. Because we priests talk most every day in front of an audience, we know how to read a crowd.

In mentioning this, I will say that there are two subjects that most make people squirm in their pews: when a priest is perceived to be getting “too political” and money. I will explain a different way to look at money, so that the next time you hear the priest tee up a homily on the subject you will get less squeamish.

When a pastor is assigned to a particular parish, it becomes his responsibility on every level to maintain it and hopefully get it to thrive. Priests do not own their parishes, but they do have great authority over them. They are, in essence, entrusted with the parish for a limited period of time, whether that be two years or 12 years, and eventually the time comes when the priest relinquishes his authority over the parish to his successor. This can be difficult, because we priests put our whole selves into a parish community, and just like that we no longer have anything to do with that parish once we are reassigned.

To make this a little less “priestly,” think of land that you might own, whether it is land your house is built on or property you have invested in. The fact is, you really don’t own land, you just own the right to do what you want with the land for a period of time. That same land was here during the time of the dinosaurs, and before Christopher Columbus showed up, and it will still be here long after your great, great, grandchildren die of old age. You do not own it, rather you are entrusted with it for a finite period of time.

It is not all that dissimilar when it comes to our money. Yes, we can spend money and use it up, but chances are much of our money will be here even after we are not. In reality the United States government owns the money. We simply earn the right to use it. (This is why it is actually against the law to deface currency.) So when it comes to the money we have earned the right to use — the money we have been entrusted with for a time — we need to ask ourselves how we are using it.

We would be foolish to think that we are only responsible for our needs and the needs of our family. There is a plethora of examples in both the Old and New Testaments that make that point clear. We would also be foolish to think we will not be judged in part by how we use the blessings God gave us. He has never bestowed blessings on anyone for their own selfish purposes; blessings are never meant just for the people who have received them.

The famous rabbi Abraham Heschel once wrote, “Everything we own, we owe.” That is not only a Jewish concept, it is also a Christian one. In the big picture of things, we don’t own anything on this blue dot we call earth, we simply get to use it for a time, then we are gone and someone else gets to use it.

So when the next money homily comes along, try not to squirm. Instead, consider how to properly use what God gives you for the time allotted, remembering that whatever he has given you is never meant just for you and your family.

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

Editorial: Forcing taxpayers to fund abortion is extreme and wrong

Our Catholic faith rightly demands that we protect innocent human life and therefore that we oppose abortion and oppose laws permitting abortion. This is a straightforward matter of justice in service to the common good.

In our complex form of government, as our nearly 50 year battle to undo the damage caused by Roe v. Wade shows, doing this is no easy task when some of our fellow citizens disagree with us vehemently and when many more of them are conflicted and ambivalent. That’s why Catholic teaching, for instance Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical on the Gospel of Life, make it clear that we can pursue this goal of protecting the unborn incrementally, step by step.

But one thing on which polls show broad, bipartisan agreement is that abortion should not be funded by taxpayers. Some polls show more than three in four Americans holding this view, a remarkable number in our divided nation, one that means even many of those who favor some forms of legal abortion oppose public funding of it.

Forcing taxpayers to subsidize abortions is extreme, and not only in the sense of being unpopular. It’s also extreme in that it makes all Americans, including the millions who find abortion abhorrent, participants in actual abortions. It is therefore an attack on conscience rights, as well.

Our state of Minnesota, tragically, already has taken this extreme and wrong step of taxpayer funded abortion, and we should continue to work to change that. We should also make clear to all of our elected representatives that we firmly stand with a majority of our fellow Americans in demanding that our federal government never makes the same mistake.

Bishop Felton responds to Traditionis Custodes

Bishop Daniel J. Felton send the following memo to priests and deacons of the diocese in response to Pope Francis’s letter today regarding the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass:

July 16, 2021

Dear Brothers in Christ,

As you may be aware, today our Holy Father, Pope Francis, released an apostolic letter, Traditionis Custodes, on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the 1970 reform. Having just received the document, and having consulted with Father Joel Hastings, our director of liturgy and the priest responsible for the Traditional Latin Mass in Duluth, we will need to study it and determine the best ways to implement the articles it contains. While that process continues, for the time being:

  1. The weekly celebration of the extraordinary form Mass will continue at St. Benedict’s Church in Duluth.

  2. For other parishes which are currently celebrating the extraordinary form Mass, their situations will be examined on a case-by-case basis.

  3. No new celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass may be initiated in the parishes at this time.

As the Holy Father’s introduction notes, implementing these norms will take time. I encourage you to be mindful of the faithful who are devoted to the traditional liturgy and sensitive to their feelings at this time. I note that like Pope Benedict XVI, when he released his own motu proprio on the liturgy, Pope Francis draws our attention to the need to celebrate the ordinary form of the Mass reverently and in a manner faithful to the ritual.

As we undertake this review, let us keep each other in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and grant us the grace of greater faith and deeper unity in our Eucharistic Lord. Please be assured that you will be kept apprised of any developments as we move forward.

Know of my prayers for all of you at this time and always.

May the blessings of God be upon you and those you serve,

Sincerely in Christ,

+ Daniel

Bishop Daniel J. Felton
Bishop of Duluth

Betsy Kneepkens: One more group that sacrificed during the pandemic needs our respect

Is this pandemic coming to an end? It certainly feels like we have turned a corner. You hear “experts” express concerns about the future strains, but we are moving back to normalcy for now.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I think we could all write a book about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on our lives. The difficulty associated with this unexpected life-ending disease, which seemed to pick victims indiscriminately, is hard to wrap my head around. Many died, most who were ill were barely sick, and another massive number of people were spared finding out their fate if they were exposed. Like so much in history, the truth of what this whole pandemic was about will not be understood for decades. With all the horror that came as a direct result of this pandemic, it is through faith we can see all the blessings that were absolute gifts that would never have been realized if we did not experience this common adversity.

One of the many fruits of this challenging ordeal was a shared appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who put themselves in harm’s way every day for the sake of others they did not know. I think as a population we have done a reasonably good job at acknowledging health care workers who attended to those who unknowingly could have spread COVID-19 to them. I find the most selfless were those care providers who continued working in congregated housing facilities when the pandemic hit the country hardest. These professionals dealt with the loss of life regularly. Their efforts were nothing short of heroic.

Besides those in the health care industry, I was equally impressed by those who worked in grocery stores or industries where direct service to unknown individuals was necessary to get the job done. Many of these positions were low-paying and required daily face-to-face interaction with people who could have indeed passed the virus on to them. The public acts of appreciation, be it signs posted in yards and windows, discounts at stores, and free meals, were well deserved, situationally appropriate, and well-meaning. As a society, I am proud of how we understood and respected the contribution of those who made our existence possible and tolerable at that time.

As I reflect on this year-and-a-half crisis, I strongly feel that adults underappreciated a considerable portion of society that gave selflessly. A large population segment accepted stringent restrictions, complete life disruption, and was least at risk during this pandemic. At the time, the guidelines placed upon them seemed relatively unnecessary, yet they complied with respect and diligence. What this group of citizens sacrificed, as compared to any other generation, was massive and significant.

Since nearly the beginning of the pandemic, we have known that this group of individuals were less likely to be infected by this disease, and they had minimal symptoms and a death rate of less than .03%. Some sources, including the CDC, report that the complication from COVID-19 for this population is less than the seasonal flu.

The group I am referring to, of course, is the children of our nation. Most childhood memories span approximately ten years, from ages 7 to 17. So, when you put the time in percent of their lives, COVID restrictions have taken 15% of current children’s childhood away. On the other hand, all other generation lost nothing of their childhood, and still we have all those really cherished childhood memories.

The risk of complication of COVID as you got older was significantly higher than that of our children. Yet what leaders, educators, and politicians canceled, altered, and minimized for kids during this pandemic was decided swiftly, stringently, and at times without science to back up their decisions. There were elder advocates, health care advocates, restaurant and bar advocates that wisely brought forth the science to manage the situation. However, for children, the level of diligence and oversight seemed to be almost nonexistent. The powers that be knew imposing restrictions and controls over children would come with little resistance, because they lacked the resources to impact their fate.

I have shared my concerns with family and friends, and I have often heard from them that kids are resilient — they will be fine. Being OK is good, but being appreciated is necessary and respectful. As a child, I vividly remember how I looked forward to specific events, and if something was a week away, it seemed like a year. If it was a month away, it felt like decades. I can’t imagine the anguish of looking forward to an event that, through no fault of theirs, was canceled.

Every parent knows the sadness their children experienced this year when their birthday party, sport season, prom, school play, family vacation, sixth-grade trip to Valleyfair, eighth-grade retreat, Camp Survive, mission trip, state tournaments were all canceled. At the peak of the pandemic, it was a little easier to explain. Still, as the year continued, and restrictions were the last to be lifted for children, they waited patiently and accepted the losses valiantly and respectfully.

Toward this school year’s end, I was frustrated for kids as activities continued to be canceled or watered down. Often it seemed that many adult activity planners used COVID-19 as a reason not to return to these special events because it was just easier. As an adult, I think you can forget how meaningful these lifetime memories are. I am impressed at how children accepted everything we imposed on them, even when the kids themselves started questioning why restrictions were still in place when those rules did not align with what the science was saying.

I think we all can be cautiously optimistic that this pandemic is waning. I rejoice at the respect everyone seemed to pay toward those that put themselves on the front line serving those in need. This outpouring of appreciation is a beautiful sign of humanity. I believe this connection is an innate God-given gift of our brotherhood and sisterhood. Everyone missed many special events and extended time with loved ones over the last year and a half.

However, the loss of even a portion of your childhood is irreplaceable, and I think the children of this country bravely accepted that loss even though they were at minimal risk of complication for this virus. Wouldn’t it be a nice gesture to our children if we adults put thank you notes on our front windows and store marquees, gave discounts at theme parks and the like, and we had a national day of appreciation for the sacrifices young people made for our sake during this pandemic?

It seems to me that honoring our youth would be a fitting end to a historically difficult time and would pay that generation the respect they rightfully deserve. If you are a young person reading this, please accept my thank you for what you gave up for our sake.

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

Deacon Kyle Eller: Addressing race through the light of the Gospel

Amid all the signs of moral decay in society around us and among us, to me one of the saddest is the resurgence of open racism. It’s probably shallow and naive and even privileged of me, but I thought we were better than this. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

In case we imagine racism is a problem just for other people in other places, every summer in Duluth we mark the anniversary of the terrible day, 101 years ago, when a mob of Duluthians stormed the jail, seized three innocent black men, and lynched them in the street. They then posed for gruesome photos showing their pride in their despicable handiwork. 

Those who know the story well may recall there were two Catholic priests who tried to stop that mob. The first was Father W.J. Powers, who, according to a news account available from the Minnesota Historical Society, climbed part way up the pole and began pleading with the mob to stop, telling them they didn’t even know if the men were guilty and urging them to let the law take its course. “In the name of God and the church I represent, I ask you to stop,” he said. 

His effort was brave and honorable and prophetic. But before we console ourselves too eagerly with his small light in the darkness of that night, we might recall that we surely had other brother and sister Catholics there that night too who far outnumbered him — parishioners of Father Powers who shouted him down and participated in the murder. If we had been living in 1920, which kind of role would we play in the story? We can ask ourselves when the last time was that we tried to appeal to the better angels of an angry mob in defense of an unpopular truth of our faith. 

It hurts to think about these things. It’s easier not to. But I think it’s healthy that we remember this every year. 

That shameful day is just one particularly ugly snapshot of a long history. The United States, whose independence we celebrate this month, has brought many blessings to the world — among them beautiful ideals, eloquently expressed, of freedom and equal dignity among people, ideals that in many ways echo our own as Catholics. But along with all that, there are deep wounds that have never fully healed, rooted in sometimes catastrophic failures to live those truths. Those failures are interwoven with the history of this country, beginning with the subjugation of the people who inhabited this land before Europeans ever set foot here, then continuing in the importation of millions of people as slaves, as property, an institution only ended by a bloody civil war. 

Our terrible night in 1920 came more than 50 years after the end of the Civil War. It would be decades more before legal segregation was finally outlawed. These things are living memory — part of the lived experience of people still among us. 

That, of course, brings us to the present day and all the difficult questions still facing us that touch on race — education, immigration, policing, the criminal justice system. It brings us to examining the attitudes we may have unwittingly picked up. We are faced with the daunting prospect of listening to life experiences that are different from our own with humility. 

The racial issues of today can be even more difficult to talk about and think about than the historical events. It’s complicated; it’s tangled in our ugly partisan politics and ideologies in dangerous and counterproductive ways; it’s emotionally raw; facts and even definitions are hotly disputed. 

It’s difficult because we don’t have all the answers in the form of a perfect plan of action to finally resolve these things. 

But we do have some answers. I had the opportunity to preach on these things back in May, near the end of Easter, and what I found helpful was simply returning to the fundamental truths of our faith, those truths that are more certain than any ideology in this world. 

Among them are these: We are one human family, all sharing the same origin in God. We are all deeply wounded by sin — not a single one of us is immune. The unmistakable call of the Gospel is reconciliation with God and with each other, a restoration of shattered human fraternity culminating in our total communion with God in heaven. That reconciliation requires both repentance for our own failures and mercy toward those who have hurt us. And our preferential option for the poor demands that we be particularly attentive to those who are most vulnerable and powerless and those who have been most deeply hurt. 

Empowered with this truth, we can first of all begin to banish from within ourselves any trace of racism, a grave sin that imperils the soul. No heart faithful to Christ can possibly make peace with such evils. And we can at least begin to evaluate the cacophony of voices around us on these issues, testing them in the light of the Gospel, holding fast to what is good and rejecting what isn’t. 

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

Father Nicholas Nelson: Dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass

Growing up, I was constantly playing sports. I was on many traveling soccer and hockey teams, as were my sisters and brother. At times it seemed we were traveling at least twice a month for tournaments. Today, I think that was way too much, and we as priests and parents need to keep sports more localized, but that is a topic for another day.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

But when we were away from our home parish, we never missed Mass. And I mean NEVER! When we arrived at the hotel where were staying, the first thing my parents would ask would be if they had list of the local Catholic churches and their Mass times. We would look at the churches and their schedule and say, “If we only get to the third-place game, then we need to go to the 11 a.m. Mass, but if we play in the championship game, then we will have to go to the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass.”

Again, not ideal to be playing sports Sunday mornings, and I am convinced that we need to fight against this, but at least we made it to Sunday Mass. My parents drilled it into us, that we owed it to God to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every Sunday. When I was on my own in Texas playing hockey and traveling through Montana, I did the same thing. I found the local church and got myself to Mass.

This is from paragraph 2181 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”

Everywhere in the world during the past year there was at some point a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Because there was no obligation during that time, it was not grave matter to miss Mass, and therefore, it could not have been a mortal sin to miss Mass. Nonetheless, because of the minimal risks involved, I do believe that for most people it was a venial sin not to attend Sunday Mass.

However, you’ll notice in the paragraph from the Catechism above, that it is possible for a person to be dispensed from their obligation to attend Mass by their pastor. A pastor has the authority to dispense from the obligation to attend Mass.

Why is this? The obligation to attend Mass is ecclesial or church law. The teaching authority of the church has Christ’s authority to “bind and loose” (Matthew 18:18). This means the church can bind us to certain acts, such as going to Mass on Sunday, even at the consequence of mortal sin and the penalty of hell if we are unrepentant. And because it is a church law and not divine law, the church has granted to pastors the authority to dispense individuals of that obligation in particular circumstances.

If is unreasonable for you to attend Sunday Mass on an upcoming Sunday, for example, if you are camping or hunting in a remote area, you may ask your pastor for a dispensation. I personally will grant a dispensation once or twice a year to a person. If they are asking for one, once a month, that’s too much. Also, I would not grant a dispensation for people just because they are traveling, because there are Catholic Masses being offered in every civilized area. It’s as simple as searching on the Internet for the local church.

However, when a person is in a remote area, I will grant the dispensation. In place of attending Mass, I commend them to reading the Mass readings, discussing them with their family or group, and making a spiritual Communion. I will also ask them to pray a rosary together. I want them to spend close to the duration of Mass in prayer and meditation on God and God’s Word. This is important because while they may be dispensed from Sunday Mass, they are still obligated to “keep holy the Sabbath or Lord’s Day.” Sunday still must be set apart from the other days of the week.

This is because ecclesial or church laws are different from divine law. While there can be dispensation from ecclesial law, there are no dispensations from divine law. For example, you can’t receive a dispensation from the sixth commandment. You can’t receive a dispensation from anyone, even the pope, to commit adultery or fornication. Likewise, it is divine law to “keep holy the Sabbath or the Lord’s day.” This means while you may be dispensed from the prescript of attending Mass, you still are obligated to keep Sunday holy.

So, if you have not yet returned to Mass, get yourself back to Mass. As of July 4, it is a mortal sin not to go to Mass. More importantly, we are not complete without you. The Body of Christ needs to be at full strength when offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And if in the future you need to miss Mass, have the foresight and reverence and respect for God to ask your pastor for a dispensation.

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]. 

Thank you for your warm welcome as your bishop

Bishop Daniel Felton   
Believe in the Good News

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! If we have not had the occasion to meet, allow me to introduce myself. I am Bishop Daniel Felton. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis has appointed me as the tenth bishop of our Diocese of Duluth. I am truly humbled and honored to receive this call to serve you as your bishop. The Vespers service and ordination Mass were great diocesan occasions of celebration and prayer. A heartfelt thank you to all who helped to plan all of the events related to my episcopal ordination.

I am also grateful to all who helped to put together a special episcopal ordination insert in the Northern Cross, our diocesan newspaper. Hopefully, this helped you become more familiar with my background, family, and interests in life — although be a little cautious about what my four younger sisters shared in their articles. Sometimes they tell the truth with a slant when it comes to their older brother!

Right after I was ordained a bishop, I was able to ordain Scott Padrnos as a transitional deacon and Deacon Trevor Peterson to the priesthood. In the world of ordinations, this was a Holy Orders grand slam. Ordinations are diocesan celebrations of those called serve the People of God throughout our diocese. Let us earnestly continue to pray our diocesan Vocation Prayer so that all may truly know and live their vocational call in life, in this case especially to the ordained diaconate and priesthood.

Given that I have been in this new role for a little more than a month, I am just beginning to find my way around the diocese. These past three weeks, I had the opportunity to celebrate the Holy Mass in each of the five deaneries of our diocese. This has been a wonderful occasion to meet priests, deacons, and parishioners in all of the ten counties that constitute our diocese. All of these Masses and receptions were wonderfully planned and celebrated well. Thank you for your warm welcome and hospitality!

Looking ahead, please remember that I am reinstating for the Diocese of Duluth the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation, beginning the weekend of July 3-4. The reinstatement of the Sunday Mass obligation will occur at that same time for all Catholics throughout the other five dioceses of Minnesota. I am grateful for all of the efforts that were put forth during the coronavirus to monitor the data with a measured safety response. These have been difficult times for everyone.

Given the data that indicates the impact of the pandemic is receding, and with appropriate safety measures in place, I strongly encourage people who have stayed away from an in-person Mass to return. The Masses we have livestreamed have been a tremendous medium during the pandemic to connect parishioners with the Mass and Spiritual Communion with the Lord. However, there is no experience that compares with the actual reception and Communion with the Real Presence of Jesus Christ attending Mass in-person.

As always, there are circumstances that can excuse a person from the requirement to observe the obligation: being sick, homebound, or infirm; having significant anxiety or fear of becoming ill by being at Mass; and not being able to attend Mass through no fault of your own.

If these particular circumstances do not apply, the Lord is eagerly waiting for you to be back at your parish Mass, listening to His living word given to you in the Scriptures and receiving His body in Holy Communion. The celebration of the Holy Mass is the source and summit of our Catholic spiritual journey as disciples of the Lord!

Once again, know how humbled and honored I am to serve you as your bishop. Please pray for me, and rest assured that I am praying for all of you.

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth.