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Retired Bishop Swain of Sioux Falls, S.D., dies; headed diocese 2006-2019

By Catholic News Service 

Retired Bishop Paul J. Swain of Sioux Falls died Nov. 26 while in hospice care at Dougherty House, nearly 15 years to the day since he had blessed the Avera health services facility as head of the diocese. He was 79.

Bishop Paul J. Swain of Sioux Falls, S.D., is seen at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome March 5, 2012. He died in hospice care Nov. 26 at age 79. He headed the diocese from 2006 until his retirement in 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

“It is with heavy heart that we announce the passing of Bishop Emeritus Paul J. Swain,” the Sioux Falls Diocese stated Nov. 27 on Facebook. “Bishop Swain entered into eternal life late last night, after receiving all of the sacraments and prayers the church offers as one approaches death. In your kindness, please hold Bishop Swain in your prayers.” 

Visitation began the afternoon of Dec. 2 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Sioux Falls. In the evening recitation of the rosary was followed by a liturgical wake service. 

A funeral Mass was celebrated Dec. 3 at the cathedral with Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis presiding. 

Bishop Swain served as spiritual shepherd for Catholics in eastern South Dakota for 13 years — from his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 until his retirement at age 76 in 2019. 

During those years, Bishop Swain ordained 33 men to the priesthood and 20 men to the permanent diaconate. He also led the diocese in a project to restore the Cathedral of St. Joseph to its beauty as envisioned by the original architect. 

Addressing Mass congregants on the day he dedicated the new altar July 26, 2011, Bishop Swain said his prayer was that the restored cathedral “will be a shining light on the hill outside and in, by the beauty of sacred things and by the beauty of faith lived well, can therefore be a sign of the hope that can only be fulfilled in Christ.” 

The bishop also oversaw the creation of the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, an emergency shelter for individuals and families, which opened its doors January 12, 2015. It is named for the late Bishop Paul V. Dudley, who headed the Sioux Falls Diocese from 1978 to 1995. 

At its blessing and opening, Bishop Swain described the new facility as “more than a shelter, it will be a beacon of hope, a house of hospitality that welcomes, that treats each person with respect, that seeks to help address special needs, that offers a helping hand, that says you matter and that sees Christ in each person with wisdom of the heart, that calls each person by name.” 

Among other highlights of his tenure, Bishop Swain blessed eight different properties in six communities that were erected by St. Joseph Catholic Housing to provide affordable housing for families. He also blessed seven different facilities built by Avera to expand its health care outreach. 

He spent time praying the rosary in front of Planned Parenthood nearly every month that he served as bishop. He joined with Bishop Robert D. Gruss, then head of the Rapid City, South Dakota Diocese, to create the South Dakota Catholic Conference as the public policy arm of the church in South Dakota. 

He led an effort to erect a permanent home for the Adoration Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who pray continuously for the needs of the diocese. At the invitation of U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Bishop Swain also served as chaplain to the U.S. Senate for a day and led eight different pilgrimages to holy sites across the globe. 

Facing a decline in the number of available priests and the withdrawal of religious orders who were serving the Sioux Falls Diocese, Bishop Swain oversaw a consultative planning process that involved over six years of listening sessions and facilitated meetings. 

Paul Joseph Swain was born Sept. 12, 1943, in Newark, New York, the fifth of William E. and Gertrude Swain’s six children. He and his siblings were raised by their grandparents. 

As a child, Paul received his religious formation in the Methodist church. He would attend Sunday school classes and Sunday services with his grandparents. In high school, he first aspired to be an attorney and took an interest in the political process. He graduated from Newark High School in 1961. 

At the prompting of a neighbor whose son was a professor at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, he enrolled and studied history. He moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1965 and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a master’s degree in political science. 

He voluntarily entered the military as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972. He earned the Bronze Star Medal during his service. He then was legal counsel and policy director for Wisconsin Gov. Lee Dreyfus, a Republican, from 1979 to 1983. The future bishop also practiced law in Madison. 

He became a Catholic at age 39, studied for the priesthood at Pope St. John XIII Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, as a seminarian for the Diocese of Madison. He was ordained May 27, 1988, by Bishop Cletus F. O’Donnell. 

Then-Father Swain held many positions in the diocese including as vocations director, moderator of the curia, priest secretary, and vicar general. 

He was vicar general under Madison Bishop Robert C. Morlino when he was named to head the Sioux Falls Diocese Aug. 31, 2006. 

In a statement on his appointment, Bishop-designate Swain described his adult life as being marked by two phases. 

“One was in the secular sphere that included military service, civil law practice, and government office. The second came after undergoing a spiritual conversion that changed and refocused my life,” he said. 

“My years in the secular life were exciting and interesting, yet filled with the lures that can result in excessive focus on the things of the world and an individualism that can warp priorities and moral values,” he said. “They also revealed a yearning for something more than professional success.” 

“It is in the church that I found the forgiveness and mercy that I needed and still need,” he said. 

Bishop Swain was preceded in death by his parents and his five siblings and three of their spouses. He is survived by one sister-in-law. 

New Ascension yearlong podcast starts Jan. 1, will present entire catechism

By Julie Asher 
Catholic News Service 

Beginning Jan. 1, Ascension Press will launch “The Catechism in a Year,” taking listeners through the four parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and “providing explanation, insight, and encouragement along the way.”

Over the course of 365 daily podcast episodes, Father Mike Schmitz will read the entire catechism. Throughout 2022, the priest has hosted the popular “The Bible in a Year” podcast with Scripture scholar Jeff Cavins. 

Father Schmitz read every verse of the Catholic Bible in 365 days, using a reading plan based on Cavins’ Great Adventure Bible Timeline. The reading plan organizes the 14 narrative books of the Bible into 12 periods to help readers understand how they relate to one another and to God’s plan for salvation. 

A priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Father Schmitz is a popular Catholic speaker and author. He and Cavins created the Bible podcast with the backing of Ascension. 

“We don’t think it’s an accident that after ‘Bible in a Year,’ the No. 1 requested thing from our audience was a ‘Catechism of the Year,’” said Lauren Joyce, communications and public relations specialist at Ascension, a multimedia Catholic publisher based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. 

Helping the faithful understand and read the Bible with Cavins’ timeline learning system and the podcast format “made such a big difference for accessibility,” she said at a Nov. 2 news conference via Zoom. “Our audience is saying do the same thing for the catechism: ‘We know we should like it, we know we should read it [and] struggle to do so, so help us out.’” 

In the 30 days before the news conference, the Bible podcast had reached an audience of 1.5 million people via various electronic devices, such as a cellphone, a tablet with downloaded episodes, or YouTube. 

According to Chartable Global Reach, a podcast measurement company, “The Bible in a Year” was No. 1 in 2022 in the religious/spiritual category. 

Ascension also has released a new print edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Its four sections have navigation features for the reader, including color-coded corner tabs, key words and citations from Scripture, church councils, popes and/or doctors of the church. 

There is an extensive glossary and appendices, which include a timeline of ecclesiastical writers who contributed to the development of doctrine throughout the church’s history. 

There also is an accompanying foldout chart, “The Catechism at a Glance,” which is “like a road map if you will,” John Harden, senior product manager at Ascension, explained at the news conference. 

“The back side shows how all the sources of Scripture and tradition flow into the catechism,” he said, “and the front side shows how the four parts are arranged — what we believe, how we worship, how we live our lives as Christians, and how we pray as Christians.” 

He called it a joy to work on this edition of the catechism. “I really hope people learn to grow in love and appreciation for all we believe as Catholics.” 

Harden also “gave a big shoutout and thanks” to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for working with Ascension on the issue of copyright and permissions that allowed the Ascension volume to go forward. He noted that there will be an ongoing theological review of the “Catechism in a Year” podcast content and the podcast itself. 

Each country’s local bishops control permissions and copyrights for the catechisms disseminated within their country. For this reason, Ascension currently only has permission from the USCCB to sell Ascension’s edition of the catechism within the United States. Ascension said it hopes to work with other episcopal conferences to receive their approvals in the future. 

The catechism recognizes “that what God is doing in this world didn’t end” with Chapter 28 of the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible, Father Schmitz said. The fifth book of the New Testament tells of the founding of the church. “God continues to reach out to his people. … [With the catechism] we get to love him more,” he added. 

“What we did with the Bible, we’re going to do with the catechism,” the priest said about the podcast. “For 365 days, we are going to take a little section of the catechism every single day. 

“We’re going to read it, explain it, and expand upon it so that by the end of this year we’ll be able to say, ‘I know what the church believes, I know what God’s plan is for my life, I know how to talk to God, I know how to listen to his voice, and I know how to worship him.’ It’s going to be incredible.” 

“For us to grow as Catholics, we need to know what our faith is. We need to articulate our faith in order to share it,” said Cavins, who will host a new program titled “The Bible Timeline Show.” 

In 60-minute episodes, he’ll unpack questions raised by listeners of the “The Bible in a Year” podcast with Father Schmitz and other guests. 

“The Catechism in a Year” podcast will be available for free on all major podcast platforms as well as the Hallow app. Ascension also is providing Catholic schools and parishes free materials promoting the podcast, including flyers, posters, media graphics, and bulletin announcements. 

Editor’s Note: More information about “The Catechism in a Year,” the new catechism edition and resources available to parishes and schools can be found at https://ascensionpress.com

40 Hours Devotion 

Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross 

Father Trevor Peterson, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Mary Star of the Sea, gives a meditation on the Eucharist Nov. 19 at St. John the Evangelist in Duluth as part of the 40 Hours Devotion. The parishes in the eastern part of Duluth collaborated for the 40 Hours Devotion Nov. 18-20, with continuous Eucharistic Adoration combined with other devotions and liturgical prayers, such as the rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and parts of the Liturgy of the Hours. Father Peterson’s was one of three talks given during the weekend.

A Christmas Message from Bishop Daniel

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! The words to this favorite Christmas hymn really say (sing) it all. First of all, what is the joy that is brought into the world? Well, in this case, it is not so much a what as a who. It is the Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus, who is joy, has come into the world. He took flesh. He became one like us is all ways but sin. He is the game changer. He is the deal breaker. As the gospel of St. John reminds us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In Jesus, there is a divine healing, hope, and joy that the world cannot give but only receive from Jesus as its Lord and King. This year, as we celebrate the season of Christmas, let us receive the joy that only Jesus can give to ourselves, our families, our parishes, and to the communities in which we live — in other words, to the world in which we live, move, and have our being. The invitation to all in this holy season of Christmas is simple. As the hymn proclaims, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” In your own heart, home, and neighborhood, prepare Him room, and Jesus will take care of the rest. And for the first time, perhaps in a long time, there truly will be joy in the world. 

May the blessings of the Christmas Christ come upon you and your loved ones,

+Daniel 

Bishop Daniel Felton: Poem from Father Fruth speaks to our hearts when we grieve at Christmas

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

As we approach this great Feast of Christmas, the divine mystery that is unfolding is so deep and wide that it will carry us through Christmas Day, then the Christmas Octave, then the 12 Days of Christmas, and then Christmastide, which ends with the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. It will take us this long to even begin to fathom what this mystery is for us every day of our lives. Jesus was born, lived, died, and is resurrected. It is this mystery that we are seeking to embrace, embody, and express as disciples of the Christmas Christ.

It is this mystery unfolding in Jesus Christ that sustains us when we are feeling the grief of missing loved ones who are no longer with us on earth for our Christmas celebrations. We pray and believe that if they have died in the Lord, they will rise in the Lord. Therefore, we believe that they are with us in this Christmastime as the Communion of Saints, as together we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ here on earth as it is in heaven. 

One of our retired priests, Father Paul Fruth, is an acclaimed poet. Poetry often captures that which we grapple to express in everyday words. As we reflect on the beautiful mystery that unfolds in this Christmas season and as we remember loved ones who are no longer with us, let this poem of Father Fruth speak to our hearts and to the divine mystery. 

Grandma’s Gift 
by Father Paul Fruth 

While in grade school I spent Time with Grandma 
She had a very warm heart, 
And she shared her little dog with me. 

One year, near Christmas, Grandma became ill. 
In time her earthly life was to change. 

As Christmas was coming, Grandma asked my 
Parents to bring me to see her. 
She was suffering from a stroke 
She had very little use of her hands and voice. 

When we visited, she gave to me a Christmas card, 
Inside the card was a dollar bill. 
She asked me to buy something for Christmas. 
She wanted the gift to remind me always of her. 

After Grandma’s death, Mother and I went 
Shopping in the next town. 
We walked through many stores and I saw an 
Iron dog like Grandmother’s. 

I paid 75 cents for the iron dog 
I have always kept it by my bed. 
Often, I reach out to touch it with my hand. 

This dog was my Grandmother’s last gift to me, 
It reminds me she still lives within my heart. 

Merry Christmas Grandma. 

May the blessings of the Christmas Christ be upon you and your loved ones here on earth and in heaven! 

Merry Christmas, 
Bishop Daniel 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Ask Father Mike: How can I overcome a problem with pride?

I have a problem with pride. It seems to me that it is one of my more serious faults. What do I do? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a fantastic question. In fact, one of the first requirements for attacking pride is acknowledging its existence. 

Pride is one of those sneaky vices. It’s the kind of vice that we can see in other people but rarely notice in ourselves. The fact that you not only notice it in your own life but acknowledge that it is a problem is a great sign. 

In order to deal with and root out pride, it would be helpful to have a definition. There are two definitions of pride that I find both compelling and helpful. The classic Catholic definition of pride is “the excessive love of one’s own excellence.“ Hopefully, in this definition, you see that there is nothing wrong with the ordinate or appropriate love of one’s own excellence. Remember the two great commandments (essentially: love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself). That second commandment about loving our neighbor as ourselves implies that we actually have some degree of love for self. 

As difficult as it might be, we are actually called to love ourselves. This kind of love should be “ordered“ or “appropriate.“ This kind of love for self would be similar to the love that we have for others. Which reminds us that we need a good definition of love. The best definition of love I’ve come across describes love as “willing the good of the other.“ Therefore, when applied to our own lives, love of self means willing one’s own good. That kind of self-love is praiseworthy and necessary in the life of the Christian. 

Pride, on the other hand, is the excessive love of one’s own excellence. This goes beyond merely “being proud of oneself“ and leads to the second definition of pride. St. Thomas Aquinas noted that pride is “that frame of mind in which a man, through the love of his own worth, aims to withdraw himself from subjection to Almighty God ….“ 

You can see how the “excessive“ part of the definition does not lead a person to merely appreciate their own gifts but to see themselves as independent of God. 

For this reason, pride has been called as the “queen of all vices“ and is often the source of so many other sins. I hope that this makes sense to you: If we do not need God, then we do not need to submit our lives to his law or to his grace. This might be one of the reasons why Satan, filled with pride, rebelled against the source of everything good in himself. 

So how do we defeat pride? The brief answer is by growing in humility. This is accurate. The problem is, for many people it is not very helpful. Have you ever tried to be humble? What does that look like? Does it mean just “thinking humble thoughts”? If so, what is a “humble thought”? Or is there something else a person could do to grow in humility? 

There is. And that “something else“ is gratitude. 

One thing absent from the truly prideful person’s life is gratitude. If I have an excessive love of my own excellence, I have no one to thank. If I do not see myself as subject to God, I am not grateful for any of his gifts. And I am not grateful for God’s gifts because I don’t recognize any of his gifts. On the contrary, the truly humble person is constantly thankful. The truly humble person constantly recognizes the gifts that come to him or her at every moment of the day. 

If you would like to destroy pride, become humble. If you would like to become humble, be grateful. Practice gratitude. I would invite you to take five minutes every morning and five minutes every night. Set that time apart to recognize which gifts have come to you that day. What good things are in your life? What blessings has God given you that, in your most honest moments, you know that you didn’t deserve? And then thank God for those gifts. It would also not hurt if you thank the people around you for their acts of generosity, patience, and love that they do for you each day as well. In fact, that might go quite a long way. 

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. 

Jubilees

40 years

Deacon Dennis Anderson 

Deacon Dennis Anderson was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Paul Anderson for the Diocese of Duluth on June 26, 1982. Deacon Anderson is married to Judy Anderson. He served in the parishes St. Anthony and St. Benedict, Duluth. Deacon Anderson retired in 2014. 

 

 

 

25 years 

Deacon Jack Ferris 

Deacon Jack Ferris was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, for the Diocese of Duluth on Nov. 23, 1997. Deacon Ferris was married to the late Alma Ferris. He served at St. Mary’s Church in Silver Bay and retired in 2006. 

 

Deacon Richard Paine 

Deacon Richard Paine was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, for the Diocese of Duluth on Nov. 23, 1997. Deacon Paine is married to Denise Paine. He previously served at St. Alice Church, Pequot Lakes, and St. Christopher Church, Nisswa. He is currently serving as administrator of St. Edward, Longville, and St. Paul, Remer, and as parish coordinator of Our Lady of the Lakes, Pequot Lakes. 

 

 

 

Deacon Theodore Windus 

Deacon Theodore Windus was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Roger Schweitz, OMI, for the Diocese of Duluth on Nov. 23, 1997. Deacon Windus is married to Evelyn Windus. He served in the parishes of St. James, St. Lawrence, St. Joseph, St. Mary Star of the Sea, St. Peter, and Our Lady of Mercy in Duluth. Deacon Windus retired in 2018. 

 

 

 
10 years 

Deacon Joseph Des Marais 

Deacon Joseph DesMarais was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Paul Sirba for the Diocese of Duluth on Nov. 25, 2012. Deacon DesMarais is married to Lisa DesMarais. He is currently serving at St. Francis, Brainerd; All Saints, Baxter; and St. Thomas of the Pines, Pine Beach. He also previously served at St. Andrew, Brainerd, and St. Mathias, Fort Ripley. 

 

 

 

Deacon Timothy Egan 

Deacon Timothy Egan was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Paul Sirba for the Diocese of Duluth on Nov. 25, 2012. Deacon Egan is married to Beth Egan. He is currently serving at Holy Spirit in Two Harbors. 

 

 

 

 

 

Deacon Jon Skansgaard 

Deacon Jon Skansgaard was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Paul Sirba for the Diocese of Duluth on Nov. 25, 2012. Deacon Skansgaard is married to Teresa Skansgaard. He is currently serving at Queen of Peace and Holy Family in Cloquet. 

Meet our seminarians: David Ringhand 

What seminary are you attending and where are you in the formation process? 

I am attending St. John Vianney College Seminary, and I am in my first year of formation. 

When is your birthday? 

My birthday is Dec. 30.

David Ringhand

What’s your home parish? 

My home parish is St. Joseph’s in Crosby. 

Tell me a little about your family. 

I have nine siblings (four older and five younger). The two siblings that are closest to my age are both brothers, and when we are all together it is more than likely that we are playing some sport or another. My dad is a teacher, and my mom works for the church. Like most families, we have our disagreements, but overall I would say we get along quite well. 

Is there an email address where people can write to you? 

People can write to me at [email protected]

If people wanted to ask the intercession of a particular saint for you, what saint would you choose? 

If people wanted to ask the intercession of a saint for me, I would ask them to pray for St. Peter’s intercession. 

What are some of the things you like to do in your spare time? 

In my spare time I like to do a lot of things. I love to play sports, running, fishing, playing board games, etc. The list goes on and on, but to sum it up I just really enjoy any form of friendly competition. 

What is your favorite devotion (and why)? 

My favorite devotion is the consecration to Mary. It is just so reassuring knowing that the same hands that held baby Jesus 2,000 years ago are now interceding for my behalf in heaven. 

What’s the best thing about your home town? 

One of the best things about Crosby is the terrain. The lakes and old mine hills are just so beautiful, and the public bike trail is just so lovely to run on. 

What person has been the biggest help to you so far as you discern a call to the priesthood? 

I would say that the one person that has been the greatest help in discerning the priesthood so far is Father Elias Gieske. He was my confirmation sponsor, and it was through his checking-in on me every two weeks or so that I started to develop the prayer life necessary for me to have felt the call to the priesthood in the first place. 

If someone asked you how to grow as a disciple of Jesus, what’s your best advice? 

My best advice is to develop a consistent prayer life. Have some time set aside each day for prayer. Make sure that no matter what is going on you respect that time and give it to the Lord. He will do great things with that. 

What does the priesthood mean in the life of the church? 

Priesthood is the life of the church. It is through priests that the sacraments are able to come to the people of the Body of Christ. Priests are of indescribable value to the church. 

Father Richard Kunst: Tolerance is not a virtue

As readers of The Northern Cross, you might be in a better place to see this than I am, since I do not get many opportunities to see what parishes other than my own are doing. But I am picking up on a vibe that there is a new (old) trend getting popular again, and at a very fast rate. A little over a year ago I re-introduced the St. Michael Prayer to be said at the end of all Masses in my two parishes. I have to say that addition was very well received by parishioners, but more and more I am hearing of priests all over the place doing the same thing. 

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

It is obviously a great thing, but it speaks to something else which is not so great. You see, there is no concerted effort to start up this old practice again, but priests and laity alike are starting to see the stark need to combat evil that seems to be more pervasive in recent years. Pope Leo XIII initiated the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the beginning of the 20th century because he had a premonition that the century would be so plagued by the demonic, and of course he was right. Our time seems no different. 

There always has to be a balance between acknowledging sin while at the same time acknowledging God’s mercy; God is always merciful to those who want his mercy, but just because God is all merciful does not mean we should tolerate sin, especially with how “societal sin” has been developing in recent years. The more we tolerate certain societal sins, the more they will become broadly accepted. 

Here is a case in point that we have all lived through in recent years. Pretty much 20 years ago I vividly recall the topic of homosexual marriages being brought up at my parish’s youth group. The response from the teenagers was one of dismay that we would even talk about it. In fact I remember one of the kids saying, “Why are we even talking about this? This will never happen!” 

That was 2002. Now fast forward 10 years to 2012, when the state of Minnesota was having a vote on legalizing homosexual marriages or keeping it illegal. Another vivid memory I have was Bishop Paul Sirba repeatedly telling us priests that this issue was the fight of our lifetimes, that this was going to define our time as priests. I hate to say this, but Bishop Sirba was wrong. In the span of 20 years, homosexual marriage went from unthinkable to now, when you are considered a bigot by many for supporting marriage as only between one man and one woman. 

In Catholic weddings, the nuptial blessing, which occurs after the Lord’s Prayer, says, “O God, by whom woman is joined to man and the companionship they had in the beginning is endowed with the one blessing not forfeited by original sin nor washed away by the flood.” In other words, as an institution, marriage went unchanged through human history, up until now. It was a societal sin that became so accepted that is now seems “blasphemous” to question it. 

In a similar fashion, there have recently become new threats to traditional values, this time targeting children. It wasn’t that long ago that if a man dressed in women’s clothes and gave undue attention to children, he would be arrested or sent for psychological help. But now there is growing acceptance for drag queen shows in which children are encouraged to dance in suggestive ways with the grown men. Similarly, what has been called “drag queen story time,” in which these troubled men will read story books to toddlers, is becoming more common. In fact, this was just recently a daily occurrence at a local zoo during their fall festivities. The more we tolerate such activity, the more normalized it will become. 

Another, more egregious example is the transgender movement’s targeting of children. People are rightly scandalized by the fact that more and more minors are having surgery to permanently alter their bodies attempting to change their sex. But this is a fast growing industry in which millions of dollars are made by the hospitals for such “services.” It hardly seems like a week goes by where there is not a news story of a hospital or doctor performing these surgeries. 

Another area of this is in abortion. One side of the political spectrum is calling the other side extremist for supporting the reversal of Roe v. Wade, all the while pushing for abortion to be legal for any reason all the way up to the point of natural birth. It was not long ago when the mantra of the “pro-choice” movement was “safe, legal and rare.” Not anymore. But the more we tolerate this mindset the more it will become the norm. 

God’s mercy is always available, but that does not mean that God ignores societal sins. At the start of the golden calf story in the book of Exodus, it says, “The Lord said to Moses, go down at once to your people whom you brought out from the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved” (Exodus 32:7). 

There is clearly a rapid cultural decline in the world. Things once considered unthinkable are now just part of the landscape. As Catholics and people of the Gospel, we have to have the courage to muster our voice so as to speak up against such decline — with courage, but always with love and charity. St. Michael the Archangel pray for us! 

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Pondering the parishioner who walked out of the abortion homily

I was sitting toward the back, and she was close to the front row. As the priest got to the third sentence of the homily, the woman grabbed her purse, stood up, entered the aisle, turned around, and walked out. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Many priests acknowledge Respect Life Month by covering the issue of abortion in a homily during October. Some priests have been beaten up enough that they avoid the topic from the pulpit. On occasion, I have heard the life issues covered a couple of times a year, but that usually happens when you include daily Masses. 

From my perspective, there is no other social issue that better matches the Gospel call to love and serve the innocent, poor, and marginalized than the topic of abortion. I am not saying the issue isn’t messy and challenging. I am saying that as Catholics, if we can’t get this right, it is pretty hard to find the justification to make any other justice issues significant. 

It was not the first time I saw someone get up from their pew. However, it was the first time I felt so compelled to know why. Admittedly, I tried to focus on the Mass, and what happened was none of my business, but I was distracted by this person’s actions. I wondered what her intent was. 

In Minnesota, there currently are practically zero restrictions on abortion, meaning there is a no longer parental notification in cases of minors seeking abortion, no 24-hour waiting period, no requirement to give procedural education to the mother, no state inspection of the facility, no limits on when the unborn can be terminated, including the moment before birth, which names just a few Minnesota “de-regulations.” From my perspective, there has never been a more critical time to inform Minnesotan Catholics about matters concerning abortion. 

I find it reasonable to listen to what the church says on the topic. If one disagrees, the situation is an excellent opportunity for people to hear opposing viewpoints, which I strive to do, because how do we remain confident in what we believe to be true without exposing ourselves to a strong argument against it? If we don’t listen to each other, we will make coming together on anything impossible. 

Since Roe was overturned, there seems to be constant coverage of pro-abortion, pro-choice, and “reproductive health” news, which no one can avoid. Most people know the church’s stance on abortion, but I think it is rare that a priest speaks directly from the pulpit on the subject. Essentially, the relentless news which covers the advocacy for woman’s access to terminate her child is battled against in 10 minutes a year by our parish priest, who is sharing an opposing message from the pulpit. The priest is our spiritual father. If he doesn’t speak about this to us, who is left doing it? 

I know the proper response to a situation when someone appears to “protest” at Mass is to ignore the problem. I tried to, and so did everyone else. I have replayed the incident several times, and each time part of me thinks I should have reached out. I wanted to know why she left, not from anger or curiosity but from a place of concern. If we indeed are sisters in Christ, and her actions were intentional, there is great value in listening. 

Abortion is complicated, messy, and contentious. The reality is that since the Supreme Court ruling was overturned, many women who have had abortions are conflicted, striving to convince themselves of their “right” decision, aloof, or even worse, dealing with old wounds being reopened. As a church, our compassion, support, and love need to be ever more present during this time. 

This woman may have left the pew because she did not feel well or due to a family emergency. That is certainly a possibility. However, there is a chance the lady left because she was protesting what she thought she would hear. If she struggled with the idea that the priest was talking about abortion from the pulpit, I wonder if she knows abortion is a central justice issue in the church. Basically, the issue of life and respect for it from conception to natural death is the foundation for all issues of social justice in God’s Kingdom. It is human life that most connects us with our Creator. If we don’t respect that, we don’t respect our Creator. 

With more than 70 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, one can surmise that at every Mass, at least one woman in the pews is directly connected to abortion. Father did speak about how God is merciful and that healing can come through Christ and the church. Unfortunately, because of the early departure, that message was not heard. If this woman experienced wounds connected to the topic of abortion, no one was there for her to offer support and help. Maybe if I had gotten up and listened, I could have shared more of God’s love for her. 

Maybe her issue is that she thinks the Catholic Church only is concerned with “forced” birth. If that was why she left frustrated, I think she has been misled. I could have told her of about 50-plus organizations in northern Minnesota that serve women from the time of conception to when they can get back on their feet again. Sometimes the support is given for years. These pro-women, pro-family, pro-life organizations were founded mainly by Catholic laypeople, staffed by Catholic volunteers, and funded by Catholics. There is almost no government support for these entities that rely on raffles and garage sales to provide needed support. In contrast, pro-abortion organizations, basically abortion clinics, rely on paid staff funded mainly by government subsidies. If she believed that our interest was just in forced birth, I wanted to let her know that her fellow Catholics make personal sacrifices to support the mothers and children, in an effort to love them back into stability and strive to live out the Gospel message. 

Perhaps this woman was concerned that the priest’s message would become a political commercial. Indeed, politics plays a huge role in abortion, but if she stayed, she was not going to hear the names of who we should vote for but rather what we need to vote for. Catholics are called to be engaged in politics and be faithful citizens. Father reminded us to do all we can for the unborn, which includes voting for candidates that respect the lives of those God entrusted to us. Father called us to choose political leaders not based on political parties or self-interest but instead on principle. 

If this woman intended to impact those at the church, she did. Where I fell short was being available to support the wounds that my fellow parishioner may have had. I don’t think we can underestimate the angst many people are carrying around with them since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The church has not changed its beliefs since Christ, but the state certainly has. This can be so confusing on such a critical issue. 

To me, if a person must leave Christ at the altar because she has something of a greater worry, it is a significant concern for us. If she is wounded, I hope she knows she can find healing by means of us and what the church has to offer. Additionally, I pray that if I am confronted with this situation again, I am equipped by the Holy Spirit to do what is needed for that person at that time. 

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