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Let’s make it easier for families to welcome their newest members 

Inside the Capitol 

The Families First Project is an advocacy campaign of the Minnesota Catholic Conference to remove economic roadblocks that Minnesotans confront along their journey of forming and raising a family. This week’s column focuses on one Families First policy proposal that would make life a bit easier for new parents by reducing the tax burden they encounter when purchasing necessities for their newborn baby: a sales tax exemption on baby products. 

Unnecessary barriers to family formation 

When a young couple is considering whether to start a family, there is no doubt that the start-up costs on items like car seats, cribs, and strollers, are daunting. Families are facing skyrocketing costs on necessities of living, and no one is facing these high expenses more than families with infants. On average, a new parent may spend between $12,000 to $20,000 or more on their baby in the first year of his or her life. First-time parents face the largest upfront costs as they acquire essential items for their infants. 

Minnesota cannot afford to lose young families who will support and sustain our well-documented aging population. Minnesota is facing a demographic cliff; we have not had replacement fertility levels since 2006, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center. With these increasingly low birth rates, offering a small but impactful solution to families, like eliminating the state sales tax on essential baby items, could help lessen some of the fear felt by prospective parents. The state’s $17.6 billion surplus in 2023 demonstrates that we can afford to support growing families, especially low-income families who are most impacted by sales tax. 

One solution: eliminating the state sales tax on essential baby items 

H.F. 2125 (Engen) / S.F. 2182 (Coleman) is a bipartisan bill that would expand the state sales tax exemption for certain baby products. Specifically, this proposal would put families first by adding baby wipes, cribs, bassinets, crib and bassinet mattresses, crib and bassinet sheets, changing tables, changing pads, strollers, car seats and car seat bases, baby swings, bottle sterilizers, and infant eating utensils to a list of tax-free items that are considered essential. 

A quick search of places like Amazon and Target reveals, on average, a parent will spend nearly $2,000 on the items covered by the exemption expansion — with the sales tax on the items totaling about $130. Although $130 out of nearly $2,000 does not seem like an overwhelming number, it can make a difference in the lives of new families. With those savings, the parents could in turn purchase their crib mattress and sheets or nearly pay for a changing table. Eliminating this tax on the big-ticket items is particularly vital for lower-income families who are often living paycheck-to-paycheck and are more impacted by inflation and sales tax. 

Action Alert: Support a Child Tax Credit 

Another great bill to support families raising minor children is the creation of a state child tax credit, offering a tax rebate for each child (H.F. 1369/S.F. 1754). We all know families are doing the hard work of raising the next generation amid immense economic pressure. For this reason, families should be the first recipients of economic relief. You can help get a robust child tax credit passed into law by contacting your legislators today. 

Send them a message by visiting MNCatholic.org/actionalerts

Blessed Sacrament reaches out to Hibbing area with Spirit Fest 

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Blessed Sacrament parish and Assumption School in Hibbing are taking what has been an annual fundraising event up a notch, turning it into a community concert, prayer walk, and festival open to the region. 

“Spirit Fest” will take place May 21 after the parish’s 10 a.m. Mass, beginning with a May crowning and a prayer walk with the school children and any members of the community who want to join in. The walk will have stations to pray for various intentions — for the deceased, those who are ill, the unborn, those who serve the community as medical and emergency workers, and more. Pledges and sales of signs for the walk help raise money for the school.

Students participate in a past Spirit Walk, an event that is now growing into a free community festival and concert. (Submitted photo)

The walk will then flow into a concert featuring Aly Aleigha. There will also be food trucks, family games, and activities. 

“Our hope is to draw some neighbors and non-Catholic community members, as well as Catholics from around the area, to be renewed and celebrate the love of Christ and the hope he offers,” says Father Daniel Weiske, pastor of the parish and school. 

He said the changes came from parents in answer to the call of Bishop Daniel Felton in his pastoral letter on mission. 

“We have a group of parents that are really eager to kind of shine a light and bring others to the healing, hope, and joy that we have in our faith and in our school, and are transforming this event, which started as a fundraiser, into something broader for the wider community to come together to pray for healing amidst our hurts, to celebrate hope, to try to provide some inspiration through the amazing music that will be in concert at the Spirit Fest,” he said. 

He noted that “there is something beautiful and healing about coming together around the Lord in our fragmented world” and that the music and the beautiful children praying for community intentions can touch hearts. 

Father Weiske said such an event can be an easy point of entry for community members to connect with the church, a kind of “landing pad,” and it’s really a community service. 

“It’s hard to find family fun sometimes,” he said. 

The event is free, with free-will offerings accepted. 

Spirit Fest grew out of previous events held by the school, such as the Glow Run, held in previous years. That was transformed into the Spirit Walk due to COVID restrictions. Father Weiske said leadership from Sarah Ciochetto, the event chair, and a group of parents who wanted to be involved has brought the event to this new vision. He said many have been inspired by the bishop’s message. Working with Father Weiske to have a good process, the idea has been, “Let’s think big and see what we can do.” 

They have taken the theme “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God is poured out through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. 

Food trucks will open at about 11 a.m., the Spirit Walk will start at about 11:45 a.m., the concert begins at 12:30 p.m., and the fun, with yard games, activities, and bonfire, will go until 4 p.m. 

“Our hope is to lift the hearts of our community, to have people from the neighborhood, and Catholics from around our region join us,” Father Weiske said. “Assumption and Blessed Sacrament hope to provide a refuge of hope for our families and a light in the community. In this world that is so fragmented, it is renewing to come together. In a time our world is hurting, it is healing to come together as one in the Holy Spirit. So we eagerly invite our neighbors and our fellow faithful to celebrate with us and find hope in the Holy Spirit.” 

To support Spirit Fest with a pledge or to order a sign please visit blessedsacramenthibbing.org or call (218) 262-5541. 

UMD students extend mercy to local homeless population 

By The Northern Cross 

For three weeks leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday on April 16, the Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota Duluth collected thousands of donations for “blessing bags” to share with the local homeless population of Duluth and surrounding areas. 

Each year during Lent, bulldogCatholic hosts a Divine Mercy Drive. The goal is to collect toiletries, nonperishables, and other essential items to place into drawstring bags. People keep these bags in their cars, and when they encounter someone asking for help, they are prepared to respond.

Students at the University of Minnesota Duluth Newman Center fill “blessing bags” — small backpacks containing nonperishable foods and toiletries for those in need — April 16 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth. (Submitted photo)

On Divine Mercy Sunday, students assembled more than 1,200 of those bags. 

“We believe that mercy is, quite possibly, the most profound expression of love,” said Father Mike Schmitz, chaplain of the university ministry, in a press release. “We believe that mercy is the love we deserve the least but need the most. As Christians, we believe that God has loved us like this. Even more, we believe that God has not just given us mercy, but that he wants us to pass along the mercy we have received. I think we all want to do this, but not all of us know how, and not all of us have considered how we might love the people around us. We want to love, but we are not ready to love when love is required. These ‘blessing bags’ are one small way that we can prepare to love.” 

This year’s Divine Mercy Drive was amplified from a local campaign to a national one, due to an online community of people that watch the community’s Masses via the Internet. 

“We call them the ‘Virtual Front Pew,’” Father Schmitz said. “These are folks who can’t make it to Mass due to illness or other extreme circumstances. We wanted to bridge our ministries this Lent by hosting this drive with both the students and Virtual Front Pew. We were overwhelmed with the response! It was such a joy to see an incredibly generous response from so many — both local and national.” 

The ministry also donated four carloads of additional supplies to CHUM, a Duluth nonprofit that cares for the city’s homeless population. 

Betsy Kneepkens: Ten years cancer free brings a new perspective

May 2023 marks my tenth anniversary of being cancer free. For you regular readers, you have followed my cancer journey for a decade, and I am grateful. I am blessed to make this milestone. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, as many have, your perspective of time, priority, and relationship all change. You know that if you had a relationship with Christ before your diagnosis, it was likely more substantial after. Everyone handles cancer differently, but life does get transformed in some way for everyone told they have a life-threatening illness. 

Although you can say you are cancer free, you never are free from Cancer. At least for me, a day doesn’t go by that at least once I have a cancer moment. As a survivor, my experience includes the “what if” that can sometimes tear you apart. Or my preferred choice is to use those “cancer moments” to enlighten a daily appreciation for the here and now. 

One of the great cancer gifts I received was grasping the meaning of gratitude. Before the illness event, I could define gratitude, but not until I was deeply vulnerable did I combine the definition in my head with an overwhelming sensation in my heart. I learned that gratefulness is incredibly satisfying. Even in our wounded world, there are great reasons to be thankful. My tears of appreciation after cancer are a frequent affair. Simply put, I have had more joy since cancer. 

By nature, I am a passionate person, and post-cancer, that passion has been magnified to a degree where that energy can make others uncomfortable. If earthly, I believe God has us here, and his gift of time is intended for all of us. God’s creation, the apparent order he put in place, and giving us the reason and logic to work through daily issues make me more frustrated at complacency since my illness. 

Mainly, being Catholic, I struggle when some treat our religion like a club membership. We were given so much in the fullest sense, including the Eucharist. Yet, there are those individuals, leaders, and institutions that minimize the obligation to engage, witness, and hand on the Good News to those we are entrusted to. The world needs every baptized Catholic to go beyond membership, embrace all she has to offer, and go out there healing the brokenhearted and making for a better world. 

No one must do everything. All of us Catholics must do something, and I see that more now than I did 10 years ago. 

Cancer provided an additional perspective on “everything” family. With each sacrament my children received, I wanted to bottle up the graces my children were receiving so they could somehow see and appreciate what a profound gift it was. Although we prepped our children for the sacraments, post-diagnosis I found it hard to properly convey how those graces are essential. The magnitude of what these spiritual gifts offer to them now is enormous, but more importantly, as they travel on their eventual journey to life after. 

I vividly recall sobbing at adoration before my son and now daughter-in-law’s wedding rehearsal because I knew God allowed me to be with my son and his wife-to-be as they embarked on the most sacred earthly ministry. I knew their decision to marry in the church would flood them with the graces, which equip them to reflect what Christ did for us on the cross. Had my touch with earthly death not been experienced, I can easily see myself thinking this wedding was just one of many lifelong activities and another special day for my children. But I know now, the sacrament of marriage is so much more. 

My fifth son graduates from college this May, and I feel healthy and strong. All my sons’ graduations have been post-cancer. I went from bald, poofy, and exhausted at my eldest son’s graduation to sturdy, slightly more hair, hopeful, and excited for my fifth son’s commencement ceremony next month. 

Because I am still here, I have celebrated with tremendous joy four of my children choosing to live responsibly and engage in meaningful work. I was able to be at my son’s medical school graduation and watch my daughter fulfill her dream of playing collegiately the sport she loves. I have experienced 10 more Christmases, Easters, vacations, and wedding anniversaries with my family. 

I am far from getting all priorities straight, but since diagnosis, I do so much less that is unnecessary and embrace with delightful anticipation all things necessary and family. My heart is so full I can barely sleep when the whole family is under one roof. My husband and I have fun strategizing how we can get all the kids together again. Cancer was a gift to our family because we deeply appreciate any time we get to spend together. 

I want science to cure cancer. I support all ethical means to end this terrible disease. I don’t want one more person to hear what I heard 10 years ago, “You have cancer.” It was and has been a challenging journey that charged my husband, family, and friends to make extreme sacrifices for me. I am grateful for everything everyone has done for me then and even up to today. 

Cancer and the treatments did a number on my body, and I would never want to go through that experience again. With that said, in God’s providence, my bout with cancer was the most significant life-changing experience. I fall short in so many ways, and there are many things I need to get better at. But looking back at the last 10 years, I wouldn’t want to change one thing about it. I am grateful beyond words for all prayers, the intercessor saints, Mary, Mother of God, and the love and mercy God continues to shed over me every day. I know I have been blessed, and I’m more grateful that I know it. 

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

Stone to be ordained a deacon 

By The Northern Cross 

Dr. Anthony Stone is slated to be ordained a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Duluth Friday, May 5, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary. 

Stone and his wife, Teresa, are members of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in International Falls.

Stone is the fifth of eight children and was born and raised in northern California. He met Teresa while studying at the University of Notre Dame. He was studying engineering but later discovered a love for the life sciences and changed to a pre-med major.

Dr. Anthony Stone

After college, he moved to Washington, D.C., to attend the Uniformed Services Medical School as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. He married Teresa after his second year of medical school, and the two have been married for 30 years. After medical school, the Air Force took them to Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, for his residency in family medicine and then to his first assignment in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was there that their daughter, Carolann, was born. After a second tour at Scott Air Force Base, he separated from the Air Force in 2004 and moved to International Falls, where he practices family medicine. 

Stone said that he and Teresa were drawn to International Falls by the fact that there were two priests and a Catholic school at St. Thomas. 

Stone said his years at Notre Dame were pivotal in his faith journey, where he found the opportunity to make the faith truly his own with daily Mass, time in adoration, and frequent confession, after being raised in a family of strong faith. 

He said he has never experienced a crisis of faith or a sense of falling away. He and Teresa have been involved in a variety of ministries since early in their marriage, serving as sacristans and readers, teaching faith formation, and presenting Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends. 

As for his call to the diaconate, Stone said he long struggled trying to discern what God was calling him to do. He felt he was trying to live his faith actively but sensed God was calling him to something more. This changed one Sunday morning when, walking out of Mass, Father Ben Hadrich challenged Anthony to consider the diaconate, something he had never considered and admits he knew little about. 

Thinking that Father Hadrich was just kidding with him, Stone responded, “I think you have the wrong guy!” But he says by the time he reached the bottom step in the gathering space at St. Thomas Aquinas, he felt a sense of being called. 

The next morning, he started his prayer differently from how he had prayed in the past. He simply said “yes” and told God he would do whatever it was he wanted him to do. Over the ensuing weeks, he began to feel a great sense of peace in abandoning himself to God’s will. He entered the aspirancy program for the diaconate in 2017 and was invited into formation in 2019. 

Anthony and Teresa both say the time in formation has been a time of great spiritual growth, fraternity, and marriage enrichment. 

Stone looks forward to serving St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban in Littlefork and says he particularly enjoys his ministry of outreach to the homebound. 

Father Nicholas Nelson: Jesus gave us the Mass, but it needed to be developed

What was the first Mass ever celebrated? It was with Jesus and his twelve Apostles at the Last Supper, the night before he was put to death. What about the second Mass offered? The second Mass offered was offered in the evening of Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. And it was also offered by Jesus. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

At the end of the Gospel according to Luke, in Chapter 24, we read about Mary Magdalene and some other women going to the tomb early in the morning of Easter Sunday. After that episode, St. Luke tells us about two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We read, “That very day, the first day of the week ….” And while they were walking and discussing the remarkable events that had occurred in Jerusalem over the past few days, Jesus comes up to them and strikes up a conversation. 

Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” He speaks the Scriptures and interprets them. Hmmm, what does that sound like? That sounds like the beginning of the Mass, what we call the Liturgy of the Word. I am guessing you would be hard pressed to find a better homily than that one! 

Then they arrive at the village, and it appears as if Jesus was going to continue on. But they ask Jesus to stay with them because “The day is far spent, and the evening draws near.” And then, St. Luke tells us, “When he was at table with them, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.” That should sound familiar. It’s what the priest says at every Mass at the altar. We call it the Liturgy of the Eucharist. 

So there you have it. In this encounter of Jesus and the disciples, you have the entire Mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. 

In fact, St. Luke ends the episode by saying, “The two disciples returned to Jerusalem … and recounted to the other disciples how Jesus was made known to them in the ‘breaking of the bread.’” That is the early language or name for the Mass. The Early Church called the Mass “the breaking of the bread.” 

But someone may say, “That can’t be the Mass. It’s missing some things. We don’t hear about the entrance procession, there was no organ or incense, no altar boys, they didn’t profess the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, there were no ushers, and no collection was taken up.” 

You see, Jesus gave his disciples the Mass at the Last Supper, and he offered it here again. And yes, that Mass didn’t have everything we have now, today. But you still had the Mass. The essentials of the Mass were present. 

It would take centuries and centuries for the church to add prayers and develop the rituals and gestures surrounding the essential aspects of the Mass. It would take a long time to solidify and provide official standard prayers. For example, in the beginning the priest would just make up the prayers to the best of his ability. But then there may be a priest in a town who was very charismatic and eloquent and who created beautiful and rich prayers for the Mass and another priest would hear about it and say, “Hey, can I use the prayers that you have developed?” And over time these would become more and more uniform, official, and universal. 

It’s important to realize, that Jesus didn’t just give his Apostles the finished product. He didn’t just hand them the Roman Missal and say, “Here you go. It’s all in here!” It would take time for the church to understand better, go deeper, truly appreciate the Eucharist, the Mass. That’s what we mean by mystery in the theological sense. A mystery is something you never fully grasp but appreciate more and more. 

The Apostles would take the Gospel, including the essential form of the Mass, to the ends of the world and would encounter different languages and cultures, and the liturgy would develop within a particular culture. That’s why, depending on how you count them, there are 20 or so different liturgies, different forms of the Mass in the Catholic Church. Byzantine, Alexandrian, Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, Maronite, Chaldean liturgies and even some religious orders have their own liturgies. 

Many things are the same across these different liturgies. The essence is the same. But there is also a number of differences. 

Our liturgy is the Roman or Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. There are two forms of it, the ordinary form and the extraordinary form. We belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Our liturgy developed out of the Roman culture and language of the Middle Ages. That’s why we can never get totally rid of Latin. We need it, it’s part of our culture; it’s who we are as Roman Catholics. 

So this is how God’s providence works. Jesus gave us the faith, including the liturgy in its essence, but it needed to be developed. God uses us, our intellects, our cultures, all guided by the Holy Spirit to bring the liturgy more and more to its fullness over time, slowly by slowly. 

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet and vocations director for the Diocese of Duluth. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]

Father Richard Kunst: Emotions should never get in the way

Through most of the month of May, the Easter season continues, so it is appropriate to think in a particular way of the Resurrected Christ during this spring season. In the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, we see the authors go to great lengths to show that Jesus was resurrected in body and that he was not a vision or a ghost. St. Thomas puts his fingers in the wounds of Jesus in John’s Gospel, and in Luke’s Gospel Jesus eats a baked fish in front of the Apostles, not because he was hungry but to prove the point that his was indeed a bodily resurrection. The Gospels stress this to show that Jesus was, indeed, physically resurrected, because already in the earliest years of Christianity there were Christians who were doubting this truth. 

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

In Luke’s version, Jesus appears to the Apostles as a group in the Upper Room right after the Emmaus account, when two of his disciples are walking on the road talking to Jesus without recognizing him. When they finally do recognize him in the “breaking of the bread,” they run back to Jerusalem, to the place where the others were gathered, and then Jesus appears to all of them. 

In Luke’s explanation of the appearance, the sacred author, besides stressing the physical nature of the resurrection, also stresses the wide range of emotions the Apostles were experiencing at seeing Jesus, as we might expect. In one paragraph, Luke uses words such as “startled,” “terrified,” “troubled,” “questioning,” “incredulous,” “joy,” and “amazed” to explain the emotional response to Jesus being alive again, and in the flesh. 

We can certainly appreciate why the Apostles would have such an emotional response, since it was Easter Sunday evening, and they were all fully aware that Jesus had been brutally killed the Friday before. Any one of us would probably have similar emotions if we knew someone was dead only to see them alive three days later. 

This paragraph in Luke is great, because it shows the very human side of these often feckless men who followed Jesus for three years and then spread the Gospel worldwide after Pentecost. Whenever the Gospels focus on the emotions of the characters, it makes it easier for us to relate to them, since we all have an array of emotions in our daily lives. Their emotions were pretty much in the forefront of their witnessing the resurrected Jesus, but the Apostle’s emotions did not get in the way. 

I mention this because, unlike the apostles, many of us can in fact let our emotions get in the way. What do I mean by that? Our emotions are very much a part of who we are, but they are also pretty surface level; we are more than our emotions. When it comes to our prayer life and our spirituality, far too many people get tripped up by emotions. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say they don’t get anything out of Mass, I would have a lot of nickels. If I had a nickel for every time someone said that they don’t feel anything when they pray, I would have even more nickels! 

Our emotions should not be the barometer to determine how or when we should pray; in fact, we should not even be concerned about our emotions when it comes to our prayer life, because our relationship with God needs to be much more than where we are at emotionally. 

St. John of the Cross, the 16th century mystic, said that the best type of prayer is when we don’t get any good feelings out of the prayer, because then we are praying for the love of God rather than praying to get good feelings. So if you don’t feel like you are getting anything out of your prayers, then that’s all the more reason you should keep praying! 

Think of it this way: If you have been married, remember all the butterflies you had in your gut when you were first dating your future spouse or even the first months and years of marriage. Eventually those emotional butterflies go away, but hopefully you didn’t then quit the relationship! True love is when we stick with the relationship despite not having the warm fuzzy feelings you may have had at the beginning. 

Our relationship with God should be no different. We don’t stick with it because we get good emotional feelings any more than we stick with our spouse only to get the warm feelings. Love transcends emotions, both when it comes to our human relationships and our relationship with God in prayer. 

The Gospels do a great job in painting the picture of the Apostles’ emotional response to the resurrected Christ, but that is not where the Apostles’ relationship to Christ stayed. When we spend time with Christ in prayer we too need to make sure that our relationship with him is not based solely on emotions. 

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

Bishop Daniel Felton: Jesus lived, he died, and rose again from the dead! Alleluia!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

Jesus lived, he died, and rose again from the dead! Alleluia! If we believe in him, we, too, shall live, die, and rise again in and through Jesus. Alleluia! That pretty much summarizes all that we proclaim as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. We also refer to that proclamation as kerygma, the core of our belief. It is also called the Paschal Mystery: that is, that no matter what life might bring, for better or worse, even death itself, there always will be new life and resurrection. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

The challenge for us as disciples of the Lord is that we do not always believe this Gospel proclamation, kerygma, and Paschal Mystery. Often, in our humanness, we live life like our hurts, despair, darkness, endings, sufferings, and tribulations will have the last word, and that is all there is in life and death — that in the end, the Evil One prevails. 

This attitude of destitution could not be further from the way, the truth, and the life that we find in the Risen Lord. With the resurrection of Jesus, there is victory over the Evil One. In Jesus, healing, hope, and joy prevail. Every time. All the time. No matter what challenge or tribulation comes into our life, there will be a cause for hope and joy, because we know the end of our story in Jesus: new life and resurrection. 

This Gospel proclamation, kerygma, and Paschal Mystery are core to our Easter season. It takes us 50 days to embrace, express, and embody who and whose we are in the Risen Lord. The Church, in her wisdom, has given us such powerful passages from the sacred Scriptures of the witness of the Apostles to the Risen Lord and the Gospel accounts of the Resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples. This living word of God is a clarion call to us in our own time and lives to believe and proclaim: Jesus lived, he died, and rose again from the dead! Alleluia! If we believe in him, we, too, shall live, die, and rise again in and through Jesus. Alleluia! 

Additionally, the Church in her wisdom celebrates an abundance of sacraments in the Easter season. Sacraments are outward and visible signs of God’s lavish love and abundant life. Every celebration of baptism, confirmation and holy matrimony is a celebration of the Gospel proclamation, kerygma, and Paschal Mystery of healing, hope, and joy that we find in Jesus Christ — just as he intended when he instituted these sacraments. 

Most of all, during the Easter season, we encounter this Gospel proclamation, kerygma, and Paschal Mystery in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist, especially with our children who are receiving their First Communion. There is a hope and joy that fills their hearts as they are receiving Jesus into their very person. This Jesus of healing, hope, and joy will never be closer to them — and to us — than when we receive him into our very person and are internally in communion with him. 

Once we begin faithfully to fathom what it means to live life knowing that no matter what life might bring, for better or worse, even death itself, there always will be new life and resurrection, how can we be anything but a people of healing, hope, and joy? And then, filled with that healing, hope, and joy that we find in the Risen Lord, we go back to our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and world as missionary disciples to proclaim, Jesus lived, he died, and rose again from the dead! Alleluia! If we believe in him, we, too, shall live, die, and rise again in and through Jesus. Alleluia! 

May God’s Easter blessings be upon you, 

 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Ask Father Mike: Why do I still feel badly about my sins after I’ve confessed?

I’ve been to confession, and I know that God has forgiven my sins. But I still feel badly about them. What should I do?   

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you so much for reaching out and for asking this question. In fact, while we know that Jesus forgives our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I will often talk with people who experience what you described. There are times when we just can’t seem to let our sins go. 

In order to begin to address what is happening in these moments, I think that it is important to note what we are really talking about when we discuss God’s mercy extended to us in the Sacrament of Confession. We know that God does not brush aside our sins or dismiss them when he forgives. Quite the opposite. God takes sin incredibly seriously. God takes sin so seriously that he made forgiveness possible by taking on human nature, living on this earth, suffering in his body, dying, descending into the abode of the dead, and rising from the dead in order to be able to forgive our sins. All of this was the cost of being able to forgive us. 

Remember, God is merciful. But God is also just. And justice demands that the consequences of sin are carried out. Jesus took the weight of the sins of the world upon himself at the crucifixion and allowed the evil that you and I have chosen to overwhelm him to the point of death. 

This is one of the reasons a piece of art (or a movie) depicting the Passion of Jesus is both helpful and inadequate. They are helpful because they remind us that my sin cost Jesus his very life. They are inadequate because they can only convey a certain amount of suffering. We can only see the surface wounds (like the horrible wounds of the scourging at the pillar); we can’t see what it cost Jesus internally to bear the suffering that should have come to me. 

Scripture states, “The wages of sin is death.” This means that the consequence of sin is death; death is the result of sin, the price of sin. Jesus paid that price. In a free decision of pure love for us, he embraced the cross so that you and I could know freedom, life, and mercy. 

Furthermore, Jesus made it possible for us to experience this freedom, life, and mercy when he breathed on his Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit … those whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Those whose sins you hold bound are held bound.” Jesus gave the Apostles (and their successors, the bishops and priests) the power to forgive sins because God wanted us to know this mercy for ourselves. He gave this incredible sacrament so that you would know that his sacrifice was not merely for “the world” but was for you. 

Now, with that being established, why would we go to confession and still feel badly? I think that there are at least three sources of these feelings. 

The first is when we become aware that our sins have consequences in other people’s lives. Our choice has impacted another person in a negative way. Because of this, a person could go to confession and truly know that they have been forgiven but feel tortured by the reality that God’s forgiveness does not miraculously undo what that person’s decision caused to happen. Because I gossiped, someone now has a bad reputation, and I can’t undo that. Because I acted out in anger, another person is now physically or emotionally wounded. Because I stole, someone now has less. Of course, the list of the consequences of our choices could go on forever. But the fact remains that my decisions may have injured someone else’s life. It is possible that our decisions have ended someone else’s life. 

What does a person do then? Yes, God has forgiven them. But there are consequences that someone else is enduring. This is one of the places where the church’s teaching on restitution could come into play. The church teaches us that, if I am truly repentant of my sins, I ought to do all I can to make up for my sins according to my ability. 

This is not at all believing that we are “earning” forgiveness. Jesus is the only one who can pay the price for my sins. But the doctrine on restitution asserts that we are obliged to do what we can to restore what was taken, lost, or damaged. For example, if I were to steal money from my parents, I ought to go to confession to receive the forgiveness of the Lord. But I should also seek to give back what I took. If I have damaged someone’s reputation, I ought to try to heal that damage. If I have lied, I ought to do what I can to clarify the truth. 

It might be that you are still feeling badly about your sins because you have not yet sought to restore what your choices damaged. This could be your conscience moving you to the next step. 

Now, there are many times when we are not able to restore what was wounded. There are many times when the damage has been done and there is no going back. Consider the case of the person who has ended someone’s life in a drunk driving accident, or someone who has made a series of choices that mean that they can no longer be in contact with their children. In those cases, we do what we can to make it up to the others involved. But then we have to be willing to pray for them and entrust them to God. It might be that all I can do for the rest of my life is offer up penances and sacrifices for their healing. If that is what I can do, then that is what I should do. 

The second kind of reason why one might have been forgiven but still feels badly is because of shame. Maybe their sin had come to light and “now someone else knows.” I think that many of us have had this experience. I know that God has extended his mercy to me, but what is really bothering me is that there is someone out there (or a few “someones” out there) who know this about me. There are people who know what I’m capable of. In these cases, we may be very grateful to the God who has met us in our need and forgiven our sins, but every time we think of the fact that “someone else knows,” we have this pain in our gut. 

This is good. If this is the case, we can identify the source of our feeling badly. And the source is merely pride. I had wanted people to think that I am better than I actually am. But now they know that I have the capacity to choose evil, and it bothers me. This is a good thing, because pride is the deadliest sin out there. And if I am a slave to pride, no matter how much God offers his mercy to me, I will shrink back from entering into its fullness and joy, because I am more concerned with what other people think of me than I am with God’s love for me. It is definitely not pleasant. In fact, it is horribly painful. But Jesus’ death did not just conquer the guilt of our sins, but also conquered the pride that undergirds all of our sins. 

The last reason why a person may still feel badly after having been forgiven is because they are so saddened by the fact that they have grieved the Lord’s heart. We even pray this in the Act of Contrition, “… and I am sorry for my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and fear the pains of Hell, but most of all because they have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all of my love ….” There are sensitive souls out there whose hearts are broken when they consider the cost of forgiveness. 

For them (and for all of us), we need to remember this: Jesus Christ came to save sinners. This was the motive behind His coming to earth. God wants us to experience his love. God wants us to be healed. The reason Christ embraced his cross was so that you and I could be set free. Because of this, we have a certain confidence. We are confident that, when we go to confession, we are making this decision, “God, I will not let what you did on the cross go to waste on me.” 

You’ve placed your sins at the foot of the cross in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You do not need to pick them up and take them with you when you leave. 

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. 

Deacon Kyle Eller: A little ‘time travel’ reminds me of the permanent things

Unlike St. Padre Pio, I cannot bilocate, but a few weeks ago, I did feel like I was time traveling, occupying several historical eras simultaneously. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

It began with an Internet rabbit hole. Although I still sometimes forget my keys, I enjoy learning about and practicing the ars memoriae — the “art of memory” — a set of techniques, some dating back to ancient Greece, for committing things to memory. I use it for a number of things, from remembering the outline of a homily to recalling long computer passphrases. 

I was chatting about this with the remarkable ChatGPT. If you haven’t heard about it, ChatGPT, in its own words, is “an artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI, capable of generating human-like responses to a wide range of prompts, questions, and tasks.” 

I asked ChatGPT about how the Scholastics, medieval thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas, thought about the art of memory, and I soon had several references, including St. Thomas and someone named Hugh of St. Victor. 

I had only vaguely heard of Hugh, so I started digging and learned that he talked about memory in a book called the “Didascalicon,” also known as “On the Study of Reading.” On the Internet Archive I found an English translation of the book. 

So it was that I found myself skimming and paging through a book written by a man who died in 1141, translated and published in 1961, and digitized off the shelf of a University of Florida library and recommended by an artificial intelligence here in the 21st century. 

The book is about education and touches on a large range of subjects and disciplines, from Scripture and church councils to geometry to fabric making. The discussion of training one’s memory comes in the context of explaining how to read a book well, meditating on and critically engaging its contents. He gave the striking admonition that we should not be proud of how much we’ve read but rather how much we recall, and to that end he gave the advice of doing an “epilogue” — a brief, headline summary of what we’ve read — and committing it to our memory as though we were tucking it in a chest of drawers. 

But as I paged through, dipping in on an interesting subject here and there, what struck me most was considering that advice in the context of his time. He was writing before the printing press was invented, when books were rare and expensive and literacy was nowhere near universal. When Hugh said that any book was worth learning from, it was because books were a major undertaking, written by and for the highly educated who had something worth saying. 

Hugh was writing from the heart of Christendom, an explicitly Christian civilization, not yet shattered by schisms and secularizing movements, at a time when the sum of academic knowledge was manageable: when a highly educated person such as Hugh could almost grasp it all. His writing is confident and rooted. 

While I was time traveling to the 12th century, I was also back in the 20th. “Leafing” (even digitally) through this book published in 1961, just a decade before I was born, took me back to a time I remember well and fondly, the world of card catalogs and dusty library shelves, of books stacked on a table in hopes, with the help of a good index, of finding a relevant paragraph or two that formed a tentative piece of an answer. 

That era, too, had a confidence and rootedness. This was not Christendom but peak Christian-infused liberalism. The world made sense, mostly. We were confident in what we could learn, whether it was what we read in a book or what we read in a newspaper, and how it fit into the world. You could be an expert in a discipline. 

Those who haven’t lived through the transition from that age to the Internet age, and now to the “age of the algorithm,” when our lives are increasingly influenced by the invisible hand of “artificial intelligence,” perhaps cannot grasp how profound the change has been. 

We can now access instantly answers that once might have taken weeks or months to find, or perhaps practically could not be found at all. But we justifiably have much less confidence in the answers we find. A few decades ago, information about what was happening in the world was precious and highly valued. Now we all drink from what Twitter was once called in the early days, a “digital firehose,” that we can’t possibly keep up with, and which is of shockingly uneven quality, and which, thanks to algorithms giving us the worst of what we ask for, is often probably bad for our mental health. 

A common culture in which we’re rooted? Confidence in our understanding? The ability to have a decent grasp of or trust in what passes for knowledge? Good luck. 

And that’s a problem, for these things are part of what makes us human, part of how God made us, as social creatures. 

I have spent most of my adult life as a journalist, and I am writing this for a newspaper. I can’t be expected, I trust, to fully advocate Henry David Thoreau’s quip, “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.” 

But perhaps it’s enough to say that we probably all would do well to reconsider the balance of the Eternities and the Times on our reading lists. The things we truly need to know — the things that make for a good life — are vastly more likely to be found in an old book than they are in the latest tweet or the latest bizzaro ideology to sweep the world. 

If we focus more on the “permanent things” and our real identities in God, and less time on the ephemeral and dubious, we can be a little more like Hugh of St. Victor, and think more deeply about them, wrestle with them, remember them, build a life on them. 

And as the best old book, the Bible, given to us by God, reminds us, the things of this world are passing, and we should seek after the things that endure. As Jesus himself said, “Though heaven and earth should pass away, my words will stand” (Matthew 24:35). 

So spend more time in that one. 

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