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The church as a thermostat

Inside the Capitol

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King makes an observation about the impact the early Christians had in the public square, stating, “there was a time when the church was very powerful … the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” 

Every summer the Minnesota House and Senate Information Offices offer a thermometer to our legislators. Via their State Fair opinion polls, the nonpartisan staff encourage fairgoers to weigh in on a mix of hot-button issues and issues that may not have been addressed but could emerge in the next legislative session. Because the fair draws voters from a wide range of geographic and socio-economic backgrounds, legislators readily admit that they pay attention to the questions and results as means to “take the temperature” of the state’s electorate. 

The state fair poll can be a useful thermometer for Minnesota Catholics too. The poll is unscientific — there is nothing to prevent any one individual from submitting multiple responses — so the real utility for Catholics comes from examining the questions being asked and what is being ignored. For example, the State Fair poll neglects to ask questions about a spectrum of life issues, whether it be about legislation that would support mothers in crisis pregnancies, improving family economics, or improving the quality of end-of-life care. Yet, when the poll addresses issues such as recreational marijuana use and school choice, the issues are not framed through a lens that brings into focus the impacts on human dignity and the common good. 

The longer the culture is running cold or hot on an issue it can begin to feel normal even if it demotes life, dignity, and the common good. Therefore, we need the church and all her members to be thermostats. Catholics can be the ones to help bring the culture back into a stasis that allows for human flourishing by ensuring vital issues are not mischaracterized or overlooked. 

One way to be that thermostat is to start asking your legislative candidates the questions that matter to the bishops and the church in Minnesota. By doing this, you can help them begin to better understand what issues are important to the Catholics they are vying to represent. To help you do this, the Minnesota Catholic Conference created a questionnaire for you to send to your State Legislative candidates. The questionnaire features 11 questions that cover a spectrum of life issues and more. 

Legislators’ longstanding affirmation of the state fair poll’s utility proves they want to know what their constituents care about. So, let’s make sure that as we help inform our legislators and candidates, we aren’t just providing a passive temperature reading but that we are actively helping to change the temperature by ensuring the right questions are being asked. 

You can download your free copies of the candidate questionnaires by visiting www.mncatholic.org/candidate_questionnaire. You can view the complete State Fair poll results at www.mncatholic.org/2022_state_fair_poll_results

Meet our seminarians: Ben Sundlie

What seminary are you attending and where are you in the formation process? When is your birthday? 

I am attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul. I am currently in my first year of formation. Feb. 25, 2003.

Ben Sundlie

What’s your home parish? 

Our Lady of Lourdes, Pine River (part of the tri-parish of Our Lady of The Lakes - Pine River, Pequot, and Nisswa) 

Tell me a little about your family. 

I have a small, loving, supportive, and religious family. I have an older sister, Mikayla, who is 22, graduated from UMD in 2021 and will be getting married in February 2023. My father, Brian Sundlie, works construction in Crosslake, and my mother, Sherri Sundlie, is the secretary for Our Lady of The Lakes tri-parish in Pequot. 

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

[email protected] or [email protected] 

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

I cant just choose one! I’d say my top three would be Padre Pio, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. Charbel Makhlouf. 

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

I like to read about saints or the martyrs if I’m not able to get outside. If I can get outside I enjoy hiking or going on walks, playing Ultimate Frisbee, spikeball, and volleyball. 

What is your favorite devotion (and why)? 

The scapular is a pretty powerful devotion for me, I just really enjoy the thought of being able to put on mom’s livery every morning and know she’s with me. I particularly like the prayer that I say with it in the mornings: O my God, in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary (here kiss your Brown Scapular), I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Jesus from all the altars throughout the world, joining with it the offering of my every thought, word, and action of this day. O my Jesus, I desire today to gain every indulgence and merit I can and I offer them, together with myself, to Mary Immaculate that she may best apply them to the interests of Thy most Sacred Heart. Precious Blood of Jesus, save us! Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us! Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! 

What’s the best thing about your home town? 

It’s small. It has roughly 1,000 people, so It feels like I know everyone there. 

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

The first figure to come to mind that’s still living would be Father Scott Padrnos. He’s been such a huge blessing to go to when I need advice or help in general. I don’t know if this is cheating, but I’d also like to say Padre Pio. He was the first saint to really adopt me and show me how to love God’s will. I was atrracted to his exemplary life of miracles at first, and as I read more about him and his life it became clear that I was attracted to his life of obedience and humility, hence showing me a beauty that I had been looking over for years, and ultimately attracting me ever the more to a life in servitude towards God. 

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

Luke 10:27-28. [”He said in reply, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ (Jesus) replied to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’”] This sums up what it takes to follow Jesus. I always like to picture the words of Luke 10:27-28 in the most radical form possible, giving me great consolation. Also, read Deus Caritas Est, or a summary of it. 

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

To put it simply, Vatican II states that the Eurcharist is the source and summit of Christian life. If we have no priests, how can we obtain this spring of grace and the crown of salvation? 

Father Mike’s Sunday homily podcast now on Ascension

By The Northern Cross 

Catholic multimedia network Ascension has teamed up once again with chart-topping podcaster Father Mike Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth to add his popular Sunday homily podcast, formerly called the UMD Newman Catholic Campus Ministry podcast, to its suite of free media offerings. The addition of the podcast, newly titled “Sunday Homilies with Fr. Mike Schmitz,” expands Ascension’s efforts to help Catholics rediscover the depth and beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each week via its new Sundays with Ascension multimedia collection of offerings.

For more than 15 years, the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth — where Father Schmitz ministers as chaplain and celebrates Sunday Mass — has handled the production and distribution of the podcast, which has surpassed 16 million cumulative downloads. As part of the show’s transition to Ascension, the podcast has received an updated cover image, a new title, and new introductory elements, making it easier for listeners to find and enjoy the homilies. After its first episode released under Ascension for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, “Sunday Homilies with Fr. Mike Schmitz” jumped to No. 3 on Apple’s chart for “Religion and Spirituality” podcasts. 

“Ascension is immensely grateful for the incredible work that the UMD Newman Catholic Campus Ministry team, and Father Mike himself, have done for more than a decade to build this Sunday homily podcast offering into one of the most popular Catholic shows on Apple podcasts,” said Marisa Beyer, general manager of media at Ascension. “Ascension’s new chapter in the podcast’s story is only possible because of the remarkable foundation they have established.” 

“For Father and me to be able to hand the podcast over and to work with a team that’s trustworthy, talented, and passionate about the work they do — it’s such a testament to God’s providence,” said long-time UMD podcast producer Mary Hazuka, who will continue producing the podcast as a new member of the Ascension team. “I am so pleased for Father, I am so proud of him, and I am so excited for Ascension and the church!” 

“I hope the podcast inspires and motivates listeners,” Father Schmitz said. “And I also hope it leaves them hungry for the One who gave everything to feed them.” 

The Sunday Homilies with Fr. Mike Schmitz podcast is part of Ascension’s new product line of Sunday and liturgy-oriented content called Sundays with Ascension. This new multimedia collection of free media offerings provides audio and video resources unpacking each week’s Sunday Scripture readings. The collection includes the Sunday homilies podcast, Father Schmitz’s virtual Sunday Mass hosted on the new Sundays with Ascension YouTube channel, as well as Jeff Cavins’ “Encountering the Word” five-minute Gospel reflections. 

Listeners can receive “Sunday Homilies with Fr. Mike Schmitz” and all of the free Sundays with Ascension Mass resources in their email by signing up at www.AscensionPress.com/Sunday or by texting SUNDAY to 33-777. They can also subscribe directly to the new YouTube channel, Sundays with Ascension. 

Editorial: Respect Life Month — after Roe

October is the first Respect Life to take place in the United States in the post-Roe v. Wade era, and both the legal situation and the public discussion have certainly changed since a year ago. 

On the one hand, many states have now been able to adopt pro-life laws that protect unborn children in ways that were not possible last year. On the other, here in Minnesota, we’re still confronted with judicial decisions claiming that the state constitution gives a legal right to abortion, funded by taxpayers. In fact, since Roe was overturned, the abortion license has actually expanded in Minnesota, with a judge recently overturning abortion restrictions such as parental notification that had bipartisan support and had been in place for years. 

That’s to say nothing of a public conversation in our state where pro-life convictions are often the subject of vitriol and hatred and accusations of extremism. 

It’s helpful, in the face of all this, to constantly go back to the essentials of our pro-life convictions, which are rooted in both the scientific truth that human life begins at conception and in the moral truth that every person, at every stage of life, has a right to be treated with love and respect. Put those together and our call is building what Pope St. John Paul II, in his encyclical on the Gospel of Life, called a Civilization of Love. 

A Civilization of Love includes protecting innocent human life in law but goes beyond it, supporting and caring for each of society’s members, especially those most vulnerable and in need, such as pregnant mothers. 

It’s fitting, then, that the Minnesota Catholic Conference recently sent out an email inviting people to be part of a new movement of Minnesota Catholics building a Civilization of Love. You can get involved in this initiative by going to the website civilizationoflove.net, sharing your story, and taking on a monthly challenge. 

As the initiative says, “It is time now that we cut through the noise and build a Civilization of Love; a culture of Christians living out their vocation and sharing their gifts for the betterment of the Kingdom. Together, we can make a difference.” 

Betsy Kneepkens: Queen’s life shows the beauty of duty and devotion

It was both sorrowful and intriguing watching coverage of the late queen of England, Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral, and the events commemorating a well-lived life. I wasn’t glued to the coverage but checked in on the events’ progression. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

The news coverage helped me realize many of my fellow citizens were having difficulty grasping the relationship the people of England had with the queen and why her countrymen so revere her. Many I talked to seemed to believe that the respect came because of the office she held. Heads of state deserve respect because they make decisions to put themselves out there in a particular way, but the admiration for the queen, I believe, was much more profound than simply holding an office. 

I am not young, but Queen Elizabeth served as queen for over a decade more than I have been alive. She is widely admired because of her strong and unfailing commitment to duty. I think duty is a behavior widely missing in our culture these days. Queen Elizabeth had a keen sense of duty early on in her life. When Elizabeth was just 21, she was elevated to the queenship. Immediately, Queen Elizabeth proclaimed her commitment. She said, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” 

She fulfilled her obligation until her death. Although not everyone can articulate why the queen was so cherished, it seems very clear to me that her duty was a trait that made others feel confident, stable, safe, and respected. 

Our society has raised generations where many children are being taught that there is nothing that they ought to do. We have led many young people to believe that life is about themselves and that we owe nothing to anyone. We have affirmed that it is OK to be selfish, which is being held up as a healthy concept. However, the original plan for our souls was formed by God. In God’s plan, we are naturally attracted to and admire what is good, beautiful, and right. 

Our hearts know that the life lived by the late queen was not perfect, and she made mistakes. However, her duty to her family, her faith, and the country appeared to be perfect. Her exceedingly sacrificial decision to live her life for others wooed our souls, and at her death, the reaction was a natural revering by the world. 

The Catholic Church encourages selfless duty because that behavior creates a holy life and a more profound sense of fulfillment. Also, when commitment is adhered to, we all benefit from what another person ought to do. The Catholic Church is one of the last institutions in the world that encourages and expects a life lived sacrificially as a duty for the sake of others. 

Our very own Mary, Mother of God, was the greatest and most known servant of duty. Her “fiat,” translated to “let it be done,” was the highest and most noble duty ever proclaimed by a human person. As Catholics, we understand and appreciate Mary’s willingness to commit her life to God. Since we know this, we hold her most dear in our hearts. No other faith reveres Mary greater than we do, and that reverence is directly tied to the duty we know she showed to Christ. 

Mary and people like Queen Elizabeth have a unique opportunity to impact the world with their lifelong service to others. However, we have those same opportunities in smaller ways, yet impactful and equally acknowledged by the hearts that observe or benefit from such constant commitment. 

I think of the times I have seen our seminarians walk in the procession line for an ordination Mass or a young lady who accepts her habit as she becomes a postulant. Their discernment toward a lifelong commitment to service to God and his people makes your heart skip a beat when you see it. When to-be clergy lay prostrate on the floor before the altar, answering their call to “marry” our heavenly Father or his church, I can’t help but believe this observation moves the soul of the observer. When I see a parish priest consistently and dutifully in the confessional daily before morning Mass, even if no one shows for weeks at a time, that awareness pulls at my heart. 

When I see a mother struggling to keep her small child under control in public and the father sternly yet lovingly steps in to de-escalate, that awareness of duty by the father warms my soul. When I learn of an older adult visiting his wife daily at the memory unit, my heart responds with deep admiration. When my adult children come home for a visit and ask what Mass we are going to, my soul is filled with joy. 

To a reasonably sane person, our county appears to have several critical matters presently very messed up. We have a lot of people doing what they want and not so much what they ought to do. Duty is the commitment to consistently and faithfully do the right thing. The right thing is not difficult to identify because when we fulfill our duty, others observe the good and beautiful in those actions, and the dutiful person feels satisfied and fulfilled. 

Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and all those encounters with duty-filled individuals help us feel like we are on solid ground and moving in a secure, trusted, and holy direction. I think choosing to do what we ought to do can go a long way to getting our society back on the right track, or, better said, moving in a more divine direction. 

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

Father Richard Kunst: Can we receive Viaticum every day?

I am sure that I have made mention in past columns how the most powerful and meaningful times in my life as priest are when I am visiting the dying, in particular when I am anointing them and bringing them Communion. 

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

You can ask pretty much any priest who has been around awhile what some of his experiences have been while anointing people before their death. I can assure you that the priest will have much to say. These are experiences in which time and eternity are mysteriously interlinked. Often the person who is dying is having conversations and in some cases even seeing loved ones who have long been gone. Now, in some cases this could be hallucinations, but I am equally convinced that many really are in both worlds as they approach their final breath. 

The beauty of the last sacraments is so evident to those of us who are ministers of them. A case in point which happened just recently for me is when I went to anoint a woman who was near death, and after I anointed her she kept saying, over and over again, “I am so blessed, I am so blessed, I am so blessed.” She knew in her very fiber what the anointing meant for her as she approached God. 

Sometimes, though not all the time, I am able to bring the Eucharist for the dying person. If they are still able to take nutrition, bringing them Communion makes an already powerful sacrament all the more so. There is a word that we use for someone’s last Communion: it is called “Viaticum,” which literally means “food for the journey” — food for their final journey to heaven and God. The Eucharist is the closest we can be to God this side of the grave, so to give Communion to someone who is about to meet God is indeed a powerful thing. 

Viaticum is food for the journey to heaven, but isn’t all life really a journey? I actually don’t like that verbiage, because it just seems too much like something that would be said on The Hallmark Channel. I prefer to think of life not as a journey but as a pilgrimage, because our destination is a holy place, namely heaven. And as on any journey or pilgrimage, we need food for along the way: physical food for bodily sustenance and spiritual food for our immortal soul’s sustenance. 

In all instances in the Gospels, the miraculous multiplication of the loaves to feed the large crowds are signs and symbols of the Eucharist. In Matthew’s Gospel, after John the Baptist is killed Jesus withdrew by boat to get away from the people so as to have some time alone with his disciples, but the Gospel says, “The crowds heard of it and followed him on foot from the towns” (14:13). After spending the rest of the day with them as evening drew near the Gospel continues with, “… the disciples came to him with the suggestion: ‘This is a deserted place and it is already late. Dismiss the crowds so that they may go to the villages and buy some food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them: ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’” (14:15-16). 

The point Matthew is making in this passage is that the crowds needed to be fed as they were journeying to see Jesus, and Jesus saw to their nourishment. Well, if all of life is a journey or a pilgrimage towards heaven, then we need to be nourished at all times as well. Our greatest spiritual nourishment is always the Eucharist; it is truly our food for the journey, it is our Viaticum. 

And yet there are so many people who do not partake of this necessary sustenance or partake of it rarely. Christmas and Easter Masses are always overflowing because so many people only come to Mass twice a year. How can reception of the Eucharist twice a year sustain us? It can’t. 

But let’s “up” the analogy a bit. Can eating once a week sustain our body? Probably, but not very well. If we were given the chance to eat physical food more than once a week we would all take it. We eat every day to keep our bodies working and healthy. Why would it be any different for our souls than it is for our bodies? 

I have always been a big proponent for weekday Mass attendance. We will have no clue as to how good it is for our soul to go to daily Mass until we get to heaven. 

Now, I fully realize that for some people this is impossible, but there are people who are reading this column who may be retired or have a work schedule that would allow such a practice. I encourage you to give it a try, since most all parishes have a daily Mass schedule. We all need Viaticum, we all need food for the journey, as we are on our way to God. 

That food is available every day. 

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

Father Nicholas Nelson: Women religious are integral to our diocese and parishes

Ecosystems are such that if you remove one integral part of it, the ecosystem is forced to rebalance and adjust. Take Yellowstone National Park, for example. In the 1930s, farmers and ranchers decided to kill off the wolves. This led to an increase in the elk population, but it had other consequences as well, such as the elimination of many species of birds and smaller animals and rodents. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

But then in 1995, Yellowstone slowly reintroduced a small number of wolves. The elk weren’t all killed, but the wolves caused the elk to move a little. They could no longer just stay in the low areas, they had to go up the hills and mountains. This allowed the willow trees there to mature, which caused the beavers to increase as their food and building source increased. The beavers began to build dams, which caused the waters to pool and more willows to grow. The larger trees created homes for birds to return. Rodents and mice, as well as scavenger animals such as bald eagles, were able to find a friendly habitat. The grasses and trees provided stable banks along the streams. 

All in all, the reintroduction of wolves brought back the rich and diverse Yellowstone ecosystem. 

The church as a body, the Body of Christ, is also an ecosystem, such that if you remove something integral to the church, it forces the church to rebalance and try to adjust. Consider the lack of priests. The lack of priests has been one of the reasons for parish closures, but maybe even more significant is the decrease in women religious vocations. In the 1960s, there were 180,000 sisters in the United States. Today, there are less than 43,000, and the majority are elderly. 

There was a time in the 1900s when sisters were the majority of teachers in Catholic schools. They were a large percentage of nurses in hospitals and in nursing homes. As president of a Catholic school, I know that Catholic schools have yet to adequately rebalance and adjust to not having sisters. I am guessing a person could make a good argument that hospitals and nursing homes haven’t totally adjusted either. 

Besides the practical adjustments that go along with not having religious sisters, there is an ontological loss as well, that even if we could find the adequate number and quality of laity who were competent and mission oriented and found a way to compensate them justly while still making Catholic schools basically free, we are still lacking what sisters symbolize and point to in their being. 

Father John Burns, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, has a unique assignment. He is assigned to the Promotion of Women Religious. He said, “Our parishes today are like families run by single dads, and there is a poverty to single-dad families.” There is something to that analogy. We have spiritual fathers in our pastors, but we lack the spiritual motherhood that religious women offer. And families are not complete without fathers and mothers. 

The priest is an image of Christ in the world. He shows the church what it means to be loved with a complete spousal love. But it is the women religious who are an image of the church. The women religious show us as a church how we are to relate to Christ. If we don’t have the presence of women religious, we don’t fully grasp who we are as a church. 

The lack of religious sisters has affected the number of priests. Who do you think kept the priestly vocation at the forefront of young boys’ minds as they grew up? It was the sisters in the classroom. 

A brother priest of mine was asked to preach about women religious vocations. He said, “It’s so hard because it’s like talking about unicorns!” Most people have very little and very rare encounters with religious sisters. 

In our diocese, we have the Benedictine Sisters at St. Scholastica and the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in Duluth, but we are far from the number of sisters serving in our diocese during the mid-1900s. 

I recently returned from the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. After listening to Father John Burns speak, I am motivated to do what I can to promote women religious vocations in our diocese. It will take time, it is a long game, but we have to start somewhere. 

We all need to start talking about religious vocations more. We need to intentionally pray for them. At Queen of Peace, we are fasting from meat on Fridays for the specific intention that God send religious sisters to serve our parish and school again. We need to have our daughters spend time with sisters. That means also inviting religious orders to come visit our diocese and parishes. 

We have the Carmelites of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Los Angeles visiting Nov. 11-13. Please let me know if you are interested in participating in the visit. I also want to start short, only six-week, discernment groups for women. In these groups, young women will learn what religious life is like but also develop good friendships with other good Catholic women. 

So yes, we can do our best to adjust to a future without women religious, or we can just refuse to accept a future without them and we can rededicate ourselves to fostering women religious vocations again. I choose the latter! 

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]. 

Deacon Kyle Eller: Praying the Jesus Prayer has been a gift for me

For many years, whenever the subject has come up, I’ve said that my favorite prayer is the Jesus Prayer. There are several slight variations on it, but the one I pray most often is one of the wordiest versions of it: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

We have a weekly day of Eucharistic Adoration in one of the parishes I serve, and almost every week I am there for the last hour before celebrating Benediction. Several months ago, as I was sitting there wrestling even more than usual with anxiety and distraction, I felt as if the Lord gave me one of those little nudges he sometimes does: “You always say the Jesus Prayer is your favorite prayer. Maybe you should pray it.” 

So I did, and I was so grateful for the peace that followed that evening and for weeks after. Since then, I have tried to be more deliberate in making that a daily part of my prayer life, and I have encountered it in a number of different contexts, such as church leaders and friends mentioning it and a Catholic writer I admire writing about it in a recent issue of Magnificat. 

So, I wanted to share with you some of the things I find so beautiful about it, in case you might find it a beautiful devotion too. 

The Jesus Prayer as I try to pray it formally is a devotion more associated with the Christian East, where it is repeatedly prayed as you follow the knots of a prayer rope, somewhat akin to the way Western Christians repeat the Hail Mary on the beads of a rosary. But while in the rosary we engage our minds and hearts and imaginations in meditating on a particular mystery in the lives of Jesus and Mary, in the Jesus Prayer, it’s not really about that kind of meditation. Rather, one tries very simply to place oneself in the presence of Jesus, speaking to him, and just invoking his name and his mercy. 

The words of the prayer are simple and short but unfathomably rich, beginning with the heart the prayer, which is the invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus. Devotion to the name of Jesus is deeply scriptural — St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians that “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (2:10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “the name ‘Jesus’ contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray ‘Jesus’ is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him” (2666). 

Put simply, when we prayerfully call his name, Jesus, true God and true man, comes to be truly present with us. Just saying his name prayerfully is a form of prayer we can pray at any time, even in the midst of the greatest grief and trial, even if we are overcome with weariness. This is why there are devotions in both the Christian East and West centered around the Holy Name. 

Variations of the Jesus Prayer also nearly always include the title “Lord,” a prayer of adoration and confessing his divinity, as well as the title “Son of God.” I like the version with “son of the living God,” echoing St. Peter’s profession of faith in Matthew 16. 

After invoking the name of Jesus and his presence within us and confessing him as Lord and God, what is the natural response of the human heart standing before the all holy? Surely if we know ourselves and are honest, the response is humility and repentance. Think of how Peter responded in one of his first encounters with Jesus, after the Lord performs a miracle: “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). 

The Jesus Prayer reflects this with great simplicity: we simply and humbly ask for mercy. 

As the Catechism notes (2667), in this call for mercy, the Jesus Prayer echoes two deeply moving passages of the Gospel. We are like the tax collector in the Temple in Jesus’ parable recounted in Luke’s Gospel, who despite his sins (and unlike the self-righteous Pharisee praying nearby) “went home justified” because he humbled himself, confessed his sinfulness, and asked for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). And we are like the blind man Bartimaeus, who sat by the roadside begging for Jesus for mercy in the form of restoring his sight, something no one else could do for him and he could not do for himself (Mark 18:46-52). 

These passages suggest for us the grand scope of what we mean by God’s mercy. Think of how we refer to mercy when we speak of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. God’s mercy embraces both our need for forgiveness for our sins and, at the same time, all of our other needs and cares of this life. That’s the mercy we ask for in the Jesus Prayer. 

All this (and no doubt more) is embodied in this simple prayer and these simple motions of the heart in God’s presence: adoration, love, humility, trust. The idea of sitting down and praying this prayer intentionally is that, by God’s grace, over time it becomes ingrained deeply in our souls and becomes the constant prayer of our hearts. 

There is a lot of anxiety and distraction in the world. If that is something you’re seeing in your life, or if you are looking for a simple devotion to help you grow closer to Jesus, maybe consider adding this to your prayer life. Block out some quiet time with Jesus, praying with great simplicity and sincerity: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

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

Ask Father Mike: What can I do to get more out of Mass?

I don’t like going to Mass. I had to go when I was a kid, and I never got the point. But I also realize that it could just be me; I could be the one missing something. What can I do to get more out of Mass? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

I’m glad that you have written, and I’m grateful that you have asked this question. I have to tell you, we were one of those “front pew” families when I was growing up. According to my mom, it wasn’t because we “got it” better than other families or because we were holier than anyone else. Far from it. In fact, I think that one of the primary reasons we sat in the front is because we were always late to Mass. (I don’t mean “sometimes ….” When I say “always,” I mean that the priest could tell that he was late for Mass if the Schmitz family was already there when he got to the front of the church.) 

We sat in the front because Catholics are so hospitable that we always leave the front pews for visitors — and for the late families, I guess. 

My mom says that, when she and my dad were new parents, some more experienced moms and dads had told them that if you want your kids to pay attention, then bring them to the front so that: a) they can see what’s going on and b) they will be on their best behavior. 

I think that it kind of worked. I mean, there were no shortage of times when we had to be escorted from our spot by one of my parents for one reason or another, but overall it was probably a good plan. 

Even though I hated going to Mass as a kid, there still were a couple of things that my parents instilled in me (and in all of us) growing up. 

The first is that Sunday Mass is not optional. This was huge. We were all in sports, and as we got older, we were all relatively good at sports. Yet, no matter what, if we were traveling with our team or traveling on vacation or had any number of other things going on over the weekend, Mass was absolutely and without question going to be a part of our plans. 

I know that I did not appreciate that at the time. At the time, it was annoying. And I have known many people who have said exactly what you said about how this affects your willingness to go to Mass as an adult. They claim that their unwillingness to go to Mass as adults comes from the fact that they had to go to Mass as children. 

I see that, but what if we applied that same logic to any other thing we “had to do” while growing up: Someone might say, “I no longer eat vegetables because I had to as a kid.” Or, “I no longer brush my teeth because my parents made me brush my teeth when I was little.” Or, “I don’t wash my hands after using the bathroom because my parents would always make me do that when I was younger.” 

If we were to say any of those things now, it would be more than a little immature and foolish. So let’s not say that about the Sunday Mass requirement. It would be better to say that you just don’t like clean teeth or you just don’t see the point in brushing them regularly. 

Maybe you don’t see the point in going to Mass. I understand that. That would make sense to me. I think about those years while I was growing up in the front pew. And what was I taught? “Be quiet. Watch.” 

That’s it. When it came to going to Mass, we were almost all of us simply told that to be a good Catholic you have to be there, you have to be quiet, you have to watch. If that is the case, no wonder we might not see the point! Show up, be quiet, and watch someone else pray … and maybe someday it will all matter to you? 

There is one thing that we need to make absolutely clear: There is a massive difference between “watching” and “worshipping.” 

Think of your favorite sport or event. Would you rather watch the concert or your game from your couch on the TV? Or would you rather be in the stands live? Would you rather be in some far-off seat in the nosebleed section or right there on the sidelines? Would you rather be sitting on the bench or out on the playing field? 

My guess is, if you love the music or the sport or the game, and you have the skill and the opportunity, you would rather be out there. 

The same is true when it comes to the Mass. For too long, we have been so busy teaching people what NOT TO DO during the Mass that by the time we could tell them what their role is, they’ve already checked out. But when you were baptized, you were anointed a priest, prophet, and king or queen. 

You were anointed a “kingdom priest,” and a priest who is one who offers the sacrifice. All of the faithful exercise their kingdom priesthood when they unite their prayers with the ministerial priest who is uniting all of their prayers with Jesus, the One, Great, High Priest. When we go to Mass, we are there to offer the sacrifice to the Father with the priest at the altar and Jesus the High Priest. You have a job to do! 

And this job accomplishes something. At every Mass we pray, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” And that is what happens: The Father is glorified, and the world is sanctified! When you pray.., when you offer the sacrifice with the ministerial priest, those two things are accomplished in reality. 

I like to think of it this way: When you exercise your kingdom priesthood, the Father is just that much more glorified and the world is just that much more sanctified. Something happens that wouldn’t happen if you weren’t there. Your priesthood is needed, because this world needs your presence and your prayers. 

This is the point of going to Mass each Sunday — not to simply “Be there. Be quiet. Watch,” but to unite your prayers with the ministerial priest and Jesus the High Priest, to truly worship God, and to participate in the salvation of the world. 

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

Bishop Daniel Felton: An autumn smorgasbord of plenty for October

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

As we celebrate this autumn season of harvesting, I am mindful of gatherings in October that feature a smorgasbord. The Swedish tradition of smorgasbord is a buffet of plenty with many small dishes. My article this month is going to be a smorgasbord of plenty, featuring a number of delectable delights. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

New Bishops School 

In late September, I attended the New Bishops School in Rome. All new bishops from around the world gather to be schooled by Vatican officials on a variety of Church processes, procedures, issues, and priorities. Because of COVID, this gathering has been put on hold for the last three years. However, this year we were able to gather. There were 180 bishops in my class. Most of us were ordained in 2020-22. The previous week, 150 had gathered for this same school. That means that there were 330 bishops appointed around the world in that time period. This alone was a wonderful feature of the week together, as I was able to interact not only with my brother bishops here in the United States, but I made friendships with bishops from Canada, Australia, Poland, Peru, and Brazil! It reminded me of how myopic we can be with our sense of Church. Truly we are universal in our nature. The last day of school we spent two hours with Pope Francis in a conversation on a number of matters related to our ministry as bishops. Pope Francis was healthy, energetic, and very engaging in our session with him. 

Priest Conference 

All of the priests of our diocese will gather for our annual Priest Conference this month. It will be a time of learning, prayer, socializing, and hopefully a lot of joyful laughing. Father Jon Vander Ploeg, director of spiritual formation at St. Paul Seminary, will be with us as we explore detachment, surrender, discernment, and trust in the Holy Spirit. Please pray for all of us to be open to where the Holy Spirit wants to touch our minds and hearts in this time together. 

Diaconate ordination and Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary 

Jacob Toma will be ordained to the Order of Deacon (transitional deacon) on Oct. 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This is a powerful way for our diocese to embrace this special feast day and the significant place of Our Lady in Jacob’s journey to the diaconate. Many of our 11 seminarians will assist in this ordination, all of them a witness to the fruit of our Vocational Prayer. We commend Jacob and all of our seminarians to our patroness, Mary, Queen of the Rosary and ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen! 

Respect Life and Rosary Month 

Traditionally, in the month of October, we renew our commitment to embrace the value and dignity of all life from the womb to our natural death. The praying of the rosary speaks so deeply into our respect for life, as we praise Mary as a mother and as we embrace the fruit of her womb, Jesus Christ, the Lord of life! In our post Roe v. Wade world, this connection between respecting life and praying the rosary becomes even more urgent. We also pray for those participating in 40 Days for Life as a witness to putting into practice that which they believe in faith, hope, and love. May Mary, our Mother and Queen, lead us in undoing all of the knots that prevent us from celebrating the gift of life, from the day that we are born until the day that we die. 

As we have reached the end of our smorgasbord, we simply pray our after-meal prayer: “We give you thanks, almighty God, for all your benefits, who lives and reigns forever and ever. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen” 

P.S. I am thankful that I was out of the country when the Vikings beat the Packers in the opening game! 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth.