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Editorial: Seeing past the 50-50 split

The results of the election verified something that has been increasingly clear over a number of recent election cycles: politically, anyway, we’re divided just about in half.

Nationally, in terms of popular vote, out of all those tens of millions of votes cast, the margin was less than 5%, just like it’s been the last three presidential elections. In fact, in the 21st century, five of the six presidential elections have ended up that way.

In the states, many tilt solidly to one side or the other, with elections coming down to just a few “battleground” states with razor-thin margins of victory.

And that same split is visible in the church. In the past election, reportedly those who self-identify as Catholic were also split almost exactly down the middle in terms of whom they voted for.

It’s clear that any path forward has to involve some kind of authentic reconciliation in the truth amid those divisions.

Fortunately, our faith gifts us with this ability. We have a coherent, beautiful, humane social doctrine that is more sane and good and inviting by far than any of the competing ideologies in our world, and which can help purify them all, affirming what is true in them and amending what isn’t. We have a vision of Christ the King who helps us not to “put our trust” in worldly leaders. The church has a long memory and experience of many different kinds of rulers, including not just every American president since George Washington but a whole world of rulers, good and bad, from saints to tyrants and despots.

And it’s striking how consistent our duties as Catholics remain toward civil leaders whether we consider them good or bad. We pray for them, especially for their well-being and their success in doing good. We support them when we can out of service to the common good. And if they should do evil, we resist them to the extent we must — when conscience and our higher loyalty to God will not permit us to do otherwise — such that one might, like St. Thomas More, be the king’s true subject, but God’s first.

It’s not too early to begin praying for our elected leaders — all of them, the ones we voted for and the ones we didn’t.

Deacon Kyle Eller: How can we handle the ‘perpetual outrage machine’ as Catholics?

It’s always interesting when very great and holy saints and even doctors of the church seem to give conflicting advice — like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales do on the timely and important topic of anger.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Ours is an angry time. Although one hopes it was not intended this way, we have built what some have called a “perpetual outrage machine.” Like fanciful attempts at building a perpetual motion machine, the perpetual outrage machine has many disparate parts working in concert — the diminishment of institutions that once moderated things, a decline in critical thinking, deep polarization, hyper partisan media, and then the jet fuel, the social media algorithms that have created a feedback loop of ever increasing anger.

I can only hope that, like perpetual motion machines, perpetual outrage machines are not really possible, that there’s some natural limiting factor that will grind it to a halt.

Our culture is so angry that many seem to consider anger among the highest virtues, as if it were the only moral choice, such that you will sometimes hear, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

That’s where, at least in Catholic circles, you will sometimes hear St. Thomas Aquinas brought out in defense of righteous anger.

St. Thomas (as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church) treats anger as a “passion,” which in the language of theology means a kind of pre-moral emotion that naturally arises in the human heart in response to something, in anger’s case a perceived injustice.

Like all the passions, anger needs to be governed by reason and the virtues. But in St. Thomas’s view, directed in this way, anger can be useful in the pursuit of authentic justice, for instance by firming up our will for doing good. One thinks of St. Paul’s counsel to “be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).

But then there’s the great St. Francis de Sales. Known as one of the gentlest saints ever, he reportedly spend 20 years learning to control his temper.

Maybe that’s why he says, in his “Introduction to the Devout Life,” that in practice it’s better to avoid anger altogether: “Depend upon it, it is better to learn how to live without being angry than to imagine one can moderate and control anger lawfully; and if through weakness and frailty one is overtaken by it, it is far better to put it away forcibly than to parley with it; for give anger ever so little way, and it will become master ….”

There is a mountain of scriptural warrant for this view. St. Francis quotes the Letter of St. James, which says plainly that the anger of men does not work the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Numerous passages of moral counsel in the New Testament letters of St. Paul and others urge putting away all anger, wrath, and so on, to set aside vengeance and overcome evil with good. In the heart of the Gospel’s moral teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns that anyone who is angry with a brother is liable to judgment (Matthew 5:22).

What are we to make of this? Let’s begin with the obvious fact that while St. Francis de Sales’ view rings true to me, I’m not holy enough or wise enough to stand in as judge in this dispute.

Let’s add the less obvious fact that there may be less disagreement between the two doctors of the church than it first appears, that in context St. Thomas is not giving a broad blessing to anger in general or urging people to go around being easily angered or excessively angry — quite the contrary.

And St. Francis, in the very passage I quoted, talks about putting anger away forcibly if need be, which sounds very much like the kind of use of the “irascible appetite” to bolster one’s grit and resolve for doing good that St. Thomas seems to have in mind. He also doesn’t seem to exclude the theoretical possibility that anger can be lawfully controlled; rather, he seems to be giving practical advice that for most people, we’re not virtuous enough for that.

Without writing off either perspective casually, we can still draw some lessons for our angry time. Anger is powerful and difficult to control and apt to lead us astray, for instance by convincing us to seek retribution in an unjust way. I think most people have experienced this danger, where anger leads us to make more of some offense than is really justified. So anger is a dangerous tool. If it is to be used at all, it must be used carefully and sparingly.

What’s more, it’s deceptive in that it often presents itself as a solution to our problems, but it’s more often destructive. In itself, it’s a dubious means to the justice of God. Rather, if it is to be useful, it has to be deliberately transformed into something more like virtuous grit, determination, resolve.

In light of all that, rather than being caught up in the perpetual outrage machine of our culture, we should be on deliberate guard against it, and examine ourselves carefully for where sinful anger may have taken root in our hearts. We are Christians, so our approach to evil is primarily one of overcoming it with good, to the extent of loving and praying for our enemies. If anger has any place at all, it is in strengthening us to do just that.

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

Father Richard Kunst: Apparent ‘contradiction’ in the Gospel sheds light on being a living witness

The seminary I went to had a heavy emphasis on writing papers, whereas other seminaries might put more focus on test-taking. Mine was one in which I felt like it was a continuous stream of producing papers that no one would ever read except for the professor.

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

I remember one of the cardinal rules about writing papers for my scripture classes was to never “proof-text.” In a nutshell, proof-texting is taking biblical quotes out of context to argue a particular point. Proof-texting could easily get you into trouble, because if you take certain quotes out of context, it would appear that the Bible is full of contradictions.

This is something a lot of non-religious critics like to point out. You will sometimes hear them ask how can one believe in the Bible when it is rife with contradiction. There are no actual biblical contradictions when it comes to the overarching truths expressed in the Word of God; truth cannot contradict truth. But again, taken out of context we can easily make things sound contradictory.

I will give you my favorite example, which I think I may have done in a past column. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says these familiar words: “… Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says ‘you fool’ shall be liable to the hell of fire” (5:22). Now if we were to proof text this verse and pull it out of context, it would look very bad for Jesus when in the very same Gospel Jesus says this to the scribes and Pharisees, 18 chapters later: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools!” (23:16-17a).

See the contradiction? That is the problem with proof texting.

Proof-texting is not really the point of this column. Rather, I am going to give another example of proof-texting to make a larger point. Again in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your father who is in heaven” (6:1). He goes on to say in this familiar passage that when giving alms, don’t sound a trumpet to be seen, and when praying don’t pray at the street corners so as to be seen. This all makes sense, of course, because we should not have a relationship with God that has the purpose of receiving the praise of men!

But then there is this other passage in the same Gospel. Jesus says something that on the face of it seems pretty contradictory, though of course it is not. In yet another very famous passage from the Gospel, Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5:16). It seems like Jesus is telling his disciples to let everyone see the good work they are doing, and then less than a chapter later he is telling them not to let anyone see the good they are doing, so what gives?

There is a difference between “showing off” and giving witness. On the face of it, by all outward appearances they may look very much the same, but of course they are very different. If we do charitable acts to be congratulated or if we pray piously in church or elsewhere to show people that we are “holy,” then we are in fact not holy or charitable, we are grandstanders using religion to benefit ourselves.

If, on the other hand, we are doing acts of charity in such a way that we ourselves are transparent, not bringing attention to ourselves but only to God, then indeed we are acting in a virtuous way.

I have often applied this concept to how we priests preside at Mass. If I, as the presider, become the attention-getter, if I say Mass in such a way as to bring attention to myself, then it is the “Father Rich Show.” People do not come to Mass to see the “Father Rich Show” (or insert any priest’s name). People come to Mass to receive the Eucharist and get closer to God. Anything I do that emphasizes attention on myself takes away from Christ and the Eucharist. I, as priest, need to be completely transparent.

So it is with any Christian act, whether it be praying, charitable giving, fasting, you name it. It must not be our intention to get attention. Proof-texting aside, that is a fact.

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

Father Michael Schmitz: What is the point of the Last Judgment?

I understand that when we die, we are immediately judged by God. It is my understanding that we either then go immediately to hell or heaven (via purgatory if necessary). If that is the case, why is there something called the “Last Judgment”? Are we judged again? Is it a “second chance”?

This is a fantastic question. I will have to divide my answer up into two parts. In the first part, I want to highlight a few things about the particular judgment. And in the second part (next month), I will get to your actual question about the Last Judgment.

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Before that, let me affirm your understanding of the fact that we are all judged at the moment of our death. I would like to add a couple of notes to this (so that all of us can be on the same page). It is an article of faith that, at the moment of our individual death, we will have made a definitive choice for either God or “not God.” We will, with our everyday, actual decisions, have chosen heaven or hell. This choice is irrevocable. Therefore, if we have chosen God, we get him forever. And if we have chosen anything other than God, we get that choice forever.

I hope that you (and anyone reading this) can truly appreciate the seriousness of this. God doesn’t technically “send someone to hell.” He allows us to choose hell against his will. It is God’s will that all of us spend eternity with him. God wills that we all experience his love and joy and Presence forever. And he gives every person the opportunities and all of the grace that they need to make this choice. But if we prefer our own will instead of God’s will, he lets us get what we’ve chosen. God does this because he is good and because he made us free. We are free to choose to love him. And because of that we are also free to reject him.

This decision to reject God seems to me to be remarkably easy. It doesn’t necessarily require that I rage against God with my defiant fist in the air towards the heavens while I curse God. It could look as simple and as undramatic as my being indifferent to him. I wonder how many people miss out on heaven simply because they “don’t care much” about God or because they are just “too busy” or “too distracted” or “too full” to bother with loving God.

Remember, the principle is: God gives us what we’ve chosen. If I have not actively chosen God, then I have not actually chosen God. No one gets heaven by default. Our decisions have to demonstrate the reality of our heart: that we have placed God first in our lives. If I do not actively choose God in life, why would I imagine that I would actively choose God at the moment of death?

Everyone in hell has chosen hell for themselves by choosing “something other than God.” And this is their definitive choice for eternity. As C.S. Lewis famously said, “Hell is a door locked from the inside.”

On the other side, everyone in heaven has chosen Heaven for themselves by choosing to say “yes” to God from their heart. This is not just having nice feelings or thoughts about God but actively conforming our will to his will. As Jesus put it, “If anyone would be my disciple, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). And the great news is: if we choose him, we realize that he has already chosen us! God loves you already and is like a potential groom who is waiting for his potential bride’s answer to his marriage proposal. He has already declared his love for you. Our response makes all the difference. A potential bride who doesn’t answer the proposal will die as a single woman. And a person who doesn’t answer the proposal of Jesus Christ will die outside his family — and spend eternity there.

I know that this first part of my response to your question could be received with fear. Or it could be received with a heavy heart. That’s OK. Those reactions might merely mean that we are taking the reality of eternity seriously for the first time. But we never stay there. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but we are meant to get to a place where love casts out all fear.

And this is the key: love. God loves you so much that he sent his Son to live, suffer, die, and rise from the dead so that you could live with him forever. He wants you! He wants you to love him back. And he gives us every grace and every chance to love him.

For our part, we must make that choice. And the choice is to love him or not to love him. This is what we are judged on. As St. John of the Cross once said, “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” So do not be afraid, but also, do not be indifferent to his proposal. Love him back. It is the difference between heaven and hell.

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

Father Nicholas Nelson: How to make mental prayer

Friends, during this “stay at home” time, this is an opportune time to develop the habit of mental prayer.

What is mental prayer?

Father Nicholas Nelson
Handing on the Faith

It's the form of prayer in which the sentiments expressed are your own. Mental prayer is accomplished by internal acts of the mind and affections based off of simple mediations. In mental prayer the three powers of the soul are engaged: 1. the memory, which offers the mind material for meditation or contemplation; 2. the intellect, which ponders or directly perceives the meaning of some religious truth and its implications for practice; and 3. the will, which freely expresses its sentiments of faith, trust, and love, and makes good resolutions based on what the memory and intellect have made known to the will.

Why do mental prayer?

It enlightens the mind. It disposes you to practice the virtues. It helps us pray as we should.

How to do mental prayer?

Mental prayer consists of three parts: the preparation, the meditation, and the conclusion.

Preparation

Preparation consists of three acts:

  • Faith, in the presence of God, saying, “My God; I believe that you art present with me, and I adore you with all the affection of my soul.”
  • Humility, with a short act of contrition and of prayer to be enlightened, saying “O Lord, by my sins I deserve to be now in hell. I repent, O Infinite Goodness! with my whole heart, of having offended you.”
  • Finally, pray, “My God for the love of Jesus and Mary, give me light in this prayer, that I may profit by it.” Then say a Hail Mary to the Most Blessed Virgin, that she may obtain light for us, and a Glory be to the Father, to St. Joseph, to your guardian angel, and to your patron saint, for the same end. (These acts should be made with attention, but briefly; and then you go on directly to the meditation.)

Meditation

You can always make use of some book, at least at the beginning, and stop where you find yourself mostly touched. St. Francis de Sales says that in this we should do as the bees, which settle on a flower as long they find any honey in it, and then pass on to another. It should also be observed that the fruits to be gained by meditation are three in number — 1) to make affections, 2) to pray, and 3) to make resolutions — and in these consist the profit to be derived from mental prayer. After you have meditated on some eternal truth, and God has spoken to your heart, you must also speak to God, and first, by forming affections, be they acts of faith, of thanksgiving, of humility, or of hope; but above all, repeat the acts of love and contrition. St. Thomas says that every act of love merits for us the grace of God and paradise!

So you must pray; ask God to enlighten you, to give you humility or other virtues, to grant you a good death and eternal salvation; but above all, his love and holy perseverance. And when the soul is in great dryness, it is sufficient to repeat: “My God, help me! Lord, have mercy on me! My Jesus, have mercy!” And if you do nothing but this, your prayer will succeed exceedingly well.

And, before finishing your prayer, you must form a particular resolution, as, for instance, to avoid some occasion of sin, to bear with an annoyance from some person, to correct some fault, and the like.

Conclusion

Three acts are to be made: in the first, we must thank God for the inspirations we have received; in the second, we must make a determination to observe the resolutions we have made; in the third, we must ask God, for the love of Jesus and Mary, to help us to keep our resolution. The prayer concludes by the recommendation of the souls in purgatory, the prelates of the church, sinners, and all our relatives and friends, for which we may say an Our Father and a Hail Mary.

St. Francis de Sales exhorts us to choose some thought which may have struck us more especially in our prayer, that we may remember it during the rest of the day.

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

Betsy Kneepkens: What will this ‘Covid Christmas’ look like?

What will this Covid Christmas look like? Although it sounds like a vaccine is on our way, I think we all can be sure this celebration of the birth of Jesus will look different from previous Christmases. We have been through many holidays already that have been altered by this pandemic. I find it disappointing that we must prepare ourselves for yet another.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I feel strongly we must use this time as a family to identify the good coming out of all the devastation and loss we experienced this year.

I find the most frustrating of all situations for me are the restrictions placed on religious services. Having our family adjust for another Holy Day is maddening. Specifically, few things give me greater joy than a packed church with the faithful singing boisterously and responding in unison to the prayers of the church. I enjoy standing in the back of the church for the Christmas Mass, because I relish seeing every pew filled to the brim, parishioners dressed in their best while seated multi-generationally by families.

What’s not to enjoy when you observe a packed house enthusiastically engaging while loving the Lord? I think going to Mass on special days like Christmas is the apex of the holy presence of God. You have the Eucharist, the word, and “for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20) all occurring at the same time. Unfortunately, with state regulations this year limiting the number of people, prohibiting us from singing in full strength, and receiving the Eucharist with worries of the disease will have to be acceptable but still disheartening.

As a mom, I think it is okay to whine a little, but I know I need to get over that quickly. I can’t control what is happening in the broader world, but I can affect my family’s experience. I plan to play a role in helping my kids see how this Christmas can be made into one of the more significant lifetime celebrations. This year will be easier for me to help bring forth a meaningful culture at our home, because expectations are already pretty low due to what we lost this year. We will overcome all of the negative that this disease tries to impose on our Christmas season.

For instance, our family hasn’t been in the same room since my son’s wedding in June, and that time was limited because of Covid. If we can figure out a way to gather safely, I am confident my children will appreciate each other more. Focusing on making this time as stress-free as possible will also pay great dividends to make this time special. This goal can be easily accomplished by lowering my desire to make everything perfect, which is usually responsible for the chaos.

I know that part of what I want my children to grasp is how much my husband and I appreciated the level of sacrifice they made to keep their parents safe. Throughout the past nine months, they often avoided coming home because they worried about our health. After our pleading to come for the holidays, they plan or have chosen to spend weeks in quarantine, so they know they will be safe to be with us.

For one son, that meant spending 14 days in a small dorm room alone. I am not sure I would have been so thoughtful. Our boys usually are knuckleheads, but these past few months, they showed the level of character and maturity we only hoped to instill in them. As parents, I can’t help but feel honored by their love and respect. In a certain sense, they were challenged with an ethical dilemma, and they choose the sacrificial route. Their actions grew out of the devastation of Covid, and we can be grateful for that.

Also, during this pandemic, we were not in crisis but experienced some financial difficulties. We had all that we needed. We just had to cut back on all the wants we usually can purchase when desired. Although our children did not know the degree of hardship, each, in their way, offered support. Most of our children are still in school or new to their careers, and without lots of means themselves, they still had an eye on others. Their willingness to help when they didn’t have much to give was a beautiful outcome of this pandemic.

Fortunately, the tightening of our belts and eliminating wants was all that was necessary to get over this challenging time. If it were not for the disease, we might not have seen the unconditional generosity they displayed.

Having everyone isolated in different parts of the country has brought a level of connectedness to our family we had not had before. Daily, each member of the family is talking, texting, or FaceTiming. Everyone dialogues about current events, recipes, and advice about whatever is needed at that time. Our family of eight live in six different locations geographically, but this Covid has brought us closer together than when lived in the same ZIP code. I don’t like this disease, but I appreciate all the good that has come from it.

This Christmas, like every Christmas, is the retelling of an important event in history. We tell Christ’s birth story each year, so we never forget how this incident changed the lives of humanity forever.

I don’t like this disease. I want it to end tomorrow. But I love some of what has come from it. This Christmas, if we are blessed to have everyone in the same room, I hope we can tell the story of how Covid made our family better and stronger. Hopefully, retelling our family Covid story each time we get together will help us remember how we were called to be like the hope that was born in a stable 2,000 years ago.

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

Parishes, schools continue to hold up as Covid-19 cases spike

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

The pandemic is still with us.

A significant surge in Covid-19 cases in Minnesota continues to affect the life of the community and the church in parishes and schools, although the effects of Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive order, which went into effect Nov. 20, did not directly affect churches and their worship in the same ways it affected some other areas of life.

Diocesan officials urged continued attention to safety protocols that have been put in place to keep parishioners safe and encouraged the faithful to continue healthy practices such as washing hands, remaining home if not feeling well, wearing a mask or face covering when required or recommended, and observing proper social distancing.

Some other kinds of gatherings, such as parish council meetings, have again moved to virtual meetings for the time being.

In anticipation of Christmas Masses under the pandemic, which in normal times are some of the most heavily attended of the year, the diocese also gave pastors some additional scheduling flexibility so that they could take into account the needs of their parishes in providing Masses safely.

In the diocesan schools, decisions are depending in part on the number of Covid-19 cases affecting the student population within a given community, said Cynthia Zook, director of Catholic schools for the diocese.

However, she said the schools, taking into account the varying levels of access to technology, are continuing to offer “face-to-face instruction for those who need that methodology and distance learning for a good percentage of our students who desire or need to stay home. Some schools are trying to provide the youngest students a face-to-face option, as that works best for them.”

She said it’s difficult to predict what happens week to week, but the “strongest desire” remains to provide “in school” instruction, which is made possible by good health and lifestyle choices outside of school.

“Because of the cooperation we are getting from our families, I remain optimistic,” she said.

Zook said the number of cases among students has “been quite low. We have experienced some exposure through family interactions and among acquaintances, but positive results have been very low.”

However, she noted that that situation may change after the Thanksgiving holiday.

In more personal terms, she said the schools communities have “done an extraordinary job” in the midst of challenges and uncertainty.

“I want to acknowledge the great effort our teachers and school staff have put forth to make our plans work so well,” she said.

She asked that as the faithful pray for those affected by the virus they would also include school personnel, who need “our support and God’s loving care as they faithfully provide a Catholic education for so many.

Editorial: Keep up the vigilance on COVID protocols

Earlier this year we experienced the profound suffering of the suspension of public Masses due to the coronavirus pandemic, even including Easter. Some people, particularly those most vulnerable to the virus, are still experiencing the suffering of not being able to be present in our churches. For those of us who are back, it still isn’t “normal” — we’re still wearing masks, still asked to refrain from congregational singing, asked not to gather in some of the ways we’re accustomed to.

After all these months, it’s wearying. But it’s also still necessary.

The Catholic Church across America has in many ways modeled what it means to reopen safely. Church leaders, in consultation with experts in the relevant fields, came up with serious protocols to reduce the risks of disease spread. Nothing in these circumstances can be perfectly safe, but overall it seems that the protocols have helped make things as safe as they can be.

But as we watch the headlines and daily reports and see the number of positive tests for the virus in our state spiking, it should be a sobering reminder of the need to be vigilant. We are approaching our long, cold winter. We’re entering flu season. This is a difficult time of year even in normal circumstances, a time when people can feel isolated and lonely. It’s all the more so given the isolation, loneliness, and fear people have already been trying to manage.

The Holy Mass is always necessary for us — and for the world, whether it knows it or not. But it’s all the more when we’re suffering, afraid, and lonely.

And that’s why even after all these months, even if it’s a pain, we need to follow the protocols and other guidance of church leaders to make sure that coming to Mass is as safe as we can make it.

Deacon Kyle Eller: Essential Catholic truth about marriage upholds society for everyone

The Catholic understanding of marriage as exclusively the lifelong union of one man and one woman open to new life is perhaps the most despised of all Catholic beliefs in 2020 America.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

It’s also true. It’s good. It’s beautiful. It’s rational. It’s loving. It’s life-giving. It’s demanding and challenging. It’s fulfilling. It’s inspiring. It’s realistic.

And it’s necessary. It’s integral to our faith — to our understanding of who God is and who we are, to our understanding of our relationship to God, to our social doctrine, to our defense of the dignity of human life. As for society, it’s a necessary condition for genuine human thriving and social progress, as can be seen by the consequences of its breakdown: an unending torrent of human misery.

In short, this teaching is the exact opposite of all the lies our culture tells about it: that it’s an embarrassing, arbitrary, ignorant, irrational, bigoted, unrealistic, regressive, oppressive relic of a superstitious age long buried.

We know this truth by both faith and reason.

In Scripture, it is not just a few scattered verses, it’s a fundamental theme running literally from the beginning of the Bible to the end, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis and in Revelation the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. That wedding feast in heaven is the culmination of how God has, throughout salvation history, described his spousal relationship with his people. Jesus repeatedly referred to himself as the bridegroom and the church as his bride.

It’s no less clear in the realm of reason, where God has written the nuptial meaning of marriage, of the two becoming one flesh to be fruitful and multiply, into creation itself, stamped right into our bodies. It’s the wellspring of society, its most fundamental building block, and prior to any government or even tribe. It’s where human life is conceived and nurtured.

The complementarity of men and women as a defining characteristic of marriage is so obvious that virtually every society that has ever existed, in every time and place, across cultures and philosophies and religions, held it without even a whisper of a doubt, until about 15 minutes ago, where the arguments against it amounted to “Love Wins” bumper stickers.

This was only possible after decades of propaganda and indoctrination. That’s why this truth “fell” in the popular mind only far down the road of the sexual revolution, after society had already been sold contraception, fornication, divorce, adultery, pornography, masturbation, cohabitation, abortion, artificial conception, each step slowly darkening and entrapping hearts and minds, slowly obscuring the intrinsic relations between men and women, the marital act and marriage, the marital act and procreation, conception and the marital act, children and their mothers and fathers, and marriage and children.

This tsunami has left a vast wake of destruction — children in families shattered into a million constantly shuffled pieces, an endless trail of broken hearts, the destruction of children’s innocence, porn addiction, loneliness, despair, poverty, abuse, cynicism. And that’s not to mention the millions of aborted babies keeping up the pretense it’s all working.

Only the overwhelming cultural dominance of sexual revolutionaries, who run the newsrooms and the movie studios and the courts and so much else, obscures this from our eyes. But if you look, you can’t possibly mistake it. It’s all around us, getting worse every day.

Our teaching on marriage is undeniably demanding and difficult. All of us are wounded and tempted in various ways by the sexual revolution, and virtually all of us have failed our call to holiness in these matters in some way. We are dealing with powerful, pervasive structures of sin all directed at leading people astray.

For people in certain situations, such as those with same-sex attraction or those who have divorced and remarried, the call can be even harder. Harsh judgment on poor sinners just like ourselves should be the last thing on our minds. That’s where Pope Francis’ teaching on accompaniment, on meeting people where they are and walking with them lovingly, step by step, toward a better path, is so good and important.

This church teaching is not directed against anyone. We are caught at night in a shipwreck at sea, and it’s the lighthouse guiding us to life. And that’s why the controversy over Pope Francis’ comments in a recent documentary hurts us so profoundly.

Let’s get some things clear. First, popes don’t exercise their teaching authority through media interviews and documentaries. What he said about “civil unions” is not Catholic teaching. It’s an opinion the pope expressed.

Second, it has been established by the transcript that his words were deceptively edited, splicing together fragments that were not originally together. The longer first part of the quote drew from comments not referring to civil unions but to parents loving their LGBT sons and daughters, who remain part of the family, which is good and needs saying.

The shorter second part of the quote referring to civil unions was drawn from a longer quote in which he reaffirmed, as he so frequently has, the irreformable doctrine of our faith that same-sex “marriage” is an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. It was in that context that he expressed his personal support for civil unions, an opinion that appears to contradict what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Pope St. John Paul II, said in 2003.

Among the reasons the CDF said civil unions should be opposed were concerns that it would appear to bless homosexual acts that are sinful, would subject children to situations that deliberately deprive them of a mother or father, and would obscure the meaning of marriage, treating relationships that are not marriage as if they were something similar.

Reaction to the pope’s words — from activists, journalists, politicians, and across social media — would seem to validate those concerns 100%.

There are pastoral situations, probably more prevalent elsewhere in the world but here too, where people need to be admonished not to reject a gay son or daughter. But in 2020 America, it’s far more likely a person will be shunned by family for holding to Catholic teaching on marriage. People continue to lose jobs and businesses over it, get dragged in front of courts and tribunals and HR departments over it, get harassed and bullied because of it, have academic success threatened over it.

So I hope in his pastoral concern Pope Francis will find room in his heart to “strengthen the brethren” who are enduring these persecutions for remaining faithful to Jesus. I assume it was not his intention, but the persecutors have taken the pope’s words as another stone to throw at his flock.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross.

Holy Hour in honor of the late Bishop Sirba

The one-year anniversary of Bishop Paul Sirba’s death is Tuesday, Dec. 1, and to mark the occasion and remember him in prayer, the diocese has announced that each deanery (region) in the diocese will hold a Holy Hour from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba

Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator, said that given the pandemic restrictions, the hope is that people will feel free to come and pray for a moment or longer as they wish in a safe way.

The locations of the Holy Hours are as follows:

  • Brainerd: St. Andrew Church, led by Father Daniel Weiske
  • Cloquet: Queen of Peace Church, led by Father Justin Fish
  • Duluth: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, led by Father Anthony Wroblewski
  • Hibbing: Blessed Sacrament Church, led by Father Gabriel Waweru
  • Virginia: Resurrection Church (Eveleth), led by Father Michael Garry

Those who are unable to attend in person are invited to pray from home during the same time period.

Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine on him ....