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Betsy Kneepkens: Including faith in family travels enriches relationships.

With spring comes travel season for the Kneepkens household. There are plenty of events to attend with children in three different geographical areas outside the Northland. We have college events to attend, birthdays to celebrate, and we travel for sports for our two youngest. I enjoy the hopping from city to city, from one kid event to another. If I calculate the time, I might find I am outside Duluth more than I am at home this time of year.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Some might see traveling like this as a drag. Others, like me, see an opportunity to meet people I would not get to know otherwise, see places out of the ordinary, and dine out where the town regulars eat. As it should, our faith travels with us, whether we are in small towns or large cities. Unquestionably our travel experience is enhanced because we intentionally include our practices, devotions, and rituals of our Catholic faith.

One of these enrichments happened a couple of months ago. My daughter and I discovered the most charming Catholic figure in someone’s front yard. Perched at the top of the hill on I-35, just before Spirit Mountain, we became aware of this massive statue of Mary. This symbol of Mary seems to be watching over the Northland.

Since finding this sacred art, our family has made it a practice to begin our journey with a Hail Mary as we drive by, which provides us with an opportunity to seek her intervention for Duluth, our trip, and any needs we have at that time. Not surprisingly, that same image of Mary greets us on our way back home. Well lit up at night, this sacred art provides us with a great reminder to end our travels in prayer.

As we crisscross the Midwest, we have experienced others who, like the family with the Mary statue in their front yard, have taken it upon themselves to encourage others toward holiness. For instance, when I drive down I-39 to my son’s college in St. Louis, we will see many farm fields that have, over a series of miles, the words for the prayers for the rosary. How generous and evangelical of those families to create reminders for us travelers! What a beautiful way to turn what was otherwise a boring drive into faithful moments.

When you travel as we do, you quickly learn that there are few places in the country where a Catholic Church is not within 30 minutes of you. Therefore for almost 20 weekends a year, we attend Sunday Mass outside our home parish. As Catholics, we know the soul of the Mass is the same no matter where a person attends. However, my family has learned that every parish has a charism or character about it. We have experienced many unique perspectives of our faith just by attending Mass elsewhere. Our travels have been made more profound and more vibrant just because we are committed to having this as part of our journey. Let’s say we have been pleasantly surprised by all the difference we have seen and how incredibly alive the Catholic Church is in areas you may never expect.

On occasion, not often, I will see a country Catholic Church on the side of the road and daily Mass is going on. What an unexpected treat and even better way to encounter the Lord. Traveling is often rushed and at times stressful. There’s no better way to redirect your heart than a 30-minute daily Mass at tiny town church — always an add-on to our drive, but a slice of heaven I would not have had if I did not stop.

In a couple of instances, the only Sunday Mass we could find was at a Spanish-language Mass. Honestly, we were a bit uneasy at first, because we thought we would feel lost. However what we found was a welcoming community, pretty much the same Mass we go to each week, and delightfully easy to follow, even though spoken in a language we don’t know. What was most endearing was having the opportunity to participate in their passion and enthusiasm. The Mass to those Spanish-speaking folks was clearly a celebration of faith. If we were not living out our Sunday obligation — or, better said, desire — our family would have missed out on this beautiful experience.

Once again, while attending a sports tournament in Spooky Nook, Pennsylvania, we learned that the closest Catholic church was 15 miles away. When we approached this tiny church, I did not expect much. What I learned was truly inspiring. This parish priest shared one of the best homilies I have ever heard about the Book of Revelation. What a blessing that Mass was, and what a horrible miss it would have been had I ignored my Sunday obligation.

It seems I have countless stories about our family’s faith encounters on the road. These experiences add to the richness of our family and our faith. Traveling as a family is almost always intended to add life to a family.

As summer begins and you hit the road for vacation, trust me when I say including a spiritual component to the experience will enhance your relationship with each other and with God. I know that our family will be participating in many faith acts as we travel near and far. I also know that including Christ will make the time together an even great gift.

What an absolute blessing, and I hope the same for you! Enjoy summer.

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

June has many celebrations for us

This month of June boasts some significant liturgical feasts and diocesan celebrations.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

The weekend of June 2 celebrates the Ascension of the Lord. Jesus commissioned his disciples to baptize in his name. He ascended to the Father and sits at His right hand in glory. Traditionally, the weekdays beginning on Ascension Thursday (May 30, 40 days after Easter) leading to Pentecost Sunday, June 9, are days for us to prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete — the original novena.

On the feast of Pentecost, the celebration is more than memory. We believe that the Old Testament Feast of Passover was fulfilled in the New Testament by the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus. We also believe that the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost, which was a celebration of the receiving of the law on Mt. Sinai, was fulfilled in the New Testament Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

I will have the privilege of confirming candidates from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Raphael, St. Rose, St. James, and others in what is a new Pentecost for them. God, the Holy Spirit, descended upon the first apostles to show that He was the new law, which sealed the new and eternal covenant and consecrated them to Himself. Instead of the law that was written on stone tablets, the Holy Spirit will write the law of love upon these new disciples’ hearts. He will give them a new heart and a new Spirit. He will invite them into an intimate relationship with Him.

All of us have been baptized into one and the same Spirit and live by that same Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is continually purifying and renewing His Church. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will help our Diocese to heal and go forth to proclaim all that Jesus Christ said and did to renew the face of the earth.

On Pentecost Sunday, the Sequence, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” is said. The Easter candle is lit at all the Masses. We are dismissed with the double alleluia, and the Easter season ends with the conclusion of Evening Prayer.

Trinity Sunday follows on the weekend of June 16. Corpus Christi is celebrated on the weekend of June 25. Our Diocese will celebrate with the parishes of St. Andrew’s and St. Francis in Brainerd as they dedicate and bless their new additions. Improvements focusing on hospitality, evangelization, and sacred worship will greatly enhance the work of these vibrant parishes. A Eucharistic procession from St. Francis to St. Andrew’s will conclude the festivities — please come!

The month of June concludes with the great feasts of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests and the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 28 and 29 respectively.

Of course, included in the festivities of this month are graduations from our Catholic grade schools. Many thanks to our Catholic school principals, teachers, staffs, and parents for another exceptional year of learning! Weddings, anniversaries, including Father Eamonn Boland and Father Charlie Flynn’s 50th ordination anniversaries — ad multos annos! — and the beginning of summer are also in the mix.

Celebrate well!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Clergy assignments effective in July

Bishop Paul D. Sirba has announced the following clergy assignments, effective Wednesday, July 17.  

  • Father Paul Strommer, parochial vicar of St. Francis, Brainerd; All Saints, Baxter; and St. Thomas of the Pines, Brainerd, to parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth. 
  • Father Jeremy Bock, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary and St. May Star of the Sea, Duluth, to parochial vicar of Blessed Sacrament, Hibbing. 
  • Father Beau Braun, parochial vicar of Blessed Sacrament, Hibbing, to parochial vicar of St. Francis, Brainerd; All Saints, Baxter; and St. Thomas of the Pines, Brainerd.  
  • Father Andy Knop OMI, National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville, IL, to Administrator of St. Michael, Duluth.
  • Father Francis Kabiru, Administrator of St. Michael, Duluth, to Archdiocese of Nairobi.
  • Deacon Chico Anderson, deacon at St. Lawrence, St. Joseph, and Holy Family, Duluth, to deacon at Benedictine Living Community and St. Scholastica Monastery and College of St. Scholastica. 
  • Deacon John Foucault, deacon at St. Benedict, Duluth, to deacon at St. Lawrence and Holy Family, Duluth.  
  • Deacon James Philbin, deacon at St. Benedict, Duluth, to deacon at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth. 
  • Deacon Richard Laumeyer, deacon at St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth, to retirement. 
  • Deacon David Lindmeier, deacon at St. Michael, Duluth, to retirement. 

Deacon Kyle Eller: Lost in the fire? Notre Dame invites us to consider rebuilding other treasures

Sometimes the coming together of seemingly unrelated events sparks a new insight. In the days after the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris burned, I was preparing for a radio interview about something else, a sacred music workshop in Hibbing I’m helping with in early May.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

In the midst of this, a line from one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council came to mind: “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.”

That’s the first sentence from the chapter in the council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy — the magna carta of modern liturgical reform. If you really stop to think about what those words mean, it’s an extraordinarily bold statement. The events at Notre Dame really put its question to us. Here we are in the midst of grappling with the potential loss of the cathedral and its contents. Catholics, of course, thought (or should have thought) of the most precious thing the cathedral contained, infinitely more precious than the whole building and everything else in it, the Blessed Sacrament. We also thought of irreplaceable relics.

These things are of a different and higher order than any mere artwork.

But we were rightly grieved, too, at the thought of losing the architecture and irreplaceable and priceless works of art. Consider their worth to the human race. Now multiply that. Think of St. Peter’s in Rome. Think of all the other beautiful churches in Rome, let alone all of Europe.

For that matter, think closer to home. Last year around this time, I had the privilege of going to St. John Cantius parish in Chicago for liturgical training, and it seemed like every time I walked around a corner there was another amazing nook with relics or sacred art. Every time I step into the beautifully renovated St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls, where I have family, or even into its adoration chapel, my heart is lifted to God.

Think of the treasures even just in our own local parishes.

And here are the fathers of the Second Vatican Council saying the treasure of the church’s sacred music exceeds all of that other art. Imagine!

The rest of the chapter is about how this “treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care” by the church in her liturgy, giving Gregorian chant “pride of place,” with greater formation for clergy in sacred music, the fostering and promoting of choirs, improved versions of the chant books, liturgical training for composers and singers, and so on.

As I read it, new compositions are put in the context of this incredible patrimony of sacred music we were to receive and preserve and foster — as taking their place within and building upon that living tradition.

And then the absolute opposite of that happened.

While vestiges still remain, in many parishes, this tradition of sacred music was almost completely eradicated, replaced with music that both in form and in lyrical content is often utterly alien to it.

Over many years now, I have worked to learn this lost patrimony of sacred music myself and to share it with others in my small way through singing it and teaching it and encouraging it. It is easy for me to grieve over what might have been, what ought to have been, had the church carried out this aspect of liturgical reform in the way I believe Vatican II intended.

I can imagine magnificent plainchant adaptations, harking to ancient modal melodies of millennia-old chants, the faithful still praying in vernacular translations the rich liturgical texts that now languish largely unsung, unsaid, unnoticed in the missals.

I can imagine what it would be like had new generations of composers and choirs, formed in the mind of the church, who knew Palestrina and Byrd and the rest, built on that tradition, and what their motets might sound like during the Offertory had we invested in that since 1963.

But rather than dwell on what has been lost in the metaphorical fire, as it were, perhaps this literal fire at Notre Dame presents us an invitation to a more positive approach.

We have been reminded that beauty matters — that it can be, in fact, a way to God, even a privileged way in our difficult times of evangelization. The church even has a name for it — the “via pulchritudinis,” the “way of beauty.” Debate over how Notre Dame is to be rebuilt has rekindled in us a renewed sense of why it was built in the first place. It has, too, proposed for us the question — the examination of conscience — over why we “don’t build them like that anymore.”

Should our renewed sensitivity to these questions not transfer over to the rest of our faith life? Should we not reconsider the other things that have been lost, particularly when it’s clear they were great treasures never, ever meant to be lost? Ones that can be recovered, rebuilt?

I’m very grateful to belong to and to serve as a deacon in a parish in which plainchant and other forms of sacred music are no longer alien, no longer like a long forgotten musical “mother tongue.” They are part of our liturgical life every weekend. It is my fond hope that they become ever more so, in our parish and in many others.

It’s true that this rebuilding is difficult, especially at first. But do you know what else it is? Possible. Possible, that is, if we want it to be.

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Should the Cathedral of Notre Dame be rebuilt?

I have never been very adventurous, so I haven’t sought out trips to exotic places. I had found my family life and what all that has encompassed exciting enough.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Five years ago, I heard about a pilgrimage to Europe that was being set up in our diocese. Immediately I found the trip to holy places like Lourdes and Fatima, along with sacred sites in Spain and France, intriguing. I rejected any notion that I would travel, because I had four kids at home with plenty to do. Shortly after I learned about the trip, I called my sister, who was a recent empty-nester, to see if she would be interested in the information. In that instant, my sister said, “Well, let’s go!” I was caught off guard, because I don’t do things like that.

When my sister proposed the idea that we go on this pilgrimage, I dismissed the concept almost as soon as the suggestion was made. Coincidentally, at the same time she encouraged me to go with her, I was pondering a way to sincerely thank a large number of people who had helped my family through a difficult time. It did not take too much for the Holy Spirit to inspire me to see the pilgrimage as a means to prayerfully thank others through my relationship with God.

To make a long story shorter, out of this proposal to go on a pilgrimage and my need to express gratitude, I came up with my “Thanksgiving Pilgrimage” — ten days filled with praying for the intentions of so many kind people, in holy places throughout Europe. This concept seemed to satisfy an urge to respond to kindness in a way that at least partially answered my need to give back.

Many amazing experiences happened in those ten days, but one particular moment is weighing heavy on my heart right now. Toward the end of the pilgrimage, our group was able to go to Paris and spend time at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Not only was I able to tour the facility, I was able to sit in prayer offering up my intentions for all the people I dedicated the trip to. It never occurred to me that the near demise of this 850-year old Cathedral would happen just five years later. Like the rest of the world, I watched sadly as the building burned.

I have reflected much in the past few days about the Cathedral, my experience and what I think should be done with the structure going forward. I believe, architecturally and aesthetically, few buildings are more brilliant. For me, the Cathedral spoke more about the story of our faith than the grandeur of the structure. When I was there, I saw many exhaling their oohs and ahhs, which was a commentary on what a masterpiece the building was. I wonder, however, if the original designers and artisans would have preferred the place be filled with worshipers who inhaled the spirit, the meaning, and the purpose of their work instead.

My stomach ached when I heard the French president say that he pledged to rebuild Notre Dame in five years. What burned down in mid-April was a visible sign of two centuries of craftsmen’s prayers offering up their skills for God’s glory. Five years of construction to return it to its former design, as proposed by the French president, although well-intended, sounds like the true meaning and purpose of the structure have been lost.

For those that have traveled to Europe, you will quickly discover that many churches and basilica have become museums. Group photos or selfies have replaced the purpose of prayer and worship in these buildings. My limited experience there would say, the Cathedral of Notre Dame was not too far from the same rep rposing.

France boasts some 13 million visitors to Notre Dame each year. Instead of 30,000 daily tourists, I can only imagine the building originators would have preferred that Cathedral boasted 30,000 faithful attending Mass each day. Or better yet, instead of the media reporting on images of Jesus’ face in the flames, it would be greater if commentators marveled at the fact that the Body of Christ, soul and divinity, remained present in Notre Dame for nearly a millennium. Now that speaks of purpose!

So should the Cathedral of Notre Dame be rebuilt? For me, this is a difficult question. Should the artisan’s prayers of two centuries be reduced to five years of construction? I can’t say that I support that. Should fear of the economic impact on France be the reason for the rebuild? I struggle to feel comfortable about that notion too.

If few people question the fact that it took less than three days to raise over a billion dollars to restore what many consider a tourist attraction, should we not ask if rebuilding this “memorial” is a wise use of money? I think we should question it.

If the French call the Cathedral of Notre Dame the soul of their country, what does that say when only five percent of French Catholics go to Sunday Mass each week? I think the Church in France needs to answer some very challenging questions first.

If the burning of the building has stirred the hearts of many because they have realized a tangible sign of their relations with God is no longer present, that is hopeful. If the rebuilders’ purpose is to glorify God in a holy way, then further dialogue is optimistic. If contributors realize a greater need exists to serve the poor and vulnerable in France, then holiness may be more rightly ordered.

The burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and its reconstruction is a larger question about our Catholic faith and how we can serve our heavenly Father. This horrific incident cannot just be solved by generous people writing huge checks. Since the world cares about this Cathedral, the world must dialogue about the spirit, the meaning, and the purpose of this worship space going forward.

When we have carefully discerned and listened to the Holy Spirit, the church will know how to rightly proceed. I am not sure that I will be as adventurous as I was five years ago, but if I do I will be eager to see how the church discerned a holy solution to the burning down of Notre Dame.

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

Bishop Paul Sirba: Sacred places, like the burial place of Jesus, make faith come alive

Not quite two years ago, the Holy Land Review published a series of articles on the restoration of the Edicule, or shrine, that encloses the tomb of Jesus within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Since the fourth century, a succession of churches have surrounded this sacred place.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

As we know from the Sacred Scriptures, Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus and along with Nicodemus took it to a place near the site of crucifixion and laid Jesus in a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried (John 19:38-21).

It was only the second time since 1555 and the first time since 1809 that this shrine built around the tomb of Christ has been opened to reveal the original limestone of the tomb. Scientists and the restoration team exercised extreme care in lifting the marble slabs over what is believed to be the place of Jesus’ burial.

Having studied for a semester in the Holy Land many years ago, the account and testimonies of scientists, archeologists, and Franciscans working on the project fascinated me. I hadn’t realized how many portions of the original stone comprising the sides of the tomb as well as the stone thought to be the resting-place of Jesus’ body were enclosed by the bricks and stone of the Edicule.

I was intrigued by the statement of Professor Moropoulou, a distinguished physicist, speaking as a scientist, but not hesitant to talk about her faith, when she responded to media reports of electro-magnetic disturbances at the moment when the tomb was opened.

She said: “It is a fact, and as a scientist I owe it to myself to declare the facts: Three of our instruments and two of our computers were either disrupted or stopped working. Checks were made, and we had to change some of the pieces.”

She did not speculate further, although as a believer, she said: “I was surprised at the life that filled this tomb” (Holy Land Review Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer 2017, p. 35).

Holy places have made an impact on the lives of believers since the beginning of time. We are incarnational beings, after all. Sacred places help us to encounter the divine. We set places “apart,” which is what “sacred” means, to dedicate them to the honor and glory of God. During the Easter Season the empty tomb is venerated, because Jesus was victorious over sin, suffering, and death and the place, the tomb, makes it tangible to us. Jesus is truly risen!

During the month of May, I have the great privilege of celebrating the majority of Confirmations in the Diocese of Duluth. What a gift! Mary’s month, in sacred spaces across our beloved Diocese, young men and women will be coming to a deeper faith as they receive this great sacrament and are sent forth as missionary disciples. The risen Lord continues to invite new followers to proclaim the Good News. Please hold them in prayer.

From the Edicule to our own churches and homes, don’t forget to pray the family rosary this month of May. Our Lady encountered her risen Son with a love that helps set our hearts on fire. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Letter from Bishop Paul Sirba

A letter from Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba, updating the faithful on the diocesan bankruptcy, was read in parishes across the diocese the weekend of May 4-5. The letter can be read here

Father Michael Schmitz: How much exercise and fitness are too much?

I’ve recently been more and more interested in exercise and in keeping fit. I am a husband and father and want to be able to play with my kids. You seem like someone who exercises. How do I know if I am placing too much emphasis on being physically fit and when have I crossed over into mere vanity?

Fr. Mike

Father Michael
Ask Fr. Mike

I really appreciate this question. Not only is it a question that I return to for myself quite often, but I have been asked this by many people. I don’t want to give anything away, but I need to be up front with the disclaimer that the final answer will ultimately involve you monitoring your own behavior and interior disposition. There will not be a black and white “do this, don’t do that” answer.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some important cues to pay attention to.

First, Catholicism affirms the goodness of the body. There have been philosophies and religions that have disparaged or minimized the importance of the body (as well as some that have placed too much emphasis on the body). But Catholicism constantly affirms that human beings are composed of body and soul. We are not merely bodies, and we are not merely souls. Because of this, we can accurately say that “your body is you.” Of course, your soul is also “you,” but for the moment it might help to tease out the value of the body.

While the body (as well as the soul) is subject to the wounds of the Fall, it retains an intrinsic goodness. St. John Paul II wrote, “The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible the invisible, the spiritual, and the divine.” The body reveals the person. Your body reveals you. Your body is the “vehicle” by which you learn things, come into contact with this world, and know and express love. The body is the tool that God used to redeem the world. It was precisely Jesus Christ’s willingness to live, suffer, die, and rise in his body that has saved us.

Easter reveals the dignity of the body: your body is destined for resurrection! Along those lines, the way we live in the body will determine our eternity. St. Paul says that we will be accountable for our actions in the body (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). He also noted, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

All of that is to say that the body is good and the body matters. Your body has value.

At the same time, the body does not have absolute value. The body is a good, but it is not an absolute good. This leads us to note that there are other things more important than the body. There are things that have greater value than this body. The First Letter to the Corinthians states, “Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:26). While it is destined for glory, the body is also prone to corruption.

While athletic discipline can be a help towards virtue, there are limitations.

First, there is the limitation of virtues that are naturally developed in athletic training. I always find it interesting when people seem to automatically associate fitness with good character. They will sign their kids up for sports because they “build character.”

While there are many character-building elements involved in physical training (things like hard work, discipline, perseverance, resilience, etc.), there are just as many vices present. While we admire the athlete who has worked hard and demonstrated the “triumph of the human spirit” in competition, athletic training can just as easily foster selfishness, ambition, and unhealthy comparison and competition, as well. If athletics were an unadulterated good, then every professional athlete would be a model of virtue. We know that this is not true.

Second, there are dangers inherent with any good thing that can be made into an ultimate thing. You wrote that you wanted to avoid vanity. That is a good thing to want to avoid. On that point, I know plenty of people who seem vain about the fact that they never exercise. They will boast of this as if it were an accomplishment to sit on the couch. Vanity can creep in regardless of what we choose to do (or not do). In addition, while vanity is possible, those dedicated to athletics are much more prone to far more serious temptations: identity and idolatry.

We have a tendency to define ourselves by our “wins” or our “weaknesses.” I have met many athletes who have not merely given their thoughts over to vanity, but they have actually associated their worth and their identity with their fitness level. I see this all of the time with our college athletes. For each of them, the day comes when they have their last game, their last race, or their last performance. These are college athletes, which means that they have worked incredibly hard and sacrificed a lot of their lives for their sport. And suddenly, they “used to be.” They “used to be” a baseball player. They “used to be” a cross-country runner. They “used to be” an athlete. Who are they now that they don’t have that anymore? A lot of our athletes go through a mini-identity crisis once their time competing at a certain level is taken away. This is a sign that something has gotten out of balance.

Speaking of balance, the temptation to idolatry is always present among really good things. Athletics and physical training are really good things. The problem is that we often have a tendency to make idols out of really good things. Therefore, an athlete will just have to watch to make sure that God alone remains as the Lord of one’s life.

Third, we have limited time in this life. There are so many positive benefits to physical exercise (not the least of which is being able to play with your kids!). There is a mental clarity and alertness that can come with regular exercise. In our over-distracted culture, the ability to be alone with one’s thoughts while on a walk or a run can almost be a daily retreat. Exercise is often time well-spent.

I invite you to see it in that light: you are “spending time.” I believe that physical exercise has more inherent value than most of the things we Americans do with our time, but there will always be a point of diminishing returns. There will always be a point where the benefits are no longer worth the amount of time we are investing in it.

I find a lot of value in the perspective of St. Francis of Assisi. He called his body “Brother Ass.” He did not despise it. He valued his body. His body could defy his will, but he trained it to obey him. St. Francis was aware that “Brother Ass” could revolt against him and get out of control, so he learned to master it. He fed it and trained it as a valuable part of himself. His sense of fitness was incredibly functional. That kind of functional fitness seems like a good thing to shoot for.

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.

Press release from the Diocese of Duluth

The Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, and the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, comprised of survivors of clergy sexual abuse, have reached agreement for a consensual resolution of the Diocese of Duluth Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding, which includes the filing of a Disclosure Statement and a Joint Plan of Reorganization, which will be filed in the near future. This constitutes an agreement in principle toward a complete resolution of the Diocese’s bankruptcy.

The Disclosure Statement and Joint Plan of Reorganization will be expressly subject to approval by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Minnesota and will require that a Disclosure Statement be approved prior to the balloting for the Plan that will be sent out to the survivors for their approval. The Plan terms have the support of counsel for nearly all of the survivors in the Duluth case, Jeff Anderson and Associates.

The Plan anticipates contributions from the Diocese itself and virtually all of the 75 parishes of the Catholic community in the Diocese, as well as other Catholic entities. In addition to substantial contributions from these parties, the majority of the funding of the Plan will come from the insurance carriers for the Diocese.

The Plan ultimately will distribute approximately $40 million, with more than $39 million funding a Distribution Trust for the benefit of the survivors, upon conclusion of the Court proceedings that require approval of the Disclosure Statement and allow for voting on the joint Plan. It is anticipated this will be a three- to four-month process.

Both the Diocese and the survivors Committee are committed to moving the process forward as quickly as possible, while still fully complying with the legal procedures necessary to obtain Bankruptcy Court approval.

Bishop says 'love of Christ' compels him to proclaim Gospel of life

Preservation of the family, marriage and the unborn were the main themes of the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Washington April 23.

Bishop Olmsted
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix speaks April 23, during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

"Faith in the crucified and risen Christ shields us from two cold and deadly sins: arrogant presumption and cynical despair," said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, the guest speaker. "Neither of which are appropriate in a Christian leader. The enemy of our souls does not care which we prefer."

Bishop Olmsted, who is a consultant to the pro-life committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the matter of legal abortion has defined his ministry, since he was ordained a priest in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1973, the year of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand.

"It is my pastoral duty to proclaim the Gospel of life and the protection in law of the most vulnerable among us. The love of Christ compels me."

Bishop Olmsted also recalled the words of St. John Paul II at a Mass on the National Mall in October 1979: "We will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life."

Speaking of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, recently blocked by House Democrats, Bishop Olmsted asked, "Where does blatant disregard for a child's life come from? From hardened hearts. A child demands love, and love costs."

"Any rejection of bodiliness," he added, "will immediately target two beautiful but demanding and sometimes inconvenient realities: marriage and the human child." Marriage, he said, "stands now in the way of the gender ideology. We Christians will stand for the reality of marriage today in our homes and the public square, even when facing persecution today."

A rapidly lowering birth rate in the United States, he said, means that the warning about contraception in St. Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," has come true, and "the disaster invited by theologians, bishops, priests and laity who protested Paul VI's prophetic letter is upon us," with sexual pleasure separated from procreation. "Enough!"

"Christians are called not to complacency, but to greatness, to have hearts great enough to be filled with God," Bishop Olmsted concluded.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, spoke briefly about President Donald Trump's commitment to religious liberty.

"The president has allowed us Christians, of all denominations, to be very vocal about their faith and to prioritize our faith," he said. "Over the past two-and-a-half years, I think you can see the principles of our faith being manifested." Trump has addressed the annual March for Life rally via a video hookup the past two years.

"I can assure you," Mulvaney added, that he has sat in the Oval Office many times when Trump has admonished foreign leaders and diplomats in saying, "You're not doing enough to take care of the Christians in your country," or has praised them with "thank you for taking care of the Christians in your country."

"I won't lie to you, that that's pretty powerful stuff. To be able to be there, to be part of that, has been very invigorating," said Mulvaney, a member of Opus Dei and a graduate of Georgetown University.

"I'm comfortable as a Catholic, even though I'm working for a president who is not Catholic, that the principles of our faith are alive and well and well respected in this administration and driving many of our policies," he added.

The 1,400 attendees gave a standing ovation to Ted and Julie Sandmann, parents of Nick Sandmann, the Covington (Kentucky) Catholic High School student who was thrown into the center of a national spotlight in January when videos of him and his classmates interacting with Native Americans and others near Washington's Lincoln Memorial went viral.

Also garnering a loud ovation was Abby Johnson, the pro-life activist who runs And Then There Were None, a ministry to former abortion clinic workers, who was recently portrayed in the film drama "Unplanned," which proved to be successful at the box office.

"The critics, they thought we'd make 40 bucks, and we're sitting on $17 million right now," she said. The film, which cost $6 million to make, is her story as a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who eventually rejected abortion to join the pro-life movement.

"I'm waking up every day getting emails from people; who told me they walked into the film pro-choice and walked out pro-life. This is why we decided to do 'Unplanned' -- for the conversion of hearts."

Also speaking were Sister Bethany Madonna, vocations director of the Sisters of Life, and Curtis Martin, the founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

The breakfast has been held annually since 2004. The event was established in 2004 in response to St. John Paul's call for a new evangelization. George W. Bush has the only president to address the gathering, doing so from 2005 to 2008. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the breakfast in 2017.

- By Kurt Jensen / Catholic News Service