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Father Michael Schmitz: What does it mean for something to be blessed?

I recently became Catholic and keep hearing about all of the stuff you have that is “blessed.” Someone even gave me a holy card that they said had been blessed. I like the idea, I just don’t know what it means for something to be blessed.

I am glad that you are asking this question. Even though you haven’t been Catholic for very long, you know that it is good for Catholics to ask questions. In this case, your question is one that not a lot of Catholics even know about. Hopefully this response will not only help you, but them as well.

You are correct in noting that almost anything can be blessed

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

For a thing to be blessed means that it becomes holy. In fact, we often use those two words interchangeably. They convey the same sense of being “set apart.”

In the Old Testament, God calls His people to be holy, or he tells them that the Sabbath day will be “holy unto the Lord.” This particular sense of holiness highlights the “otherness” of someone or something who is blessed. It is no longer ordinary but has been “set apart.” If we stop for a moment and consider what it meant for Israel to be holy in practical terms, we quickly see that it means that they had to be different. For God’s Chosen People to be “blessed” or “holy,” it would mean that they couldn’t just live like everyone else and they couldn’t just look like everyone else. They would have to conduct themselves differently. This is one of the reasons the People of Israel had so many unusual laws governing what they ate and what they wore. They were set apart, and this meant that they had to live the blessing — they had to live differently.

Now, to be “blessed” did not merely mean to be “set apart.” It meant to be set apart for something. There is no virtue in simply being different. Israel was holy because it was set apart for the Lord. To be blessed (or to have an object blessed) is to be set apart for a purpose. Another way to word it: to be blessed is to be set apart for God’s purposes. It is not simply to be “removed from use,” but to be “elevated to a higher purpose and use.” You could also think of the term “consecrated.” In this sense, you could see how certain people or things were “consecrated” for a purpose: how Samson and John the Baptist were both consecrated from the womb, or how the altar in the Temple was consecrated for the worship of God.

When we bring forth an object or a person to be blessed, we are presenting that person or thing to God so that (by the power of the Holy Spirit and the invocation of the Name of Jesus), they would be set apart for God’s purposes. For example, many people will ask me if I can bless their cross on a chain or a bracelet. When they bring it to me, it is merely jewelry. But after it is blessed, it ceases to be jewelry that is nothing more than an accessory to one’s outfit: that object has been set apart for a purpose. It will still be worn like jewelry, but the purpose for which it is worn has been changed, because the object has been consecrated for a higher purpose. In the case of the cross around one’s neck, the higher use is that it will, from then on, only point to Christ and his saving death and resurrection.

Why do we do this, though? Why bless all of these ordinary objects around us? We do this for the simple reason that we are very much like ancient Israel. Our tendency is also to want to be just like everyone else. Having all of these reminders around us that have been consecrated to the Lord assists us and reminds us that we too have been consecrated to God.

Think of part of the Mass on the feast day of Saint Blaise. On that day, faithful people show up and have their throats blessed. The prayer reads like this: “Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is a prayer for protection and healing. But consider this: for a thing to be blessed is for that thing to be consecrated for a purpose. All of those who present themselves (and their throats) to be blessed are essentially offering their throats to be set apart for God’s purposes.

I like reflecting on this and being reminded that I must use my throat (my voice) for God’s purposes only. If my throat has been blessed then it is no longer merely “my throat,” and I cannot use it however I want; I have to use it to point to Jesus and his saving death and resurrection.

But wait, you’ve been baptized! Which means that you have been blessed. You have been made holy, consecrated for the Lord at your baptism. To be holy does not mean being perfect, but it does mean being set apart for God and his purposes. Because of that fact, all of us who have been baptized have received a very high call: to always be people who, by our lives, point to Christ and his saving death and resurrection

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. Reach him at [email protected].

Jason Adkins: Combatting the ‘evil within’ is our first responsibility

In politics today, people have fallen into the habit of condemning the evil in other persons, groups, structures, or oppressor classes, while they themselves embrace the role of victim.

It is hard to see a way out of our current predicament, other than a new Great Awakening through a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Jason Adkins
Jason Adkins
Faith in the Public Arena

But the true enemy, from a Christian perspective, is never just something “out there.” Rather, as the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reminds us in Placuit Deo, “the evil that is most damaging to the human person is that which comes from his or her heart.”

Solzhenitsyn’s witness

Who would know better about having ideological enemies than the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918- 2008)? He spent seven years in Soviet labor camps and three years in exile before being exonerated.

Though Solzhenitsyn was steadfast in denouncing the destructive ideology of the Soviet regime, Solzhenitsyn knew he could not succumb to personal hatred of individuals. He wrote: “It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” Solzhenitsyn reminds us that the struggle for justice in our world is won or lost in the soul of each person.

Despite the evil inflicted upon him by others, he knew that the battle against evil for which he was most responsible was the one within his own heart. The same is true for each one of us.

The evil ‘out there’

Our culture views social relations increasingly through a victim-oppressor ideology, and we all have been conditioned to see ourselves as victims of some enemy class that seeks to impose its evil worldview upon us.

This trend can be seen on both sides of the political spectrum. One side blames an assortment of alleged bigots and status quo seekers — corporations, Christian nationalists, members of the patriarchy, and white people — for the oppression of pretty much everyone else.

Meanwhile, the other side demonizes those branded as subversive elites and infiltrators: Marxists, Wall Street, multiculturalists, Hollywood, Muslims, immigrants, and the media.

Each group’s hatred for its supposed enemies is palpable; even worse, one is guilty by association — all Republicans are misogynist white supremacists, and all Democrats are anti-American communist enemies of the people.

There is, of course, a certain comfort in this approach, as it is certainly far easier to condemn the wicked “out there” than to recognize both our own sinfulness as a cause of social disorder and a concurrent need for transformation.

But this growing hatred cannot end well. Coupled with the lack of civil debate and discourse, it will likely end in more bloodshed — some of which we’ve already begun to see in the Charlottesville violence; the mass shootings in Charleston and Pittsburgh; separate shootings that targeted congressional Republicans and the conservative Family Research Council; and in the clashes caused by the “Antifa” (anti-fascist) groups.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about how President Trump’s demagoguery has contributed to the growing divide in our country, which is undoubtedly true. But his 2016 election opponent is no better: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” Hilary Clinton said in a CNN interview. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”

Note the implications of Mrs. Clinton’s comment: our political opponent is evil and out to destroy all good things; we, on the other hand, have chosen the path of righteousness, and are oppressed by the powers-that-be because of it.

This kind of rhetoric is a continued recipe for more divisiveness, hatred, and violence.

The line through the heart

This does not mean we need to accept harmful, violent, and racist ideologies. In fact, we have the responsibility as Christians to confront them. But we must always see things through the lens of a broken, sinful, and hurting world, recognizing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), especially and including ourselves.

There is no true justice where God is not worshipped. There is no order in the state or in society when there is no order in the soul.

To let the prophet Solzhenitsyn have the final word:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.


Action alert

As Catholics, we can begin to mend the fractures so prevalent in today’s politics by reaching out in civic friendship to our newly elected officials, whether we voted for them or not. You can find out who your newly elected officials are by calling (651) 296-2146 or visiting www.leg.state.mn.us.

Reaching out to your elected officials may seem daunting or even unpleasant, but it doesn’t have to be. By attending Catholics at the Capitol, the Minnesota Catholic Conference will equip you to take the first steps in building these important relationships. Join 2,000+ Catholics on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, for this day of prayer, inspiration, education, and advocacy. You’ll hear from incredible witnesses who live out the faith in public, including actor Jim Caviezel. You’ll also be equipped to speak with your legislators about current issues affecting life and dignity.

Space is limited for this impactful day, so don’t delay! Bring your friends, family, and fellow parishioners. Get tickets and select your transportation option by visiting www.CatholicsAtTheCapitol.org. We’ll see you in St. Paul on 2.19.19!

USCCB meeting provoked ‘surprise and full range of emotions,’ bishop says

Bishop Paul Sirba said that when he and his fellow bishops learned that the Holy See had asked them not to vote on a set of proposals regarding the clergy sex abuse scandal during the annual November meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the announcement was met among the bishops with “surprise and a full range of emotions.”

While the proposals that had been put forward may have needed refining, Bishop Sirba felt they were solid, and he had been in “full support” of them. What’s more, the bishops were bringing to the meeting the fruit of having dialogued with the faithful in their dioceses.

“I had had opportunity to listen to the priests and their concerns and our deacons and their wives and their concerns and numerous of the lay faithful who have expressed a desire that we take action, strongly and firmly,” Bishop Sirba said.

But he also knew something else. “I pledge obedience to the Holy Father, as well,” he said. So he took the moment as an opportunity to step back and consider how to remain open to the situation.

That seems to have been aided by what Bishop Sirba described as a “very powerful prayer experience” on the first day of the meeting.

Included in that prayer experience were testimonies from victims of clergy sexual abuse, which the bishop described as powerful both for what was expressed and for the people who expressed those things, who remain practicing, fervent Catholics.

He said it “reinforced our need to be doing all we can … but also, in the context of prayer, it gave hope.”

The bishop said he remains in favor of the revised proposals Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, is taking to the Vatican meeting.

“I still would like to see that we take the strongest possible actions at the earliest possible moment,” Bishop Sirba said. “… The reality that’s been revealed points to serious moral failures on the part of those in church leadership, and it’s caused a great deal of anger and sadness, confusion, and has raised many questions among the lay faithful.”

While fixing these problems remains “the work of our lifetime,” he said he is hopeful God is opening the church up to a more universal response to a problem that’s “not just here in the United States but a global one.”

Echoing Cardinal Dinardo, he said, “My hope is first of all grounded in Christ, who desires that the church be purified and that our efforts bear fruit.”

The Archbishop McCarrick vote

Another stunning moment of the November meeting came when the bishops attempted to vote on a statement supporting the investigation into disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is accused of sexual abuse of both minors and seminarians.

After debate over the wording, the measure was voted down.

For his part, Bishop Sirba said his sense is that there is more unanimity than the vote might suggest and that the “sense of the bishops is that there be a full investigation surrounding the situation of Archbishop McCarrick.”

He suggested the unusual way the measure came to the floor, with language being drafted by hundreds of bishops, bogged things down and contributed to the vote.

Justifed anger

The meeting’s outcomes produced a major uproar, and Bishop Sirba said he understands it.

“I think the anger is justified, but it’s also an emotion that should motivate us to action, and then for us, individually, it’s to discern what’s the positive response that I take to the anger I feel.”

And without taking away anything from what the church needs to do to fix these serious problems, he said one response of everyone should be a recommitment to the call to holiness.

“I truly believe that reform of the church happens by people responding to God’s grace,” he said. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” He said he has been personally motivated by his encounters with many Catholics who, in response, have resolved on becoming “more intentional about living out their faith.” He said he is seeing “good Catholics becoming better Catholics.”

And he underscored the need to have “hope and trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who in all things loves us, encourages us, and will help us no matter what circumstances we face.”

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Bishop Paul Sirba: Advent waiting is a time to enter the mystery of God’s ways

We have become accustomed to instant answers and ready responses. Just say, “OK, Google.” Except, of course, when there aren’t any. Sometimes we are deprived of support, stressed by the unfairness of a situation, and uncertain about what to do next, and no simple answer is available. In faith, then, the soul is given the choice of the long view and the ultimate promises held out to us by God. We practice the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. We trust in God. Some answers will be given only in heaven.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

Advent waiting is an opportunity for us to enter into the mystery of the ways of God. Along with the prophets of old and contemporaneously with our fellow travelers on the pilgrimage of faith, we seek God and look forward to His return in glory.

The “Hid Divinity,” to use a term coined by Dionysius the Areopagite in the early Church in connection with the Nativity of Jesus Christ, we meditate on the reality of religion that the most important things in faith come to us in disguise. The God of heaven and earth comes to us as a baby in swaddling clothes, as a prisoner hanging on a cross, as a piece of unleavened bread.

Why? Couldn’t our salvation have been worked out in another way? We believe this is the best way because it is the way God chose to do it.

Holy Mother Church offers us the days of Advent to reflect on and enter into the mystery of salvation history. Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, we ponder truths that we cannot fully understand. With God’s grace and a lived faith we can penetrate the truths of our faith more deeply, it is true, but the mystery of God remains. Our little human minds cannot comprehend God.

Set some goals for yourself this Advent. Ask God to give you the grace to celebrate the season well. Pray that God will bless you and your family and help you to enter into Christmas with joy.

Schedule time for silence. Just as we make doctor’s appointments, plan shopping sprees and pickups and drop-offs, so we can schedule a few moments of Advent silence. Set aside an hour of Eucharistic Adoration, commit to coming to Sunday Mass a few minutes early, pray with your family using Sacred Scripture, and pause for a few minutes of silence after reading passages from the Old Testament or New that tell of the Good News of the coming of Jesus.

Go to confession. Our parishes add additional times during Advent for the celebration of this great Sacrament. St. John the Baptism challenged the people to prepare the way of the Lord by clearing a straight path to their hearts. We as Catholics prepare by going to confession. “The whole power of the Sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1468).

Reach out in love to a neighbor. Examples abound, and opportunities are endless. Try to be open about your faith and why you find joy in Christ’s love and mercy this Advent. Invite someone to Mass or RCIA. Especially be mindful of the poor.

“When a profound silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, bounded from heaven’s royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14-15).

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Two men ordained deacons

Bishop Paul Sirba ordained Steve Schuler and Chuck Welte as deacons at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary Nov. 25, the Solemnity of Christ the King, before a large congregation of family, friends, and other faithful.

Both are transplants to northern Minnesota. Deacon Schuler, a retired law enforcement officer, and his wife Sue have two sons and live in Grand Rapids, where he will serve St. Joseph parish. He also will serve St. Augustine in Cohasset. Deacon Welte and his wife Lynn own a grocery store in the Brainerd area and have five children. They are from Immaculate Heart Church in Crosslake. He will also serve St. Emily in Emily.

Giving God more time
Deacon Ordination 2019
Chuck Welte (front) and Steve Schuler kneel before Bishop Paul Sirba as he prays over them during their ordination Mass Nov. 25. The two were ordained permanent deacons for the Diocese of Duluth. (Photo by Buzzy Winter / For The Northern Cross)

Deacon Schuler grew up in a farming community in central Iowa and first came to northern Minnesota for family vacations, and he fell in love with the lake country. “After high school, I moved to northern Minnesota in the Walker area,” he said.

God didn’t play a big role in his life at the time, but when he met Sue, a Catholic, that began to change. He attended RCIA and was baptized and confirmed before they were married in 1979.

Even then, through 27 years working for the Minnesota State Patrol, he says he “didn’t give Jesus a lot of time” while raising a family and pursuing his job and other interests.

But that changed upon his retirement in 2012. He joined a Catholic book club and did Bible studies and started reading Catholic books, and he returned to confession after many years away. He says in part he was challenged by his son, Daniel, who is discerning a call to the priesthood with the Carmelites in New York.

With some prompting by the late Deacon Jim Sura and with “prayer, discernment, time, [and] patience,” he discerned that God had a call for him in diaconal ministry.

“I just had to get out of his way, surrender myself to him, and trust in him,” Deacon Schuler said.

“The Lord has blessed me an empathetic, compassionate, and loving heart,” he said. He says he has already found “humbled enjoyment” bringing Communion to hospital patients, those in assisted living and nursing homes and to the homebound and is looking forward to assisting his pastor in other needed ministries. He and Sue also teach RCIA, adult faith formation, and marriage preparation.

’Something was missing’

Deacon Welte lived in Rockford, Illinois, until he was 12 years old and then lived in northern Wisconsinn until his senior year in high school, when his family moved back to Illinois. He studied aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota, where he met Lynn. His career path took him into the Air Force and then into working as a contractor intelligence agencies, living in West Virginia and commuting to Washington, D.C. He also earned a master’s degree in telecommunications and computers.

“But something was missing,” he said.

His diocese in West Virginia had a deacon program, but the time wasn’t right, and then the diocese didn’t run the program after the first group.

“I was secretly relieved, because I was starting to feel a call from God regarding the diaconate, but I didn’t want to have to make the choice to pursue it,” he said.

When the program restarted in 2010, Deacon Welte said he was torn. With a growing family, a busy work schedule, and formation taking place a six-hour drive away, he “reluctantly decided not to enter formation.”

But soon after, he visited Minnesota and met with Deacon David Craig, who was then director of the deacon program for the Diocese of Duluth. Deacon Craig invited him to consider coming to Minnesota if he was serious about entering the program.

“As improbable as it sounds, 16 months later we were moving back to Minnesota, having bought a grocery store, and 16 months after that I entered formation,” Deacon Welte said.

He said God has blessed him with gifts of service and teaching, reflected in 10 years of teaching conformation and years of working on mission projects in the Appalachians. But one of the things he’s learned in formation is to “love what the will of God has called me to do.” By doing that, he believes he will serve the people of the diocese even in the midst of challenging times for the church.

The two new deacons begin ministry in their parishes immediately and continue their formation until spring.

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Faith in the Public Arena: (Civic) friendship is an apostolate

When you read this, the 2018 elections will have passed. The anger will continue to boil, and new opportunities for outrage will undoubtedly abound. The demonization of political opponents will persist, and the saddling of the American presidency with criminal investigations and threats of impeachment will likely become a permanent feature of our politics.

Jason Adkins
Jason Adkins
Faith in the Public Arena

It is hard to see a way out of our current predicament, other than a new Great Awakening through a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Yet, whatever the designs of Providence for the American republic, we know what Catholics must continue to do to foster moral and civic renewal: participate in the public arena as faithful citizens, embodying Pope Francis’s reminder that politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it serves the common good.

In short, we must be true friends to our elected offi cials and our fellow citizens.

Friendship, not power

The idea of politics as friendship seems counterintuitive, given that politics often looks like a power game, in which the primary goal is to defeat our opponents in elections and then impose our will upon them. In this struggle for control, the ends justify the means, and those who do not share our political opinions are not just of a different mind, but of a different kind — they are “one of them,” or “the other.”

But the church proposes a different idea of politics — one that goes back to the ancients. Politics comes from the Greek word polis, meaning “city.” Some of us live in the polis of Minneapolis, for example.

Politics, the communal process of deliberation within the polis, was not a wrestle for control; it was fi rst and foremost a task of friendship. This friendship shared among citizens was shaped by the pursuit of virtue — and this made it possible for citizens to come together as equals to deliberate how they ought to order their common life in pursuit of the good.

The church embraced this understanding of politics, identifying its proper purpose as the pursuit of the common good.

To have strong communities (literally, a sharing of gifts), everyone needs to play a role and offer his or her perspective. We each have unique gifts to share in that great conversation about how we ought to bring about the good in our city. We need to learn to see ourselves as all being fundamentally on the same “side.”

Living civic friendship

Yes, political debates can get heated because important issues are at stake.

Our battle for justice and the common good, however, is not against people, but, as St. Paul reminds us, against the powers and principalities (Ephesians 6:12). It is a spiritual battle. That is why Cardinal Robert Sarah could say in a recent speech that “A Christian does not fi ght anyone. A Christian has no enemy to defeat. Christ asks Peter to put his sword into his scabbard. This is the command of Christ to Peter, and it concerns every Christian worthy of the name.” This is an important lesson: in politics: We may have temporary opponents, but we must never mistake them for permanent enemies.

Our discourse has become so coarse, and so much anger fl ows through our nation, because our horizons have become political rather than eschatological. When there is no ultimate justice meted out by God, we look for politics to bring it about. And it cannot. Hence, when we place our hope in princes, we will always be disappointed. And that is where the cycle of anger and political decay begins and sets in.

Christians must model a different way: a model of friendship. Just as any good apostolate must be rooted in relationship, fostering friendship with others through friendship with Christ, faithful citizenship is no different.

We must reach out to both our elected offi cials and fellow citizens in friendship, offering ourselves as resources and as friends in the important conversations about how we ought to order our lives together.

Sometimes we will disagree, and that is okay. But disagreements need not lead to division or demonization. Sometimes, people will see us as enemies, and some will even persecute us. But politics lived as true friendship will change hearts, build stronger communities and undo the knots of division and resentment plaguing our communities.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.


Action Alert

How does one begin? The bishops of Minnesota created Catholics at the Capitol and Capitol 101 events as a way to grow in faithful citizenship and civic friendship. Through these opportunities, Catholics are formed and sent to be true resources — friends — to their elected offi cials and communities. The next Catholics at the Capitol event takes place in St. Paul on Feb. 19, 2019. Join over 2,000 Catholics in a day of education, inspiration, prayer, and advocacy. Grow in your knowledge and courage to be a faithful citizen! Join your voice with others to bring a Catholic perspective on issues to our state Capitol. Tickets are now on sale! Visit catholicsatthecapitol.org for more information and to register. Space is limited; register early!

Bishop Paul Sirba: Accountability helped by the assistance of the whole People of God

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

St. Paul established a Christian community in Corinth about the year 51. The city, a major seaport and commercial crossroads, struggled with issues of moral depravity, factionalism, questions of leadership, and other cultural woes that spilled into its celebration of the liturgy. St. Paul courageously responded to issues of conscience in the light of faith in Jesus Christ — there really is nothing new under the sun.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

As a church we are facing numerous challenges in our own day. Foremost is dealing with the clergy sexual abuse crisis. For years we have been dealing with the painful consequences of the sins surrounding the sexual abuse of minors. Our priority has been to bring healing to those who have been hurt and to do all in our power to prevent this sin from happening again.

Like you, I want the truth to come out in all the levels of the church, so that we can respond accordingly in the light of the Gospel. Our Catholic faith teaches that we will all ultimately be judged: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). There is ultimate justice. Now is the time of mercy.

I ask your prayers for the upcoming meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 12-15, in Baltimore. Our executive committee has requested of the Holy See a full investigation of Archbishop McCarrick, formation of a lay commission to assist in the investigation of reports of sexual abuse or harassment by bishops or failure of bishops in responding to such claims, and other third party accountability and reporting systems. I support these initiatives and, along with the committee, “humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.”

Recently the priests and deacons of the Diocese of Duluth gathered for our annual Clergy Conference in Grand Rapids. Our topic was the Patristic age of the Church. We devoted time to our need for ongoing intellectual formation. Benedictine Father Denis Robinson, the rector of St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, was our presenter. Among the many themes he addressed was the tension that exists in order to maintain orthodoxy. We are constantly in pursuit of the truth. Tension propels us into motion, rather than being solidified in our faith. Challenges and controversies in the Church bring to light a deeper understanding of the truth. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Whatever age of the church on which we reflect, the problems were best resolved by the holiness unleased in the Body of Christ. Saints are the best answer to our crisis or any crisis.

Our priests and deacons spent additional time discussing the present crisis in our church. We had frank discussions and question and answer sessions about how this crisis impacts us personally, how it painfully affects our local church and the church universal, and what we are called to do in response. I am so grateful to God for our priests and deacons presently serving in our diocese! They are men of faith and action serving with the heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

McIver offers hopeful vision in the midst of ‘ruins’

“Love persists in the midst of ruins.”

That might be the most apt takeaway from Colin McIver’s presentations at the Diocese of Duluth’s 13th annual Diocesan Assembly, held Oct. 13 at Marshall School in Duluth. It was attended by about 170 people.

Colin McIver
Colin McIver addresses the crowd at the annual Diocesan Assembly Oct. 13 at Marshall School in Duluth. He spoke on the church’s teaching on human sexuality and its See McIVER on page 22 answers for the world. (Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

McIver, an author and speaker from Ascension Press, took this mantra from his fi rst talk from the title of a Walker Percy book, “Love in the Ruins.”

“The word ‘ruin,’ I think, is a pretty apt description of where we fi nd ourselves in the church,” he said.

He noted his own life as an example. He has two adopted children, and he says their odds of being adopted, as opposed to aborted, were extremely low. He himself is the product of divorce, his father a laicized priest.

He noted the clergy abuse scandal and how really the whole human story is God’s love in the midst of ruins.

“The solution in the midst of ruins is as it has always been,” he said, “to be saints. … I think we very much can flourish in the midst of this.”

He cited the example of St. Francis of Asissi, who must have appeared to his contemporaries as “nuts.” But holiness attracts. “When real holiness happens, it’s magnetic,” he said. “… The Gospel outshines imposters.”

In contrast to the ruins, he noted that there is a clear, positive vision of sex, love, and relationships found in the church’s teaching. “most of us have heard of it,” he said to the crowd. “Most people in the world haven’t.”

And he said that while the teaching of Humanae Vitae, Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control, was ignored, 50 years later “it’s clear Paul VI was a prophet.”

McIver’s second talk focused on that teaching and Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and how they answer the deepest questions of who we are, what our purpose is, and what our story is.

Married love is, he said, a participation in divine love, and an echo of the words “this is my body, given up for you.”

He emphasized that in the Christian view, “Life is not a series of unrelated episodes … life is an epic,” an epic love story, more akin to “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Princess Bride” than it is to an episode of “Seinfeld.”

He emphasized the importance of giving ourselves in service to others and that chastity is the way we can do that with our sexuality. “Real love is not possible without chastity,” he said.

He also spoke of an approach to presenting these challenging teachings to others, modeled on the approach of Jesus to people like the woman caught in adultery, the rich young man, the Samaritan woman at the well, and Matthew at his customs post. He said we are “to see, to love, and to challenge.”

McIver concluded his presentation with a question and answer session which covered subjects ranging from Drew Brees to the validity of natural family to frozen embryos to healing after you’ve already been sexually active.

The day concluded with Mass, celebrated by Bishop Paul Sirba.

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Bishop Paul Sirba: A call to pray in reparation and for mercy

On Oct. 7, we celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. The date recalls the famous Battle of Lepanto. In preparation for this defensive battle, St. Pius V ordered Christians in the year 1571 to say the Rosary daily, and before the battle, he ordered a day of fasting and prayer. The faithful made pilgrimages to shrines, like the shrine of the holy house of Loretto. He also ordered the troops to live their lives in harmony with Christian morals or teachings. On the day of the battle, the entire Christian army knelt and received Holy Communion.

The battle was a turning point for Christianity in Europe.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

St. Pius V, although 550 miles away from the battle, learned about the victory in a miraculous vision. Two weeks after the vision an official courier arrived with news of the victory. The pope, moved with emotion, attributed the victory to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In gratitude, he inserted a new petition into the Litany of Loretto, “Mary, help of Christians, pray for us.” He also instituted a new feast day, which he named, Our Lady of Victory, declaring that “by the Rosary, the darkness of heresy has been dispelled and the light of the Catholic faith shines out in all its brilliancy.”

Two years later, Pope Gregory XIII changed the new feast’s name to the feast of the Holy Rosary. The date of the celebration varied until St. Pius X transferred the celebration to Oct. 7, the actual date of the battle. Our new Cathedral, dedicated in 1957, was named the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.

As a Church we are facing numerous challenges. Foremost is dealing with the clergy sex abuse crisis. I will be leading a holy hour and Rosary at the Cathedral on Oct. 7, 2018 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Even if you are not able to be present in person at the Cathedral, please join me wherever you are in praying the Rosary. That is the beauty of this prayer. Not only is the meditation of the mysteries profound prayer — it is so uniquely convenient! I plan on a personal nine day novena of rosaries beginning with Oct 7.

Through our Lady’s intercession, I invite you to join with me and the whole Church to beg God’s mercy. Like King David, bishops and priests “have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). We have also sinned against our brothers and sisters. Even though the priests who are now serving are not the ones who have abused minors, priests, acting in the person of Jesus Christ, take on the sins of all in their union with Christ, shepherd and head. Jesus saves. He never abandons us. He will heal us if we ask Him, if we beg His mercy.

I also encourage a return to Friday abstinence. Many of you have never lost this practice, but I encourage it again as reparation for these sins, our sins, and the sins of the whole world. Some have recommended a renewal of the Ember Days, the praying of the Penitential Psalms, or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, all worthy forms of prayers of reparation.

The work to purify the Church continues. It begins with me and you. Mary, help of Christians, pray for us. Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Father Michael Schmitz: What to make of the crisis in the church?

Father, what do you make of what is in the news about the church and scandal?

First, it cannot go without saying that the grand jury report that came out of Pennsylvania is the most horrific and vile thing I have ever read. What priests did to innocent children is beyond shocking. It is absolutely incomprehensible. The further cover-ups and compromises are without excuse. This news is literally the most evil I have ever heard of. Full stop. There is nothing more to be said on that, except that there is a need for the church to do everything possible to care for victims and to be purged of all forms of evil.

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

But when there is any kind of issue happening, my initial thought is often to try and make sense of it. Or to try and find the cause for it and then to provide some way an individual or a group might be able to move forward.

I don’t think that I will do that here.

This is a massive turning point in the history of the church. The insane levels of pure evil, along with the foolish, cowardly, and weak response to this evil by members of our leadership, are simply staggering. Even with the reforms of 2002, it sounds like there hasn’t been the thorough cleansing the church has needed. I have no idea where this crisis will lead us, but it is almost entirely unprecedented.

Almost. But not entirely.

We have to note that the Catholic Church in the United States has implemented more rules and regulations to cut down on possible abuse than any other organization. If you have volunteered in your parish, you know that you are to never ever be alone with a minor. This is true for every member of the clergy all the way to a one-time volunteer. I believe that this has helped keep our children safe.

But rules and regulations are not what God has called for. He has been calling for a revolution of sorts. He has been calling for repentance. A top to bottom, front to back, inside out revolution of the heart, mind, and action. And we have not responded. Therefore, God has done what he consistently does with his faithless people: He has allowed their enemies to defeat them.

Remember the story of the Chosen People of God, the Jewish people. Even though God had brought them into covenant relationship with him, they would go through periods where they were unfaithful to that relationship. God would send them prophets, God would give them time, God would provide opportunity for repentance. But if they didn’t truly turn back to him, in his mercy, God would provide a more difficult “opportunity for repentance”: He would allow their enemies to defeat them. This happened with the Assyrians. It happened with the Babylonians. It happened with the Greeks. And this defeat would reveal their need for God and their betrayal of him.

God did this to win them back.

I wonder if God is doing this now, as well. The call to belong fully to Christ has never been more clear. God has sent us prophets and has given us ample time to “clean house,” but we have merely arranged and re-arranged the furniture. So God has allowed our “enemies” to defeat us.

Now, obviously, the media and the government are not our “enemies,” but they are not our friends. More accurately, they are not “with us.” They are not “among our number.” And they have done what we were unwilling or unable to do: They have exposed the sickness that has been allowed to reside in Christ’s church. I have nothing but gratitude for those who have exposed this evil. They have done the work that God had called us to do. And now it is no longer hidden. And now there is a moment of truth.

What will you do? God has done this to win back your heart and my heart. He has done this so that his people might be protected and purified. What will we do?

We must either fully repent or be lost forever. I am not merely referring to the clergy, although we are no doubt included. The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “Woe to the shepherds who do not pasture my sheep …. Therefore … I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. I will save my sheep …” (Ezekiel 34:10). Priests and bishops, as shepherds, must be the first to be stripped and purified. We (and I mean myself as well) must pick up the tools of penance, fasting, mortifications, prayer, and a life renewed in Christ.

But this is going to be the work of your life as well. Your life, for the rest of your lives and your children’s lives, will have to be marked with the same spirit of conversion and repentance.

Of course, none of us want this. We would rather be able to be “normal” Catholics in “normal” times. But this is not our choice to make. You and I have been created individually by God himself for this time and for this place. He has created your children for this work: the work of renewing the Body of Christ through conversion and repentance.

You likely did little (if anything) to contribute to this crisis. But we also did little to stop it through our own prayers, penances, and actions of justice and courage. Therefore, now is the time. This is the place. And repentance is the work. Brothers and sisters, I am asking you to be bold and be courageous in turning to the Lord with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength. The Lord has allowed the evil to be seen. Now is the time for the evil to be purged: in the hierarchy, the clergy, the family, and in your life and mine.

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. Reach him at [email protected].