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Betsy Kneepkens: Ask questions to help break through our growing incivility this Thanksgiving

One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. For me, few things are more satisfying than spending a whole day in gratitude. OK, eating some of my favorite foods all day certainly doesn’t hurt the cause, either.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t find the pause to give thanks a good idea. From a purely Christian perspective, Christmas and Easter hold deep spiritual meaning but can be a bit stressful with the secular influence. As much as I try to be committed to the purpose of Easter and Christmas, I find myself stumbling into the trappings of the worldly ways. Other than Black Friday morning, which I avoid, Thanksgiving appears to remain free from the bindings of materialism.

For years, each Thanksgiving looked like every other Thanksgiving. We tried to start the day with Mass, a celebration of Thanksgiving, and then quickly moved on to potato sausage in freshly baked buns slathered in butter. We began heating the turkey after breakfast, and, to reduce stress, I often made some of the side dishes the day before. We played games, we watched football, and we laughed at the same family stories over and over again.

We typically have our Kneepkens clan, and on occasion, a host of other extended family members or friends. In the old days, the most significant conflict was who would sleep where, since at times we had more guests than we had beds. With a little seniority put in place, the sleeping arrangements were resolved rather quickly.

I continue to love Thanksgiving, but it is a bit different now. Too often, conversations have moved from funny and delightful to political and, at times, biting. The divisions in the nation are jumping into our personal and social relationships. As my husband said, “When you now gather with others, you kind of feel like you are walking on eggshells. Like if you say something, it more often or not offends someone in the group.”

In the past, I invited folks we love dearly and then looked forward to the joyful experience of exchanging life stories. Yet unbeknownst to me, these same loved ones now often enough come with opposing political and theological perspectives that they feel need to be proclaimed around the dinner table. Instead of moments of cheery conversation, I have created a laboratory of incivility, a sure-fire way to destroy what historically would be a delightful holiday experience. The times have changed, and Thanksgiving is particular evidence.

Through conversations with others, I am confident my experience with the holidays is repeating itself in other homes throughout the country. Some people suggest that you shouldn’t invite family members who have the potential to create disruptions because they have the potential to spoil the day. I have heard others suggest you invite and then uninvite when conversations escalate to verbal wars. Others, on the other hand, have suggested that a list be made which covers topics that are undiscussable at the Thanksgiving table. Essentially, if someone wants to bring up an “undiscussable,” others should not respond.

Maybe these ideas have merit based on the degree of difficulty these conversations may cause relationships. However, as Christians, it might be wise to think of the whole matter differently. Perhaps we should ask ourselves: Are we missing an opportunity to be disciples and share the good news with others? I say this because political topics are almost always now theological subjects. And as Catholics, we are called to propose the truth to others even when it is difficult.

Christ did that his whole adult life, and how he did it may help our conversations bear fruit. Furthermore, I would think our proposals of truth are necessary for our call to be disciples, as long as we deliver the message in respect and love and with confidence and always, always remain calm. I have found that when speaking truth directly to the face of someone who disagrees with you, they shut you out. When you suggest a different way to look at something, the one who disagrees ignores you.

So what I try to do now is to propose concepts in the form of a question. By asking a person about an idea, I have found, you engage your listener in critical thinking. When you ask about matters that our Creator has already written on our heart, asking a question can unveil for the listener something they already know. Asking questions, and a willingness to listen to the answer, creates civility while helping your loved one to more easily have the truth rediscovered from within.

I have tried this approach on several occasions. I have had some positive results. The method worked well for Christ, so I am not so surprised that it has worked for me. When questions come down to be a direct matter of faith, my question is as simple as, “Who do you think Jesus is?” From the answer to that question, so many other questions can follow.

The Thanksgiving holiday is still a marvelous holiday. As Catholics, this particular time of year is a great way to invite those in who are increasingly testy to be around. When we look at these challenging conversations, and we see the potential to bring someone to Christ, there is no better time than those holiday meals.

There was another person in history, the Master of all Truth, who used the art of asking questions to bring his message to others. So when you struggle with loved ones, don’t avoid them this holiday season, and invite them in. I hope your home is filled with those who disagree with you this Thanksgiving season so you can “ask them” into being closer to Christ.

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

Father Richard Kunst: If your adult children no longer practice the faith, it’s probably not your fault

In any profession, or even anything we do, there are routines, things that come up so often that you don’t have to give it a lot of thought. Routines by their nature are repetitive and so often seemed diminished in importance.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard

My life as a pastor has lots of routines. Even certain conversations and subjects can become so commonplace that we priests can think of them as routine, even though for the person talking to us, it is anything but.

A medical analogy might be in order here. Due to my family genes, I have unfortunately had three colonoscopies at my tender age. Let me tell you, I dread them, and they are the last thing in the world I would call routine. But for the doctor? Easypeasy, routine, hardly has to give any thought to it, though as the patient I certainly hope he does.

Now to the point: There are certain worries and concerns that people bring to their pastor’s attention that are so common that we priests might call them routine questions, but to the person asking our advice it is far from routine. Here is one of the more common examples of this, and any priest reading this is sure to concur.

It is extraordinarily common for parents of adult children to approach us in these or similar words, “Father I am so stressed over my adult children who have quit going to church or abandoned the faith altogether! When my son/daughter was young they had such a beautiful faith, and we always taught them how important it was to go to Mass and stay close to Jesus, but now nothing. Where did we go wrong?”

That is a super common stressor for parents of adult children. We might even call it routine.

Here is the deal. If you are a good, faithful Catholic parent, very likely you did nothing wrong. Showing your children while they were growing up how important church is, and how important having a strong relationship with Jesus is, is exactly what good Catholic Christian parents should do.

Once children are no longer children, they become their own person in all ways, and that can often have an impact on how they express their faith, as well. As parents, you have sown the seeds of faith in your kids. It can become stressful when you do not see the growth of those seeds the way you expect or the way you hope, but it is no longer your responsibility in the same way as it was when they were young. You are still Mom or Dad, but your role changes as they grow. You cannot take responsibility or blame yourself if your adult children no longer practice the faith. Now that responsibility shifts from you, as parent, to them as adults.

There is a great scripture passage that addresses this in an amazingly direct way, and it should give some solace to those readers who have this reality in their families. It comes from the Acts of the Apostles, where Paul calls a meeting in the city of Miletus. Miletus was a neighboring city to Ephesus, where Paul had spent much time, teaching and forming the infant Christian community. At the end of his time in Ephesus, Paul calls the church leadership of that city together for a meeting that we might call a sad going away party. Paul is leaving, and he realizes that he will no longer be with the Ephesians to help them in their faith journey; in a fairly long speech, he encourages them in the faith and to stay true to all that he had taught them while they were together. In his parting words Paul says, “But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the Kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God” (Acts 20:26-27).

If you are a parent of adult children who no longer practice the faith you brought them up in, you can make Paul’s words your own. There comes a time in every person’s life when they have to take what they have learned and make it their own responsibility. That includes faith. And while it is perfectly normal to be stressed about your non-practicing adult children, you cannot blame yourself after raising them in the faith.

As parents I would suggest you continue to raise the topic with your adult children when it seems fitting. It is okay to let them know you are saddened or disappointed, but do not do it so often that you strain the relationship. They very likely know how you feel, so continue to lead by example and pray for them, but do not beat yourself up over their not practicing.

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

Father Michael Schmitz: How can I step out of the ‘blame loop’?

I have been really hurt by people in my life. But most of the bad stuff in my life is my fault. Still, I can’t stop blaming myself and blaming them for hurting me.

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you for writing. In your actual letter, you summarized the terrible things that you have been through. You have been hurt, truly. I believe that this is worth stating. Often, when there is real pain and suffering, we can be tempted to brush it off or dismiss it. We usually do this so that we can protect ourselves from the tendency of some people to dismiss our pain. A common response is to be quick to talk about it as if it is “no big deal.” But you have really been hurt, and I think that you deserve to hear someone say that.

But what sticks out most in your letter was the fact that you keep going back and forth between condemning yourself for what someone else did to you and at other times blaming them.

That being said, it is clear that you can’t stay where you are. It seems to me that you are a bit stuck in a “blaming loop.” As often as your mind returns to what you’ve suffered, you keep looking for someone to blame. This has hurt you more than almost anything else, because it has kept you stuck in a trap of your own making.

This is common when we experience pain. We want to find the source. We want to get to a place where we can point to the cause of our suffering and say, “This is the reason. This is what or who is to blame.” That is completely natural. And it can even be helpful. In fact, when dealing with many areas of life, it is necessary to track down where the discomfort is coming from in order to deal with the root of what has gone wrong. For example, a physician will want to know whether a stomachache is the result of having eaten too much or is the result of something more severe. In the wake of a broken relationship, it is wise to stop and ask why it didn’t work out. In these cases, an informed and patient examination of the reason why could be helpful in moving forward.

But the desire to find blame is altogether different. Often, the result of blaming is an “all or nothing” accusation. For example, you might have found yourself stuck at one point or other on the “blame loop.” Let’s take a relatively extreme, yet clear-cut, example. Say there was a person who chose to go out walking in a bad part of town alone and at night. While they were taking their walk, they were mugged.

This might be where the blame loop could come in. It takes the form of going back and forth between exclusively blaming oneself and totally excusing oneself. The person might turn this on themselves, “This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have been walking there. I am to blame.” In this posture, they could adopt a condemning stance against themselves. They could assign blame to themselves and embrace it as if they are the guilty party. In this portion of the blaming loop, the actual mugger isn’t seen as guilty; they themselves are. Again, the accusation comes back, “It is all my fault.”

But then, in moments of clarity (and exhaustion from being under the weight of this unfair self-blame), the person realizes that the mugger was the person who did the evil action. The mugger is the one who is solely to blame for the attack. Not only is the individual completely innocent in it, but they contributed nothing to the calamity that befell them.

While this is largely true (the mugger is the guilty party), it is not entirely true. And the person knows this. They know that they made a foolish decision to walk alone in a dangerous part of town. And, in light of this, they can be tempted to return to placing all of the blame firmly on their own shoulders. This is why we call this a loop. It goes round and round.

The way out of the blaming loop is to tell the entire truth. The person must acknowledge the full truth of the situation, “Yes, I made the unwise decision of walking in a dangerous part of town at night. And yes, the mugger made the evil decision to attack me.” You see the key distinction here? The walker chose an unwise action. The mugger chose an evil action. The way off the loop is to “own” one’s unwise action and to refuse to “own” the other person’s evil action.

One possible way to escape the self-condemnation trap is to replay one’s own choices. While it may have been unwise to walk alone at night, if the assailant had not chosen an evil action, would you condemn yourself for being less than wise in that moment? It is likely that you may have merely looked back and thought, “Phew! That was silly of me. I’m not doing that again.” That response is a far cry from the self-blame and self-condemnation that many people can get caught up in.

And you deserve to be able to escape this cycle of blaming others or blaming yourself.

Until we are willing and able to do that, we will be stuck on an endless cycle of excusing ourselves or condemning ourselves, while excusing others and condemning others. Tell the truth: You made some unwise decisions, but others made the evil decisions.

You have a future. While you have been hurt, this is not the end of your story. Learn from this, and leave the self-condemnation behind.

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.

Plan to resolve diocesan bankruptcy receives final court approval

Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District Court of Minnesota has approved today a $39.2 million agreement between victims-survivors of clergy sexual abuse and the Diocese of Duluth.

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The decision gives final approval to a joint agreement reached earlier this year between the diocese and attorneys representing survivors and victims of clergy sexual abuse. It marks the end of a nearly four-year bankruptcy process for the Duluth Diocese and will settle claims against the diocese and against 30 parishes. The diocese, all its parishes, and several other Catholic entities in the region will together contribute approximately $10 million, with the rest of the settlement being funded by insurance.

In addition to providing compensation for those hurt by abuse, the agreement also provides for non-economic considerations, such as the release of documents relating to historic cases of clergy sexual abuse.

“Our first thoughts today are with the innocent people who suffered abuse,” said Bishop Paul Sirba, the ninth bishop of the Duluth Diocese. “While no financial settlement can make up for the harm that was done to them, it can be a form of accountability for the ways the church failed them, and a sign of our solidarity with them and our deep sorrow for what they have suffered.”

The agreement will establish an independently administered trust for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, as well as a fund for any victims of historical cases of clergy sexual abuse who may come forward in the future. It also protects the diocese and contributing parishes and other contributing entities from future lawsuits regarding these historical cases.

The Diocese of Duluth includes the 10 counties of northeastern Minnesota with more than 45,000 Catholics and 72 parishes.

Retired Bishop Kinney dies; recalled as 'kind, gracious pastoral leader'

Retired Bishop John F. Kinney of St. Cloud died Sept. 27 at Quiet Oaks Hospice in St. Augusta. He was 82.

Retired Bishop John F. Kinney of St. Cloud, Minn., died at age 82 Sept. 27, 2019, at Quiet Oaks Hospice in St. Augusta. Bishop Kinney is pictured concelebrating Mass at the Vatican March 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The bishop's body was received at the Cathedral of St. Mary in St. Cloud the afternoon of Oct. 4 followed by a private family visitation, then public visitation and a vigil service.

On Oct. 5, there was a period of public visitation followed by his funeral Mass, with Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis presiding. Burial was held at Assumption Cemetery in St. Cloud.

Bishop Kinney headed the Diocese of St. Cloud from 1995 until his retirement in 2013. An ardent supporter of Catholic social teaching, marriage, youth and collaborative ministry, he strove to lead in the spirit of the diocese's mission statement: to be Christ's "heart of mercy, voice of hope and hands of justice."

"Bishop Kinney was a kind and gracious pastoral leader," said Bishop Donald J. Kettler, who succeeded Bishop Kinney in St. Cloud in 2013. "He was a strong defender of the dignity of every human being, and his love for the church was evident both in his public ministry and personal life. May our Father in heaven now receive him warmly into his arms."

Bishop Kinney was born June 11, 1937, in Oelwein, Iowa, to John and Marie (McCarty) Kinney. His only brother, Bernard, was eight years older.

He graduated from DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis and held a bachelor's degree from St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul and a doctorate in canon law from Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

He was ordained to the priesthood Feb. 2, 1963, at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul by Archbishop Leo Binz. Bishop Kinney served in several positions in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, including nine years as chancellor. On Nov. 16, 1976, St. Paul VI named him an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese. Archbishop John R. Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis ordained him a bishop Jan. 25, 1977. Bishop Kinney served as auxiliary bishop from 1977 to 1982.

On June 28, 1982, St. John Paul II named him the bishop of Bismarck, North Dakota. He was installed Aug. 23, 1982. On May 9, 1995, the pope named him the eighth bishop of St. Cloud. He was installed July 6, 1995.

While serving as bishop in Bismarck and St. Cloud, Bishop Kinney wrote six pastoral letters on liturgy, youth, AIDS, the sacrament of penance, marriage and social justice.

In 1993, the then-National Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed him to chair an Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. During his tenure as chair, the ad hoc committee published "Restoring Trust," a document then used by dioceses to address sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Following revelations of clergy sexual abuse around the country, Bishop Kinney set up listening and information sessions that he personally attended in parishes around the diocese. He used the sessions to understand the pain and concern of people in the diocese and to open doors for dialogue and healing.

Committed to the global church, Bishop Kinney served on Catholic Relief Services' board of directors from 1993 to 1998. CRS is the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.

Bishop Kinney helped the Bismarck Diocese establish a mission in Kenya. With Father Bill Vos, St. Cloud diocesan director of CRS, he initiated the partnership between the St. Cloud Diocese and Homa Bay Diocese in Kenya in 1999. The diocesan relationship with Maracay, Venezuela, was established in 1963 and became a Global Solidarity Partnership under Bishop Kinney's leadership.

Bishop Kinney visited Homa Bay and Maracay. He made trips to other areas of close relationship and connection to the Diocese of St. Cloud, including to the Diocese of Agats, Indonesia, where the Crosiers ministered, and to South Sudan during and after the years of war to visit Bishop Paride Taban and other Southern Sudanese bishops. Other travels took him to Angola, Cambodia, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam and Zanzibar.

Pope Francis accepted Bishop Kinney's retirement upon Bishop Kettler's installation. During his retirement, he lived at the Speltz House in Sauk Rapids and remained an avid reader.

- By Catholic News Service

Warmhearted stories, deeply felt prayers mark Archbishop Flynn's funeral

A funeral Mass attended by more than 2,000 people, including a dozen bishops and a U.S. cardinal, hundreds of laypeople, priests, seminarians, religious brothers and sisters, was made intimate by warmhearted stories and heartfelt prayers for the late Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Jon and Maria O'Malley of St. Michael's Parish in Stillwater, Minn., and their infant daughter, Mollie, stand over the casket of retired Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St . Paul and Minneapolis before his funeral Mass Sept. 30, at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The couple adopted six children from Ethiopia, and Archbishop Flynn baptized four of them in 2007. The retired archbishop died Sept. 22, in St. Paul at age 86. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, Catholic Spirit)

"Archbishop Flynn was a wonderful, wonderful human being," said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore in his homily Sept. 30 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. "He was warm, had a beautiful sense of humor, never forgot a name or a face, and he wrote out his Christmas cards in July, always with that personal note inside, with his distinctive handwriting."

There were more than a thousand cards each year, as Archbishop Flynn kept in touch with lifelong friends from his ministry as a priest in the Diocese of Albany, New York, as dean of students, vice rector and rector of Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, as well as coadjutor bishop and then bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette in Louisiana from 1986 to 1994 and coadjutor archbishop and archbishop of the Twin Cities from 1994 until his retirement in 2008.

After battling cancer in recent years, Archbishop Flynn died Sept. 22 at age 86 in his residence at the St. Vincent de Paul rectory in St. Paul.

Among those bringing up the gifts for Communion were his personal assistant, Bobbi Dawson; his driver of 25 years, Patrick Willis; and Dr. Peter and Lulu Daly of St. Peter Parish in Mendota and their family.

A sense of intimacy was struck with the first chords of a beautiful melody that used the words of Archbishop Flynn's episcopal motto, "Come Lord Jesus." It simply repeated those words as deacons, priests, bishops, friends and family members slowly processed into Mass, and pallbearers bore his casket, where it was received and blessed by Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Sister Andrea Lee, a former president of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, spoke to the congregation just before Mass, sharing her stories of Archbishop Flynn, a longtime friend.

"He introduced me to Jesus in a way I never knew before," said Sister Andrea, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

If love overrides all else in someone's life, then for Archbishop Flynn it is "race over and won," she said. His love was "pure, generous forgiving, unvarnished and far-reaching."

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, the first bishop ordained by Archbishop Flynn, said the final prayer of commendation in the cathedral before the archbishop's body was transferred for burial to Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights.

But he prefaced the final prayer with a story about his ordination as a bishop, saying Archbishop Flynn was nervous, and accidentally anointed him with the entire carafe of chrism. Talking with Archbishop Flynn at a later date, Cardinal Cupich said, he reminded him of the incident.

"I told him I felt like I was hit by an oil tanker," Cardinal Cupich said. "He said, 'Obviously, you needed it.'"

Archbishop Hebda, undoubtedly inspired by the Holy Spirit, inspired his homily, said Archbishop Lori, who was a seminarian under Archbishop Flynn and habitually addressed him in the years that followed as "Father Rector," while Archbishop Flynn addressed him as "student Lori."

Based on a comment from Archbishop Hebda, Archbishop Lori's homily illustrated ways Archbishop Flynn embodied four central elements of priestly formation: Human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

In addition to being thoughtful and ever-present to people in need, Archbishop Flynn had a passionate belief in the Eucharist, Archbishop Lori said.

He understood that the "Eucharist really is the source and summit of our lives, our lives as individuals and as community, whether a parish, a diocese or a seminary."

"He once said, 'Give me eight hours of sleep a night and one hour before the Blessed Sacrament, and I will do anything the church will ask of me,'" Archbishop Lori said.

Archbishop Flynn's intellectual formation included a powerful command of Scripture and English literature, and ways of telling stories that brought people great understanding of the faith, Archbishop Lori said.

As a pastoral leader, the archbishop walked with people in their struggles, he said.

"He knew that truth and love are friends, not enemies. He knew the importance of mercy, of listening to others," the archbishop said. "The importance of being present to people in their need. His was the voice you wanted to hear when discouragement set in, or when illness struck, or when big problems loomed. His was the voice that helped so many find consolation and direction and strength in the green pastures of God's love."

For years during his retirement, he continued to give retreats for priests and seminarians, religious sisters and brothers, to administer the sacrament of confirmation, say Mass in parishes and serve in other ways, Archbishop Lori said.

"To my mind, he was a priest's priest and a bishop's bishop," he said.

Archbishop Flynn also had a loving devotion to Mary, who led him to Jesus, Archbishop Lori said. Because he was so close to Jesus and his mother, the archbishop would want people to pray for him and for the happy repose of his soul, Archbishop Lori said.

"And so, with so much love, we commend you, Father Flynn, Father Rector, Archbishop Flynn, to the Lord of life and love, to the great Chief Shepherd you served so well. Come Lord, Jesus, come."

- By Joe Ruff / Catholic News Service
Ruff is news editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Editorial: Plenty to care about during Respect Life Month

October is Respect Life Month, and Oct. 6 is Respect Life Sunday. As has been the case for more than a decade now, Catholics and others of good will have the opportunity to pray for the protection of life through the 40 Days for Life apostolate. After the success of the movie “Unplanned,” which depicts the important role the 40 Days for Life organization played in the life of the movie’s real-life protagonist Abby Johnson, it’s an especially good time to help that organization dedicated to peaceful prayer outside abortion facilities to continue.

At the same time, we are also concerned with the end of life, as there have been repeated pushes to legalize assisted suicide here in Minnesota, as well as across the country and around the world.

As Pope Francis told a group of Italian doctors last month, this is a “false compassion” and a temptation to be avoided. Attempts to break the bipartisan consensus against this practice, which is completely contrary to the purpose of medical care, must be avoided.

Instead, Catholics can support efforts such as the one winning support from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Medical Association, a bill funding training, education, and research for authentic palliative care, which gives patients the real love and care they need.

Our witness to life at all stages from conception to death is often countercultural, but it is one we can all feel good about taking up, rooted as it is in the gift of God that every human life represents.

Faith in the Public Arena: In politics, we can all be like Frodo Baggins

The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien is a beautiful work showing the important role even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant people have in the drama of history. In the trilogy, it was Frodo Baggins, the little hobbit, who embarks on a perilous adventure to destroy the ring of power at Mount Doom and save Middle Earth from the power of the evil Sauron.

Jason Adkins

Jason Adkins
Faith in the Public Arena

Frodo is like each of us: just another person who, when met with a perilous challenge, took up his Cross and carried it to his own Calvary. He left all that was comfortable — the Shire, with its strawberries and cream, good cheer, and plenty of beer — to follow his calling.

“Even the smallest person can change the course of history.” — Lady Galadriel

In this life, and especially in the public realm, each one of us as Christians will have the opportunity to be like Frodo. But often, we will be full of doubt. Who are we but seemingly insignificant spectators in a great drama that seems out of our control? Like little hobbits, we can do nothing and should just get back to tending our serene garden, minding our business.

That is a lie Satan tells us, when in fact, we can do something. As Gandalf the wizard tells Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — Bilbo Baggins

Frodo came to mind following the recent court victory of Carl and Angel Larsen, the St. Cloud videographers who are challenging the State of Minnesota’s prosecution of wedding vendors who will not do business related to same-sex weddings.

Carl and Angel are inspiring people and joyful Christians. Their home is a model of Christian hospitality, including to people who experience same-sex attraction. They walk the walk and are just like others who sit in the pew on Sunday.

But Carl and Angel didn’t just sit there. They walked out the door of their own comfortable hobbit hole and embarked on the great adventure of standing up for civil rights — free speech and free exercise of religion.

Undoubtedly, they couldn’t imagine what this nationally significant case had in store for them. But they went out their door, and they are winning.

“Folk seem to have been just landed in [adventures], usually — their paths were laid that way. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.” — Samwise Gamgee

Carl and Angel had many chances to turn back: a loss at the district court level with a sneering opinion by a judge who dismissed their case; media scrutiny and hate mail; discouragement and criticism from other Christians who do not believe that using the courts to protect the spread of the Gospel is appropriate. Yet, they have persevered.

Their case is a microcosm of work in the public arena generally, which is characterized by setbacks and advances.

Sometimes positive developments are hard to see, but history shows that the Gospel does advance, beauty and order can be brought into the world, and souls do come to know the Lord. All this can unfold through our daily labors of tilling the soil, sowing the seed, and playing our part so that others may reap the harvest.

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” — Gandalf

We might view Carl and Angel’s lawsuit as something more significant that only they could do. Again, this would be a mistake.

Each one of us has the opportunity to turn the tide in small ways — with a word of grace and truth here, with a letter to the editor there. Oftentimes, politics, especially at the local level, is just about walking out the door and showing up.

What we can do may seem insignificant, but collectively, it can change the culture, though we might not live to see it. Like little Frodo, we must step forward to do our part.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Betsy Kneepkens: We shouldn’t be ignoring children of divorce

Nearly every topic, syndrome, or condition that exists has been overly studied. As a culture, it seems when we want to move a particular agenda, those change agents can find a study that supports their cause even though there are a number of other studies that do not. Once a group finds the data that backs up its cause, it uses this supporting information to influence politicians, journalists, and granting organizations to go after what that group is looking for.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

On occasion, though, there is thorough research done with findings which are consistent, but that information learned is not widely disseminated. In other words, scientists repeatedly come up with the same results each time, but that knowledge is overlooked and minimized. I believe these studies are dismissed because listening to the result would require our larger community to make difficult choices and act differently than we prefer to do.

What I am specifically speaking about is the legacy of divorce on children. The topic brings angst in nearly everyone that it is mentioned to. I don’t want to write about it, people don’t want to read about it, and we certainly don’t want to address the problem.

When 50 percent of marriages end in civil divorce and so many of those families have children, you quickly learn that no one is immune to the consequences that a broken apart family has on the lives of those the situation touches. I say “broken apart” instead of simply “broken” because most intact families are broken, because we all have the wounds of sin. It is when broken falls apart that we have the legacy of divorce that is so painful that as a society we want to ignore it, even though research repeatedly tells us that divorce has a devastating effect on children.

In too many marriages, the situation is unsafe due to alcohol and drug abuse or physical, sexual, or emotional cruelty. In each of these cases, to protect children and the spouse, one must remove the individual or individuals who make the situation unsafe. Although there are negative effects on children from this, there is really no other option for a parent.

For many more, the tenets of the marriage break down and the solution seems to be divorce. Often only one of the spouses want dissolution, and because of no-fault divorce the civil union is doomed.

Keeping married couples unified is at the heart of what we need to do for children, but for the sake of this article I am trying to illuminate how we are not solving the legacy of divorces because we don’t really want to address the topic.

Most of the time you can observe the change in a child after their family is broken apart. There is no particular expected behavior, but that child is changed and almost never for the good. When working with college students for nearly three decades, with the exception of abusive situations, I never heard a student say they were better because of their parents’ divorce. Rather I regularly heard that this event, and life after, was the most devastating time of their lives.

There are numerous adult children of divorce who still carry the pain, the suffering, and the wounds of their home broken apart by divorce. These adults have anxiety about commitment, conflict, struggle to accept or believe success is possible, and so many more life-altering conditions. With the exception of abusive situations, we have to stop saying that divorce is for the kids’ sake. It just is not the case.

Because we have chosen not to talk about or get real about the consequences of divorce on children, we have created a vacuum where we are starting to let folly reign within the silence. What I mean is that comedians are using the situation of broken apart families as a punchline to gain laughs. Or there are even commercials that are running, using the hardship of divorce on children as the plot line, as if it is something to laugh at in an effort to sell a product.

How sick and painful is that? Recently during an NFL game, an insurance company had an advertisement where a mom introduces a man, the insurance salesman, to her sons. The sons’ comment to the mom as she introduces this man to the boys was “don’t make me call him dad.” From my perspective, ads like this minimize the wounds and fear a child has in the situation. These advertisers are saying their feelings are a big joke.

Imagine the number of children of divorce who watch this kind of stuff and feel they are being slapped in the face by this disparagement and wounded again. Because we are not culturally seeking ways to support children in these crises, the populace has decided to normalize the dreadful condition.

Do I have the solution? I have ideas, but I think changing the premise of broken apart families might start us on a different approach. If, as a society, we reorganized the way we approach the severing marriages, we might find different ways to act and communicate. If the resolution of parenting was the primordial focus, even before legal matters of divorce were determined, perhaps we might reorder the importance children feel in these situations. When we better accept that children are the gift of a combined creation by mother, father, and our Creator, we might change some of our conversations around our children. If, when anything sacrificially happens, it happens for the sake of the children, we might make children believe they are a significant.

This is not an easy subject to talk about, and it shouldn’t be. Many might think, “Who am I to say?” And I say somebody has to say something or we get nowhere. The lifetime consequence divorce has on children is impacting every aspect of our communities. Scientists have studied this problem, and we are certain of the outcomes. Not until we start getting real about the subject, start talking about the larger impact divorce has on society, will we be able to move children and adult children of divorce to a better place or create a place that they never have to go to.

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

Father Richard Kunst: Arguing about religion can be a good thing

You may have heard it said that in the history of the human race, religion has been the cause of war more than anything else. Honestly, I do not believe that. As an amateur student of world history, I think land has been the biggest reason for war between peoples.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard

Whatever the biggest reason has been, I think we all can agree that religion has been a major cause of conflict, both on an international level and a very personal level. I would guess that every person reading this column has at one point or another been in conflict with another over religion. It happens, and it happens a lot.

From the Christian perspective, we know that conflict over religion was inevitable, because Jesus said it would be so! “Do not suppose that my mission on earth is to spread peace. My mission is to spread, not peace, but division. I have come to set a man at odds with his father, a daughter with her mother, a daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law. In short, to make a man’s enemies those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). Pretty amazing words from the Prince of Peace!

So how do we make sense of this seemingly out of character quote from Jesus?

First I would like to say this: Religious arguments can be a good thing. In fact, I think we need more religious arguments, because religion has become such a private affair, when it should be anything but private. Everyone who knows us should clearly know that we are Catholic. It should be obvious, and if it is not, then we have some work to do.

So how is it that arguments over religion can be a good thing? Let’s look at the basic definition of an argument. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, an argument is “a discussion of different points of view; debate.”

If our faith and religion are among the things we hold most sacred, then we should want to argue about them with people who have a different viewpoint. But what is most central, and what is most important to be aware of, is why would we argue religion?

The very worst reason to argue about religion is to win an argument. If that is your intent when engaging in an argument, then shut your mouth and walk away. The last thing an argument over religion should be is a contest to victory. So if that is what you do, stop. An argument over religion should be a free-flowing sharing of ideas in which we try to offer a logical counterpoint so as to win someone over to Christ.

When Jesus said those words that I quoted above, conflict was not his purpose, but he knew it would happen as a result of his coming. He is the Prince of Peace, and he wants all to accept him, but he also knows that many will reject him, and that will cause conflict. Think of all the conflicts you have had in your life due to your believing in Jesus and the church he founded.

So arguing about religion is a good thing, as long as we do it in charity and with the sole purpose bringing people into relationship with Christ and his church. We should argue religion because we love the person we are arguing with! And if we love that person, that means we will necessarily argue with charity.

One of my closest friends has become Pastor Peter Kowitz of United Lutheran Church in Proctor. Our whole relationship as friends is based on healthy debate and even argumentation. He has been my sparring partner in the Theology Uncapped series held in Duluth every three months for the past couple of years. I bludgeon him in our discussions, but we do it in faith and charity, and the funny thing is that he thinks he bludgeons me! But we have become great friends because of debate and argumentation.

So ask yourself, when you are tempted to get into a religious argument: Will the argument help or hurt your relationship? It is important to know the answer to that question.

The fact is we need more arguments about religion, and if we never had them, where would we be? It is how Christianity spread in the first place! “Paul entered the synagogue, and for three months debated boldly with persuasive arguments about the Kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).

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