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Homily of Father Joseph Sirba at the funeral Mass of Bishop Paul D. Sirba

Archbishop Hebda, Most Reverend Bishops, my brother priests, deacons, religious sisters, dignitaries and members of various ecclesial communities, and my brothers and sisters in Christ, on behalf of my brother John, and sister Cathy, and my mother Helen, we want to thank you all for your outpouring of love and support to us in this our time of loss and also, for the honor you have paid to our brother by your presence here today. It means a great deal to us all.

I know that all of us here were stunned to learn that Bishop Paul had died this past Sunday. In fact, many of you have told me that when you learned of his death, you said there must be some mistake. It must be someone else who had died. Others have told me that they heard the words being said to them, but the words didn’t register.

My brother was on his way to celebrate the 8 am Mass at Saint Rose when he died. He had just left the rectory and was about to cross the parking lot when he collapsed. The guys who were plowing saw him and rushed over to do CPR and an ambulance was on the scene in ten minutes. Bishop Paul was rushed to the hospital and the medical staff did all they could, but they were never able to get his heart beating again. It’s very likely that he was dead the moment he collapsed.

In the midst of the snowstorm, Fr. John Petrich was able to get to the hospital via police cruiser and to administer the Sacraments, and I want to thank both Fr. John and our wonderful police officers for that. They really do protect and serve.

Most of you don’t know that our Bishop did have a heart problem. My sister who has been a nurse for many years, told me what he had is called third degree heart block. Five or six years ago, the Bishop had a pacemaker installed to help correct this, but obviously, it could only do so much.

My brother loved the Lord. Jesus Christ was the center of his life. In his private chapel, I found three books. The Holy Bible, In Sinu Jesu, a book by a Benedictine Monk subtitled, The Journal of a Priest at Prayer, and volume two of The Letters of Saint Teresa of Jesus. I would have to presume that because it was volume two, he had already finished volume one.

Along with these three books, I found his personal journal which contained some notes from what he read as well as his meditations. Here are just a few of his entries:

  •    Jesus said, tend the flock, feed my sheep.
  •    Father, all things are possible in you.
  •    We are called to be another Paraclete like another Christ so we can console.

Bishop Paul was a humble man. He never had any desire for accolades. He was not ambitious in the bad sense of the word, and he certainly never aspired to be a bishop. In fact, some of you may recall that when the papal nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, called him and said that Pope Benedict has chosen him to be the new Bishop of Duluth, he replied, you don’t mean my brother do you? To which Archbishop Sambi replied, “We are aware that he is there.”

I am still wondering what the Archbishop meant by that ....

Bishop Paul above all else had a desire to share Christ’s love. He was a Catholic through and through. He was raised in a home by loving parents who shared with him their love for God through their example, encouragement, prayers, guidance and sacrifice. There were no compromises either in belief or practice. There were no deviations from what Christ taught through his Church, and Bishop Paul embraced that faith.

However, that is not to say that he did so blindly. Quite the contrary, he had a very good mind. He was second in his class at Holy Angels Academy in Richfield where he went to High School, and he was trained by the best at Saint Thomas College. Msgr. Henri Dulac, Fr. James Stromberg, Dr. Richard Connell, Fr. George Welzbacher, Fr. James Reidy, Dr. Richard Berquist, and Dr. Thomas Sullivan taught him how to think correctly and how to analyze arguments on his own.

Those of us who were graduates of Saint Thomas in those days received a great gift from these great teachers, and I know it pains us all to see how far Saint Thomas has fallen today.

Another great priest from Saint Thomas who was instrumental in Bishop Paul’s formation was and is Fr. Roy Lepak who has been a spiritual director to many priests here in Minnesota, and has guided many of us who are here today as we have sought to grow in union with God.

This Aristotelian-Thomistic foundation Bishop Paul received built on his Catholic upbringing and coupled with his desire to serve God and grow in God’s love allowed him to be an excellent spiritual director at both Saint John Vianney Seminary and Saint Paul Seminary as well as a much beloved pastor at Maternity of Mary Parish in Saint Paul.

I know that all the priests of our Diocese were overjoyed to learn that Fr. Paul had been appointed pastor and shepherd of our Diocese. As the former pastor of a parish, we knew that with his pastoral experience, he was never going to send us new directives to read or forms to fill out during Holy Week. We also knew that he would understand both the joys and the sorrows that come with being a parish priest. For that, I know we are all grateful.

I had a unique relationship with my bishop because my bishop was also my brother. We had our own little joke when we talked on the phone. Often, instead of using our first names as we had done all of our lives, if I called him, I would say, “Hello Bishop Sirba, this is Fr. Sirba.” Or, he would call and say, “Fr. Sirba, how are you.”

I know that there are more than a few priests who have brothers who are bishops, but as far as we knew, we were the only two who served in the same diocese. Of course, I always reminded him that I was here first.

My vantage point as his brother did allow me to understand in some way the life of a bishop – at least I got a glimpse of it. I deliberately stayed away from discussing diocesan business with him and he didn’t bring it up with me. Instead, we talked about our family, about history, politics and other subjects of mutual interest.

However, his role was different than mine. He was a successor of the Apostles; he was the visible sign we Catholics have of that apostolic succession which goes back to Saint Peter himself. He was what made our one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church here in our Diocese of Duluth “apostolic.” That in fact is what every Catholic bishop is, and this is a beautiful gift from God.

Another thing is this, every Bishop has the fullness of the priesthood. I used to joke when others were around that once he had been ordained bishop, I was the only one of us who had persevered in my vocation as a priest.

However, the reality was that it was he who through the grace of holy orders received the fullness of the priesthood. As bishop, he was a complete priest. Fr. Jean Galot in his book, Theology of the Priesthood, speaks about how the priest shares in the threefold ministry of Christ as priest, prophet and king, but he also goes on to say that above all the priest is an alter Christus in the sense that he is a pastor which is of course the Latin word for shepherd.

Bishop Paul was that. In fact, all bishops are shepherds, they are the chief shepherds of their flocks. As Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me (Jn 10:14).” Bishop Paul knew his sheep.

To be a bishop is a difficult thing. Did you ever stop to think that the task of a bishop is to do his best to see to it that everyone in his Diocese gets to heaven? And I mean everyone, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To any bishop who takes his vocation seriously, that is a daunting task and one at which he can only succeed with the help of God. That is also why we all need to pray and sacrifice for our bishops every day.

Bishop Paul was a shepherd, he was a good shepherd and there were a number of ways this was apparent. First, he was a father to his priests, and sometimes that requires a great deal of love and patience. If you think being a father to your children is hard, that’s nothing compared to being a father to your priests.

There’s a Latin saying, sui generis, it means of his own kind. Sui generis is really just a fancy way of saying we are all unique, and that’s certainly true for us priests. Our presbyterate knows me well, and they will appreciate this comment by our bishop. Occasionally when someone would tell him something about me, he would pause briefly and then respond, “Yep, that’s my brother.”

But in fact, we priests all want and need a spiritual father. Just like any son, we desire our father’s approval and want to know that what we are doing is pleasing to him. We want his guidance and we seek his support and want to be one with him in building up the Church. I would even say this: we want to be corrected when necessary. This special relationship only breaks down when a bishop himself falters or speaks with a discordant voice or is unkind. As the scriptures say, “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle (1Cor 14:8)?”

Bishop Paul was also a pastor and a shepherd to his flock. Many people have commented on his kindness and gentleness. Sometimes when you are too close to another person, you don’t see the things others do until they point them out.

When he met people, they could tell he cared about them. They were attracted to him because they could see in him the love of Christ. He was a channel for God’s grace. Those who were hurting were consoled because they knew he hurt with them and those who were rejoicing knew he was rejoicing with them.

When people met him, they felt accepted by him. To them he wasn’t just Bishop Paul, but my friend, Bishop Paul, and if they were not necessarily living rightly, they were inspired to make changes and to strive to live like him.

Bishop Paul was also a leader. He knew it was his job to hand on the faith, to hand on what he had received. He was not going to wrap his talent up and bury it in the ground. Rather, he was resolved to make five or ten more with it. To that end, he never compromised with the faith, and he taught what the Church teaches not only because he was a bishop, but also because he believed it. As Fr. Mike Schmitz said, “He was so much like Jesus: gentle with people and uncompromising with truth. A true shepherd and father.”

One thing that we discussed often was the decline of Christianity in the western world. Bishop Paul foresaw, and I believe he was right – and we shall see – that a hash persecution is coming soon, and there are many signs it is almost upon us, and that is why we need to pray even more for our bishops.

Our bishops are often under great pressure to give in to the demands of the world, and history has shown time and again that in times of great turmoil, many have done just that. So, we must pray for our bishops, and we must let our bishops know how much we need them and how much we appreciate their care and concern for us and the fact that they love us enough to speak the truth to us even when we don’t want to hear it.

Bishops are human as are we all, and they have hearts that break and trials they endure and temptations they must fight. In the times to come we must pray that they be great leaders, and that they don’t conform to the demands of the world.

No one remembers the sixteen bishops of England who during the reign of Henry VIII, swore to the oath of supremacy which effectively meant that they renounced and rejected the spiritual authority of the Pope as head of the Church and successor of Saint Peter. But we all remember Saint John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, and chaplain to the King’s own mother, who refused the oath and was ordered beheaded by a vindictive king.

It is bishops like Saint John Fisher and Saint Charles Borromeo and more recently Cardinal Josef Mindszenty who resisted the Communists in Hungary and Blessed Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, the Lion of Münster who defied the Nazis, who are remembered and who were loved by their people for being fearless shepherds who were willing to protect their flocks with their very lives if necessary.

It’s going to be hard to say goodbye for now. Yet in our readings today, I found inspiration and comfort. Saint Paul says to us, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” He goes on to say, “Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Book of Wisdom also reminds us that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself.”

Finally, Jesus reminds us that “unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Our Lord goes on to say, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”

I recently read Saint John Paul’s book “Rise, Let us be on our Way.” He wrote that book on the 45th anniversary of his ordination as bishop in 2003, and he wrote it to and for bishops. In it he tells of his experience as a bishop and of how he had found joy in his vocation.

Bishop Paul had an inner joy which you could feel, and his love of God was attractive. I think he was inspired in his ministry by these great bishops I’ve just mentioned, and especially by Pope John Paul who was so much an inspiration for his priesthood and for priests of my generation.

Pope John Paul began his pontificate by telling us and the whole world, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid to follow Christ where ever He might lead you.” Near the end of his pontificate he said, quoting Jesus, “Arise, let us be on our way.”

Bishop Paul was about that very thing. He was on his way. These last few years were very difficult ones for him and yet there was a serenity about him as well. He trusted in God and placed all he did into God’s hands, but first by giving what he did to our Blessed Lady whom he loved very much. He was on his way.

In the Lord’s providence, once this task of the last few years was completed, God saw fit to call Bishop Paul from this life to his eternal home. Bishop Peter Christensen, his very dear friend said to me, “I am jealous,” and he meant jealous because Bishop Paul’s work here on Earth is now done, but his was not. In that sense, we too, should all be jealous because we also have work to be done before we can see our loving God for whom we were made.

That said, let us follow Bishop Paul’s example, let us all “Rise and be on our Way (Jn 14:31),” each of us following Christ the good shepherd until He sees fit to call us home as well.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord … and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. And may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.


Father James B. Bissonette chosen as diocesan administrator

On Dec. 4, Father James B. Bissonette, pastor of St. Raphael Catholic Church in Duluth and St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor, was elected as diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth.

Father James Bissonette
Father James Bissonette

Under church law, a group of diocesan priests called the College of Consultors elects the diocesan administrator, who will care for the diocese while it awaits the appointment of its new bishop by Pope Francis.

This process takes place shortly after a diocese (also known as a “see”) has become “vacant,” meaning it no longer has a bishop, often through an appointment of a bishop to some other post. The Diocese of Duluth became vacant with the sudden death of Bishop Paul Sirba on Dec. 1. Among the consultors are the deans of each of the five regions, called deaneries, in the diocese, who were key advisors to the bishop.

The role of the diocesan administrator, who takes on some of the obligations and powers of a diocesan bishop, is to maintain the diocese in its ongoing work until a new bishop is installed.

“I am humbled that the priest-consultors have placed their confidence in me to serve as diocesan administrator,” Father Bissonette said. “I ask prayers that I may fulfill my duties well. I also ask prayers for the faithful of this local church, that we might faithfully live the Gospel as we await the Holy Father’s appointment of the next shepherd for the flock in northeastern Minnesota.”

Prior to his present assignment, Father Bissonette has served as associate pastor of Blessed Sacrament in Hibbing and as pastor of St. Mary in Marble, St. Francis in Carlton, Immaculate Conception in Cromwell, St. Philip in Saginaw, and St. James in Duluth, as well as a previous tenure as pastor of St. Rose. He served as vicar general under Bishop Dennis Schnurr and under Bishop Sirba. He has also previously served the diocese as judicial vicar, chancellor, and on the priest personnel board.

Father Bissonette also previously served as diocesan administrator before the appointment of Bishop Sirba.

New bishops are chosen by the pope, and there is no certain timeline for when that appointment will be made, but according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, “it often takes six to eight months — and sometimes longer — from the time a diocese becomes vacant until a new bishop is appointed.”

Bishop Sirba’s funeral will be livestreamed by WDIO

We anticipate that many mourners, both from the Diocese of Duluth and from outside of our diocese, will wish to attend our beloved Bishop Paul Sirba’s funeral Friday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, and that the resulting crowd may well far exceed the available seating at the Cathedral. Therefore we are grateful to announce that WDIO-TV has graciously offered to have the liturgy livestreamed on the Internet, making it accessible to all across the region and beyond who wish to see it.

The stream will be available on

We hope this will enable as many people as possible to be united in prayer for the repose of Bishop Sirba’s soul and for his family and our local church and all who mourn.

As a reminder: Public visitation for Bishop Sirba will take place from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Cathedral, which is another opportunity to say goodbye and pray for him. The visitation will then resume at 8 a.m. Friday morning and continue until the 11 a.m. funeral Mass.

Please share this information widely so that as many people as possible can be made aware of it.

Obituary: Bishop Paul D. Sirba, 59

Bishop Paul David Sirba, Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, MN, beloved shepherd of the people of the Diocese of Duluth, dear son, brother, uncle and great-uncle died of apparent cardiac arrest at his home in Proctor, MN on Sunday morning, December 1, 2019, the First Sunday of Advent. Bishop Sirba was born in Minneapolis, MN on September 2, 1960, to Norbert and Helen Sirba. He attended Nativity of Mary Grade School in Bloomington, Academy of the Holy Angels in Richfield, and the College of St. Thomas and St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. Bishop Sirba received his Master of Divinity degree from St. Paul Seminary as well as a Masters in Arts from the Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute in Arlington, Virginia. Paul Sirba was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on May 31, 1986 and served in the following parishes: St. Olaf, Minneapolis; St. John the Baptist, Savage; and Maternity of Mary, St. Paul. He also worked in the Spiritual Formation Department at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul and was a Spiritual Director at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. He was appointed Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on July 1, 2009, and was subsequently appointed by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, as the Ninth Bishop for the Diocese of Duluth. He was ordained Bishop of Duluth on the feast of St. John of the Cross, December 14, 2009.

Bishop SirbaWhile a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Sirba was a member of several committees including the Priority and Plans Committee, Administrative Committee, and the Catholic Home Missions Committee. Bishop Sirba was also an active member of the St. Paul Seminary Board of Directors and the Episcopal Advisory Board for the Institute on Religious Life. He also served as the state chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

For the ten years of which Bishop Sirba was the shepherd of the Duluth Diocese, he was known to be an incredibly kind and compassionate pastor, a wise and thoughtful administrator, and a holy and virtuous man of prayer and deep faith. He was a beloved and dear member of the Sirba family, and was revered as a true spiritual father by the clergy, religious and faithful of the diocese. He will be greatly missed.

Bishop Sirba was preceded in death by his father, Norbert. He is survived by his mother Helen of St. Paul, brothers the Reverend Joseph Sirba of Hinckley, and John (SueAnn) of Bloomington, and a sister Catherine (Scott) of Canon Falls. He is also survived by many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews, and the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Duluth.

Visitation will be on Thursday, December 5, 2019 from 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary located at 2801 East Fourth Street in Duluth, MN, with the praying of the Rosary to take place at 6:00 p.m. and Vigil prayers at 7:00 p.m. Visitation will continue at the Cathedral on Friday, December 6, 2019 from 8:00 a.m. until the Mass of Christian Burial at 11:00 a.m. Following the funeral Mass, burial will be at Calvary Cemetery in Duluth. Requiescat in Pace.

Bishop Paul Sirba has died

 With sad hearts, we share the following message regarding the sudden death of our beloved Bishop Paul Sirba that was sent out to diocesan clergy and employees this morning and which is being announced at Masses today.

Following is the message from Father Bissonette, who has served as Bishop Sirba’s vicar general:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is with an incredibly heavy heart that I must inform you of tragic news regarding our Bishop. Bishop Paul Sirba suffered cardiac arrest at St. Rose Church in Proctor, MN this morning, December 1st. He was rushed to Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, where life-saving measures were attempted, but were unsuccessful. He was attended to by Father John Petrich who administered the last rites to him at the hospital. He was declared to have passed away at just after 9:00 A.M. this morning. Words do not adequately express our sorrow at this sudden loss of our Shepherd. We have great hope and faith in Bishop Sirba’s​ resurrection to new life, and have confident assurance that he will hear the words of our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter in the joy of your Master.”

Arrangements for Bishop Sirba’s funeral Mass and burial will be forthcoming. Please pray for the repose of Bishop Sirba’s soul, as well as for his mother, Helen, and his siblings, Father Joe, Kathy, and John, and their families. Let us also hold each other up in prayer during this most difficult time.

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

May he rest in peace ...
- Amen.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God ...
- Rest in peace, Amen.

Reverend James B. Bissonette
Diocese of Duluth 

Father Nick Nelson: The four last things — nothing in this life is worth missing heaven for

In the liturgical rhythm of the year, the church focuses on various realities of the Christian life. For example, during Lent we remember Christ’s temptations in the desert and we give extra effort to root out sin in our life.

Father Nicholas Nelson
Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

During the month of November, we recall the end of things. This makes sense considering the liturgical year ends during the month of November. In the readings, especially the gospels, the church gives us readings that remind us of what the church traditionally refers to as “The Four Last Things” — death, judgment, heaven, and hell.


Death is a reality that we all have to deal with. We must all wrestle with the question as to what will happen to us when we die. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ” (1021). The time for mercy is here on earth. Once we die, it is the time for God’s justice.


Particular Judgment: From the Catechism, “Every person receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death” (1022). We will be judged on whether we accepted and returned the divine life and love that was offered us. Love takes two. God doesn’t force us to “love” him. Love cannot be forced. If we lived our life and made choices contrary to God’s will, he respects that, and he gives us what we want, eternity without him. In our particular judgment, we are either headed to hell or to heaven, either immediately or following a final purification, purgatory.

Last or General Judgment: This is the lesser known judgment. From the Catechism: “The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life” (1039). At the end of time, the truth of everything will be known to all. At the Last Judgment, those who have died will already be enjoying heaven or be miserable in hell. That someone is in heaven or hell will not change. But Christ will come and show to each person the “domino effect” of both the good and the evil they did. We will see how that little noticed word of encouragement motivated a person into becoming a great saint of the church. We will also realize how that seemingly private sin against chastity hurt the Body of Christ and affected our ability to love others. This final revelation of everything to everyone will mean embarrassment and shame for those in hell and glory and honor for those in heaven because they accepted God’s mercy for their sins. Our bodies will also be reunited with our soul to either enjoy the glory of the blessed in heaven or the misery of damned in hell.


From the Catechism: “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. … To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and blessed is called ‘hell’” (1033). Hell is real, and people go there. If a man dies with even one unrepented mortal sin on his soul, he will go to hell. In a sense, hell is a form of God’s mercy, which is never opposed to his justice. To those who have rejected the light of God during their life, to see God in his eternal glory is intolerable. It’s similar to exiting from a dark movie theater to the brilliance of a bright sunny day. Hell and heaven are forever. No do-overs.


From the Catechism: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they ‘see him as he is,’ face to face! … Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1023). Don’t be fooled and think that heaven will be boring. Heaven is the most real life. Even the best of life on earth is just a shadow of heaven. Those in who die in friendship with God either go to heaven immediately or after a final purification.

Purgatory: From the Catechism: CCC 1033, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified … undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (1030). Purgatory is temporary and has two main purposes. One is purgation or purification, and the other is reparation. Justice demands that we make reparation for our sins. If we don’t make adequate reparation for our sins in this life, purgatory is where we make final reparation.

Purgatory is such a great gift. It means we don’t have to be totally perfected when we die. And if a soul makes it to purgatory, they will eventually be in heaven for eternity. But it isn’t God’s first plan for us, so neither should it be ours. Our goal should be to be saints by the time we die. So make reparation for sins and be purified of your attachments now!

My friends, nothing in this life is worth missing out on heaven for. Did I scare you? Good! Now, Get to confession!

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

Betsy Kneepkens: 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. Reach him at [email protected]

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.