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MCC: Protecting poor, holding line on marijuana legalization, assisted suicide among 2021 legislative successes

By Joe Towalski
The Central Minnesota Catholic

Amid the ongoing challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Minnesota Catholic Conference worked to help pass legislation at the State Capitol this session to protect the poor and vulnerable while also staving off initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana and physician-assisted suicide.

The interior dome of the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul. (Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Legislators, who began meeting in January, needed a special session in June to reach agreement on the state’s next two-year budget. Along the way, they passed a one-time cash grant stimulus of $435 for low-income families and a cost-of-living adjustment to the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), which provides basic economic assistance for children and their working parents, said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director.

In 2019, MCC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, worked with partners, including the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, to increase the MFIP cash grant to families by $100 — the first increase in the monthly grant in more than 30 years. The cost-of-living adjustment will assist families to cope with rising costs.

“You can’t overcome poverty in 2021 with 2012 or 2015 dollars,” Adkins said. “And already we’re talking about inflationary pressures that make it more expensive to fill up your car, to pay your bills, etc.”

MCC opposed efforts this session to legalize recreational marijuana use. A bill that would have created a commercial recreational marijuana industry in the state passed the House but failed in the Senate. Addressing participants at this year’s Catholics at the Capitol event in April, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said such legalization would introduce another vice into society that would lower public morality and harm people, especially young people.

“There was just a story in the newspaper about a conviction for a traffic fatality in the Twin Cities involving someone high on marijuana,” Adkins said. “We just need to tell the story of what’s happened in other places where this has been legalized and why it’s a problem in our community. Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, just passed a huge reform bill to rein in that whole industry.”

Proponents of the marijuana proposal argue that it would help to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Adkins, however, said this is the wrong approach to the problem. “There are criminal justice concerns related to marijuana, but those can — and should — be dealt with separately.”

MCC also continued to oppose efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide — an issue that has surfaced every year at the Legislature since 2015. However, it has never received a legislative committee vote. Still, opponents of assisted suicide must remain vigilant, Adkins said.

“In conjunction with our partners at the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, we continue to make the case that we should be advancing ethical care, and better care, and not killing people,” he said.

More people are understanding the threat posed by the potential legalization of physician-assisted suicide, Adkins noted.

“I think they’re connecting the dots because of the opioid crisis. They’re connecting the dots because of COVID — the way in which we’ve made so many sacrifices to preserve lives,” he said. “People are starting to recognize that protecting the autonomy of some people endangers the well-being of the rest of us. In other words, the COVID crisis helped us rediscover the common good a little bit more in the health care sphere, and the opioid crisis shows us that we shouldn’t always trust pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies with the public well-being.

“We’re continuing to do the ongoing work of education through a new webinar series that you can find on the Alliance website [ethicalcaremn.org],” he added, “and we will continue to make the good case about why [physician-assisted suicide] isn’t the right path. That message is hitting home at the Capitol.”

Among other issues MCC focused on this session:

Educational choice — Helping children and their families to access schools that best serve their needs has been an MCC priority for many years. Although efforts to create education savings accounts or tuition tax credits ultimately failed to pass the full Legislature, Adkins said he is hopeful for the future because “the Senate passed the most comprehensive school choice legislation in our state’s history” — education savings accounts for all families with household incomes under $150,000.

“That’s a huge, historic win and an incredible development,” he said. “That’s how we empower families to give children the best education they can get that’s consistent with their values. And that has to be our framework going forward.”

Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants — Although this measure, which MCC supports, fell short again this year, there was progress on the educational front, Adkins said.

“People are realizing that although there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, it’s the state’s responsibility to create safe roads,” he said. “That’s what this legislation is about — creating safe roads and not separating families because of a traffic violation. That message is resonating with more people.”

Medical assistance — Postpartum coverage under Medical Assistance was extended from 60 days to 12 months. “This helps to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of moms, which in turn supports families and their newborns,” Adkins said.

Driver’s license suspension reform — The penalty for unpaid fines and fees for minor traffic violations will now entail a civil collections process rather than suspension of a person’s driver’s license. “So some of the things that have led to unfortunate police stops and stops that have created conflict, hopefully those will be diffused” with passage of this legislation, Adkins said.

Emergency services — The Legislature passed additional funding of $6 million per year to help meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness.

Looking ahead to the 2022 legislative session, MCC will be following any amendment efforts that seek to further constitutionalize a right to abortion or limit religious freedoms, Adkins said. It will continue to oppose efforts to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and it will promote palliative care options as an ethical alternative to physician-assisted suicide. It also will oppose any measures that would undermine school choice efforts or threaten parental rights in education.

The period between state legislative sessions is often the best time to reach out to local lawmakers on such issues, Adkins said.

“These times of the year are becoming more and more important to have good, robust conversations with legislators outside of the charged political environment of a session,” he said. “We need to cultivate these relationships on an individual level but also on a community level. Consider inviting them to your parish festival and talking to them about issues you care about.”

Stay connected: The Catholic Advocacy Network is an initiative of the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The non-partisan network — for which you can sign up at www.mncatholic.org — alerts Catholics via email and/or text to important state and federal legislative activity about which they can contact lawmakers with a single click. MCC also sends e-newsletters with ways to learn about the Church’s social ministry as well as advocating for life, dignity and the common good.

Editorial: As COVID cases surge again, remember the lessons

It was only a couple of months ago, as cases of COVID-19 were declining and things were slowly starting to feel normal, that we asked readers to reflect on the lessons learned from the suffering and challenges of all the months of lockdowns and masks and Zoom and all the rest.

Now, as cases begin to climb again with a new variant of the disease, as masks begin to reappear in some places, as continued disagreement over things like vaccines simmer among us, and as patience wears thin, fostered by the lurking fear that we may be heading in the wrong direction, it’s important to go back to those lessons we’ve learned, particularly from the things we could have done better.

One simple lesson that is worth recalling is having patience and remembering the humanity of those we may disagree with, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. So many hard words have been spoken and wounds opened in the Body of Christ over the past year and a half. People are scared. People are confused. People are struggling to know who to trust. People are struggling to separate fact from fiction.

So extend mercy and grace. Assume good will. Do these things even when it’s hard — that’s when it counts the most. Try to understand in a charitable way what is motivating people. Pick your battles. Seek to convince and encourage rather than to coerce and condemn and ridicule.

And yes, try to act in everyone’s best interests.

Finding the right answers is difficult, but trusting in God and loving and forgiving our brothers and sisters is the way we will truly come through this together.

Father Nicholas Nelson: Passing on the Faith today, in a new apostolic age

I recently read the book “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age.” It is from the University of Mary in Bismark, North Dakota. It is a short but good read. It can help us understand how we are to pass on the faith and live the faith today. I’d like to share a few important points from the book.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

It argues that cultures and societies have prevailing ways of seeing reality. They have a prevailing vision. This vision is taken for granted. Most people don’t consider it, much less describe it or argue for it. From this vision, people act. The way people live depends on this vision of reality. So when we speak of Christendom, we don’t only mean a time when the majority of people were believing and practicing Christians but a time when the Christian vision — the Christian narrative or story — was the prevailing one. It was backdrop and foundation from which people lived.

It is obvious today that we don’t live in Christendom anymore. Not only are a minority of people practicing Christians, the prevailing vision and narrative of existence is not that of the Christian faith.

In Christendom, believers are generally at peace with the wider society. Nevertheless, there is the great temptation to become lukewarm in one’s faith. There is less of a demand for radical Christian living. In Christendom, the church as a whole can become less spiritual and supernatural and become more worldly and material, especially because being Christian is seen as positive to the wider society.

When we consider the apostolic time before Christendom, before Christianity became the prevailing vision of the Western World, we see that things were much different. In the Apostolic Age, Christians saw themselves different from the rest of the world. Because the demands of the Christian faith are radically different from the rest of society, there was less room and opportunity for mediocre Christians. It was all or nothing. In the Apostolic Age, Christians understood the supernatural call. They appreciated the otherworldliness of the Faith. They were less corrupted by the material and worldly ambitions.

It is clear that in the year 2021, we are no longer in Christendom. We are in a post-Christian world, one that is more similar to the Apostolic Age. Unfortunately, many in the church are acting as if we are still in Christendom. “The children of Catholic parents often leave the Faith; Catholic schools and universities do not graduate serious Catholic believers; parishes do not produce vocations to priesthood and religious life; religious orders shrivel” (p. 32). The problem is that the ruling vision in the world is no longer a Christian one. And so we and our Christian institutions have been infected and compromised with a non-Christian vision and anti-Christian principles. And therefore, we can no longer afford to think and act as if we are still in Christendom. That is the premise of the book.

They argue that we need an apostolic attitude, meaning that we must live as if we believe that Christ is the answer to every problem. That we need to be convinced of the bad news that we are enslaved by the evil one through our own rebellion and we can’t save ourselves. But that we also need to be convinced of the Good News, that God has entered our fallen world to save us, and that he is owed our total allegiance.

They argue that we need to use our institutions such as the family, parishes, charities, and schools differently. This means today our Christian institutions can only maintain their identity by “energetic resistance to conformity with the wider atmosphere” (p. 43). Because even if it is not decisively anti-Christian, that is where it will end up if it isn’t intentionally resistant to the cultural forces. To sum this up, they said, “In a Christendom setting, ‘he that is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50) …. But in an apostolic situation, ‘he who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters’” (Luke 11:23).

They argue for establishing and strengthening practices that incarnate the Christian vision. In Christendom, our society was visibly ordered towards Christ. Now the visible is ordered away from God. This means we have to avoid some of the secular practices. We need to order our time, our homes, our use of technology, all towards incarnating the Christian vision of the world.

They argue that our influence in the world will be primarily through our witness. In Christendom, we influenced society from the inside. Now it will be from without. They say we can’t be as concerned with what the world thinks of us, but rather be concerned with heroically and radically pursuing holiness and remaining always faithful to Jesus Christ. Then seeing us, they will want what we have!

Finally, they end by saying, “The Holy Spirit is at work in every age, ours included. If it is true, as we are assured by St. Paul, that grace is more present the more the evil abounds (cf. Rom 5), we might expect an especially abundant action of the Holy Spirit in our own time. Our task is to understand the age we have been given, to trace out how the Holy Spirit is working in it, and to seize the adventure of cooperating with Him” (p. 90).

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected].

Father Richard Kunst: ‘Unthinkable’ comment in Mark’s Gospel shows why we honor Mary

On Aug. 24, we celebrate the feast day of the Apostle St. Bartholomew, and although we know next to nothing about him, he is one of the most recognizable of the Apostles in sacred art because of how he is portrayed. Most often he is holding a large knife and his own skin. This is because of ancient tradition that holds he was martyred by being flayed alive while preaching the Gospel either in India or Armenia. This portrayal of the Apostle is perhaps most famous in Michelangelo’s Final Judgment in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, where it is said Michelangelo made the detached skin into his own self portrait. A downright grotesque portrayal of the flayed Apostle can be seen in the form of a marble statue in the cathedral of Milan, Italy.

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

The fact is, we know so little about St. Bartholomew that even his name is not actually his name! Bartholomew is not a proper name but rather what is referred to as a patronymic — it literally means “Son of Tolmai.”

In the Western culture of the United States we have adopted the ancient Roman practice of having a first, middle, and last name, but for the Jewish people during the time of Jesus it simply was not the case. People had only one name, no middle or last name. In order to differentiate people of the same name they would refer to a person by their dad’s name, like Bartholomew, whose given name according to the Gospel of John was Nathanael. Jesus says to Peter, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah,” since there were two Apostles named Simon. Jesus would have widely been known as Jesus son of Joseph, since Jesus was one of the more common names of the day. Dead or alive, the father’s name would often act as a sort of last name, and that ancient Jewish practice has seeped into our culture with names like Johnson, Peterson, and Anderson.

There is a noteworthy scriptural exception to this very fast rule of ancient Jewish practice, and that comes in the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus is back in Nazareth preaching in his hometown synagogue. The Gospel says that the people marveled at Jesus’ knowledge and wisdom, wondering where he got all this, and then they ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3).

I have to say, in the real world during the time of Jesus that never would have happened. Not only would it be viewed as completely against the cultural norm, but it would also have been a major insult to Joseph, whether he was alive or dead. When the mother of the Apostles James and John petitioned Jesus to have her sons sit on the right and the left of Jesus in his kingdom, the Gospel referrers to her as the mother of the sons of Zebedee, which might seem a bit demeaning to our 21st century ears, but it was the expected practice in the world of Jesus.

So why would the Gospel of Mark portray people as referring to Jesus as the “son of Mary” when it clearly would not have actually happened? The answer is actually pretty simple.

The Gospel of Mark does not say a word about the birth or childhood of Jesus. It starts with his baptism, when he was presumably around 30 years of age. There are scripture scholars who believe that Mark put this “unthinkable” comment of Jesus the son of Mary in his text to drive home the very point that the Gospels of Luke and Matthew make in their narratives, namely that Jesus had no biological father, that Mary was Jesus’ only biological parent.

There seems to be no other explanation for why Mark would have portrayed the people of Nazareth asking the question that simply would not have been asked concerning Christ’s identity. It simply would not have happened.

There are a lot of people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who think the church puts too much emphasis on the Virgin Mary. To those people, I say, take that up with Jesus the son of Mary! As Bishop Fulton Sheen once noted, to the people who have a problem with Mary, they should note that Jesus spent 10 times as much time with Mary while on earth as he did with any of the Apostles.

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

Bishop Daniel Felton: Implementation of Pope Francis’ new Latin Mass norms will take study

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is hard to believe that we are already at the end of the month of July and heading into the dog days of August. I pray that you have found some time this summer to rejuvenate your heart, body, and soul.

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

During these summer months, I have had the occasion to be celebrating weekend Masses at a number of parishes; to celebrate with our seminarian Jacob Tschida the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders; to continue to meet with a variety of diocesan organizations and apostolates, including the Knights of Columbus and Serrans; and to participate in some events with the Totus Tuus high school men and women. These have all been opportunities for me to rejuvenate my heart, body, and soul.

Additionally, last week our Holy Father, Pope Francis, released a motu proprio (personally issued legislative directive), Traditionis Custodes, on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the 1970 reform. This letter provides new regulations governing the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (often called the Traditional Latin Mass or the Tridentine Mass). Presently, the Traditional Latin Mass is offered weekly at St. Benedict Parish in Duluth by Father Joel Hastings. It is also offered at four other parishes in our diocese on a more limited basis, usually once a month.

At this time, I have asked that we continue to celebrate the Latin Mass in our diocese in the manner by which it is presently being offered. To that end, I grant the necessary faculties so that priests who are already celebrating the rite of the Extraordinary Form may continue to do so, as well as the locations currently offering the Latin Mass. No new liturgical celebrations of the Extraordinary Form are to take place at this time.

As the Holy Father’s introduction notes, implementing these norms will take time. It is very important that we take the time to study and discuss how I can best implement the directives of Pope Francis in the Diocese of Duluth. I have asked Father Hastings, who is also diocesan director of liturgy, to form a task force to review the new norms and to make recommendations to our Presbyteral (Priest) Council, which in turn will give counsel to me as to how I can best provide in our diocese the celebration of the Latin Mass in a manner that fulfills the needs of those who wish to worship God through the Extraordinary Form in a way that is consistent with the directives put forth in the motu proprio of Pope Francis.

In the meantime, I encourage all to be mindful of the faithful who are devoted to the traditional liturgy and sensitive to their feelings at this time. As we undertake this review, let us keep each other in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and grant us the grace of greater faith and deeper unity in our Eucharistic Lord.

As these summer days fly by more quickly than we would wish, take the time to give praise to Jesus Christ who is the Lord of each day and the Savior of every season.

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth.

Deacon Kyle Eller: Resisting the politicization of everything

I’m not sure what tipped me over, but it’s been slowly building to what is now full-blown exasperation — the politicization of every sphere of life. It feels almost wrong to list examples, as if even to name a few diminishes the degree to which it is simply everywhere.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

But the examples range from the literal global stage, where Olympic athletes seem to be featured in coverage sometimes based almost entirely on some ideological reason, to sitting in a restaurant in the Black Hills on family vacation awestruck as, three tables away, some guy whose voice seems to have only one volume (loud) tells the captive audience at his table but also everyone in the whole space his opinions of former Vice President Mike Pence and why he won’t set foot in the state of Minnesota because he doesn’t like our governor.

It’s Facebook groups supposedly dedicated to sourdough baking that, in the space of literally a few minutes, go from being enthusiastic, supportive, friendly spaces with people bonding over a common interest to absolute war zones of bitter vitriol and locked threads and nasty name calling and people leaving in a huff or being kicked out over whatever cause du jour someone wanted to make the group about that day.

It’s walking down the street in another city and knowing, just by the flags and slogans in the windows, what every shop and restaurant thinks about so-called “Pride Month,” even when it supposedly ended a month ago. That’s to say nothing of the full on commercial and media blitz of rainbow-washing everything, to the point that I suspect even Christmas couldn’t boast that much saturation in a bygone heyday when it was an uncontroversial focus all December long.

It’s knowing what every author and athlete and musician and actor and celebrity thinks about whatever the ruling class has declared to be the issue of the day, even when those celebrities have no more knowledge or insight than any random stranger on the street and when it has nothing to do with their work.

It’s the painfully huge number of Catholics who seem to have rendered themselves incapable of hearing anything the church says about public affairs except as filtered through their politics, as if the church were some kind of human Rorschach test that simply reflects back someone’s obsessions and prejudices.

I could go on and on and drearily on.

Yes, I know politics have had a place in all these many spheres of life for decades. Within reason I’m fine with that. I’ve never been a believer in that old cliche about not talking religion or politics over dinner. I wish there were more deep, open conversations about these things taking place in the context of family and friends who love and respect each other and assume good faith. I suspect we’d all be better off for it.

But finally you watch a sporting event to root for your team or see skilled athletes perform. You go into a store looking to buy a new pair of shoes. You go to a concert to hear music that moves you. I imagine there are few people who want to be burdened with the constant awareness of whether we’re in friendly or enemy territory in the culture war with everything we do. Yet that’s the world we’re creating.

I suspect these problems in part reflect the decline of faith in our culture and even within the church. It is easy, then, for politics and ideology to take on the role our faith ought to play in being our guide to understanding ourselves and our place in the world.

The Lord calls each of us in the beatitudes to be peacemakers. While we often remind ourselves that this means being reconciled to God and living in the truth, it’s also true that it means being peaceful people — people who seek to heal divisions rather than worsen them, who see those who disagree with them not as enemies but as brothers and sisters with whom we hope to be someday reconciled.

And that means resisting as best we can the temptation to turn every sphere of life into a political battlefield.

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Grandparents are often key to children’s development

Pope Francis designated the fourth Sunday of July the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. He chose that Sunday because it is close to the liturgical memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I know I grew up a bit ignorant of St. Anne and St. Joachim. However, when the Cathedral of Our Lady put up statues of both saints, I was drawn to find out as much as I could about them. I quickly learned what an important role Sts. Joachim and Anne play in salvation history! If not for their deep faith, typical parents of that period would have at minimum banished their daughter from the family for what was believed to be an illicit pregnancy. Worse yet, parents in this situation often had to stand by while others stoned their daughter to death.

Sts. Joachim and St. Anne, along with St. Joseph, protected Mary from public shaming, which ultimately allowed the birth of our Savior. In other words, Jesus’ grandparents’ steadfast belief in the incarnation, their support for the family of Jesus, and their abiding love obtained our hope for salvation.

Pope Francis’s decision to honor grandparents and the elderly is brilliant and timely. In a period of divided families and a generation of parents with the largest population of nones (unaffiliated with any organized religion) in centuries, grandparents and elderly may hold the key to unifying the next generation to Christ and his church. Grandparents have unconditional love for their children and their grandchildern, and there seems to be an innate desire by grandparents to do all that is humanly possible to keep these loved ones close to Christ. Grandparents may be instrumental in helping their grandchildren know Christ when parents have abdicated the responsibility.

My husband and I were short-sighted when we settled our family in Duluth. At 23 and newly married, we did not consider the consequence of what living over 450 miles from both sets of grandparents would mean for our eventual family. Furthermore, since we came from large families, our parents’ time was proportioned between our siblings, logically making relationship building easier for those grandkids that live closer to our parents. With our first few kids, I think we did a pretty good job of going back home, but as things got busy and the children were older, that time back home was cut considerably shorter. In some ways, we cheated our children out of one of the most significant relationships a kid could have.

Grandparents are crucial to a child’s development, not just in a free nurturing way but also in a spiritual formation way. As our children got older, we were blessed by many elderly adults in our faith community who took on the role of grandparents for our children. These individuals kept tabs on our kids and attended events like games, sacramental moments, Christmas concerts, and special times in the church’s life, just like grandparents usually do.

They invited our family to Christmas and Easter celebrations, which provided lifelong memories. Having these individuals in our family life was never something planned, but as I look back, they served as essential loved ones that filled a void their grandparents could not. My children would say the relationship may be different than their grandparents, but they hold them in a special place in their hearts.

Over the years, I have watched many grandparents pick up where their adult children have not. I have observed a grandpa who brought his grandson to Mass every Sunday. I was thrilled to see that grandson got married in the church and later read in the bulletin that the grandson’s baby was baptized.

I know numerous friends that have had to raise their grandchildren in their homes and take on the significant responsibilities of parenting them. Even my sister took her grandchildren into her home at 50 years of age. Immediately she got the children baptized, brings them to Mass weekly, and although it is a tough financial stretch, she has placed her grandkids into Catholic schools. She will be nearing 70 when the youngest goes off to college.

Grandparents and the elderly have always played a role in the lives of the generation once removed. Still, at an alarming rate, grandparents and other elderly folks are placed in a position where they take on the heroic role of parenting and being the spiritual leader in place of the biological parents.

I am not a grandparent yet, and I don’t think I am elderly either (although my children would say otherwise). I did assume I would be blessed with grandchildren by now, but that status is not up to me. I know I am not getting younger, and I hope that if blessed, my children know that my husband and I are willing and ready to take on the role of grandparenting. I hope we raised our children so that they know parenting is a lot more than having children, and they accept and live out the crucial role of being spiritual leaders for our grandchildren.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the foundation we gave our children will stand up to the pressures of our current culture. Every one of our children knows how important parenting is to the salvific future of their children and we hope that priority is theirs as well.

Pope Francis has always had a pulse on where the wounds are in this world. He has rightly acknowledged a need to elevate the respect given to grandparents and the elderly across the globe. We owe a great deal of respect to those individuals who serve the family and our church with their steadfast devotion to Christ and the church. Just like Sts. Anne and Joachim, the current oldest generation has played a vital role in holding up faith for those that come after them, and that service needs to be acknowledged and encouraged.

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

Father Mike Schmitz: Aren’t the bishops politicizing the Eucharist?

I am troubled by news that the bishops of the United States might ban politicians who are openly pro-abortion from receiving Holy Communion. Isn’t this politicizing the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist for one’s own ends? I thought that the Eucharist was meant to be “medicine for those who are sick.” 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Your question is timely, since this has been in the news recently. But in other ways, this is an ancient question. Even more than that, it is an issue that is much larger than politics. Politics and politicians come and go, nations rise and nations fall. But a person’s soul is going to endure forever. 

Consider this: long after the United States of America ceases to exist, every person who has ever lived will either rejoice in eternity with God or endure eternity separated from God. Because of this reality, the church has to be more preoccupied with individuals and their souls than individuals and their politics. 

That being said, our decisions matter. The things we choose to say and do (and the things we choose to not say and not do) matter. In my private life, I can make decisions that violate the commandments of God (we call those decisions “sins”). And in my public life, I can make decisions that violate God’s commandments (those decisions are also called “sins”). Whether those private or public decisions occur in a political space is irrelevant to their sinfulness. 

Yes, the church has an interest in justice and in the common good, which is why church leadership will often weigh in on issues of injustice and areas where the common good is being violated, but the church can never “impose” the Gospel on others. She can only “propose” the Gospel to the people in our culture. This is why the church does her best to teach on issues that affect our society, issues like the rights of workers, the unborn, those in prison, immigrants, racism, and any other dilemma we face as a people. 

Still, if this is just about politics, then it is only relevant for those involved in politics — it only really matters for those who care about politics. Because of that, I want to take a step back and look at the real heart of what is going on here. This teaching is potentially more about what we believe about the Eucharist than it is about what we believe about politics or anything else. 

Pope Francis is noted for having stated that the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” This is incredibly encouraging. We can never forget that every time we approach the Blessed Sacrament, we are receiving a gift we do not deserve. This is one reason why we always state, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” 

None of us could merit to receive the Eucharist even if we lived 100 perfect lifetimes. And yet, Jesus keeps inviting us to receive him at Mass. This is the unfathomable love of God! 

The question that this issue raises is: Do we believe that? Do we truly believe that we do not deserve the gift of the Eucharist, and that every time we approach our Lord in Holy Communion we are taking our lives in our hands? Are we so brazen as to think that we can do what St. Paul says is akin to murder and get away with it? 

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul writes that whoever “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” When I first encountered these words of St. Paul, the person teaching them to me noted that the term “will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” was similar to saying that Christ’s “blood is on your hands.” St. Paul is highlighting the fact that, if someone has committed a mortal sin and receives Holy Communion without going to confession first, they are committing the serious grave sin of violating the Eucharist. 

Now, this is true regardless of which mortal sin I am guilty of. 

I have heard people say, “Why are the bishops focusing on pro-abortion politicians? They ought to also include those Catholics who use contraception or are divorced and remarried.” But that is the point, any mortal sin (including the two just mentioned) would need to be repented of and confessed before any person (politician or not) received Holy Communion. The Catechism states it like this: Anyone “who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion … without having first received sacramental absolution” (1457). 

You might ask, “But what about the Eucharist being ‘medicine for the sick’?” Yes, the Eucharist is medicine for the sick, but it is not medicine for the dead. Mortal sin is called “mortal” because there is a real sense in which it kills the life of God in the soul. Simply praying at the beginning of Mass, “I confess to almighty God …” and “Lord, have mercy” is enough to forgive venial sins, but only confession forgives mortal sins. Receiving Holy Communion heals and strengthens those who are struggling, but it does not revive the dead. 

The great enemy of the church, Voltaire, knew this well enough. Once a young man who wanted to be free of his Catholic upbringing went to Voltaire and asked him how he could no longer feel guilty about his rejection of the Faith. Voltaire recommended that he commit mortal sins and then receive the Eucharist. He advised that he do this repeatedly until he no longer felt any pang of remorse or guilt. The young man did this, and within months, his faith had been completely eradicated. 

My friends, this isn’t about politics. This is about your soul and my soul. If we (not some politician somewhere in Washington) receive our Lord unworthily in Holy Communion, we are eating and drinking condemnation on ourselves. This is why St. Paul advises us, one “should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28). 

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

Father Richard Kunst: ‘What we own, we owe’: advice for the next homily about money

As we all know, the priesthood is a pretty unique profession. From the faith perspective, we call it a vocation, because that is what it is — a calling from God. From a secular perspective, it is a very unique job for many reasons, one of which I am sure we hardly give thought to: Other than maybe teachers, who speak to their students following a particular curriculum, Catholic priests are one of the very few professions that speak to an audience every day.

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

Besides Sundays, most priests I know give homilies every single day, with the exception of the occasional day off. Protestant ministers might have a Wednesday evening service, but they don’t do anything like the priest does in having daily Mass and daily preaching. If I were to “spitball” a guess, I have probably given around 8,500 homilies in my 23 years of priesthood, which means among other things I am really good at reading the audience. Because we priests talk most every day in front of an audience, we know how to read a crowd.

In mentioning this, I will say that there are two subjects that most make people squirm in their pews: when a priest is perceived to be getting “too political” and money. I will explain a different way to look at money, so that the next time you hear the priest tee up a homily on the subject you will get less squeamish.

When a pastor is assigned to a particular parish, it becomes his responsibility on every level to maintain it and hopefully get it to thrive. Priests do not own their parishes, but they do have great authority over them. They are, in essence, entrusted with the parish for a limited period of time, whether that be two years or 12 years, and eventually the time comes when the priest relinquishes his authority over the parish to his successor. This can be difficult, because we priests put our whole selves into a parish community, and just like that we no longer have anything to do with that parish once we are reassigned.

To make this a little less “priestly,” think of land that you might own, whether it is land your house is built on or property you have invested in. The fact is, you really don’t own land, you just own the right to do what you want with the land for a period of time. That same land was here during the time of the dinosaurs, and before Christopher Columbus showed up, and it will still be here long after your great, great, grandchildren die of old age. You do not own it, rather you are entrusted with it for a finite period of time.

It is not all that dissimilar when it comes to our money. Yes, we can spend money and use it up, but chances are much of our money will be here even after we are not. In reality the United States government owns the money. We simply earn the right to use it. (This is why it is actually against the law to deface currency.) So when it comes to the money we have earned the right to use — the money we have been entrusted with for a time — we need to ask ourselves how we are using it.

We would be foolish to think that we are only responsible for our needs and the needs of our family. There is a plethora of examples in both the Old and New Testaments that make that point clear. We would also be foolish to think we will not be judged in part by how we use the blessings God gave us. He has never bestowed blessings on anyone for their own selfish purposes; blessings are never meant just for the people who have received them.

The famous rabbi Abraham Heschel once wrote, “Everything we own, we owe.” That is not only a Jewish concept, it is also a Christian one. In the big picture of things, we don’t own anything on this blue dot we call earth, we simply get to use it for a time, then we are gone and someone else gets to use it.

So when the next money homily comes along, try not to squirm. Instead, consider how to properly use what God gives you for the time allotted, remembering that whatever he has given you is never meant just for you and your family.

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

Editorial: Forcing taxpayers to fund abortion is extreme and wrong

Our Catholic faith rightly demands that we protect innocent human life and therefore that we oppose abortion and oppose laws permitting abortion. This is a straightforward matter of justice in service to the common good.

In our complex form of government, as our nearly 50 year battle to undo the damage caused by Roe v. Wade shows, doing this is no easy task when some of our fellow citizens disagree with us vehemently and when many more of them are conflicted and ambivalent. That’s why Catholic teaching, for instance Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical on the Gospel of Life, make it clear that we can pursue this goal of protecting the unborn incrementally, step by step.

But one thing on which polls show broad, bipartisan agreement is that abortion should not be funded by taxpayers. Some polls show more than three in four Americans holding this view, a remarkable number in our divided nation, one that means even many of those who favor some forms of legal abortion oppose public funding of it.

Forcing taxpayers to subsidize abortions is extreme, and not only in the sense of being unpopular. It’s also extreme in that it makes all Americans, including the millions who find abortion abhorrent, participants in actual abortions. It is therefore an attack on conscience rights, as well.

Our state of Minnesota, tragically, already has taken this extreme and wrong step of taxpayer funded abortion, and we should continue to work to change that. We should also make clear to all of our elected representatives that we firmly stand with a majority of our fellow Americans in demanding that our federal government never makes the same mistake.