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Duluth Diocese announces additional measures to stem Covid-19 

March 18, 2020 — In a directive today, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, announced additional temporary measures to help stem the spread of Covid-19.

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In the new directive, all public Masses are suspended through April 20, effective Friday, March 20. (Priests may celebrate a private Mass without a congregation.) In addition, the diocese has cancelled all gatherings of more than 10 people and said that even in smaller gatherings, those vulnerable or showing any signs of illness should stay home, and all present should practice good hygiene and “social distancing” policies such as remaining six feet apart.

The document also contains guidance for Holy Week liturgies, as well as questions regarding first Communions, confirmations, and funerals.

Father Bissonette said that confessions and office hours should continue to made available on a regular basis, that churches should be open for an extended period each day so people could come individually and pray, and reiterated guidance for keeping Sundays holy when Mass is not available. He said the clergy and faithful should continue to visit and care for the sick, including through providing the sacraments.

"I do not take these temporary measures lightly and I strongly encourage you, the Faithful and the Clergy, to do the same," Father Bissonette wrote. "Let us pray that I will be able to lift them soon, that we will remain safe and well as we stand with Mary at the foot of the Cross during this crisis time, and that we will be able quickly to resume the public sharing of the Gospel and our Catholic faith."

He noted that the measures could extend beyond April 20, or should conditions improve more rapidly than expected, that they could be lifted at that time.

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Duluth Diocese dispenses Catholics in the region from Sunday Mass obligation

March 13, 2020

In light of the rapid spread of the coronavirus (covid-19) across the world and now to Minnesota, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, has dispensed Catholics in the diocese from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for the duration of the crisis.  

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For Catholics, attending Mass on Sundays and certain other important holy days is an obligation and a precept of the church. That obligation is not binding in certain circumstances, for instance when it would be impossible or in cases of illness. For just reasons, the church’s pastors can also “dispense” or lift that obligation for the faithful. 

In a letter to the faithful to be read at Masses this weekend, Father Bissonette said that during this time, Masses will continue to be celebrated at the usual times in parishes and institutions. But should a member of the faithful decide that attending a Mass would pose a risk either to themselves or to others, they can in good conscience refrain from attending. 

Father Bissonette made the decision after receiving the advice of the Minnesota Catholic Conference (the public policy arm of the state’s bishops) and a local infectious disease specialist. Other dioceses in the area are taking similar steps. 

At the same time, Father Bissonette advised parishes to cancel any large parish gatherings through the month of March, extending that as necessary. That includes the diocesan Women’s Conference, which had been scheduled for March 28.

The decision to dispense from Mass and cancel large gatherings follows guidance issued a week ago by Father Bissonette advising pastors, at their discretion to: 

  • Suspend the practice of Communion under both kinds and  
  • Suspend the physical exchange of the Sign of Peace.

Both involve options in the liturgy of the Mass that can help reduce the likelihood of disease transmission. 

Father Bissonette also encouraged pastors to tell their faithful to stay home if they feel sick or have flu-like symptoms, to wash their hands frequently, and to check with the Minnesota Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control for the latest updates and recommendations. 

The diocese continues to monitor the situation at the local, state, and federal level and will provide updates as needed. 

In his letter to the faithful, Father Bissonette encouraged those unable to attend Mass to “still do what we can to keep holy the Lord’s Day.” He suggested such practices as following Mass on television, the radio, or online; making a Spiritual Communion; and other practices, such as silent prayer, reading Scripture, praying the rosary, or other prayerful devotions. 

“As all of us rise to the challenges presented by the coronavirus, let us remember to pray for one another and to support one another as children of God and brothers and sisters of the Lord, most especially those affected by this virus and those who care for them,” he said.  

Father Michael Schmitz: Is Christianity about relationship, not religion?

Some of my co-workers seem think that I believe that my religion saves me. They say that Christianity is about a relationship, not a religion.

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a very good question. Of course we are brought into a new and miraculous relationship with God through his Son, Jesus. What a massive gift! But there has been this strange rise in a false dichotomy between faith in Jesus and faith in the church he founded. You find more and more people who maintain that they “love Jesus but not the church.” It is even another step away from the truth to claim that a person doesn’t need the church. There are so many reasons why this is not only shortsighted but is demonstrably false and contrary to the way in which God has interacted with his people.

First, before we go into any more complex reasons why the church is not optional, you could ask your friends who believe in Jesus how they know who he is. You might get some responses that include “He is my Lord” or “He is my savior” or “He is God.” Someone might even state the formulation, “Jesus Christ is true God and true man.”

These would all be good answers. But then you could ask the necessary next question: How do you know that? They might say that they know this from reading the New Testament. And that is good. But there are at least two critical errors with that simplistic answer.

First, where did they get the New Testament? Who chose those particular Gospels and not any others? Who selected those writings of St. Paul and St. Peter and others and did not choose other writings that existed at the same time? If they are basing their knowledge of Jesus off of the Bible, we are able to point out that they only have the Bible because of the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church gave us the New Testament (and even codified the writings of the Old Testament).

What is more, how do they know that Jesus is true God and true man? There was quite a bit of debate over Christ’s identity in the early centuries of Christianity. Some doubted whether Jesus was fully human. Others maintained that Jesus was part-God and part-human. The Catholic Church consistently defined and defended this reality of Jesus, and the Council of Nicaea in 325 settled the matter. There are many, many things that people who “don’t need the church” believe that they merely inherited from the official and visible institution of the Catholic Church.

But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface regarding our need for the church. This goes all the way back to the way God entered into relationship with people from the very beginning. From the start, when God entered into covenants with people, they always involved an individual and a corporate component. For example, if a man was brought into relationship with the Lord God, he would be circumcised, and this meant that he was not only in covenant relationship with God but also with the People of God (the Jewish people). There was never merely an individual relationship with the Lord God. And this is brought to fulfillment in the New Covenant.

When we are baptized, we are made into sons and daughters of God the Father, but we also become members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). We are brought into a family. If there is one thing we need to remember about family, it is that family implies real relationship. And real relationships involve real rights and real responsibilities. Because we are part of God’s people, we have access to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. But we also have responsibilities to God — and to his family, the church. This is how God has established it from the beginning, and he did not abolish it, but brought it to fulfillment in Christ (Matthew 5:17).

We have to do away with this silly notion that “religion” is a bad word. Actually, let’s look at the word itself. Religion comes from the word “/religare/” which means “to bind.” At this point, I can hear someone saying, “Exactly! That’s all religion does! It makes people ‘bound’ to man-made rules and regulations!”

But that isn’t what the word refers to. Yes, it refers to the fact that religion “binds” us to the Lord and to his church (we are made into members of his body), but it is more (Ephesians 5:30). But there is another aspect.

Consider the word “sin.” This word has a complex etymology, but one strain of the word comes from the word “sunder.” To sunder is to be divided, to be pulled apart, to be split. And this is our experience. Sin has sundered our hearts and our relationships, not only within ourselves, but also with God. Isn’t “binding” exactly what a sundered heart and a sundered world needs? If you agree, then you would also agree that this world needs religion, not merely a relationship.

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.

Betsy Kneepkens: Kobe Bryant shows sinners belong in the church

I am a sinner. Although I genuinely strive to live the holiest life possible, I have inclinations that drive me toward sin, and I succumb to those behaviors. Worse yet, I am not sure I have made it more than 24 hours after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation before I have sinned again. I rely on God’s mercy to keep me in a relationship with him.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Although we established our family roots in northern Minnesota, the sport of hockey never took hold with us. We are, for all practical purposes, a basketball family. Both my husband and I played, and each of our children played in high school. Basketball is a pastime that our whole family enjoys.

Like most Americans, when the news arrived that Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash, the information stopped us in our tracks. The notion that someone so young and accomplished, would die unexpectedly like that caused us to pause.

At the time the news broke, I was rebounding basketballs for my daughter. The announcement was received as breaking news on her cell phone during a water break. Immediately my daughter surfed the internet as I waited impatiently for more information, hoping the original headlines were a hoax. We reached out to other family members to see what they had heard. As time passed, and more credible news sites covered the story, the hope of deception diminished.

Although most did not know that Kobe Bryant embraced his Catholicism, as a fan, I had known his faith was very important to him. He attended Sunday Mass when he had road games and raised his children in the church. Furthermore, it was not extremely unusual for him to wander into church to contemplate alone or attend daily Mass. The wider world seemed to learn about his devotion to his faith when the news reported he went to church before the accident. It seemed to me that the media was a bit surprised that a superstar athlete, like Kobe, would be a Catholic.

As hours passed after the helicopter crash, the retold story that Kobe was unfaithful to his wife and settled out of court with the alleged victim of sexual assault became newsworthy again. For some, the duplicity of his behavior, as husband and potential assaulter, caused others to appear to be disturbed when Kobe was identified as a devoted Catholic. I am perplexed that after 2,000 years since Christ walked the earth there are still people confused about sinfulness and a person’s relationship with the Catholic Church.

I know that I could never condone the behavior of assault or infidelity, but I wonder where the notion developed that sinners should not be practicing Catholics. For me, the belief that Kobe grew in his faith, strove to stay close to Christ, and received the sacraments was the hope Christ had for all of us. I find solace in knowing Christ’s hope.

I am assuming it was the tenets of his faith that brought him to his admission and sincere apology for the harm he said he unwittingly caused another. When I sin and seek redemption, the first place I look is my faith. Furthermore, I am not confused one bit when the first communal prayer at Mass is an act of contrition. We need to get the message out that Catholics sin even while seeking holiness. Other than the confessional, there is no better place for a sinner than in the pews of a Catholic church.

The other matter that Kobe situation brings to light is what it means as a Catholic to forgive. We are all harmed by each other’s sins, but in most cases, there is a particular victim that is directly harmed. How do we hold up, support, and respect those directly wounded by sin at the same time we forgive the sinner? Does forgiving the sinner mean you are not respecting the person sinned upon? Was Christ so radical that he calls us into two separate but simultaneous journeys — one for us to help heal the wounded and another to forgive the sinner, all while not depending on the wounded to heal or the one who caused harm to be contrite?

It is Lent, and I am a sinner. Kobe, his death, his past transgressions, and how we are called to treat situations like this is a significant matter to contemplate. I need to wrestle with the relationship between the sinner and the person sinned upon.

Christ didn’t say that God is the only forgiver and healer, but rather we are called to do the same. Lent is a great time for me to put this to prayer and seek a better understanding, because if I can figure out how to rightly love the sinner and those sinned upon, I can remain hopeful I will be treated the same.

May Kobe, his daughter, and the other passengers rest in peace. And may those who misunderstand the necessary relationship we should have with Christ and the church during our sinful times be enlightened by the church’s mission this Lenten season.

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

Father Michael Schmitz: How do I get better at being generous

I find myself being less-than-generous quite often. I want to have a better attitude, but people keep wanting things from me: they want my time, my help, and my financial support. How do I get better at being generous?

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a fantastic question. Many people want to be wise in their lives, but it is something special when a person is asking for a way to become even more than simply wise, they want to become good. Even more, in your question, I hear you asking how you can become more like Christ.

This is the best possible question because it is the entire point of being a Christian: becoming like Christ in all things. So, when it comes to “his stuff,” how did Jesus view his life? While Jesus is the Lord of all and is fully divine and equal to the Father, in his humanity he was absolutely insistent on affirming that he lived to do the Father’s will. How did he see “his life/stuff/mission”? It might be boiled down to the statement, “All things have been handed to me by my Father.” How did Jesus live generosity? It began with his fundamental attitude towards life.

Let me say it this way, if we want to become more generous, it doesn’t begin with action, it begins with vision. It has less to do with how we live in the world and more with how we look at the world. A person can behave generously (and that would be very good), but behavior has to have a deeper root, and this deeper root is one’s worldview.

There are essentially two ways of looking at one’s life: as an owner or as a steward. I can see all of my stuff, my time, my talents, and my everything as “mine,” or I can see all of those things as what has been “entrusted” to me. They are either my possessions or they are someone else’s possessions that are merely on loan to me. The difference between these two worldviews cannot be underestimated.

If I look at my life as my life, there are two natural tendencies that I will likely embrace. First, I will quickly become insensitive and indifferent to all of the good in my life. After all, if all of this is “mine,” then I will rapidly take it all for granted. It is no longer a gift, it is what I am “owed.” Of course I have this body: it’s mine. Of course I have these gifts; they’re mine. Of course I have these accomplishments; they’re mine.

If that is how I see them, then I might be generous with them, but each time, I am generous with “my” stuff. I may give you some of “my” time, but that continually costs me something. There is a limit to generosity like this, and there is a limit to gratitude if my attitude is like this.

In addition, if my perspective is that my gifts, things, and time are my own possessions, then what is my perspective when they are taken away? Every gift we have will be taken from us. Every bit of time will be taken from us ultimately. At some point, each one of us will get sick, suffer loss, run out of time, and die. If I believe that I am the rightful owner of my life, then I will likely view that loss with resentment. I could potentially become overwhelmingly bitter at the prospect of losing all of my things.

These are two of the consequences of seeing oneself as the owner: ingratitude in the face of giftedness and resentment over those gifts being taken away.

But that is not the only option. And it is not the perspective of Jesus. We can acknowledge the deeper truth that we are not owners but stewards. We do not have possessions, we have been entrusted with gifts by the Father. They are his.

Remember the parable of the talents? Or the parable of the gold coins? After the master distributes the talents or coins to the servants, he leaves with the hope that the servants will do something with his gifts. In fact, when he returns, he asks, “What did you do with my money?” It is his money. They are his gifts. Every moment, every heartbeat, is his. Every breath and every talent you or I have belongs to him. We have been entrusted with his gifts so that we can do what he wants with those gifts.

This should lead us to incredible gratitude and generosity. At every moment, we could give thanks over every little thing that we know does not belong to us, but that he continues to entrust to us. Imagine waking up and giving God thanks for the gift of sight. Imagine not complaining about being sick, but being able to breathe and saying, “God, thank you so much that I am not sniffling today!” Rather than resenting the gift that has been taken away, imagine the freedom of being able to let go of the gift without hesitation and give God praise for the amount of time he shared it with us.

The way to be generous is to acknowledge that we are not the owners of anything in this world, we are stewards. And nothing we have been entrusted with actually belongs to us; it is his and each day we have been given multiple more opportunities to use his gifts the way he wants.

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: When the church seems to be 'always' talking about money

In the years that I have been a priest, the vast majority of my parishioners have known that my least favorite subject to talk about is money. But I have had some of the parishes that actually think it is my very favorite subject to preach about! This is because some parishes as a whole do better than others in their charity and support of the church.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard
Kunst
Apologetics

I am speaking in general terms here; all parishes have very generous people, and all parishes have very stingy people, but some parishes as a whole do better than others when it comes to supporting the mission of the church in general and their parish specifically.

As pastors it can be a source of stress when people are not generous enough to the mission of the parish, because like any institution, the parish needs money to function, so if the parishioners are not generous in their giving, it truly hampers the parish’s work of evangelizing and spreading the Gospel, which can tie the hands of the pastor.

What is important to note is that I am not addressing people’s financial abilities. Rather it is an issue of sacrificial giving, because no matter how rich or how poor we are, we can all be sacrificial givers; we are all called to be sacrificial givers.

As a rule, people who are less generous tend to be more sensitive to the subject. One case in point happened to me many years ago. I was pastor of a small parish when I had given my very first “money” homily, and after Mass a woman approached me and said, “Father, is that all you ever do is talk about, money?”

Charitable thoughts were not running through my mind at that moment. People who are not generous do not like to hear about the subject. Now, I am not saying that this particular woman was not generous, but her initial response to my first ever homily on the subject seemed to be a bit telling.

There are people who think the church should not be talking about money and that money has little or nothing to do with religion, but nothing could be further from the truth. You may have heard this before, but the Bible addresses money more than it addresses love! In fact money is the subject most addressed in the Bible, so you can be certain that money and faith go together.

While at this point I could cite any of the myriad scripture passages to make the case, it is the familiar passage of the poor widow in the Gospel of Luke that speaks loudly as to Christ’s understanding of our responsibility with our money. After Jesus watches wealthy people deposit their large gifts into the temple treasury and a poor widow do the same with only two copper coins, he says, “I assure you, this poor widow has put in more than all the rest. They make contributions out of their surplus, but she from her want has given what she could not afford — every penny she has to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).

If we read closely what Jesus says here, it should be a bit shocking. The poor widow, he says, put in more than the wealthy people did. We would be right to ask, “How can this be? How does God measure our generosity and our giving?”

God couldn’t care less about the amount that we give; rather, what is important is the sacrifice. We humans look at numbers, and it is right that we do so because we need to, especially if you are a pastor of a parish! But that is not how God looks at our giving. Jesus says the poor widow gave more than the wealthy people gave because she sacrificed more in her giving.

So God does not look at numbers, he looks at sacrifice. It is one of the ways we build up treasure in heaven, by sacrificing them on earth. We would be foolish to think that we will not be held accountable for how we used the blessings God gave us in this life.

So when it comes to giving to the church, your parish, or some other worthy charitable cause, it does not matter to God how rich or poor we are. Giving is meritorious based on how much we are sacrificing in the giving. In this way, poor people could easily give more than wealthy people if they do it sacrificially.

It is important for each and every one of us to pause so as to consider our charitable giving. Does it hurt? It should, if we are honest with ourselves. It is very easy for we humans to rationalize and justify our own rate of giving, when that is not what God is asking.

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

Father Nick Nelson: Where's that in the Bible?

Very often people will chide Catholics about a particular belief, saying, “Where is that in the Bible?” Or even well-intentioned Catholics sometimes will ask me to show them where this or that teaching is in the Bible.

Father Nicholas Nelson
Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

And while we can find good evidence, if not clear proof, in the Bible for what we believe, the very question “where is that in the Bible?” implies and presumes some-thing that we as Catholics don’t believe.

Someone asking that question is under the impression that the Bible is the sole authority for the content of Christian faith. When someone asks that question, they are presuming the Protestant principle of sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”), which rejects the teaching authority of the Catholic Church and says Scripture is the ultimate authority. Sola scriptura is unbiblical, untrue, and therefore un-Catholic. It’s similar to the question, “Did you stop stealing from your employer?” By even beginning to answer that question, you are admitting that you had at least in the past been stealing from your employer.

So, before getting our Bibles out and going from verse to verse showing evidence for this or that teaching, and then having the other person show verses that they think disprove the teaching, and going back and forth, it’s important to call the erroneous presumption of sola scriptura into question. Because by going right to your Bible you are already ceding ground in the debate. You are implying that the Bible is the sole authority on matters of faith.

Before going to Scripture, it’s important to say something like, “Wait, you think that Scripture is the ultimate authority? Well, we Catholics don’t believe that. The Bible was never intended to be the ultimate authority on what God revealed to us and what we are to believe.”

Then the question that needs to be asked is, “Where are we to learn the content of the faith that Christ wanted us to know? Did Christ make provisions for the authentic handing on the faith he revealed?” By provisions we mean, “Did Christ do anything, set up anything, or provide for us in a way that guarantees the authentic transmission of his teachings?” Yes, he did.

And what was that? It wasn’t the Bible. Jesus did not hand each of the Apostles a Bible and say, “Why don’t you copy these, make some more of them, and just hand them out to people, and that will be good enough.” He never did that.

What were the provisions he made for handing on the faith? If we look at the Gospels, we see that: 1) He passed on an oral tradition by what he said and did. 2) He gave his very own divine authority to other men for the authentic handing on of that tradition. And 3) he promised his divine assistance until the end of time. The best text for this is Matthew 28:18-20. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’”

God never intended the Bible to be the last and only word concerning the content of faith. The first disciples never had the New Testament. The Gospels and letters that make up the New Testament weren’t complete until the end of the first century. He never expected us all to learn Greek so that we could each interpret it ourselves in order to come up with the content of the faith.

History has shown us the absurdity of the idea of sola scriptura. There are billions of Christians, and thousands of denominations of Christians who all believe that the Bible is the only necessary and sufficient authority, yet they all believe different and contradictory things on very important questions such as the sacraments and morality and eternity.

Rather than handing us a Bible and telling us to interpret it ourselves, we who have a darkened intellect, disordered passions, and weakened will, Jesus did something much more simple and greater for us. He gave us a visible church with his very own divine authority and assistance to infallibly interpret the sources of faith, i.e., Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. This living voice continues to authentically protect and transmit the deposit of faith down through the centuries. So by trusting in the trustworthy authority of the church as a child trusts his mother, we have everything we need to know and do for salvation.

Maybe we should turn that first question around and ask, where’s sola scriptura in the Bible? If someone says everything needs to be explicitly found in the Bible, then where in the Bible does it say that the Bible is the only and ultimate authority on the content on faith? You can look all day long. You won’t find it, because it isn’t there. But you will find this. St. Paul writing to St. Timothy, “...The household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church is the pillar and foundation of truth, not the Bible!

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]

Deacon Kyle Eller: A little catechesis on the Eighth Commandment to help us through election season

It’s election season (although isn’t it always nowadays?), and that means our social media are even more full than usual with lies, distortions, falsehoods, half truths, and fake news, intermixed with more worthwhile things.

When we talk about this, often it’s to help build up our own media literacy, learning how to tell the good from the bad.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

As worthwhile as that is, it seems to me there is a still more urgent task: being sure that we’re not sinning ourselves by spreading lies among our family and friends. Going to hell, after all, is a far worse outcome than any election.

In other words, we need to revisit the Eighth Commandment — “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Living in the truth

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2469). Unfortunately, as truth erodes in our society, I think we’re seeing that claim verified.

For a disciple of Jesus Christ, though, living in the truth and bearing witness to it appropriately are not optional, they are binding obligations. Jesus proclaims himself the way, the truth, and the life, and he promises that the truth will set us free. It is the devil whom he calls “a liar and the father of lies.”

What’s more, even at a purely human level, truthfulness is a matter of justice — of what we really owe to other people.

There can be no doubt the world is pushing hard against this virtue of truthfulness. Every election is billed as the “most important election ever,” and in contrast to Christian belief, many of our contemporaries believe good ends justify any means, so if fudging the truth is the way to beat back what they perceive as the forces of darkness, of course that’s just what they’ll do.

This is how your social media feed came to be so full of garbage.

Offenses against the truth

Our call is to be people of the truth, which among other things means avoiding every form of bearing false witness. This goes well beyond simply avoiding the most obvious lies.

For instance there are the sins that are contrary to respect for people’s reputations, like rash judgment, detraction, and calumny (CCC 2477). Thus even if we truly know another person’s failing, we still don’t get to spread it around without a serious reason — that’s detraction. Or if someone tells us something awful, even about someone we treat as an enemy, we must not even silently believe it’s true until we have a sufficient foundation for that. This is rash judgment.

And if even those things are sins, how much more is calumny, where one spreads some falsehood that damages someone’s reputation — a powerful temptation in a climate where one of the common paths for electoral victory is damaging an opponent’s reputation.

We might ask ourselves how often we have done that — passed on some commentary or article with an accusation against someone that we haven’t really researched ourselves or that we even later found out to be false, or played up some apparently damning quote we know deep down was taken out of context.

And if we have done so, we might consider whether we have confessed that sin and done our best to fix our error by trying to restore the reputation of the person we’ve damaged. Because there really is a duty of reparation in these matters (CCC 2487).

For instance, if I calumniate a politician I dislike on Facebook, guess where I should go to apologize and try to restore his reputation? Same place, in just as public a way. If that sounds like a distasteful task, consider that an excellent reason that you should never share anything that damages anyone’s reputation without being morally certain it’s true and that you have a serious reason to share it.

There are even times saying something “nice” is an offense against the truth. If some politician I favor is engaged in some wrongdoing, and by flattery or adulation I affirm that perverse conduct, I have also sinned against the truth (CCC 2480). We all unfortunately face choices at the ballot box where all the candidates may take positions in serious contradiction to sound morality. I think that presents for us one of our most daunting challenges in living in the truth — how to speak and act in such a way that we do not encourage the evil things the “lesser evil” we may have decided to support stands for.

To the extent we speak to others about politics, all of us take on the responsibility to do so in a truthful way. To the extent we do so more publicly, in places like social media, we even begin to take on some of the responsibilities we would normally associate with journalists. (And it’s no excuse for us that many journalists seem to have abdicated these responsibilities too lately.)

So we should worry about getting suckered by fake news and false information. But far more than that, we should worry about being spreaders of the contagion. Just don’t. Before you even believe something awful — let alone share it with others — verify it, putting the best construction you can on the other person’s words and actions (CCC 2478). If in doubt, don’t post.

If it’s gossip and garbage, as so much of it is, stop it in its tracks.

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

Men’s and women’s conferences coming up soon

The Northern Cross

This year’s annual men’s and women’s conferences are scheduled for Feb. 29 and March 28, respectively, at Marshall School in Duluth. Registration is open for both.

The Men of Faith Conference, held on leap day, boasts a powerhouse speaker in high demand — the “Dynamic Deacon,” Harold Burke-Sivers, who is known for powerful and passionate preaching and evangelizing.

“He is so popular that we had to book Deacon Harold three years in advance so we could schedule him as our speaker for our Men of Faith conference on the first Sunday of Lent,” said Deacon John Weiske, who organizes the conference.

Deacon Burke-Sivers is scheduled to give four talks on the day, which will cover such topics as awakening the desire for Christ in the hearts of men, spiritual combat, and living a vibrant faith in the workplace.

The speaker has a master’s degree in theological studies from the University of Dallas and co-hosts the Eternal Word Television’s Network’s popular radio program “Morning Glory” and the weekly broadcast “Living Stones” on Mater Dei Radio. He has appeared as a guest on other national and international radio programs, including “Catholic Answers Live” and “Vocation Boom Radio,” and is the host or co-host of several popular series on EWTN television and is featured on the award winning “Chosen” faith formation program by Ascension Press. He’s the author of the best-selling book, “Behold the Man: A Catholic Vision of Male Spirituality,” co-author of “Ignite: Read the Bible Like Never Before,” and has written the acclaimed new book, “Father Augustus Tolton: The Slave Who Became the First African- American Priest.”

Deacon Burke-Sivers is a Benedictine oblate and a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.

He lives in Portland with his wife Colleen, and they have four children.

Early-bird registration ends Feb. 17 (save $10). Registration closes Feb. 24.

Women’s conference

This year’s Women of Faith conference, March 28, features two speakers: the nationally acclaimed motivational speaker, TV contributor, radio host and life activist Deby Schlapprizzi and the area’s own Nic Davidson, an energetic convert to the Catholic faith whose life and marriage have been transformed by the Theology of the Body.

Organizers say Schlapprizzi will lead participants on a journey of transformation, gently urging them to shift perspective and draw closer to the Lord “in order to recognize and embrace your magnificence.”

Registration for both events is available at www.dioceseduluth.org.

‘Jesus Christ was the center of his life’

Bishop Paul Sirba laid to rest

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

“My brother loved the Lord. Jesus Christ was the center of his life.”

Father Joseph Sirba, pastor of St. Patrick in Hinckley and St. Luke in Sandstone, said in his funeral homily Dec. 6 that everyone was stunned to learn that his brother, Bishop Paul Sirba, ninth bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, had died Dec. 1.

pallbearers
Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

“In fact, many of you have told me that when you learned of his death, you said there must be some mistake,” he said. “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.”

The bishop, who had been residing at the rectory at St. Rose parish in Proctor, was making his way from the rectory to the parish to celebrate the 8 a.m. Mass. He collapsed in the parking lot, having suffered cardiac arrest. Despite a major snow storm hampering travel, an ambulance arrived within about 10 minutes, and he was rushed to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, where he received the last rites from Father John Petrich, but life-saving efforts were unsuccessful. He passed away shortly after 9 a.m.

He was 59 years old and was less than two weeks from the tenth anniversary of his ordination as bishop.

Father James Bissonette, who served as judicial vicar under Bishop Sirba, announced the news that morning, saying, “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.’”

In his homily, Father Sirba noted that while it was not widely known, Bishop Sirba did have a heart problem — a third degree heart block — and had a pacemaker for the past several years.

Reaction

The outpouring of grief in response to the news was rapid, across the Diocese of Duluth, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis where Bishop Sirba had served as a priest, and beyond.

The initial notice on the diocesan Facebook page was shared hundreds of times and drew more than 200 comments, often relating personal stories and noting the bishop’s kindness and holiness, expressing shock and sorrow and hope for his entry into heaven.

“Heaven is celebrating the arrival of Bishop Sirba’s kind, gentle and holy soul,” wrote one. “Our diocese was blessed by his ministry, and he will be missed.”

“He was such a kind and holy man and good shepherd for all of us,” wrote another. “He helped my husband and I through some very tough times in our life.”

Another said, “In every encounter, it was evident that he loved and served Jesus Christ first and foremost. He proclaimed the Gospel steadfastly and with love. Jesus Christ fl owed from this man. His witness, ministry, and personal warmth will be greatly missed.”

A message from the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was sent to Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and conveyed to the Duluth Diocese. “The Holy Father was saddened to learn of the untimely death of Bishop Paul D. Sirba, and he sends heartfelt condolences to the clergy, religious, and lay faithful of the Diocese of Duluth,” it read. “In commending the late Bishop’s soul to the merciful love of God our Father, His Holiness joins in your prayer of thanksgiving for his years of devoted pastoral service to the Church in Duluth. To all who mourn the late Bishop in the sure hope of the resurrection, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Sirba’s predecessor as bishop of Duluth, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, now serving the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, sent a letter of condolence to assure the faithful of the diocese of his “heartfelt sympathy and prayers following the sudden death of your beloved shepherd, Bishop Paul Sirba.”

“Like myself, all of you know Bishop Sirba as a faithful servant, a clear teacher of the faith, and a courageous leader during a difficult period in the history of the diocese,” he said. “On a personal level, I will always remember Bishop Sirba’s warmth and graciousness whenever we had the chance to interact.”

Other bishops around the country also reacted quickly. Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, on his Facebook page, called Bishop Sirba “one of my closest bishop friends” and said he had just spent time with him in November at the USCCB meeting. “He was a great consolation to me personally,” the archbishop said. “I had known Bishop Sirba for 34 years, and was present at his priestly and episcopal ordinations. He was a great inspiration to me as a young man discerning my own priestly vocation at the time. The Diocese of Duluth has lost a very holy and loving shepherd.”

ELCA Bishop Thomas Aitken shared the news with area Lutherans and wrote on Twitter: “Bishop Sirba’s sudden death is a great sorrow to me. We were more than colleagues, we were friends! Soft spoken, thoughtful and thoroughly kind person! I am appreciative of the work we were able to do together in our Ecumenical world. I thank God for his life and witness!”

Visitation

Public visitation for the bishop began the afternoon of Dec. 5, as hundreds of mourners came through the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary to pay their respects and to pray for the repose of his soul.

The vigil included the praying of the Office of the Dead, which began with the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus processing to kneel before the casket with candles, singing a song based on the Twenty-Third Psalm that was written for the bishop.

The homilist for evening prayer was Bishop Sirba’s close friend Bishop Peter Christensen, now of the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, who previously served in Superior, Wis.

“Now they say it’s wrong to canonize a person at the time of their death,” Bishop Christensen said. “But my brothers and sisters, I just can’t possibly refrain from affirming what is so apparent in our brother Bishop Paul, and that is he is a saintly man, tried and true.”

He described Bishop Sirba as a man of the Beatitudes who “shows us the light of faith.”

He recalled spending time together a couple of weeks before Bishop Sirba’s death at an episcopal ordination in Helena, Montana. There, he had asked Bishop Sirba’s assistance getting up after kneeling on the floor. He said he has reflected on the moment as a cherished memory representing the “tremendous support Paul has been these last 40 years of my life.”

He said Bishop Sirba wanted to continue his friendship with all those he ministered to in this life for eternity in heaven.

Funeral Mass

The funeral Mass Dec. 6 was celebrated by Archbishop Hebda, with a standing room only crowd including clergy from the Diocese of Duluth and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, religious sisters, and many of the lay faithful spilling over into overflow seating in the social hall. Thousands more watched the livestream provided by WDIO-TV.

Present were Bishop Sirba’s mother Helen of St. Paul, his brothers Father Joseph and John, and a sister Catherine, along with many nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and nephews.

Mourners also included a dozen other bishops, as well as representatives from other dioceses: Bishop Christensen; Bishop John LeVoir, Diocese of New Ulm; Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; Bishop John Folda, Diocese of Fargo; Bishop Joseph Hanfeldt, Diocese of Grand Island, NE; Bishop George Rassas, Diocese of Chicago; Bishop Donald Kettler, Diocese of St. Cloud; Bishop John Quinn, Diocese of Winona-Rochester; Archbishop Sample; Bishop Michael Hoeppner, Diocese of Crookston; Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt, SEVM, Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut; Bishop James Powers, Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin, as well as Msgr. Michael Mulloy, administrator of Diocese of Rapid City; Msgr. Mike Stewart, Archdiocese of Kingston, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and Monsignor Gene Lindeman, vicar general of Diocese of Bismark.

Father Sirba, in his homily, said his brother was a humble man who “certainly never aspired to be a bishop.” But “above all else” he had “a desire to share Christ’s love.”

“He was a Catholic through and through,” he continued. “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.”

He said having his brother be his bishop was a unique relationship.

“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,” Father Sirba said. “Of course, I always reminded him that I was here first.”

He said it gave him some insight into the life of a bishop, which he described as being a shepherd and having the fullness of the priesthood.

“To be a bishop is a difficult thing,” he said. “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.”

He said his brother was a good shepherd and this was apparent in the way he acted as a spiritual father to the priests and the way he cared for the faithful.

“When he met people, they could tell he cared about them,” Father Sirba said. “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.”

He said his brother was also a good leader unafraid to teach what the church teaches without compromising with the world’s demands.

“As Father Mike Schmitz said, ’He was so much like Jesus: gentle with people and uncompromising with truth. A true shepherd and father.’”

Father Bissonette, who earlier in the week had been elected diocesan administrator to take care of the diocese until a new bishop is appointed, offered the diocese’s condolences to Bishop Sirba’s mother and three siblings in the congregation, saying, “Like you, he loved us, and we loved him.” His voice cracking, he noted that it was the diocese’s “singular honor” that Bishop Sirba would remain with us, buried in the Duluth Diocese.

Leaving a legacy

Bishop Sirba 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. He received his master’s degree from St. Paul Seminary as well as a master’s degree from the Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute in Arlington, Virginia. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1986 and served three parishes in the archdiocese, in addition to St. John Vianney College Seminary and St. Paul Seminary. He briefly served as vicar general and moderator of the curia in the archdiocese before being appointed the ninth Bishop of Duluth.

During his decade as bishop of Duluth, he oversaw a major strategic planning process for maintaining viable parishes across the diocese, led a Eucharistic Procession through the city of Duluth in honor of the diocese’s 125th anniversary, and led the diocese as it reckoned with bankruptcy in the wake of the clergy abuse crisis.

Bishop Sirba is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Duluth.